© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
Back in November 2010 , I wrote about the telephone, television, the internet, and recorded music. Then in December of that year , I covered automobiles, still and video cameras, the written word, a digital data preservation strategy, and my right-hand gadget. Three and a half years on, I'm back to update my thoughts on most of these topics.
In mid-2012, I moved, and after 29 years with the same home/office telephone number, I was forced to change it. At first, I thought that would be a big loss, but as it happened, it stopped all those annoying sales and marketing callers from reaching me. And after a year of renting, I moved again, and had to change my number a second time. I've had my new number for a year now, but I still don't know any part of it except the area code. When asked my number, I open my wallet and take out a business card from which I read it. People often ask, "Have you just moved?" to which I reply, "No, I got this new number more than a year ago, but as I don't call myself, I haven't yet found a need to memorize it!"
Being an old-fashioned guy, I still have a landline. In any event, I work from home, so a landline is convenient for both work and play. When I moved the second time, I replaced my phone system for the first time in about 15 years. While the base unit is connected to a wall jack, the two extensions are wireless, so I can place them anywhere in the house and even outside.
Sometime after I moved the second time, my phone company ran a fiber-optic cable down my street, and they were very eager to have me move to that system from the old copper wire. After they answered a long list of questions, I agreed to the changeover, especially as it was at no cost to me. The big change was that the phone would no longer get power from the phone line. Instead, the technician installed a large box on the inside wall of my garage that contained a battery pack. The battery is kept charged by a connection to the electricity. In theory, if I lose my electricity supply, the backup pack provides some eight hours of phone use. Not having had a blackout since, this feature has not yet been put to the test.
In , I wrote, "I do not have a mobile phone and I have no plan to get one anytime soon. If I had one, I expect I would find uses for it, but I'm pretty sure I'd have it primarily for outgoing/emergency calls and would keep it switched off most of the time. And I'm certain its ring tone would not be a 100-decibel version of Beethoven's 5th, and that I'd have some manners when using it among other people."
I now own not one, but two mobile phones! Aggh; the Devil made me do it! Once I sold my house, I rented for a year while I decided "what next?" In order to interact with renting agents as I was driving around the countryside reading their advertising signs, I bought a basic Samsung phone for $10 that was compatible with the TracPhone pay-as-you-go service. It came with 20 free minutes and 60 days of service, and every minute/number-of-days I bought, would double. Exactly one day after I started looking, I found my dream house, and I made only one call on my new mobile. Later, I added a 240-minute/3-month card. Finally, I bought a 1,000-minute/2-year card. In the two years I've owned it, I've made no more than 25 calls on it. As I predicted in , I use it for my convenience only; it's switched off most of the time with no message-recording facility! I simply do not give out its number.
A year ago, I had a houseguest coming from Australia for six weeks. It would be convenient for us to communicate when we were apart, especially for the two weeks we travelled in the northwest. What to do but buy another Samsung—this time for only $7!—and three months of service. When that expired, I put the phone in a drawer. When the need arises, I will charge it up, both with power and minutes, and get a new phone number.
I've been a user of Skype for some years, and use it for international calls, but only to landline numbers as the calling rate is much cheaper. (As some friends abroad have found, when they've moved to mobile-phone service only, they no longer hear from me!) I used to use it for domestic, long-distance calls too, but my new home-phone service has unlimited time at no charge.
Once, I rode the high-speed Acela train from Washington DC to New York, and deliberately chose to sit in the "Quiet Car" where mobile phone usage is forbidden. Of course, that didn't stop some riders from taking calls, but after I glared at them and/or chastised them verbally, they got the message.
With all this hands-free stuff, I can no longer tell if a person is talking on a phone, to themselves, or their imaginary friend. Whichever, they seem to get pretty animated even when no one can see all their hand gestures. (Perhaps the NSA is capturing their actions by satellite as well as their call!)
As for texting, I just don't get it. It sure looks like a solution looking for a problem. Once, I used my mobile to order a taxi, so the taxi company had my (otherwise secret) number. Twice, I received text messages—at my expense—telling me the taxi was so-many miles or minutes away. Wow! I simply don't know how I survived this long without having that kind of information. In any event, my fingers are way too big for me to be able to select an individual key on a smartphone's soft keyboard. (Believe me; I've tried repeatedly.)
Earlier this year, I started a consulting contract with a well-known high-tech company based in Silicon Valley. Not only was I issued a laptop, I also got a smart phone. At first, I actually used the phone to have security codes texted to me each time I made a VPN connection to their site, but the need for that went away once I got a USB-based security card. Then after several months of that phone simply sitting quietly on a shelf in my office, it started buzzing so hard, it nearly jumped of the shelf! What could be so important after all this time? Perhaps WWIII had started. No, it wasn't anything earth shattering. Instead, I was being notified that a car with license plate xxx had been left in the parking lot with its lights on, and could the owner switch them off. I was sure it wasn't my car as I was on the US east coast and the parking lot was on the west!
In , I wrote how I'd moved to antenna-only TV. However, when I moved to my botanic garden-with-a-house-in-it rental place, I was almost surrounded by forest. As such, my antenna was able to find one channel only. (And that broadcast mostly in French; sacrebleu!) Thirty seconds after discovering that, I viewed that as a positive thing, and I rediscovered my library of books and videos. And things stayed that way for 18 months, until I moved, and fiber-optic service came down my street.
I now have 100-odd TV channels, but not because I wanted them. What happened was that the combined package of phone, internet, and TV from one supplier was $50/month cheaper than my previous phone and internet service from two suppliers, so I paid less and got TV as well. And while I wasn't planning to have a Digital Video Recording (DVR) service, I did get one, and I must say that is very convenient. I never ever watch anything live; it all is recorded for viewing when I'm ready, and I never ever watch anything on Network TV.
For the 18 months I was disconnected from TV service, I made great use of my local library system by borrowing from its extensive video collections of movies, TV programs, and documentaries.
My primary use of this is still for business, and even more so now that I use VPN access to run programs on remote computers. Email remains my biggest use, followed closely by access to webpages for documentation. I don't often look at newspapers online now, and I very rarely watch video online. For that, my aging eyes much prefer my 40-inch TV to my 27-inch computer screen, and my couch is much more comfortable than my office chair.
Several years ago, as a prize in a raffle, I won an iPod Nano, a stripped-down iPod. Eventually, I loaded it up with the songs from a dozen CDs. However, the only use I made of it was when I was a dog-walker at an animal rescue facility. There, I walked dogs for two hours each week, and as most of them weren't very interesting, I simply walked them around a farm while listening to music tracks played in random order. Since I stopped that activity, I stopped having buds in my ears. However, I have 10–15 CDs ripped to my laptop for when I travel.
What I have discovered is free internet radio via iTunes. I have three favorite channels depending on my mood: Golden Oldies of Rock 'n Roll, Bavarian, and Mariachi.
I'm still driving my low-tech, stick shift, subcompact, used car, and it still gets me from A to B safely and in good time. However, from time to time, I rent a car, and occasionally I have difficultly mastering some simple chore, like resetting the trip mileage meter. With all these auto solutions looking for problems to solve, and the complexities of software design, I'm not at all surprised with the kinds of electronic failures that have been occurring in the auto industry.
Last year, I had houseguests from Australia, and they had been driving in various parts of the US and Canada. Soon after they arrived, they bought a navigation system with Global Positioning System (GPS). When they left to go home, they gave it to me. Now I carry it in the glove compartment of my car, but never remember I have it, so except for some playing around soon after I got it, I haven't used it. I do recall, however, a couple of times when it gave me rather strange directions. All that said if I did a lot of driving to locations with which I was not familiar, I'm sure I'd use it on a regular basis.
I can report one very welcome addition to my auto experience. For two years now, I have had a 2-car garage, and, unlike almost all of the garages that I've seen in my travels around the US, mine actually has room for two cars!
Oh, and I'm driving a lot more miles now that I used to, but that's because of volunteer work.
Cameras and Video
I've never been much interested in photography, and I still don't take many photos, although it's nice to be able to look at the results immediately and to erase/retake shots. And as for video, I've shot little in recent years, partly because upgrades to my editing software don't work properly, and partly because I don't watch the DVD's I've created.
One major task I did perform was to digitize 76 hours of home movies recorded onto VHS tape, and to edit them down to 34 1-hour DVDs.
On the photo front, my ex-wife and I are in the middle of scanning to digital 3,000-odd paper photos we took starting in the late 1960's. The time it takes to name and catalog each image is far more than it takes to scan in.
Books and Reading
I still like my books in paper form. Eighteen months ago, I became a volunteer for a local library where twice a year, we solicit donations from the public of used books, books and music on CD, and DVDs, and we hold a sale to raise money. As a sorter, I get to look over all those treasures before the public sees them.
I still maintain my steady diet of novels interspersed with non-fiction and reference material. Most mornings I read in bed, and then again the last thing at night. There's nothing quite like trying to hold a 1,000-page tome on US History on one's chest!
When it comes to backing up my personal and business computer files, I'm still quite anal! If it's worth doing, it's worth protecting.
Several years ago, as I was preparing my house for sale, we had an earthquake that measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale. After the second tremor, I calmly took the backup memory stick from my desktop computer, grabbed my wallet (with money and ID), picked up my key ring, and walked out to the parking lot. That stick, along with one of the master backup disks by my computer, in my fire safe, or in my bank's safe-deposit box, would get me operational again. And if all those had been destroyed, it is unlikely I would have been left standing myself!
One new habit I have developed is the use of offsite backup through DropBox. The price is right (as in free), and it is very convenient. I use it to share digital photos, and to backup and share work-related files for some business projects, as they require. However, I remain adamant that I will not backup any critical business or personal data of my own in the so-called Cloud. When cloud security gets broken—and it will, and in a major way—the affected users will be very sorry. As for me, you have to come to my place or bank and physically steal the data! And that's a big obstacle for a teenager in Russia, China, or Timbuktu who is hacking into a network.
My Beloved Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)
As I reported in , I've had a PDA for many years, and I never leave the house without it. Until a year ago, when I was at my desk, this little pocket computer was linked to my desktop computer, so their calendar and contacts databases were synchronized. The PDA had a removable 4MB SD memory card to which I backed up all my new and changed work and personal computer files.
I was running Windows Vista on my desktop computer, but decided to upgrade to Windows 7. And while that went well, Win7 no longer supported the synchronization program on my PDA. As a result, my automatic synchronization was no longer possible. Instead, I only update my PDA once each week, and then I have to do it via my netbook, which still runs Windows XP. It is inconvenient, but the process works. However, one day, disaster struck! The metal connector on my PDA where I inserted the synchronization cable broke. As such, not only couldn't I update the PDA, I couldn't even charge it; bugger!
The solution was obvious, buy a new PDA. However, that was easier said than done as no one makes PDAs anymore; the mobile phone industry had taken over that market space. I had a mobile phone, but it wasn't by any means smart, and I had absolutely no interest in buying a new phone and its attendant costs just to have a calendar and contact list. I was actually without a PDA for 6–8 weeks, and I can assure you it was quite traumatic, I kid you not. It turns out that I relied on it much more than I knew. I had all my passwords and PINs for credit and debit cards, on-line accounts, details of business contacts and friends, and much more. The final crisis came when I was admitted to the emergency room of a hospital and I was asked for the contact information of my next-of-kin, my son. His phone number, email address, and street address were all locked away in my PDA, whose battery was flat!
I set out in earnest to find a website from which I could buy a refurbished PDA, and eventually I found one. The PDA I selected was from the same family as the one I was replacing and although it was a bit smaller it had comparable capabilities. After a few weeks of using it, I called the company and bought a second unit as a backup.
Although I solved the immediate problem, I've deferred the long-term one. I've just bought a new laptop, which runs Windows 8, and thus far, I haven't found a way to make that synchronize with the old-technology PDA. So the only way I have of keeping the PDA up-to-date is to do it via my old netbook, and there is no reason to believe that strategy won't work for some time yet. However, my calendar and contacts are stored in Microsoft Office, and the 2013 version I run on my desktop won't run on WinXP. Fortunately, the data files for both versions are the same, so I can exchange them. But that might not be the case for the next edition. I guess I'll find out in 2016. Don't you just love built-in obsolescence?
After all my years of travelling with electric gadgetry, it finally happened. The AC-power adaptor for my laptop computer died while I was in Tokyo on business. Fortunately, that happened near the end of the trip, but, nonetheless, it still made an impact. I had no access to Skype and had to use other people's systems to look at my mail, to do banking, and so forth. Since then, I have bought a new laptop, which is much lighter, less power-hungry, and its adaptor is small and light. However, it runs Windows 8, of which I'm not a fan.
Unfortunately, I now have a loaner laptop from a client, and I often have to take both machines with me when I travel. However, I've solved the problem by buying a nice, comfortable backpack to hold both and associated gear. It's much better for my stature than having a very heavy bag on a shoulder strap, and it leaves both my hands and arms free.
As I watch people preoccupied with thumbing their mini-keypads while waiting, walking, cycling, and even driving, I really do wonder how Civilization got this far without all that.
I still think there are way too many solutions looking for problems, and my mantra remains, for the most part, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I'm not the least bit interested in the Social Media frenzy. If you want to by my friend, it's quite easy: phone me, send me a personal email or instant message, or even an old-fashioned letter. But don't think you can post something in a public, virtual place, and expect me and your 1,000 other so-called "friends" to believe you are actually communicating with us, personally.