Category Archives: tech

An open letter to Heather

A belated Happy New Year! And how are you? It’s been a while since I heard from you, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about our relationship. This is just a friendly discussion, though if you want to be precise, you could call it an intervention. I do hope we won’t have to take things to the next level, which might include the phrase “restraining order.” But let’s get right to brass tacks, shall we?

As I said, I haven’t heard your cheery voice on my phone for some time. I so hope I haven’t somehow wounded your feelings. I know you have a very challenging — no, a demanding job. I’d go stark raving loopy if I had to dial all those numbers and sound so warm and perfectly perky. And use the exact same words and inflections on every call!

Which brings me to the crux of this little talk. As you must realize, though you’ve “reached out” to me more times than I can count, I’ve never given your proposals any positive response whatsoever. Yet you don’t seem to listen, and what’s more, you continue to contact me. My call log is chock-full of your number!

I’ve tried to get in touch with someone in your organization, just to spare you a lot of wasted  time. Despite a good bit of Googling, I can’t seem to pin down the exact “Account Services” you work for. And since we know each other well, I don’t feel it necessary to apologize for our last conversation. That exchange, if my aging mind accurately retains it, started with you saying again: “Hi, this is Heather from Account Services.”

To which yours truly responded at slightly elevated volume: “JESUS BLEEPING CHRIST ARE YOU BLEEPING KIDDING ME??????!!!!! BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP!!!!!” I was grateful for a little old-fashioned technology that morning (seven a.m., wasn’t it?) because I felt compelled to emphasize my feelings by smashing the receiver of my desk phone against the base a few times. I found bits of plastic around my bedroom for months afterward. So much more satisfying than tapping “end call” on a cellphone!

To sum up: You have developed an entirely unwarranted obsession with me. The word “stalker” is unfortunately appropriate. So for your sake and mine, I’ve decided to end our relationship. You are hereafter “blocked” on all my communication devices.

I know it hurts, but one must nip these unhealthy tendencies in the bud! I fear that if I don’t take this step, one of these days I’ll find you climbing the trellis outside my window or sitting in the back seat of my car. We wouldn’t want to be like the actors in some low-budget film noir, would we now? And you don’t want to end up like your namesakes in “Heathers.”

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The Instagram life part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about the perils of living your life on Instagram and becoming a piece of content for others to look at. That idea may have seemed far-fetched, esoteric, or just out of step with the times. After all, even us geezers have online selves, right?

Well, at least one person agrees with me, though I’m pretty sure she didn’t read my post. Her name is Clara Dollar, she’s a senior at New York University, and she writes in the Sunday New York Times about “My So-Called (Instagram) Life.”

“Once you master what is essentially an onstage performance of yourself, it can be hard to break character,” she says. True dat.* Her obsession with staying on brand – “funny, carefree, unromantic, a realist” – kills a relationship and buries her genuine identity. “There was a time when I allowed myself to be more than what I could fit onto a 2-by-4-inch screen. When I wasn’t so self-conscious about how I was seen. When I embraced my contradictions and desires with less fear of embarrassment or rejection.”

When I was in college in the 1970s, we couldn’t live on little screens because they didn’t exist. More importantly, we’d just come out of the 60s, when mindless conformity was exposed as a fraud. Challenging authority, openness, and authenticity were virtues.

The “brand” I’d acquired in high school was a burden: quiet, reserved, a little awkward, certainly not cool. But the only way for me to look different was to be different: embrace change, be open to new things, and put my true self out there.

Of course I feared embarrassment and rejection. Who doesn’t? Being yourself is the only way to make good friends, the kind who see beyond each other’s contradictions and foibles. Many  people I knew then are Facebook friends now, with a connection that’s grounded in real life and memories, not a bogus image.

I don’t claim to be devoid of ego. I always try to put my best foot forward (especially because, as anyone who’s ever danced with me will tell you, I’ve got two of the left variety).

But my virtual self is no more calculated or contrived than my real one, which I hope is not much. For example, I won’t try to persuade you I have gorgeous blue eyes that remind you of Paul Newman. Of course, you can always look at my photo and draw your own conclusions.

*A New Orleans expression for “That is the truth.”

Recognize this!

Didn’t I warn you? A few posts ago, I got to griping about how intrusive and annoying technology has become, and predicted cars would join the parade and start acting like people.

Well, I hate to say I told you so (no, I don’t), but according to a recent article, our SUVs and vans and sedans will soon be able to read our facial expressions! The recognition software has been around for a while, but the geniuses who gave us lemons like the Edsel and the Corvair are taking it to a new level.

(Warning: This computer has detected signs of an imminent attack of geezerhood on the writer’s face. This incident may include a long-winded, probably unfunny rant about the modern world. Read at your own risk.)

The article says once the system recognizes you, it’ll adjust your seat for maximum comfort, choose a driving mode, and suggest a destination based on past behavior.  Sounds good, but what if man and wife get in the car together and somebody’s “behavior” yields a destination like a strip joint or a Motel 6? Or if my bad back requires me to sit in a certain position, and before I can stop it, the seat adjustment squashes my spine? This thing has LAWSUIT written all over it.

This is the scary part: “Watching a driver’s face can also give a car important clues about the person’s state of mind.” If the thing spots road rage on my visage, it could “potentially quell annoying bells and chimes in the car and play some mellow jazz to soothe you.”

If “mellow jazz” means “Fine and Mellow” by Billie Holiday, it might work. If it means Kenny G, look out, ‘cause I’m ragin’ like a Cajun and am liable to switch off the system with an ax.  More to the point, if the folks who invented this mess ever had a relationship with another human being, they would NOT try to build human features into a car. Do you really want to ride around with something watching your face every second and obsessing about your feelings? Especially if the system can vocalize, like Siri.

Car: A penny for your thoughts.
Me: I’m not thinking anything.
Car: We never talk anymore. Don’t you care about me? Can’t you at least tell me what I’m doing wrong? And watch out for that red light!

This lunacy reminds me of “My Mother the Car,” a famously bad TV sitcom from the 1960s in which the main character’s late mother is reborn as a talking antique car, which takes over the poor schmuck’s life. I don’t need Big Mama reading my mug while I drive.

(Warning update: Your writer’s face suggests he’s run out of things to say. The danger has passed, at least until he gets another one of his so-called ideas. He ought to know by now that he has no talent and WAIT DON’T PUSH THAT POWER BUTTON!!!!!!)

Smart machines, raging writer

My refrigerator is a noodge. I stand there with an armload of groceries, trying to make everything fit and not bruise the asparagus, and the thing puts out this rapid, high-pitched little beep beep beep. The cheese drawer’s full, the pie crust is melting, the too-long-leftover Hollandaise sauce is sending out biohazard warnings, and still it’s beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep.

The purpose, of course, is to remind me the refrigerator door is open. I KNOW it’s open, you nit! (I’m addressing the machine, not you the reader.) It’s open for a REASON and I PLAN ON CLOSING IT. OKAY??? Beep beep beep.

In all my 60+ years of life I’ve never wandered off and left an open fridge standing there like a jilted bride. But The Powers That Be have decided we’ve got the brains of a kiwi fruit and need a reminder for the simplest of tasks (and they’re afraid we’ll blast them into bankruptcy with bad reviews if our organic Mongolian goat’s milk sours).

I wouldn’t be so crabby if I’d gotten any sleep last night. I didn’t sleep worth beans because of another hyper-intrusive gadget: an outdoor light with a very, VERY sensitive motion detector.

Q: How sensitive is it? And try not to exaggerate this time.

A: So help me, this gizmo is so sensitive it could open for Art Garfunkel. It could pick out the flowers for an Amish wedding. It could lead a group therapy session on “How to Respect Your Partner’s Needs Even When You Know He’s a Total Dimwit.”

The last owner of our house thoughtfully stuck this contraption way too high to reach without a tall ladder, which we don’t have, and fixed it so the light shines right into the bedroom window. If a biker gang rolls up the driveway, it’ll go off and wake me (assuming I slept through the sound of Harleys). Meanwhile, if a leaf drifts past the sensor, as a gazillion leaves do at this time of year, it goes off. If a sparrow hiccups three blocks away, it goes off.

I can’t even avoid these know-it-all gadgets in my car. In case you body-conscious types need a little fresh paranoia, your vehicle knows how much you weigh. This is part of the airbag / safety system and is there for a good reason: the weight sensor keeps the bag from inflating with too much force or inflating at all if the passenger is a child. But it won’t be long before it goes from passive to aggressive.

Me, pulled up at the drive-through: “I’d like the number 3 combo. Large.”

Car: “Dave, I’ve been trying to find the right time to say this, and I do hope it doesn’t hurt our relationship, but you need to be careful about your weight. You take up more of the seat than you used to, and my gas mileage is down. And what about your cholesterol? Who’s going to drive me and take care of me if you have a heart attack? After all our time together, it’d be nice if you’d think about someone other than yourself just once. But noooooo…..”