Old Tech

It Never Hurts to Have a Backup Plan

Yup, I’ll say it. I’m from Ye Olde School of Technology. I cut my teeth on Cobol, Beepers, and 1400 baud modems. That said, I have a dilemma. Our son recently moved out and took his Sony 65″ 4K TV with him. It has been replaced by our vintage Panasonic 44″ LCD Rear Projection monster, from way back in 2007. I have to say, before my son moved back home for a year with his Sony 4K, I was always very happy with the Panasonic. We have AT&T cable, and the picture has always been excellent. However, after watching 4K for a year, our LCD Rear Projection is looking pretty sad. It doesn’t help that my son, who also works at Best Buy, is constantly going on about the great prices on the new 4K TVs. However, until the LCD TV gives up the ghost, we’re stuck with it. I can’t bring myself to donate or recycle a perfectly good TV, just because it’s seen better days.

The other morning, my laptop gave me a scare. While booting up, it went into Toshiba Recover and Repair mode. With over thirty years of IT experience, seeing a message like that sent a shiver of terror up my spine. Eventually, it finished booting up, and my heart rate returned to normal. However, this latest episode got me thinking. What do I do if this PC goes belly up for good? Then I remembered my old Acer laptop in the basement. I bought it for $100 many years ago from Craigslist. It’s still running Windows 7 and I was going to recycle it because the Wi-Fi controller was flaky. I had replaced the card once before, but it still had intermittent connection issues. Then, I remembered something. Last summer, I had purchased a USB Wi-Fi adapter and had completely forgotten about it. I popped it into the Acer, booted it up and Shazam! Instant Wi-Fi!

Now, my old Acer runs like a champ. I’m in the middle of an obsolete technology purge, and that laptop was slated for the junk heap. Now it’s been given new life. It never hurts to have a spare PC. Plus, I remember I had replaced the battery on the Acer right after I bought it. So now that sucker has power for about 4 to 5 hours. Try getting that from a new PC these days for only $100! Not gonna happen. Yesterday, my Toshiba laptop went through a five hour Windows 10 update, and this morning, I had to manually reconnect the Wi-Fi. God help me. So all in all, I have to say that old technology does serve a purpose. If nothing else, it makes a great backup plan for when your new technology craps out at the worse possible time. Happy computing! 

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Talk to Somebody

It Goes Next to Your Ear

While taking my morning walk the other day, I noticed a kid in his late teens or early twenties, sitting on a porch smoking a cigarette. A vanishing breed in this world of vaping. He was talking with someone on his phone, using the speaker. My question is, how hard is it to hold it up to your ear? At least he was using his cell phone for its designed purpose. For the life of me, I can’t understand why kids today have such a hard time understanding this concept. They text, snapchat, selfie, shop, binge, and much more on their smartphones. Basically, they do everything that’s technologically possible, except talk to somebody. Which is what the dang thing is for!

Back in the day, parents were led to believe that if they bought a cell phone for Bobby or Susie, they would be in constant contact at all times. How has that worked out? God forbid you ever have to call one of these little ingrates. They NEVER answer the phone. All you can do is leave a message, and maybe they’ll get back to you before the next ice age. Even texting doesn’t merit a response. Unless you are offering food or money, you don’t exist in the digital world. In our case, my youngest son lost his new phone on the school bus. Since he didn’t tell us right away, some little bugger ran up a huge cell phone bill, downloading games and music for his new phone! Argh!

I remember the first time I made a call on a cell phone. It was a Motorola flip phone, with a pull-up antenna, and a battery the size of a 1950’s candy bar. I had truly stepped into the world of science fiction. What’s really frightening is that soon, there will be a whole generation of kids who have never known a world without cell phones. I recently saw a picture of what we would look like in the year 2030 if we continued to let our devices control our lives. It was pretty frightening. This week, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. That really happened. Not just once, but six times! A smartphone is a million times more powerful than all the NASA computers that put those men on the moon. Tell that to your kids and maybe they’ll phone a friend. We can only hope.

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The Neighborhood Networks

Old Time Technology

Just a minute ago, I was trying to remember the name of a street a couple of blocks down and for the life of me, I couldn’t recall it. I had to cheat and use Google Maps. This illustrates how technology has disabled us to a certain degree. Take away our cell phones, iPads, and computers, and we’re just about helpless. We’d actually have to LISTEN when somebody gave us directions, instead of saying, “Just text me the address.” Now that I think about it, that has the makings of a great Reality TV show. Pick a random group of ten millennials (no oldsters allowed) and take away all of their technology. Then put them in a car in a strange city and hand them a map and an address. The first person to reach the finish line wins one million dollars! Sounds like Must See TV to me!

My inability to recall the name of a street that’s just two blocks away reminded me of being a kid. My buddies and I didn’t need any stinkin’ Google Maps! You surveyed the topography of the neighborhood on foot and stored it in your brain’s geography section. When you were old enough to ride a bike in the street (twelve years old in Detroit), the ‘hood became your oyster. Once you reached that magic age and didn’t have to curb-hop at every intersection, you could really get into some serious mischief. My friends and I knew every street from Rossiter, all the way west to Kelly, then back east to I-94, and beyond. Since my sons grew up at the dawn of the cellular age, they had to develop their street skills as well. To this day, they both have an encyclopedic knowledge of the streets surrounding our house.

However, there was another neighborhood network that we all tried to avoid. The Parental Network. It was designed to keep tabs on us hooligans by turning every parent in the area into a kid-monitoring node in the system. It was almost as if our parents had implanted trackers on us in our sleep. If you went to the movies after your mom said no, busted! If you rode your bike a ridiculous distance to visit a cute girl, your dad knew about it. We couldn’t get away with anything! If we somehow managed to slip by this parental police state, we celebrated like master criminals after a successful heist. However, we knew that any victory was short-lived. When the vulnerability in the parental network was patched, we knew we’d all be back under 24/7 surveillance once again. Oh well, we got away with what we could and had a lot of fun doing it. If today’s kids ever ditch their technology, parents will be helpless without their own parental network as a backup system. A pretty terrifying thought. All those kids running loose. What a blast!

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Road Trippin'

Time to Hit the Highway

My wife and I are in the process of our yearly migration to Destin, Florida. Our hurried preparations yesterday morning reminded me of road trips we used to take with our kids. It also brought back memories of my family’s road trips when I was just another rugrat in the backseat. The process of getting from Point A to Point B has come a long way since the days of the Family Truckster. Depending on your mode of transportation, long sweaty journeys have been replaced by all the comforts of home. I am actually typing up this article as we are driving through Alabama, on the way to the Emerald Coast. Try doing THAT back in the day!

As I mentioned in a previous article, I have always been a practical car owner. I knew the acquisition of our first Minivan would change our travel lives, and I was right. Always on the cutting edge of technology, I purchased a 9-inch TV/VCR Combo, just for our road trips. I also bought a cassette audio adapter that allowed our two sons to watch Star Wars, in realistic surround sound, from the comfort of their very own captain’s chairs. I also constructed a TV Stand from an idea borrowed from my sister-in-law and her husband. Thanks, Patti and Mike! That stand allowed us to put the TV in the prime viewing position. My boys quickly became used to trips down to Destin, or Virginia Beach, while enjoying the latest movies and Pokemon episodes, recorded on our home VCR. They had no idea how good they had it.

When I was a kid, The Lambert Summer Vacation was a trip to Clark Lake in Irish Hills, Michigan. Back in those days, my Dad didn’t have access to Google Maps. His route involved a great deal of zig-zagging across Michigan, through exotic towns like Manchester, Bridgewater, and Saline. The signposts for upcoming turns were local landmarks like The Big Green Barn and the Road With No Sign. If they ever painted that barn to match its neighbors, we were done for. Even though the journey was under two hours, I’m sure with four squabbling kids and a dog, it probably seemed endless for my parents. However, the payoff for over an hour and a half of sibling-poking purgatory was a glorious week at Clark Lake. Right now, my wife is at the wheel, and we are just over two hours away from glorious Destin. Here’s to The Great American Road Trip! May you have a great one, without any Griswoldian Moments!

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The Weatherman Kit

Have You Ever Wanted To Be A Weatherman?

(Dear Readers: I apologize for not publishing an article this past Monday. The reason for this omission will be revealed in my future post: Trapped in Toronto!)

When I was a kid, my brothers, sister and I always looked forward to visits from my Mom’s good friend Mary Lu. Over the years she became a fixture at our Christmas Eve family get-together.  I never quite understood why Mary Lu would always arrive with a stack of Sports Illustrated magazines. I loved to look at all the great photos, but a woman interested in sports? I didn’t get it. She would also arrive with some very unique gifts. Sometimes they were real head-scratchers, but we always enjoyed her visits. We also knew a lot of thought went into those presents.

One Christmas in particular, I received a Weather Prediction Kit. It was very cool. There was a barometer, thermometer, and a couple of other gauges for wind, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes. Ok, I’m making some of those up, but you could calculate all sorts of different readings by using the handy dandy instruction guide. I wish I could say this lead to a successful career as a Meteorologist. Nope. It turns out I wasn’t a future Jerry Hodak (a famous Detroit weatherman). The only thing I really remember from all of those instruments and gauges is that if the barometer is falling, it generally meant that bad weather is on the way.

As I was checking out the Weather Channel app on my phone yesterday, something occurred to me. The days of my freestanding Weather Prediction Kit are long gone. With this app, just about anybody can become Jerry Hodak. That reminds me. I once met him at the Woods Theater when I was working there as an usher. He and his wife were bundled up like Nanook of the North and had come out to catch a movie. Of course, this was during a raging snowstorm. I couldn’t resist razzing him about the snow. He said, “Hey, it’s not my problem, I just tell you what’s coming.” Now that we all have a Weather Prediction Kit on our phones, it makes me a little sad. Another memory from my youth, replaced by technology. Oh well, time to bundle up and walk the hound. The app says it’s 23 degrees and snowing. Oh goody.

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Welcome To The Future

This hilarious video was shared on Facebook the other day. It shows two 17-year-old kids trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone. Priceless! It has occurred to me, not for the first time, that we live in a digital paradise. When I think of how far technology has come in the past twenty years, it’s truly staggering. We’ve gone from yakking on a phone with a curly cord, that was bolted to the wall, to sending each other text messages from phones that fit in our pocket! To say nothing of the ways we can watch TV! Gone are channels 2,4,7,9 & 50! Now, you can spend countless hours scrolling through everything that’s available to stream on your TV, computer, tablet, phone, or even watch!!

dick-tracy-1024x768When I was a kid, there were two eagerly anticipated products that would let us know when we had finally arrived in the Sci-Fi Future. The first was from a cartoon, of course. Each week, Dick Tracy would check-in with HQ on his WATCH! Dick Tracy was a comic strip from the 1930s. The fact that he had such a futuristic watch, just blew our minds! For Christmas, we were excited to receive gigantic walkie-talkies that had a range of about ten feet. Today, people have technology on their wrists that has the power of multiple supercomputers from the 1970s, and weighs only a few ounces! These gadgets play music and video, answer phone calls, monitor your fitness level and much, much more.

The second harbinger of the future is obviously the flying car. With advancements in drone technology, they are getting closer. However, I can’t see any of these vehicles parked in a tight spot at the mall anytime soon. The inspiration for the flying car came, once again, from a cartoon. The futuristic Jetsons debuted in 1962. While many advances depicted on the show (robots, video-chats, jetpacks, holograms, 3-D printed food, and others) have come to fruition, we’re still waiting on that Flying Ferrari, George! I guess we’ll just have to be patient. Who knows, maybe Elon Musk is working on a Jetson-Mobile right now. I wouldn’t be surprised. In the words of one of my favorite Brad Paisley songs, “Welcome to the Future!”

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The Magic of Halloween

It’s Just Around The Corner

I wish I could say it feels like Halloween is just around the corner, but this week hit a high of 83 degrees.  Can somebody get ahold of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ask her to drive a stake into this horrible summer already?!  It’s had more comebacks than Jason or Michael Myers. It’s really hard to enjoy hot cider and donuts when they cause you to break out in a sweat!  I guess there’s nothing we can do about it but soldier on, and pray for a cold snap. Anyway, it’s now Thursday, October 11th, and Linus will soon be prepping his pumpkin patch with sincerity for the arrival of that Magical Gourd.  

I have to admit, I’m as big of a sucker for Halloween as I am for Christmas. I don’t go overboard with lawn decorations, mainly because I realize, unlike some of my neighbors, that we still have to mow the lawn until December.  That said, on Monday I pulled out what decorations we do have and put them up. I like to go the spooky music route when it comes to Halloween night. The latest advancements in Bluetooth Technology have turned this into a breeze. In order to spook out the neighborhood, I used to have to park one of my giant stereo speakers on a milk crate in front of an open window. Now I can get the job done with a speaker the size of a Snickers bar. You gotta love technology! Throw in some motion activated strobe lights, and welcome to Creepytown.

When I was a kid, Halloween blew my mind. For one night each year, virtually every house on the block was handing out FREE CANDY!  The idea that I couldn’t possibly get to all of it drove me crazy.  Once upon a time, on that magical night, my friends and I concocted a plan to ride our bikes from block to block, hitting as many houses as possible. However, the logistics of such an operation became problematic. Where do we park our bikes so some other kids don’t steal them for their own candy spree? They could wind up dumping the bikes blocks away, and we would lose valuable candy-collecting time looking for them. That hiccup prevented us from executing a brilliant plan. I still think about what could have been. Candy all the way until Easter!! Ah, to dream. Happy Halloween, everyone!!

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( I saw this on YouTube and I couldn’t resist sharing it.  I calling “Winning Halloween”)