Sept. 1, 2013

Josh Becker

         Recently on The Daily Show, the topic of the 2016 election came up.  John Oliver, sitting in for Jon Stewart, said, “Why are we discussing this?  That’s three years away.  That’s ten iPhones from now.”  And I’ll bet that’s probably accurate.
         Undoubtedly technology is always improving on some level, but it’s not improving fast enough for consumer technology: not for the consumer, nor for the companies who sell the stuff.  Consumers want better things right away and companies want new things to sell to keep making more money.  Therefore, we’ve hit an impasse.  To keep up with consumer’s demands, companies are now not improving their technology, they’re simply complicating it in a ruse to make us believe it’s improved.
         In the last six months every piece of technology I own has crapped out: my computer, my TV, my iPod, my cell phone, and everything had to be replaced since nothing can be fixed anymore.  I’m convinced my technology karma has gone bad and that I now radiate kryptonite.
         I got my first iPod for my 50th birthday from my sister (I’m now 55).  I hadn’t desired an iPod, nor even given it the slightest bit of thought.  I have hundreds of CDs and they sound fine to me, although they do take up a fair amount of space.  Nevertheless, now I had an iPod Nano, a tiny little thing not much bigger than a matchbook.  OK.  I got an iTunes account and began loading up my songs, occasionally even buying one from Apple.  I immediately hit a bug in their software design.  When you attempt to upload a CD onto iTunes all of the songs on the disk appear on your screen and they all have a check in the box that tells them to upload, except nine times out of ten I don’t want all of the songs on any given CD, just some of them.  However, to my constant consternation, it immediately begins taking all of the songs and uploading them before I have a chance to check or uncheck them.  Therefore, I have to move as fast as I can to attempt to uncheck the songs I don’t want, and this maneuver generally fails so that I end up with songs I never wanted that must now be deleted (more on this later).  Would it be so difficult to set this up in the opposite way, so that nothing is checked until I check it?  Perhaps this can be done, too, but I never figured out how.
         And would it break Apple’s fucking heart to indicate to me which version of the song is the original release?  At least ten times I’ve ended up buying some funky remake of a song I like because I couldn’t figure out in the few seconds allotted if it was the original or not.  Admittedly, I generally buy songs late at night when I’m drunk, but still.  I wanted the original soundtrack version of “New York, New York” by Liza Minnelli, but ended up with some fucked up live performance that I cannot remove.
         Itunes is a piece of shit.  Although you may attempt to remove a song, it never actually goes away.  And as you keep synchronizing your iPod to iTunes, occasionally songs that you’ve deleted will magically reappear.  I put all of “West Side Story” on my iPod, then decided I didn’t want it on there, but alas, it’s all came back.  I put several Nat King Cole songs on, but now I have the entire Best of Nat King Cole CD, half of which I didn’t ask for.  I like Nat King Cole (and “West Side Story”), so that’s OK, but that’s not what I wanted.  The same thing occurred with Weather Report and several other CDs.  All I wanted was “Birdland,” but I now have the whole record.
         Anyway, so my iPod Nano broke.  No big deal.  My friend, Lisa, had been given a new 8-gigabyte iPod Touch by her boyfriend that she never used.  She offered to lend it to me (forever) since everyone hangs out at my house and my iPod is always playing on shuffle.  As has been said of me, I’m an “industrial user” of my iPod.  I think the iPod is a wonderful invention.  Due to it I was able to remove hundreds of CDs from my living room, and I no longer had to make difficult decisions about what to listen to next.  And because I just had 8-gigabytes, about 2,000 songs, when it’s set on shuffle it goes from one good song to the next to the next, ad infinitum.  Unlike say my buddy John who has an 80-gigabyte iPod and has every song in the Library of Congress, three-quarters of which are crap and have to be fast-forwarded past.  But I digress.
         So I now have an 8-gigabyte iPod Touch (I digress some more.  I don’t even like writing iPod, iTunes, iPhone, with their small i, then capital whatever letter, it’s just plain old annoying).  First of all, the stupid piece of junk has so many useless apps already installed, that cannot be removed, that 2-gigabytes of memory are wasted and now I can’t get all of my songs on it.  Instead of the 1,700 golden oldies, I could only get 1,300 on it, and I lost every band past the letter S.  When it finally sunk into my brain that I no longer had any T. Rex, U2, Yes or ZZ Top I became enraged with fury.  No “Tube Snake Boogie”?  Are you fucking insane?  But worse than that, what used to be a really sleek, elegant, simple design had been transmogrified into an overly-complicated, entirely undependable monstrosity.  On my old iPod I would simply push a button and it would play.  Now, however, with this “improved” version, I had to push a button to turn it on, then slide a touch screen button to “unlock” it, then push another touch screen button to get it to play, and six out of ten times it wouldn’t recognize my touch and I’d have to do it over and over until it finally turned on.  Perhaps, like Homer Simpson, my fingers are too fat and I need a dialing wand.  Or possibly I’m dead and my touch is cold, I don’t know.  I finally became so aggravated with the piece of crap that I returned it to Lisa and bought an old iPod Nano off the internet, which works just fine.  Lisa and I were talking yesterday and she hates the iPod Touch as much as me, and it works just as poorly for her as it did for me.  Luckily for her, she exclusively listens to NPR in her car, and mainly listens to two old, scratchy Bob Dylan records at home.
         My computer didn’t even crap out, it just became so virus-ridden that it moved at a snail’s pace and would no longer move freely between websites.  Fine, whatever.  I’ve had many computers over the years, starting with an Apple 2-C in 1983, so I’ve been having computer issues and repairs for 30 years.  I’ve had a friendly guy fixing my computer for many years called the PC-MD who makes house calls.  I called him up and he took my computer away.  He returned a few days later with an entirely new (used) computer, a Sony Vaio, for which he charged me $120 that I thought was a fair price.  Sadly, though, my old hard-drive did not fit into this computer, so the PC-MD began to upload the various crap from my old hard-drive onto the new (used) hard-drive.  Now I was lost in a world of shit.  Itunes wouldn’t come back.  Actually, it would, but it now only had the one hundred songs I purchased, not the 1,600 songs I uploaded from CDs that took months to upload.  So I called Apple and some nice person in Mumbai informed me that this was done intentionally to avoid “copyright issues.”  Except I bought all of those fucking CDs. 
         When Steve Jobs started iTunes, his business model was the CD.  Many companies had already tried to sell songs on the internet, but they all had ridiculous stipulations like you couldn’t transfer a song from your computer to your MP3 player, or that you could only have the song for like 30 days before it evaporated.  Steve Jobs, in his brilliance, said that, like a CD, once you buy a song it’s yours.  If you want to make a duplicate and give it to your friend, god bless you.  If you want to download it onto a cassette tape and shove it up your ass, go right ahead.  And thus iTunes and every other internet music site were born.  Sadly, iTunes needs to be updated about every sixty seconds, so when I get drunk and want to buy a song I have to go through a 20-minute download before it will let me, then half the time I get the wrong version.  Maybe it would be wiser to perform this activity sober, but I doubt it.
         Meanwhile, PC-MD had my old hard-drive and wouldn’t return it.  He’d always been very responsible, if not particularly prompt.  He quit smoking weed for a year, just to see if he could do it, and when he started again he came over my house and we smoked my homegrown.  He came over at noon with beer in a cooler which I wasn’t interested in because I don’t start drinking until cocktail hour.  He kept egging me on, “Come on, have a beer.”  Well, being a drunk, I certainly don’t need anyone urging me to drink before I care to.  And then he wouldn’t leave.  I finally had to kick his sorry ass out of here.  OK, so he had my old hard-drive and wouldn’t return it, or answer my calls, or answer my texts.  I never lost my shit on him, although I should have.  He finally showed up six weeks later, disconsolately handed me my hard-drive, turned and split, never to be seen again.
         So I took my old hard-drive and my new (used) Sony Vaio up to the Computer Guru right near here and the very nice, upbeat fellow loaded all of my songs back onto my computer (for free), all 1,700 of them, but now there was also every song I ever deleted, including that piece of shit version of “New York, New York.”  I haven’t had the guts to go back into iTunes again for fear that it will expunge my 1,600 unpurchased songs.
But what also occurred due to getting this new (used) computer is that I had to download the new version of the Comcast email program, which had previously worked just fine, but was now called Xfinity and doesn’t work worth a shit.  Sometimes I can forward emails, other times I can’t.  Sometimes it won’t even give me the choice to delete emails.  And everything takes twice as long as it used to.  You push send and little blue circle starts to whiz around and around, then sixty seconds later it finally sends.  It used to send immediately, but now they’ve improved it, just like iPods.
         Then I realized that this piece of crap computer would not recognize my disk drives, and nothing I could do would fix it.  So back I went to the Computer Guru who fixed it in about two seconds and, once again, didn’t charge me anything.  What a nice guru.  I call him Swami.  Swami, how I loves ya, how I loves ya, my dear old Swami.
         So then my cell phone took a dump.  It’s an old-fashioned flip phone (“Flip is hip”), which is perfectly OK with me because I don’t want to get on the internet on my phone, nor do I  much care for texting.  As a comedian said, “Texting would be great, if they hadn’t already invented the telephone.”  Texting is for sending messages to folks to whom you actually don’t want to speak.  Friendly.  I just had a bumper sticker made that says, “Only Idiots Text and Drive, 11,000 Fatalities and Counting . . .”  People now pull up behind me at a light while texting, glance up to see if traffic has left them a mile behind, see my bumper sticker (the more observant of the idiots), then pretend that they’re not texting, while still texting.  It amuses me.
         OK, so my cell phone crapped out; completely dead; won’t turn on.  Big deal.  Verizon offers me a new free phone every two years when I re-up my contract, which I’ve been re-upping for over a decade, but have never taken them up on the new free phone.  So now I’d take them up on their offer.  I called Verizon, then had to go through the endless horseshit one must now go through to get to anyone at any company—“Push 1 for English, push 2 for Lithuanian, push 3 for Congolese, push 4 to be mistakenly disconnected, push 5 to talk to Ken in Calcutta . . .”—and I finally got a human being.  I said, “I’ll take my free phone.”  She said in what I considered a somewhat threatening tone, “You know you’ll have to sign back up for two more years.”  I said, “I’ve been with Verizon for over a decade, you think I won’t sign back up?”  She says, “You have to if you except to get a new free phone.”  I said, “OK, I have to, please send me my new free phone.”  She then tried to hustle me into getting a “smart” phone, which I know ain’t smart.  I said, “No thank you, I want a phone just like I have, which I know is still available,” but she wouldn’t stop.  She was going to explain to me every possible phone available and all their features.  I finally relented and said I’d take the phone above my phone with a slide-out keyboard, for an extra $25 or $30, and she said, “That’s a good choice.  That’s the phone I have,” which I’m sure she says to everybody no matter what phone they choose. She then said, “Let me see if we have them in stock.  This won’t take a minute,” although it actually took more like ten minutes.  She returned and said, “They’re out of stock,” then proceeded to start hustling me on  “smart” phone again.  I said in exasperation, “Please just send me the phone I have.”  She finally relented and said, “OK, that will be $33.”  I said, “But it’s free.”  She replied, “It is.  The $33 is an upgrade fee.”  I said, “But I’m not upgrading, it’s the same phone and the same plan I’ve always had.”  “Uh-huh, it’s still an upgrade.”  I said, “How, may I ask, is it an upgrade?”  She said, “It just is.”  I said, “Then the phone’s not free.”  She said, “Yes, it is.  The $33 is an upgrade fee.”  So I relented yet again and paid the $33 “upgrade” fee.
         But wait, this isn’t over.  I get the phone and in the booklet it explains how I can transfer the data from old phone to my new, free, upgraded phone.  Step #1, turn on your old phone.  Except that my old phone won’t turn on, that’s why I got a new one.  So I had to put all the phone numbers back in manually, and I lost all of my photos, including the photo I took of the sign in front of nearby elementary school that said, “Rectal Party Tonight.”  I’m sure they meant recital. 
         So then my TV took a shit and it’s only two years old.  A 32” 1080p LG with the utterly annoying slogan that appeared every time you turn it on, “Life’s good.”  Oh, yeah?  How about fuck you.  To achieve better sound I had been running a cable from the TVs headphone jack to the old Marantz amplifier I have and it sounded great.  Sadly, though, I had been overzealous, bordering on reckless, in my technique of plugging in the mini-plug and eventually the whole plug fell into the TV shorting out the picture.  I looked in the old-fashioned Yellow Pages and found Brown’s TV, “Since 1951, Same Day Home Service.”  OK.  I called and the man said someone would be out that day.  I asked, “When?” and he said later that afternoon.  He finally arrived at 8:00 PM and I should have told him to fuck off there and then, but of course I didn’t.  As he took my TV away saying it would be ready later the next day, and, oh, by the way, that’ll be $250, which I must admit seemed steep, but I paid it anyway.  All right, great.  Everything was swell.  He then proceeded to not take my calls for the next three days.  When he finally returned my TV, three days after that, he installed it, turned it on and there was the picture again, then he stood between the TV and me and my friends and demanded another $250 as “the balance.”  I said, “It’s a $400 TV and you want $500 to fix it?  I could buy another, better, TV for $500.”  But he wouldn’t desist, so I paid him with every intention in the world of stopping payment the next day.  Well, the following morning I turned on the TV, plugged in the amplifier and fuckin’-A the plug didn’t work.  I got so mad I went straight to the bank and stopped payment, costing me $36 more.  Later that evening Mr. Clarence Whitehead called.  He told me I had to pay him the balance or he would sue me.  I said, “The plug I paid you to fix still doesn’t work.”  He said, “It worked last night.”  I said, “We didn’t plug it in last night.  I plugged it this morning and it doesn’t work.”  He said, “You still have to pay the balance.”  I said, “You can talk for a thousand years and I will never pay you.”  Mr. Whitehead then exploded, “You bitch, cunt, motherfucking asshole, son of a—” and I hung up.
         Not too long after that the sound on the TV went screwy, alternately going up and down for no apparent reason.  I gave the TV to my buddy Chris so that he could plug in Xbox and play video games with his son, then I went to a nearby pawnshop, found a 37”, 1080p Westinghouse TV, with a wonderful old-fashioned logo that appeared every time the TV was turned on (an encircled W with knobby ends, the same logo they had when Nikola Tesla worked there), with a headphone jack, which isn’t easy to find anymore, and bought it for $250.  I brought it home, set it up, and voilà, the headphone jack didn’t work.  Fucked again.  And of course I can’t get it to work through the red and white RCA jacks, so I gave up.
Just today I shit-canned Comcast, and went with AT&T U-verse, which is the only other high-speed internet provider in the area, and that will solve the bullshit Xfinity issue.
         So, I have a functioning old iPod; a new, free, $33 cellphone; a crappy but functional Sony Vaio computer; and a 37” Westinghouse TV with a dead headphone jack.
         All is well in heaven and on Earth.