The Universal Notebook: The technology of complaint

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In general, I try to vary these columns by writing about a personal matter one week (vacation in Cape Cod), a local issue (Brunswick schools) the next, followed by a focus on a statewide subject (death with dignity bill, deposit on nips) and finally a national column (usually whatever outrageous thing our unqualified, unfit and unstable un-president has been up to lately).

That national category has a huge backlog of topics to cover, but this morning, assuming he hasn’t launched a missile or declared martial law, I have a few more pressing concerns on my mind.

The older I get, the crankier I get, and the targets of many of my complaints (other than Republican politicians) are very often technologies that perplex, annoy and infuriate me, underscoring, as they do, my own inadequacies. Here are but a few of the many.

Were I a young man with a lifetime of energy and enthusiasm ahead of me, I might well dedicate myself to solving a social problem that would make the world a much safer place and make me a much richer man. Why is it, in this day and age of technological marvels, that automobiles cannot come equipped with headlights that illuminate the road without blinding oncoming drivers? I just can’t see why headlights work so poorly.

Actually, what I just can’t see is the road at night when other cars are approaching, especially when the roads are wet. Like a lot of older people, I have terrible glare recovery. I slow to a crawl on rainy nights when oncoming headlights make my retinas dance. Seems to me that there should be some way to make the roadway as bright as day without shining high beams in Beem’s face. The worst offenders are those expensive foreign jobbies with eerie yellow crime lights for headlights. Come on, lighting luminaries, come up with an automotive lighting system that is an advance over the flashlight.

Next, as I help organize my 50th high school reunion, I have come to wish that there were directories of cell phone numbers and email addresses. Remember when everyone who had a phone was in the phone book? These days, if you’ve lost track of someone, increasingly through retirement and relocation, if you can’t find them on Facebook, you just can’t find them.

I know, I know, we like the idea that no one knows our cell phone number unless we’ve given it to them, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the epidemic of robocalls, phone scams and telemarketers. In the meantime, does anyone know were Alan Titcomb, Westbrook High School Class of 1967, might be?

Then there is my nostalgia for a television set that you simply turn on and off. Not sure what the problem is, something about encrypted signals I’m told, but Comcast has transformed the simple on-off task into a maddening art form of pointing the remote just right and then waiting 10 seconds while it cycles through a series of blinking lights. No one else in the family has mastered this dark art, so I am stuck holding the remote.

Heaven forbid anyone should want to watch Netflix. That requires a separate remote, even more remote than the first. And who knows what insidious apparatus is involved in accessing Hulu, Sling or Xeljanz. Oh, wait, Xeljanz isn’t a streaming service, it’s one of those preposterous pharmaceutical names (yet another complaint for yet another column).

The bane of my domestic existence, however, is a not a 21st century digital devil but a mid-20th century mechanical monster, the evil canister vacuum cleaner with mini power head for furniture and stairs. I cannot exaggerate how exasperating it is for me to vacuum. I only do it when I am home alone because invariably I end up cursing and yelling as the canister crashes into the baseboard, the cord gets tangled around my feet, the hose kinks, the attachments fall off and the plug pulls out of the wall.

I assure you I am not kidding when I say that I once went to a vacuum cleaner shop to take a quickie course in how to vacuum. Something about wrapping the hose around your back and stepping in one direction as you vacuuming. It’s a dirty dance I just cannot do at my age with my bad back, cranky knee and worse temperament.

With the continued existence of the American republic threatened by a family of filthy rich incompetents and their nefarious lackeys, you’d think I’d have more important business to discuss, but what may strike others as trivial is often what gets us through troubled times.

And these, dear friends, are just such times.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Moishe the Beadle

    We’re the same age and feel the same way about technology. However, the self-centered Millenials don’t care one whit about what we think. With all their easy access to information, you’d think they’d be smarter. Unfortunately, they are the most ignorant segment of the population. It’s what happens when one received participation trophies and were always told how special they were. It also explains why they vote for liberals. Clueless.

    • EdBeem

      Gee, you started out so well.

      • Moishe the Beadle

        And you, Sir, prefaced your column with these comments: “our unqualified, unfit and unstable un-president [?] has been up to lately.”

        • EdBeem

          I was being generous. Trump is a fool and America is in great danger for having put him in a position of such power. If we are lucky, he will resign ahead of impeachment for violating the emoluments clause and running the government for the benefit of his family. If we are unlucky, he will fatten the fat cats, plunge the country back into recession and start WWIII with an unwise tweet. Everyone who voted for this man should get down on his knees and pray for forgiveness.

          • Moishe the Beadle

            After the Comey hearings, I really don’t think so. Progressives have been used to getting their way for so long they still think socialism/Marxism is the answer. Those days are over. Unless you can come up with anything but ridiculous personal attacks, I think you should suspend writing your column.

  • Chew H Bird

    About all I can say is if night vision is a problem, don’t drive at night. The issue may be your eyes instead of the headlight beams.

    As for phone books, you cell phone captures number of people you speak with and so simply capture those numbers, synchronize with whatever you want, and you have your own personal phone book. If you need a business number, do a google search.

    Issues with remote controls? Universal remotes have been available for many years. I press the Netflix button and up it comes, complete with surround sound. I press the “tv” button when I want Comcast and the Music button when I want to play a CD and the Blu Ray button for DVDs. It couldn’t be more simple…

    I have no solution for the vacuum cleaner. I keep thinking I will eventually replace the 30 year old Electrolux I inherited from my Mom back in 2005 but the reviews and specifications have not yet synchronized properly with my brain. If you figure it out, let me know as I need to come into this new century at some point…

  • Little crow

    I find it refreshing to be able to agree with Ed Beem on something; in fact, when he’s not writing about politics, I think we have a lot in common. We even both worked for the Westbrook American Journal.

    Those headlights are a drag, especially the blue ones. Here’s something I wish would come back: the 1948 Tucker had a headlight in the center that was connected to the steering so it would light the path you’re turning into. I don’t know why somebody hasn’t adopted this great idea.

    I’ve seen people use as many as 5 remote controls to run a TV set, each with about 40 buttons on it. I tell my engineer daughter (who works for GE): invent a remote that your grandmother can use and you’ll be able to buy the state of Hawaii.

    • Chew H Bird

      Adaptive headlights, as you mentioned, have been around for many years. Newer technology for adaptive headlights is creeping into the modern car market. AHL typically allows headlight to look to the tight up to 15 degrees in corners. They do not move past center to the left because oncoming cars could be blinded.

      There have been universal remotes that a non-tech person people can easily use for decades, including grandmothers… The catch is to find one that works properly for the non-tech person as we all have different ideas of simplicity.

      Mine is set up so when my wife presses “TV”, the cable box, television, and sound system come on and she can change channels, record shows, change the volume easily.

      If she wants to watch a DVD or online streaming service she selects “Movie” and the Blu Ray player become the device of choice and she can choose between Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or a disc.

      If she wants to play something on her computer she presses a single button for Miracast, (a Chrome stick competitor), and she can watch whatever videos or movies she wants from her computer.

      If I want to change something, I can actually log into the receiver from my laptop and control all functions that I used to do with a remote. I can even do this from my office using a secure VPN connection.

      I like the different technologies but my wife is a non-technical person so the basically has three buttons from which to choose that allow her to do everything she wants and whatever one she presses the system automatically switches to her choice. I don’t know how it can be any easier to control a tv, cable box, blue ray player, and receiver hooked to a surround sound system.