Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My iPod Hates Me (And I Think My Laptop is Having an Affair)

My relationship with technology is perhaps best described by an event a few years ago, where I took a sledgehammer to a three-month old Dell.   Something had gotten into that PC:  when I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I would find glowing in my study, even though I was certain I’d turned it off.  It didn’t matter what I did: scanned for viruses, rebooted the soft- and hardware, unplugged it from the internet, the Ethernet, and the outlet—I would still awaken at 3 a.m. to find it hard at work, presumably churning out spam from Krjekestan or some such place. 

After I finally hauled it out back, took out my ten-pound maul, and expressed my true feelings for this particular piece of Seattle-made machinary, I mentioned my actions to a friend of mine who also happens to be a therapist.  She looked at me for a moment, quizzically, then got a sort of thoughtful look in her eyes.  Uh-oh, I thought.  Here comes the prescription for Ritalin. 

But all she said was, “I’ll bet that felt pretty good.”

It did.  But that didn’t end my so-called relationship with technology.  Flash forward four years:  my family and I are getting ready to spend a year abroad and I suddenly find myself knee-deep in technology:  In the last month I’ve purchased my first laptop, my first iPod, my first digital recorder.  Four of the five members of my family now own digital cameras.  I’ve learned to Skype, which is a verb even if it sounds like a tropical disease, and we now have two blogs.  You’d think this sudden emersion in the silicon-driven conveniences of modern life would lead to a better relationship with technology, but in fact, it’s only confirmed my sense that I’m am Bill Gates’ bi-otch. 

Take the iPod (please!):  I’ve basically spent the last three weeks uploading every CD my family owns onto my desktop so that I could download it onto the iPod.  Smart idea, huh?  And entire family’s music for a whole year—jazz, classical, alternative—all on a little metal gizmo smaller than my wallet.  The first part was easy enough, never mind that the iTunes system sometimes had a little trouble categorizing bands—I can buy REM as a rock band (as opposed to alternative), but is Sinead O’Connor really country?  And easy enough loading all these tunes onto the iPod.  But then my wife came in and said she’d found another cache of CDs she wanted to add.  Nothing doing said my computer:  not enough space.  What the hell?  I thought the whole idea was that computer and iPod would sync whenever they copulated, but apparently that’s not the case.  It doesn’t help, of course, that the iPod “instructions” are basically seven sentences long.  I guess they assume every idiot knows how to work these things, and my guess is that they’re right, with one glaringly bald exception. 

In the end, I learned how to delete everything from my iPod in order to make space for the new music.  I never did learn, though, how to get the new music on the iPod.  I’m guessing we’ll be listening to a lot of local radio in Hong Kong next year. 

Then there’s the matter of the kids’ digital cameras:  now I’ve had digital cameras before, and the one feature I’ve liked about them, despite their glaringly obvious inability to focus where you want them to, is the fact that, when your card is full, all you have to do is hook the camera up to the computer and voila!:  all sorts of windows and boxes pop up, microchips start to hum, and everything on the camera is automatically downloaded onto the computer and quickly assembled into a tidy little slide show, complete with commentary by Ed McMahon. 

Now I’d hate to unduly influence anyone’s camera-purchasing decision by mentioning to you that both of my kids’ cameras are Fuji cameras, so I won’t do that, but you should know that these particular Fuji cameras, made by the Fuji company, are Fuji-made in such a way as to be Fuji-incompatible with pretty much every other software system in the world, except for Fuji software, made by the Fuji company, whose name I won’t mention (Fuji!).  (Seriously, I’ve no idea what Fuji means in Japanese, but my guess is it's not something you'd want to say to your mother).

Anyhow, I discovered all of this bull-fuji when when I sat down late one night to watch a movie and organize some of my work files for the trip.  On a whim, I also decided to download the Fuji-ware onto my laptop, so that when my kids took their usual adorable pictures during our year in Hong Kong (“Look daddy, here’s a dead fish being eaten by a dog!  What’s that other dog doing to the first dog while she’s eating?”) I could load them onto my computer, put them on Windows Sky Drive (another piece of technology that I’m beginning to feel all Fuji about) and share them with the world—or at least the kids’ grandparents in Wisconsin.  “This should be easy,” I thought, flipping on the television and getting out my three-ringed hole puncher (Yes, I am a geek).  “I’ll just hit ‘continue’ every seven seconds or so, and the program will be all set up.”

Ha.  Two hours later, I’ve given up on watching Kirsten Dunst pretend she can act, and I’ve broken every window in the house with the sheer force of my screams.  Making matters worse is the fact that this anonymous company (whose name rhymes with Puji) had the foresight to put their manual on a disk, which means that, instead of holding an easy-to-follow booklet in one hand and banging away in frustration with my other hand, I’m forced to go back and forth between two open but basically un-navigatable windows,  trying to figure out what the Fuji they mean when they say, “After expanding the image navigator sequence, undermine the corregatory application window, such that the sync in the applicator drains.” 


Anyhow, round about six hours later I’ve had it.  Furious, I crawl into bed, wake my wife, and whimper like a five-year-old who lost his teddy bear.  Next morning I rise from sleep, determined to give unsaid company (Fuji) and their employees a real piece of my mind. 

So I do.  I wait until the kids are out of the house (best to keep them innocent, after all), dial the number I found prominently displayed in a footnote on page 378 of the on-line manual, and wait. 

Not surprisingly, it only takes me 12 seconds to speak to a real operator.  Clearly no one else in the world is stupid enough to buy a camera from a film company best known for, well, nothing.  “Hello,” says a bored sounding young man on the other end of the line.

I let him have it.  What kind of company, I ask, designs software so convoluted, so inaccessible, so just generally crapped up that it takes seven hours—yes, seven hours--to download the stuff, and then it doesn’t even work.

“Did you expand the navigator sequence?” he says, still sounding bored.  I can actually hear him picking his teeth with a paper clip.

“Of course I expanded the navigator sequence,” I say.  “What do I sound like an idiot?”  I am about to go into my ‘I have a Ph.D. in Victorian literature’ speech, which makes me sound both pompous and na├»ve at the same time, when he interrupts me. 

“The computer’s navigator sequence?” he asks.  Pick, pick. 

I pause.  “The computer has its own navigator sequence?”

“Of course,” he says, “you Fuji idiot.  Open the hard drive.”

I do.  There it is.  I hit it.  A window expands, then something flashes and something else clicks a few times before a dozen pictures from my son’s camera flash across the screen in beautiful, full-color sequence.  I’m not quite sure what Ed McMahon is saying in the voice-over (“Hey Johnny, whaddaya think of the shot of those two dogs making babies?”) but I recognize the ebb and flow of his voice. 

“Huh,” I say. 

Mr. Bored doesn’t respond, just waits. 

“That was easy,” I tell him. 

Still there’s a pause, then he goes, “Say it.”


“Say it.”

“I won’t.”

“Yes you will.  Say it.”

“Okay,” I finally confess, “I’m your bi-otch.” 

Please note:  this is a personal blog and is in no way a reflection of the Fulbright organization, which would probably prefer I avoided words like "bi-otch."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Three of the Top 10 Reasons to take a Fulbright in Hong Kong Working with General Education

10)  Because I'm in my damn forties.  

A few months ago I Google-Imaged (that's a real verb) someone I'd dated back in college just to see if anything would come up (oh sure, like you've never done this).  Something did.  It was a good thing there was a caption under the picture, because if I'd passed this person on the street--check that:  if this person had come up to me on the street wearing a t-shirt that said, "I'm Jane Doe:  We dated from April to September 1987"--I still wouldn't have recognized her.   Seriously, once I knew it was her, my main thought was, "Wow, she looks like she's forty."  Which of course she was.  And of course I am too.  And let's face it:  I look more like my dead grandfather than I do the kid I was in college. 

None of which has anything to do with anything, other than to say:  time for a friggin' adventure.  I've been in Virginia for 13 years, and even though Virginia is for lovers (unless you're gay of course, in which case you're out of luck facing the most medieval anti-gay laws outside of any country ending in "-stan") and it's kind of pretty during any season other than summer or winter, it can get old.  By the time I was 23, I'd been to 20 different countries.  By the time I was 43, I'd been to 22 different countries.  Sort of slowing down there.  Time to shake things up.  

And who knows?  Maybe plastic surgery is cheap in HK and they can make me look, say, 42.  

9)  Because I actually like that Gen Ed crap. 

Go figure:  given the choice between spending my time at a conference debating whether or not Dickens hated women, whether or not Dickens loved his sister-in-law, or whether or not Dickens spelled the possessive form of his name "Dickens'" or "Dickens's" (seriously, academics give a crap about this sort of thing) or spending my time helping biology majors understand why poetry can save lives (just ask William Carlos Williams) or talking with business majors about how abstract art can blow your mind (just as Rothko or Gormley), I'll take the latter two.  

Put another way, I'm one of the six people in the world who honestly believes that general education courses--those courses you take because you're required to, instead of because they're part of your major--matter as much or more than your major courses.  I know too many people who started out in one field--say, the eminently practical English--only to leave college and end up in something completely different, say, accounting, or architecture, or scamming grannies out of their retirement money.  College is a lot like life in most ways--you have to cope with a lot of different  people, you have to stay on top of things, you have to on occasion clean your refrigerator--but in one way it differs radically:  jobs do not carry course prefixes.  You can't, in other words, say "I'm an accountant, therefore I shouldn't have to do anything with an ENGL, SOCI, or BIOL prefix attached to it" (if you don't know what those letters mean, then you smoked way too much back in college).  I know accountants who ended up working with religious groups and having to know about state laws and what features of the environmental impact requirements were essential and therefore tax deductible, and which were not.  I know architects who worry more about the socio-political impact of their designs than they do their drawing skills (now obsolete, by the way, because of those friggin' computers).  I know scam artists who use tons of psychology to pry those grannies away from dreams of retirement in Reno--which is just as well, since Reno is kind of a dump.  

What's more, I like having conversations with scientists and sociologists and art historians and political scientists (well, okay, not political scientists) about how to make their classes actually matter to students who are taking them because they have to.  

Sorry, this is sounding earnest, so I'll shut up.  (But it's true.  Really.)

8)  Because I've been told Hong Kong is so humid it'll give you curly hair. 

Which is cool, since I'm bald.  

Note:  This blog is a personal blog and in no way reflects the views, beliefs, or culinary tastes 0f the Fulbright Organization, CIIES or IIES or whoever else it is that picked me for this grant, or US Attorney General Eric Holder, who's kind of cool in a geeky way.  

Monday, July 6, 2009

But why? Why would you do that?

I have this memory of me standing in the airport in Milwaukee back in 1986.  My mom was there, and my brother, and I was about to get on a plane and fly to Africa.  I'd never been out of the country.  I'd never, in my more-or-less adult life, been on a plane.  But there I was, backpack over my shoulder, passport and tickets in hand, bag of Twizzlers packed somewhere handy--there I was, about to get on a jet and fly off for what would eventually become a thirteen-month trip.  I was twenty years old.  My hair was longish (pre-mullet style, known as the "soccer cut" back then; very 80s, very chic!), I weighed all of 160 pounds (at 6-2).  I listened to U-2 and had an earring.  I thought I was awesome.  And damn, was I smart.  Smartest dumb-ass kid to fly out of the midwest in ages.  I might as well have had a sign on my back:  "Mug him.  He's easy."  

I couldn't wait to get on the plane.  And my mom, she was crying.  Why was she crying?  Didn't she understand how cool I was?  Didn't she get how much fun this was going to be?  I was going to Africa!  I was gonna talk swahili!  I was going to impress the world with my hard-earned, life on the suburban streets, only fools listen to Bob Seeger wisdom.  Damn, woman, can't you see that?  

Of course, she knew what she was talking about--or crying about:  I was twenty, skinny, dumb, her youngest son.  In the next two months I would get lost at two airports (actually, that was in the next 36 hours), get some kind of disease that would require tylenol or have me sweating in bed every night for the next two years, sleep on a jail-house floor or two, almost lose my virginity (I know:  20 and a v-chip holder.  How sad is that?) to a comely belle from South Carelina (three syllables, not four), climb Kilimanjaro, tossing my Oreos the whole way, almost ride a motorcycle across Tanzania, subsist on nothing but bananas, canned fish, and beer for an entire weekend, lose 30 pounds off my already bony frame--and all of that just in Africa.  After that I'd head up to Europe and tick off more posh brits and leaderhosen-wearing poseurs than you can shake a pint glass at.  I'd trade on the black market in Russia (who didn't, back then?), fall in love, like, 23 thousand times (who doesn't, at 20?), start a rock band and sign with a major label (okay, that part's a lie) and spend all of dear mom's retirement money (sadly, true, that bit).  

Anyhow, she knew what the hell she was doing, shedding tears on my Bon Jovi t-shirt as we stood there by the airport gate, waiting for my boarding call.  I was a confirmed idiot.  I had not a clue.  I just did it.  

Fast forward 23 years.  Six weeks from tomorrow, I'm getting on an airplane again, in Milwaukee, and heading off to Hong Kong for a year.  I'm 43 now, married, with three kids--all of whom are coming with.  The oldest is 8.  The youngest is 2.  

Knowing what I know now, why would I do that?  

Note:  This blog is a personal blog and in no way reflects the views of the Fulbright Foundation, Hostess Cupcakes, or any other body or person or organization who are near and dear to my heart.