Dan Rattiner's Stories

Luddite Fixing: Just Smack It on the Side With Your Fist a Few Times

How to get along in a digital world.

We are the Old School Folks, the people they call Luddites, those who still read newspapers and write letters, and from time to time actually talk to one another in conversation where everybody sits around on chairs in a living room.

I have done my best to learn the ways of the Wi-Fi and the internet and indeed have armed myself with a cell phone and a computer and an iPad and a smart TV. And I have accomplished a number of things. Other things, however, have eluded me. And I am here in the next few paragraphs to tell you about some of my brushes with danger in this department.

There is the weather. Often on any particular day, there are scattered showers. I know how to see the upcoming weather on my cell phone and I am happy to tap that app. I do confess to missing accounts of interesting weather events that have happened the day before. Nobody seems to be interested in the size of the hailstones that set a record yesterday. No matter what—even for a tornado—there is no further interest. Yesterday is so yesterday.

But what I can’t stop on a day of scattered showers are the weather alerts that appear unannounced on my phone, coming from where I do not know, that tell me more than I want to know about scattered showers all day.

Yesterday, an alert popped up on my phone at 6:46 a.m. It read, “Rain will begin around 7:24 a.m. continuing off and on over the next half-hour. The rain will be light. See what’s coming.”

I was busy when 7:24 p.m. rolled around so I don’t know if they nailed it but early that morning we did have a sprinkle or two.

At 10:52 a.m. there was another alert. “Rain will begin at 10:54 a.m. and will continue for the next 15 minutes. The rain will be light. See what’s coming.”

At 11:38 a.m., again after a clearing, the sky darkened and there was another alert. “YAHOO WEATHER ALERT,” it read. “24% chance of rain within 0 minutes.”

It made me think of how Yahoo has gotten all botched up, and here was another example of it. I really had not wanted to think about Yahoo at that moment.

Here were further alerts on this scattered-showers day.

“A brief rain shower will begin around 2:45 p.m. continuing off and on over the next half-hour. See what’s coming.”

“4:50 p.m.: Special Weather Statement has been issued for Southeast Suffolk County, NY until Saturday, November 3 at 5 a.m. ET.”

“6:49: p.m.: Rain will begin around 7:01 p.m. continuing off and on over the next half hour. The rain will be light. See what’s coming.”

This is more than enough about scattered showers.

At 8 p.m., we sat down to watch a movie on Netflix. We had one in mind, and we know the drill. Usually the one you want, they don’t have, but there are others they show you and you find one you like. This particular night, my wife was manning the remote and she started searching around, and suddenly I saw her click on “Kids.” Now we were in the Kids department of Netflix.

She said she’d pressed it by accident. We tried mightily to get back out of Kids but there was no “back.” The choices involved comedy, movies, adventure, cartoons and TV shows, pick one. We bounced around in there. Adventures of Wally the Wombat. Billy and Betty Ride the Train. Cartoons for ages 3–5. Cartoons for ages 7–9. It’s amazing, the amount of content for this age group.

After 20 minutes, my wife suggested we watch one. Looks good, she said. Something about fire engines.

“I am not watching something because we are stuck in Kids,” I said. I took the remote.

I’ll back out and start over. I changed the source and got back to TV. I returned to the source where the Netflix was and got to choose from Amazon, Hulu, ESPN and others. I chose Netflix again. It went immediately to Kids.

We turned off the TV.

One sunny day, I wrote a story for this newspaper outdoors in a folding chair on the lawn. The story was about 1,000 words, and I chugged through it without stopping and got to the very last sentence and suddenly everything went blank. The computer’s battery was out. It had not warned me? Why not? It used to warn me with a box on the screen. In horror, I realized I had never pressed “save.”

This was the first time ever, in more than 50 years, where all these words I wrote had suddenly vanished unsaved. Gone. I flailed around, pressing this and that to no effect, and then suddenly realized what I had to do.

I ran into the kitchen, found the charger, plugged it in and prayed. It had been dead for no more than 2 minutes. Was I in time? I waited. This was story CPR. Suddenly the computer woke up. It wanted to know my password. I typed it in and pressed enter. Would I get my opening screen? Would it have remembered my unsaved story? It did. I had gotten there in time. Had I been another 30 seconds in fumbling to find the cord, it would have been a miserable do-it-again. I had dodged that bullet.

On my iPad, I was going to a site when it wanted to know my password and then please answer two security questions. What is your mother’s maiden name? Second question, Are you a robot?

Another problem. I bought a Sound Bar for the TV a month ago. A friend had set it up. It has its own remote. Your TV can have big, booming bass, or it has a setting that enhances what people say. The bar is black, about 18 inches long, shaped like a long salami, and is attached to the wall just above the TV so you can see the little blue light that shows you it is on. The light also flickers and moves as you do things on the remote.

Last week, the blue light was no longer on when I went to watch TV. The sound came from the crappy TV audio. I thought maybe the remote’s battery was dead, but it couldn’t be. This was still new. I pressed stuff on the Sound Bar remote to no effect; even the on/off button didn’t work. I thought maybe there was a setting on the TV that had gotten messed up. I’d better get my friend back in.

Time passed, still on the crappy sound, we were watching a Vietnam documentary, and suddenly it was a pirate movie on another channel. Frantically, I pressed the remote buttons randomly and by some miracle got what we were watching back. And now the Sound Bar blue light was back. I had done it.

Last item. I was watching a Jets game I had saved. They’ve got a new quarterback this year, a 21-year-old rookie named Sam Darnold, an odd name, and the week before he had done quite well. Now he was terrible in the first half and the Jets got way behind. But then in the third quarter, Darnold was better, and by the beginning of the fourth quarter they’d caught up and everybody was excited, at which time the recording ended.

I found I had screwed up adding hours to the length of the recording. But I know, I’ll go to the regular TV and choose the channel and watch the end live. Guess what? You know this one. The game was over. Watching the channel live gave me a cooking show. The game was over.

Life is tough for us Luddites. But what the hell. Anyway, the Jets lost.

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