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Island Life

For some reason, our phone service has become a mere shadow- or perhaps since it is sound we are talking here, a distant echo- of its former self. Where once we could talk away in the comfort of our home, racking up air minutes and microwaving our brain cells with nary a problem at all, now all of a sudden on a regular basis those curious bits of dead air one hears after one has completed their current contribution to the conversation have been followed by a few beeps and then nothing. Going outside and away from underneath the metal house roof seems to have little or no beneficial effect. And besides, at this time of year, who wants to step out from underneath any type of protective cover, especially when a few short weeks ago that type of action was never necessary? Of course, in Wendy’s numerous conversations with our gab fest provider, she has been informed that there is indeed nothing wrong. This type of response from a camera company (I complained about a noticeable lack of sharpness from a camera I had just purchased and was informed that this lens and image quality was within their specs) resulted in my returning the camera and continuing to delete all online ads that pop my way before opening them. I can sometimes relinquish control of the horizontal and the vertical, but being told that a life out of focus is a life worth accepting doesn’t work for me.

    After a number of further calls to the provider (one has to love that term) and many more dropped calls at home, they elected to do the American thing: send us a patch kit. In this case it arrived in a plain brown cardboard box and consisted of yet another electronic device with lots of blinking colored lights and a remote sensing device with requisite coil of black coated cable for good measure. Wendy plugged it in and it blinked and blinked and the calls kept on dropping, so I did the google thing to find some relevant instructions, as it of course came with none. I turned it on and off a couple of times and the same wrong lights continued to blink. I read that the remote gps sensor might need to be tethered out and away from the device with the coil of black cable, so I did that only to see the wrong lights carry on in the way they had become accustomed to. And then I saw that five letter word on the electronic page: reset. This kind of connected with a diagram indicating the location of a small hole in the back of the device with the graphic of a paperclip bent (literally) on penetrating its void. This was followed by my usual response to situations similar to this which generally consists of one word followed by an imagined or inferred question mark. That response would be: really?

    I realize that Apollo 13 was saved from disaster on its journey to the moon by American Ingenuity, duct tape and a prayer. But one would think that some 40 or so years onward from this outerspace adventure, that the necessity for locating a paperclip (in an increasingly paperless world) in order to perform a sometimes vital function that might jumpstart and revitalize an impressive chunk of high technology, would be considered to be some kind of a joke or a last ditch, duct tape type of solution, instead of  the go to panacea as described in the operator’s manual. In fact, I know that we can and have done better in this regard. On the back of my twenty dollar bike computer, which tells me speed, distance, maximum speed, elapsed ride time and ambient temperature, there is a button one can press to reset the whole thing, except for the accumulated mileage. This is perhaps because the designers understood that riders do not normally include one or any paperclips in their list of saddlebag roadside emergency objects, nor do they want to waste time scrounging for the elusive paperclip in order to reset the computer before heading out on the next ride.

    One might assume as well that this intentionally low tech solution is one way of exhibiting pride and self assurance in electronic craftsmanship and plastic part assembly workmanship. It might be a way of saying, “ we stand by our product- but if for some unforeseen reason something might go horribly wrong, a simple snipe or scavenger hunt for a bent paperclip will not only set you on the right path to smooth and trouble free operation of this device, but it will also get you up off your ass- exercising and taking direct responsibility for a positive outcome on the day.” There is also the side of electronic engineers everywhere, or at least the few that I know, who crave low tech solutions to high tech problems. As has been mentioned here in the past, on any number of occasions I have been saved by the bigger hammer advice of a friend who designed one of Eric Clapton’s guitar amps, and any number of rock and roll sound altering gadgets. Another car guy buddy has given similar advice for electronics in cars. A few good whacks to sides of a couple of misbehaving television sets have served to restore a missing picture until it didn’t.  This extended the useful service period on these items for a number of years, and just at the cost of some satisfying raps to a plastic TV chassis.

And a foot long section of half inch rebar was all the extended warranty I needed to prod a troubled alternator into starting my truck one more time, a number of times over. So, I don’t know, maybe I have no reason to whine about having to find a paperclip to inspire any high tech device to try once again. As it was, I poked this reset hole with the nearest narrow object I could find- the straight pin part of a cheap but brightly painted, tin dragonfly broach. And guess what? Houston, we no longer have a problem.