Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We know you’re home…pick up

Anyone who keeps up with the news—other than on pay TV—has probably heard that the pay-TV industry is losing customers in droves. How many droves exactly, no one will admit. But in the past six months, cable and satellite have lost 887,000 customers. Of course, say the pundits, we’ve gone on our laptops and tablets and phones (oh, my!) to watch programming there instead.

I, though, say they’re wrong. Elena and I have a source of programming that’s full of intrigue, deception and even suspense. And it’s as accessible as that most primitive of devices, our landline telephone.

Yes, it’s the Caller-ID box.

Around since the ’80s, Caller ID wasn’t invented to be a source of merriment. Earlier Caller-ID boxes showed only a phone number, usually fake, and you’d never have given a thought to sitting down with some fresh popcorn. But today’s ordinary Caller-ID boxes display a second line—for text—that keeps us at the edge of our seats. A few examples, with our responses, from calls that come in:

“UNAVAILABLE”: What a coincidence! So are we.
“Free VtRSRCH”: Oh, yes, we always pick up the phone when the caller’s name is gibberish. Just tack on the word “free."
“PRIVATE CALL”: My mother’s maiden name was Call, but last I checked, no one from her side of the family is in the Army.

Of course, we also get the official-sounding ones:

“Loan Department”: All loans made on this planet originate from the same very wealthy one-percenter, boss of a single department. Get him!
“Bank Card Services”: Since you sound so legitimate, hold on while I get together all my credit-card numbers to give you.
“Power Center”: I want to work there.

And then we get the scaremongers:

“Alert Srvc”: With our frantic routines, we’re always on the lookout for the next chance to raise our blood pressure.
“Help Center”: Yes, tell me where I left my hammer.
“Your Appointment”: One of us, at any given time, must have some appointment scheduled with some doctor. So this must be genuine.
“URGENT”: Of course, whenever I call someone in an emergency, my name on the phone number’s account always changes to “Urgent.” Would the caller’s name, in non-emergency situations, be “Trivial”?

And what about when the Caller-ID box merely displays the name of a state? With 50,000 Yankee fans chanting “Who’s your Daddy?” to then-Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez in 2004, we who were listening could tell what they were saying. But sometimes the box displays “Connecticut,” “Vermont” or (even worse) “California.” I’m imagining that all residents of that state—almost 39 million people, in the case of California—are dropping what they’re doing and gathering around a single telephone to call us and speak in unison.

It could be worse. What if China called? But if it were Mexico calling, we’d pick up. Other than the language barrier, we’d be listening to only a few dozen people; the rest seem to be elsewhere.

Given government’s incessant efforts to make our lives easier, I’m waiting for the next generation of Caller-ID boxes. Telemarketers will be required to stop giving phony names and numbers and start stating their true intentions. Landline customers, all ten of us, will need to buy new boxes with screens the size of an iPad’s. One sample message, displayed as the phone is ringing: “Marketing survey, for products you’d never buy in a million years, whose polltaker says takes only three minutes but will actually take 20…if you’re lucky.”

I’m going to hold out for the boxes with digital recording.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I suppose I will stand for it

All this arose from a single medical study that claimed, and I quote, that anyone who sits at a desk all day, even a fitness buff, is doomed. I believe I was sitting while I read about it. And even though one of my favorite movie lines is “You gotta die of something,” spoken by Sean Connery’s character Malone in The Untouchables, something sent a chill up my spine.

Which is why I have a standing desk.

It’s a cool Varidesk model, with dual levels and a width that allows for two monitors (one per eyeball) above and a keyboard beneath. My company bought a slew of them—or was it a slew and a half? And everyone who wants one gets one. The foresightful, like myself, never surrendered the old desk and chair; I sit down when I catch myself standing like a flamingo. Of the others, not necessarily fogies-in-training like myself, some have started suffering back or foot pains from standing all day. They went to their doctors. Who told them they’re doomed.

My first challenge, as a relatively early adopter of The Standing Desk, was that if I decided to sit down for a while, co-workers who happened by treated me like a clergyman caught looking for female companionship at the local red-light district. “You’re not standing,” one would notify me. His implication was that, having gotten the company to give me a standing desk for which they’d already paid, I was expected to show my gratitude by never again sitting down. For the remainder of my career.

If I seem less than grateful, it’s because I know what comes next. Once everyone at the company has a standing desk, next will come the treadmill desks, which already exist in a single room at my company’s headquarters. I’d be the last holdout—I tend to find myself pasted against the nearest wall whenever I use a treadmill—but these would be just one step toward the next goal: the [word(s)hamster-wheel desk.

I wish I could say they’d stop there, but oh no. First comes the hamster wheel. Next, one of the PTB (the Powers That Be, of course) would realize that such technology, just as with bicycle-powered generators , could produce enough electricity to power a seven-watt nightlight bulb. Next would come the requirement that we power, with our revolutionary wheeling, the lights, computers, and everything else in our office—or have our pay docked to make up the difference. Don’t even ask how they’d rig up the bathroom.

Fast-forward to a few years from now, when humans have gotten chips embedded into their brains and can work and communicate without the need for computers. Work, thanks to tomorrow’s node-to-node technology, will be done merely by putting our heads together, literally. (Talking? What’s that?) But given the many months of powering corporate America with hamster-wheel desks, power companies across the country will have gone out of business. And since employees could now do all their work without use of their arms, legs, and everything else besides their brains, human-generated electricity could reach its full potential. If we didn’t power the computers that upload thoughts to our embedded chips hourly, after all, how could we think?

Rather than individually powered hamster wheels of the past—so yesterday—management would now embrace the rowing-machine concept. Picture, for instance, pairs of staffers who work closely together. They’re communicating through their brainwaves—or, more likely, the embedded chips’ brainwaves. And while they’re doing all this communicating, each pair of workers would hold an oar-like pole and together push it forward, then pull it back, in a circular motion. And repeat. And repeat—is it 5 o’clock yet? At the other end of the oar-like poles would be whirring gears that, from all of this rowing activity, would drive the motors that power the building.

Of course, all this pushing and pulling by all these pairs of workers would have to be done in a certain rhythm, or else the lights would continuously flicker—and never mind what unsteady power would do to IT’s servers. So one manager would sit in a central location with no job other than to call cadence by pounding his drum. Others would stand over us, brandishing whips. We all have to do our part for the planet, after all. The best part? We could even sit while rowing.

Ah, technology. Ah, progress.