Category Archives: Technology

Carmen, my Garmin

I have a love/hate relationship with my Garmin. I call her Carmen. Carmen the Garmin. She’s actually pretty great because my sense of direction is fairly pathetic.  Honestly, I have gotten lost driving around a block.  She helps a lot, but here’s my beef. Sometimes she is actually too good at her job.  With all of her knowledge of “maps” and “roads” and “north” she gives me a false sense of security and I get dependent on her within minutes.  I have used her to get home from the store, which is absurd if you know where I live.  “Turn right on Rittenhouse, drive 4 blocks to destination.”

Recently, when driving in the Twin Cities, which is fairly stressful for me to begin with, (city driving makes me nuts) Carmen says, in her clipped and serious tone, “Drive 3.2 miles; take a left on exit 3A Excelsior South.”

“That’s easy” I think to myself.  “3A – I can do that.  I can totally find 3A – wait, it was 3A right?”

“Carmen, was it 3A or 3B?”  Sadly, she doesn’t answer.  (Remember when we used to actually write directions down on paper?  That would be handy right about now, but no, I have a Garmin.)

I tap her screen a few times, trying not to swerve, and she repeats, “Drive 3.2 miles and take a left on exit 3A Excelsior South” but I swear to God, she sounds a little pissed off.  There is definitely something in her voice.  Now, I am getting a little overly sensitive about her tone, and I’m thinking “3.2, exit, 3A, Excelsior South.  3.2, exit, 3A, Excelsior South” and I’m starting to freak myself out a little. I’m not necessarily looking at the road the way I should be; all I’m doing is looking for 3A Excelsior South and waiting for her next instruction.  I’m a people pleaser; I don’t want to disappoint Carmen.  It would be awkward and weird if she were mad at me, because it’s just the two of us and it’s a long trip home.

I get closer to the ramp, but along with the ramp, there’s also an exit; it’s a complicated spot, made only worse by road construction.  I get a little freaked out about the orders she is barking at me, “Turn right on exit” and I don’t know if I should take the exit or the ramp. At this point I’m at a loss to make my own decision.  It’s as if I have no will of my own. Carmen is my leader.  She has reduced me to a lemming. I can no longer think critically on my own or make any decision whatsoever. I don’t have the capacity to simply look up and see the exit for “Excelsior” next to the ramp for the turn around.  (I hope to hell airline captains don’t feel like this once they pop off the auto-pilot.)  A year ago, I would have had a paper napkin clutched in my fist, and scribbled on it “L – Excelsior” and I would have been fine.  That would have been all I needed, but now, I am incapable of making a decision.  Exit or ramp?  Exit or ramp?

“Turn right…” she barks. “Turn right!!!  (sigh)  Recalculating…”

I have never driven down the wrong side of a street in my life; however, after purchasing my Garmin, I have done it twice in a year. A few months ago I was in Madison and Carmen said, “turn right” so of course I immediately turned right and somehow I managed to end up in an oncoming, left-only turn lane and a soccer mom who looked at me, (from behind the wheel of the mini-van I am now blocking) as if I started Armageddon.  Her jaw dropped in amazement at the very same moment her middle finger went up.

I think it would be better if Garmins were designed to be a little more user-friendly and not so dictatorial in their tone.  For example, rather than, “Drive 3.2 miles and take a right on Excelsior exit 3A” we would hear, “Hey, up here, you want to take Excelsior.” That’s how a friend would give directions, right? It would be so much more relaxed!  And as you get closer, Carmen would remind, “Yeah, I think it’s up here on the left.”  And instead of, “recalculating” when you missed it (because of course you missed it, because you have been reduced to a kool-aid drinking drone at this point, freaking out because you have to take a right and you don’t know which right you should take) she could say, “Hey, dude, you missed it, but it’s cool. Just take the next exit, I think it’s 36. No worries.”

But no, you hear her cold, impersonal, “recalculating” all the while she’s probably thinking nasty things about you and your driving, not to mention how you let your daughter eat junk food during long car rides. Her silence speaks volumes.  Carmen can be a real bitch.  It’s gonna be a long drive home.

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Pong

One snowy Christmas eve, my father came home with a bounce in his step, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Along with this energetic demeanor, he also had a bag, a big bag with a big box in it. “What’s this? What’s in the bag?“ We could tell this was going to be something big, because he was all “presentational” about it, and after a deep breath, he told us.  Over the strains of The Julie Andrews Firestone Christmas album playing in the background, he told us; this wasn’t just a simple present.  This was a “family” present.  That had to mean something big, right? Something great, and something amazing.  With great restraint and absence of inflection, he said it was “Pong.”   Pong, the very first home video game on the market. “Pong”- even the name was fun. We had only heard of it, whispered of its glory on the playground, but here he was, my father, with an actual Pong game in his big, strong hands. For us!  For Christmas!  We couldn’t believe it. He was so proud and we were in awe. He was a god at that moment, a prince among men.  He must love us very much to bring home such a trophy, such a grand display of fun and affection. It was quite a moment for our family.

He slowly pulled the box out as if it were a time bomb. He then opened the box. “Ahhhhh” followed by “Wow” “Far Out” and finally “Rad.” Even my cynical brother had his interest piqued. There it was, the Pong. It was white and shiny and futuristic looking and somehow, oddly enough, had that new car smell. There was a moment of silence, and then my brother blurted “Well, hell, set it up!”

Those 10 minutes spent hooking it up to the TV seemed like a century. We were giddy with anticipation. “Hurry up, Dad!“ ”Hurray for Dad!” “Hurray for Pong!” we cheered. I thought about how jealous my friends would be when I told them we had Pong.  And then, after what seemed like an eternity of wires and swearing and static and more swearing, the screen changed from snow to black and our television was transformed into a game! It was magical! There we were, in our family room and we were playing an arcade game, in the family room, an arcade game! And oh, how we played. It was a delight; it was fun and fabulous and amazing and everything we had hoped for. We cheered and laughed and my father was a hero; everyone knew it. This was Frank Woodworth’s moment; he was in his glory, for exactly eight minutes. My brother dared to be the first to say what we were all thinking, “That’s it? That’s all there is?” With those few words, my father’s shoulders fell. It was over. The golden glory was gone.

For those of you who don‘t know what Pong is, to call it “basic” is a bit like saying an overhead projector is cutting edge technology. Like saying guys who work at NASA like science.  It is the MOST simple of video games. Although the box “claimed” to have 3 different games in 1 console, those games were in fact: tennis, badminton and ping-pong. I think you know where I’m going with this. In essence, one player rolled a dial (yes, a dial) that controlled a white “bar” on the screen that moved up and down. Not across or over or under, just up and down, and a square “ball” would bounce back and forth; the mission was to hit the ball with your bar. If you did so, it would make a sound, much like the game’s name. It you missed, a new ball would miraculously appear so you could repeat this exercise ad nauseum. The ball moved at a snail’s pace, all this on a black background.

The graphics were, well…not. It was the most basic, primitive game possible. A ball (for lack of a better word) went back and forth. That was it. It was the tennis without any of the fun of tennis. If Edison would have invented Pong, he would have considered it a failure and kept on trying until he ended up with Ms. Pac Man. It even bored the dog.

But that was my Dad; he would buy the first new thing that came out on the market, and suffer through all of the improved versions that came afterwards, stubbornly committed to the first version he bought. He didn’t really take the “wait and see” approach to much in life. Who else do you know that actually bought an Opel hatchback? He once bought one of those “porta-phones” that was the size of a golf cart and it had an antenna so large it should have been able to receive calls from the moon, but oddly, it only had a 20 feet radius from its “docking station” in the kitchen. We would try to use it by the pool and would have to tilt our heads toward the kitchen as if we were constantly in a state of confusion. When newer, smaller phones came out, he would look down his nose at them. “We have a port-a-phone…who needs another one?”

“Yeah, but dad, this one works in the car.”

“We don’t need to talk in the car. Americans are smarter than that. It’s unsafe….that’ll never catch on.“ That was my dad. A trend setter.

Sadly, my father’s Pong stayed under the television, right next to the Beta recorder (see?) collecting dust. He didn’t give up though. He was undaunted. Years later, when my father would energetically ask “Who wants to play some Pong?” I respond with “I have homework” which was code for painting my nails, popping zits, or writing emotional, crappy poems in my journal.

After the Pong bust, the cooler more versatile games starting coming out, like the “Atari” home system. Ohhhh, Atari.  You know, where you could actually, you know, change the game? It was like an 8 track player (which of course, my father also owned) for games where you could pull different games in and out; it was the precursor for the Holy Grail of games, the Nintendo.  I would beg my dad for an Atari system and he would say emphatically “No, play Pong! You have a perfectly good Pong game over there. You kids don’t appreciate what you have…” which was absolutely true.

My dad was taken from us when he was way too young, but he’s still with me.  I can still hear his voice, coming out of my mouth, when I tell my daughter, “No, you don’t need a smart phone you have a great walkie-talkie. Angry Birds, Schmangry Birds. Go get a deck of cards.”

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Filed under Family, Humor, Parenting, retro, Technology