Sunday, November 18, 2007

Upward Trending

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time
I have to admit it's getting better
It's getting better since you've been mine.

Last night I took Jessica out to a Hoboken club, Maxwell's, to have dinner, and then see Eric Hutchinson perform. I discovered Eric Hutchinson when he opened for Joe Jackson at Town Hall last April. At first, Eric reminded me of John Mayer, then Steely Dan, then Stevie Wonder, and finally I gave up trying to categorize him and just accepted him on his own merits. He's funny, he's got clever lyrics, and the music is good. I've had a brief email exchange with Eric, and spoke to him last night after the concert as well - he seems to be a nice guy to boot, even with someone about twice the age of his average fan!

I'd arranged to have our babysitter arrive at the house at 5pm, and she didn't demand us home at a particular time, so we had no deadline, practically speaking. I don't remember the last time we got to go out for an evening, just the two of us, and didn't have to hurry home by a certain time. It was wonderful. Jessica isn't much of an Eric Hutchinson fan, but she was a good sport and let herself enjoy a few songs anyway.

Thursday evening, Nov. 7, our fairly new Sony VCR broke. The problem is mechanical - any tape inserted into the deck is eaten up. I haven't figured out how to repair the VCR, and it's no longer possible to buy a quality VCR, but the Saturday following the breakdown I managed to buy a low-end VCR for $10, from a lady who had posted a VCR-for-sale ad on Craigslist.

Come back to this just-completed week. Thursday evening, Nov. 14, our other VCR, a high-end JVC that I bought in the mid-90's, broke. This time around, the problem is electrical - no matter what button(s) is/are pressed, the VCR exhibits no response at all. It makes no noises, nothing mechanical moves, no motors spin, no lights turn on or off, nothing. The only way to know the unit is even plugged in is that, when plugged in, the clock displays. Well, yesterday I managed to buy another replacement VCR from a Craigslist ad, this one a JVC, slightly better than the Sharp I bought last week, for $20.

In the meantime, the two good but dead VCRs are sitting in a corner while I ponder what to do about them. It's likely I'm going to rebuild my MythTV system and give up on the VCRs.

In my previous post I mentioned a dead phone, in addition to the dead VCRs. This phone is a Motorola Disney Classic cordless phone. It's a neat little phone, but the keypad had pretty much died.

Well in 1982 Atari sold a system called the Atari 5200. The 5200 was my all-time favorite videogame system. I love it, and still play it occasionally. One enormous flaw with the 5200, though, was the controllers Atari provided with the system. These controllers were outstanding when they worked, but they very rarely worked properly. Atari had engineered a new technology to use for the buttons on the controllers. There were exposed contacts underneath each button. The bottom of the rubber buttons was coated with a conductive carbon dot. When the button was pressed, the carbon dot would touch both of the exposed contacts underneath, and close the circuit, allowing electricity to flow, and registering as a button press. Regrettably, the circuits corroded upon exposure to air, and the buttons very rarely worked for long. Very soon after the 5200 arrived on the scene, the technology was improved, and many, many products use similar buttons today.

Motorola, in a fit of nostalgic incompetence, used faulty technology similar to that in the 5200 controllers for my phone. A few weeks ago I opened the phone up, cleaned the contacts and buttons as thoroughly as I could, and put it back together. No dice. I then took it apart again, and tried to paint the underside of the buttons with some conductive paint that Radio Shack sells for rear-window defroster repair. After that, the phone worked magnificently, for about 2 weeks. One day it stopped working at all, but would sometimes display weird lights, and would behave unpredictably in response to button presses. It seemed to be shorting out. It turns out that the paint on several of the buttons had come off the buttons, and adhered itself to the contacts underneath the buttons, so that several buttons were being pressed simultaneously, all the time. Again, I cleaned the circuit board contacts and keypad thoroughly, reassembled the phone, and again the buttons failed to work, rendering the phone unusable.

So this morning I again set out to repair the phone. This time, I cut tiny circles out of aluminum foil and super-glued them to the underside of the dead buttons. I reassembled the phone, and now it works pretty well. Only time will tell if the glue holds, but for now I'm pleased with the results.

That FISA bill, that included a section granting legal immunity to the telcos that helped the thugs in the White House spy on us - well, after much pressure from the public (you, me, etc..), the immunity content was stripped from the bill before the House passed it. The Senate Judicial Committee, meanwhile, decided to not take any stand at all on the matter, and will let it be debated by the full Senate. So while there's still the possibility that the final law will grant immmunity to the telecom companies for spying on us and colluding with the scourge at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, what's occurred so far is positive.

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