Conning through technology

A lot of people opened Christmas packages last month to the requisite oohs and aahs and found the latest generation of electronics staring back at them.

A lot of people opened Christmas packages last month to the requisite oohs and aahs and found the latest generation of electronics staring back at them. A lot of that technology was likely requested, but it is unlikely that the giver understood the set of features the receiver truly needed, or wanted. Many people are probably still trying to figure out how to use their fabulous presents, and many of the gifts may already have reached the loftier shelves in the front closet...only to be seen again at the next garage sale.

It is almost like there is a conscious effort by some manufacturers of electronic products to gyp us at every possible opportunity. Often this is achieved by offering features nobody could care about, by missing features that users absolutely should have, or by making the connections, software, or instructions as difficult as possible.

The last telephone I bought for the house is a neat 2.4GHz number that has exactly the right range and a nice set of features, but the volume of the handset is far too low. Yes, you can turn it up (linearly, fortunately, not like the 6dB steps that seem to be favored by public and hotel phones), but there is no way to make a higher volume the default setting for the phone. The last telephone I bought for my office - after the last one fried itself in the sun - is a neat 900MHz product with a tolerable digital recorder (as long as you are used to listening to SSB). The problem with that phone is the ringing volume, which must have been designed to wake the dead. And, guess what: There is no way to lower it.

The digital still camera that I bought this time last year blew the serial port the first time it was connected to the computer - that was an expensive motherboard changeout. It is now working fine on the USB port (although the scanner is another story entirely), but you cannot depend on the battery life if you are using the LCD display screen.

As always, it is the smaller things that make you really feel gypped: The Sony remote control that assumes hitting the power button means you want to turn everything off. The infrared sensors positioned in the places that are most likely to be out of vision in a cabinet. And, of course, there are the ever-present software problems that many of us live with day-to-day after spending a great deal of money just for the right to license the products. I frequently waste an hour a day re-booting things or being thrown out of applications because they have committed some crime against Microsoft.

But, getting gypped recently by a TV program product really got to me. Many of us who remember the cult TV production of "The Prisoner" (starting 1967) were delighted to see the release of a DVD version. The first two sets were watched very quickly, but one of the productions was a gyp. The feature included was a "Rare, Alternate Version of the Episode `THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN'." It represented 25 percent of one set and when compared with the broadcast version of the same episode there were exactly two differences. One was an additional scene with the Prisoner apparently making a clandestine astronomical device so that he could fix the geographical position of the "Village," and the second was a cuter set of closing titles. In terms of quality, the difference was that you had to endure a telecine-transfer from an edited, non-clean negative with a poor sep-mag track and no final mix. Bonus? Gyp!

And what about our election? President Bush won the White House by being the person least gypped by technology. Are we so technologically challenged that we cannot read votes with any accuracy with machines? Joseph Stalin said that real power is not in the hands of those casting the votes but that it resides in the hands of those who count them. He has been proven correct. Clearly, the technology that broadcasters are using to prophesy voters' intentions within moments of a poll closing either needs a lot of tuning or it needs to be cast away completely. How is it that news departments have gotten into the business of predicting news rather than reporting it?

One would like to think that gyps are not deliberate on any provider's part - that product planning, testing with your customers, and listening to feedback are quite important attributes of a quality manufacturer. Yet no matter how carefully you read the information on the packaging of an electronic product, there always seems to be something that ends up getting to you about the item after the fact. We have all but moved from saying "Let the buyer beware" to "Let the buyer be disappointed."