Moments: On a Blu-ray player and future frustrations


Dad 2.0 worked as a printer for a bank. About 20 years ago, his office started using computers for the printing process. This was a big change for Dad 2.0. He worked most of his career in the darkroom.

The company was going to use Macs. I was editor of the student newspaper in college. I borrowed one of our computers for the summer. Dad 2.0 checked some books out from the library to learn the new system.

He didn’t like it. I tried to teach him, but the lessons worked poorly. I went too fast. I took for granted that everyone knew how to use a mouse.

Dad 2.0 was the kind of person who read the instructions first. He was, wisely I add, of the “measure twice, cut once” philosophy.

I grew up with computers and video games. I only went to the instruction book when I couldn’t figure out the buttons necessary to decapitate an enemy with a kung-fu move in “Mortal Combat.”

I teased Dad 2.0 for being old. But Mom 2.0 scolded me. She admonished that one day I wouldn’t want to learn every new thing, especially after I had done it one way for a long time.

I scoffed. I had always enjoyed gadgets. I found it impossible to imagine a time when I would want anything less than the newest, sleekest and best gear.

As usual, Mom 2.0 was right. Wisdom comes with age and experience. It’s tough to recognize that when you’re 20 years old.

My first clue that technology was passing me by came in the world of TV. I bought a nice, big TV back in 1998. It looked great. It sounded great. So what if it weighed as much as a Volkswagen Beetle?

I put it on a stand in the middle of the room and watched TV shows on the square tube screen. I used it more than any other appliance. I failed to see the need to replace it with one of these skinny, rectangular models that hang on the wall and are filled with plasma or LCD or LED.

When my Grandma Rogers died late last year, I inherited her small flat-screen TV. I could definitely see the improvement. The picture was pretty and rich. I hauled the big tube TV into the bedroom, where I watch videos of old cartoons from my childhood and pretend it’s a Saturday in 1981.

But the truth of Mom 2.0’s words sunk in last week. My DVD player, the one I had bought when I got the then-fancy new TV back in 1998, died. People don’t repair things anymore. The shop I went to said it would cost me $50 just for them to look at it. I could get a new one for less than that.

So I did. I bought a Blu-ray player. The technology community might mock me for needing a hard media player at all. Everything, they say, will be streaming soon. Still, I have a lot of movies on DVD. Without a DVD player, they’re simply taking up space on the wall that could be used for vintage Lynda Carter posters.

I brought the new player home along with a Blu-ray copy of my favorite movie, “The Big Lebowski.” I quickly learned that I needed a cable that wasn’t included in the box. So I went back to the store.

I got the device hooked up. The first thing the device wanted to do was connect to the Internet. I couldn’t fathom why this was necessary. But I entered my network passcode.

Then the Blu-ray player wanted more passwords. Some were for entertainment networks that I had never heard of. Others were for Netflix, to which I don’t subscribe.

Finally, the Blu-ray player wanted to connect with Facebook. This was it for me. I use Facebook for my job as a paragraph stacker. Somehow this network where people share pictures of the meal they are about to eat, the minor achievements of their children and complaints about movies has become essential to reporting and writing the news.

I once enjoyed Facebook. It put me back in touch with a lot of people with whom I’ve lost contact over the years. But after looking at their Facebook feeds for several years, I’ve learned there was a reason why I lost contact with them.

I couldn’t imagine a good reason for the device by which I watch movies to connect to Facebook. So I didn’t do it. But my frustration grew.

I began to want for the simple days of VCRs. Insert movie. Press play. Now, it seems, there is a desire to connect to the outside world even when you’re just trying to watch a movie at home alone.

I finally got the player setup. I put in my movie. I thought bliss was on the way. “The Big Lebowski” always mellows me out.

But no. There was more.

The Blu-ray wanted to educate me on all the special features it had. There was one that would count the swear words on screen. Another one would tell me what song was playing.

This all sounded neat, but they took up a third of the screen. And even then I couldn’t read the print from my chair across the room. It took me a full 5 minutes of button pushing just to get to the movie.

Finally, I pushed one of the green buttons. The TV and the Blu-ray turned off. That was enough of a sign for me.

I went into the bedroom and picked up a book. I don’t remember which book it was, but I know this much: No network or Facebook connection was required.

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Moments: On reading today’s newspaper with yesterday’s eyes


The young women pulled the wobbly red Radio Flyer wagon east along the sidewalks of University Avenue. They were the circulation department of the Times-Delphic, Drake University’s student newspaper. And inside the wagon was the Relays Edition of the paper, the biggest, boldest and most laborious to produce of the year.

They carried on a long tradition of delivering newspapers a few bundles at a time to racks across campus and at surrounding businesses using that battered little wagon. It looked to be the same contraption the circulation team used when I was a student there nearly 20 years ago.

I collected a copy of the newspaper and ducked into a coffee shop. I ordered a Coors beer. I had not had a beer in three or four years, but if there was ever a day to have a beer and read the newspaper it was this one. The day was a brilliant Friday afternoon marked by clear skies, a soft breeze and temperatures that were warm to the skin, but not hot.

I took a gulp and spread out the paper. I read the stories, scanned the pages and flipped through the full-color sections. I served as editor of the Times-Delphic, or T-D as the students referred to it, for two years and worked at for all four of my years at Drake.

By the time I graduated, I had either written for or edited 207 issues of the twice-weekly paper. That was a record in my day. It’s probably fallen since then. Nobody keeps very close track of those kinds of things. There’s no reason why the should, I suppose.

My first instinct was to be critical, to be an editor. I saw design choices that I didn’t like and stories I thought needed more sources and graphics that needed better context.

Then I took sip of my beer. I cringed at my mindset. I was reading today’s newspapers with yesterday’s eyes. I am not the editor of the T-D anymore. My time has passed. This belongs to a new generation of students who faced different challenges than me and my classmates when it came crank out the Relays Edition or the other 50 or so issues of the paper.

I cursed myself because I was guilty of doing something I had loudly and angrily scolded some former colleagues for doing to the local paragraph factory where I work. One retired colleague bemoaned coverage in one area. Another chimed in with his concerns in another field. Soon the gripe festival was in full swing.

The default communication for photographers and paragraph stackers is complaining. It may be the default setting for most people as a whole, but people of my trade have it down to a bitter science. And I am as guilty of it as anyone, maybe more so given my fits of depression and anxiety that often expresses itself as anger.

I twice lashed out on social media at a former paragraph factory employee’s comments about how he thought we should be doing things better. The implication, I believe, was that they did things better in his day and we’re not that good anymore. One comment used the phrase “golden age.”

I hate the phrase “golden age.” It’s the opposite of “new normal.” Golden age gets better the farther away you are from it. New normal is shorthand for “Things are lousy now. Get used to it.”

So I popped off. I have a bad habit of doing this. There’s something about social media that makes me decidedly antisocial. I barked back and forth with a couple of commentators. Finally, I left the discussion and put away my computer and phone. I took a walk, got a haircut and spotted the two women with the little red wagon outside the coffee shop.

I decided to take another breeze through the pages of the T-D, this time looking at it not as a reader or an alumni, but just as a guy who picked up a paper. Like any newspaper, there were stories that interested me and stories that didn’t.

I was surprised by how common the stories were in the 2014 T-D to those in the T-D we made in the early 1990s. One columnist urged people to pay attention to the track meet, saying it wasn’t all about getting drunk. I read at least four columns like that when I was a student — one for every Relays.

There was even a story by the paper’s about producing the Relays edition. That I remembered fondly. We had a great team. I don’t know where most of those folks ended up, but boy were they fun to work with: smart, witty, hard-working and great people.

I’ll bet the editor of this T-D feels similarly about her team and will feel even better about them as time goes on. Sometimes it’s fun to remember yesterday, even romanticise it. But it’s another thing to take a beautiful yesterday and try to impose it on somebody’s today.

I doubt I’ll ever convince the grouchiest of critics of my current paragraph factory. But I’m convinced. Fleetwood Mac was right. “Yesterday’s gone. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

And for now, whether it be at the paragraph factory or in the offices of the Times-Delphic, here’s to all your wonderful nows.

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Great Paragraphs: Lewis Black on Twitter and ego

And if you’re twittering … fuck you! Where do you get the massive ego to think anybody gives a shit what you’re doing? Where the fuck do you even get that much interest in your own fucking life? When I’m buying shoes, I don’t go, “Oh, I’m buying shoes. I must tell the world!” What the fuck?! What level of goddamn insanity are you at? And if you’re describing what you’re doing … then you’re not doing it.

Lewis Black, “Stark Raving Black

Moments: On losing friends


Every now and then, I lose a friend. It happens. People are complicated creatures and relationships of any kind between them can be tricky.

I’m talking about friends on social media. Those don’t count.

Social media, especially Facebook, has diluted the word friend. (I prefer Twitter, which uses the term “followers,” which is more accurate and less personal.)

I have 2,441 Facebook “friends.” I don’t really have that many friends. I don’t even know that many people. Most of the people who are connected to me on Facebook are people who follow my work as a paragraph stacker.

I consider people on Facebook to be audience for my work. The connection doesn’t go much deeper than that. A small number of the connections are people with whom I attended various schools or current and former co-workers. A smaller number of connections are family. The smallest number is actual friends.

I almost always agree to friend requests unless its obviously a spammer or a stripper. No, I don’t really believe I will receive a free iPad if I fill out one or two of those amazing offers.

I don’t have a problem with strippers. It’s your body. You get to make up the rules. But this fad of strippers wanting to be Facebook friends with people is bizarre to me. I don’t need Facebook friends’ help finding naked women on the Internet.

I’m also not talking about women whom I asked out who “just wanted to be friends.” They didn’t really want to be friends and that’s OK. It’s just something nice people say when they’re rejecting someone.

The lost friends I’m talking about are people I actually loved and cared about. They’re people I trusted them enough to let my guard down and speak freely and hoped they did the same to me. They were people I could call on my worst day and hoped that they called me on theirs.

Sometimes friendships fade. People move in different directions. They lose contact. No terrible event causes the friendship to end. It just happens.

But once in a while, something awful happens and a friendship is just finished. A few years ago, a friend of mine for a decade declared he never wanted to speak to me again. I made a joke on Facebook. He thought the joke implied I thought he was an alcoholic. I didn’t.

He took my bad joke to mean I was trying to get him fired or “come at him” through his daughter, with whom I also connected via Facebook. He thought this was creepy. I thought she was just another audience member.

I tried to mend things. He would have none of it. Except for a few futile efforts to reach out, we’ve not spoken since. I regret that a lot. It was a dumb thing to say. I’m not sure it was worth ending a friendship over, but it was to him.

I think about that former friend a lot. I’d like to talk to him, but there’s no point. He doesn’t want to talk and I already talk to myself enough.

Recently, I was corresponding with a former teacher. She was struggling with her second go with breast cancer. She had moved away and was feeling lonely. We exchanged a few letters. They were honest and open conversations.

This weekend, I got a very mean letter from her that eviscerated nearly every aspect of my life. The preamble was a long, strange and completely incorrect theory on my parents.

The rest was a bulleted memo of things she thinks I ought to be doing differently with my life, including getting rid of my comic books and popular culture collection because, in her estimation, I had lived my life in a fantasy world.

The letter ended with her saying it would be her last correspondence. I was really hurt. This teacher could be harsh and judgmental. We all can no matter how hard we pledge not to be. I know I am. But this got very personal and very mean. It really played on my anxieties about myself.

I sought solace of other friends and my therapist. My therapist assured me my grip on reality was fine. Other friends suggested the teacher might be struggling with her cancer treatment, either medication making her loopy or dealing with her own mental health issues.

Still, I mourn the passing of the friendship. I’m not that easy of a person to get along with. I’m grouchy and not optimistic. I complain a lot. And I can be judgmental and unkind, even though I don’t like people who are judgmental and unkind. That, of course, makes me a hypocrite.

It also makes me human. And, as I said, relationships of any kind are difficult. They’re a lot of hard work.

I’m heartened by the fact that in recent years I’ve reunited with friends long after the relationship ended badly. There is forgiveness and redemption in the world and by and large I make friends far more often than I lose them.

I’m not keeping score, of course, but if I were, that’s one place I’d definitely want to be ahead.

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On how social media can save us from the weather

The temperature is supposed to reach a high of 4 degrees below zero in Des Moines on Monday. I don’t believe it will be that bad. All the complaining and whining on social media in advance of the cold should put off enough BTUs to warm the region a few degrees.

On social media and health care

Never share your health status on social media. You will get no useful feedback and it launches people into an epic contest to come up with the worst possible symptoms, diagnosis and consequences for whatever ailment, however minor. A cramp in my left calf quickly became a blood clot that was going to cause a stroke. By the time the feedback had finished, I wished it were true. To quote the great 20th century thespian Arnold Schwarzenegger: “It’s not a tumor!”