Cell Phones Make Me Feel Old, As a 39-Year Old, at the End of 2017

I was a relatively early adopter of mobile phone technology, in the grand scheme of things. At seventeen years old, I was the first member of my immediate family to get a cell phone, which was hard-mounted in my car, and operated on prepaid minutes that were VERY EXPENSIVE by today’s standards. So much so that I didn’t give my number out, and only used the thing for emergencies. Starting around that time, give or take a couple of years, I dreamed, nay fantasized, about having a device I could put in my pocket that operated like a tiny computer, and might even connect online!

Back in the early days of the internet, I don’t think I knew anyone who actually had internet service. Sure, I knew plenty of folks that had modems, and they’d dial up to other people they knew who also had modems and “send emails” or “transfer a picture” (which took forever), or whatever. But, even before my current household had internet service, I wanted that sci-fi device that would connect to the internet that was as small, if not smaller (ghasp!) than a graphing calculator.

I bought my first handheld mobile phone in 1998. Jennifer and I had just started dating, and we kind of knew we were a a permanent thing, right off the bat. She’d just gotten her cell phone, and back in those days you could more or less pick your own phone number. So, I chose a number that was the exact same as hers, save for two digits. At the time, people thought we were crazy, “what if you break up?” they’d ask, with shock in their eyes. We got married before the end of the year. Almost twenty years later, we still have the same phone numbers.

Of course, phones come and go. Some last longer than others. In about 2001 (maybe 2002), Jennifer and I upgraded our mobile phones. The new ones were flip phones with these new-fangled LCD screens. There was an extremely low-resolution screen inside the clamshell, and an even lower-resolution screen on the outside, so you could assign a picture to display upon an incoming call, according to your contact list. Honestly, if they’d make a modern equivalent, it’d be a pretty sweet setup. This phone also had a camera built into it! Granted, it was only like a .33mp camera (if that), and it only took pictures (no video), but nobody else had camera phones at the time. We would take pictures with our phones and it would confuse bystanders.

So. This morning, I was sitting on the toilet, tracking an incoming package on USPS.com on my tablet. Sweet, I have a camera lens coming in today! I think I was using the home wifi network, but it may have been on my data plan. I’m not sure, and I don’t much care. Yeah, that device that I dreamed of earlier; the little computer that fits in my pocket? Now, I carry two of them daily. Never did I dream that each of them would have two cameras that are higher resolution than the early digital cameras that I sneered at because “digital just doesn’t have the resolution of film and will never catch on.” Face palm. Don’t get me started on touch screens.

Now, my phone is getting “kind of old,” by today’s standards. It’s a Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport. The tech specs on it blow away any PC I could have put my hands on back when I started dreaming of these things, in terms of processing speed, RAM, or storage space. And, I couldn’t put anything like that in my pocket. And, it wouldn’t work under water. I think the Galaxy S8 is out now? Even though I did not, I could have written and posted this entry from the family farm, way out in the woods. It’s such an everyday device, but it’s so much what I wanted before it was a thing, and then so much more than I ever imagined!

I mentioned above that my first cellular phone was expensive to operate. And, it only made and received phone calls. Now, I don’t think twice about queuing up Pandora on my phone, or a selection from our combined CD library that we’ve been collecting since about 1993, for a long road trip. Heck, I can’t tell you the last time I actually listened to broadcast radio (SeriusXM notwithstanding). Satellite radio is entirely another rant, by the way. And, when in the world did those two merge, anyway?* Also, being able to pull up the combined knowledge of mankind, at a whim, virtually anywhere I go. Wow. And yet, more often than not, I use it to watch political (or cat) videos, or play solitaire (which you can still do with a tangible deck of cards, oh irony of ironies), or occasionally reset my watch at time.gov. Yeah, I wear a mechanical wrist watch. For a long time, people stopped wearing watches because “they carried a phone,” and then, they started wearing a ‘smart watch’ that connected to their phone, so “they didn’t have to pull out their phone to check the time.” *eyes rolling…* I skipped that whole dumb cycle and I’m still wearing a mechanical wrist watch. Okay, enough of the tangents in this paragraph; let’s wrap this puppy up.

To you youngsters out there, hear me now: your time is coming. Sooner than you think will come a time when you’re telling tales of crap that nobody remembers anymore. You’ll look at the world around you; how it’s changed, how it’s the same; and you’ll say to yourself, “there’s no way I’ve gotten that old already. I’m not that old!” To you old-timers out there, take my words with the deference that I deliver them: I’m starting to get it. Coming into ‘middle age,’ or whatever, is opening my eyes to all the weird stuff you’ve been saying my whole life about “back in mah day…” So, please keep telling me about how you had to be home when the street lights went out, or party lines (which actually suits this post better), or whatever you like, for that matter.

There’s a lot of stuff your modern smart phone will do, either natively, or through a downloadable app. I don’t need to explain anymore about why that, in and of itself, it pretty amazing. But, most of the secondary and tertiary stuff your phone can do, can be done far better with a dedicated device. That is to say that your phone has a powerful processor, a sharp screen, and lots of memory, but most of us use a dedicated computer for serious computational tasks (although even that may be changing). The cameras in these things are getting shockingly sophisticated, but they still won’t compete with my DSLR (although, I said digital photography would never catch on, and my first camera phone took grainy, low-res pics). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that these things sprouted out of nowhere and have come a long way since, and although they’re not a perfect replacement for everything, they’re historical improvements show us that they have a long way to go still. What do you think they’ll look like in twenty years from now?

*2008, apparently. Good grief, almost ten years ago, and I didn’t notice it happen…

A Knife for The Boy

For months now, Isaac has been talking about karambits. Sometimes, he’ll obsess over something. For a while it was butterfly knives. He wanted that one, perfect karambit.

Jennifer and I were in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, and I was going through the Atlanta Cutlery catalog. I ran across their “Rustic Karambit,” and I said, “Umm, um, babe?”

To which she responded, “shut up and order it already!”

And, so, I did. And, it delivered last night. We were on the front porch, and the sun had set. The mail man came up. “You’re working late,” I commented to him. He chuckled and gave me the package. I knew what it was.

“Isaac,” I said, wanting to task him with something so we could check out the merch, “why don’t you go clean the kitty waterer?” And, he complied. He’s a good kid.

I ripped open the package and noted that there was no tape on the box. We pulled the lid off of it. “I’m not sure I want to wait two weeks for Christmas,” I said.

“It’s beautiful,” Jennifer said, “do you want to give it to him now?”

“Maybe.”

So, he came back from cleaning out the quadruped water fountain, and we asked him if he wanted his main Christmas present now or wait two weeks. You know how that went.

“I didn’t wrap it,” I handed him the box, “read the label on this side.”

He read, “Rustic Karambit.” He raised his eyebrow and gave me that “no, you didn’t” look. But, yeah, we did. He opened the box and proclaimed that it was perfect.

“Shall I take that girl to my strop to hone and strop her?” I asked.

“Yes please!”

Minutes later, I returned with his knife, and shaved hair off my arm with it, “that will get the job done, right?”

“Heck yeah,” he said.

So, today, I said to Isaac, “Since you’re carrying a weapon of the Sikh, you should follow their code of arms in carrying their weapons. Never pull it in anger. Only pull it in defense of others. That’s all.”

“Yes,” he responded with the gravity that the knife demands. I could see it in his eyes that he’s not going to play with the knife.

“You should look on YouTube for fighting methods with that knife,” I advised.

He gravely answered me, “I will,” with a nod of his head.

R. I. P., Friend

I could hear the motor whirring on his mobility scooter as he approached, a black flag flying behind him. At a glance, it looked like a Jolly Roger. On closer inspection, it was a Dia De Los Muertos styled skull, adorned with The Legend of Zelda imagery. He didn’t pause for pleasantries, as was his custom, but went right to the point.

“I started on your pen,” he said, rocking his head side to side, as was his characteristic, signature body language.

Probably about a year before, I’d admired some hand-turned pens he was displaying for sale. They were all very nice roller balls, beautifully finished exotic woods. I asked if he did any fountain pens, and he said that he could do a fountain pen, but he’d need to order the kit. He asked me about material, and I told him that I wasn’t picky. He had a good eye for that sort of thing. I offered him some pink ivory pen blanks that I wound up with, and he encouraged me to get a pen lathe and try my hand at it instead.

“It’s not that hard, and the lathes are cheap,” he said, “but, I’ll still make one for you. I’ll make it special.”

So here, a year later, I responded, “Oh yeah?

“I just didn’t want you to think that I’ve forgotten about you. Yeah,” he said, “you’re getting antler.”

I exclaimed, “oh, cool!”

He started explaining, “it’s taking some time because I had to rough cut the material and resin impregnate it…”

I interrupted, “because it’s so porous. That stuff is like bone sponge.”

“Exactly,” he nodded.

That was the weekend that my last thirteen posts have addressed. I’m pretty sure it was Sunday, April 30, because the lights were on in the building at the fairgrounds. It may have been that awful Friday though. The time stream kind of blurs in there. And, that was the last weekend we saw him.

Michael Logan was the kind of man that didn’t know a stranger. He would talk your ear off, and just when you thought you couldn’t take any more, he’d buzz off on his scooter, other people to talk up, other things to do. We were friends from the first time we met. I usually distrust people who are so friendly on first meeting, and I’ve been working on that. The back of my mind asks “what’s your angle; what are you trying to get from me?” I’ve since come to learn that some people just really are that friendly. Michael didn’t know a stranger. He was a cancer survivor, and despite his broken body, he would show up to the party anywhere his mobility scooter would allow. He was a very special person, and more alive than most people I’ve known ambulating on their own two legs. He would send me a message every now and then, at random, reading, “Good Lord, man! Go back to bed!” Most of the time, this had absolutely no context, night or day, but became a beloved surprise when he sent it. I’m sad that I’ll be receiving no more of those.

I met Michael through the Oklahoma Retro Gamers Society. Whoever says that video games have no redemptive quality has clearly never met in a room with like minded folks to communally enjoy the fandom. I feel loved by these people, and I love them in return. They’ve seen me at my worst, and maybe near my best, but they have always accepted me. If it weren’t for video games, I would have probably never met him.

I kind of always knew that I’d outlive him, but I could never be prepared. I found out last night via FaceBook that he had passed from this mortal coil. I was shocked. Numb. Of course, I was sad, but I couldn’t even fully feel that, if that makes any sense at all. He’ll be missed by many. He’ll be missed by me. The mutual friend who shared the news asked if we had any pictures of the two of them getting into “wheel chair races.” Regrettably, we do not. He actually wrote up a piece about Michael on his own blog here, which is quite touching. Said friend is not relegated to a wheel chair, but there was one available, and he likes to clown around like that. Michael was the kind of guy that saw the good time in such shenanigans. I’d love to have some pictures of that kind of silliness. Please do go and read Jennifer’s write up, if you haven’t already.

I don’t know what finally took him, but his health was poor, so I don’t even care to make conjecture. Still, I don’t even get my damned pen. My Michael Logan, antler, fountain pen. Not that the pen itself matters at all, but he was making it special for me. I guess I’ll have to pick up a pen lathe after all. As a tribute. R. I. P., friend.