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Uncle Al on gardening, smart phones and getting old

Uncle Al just turned 70, and, because it’s been a while since he last updated folks on his slouch toward mental tapioca pudding, this seemed an appropriate time for a report.

Uncle Al just turned 70, and, because it’s been a while since he last updated folks on his slouch toward mental tapioca pudding, this seemed an appropriate time for a report.   

Perhaps he has already mentioned this — but probably the most salient life development Uncle Al should chronicle in this report is the increasing frequency of occasions on which he has not known whether he has already mentioned something, so including an example right off the top isn’t a bad idea — Uncle Al has taken up gardening. Sort of.

It might be more accurate to say that Uncle Al has taken up planting stuff and then thinking he should get out there and pull weeds but not bothering to do so.

The results this year: One blueberry, apparently picked a tad too early for maximum (or even minimum) sweetness; two strawberries, one picked so late that it had turned to mush (Uncle Al had been much chastened by the example of the unripe blueberry), the other one (the tiniest ripe strawberry Uncle Al had ever seen) quite pleasant in flavor but not very satisfying; and three personal-size cantaloupes that were really very good, a success diminished in what Uncle Al likes to call his mind because four more of them had been stolen by varmints (squirrels? raccoons? neighborhood louts?) and abandoned half-eaten at various points in his yard.   

A somewhat more predictable development is that Uncle Al finally got a smart phone. He has maintained, quite correctly, that the only feature he wanted but didn’t have on his cheap but perfectly usable cell phone was access to Google so he could cheat on crossword puzzles — and that he needed that feature only so that cheating on crossword puzzles wouldn’t require him to get up from the couch and walk three feet to the desk where his PC was on standby, often having last been used for Googling answers to a previous crossword puzzle.

(Uncle Al actually had access to Google from the couch, as two years or so earlier he had connected his PC to the big living-room TV so he could stream stuff from Netflix to a decent-size screen, but from the couch he had only a wireless mouse to control the computer. That worked fine for choosing among available Netflix offerings, but the mouse doesn’t type, so he couldn’t use it to obtain Google’s shadowy assistance on crossword puzzles, nor to key in at Netflix the names of movies or TV shows that it suddenly occurred to Uncle Al he might like to watch on the spur of the moment.) 

Package arrives
When his son Dave was in Minneapolis on a recent visit, Uncle Al set forth all this as the reason he hadn’t gotten a fancier phone. The day before the previously noted 70th birthday, a package arrived: Dave had sent him a miniature wireless keyboard. As someone on the other side of the hill might say, “Suh-weeet!” Now, if it weren’t for walking Gus and going to lunch, Uncle Al would never have to get off of the couch!

But a few days earlier his old cell phone’s battery had refused to take a charge. Faced with this development, Uncle Al had to admit that — as a former computer engineer and erstwhile early-adopter of new technology (in 1958 he cobbled together the first stereo system he was aware of; he brought it to high school and played a thrilling record for the Science Club that seemed to involve a freight train moving across the room) — he wasn’t really comfortable with being out of touch with gizmos that everybody else had.

So instead of getting a new battery for the old phone, he went out and bought a new, much smarter phone. After he got it registered and working, he wanted to try out the smart features, so he downloaded his first app, choosing one of those that reads bar-codes and tells you where you can buy the product. OK; now where in his living room (preferably not far from the couch) was there a bar code to try it out on? Ah! The box that the phone came in. Great!

Within mere seconds, Uncle Al’s new phone told him that he could have bought the phone for $20 less. (It reminded him of that long-ago toy that was a box with a switch on it; you flipped the switch, a hand came out of the box, flipped the switch back, and returned to the box.)

For several days, anyway, all went well; Uncle Al used the wireless keyboard to wring new instant selections out of Netflix, and he cheated on crossword puzzles with the new phone. But just a couple of days ago the phone started misbehaving. When it rang, and he answered it, it hung up on the callers. When he called them back, it hung up on him. It had been charged overnight, but he tried recharging it, to no avail. Eventually he couldn’t turn it on at all.

So he took it back to the store, where the guy asked him if he’d tried taking the battery out and putting it back in. No, the electrical engineer hadn’t done that, although the guy seemed to imply that any 6-year-old (the same kid that your elderly relatives would ask to program their VCR) would have done so. Of course, that fixed the phone.

Uncle Al is feeling slightly decrepit.

  Turn around and you’re tiny
  Turn around and you’re grown
  Turn around and you’re an old guy
  Who can’t fix his phone.