[Received via e-mail: March 27, 1997]

"Well dad what are you going to do now?"

This was the question from my twenty-two-year-old daughter who had just returned from a three-month trip. She was lying on the floor of the family room renewing her friendship with the cat who was enjoying the sun. As usual, the cat had found a warm spot and as the sunny places on the carpet moved, so did she. It was Saturday morning and I was watching a television program for a short time to check it out. I planned to actually watch the recorded program later.

While my daughter was away, she had left her stuff at our house including her very nice modern hi-fi, a present from us for her twenty-first birthday. She was teasing me because I had enjoyed using it while she was away and we had just finished disconnecting it and reattaching the VCR to the television. She was expecting me to go into withdrawal, now that the new hi-fi in its modern case was gone.

On the other hand, now that the new hi-fi was gone there was space to rearrange the family room and do a general clean-up. We moved the VCR to a small table next to the television, and put a lamp near the sofa, plugging it into a timer so that it would switch on and off automatically. The next time I was in a hardware shop I also bought some modern energy-saving light bulbs on sale (well, if I was going to buy myself a super modern hi-fi to replace my thiry-year-old system, I'd better save some money...). The new flourescent bulb even looked good when installed.

I did not know it at the time, but this was the start of all the problems. I like to think I am the master of modern technology and that the complexity of things like VCRs and bank teller machine is minor in comparison to computers and home remodeling. I suppose that my first encounter with the Magic Money Machine should have been a warning, but after all, that had been several years ago and I had nearly recovered enough to use it when I had to....

About a month later we were going out to dinner and wanted to record something, so I got a blank tape out and started the process of programming the VCR. It's one of these great new machines that has everything. It has on-screen programming, is cable ready, and will even remind you of your wife's birthday if you know how to program it.

"Well, how did it go?" My wife asked.

"What?" I said, trying to sound cool.

"Programming the VCR."

"Oh, that! No problem."

"Well," she said, "I could sense some degree of frustration."

"I think the battery on the remote is going. I had to move about the room to make the buttons work. I'll have to change them tomorrow".

"What's wrong?" my wife asked the next day.

"Well, you remember the program we recorded to watch...?"


"Well, it didn't record. I got the wrong channel."

"You checked out the batteries in the remote?"

"Yes. They seem OK, and the remote worked the same with new and old batteries. I'll give it another try. I've set it up to record the usual stuff. We'll see when we get back from breakfast."

After several weeks of frustration, I decided to pay a visit to an electronics store to see about replacing the offending beast. The salesman asked me what I was looking for and I told him that I was having trouble with my present machine in that it was a problem to program; sometimes it would record the wrong channel and sometimes it would even change its date and time. It had even locked up once or twice and could only be fixed by unplugging the thing and plugging it back it again. He said that he had never heard of all those things going wrong. He thought it was especially odd when I told him that it always worked perfectly for Saturday morning programs on channel 11. We discussed the features and prices of several units. I selected the one I liked, but I thought I had better both discuss it with my wife and make sure that it would work with the television. I also wanted a unit that would be able to use the same remote as the TV.

The next time I came to program the VCR (I had not replaced it because we agreed that maybe I was not doing something right) I found it was locked up again. This time after the old unplug and re-plug routine I noticed that the on-screen programming came up without the little "c" in the corner to say that it was expecting a cable input. Aha! Now, at least, I knew why I sometimes got a recording of nothing but snow, as we don't have an external antenna. It also explained why the Saturday morning programs worked, as they were on channel 11 which is common to both cable and antenna But why did the unit lock up, and why did the remote not work properly except on Saturday...?

Several weeks later we were again going out and wanted to record a program. Would it work this time? At least the remote was working, so maybe the problems were behind us. Halfway through programming the VCR, the automatic timer on the light switched on, and suddenly the remote did not work. We tried out this new theory that the light was the cause of the problem, and found that as my wife turned on or off the new florescent light fixture the remote either worked or didn't. So now we had to switch off the light if we wanted to use the remote....

I assumed we must have found the problem now, so with confidence (and the light off) I programmed the evening film and went out, sure that we were going to be able to watch both it and the Saturday morning programs the following evening.

Not so. It got the morning program but still not the evening film. This was getting really frustrating: we had to watch the morning stuff although we really wanted to see the taped movie. Halfway through the taped program we remembered that at least Masterpiece Theater was on, so we just stopped the tape.

How nice to be able to sit together on the sofa and watch a program in the evening. Nobody disturbing us, the dog lying in front of the TV, and the cat, as usual, in a warm spot....

On top of the VCR....

Halfway through the show, the cat woke up, stetched in her feline, Sphinxish way, and the tape ejected.