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May 2012 Dr. Vern

Posted in Features on May 1, 2012
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Contributors: Dr. Vern

It’s time. The decision can’t be put off any longer. I have no choice but to bring that rolling time capsule, my ’63 Willys wagon, into the 21st century. Fear not, all you Luddites out there. Not much will change. All I’ll be doing is bringing the audio system up to date, or at least within a decade or two of present-day technology. Now that I’m driving my wagon nearly every day, it’s time to listen to music instead of road noise.

Try to purchase anything for an old vehicle, be it spark plugs or a new stereo, and the poor salesman doesn’t know what to do if it isn’t in the computer system. Pity the poor guy behind the counter, as he is only trained to enter make, model, and year into his computer. Right off the bat, “Make” causes enough trouble. Is my ’63 wagon a Jeep? Or is it a Willys? How about a Kaiser, the parent company at the time? I’ve seen all three in various computer systems. “Model” is no easier, as I’ve seen this rig labeled as a station wagon, utility, or even just 2-door. The poor salesman typically has to read off the choices so we can find the closest answer by the process of elimination: “No, it’s not a truck and it’s not a Dispatcher, so let’s try the next one….” Nothing remotely close to my vehicle showed up on the computer, so the unsuspecting salesman suggested we stroll out to the parking lot for a look-see. This was the first time he’d seen a vehicle that didn’t have a factory-installed radio, or at least provisions for one. It has a plain metal dash and your choice of where to cut.

As much fun as it was to watch this young man’s reaction to a vehicle that has never had a radio, it suddenly made me feel very old. I’m not sure how this happened, but I recently noticed I’m older than I was a few years ago. Some alarming things are starting to happen because of this. For example, when I get on a plane, I expect the pilot to be older than me, but that’s not always the case anymore. A proper pilot should have gray hair at his temples. (For clarification, the pilot in question should also have a normal complement of hair on the rest of his head, because it would look funny growing only at the temples, no matter what color.) Same thing with doctors. (I’m back to talking about age, not hair.) Doctors are not supposed to be younger than you are. Now that I think about it, I hope my fate as I age is not like that of most vehicles, which tend to break down and leak more frequently.

While we’re on the subject of alarming things, I should mention something else that concerns me. Choosing a particular type of new technology is enough to make me break out in the cold sweats. I’ve got nothing against progress, but I think there should only be one type of technology offered at a time to make it easier for guys like me. I’m not one of those “first adopters,” who’ve got to have the latest gizmo. I’m perfectly content to let others discover the little bugs that won’t be worked out until a year or two down the road. The only downside to this “wait and see” attitude is that I tend to do too much waiting. By the time I’m ready to get on the train, it’s left the station. And then the railroad went out of business. Followed by the tracks being torn up for scrap....

This all came to mind while choosing what sort of stereo to install in my wagon. I knew enough not to ask for a cassette deck or eight-track, but should I get a CD player? Even a non-techie like me can notice they are on their way out. The latest trend is electronic media, but will the format I choose be passé in a few years? The choices are overwhelming. Consider the previous choices from the history of mobile entertainment. Before the age of radio or portable music players, you didn’t have many options. If you wanted to listen to music while driving, you had two choices: 1) Find a marching band and slowly drive behind them with your windows down, or, 2) Hire a musician to ride with you.

The first choice was inexpensive, but severely limited your travel choices. The second choice was more versatile, but wasn’t cheap. Regardless, both of these early entertainment systems were very bulky. Over the years, everything progressively became more versatile and much smaller, but eventually it went too far. Most new stereos have dozens of tiny little buttons that only work with correspondingly sized fingers. Actually, the buttons work just fine no matter how large your fingers may be. The only catch is it is nearly impossible to press a single button at a time. Add in the bounce factor that comes with driving an old Jeep and you might change the display language while trying to adjust the volume. On a modern stereo, there are many settings that mean virtually nothing to me. My tired ears don’t need all those fancy features. I’d be happy (mark your calendar!) with one knob for volume and another to change stations. On second thought, there is one more thing. Does anybody offer an automatic mute for Tom Shane commercials?

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