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Thursday, 25 June 2015


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So, if I got it right, the Echo is a gimmick stuffed with technology that enables you to listen to music.. in mono.
As the song goes, "the future's so bright I gotta wear shades."
I feel old.

Were you wishing for an Ortofon, or a Grado cartridge?

Funny about the vases (note: I mentally pronounced it 'vozzes'). Just yesterday, my fiancé recounted on Facebook the difficulty she had with a woman at a florist's shop. Kati told the woman that whatever they proposed couldn't include roses. It was as if she had asked for the impossible. "Why?" she was asked. "Well, for starters, I'm allergic. Seriously, sinuses shut down, face streaming with tears allergic". "So I'll put down 'no flowers' then".

I'd give the Goodwill person slack however. I do think hifi is essentially an archaic term, and you would have been better served asking for stereo equipment. I'd guess the hifi term peaked in the 60s.


Which also raises the question what does the "fi" in Wi-Fi mean?

Now that I've finished banging my head against my desk I can calm down and tell a story in a similar vein.

A long time ago, on a cross-US road trip, I pulled into the parking lot of a large grocery store in Akron, Ohio. I needed cash, some supplies, and a post office.

The two of the four walls inside the store were lined with various kiosks (shoe repair, flower shop, etc.) including a post office. I was hoping to find an ATM (for the cash) but I didn't see one right away. So I asked an un-busy cashier if there were any ATMs nearby. She shrugged and mumbled something to the effect that she didn't know of any. As I turned away I saw that one of the kiosks -- RIGHT BEHIND HER -- was a mini-branch of a bank, with three ATMs sitting right there blinking at us.

OK, cash in hand I went over to the post office. I asked for a stamp to send a postcard to Canada. The clerk gave me a stamp for sending a postcard within the US. I repeated that I was sending it to Canada, and surely such a stamp costs more than a domestic one. He looked at me as if I were asking to send a postcard to Mars. Flustered, he started flipping through a book of rates and was never able to determine the postage for a postcard to Canada. So I bought two domestic stamps, assuming that the to-Canada price wouldn't be more than double the domestic rate.

I have not been back to Akron Ohio. It's unfortunate that these two dolts are my only representation of people of that city.

You got me all curious and interested with this post, Mike.

And when I got to the point of ""The term is Wi-Fi,"", you had me all cracked laughing.

The world is changing isn't it?

Thanks for the finest sense of humour in this little world.

Reminds me of when I asked for a shoehorn in the shoe section of a department store and had to explain what it was and how it was used. P.S. The clerk was younger than me.

"...The future is here..."


"...and we're in it..."


"...and it's great."

With that I disagree. More appropriate would have been:

"Just like the past, some of it is great and some of it sucks."

Neither mere "pastness" nor "futureness" confers greatness. Discernment is needed to reach conclusions regardless of position on a timeline.


In the spirt of science fiction writing I also find it very interesting how much we can compare things to the book "1984", the only difference being that instead of the Government forcing surveillance on us, we are instead using our own money to buy the listening devices to put in our homes and paying monthly for the connection to allow any one with a bit of nous or a court order to use it. I bet that was not imagined 50 or 60 years ago.
I walked into Hyundai a few years ago to look at one of there new cars but couldn't remember the name of the model, I asked the sales lady if there new sedan was in yet, "Sedan? oh you mean Van", no your new sedan thats been in all the commercials? "no I don't think I know of a new model called sedan"

Hope you managed to get listening to the wireless in there too :)

From one ancient toddler to another, thanks for a new, useful and an all too descriptive phrase.


Funny blog entry. Got me laughing this morning.

I am a little older than you and have found out just how old by trying to communicate, as you have shown, with folks in their teens and twenties (maybe thirties).

Kind of like asking for a vaaaz instead of a flower vase. When I was living in NY it seemed to be the former pronunciation. Here on the west coast its a vase and vaaaz does not exist. Goes to show how time and space changes culture.

Perhaps you said, "vahz"?

You are not alone. About a year ago my girlfriend (let's call her "T", following the etiquette of your blog :) ) and I were on a small road trip.

I stopped for gas and she declared that she wanted a cup of iced tea. Across the street was a fast food joint, to remain unidentified.

Normally, we don't eat fast food. We consider ourselves foodies, and besides, we all know the nutritional pitfalls of the stuff. But this particular chain was known for having good iced tea.

She heads over while I fill up. I finish and drive over to save her crossing the multi lane road a second time. The story she recounted had me dumbstruck for most of the rest of the ride.

After ordering her tea from a teenager, she asked them for a packet of sugar. Now, I must give another qualification here, we don't use the bleached variety, normally. As a matter of fact we use very little sugar at all. But when we do, we buy raw sugar. You know, like those little brown packs that Starbuck's has.

But, I digress. On with the story. The cashier hands her a little blue packet. And the following conversation transpires:

T "Um, no thank you. I asked for sugar."
Cashier "That is Sugar"
T "No. (reading the package) it says 'Equal'"
Cashier "Right, sugar."
T Blank stare.
Cashier Rummages around under counter. Hands over pink package "Ah, here you go"
T Sigh "That's called Sweet-n-Low"
Cashier, Visibly perturbed. "You asked for sugar, I offered you two kinds"
T "Neither were sugar. Those are artificial sweeteners"
Cashier "Okay, well this one says 'Made from Sugar' on the package" Hands her a yellow package
At this point other cashiers had rallied behind him trying to convince T that he had fulfilled her request. T is about to throw the tea at him. He takes note of her ninja like stance, and goes to find his manager.

Manager (barely older than the cashier) "My employee says you wanted sugar. He says he offered you three choices"
T "none of them were sugar"
Manager "Splenda" (the yellow packet) "...is made from sugar. Here's a pack..." Notices her ninja stance as well
T "Don't you have any of those little white packs? You know, the ones that say SUGAR on them?"
Manager "Oh, that's what you want" Rummaging around, finding one. "Sorry, our customers don't ask for this. So we really don't have any"

Seriously? Okay, maybe they don't carry much of it. But why didn't these young people know the difference? Has Madison Avenue brain washed this generation so thoroughly?

About you not writing Sci Fi because you can't see far enough into the future. Well, one of the recognized geniuses of the last century, Roddenberry, saw many of his ideas come to life before he died. And many more are becoming reality as I type:

Communicator- ubiquitous, small long range device. Do I have to name it

Bio Bed- about 20 years ago a bed that reads vital signs was developed

Ship bound Phaser (laser canon)- Boeing now has these attached to 747's and another company has a tank mounted version

Stun setting on hand held phaser- A you tuber has developed a potent laser pistol. And we've had stun guns for some time

The Tri-Corder (a small handheld multi functional scientific device) - There are many versions of these today. Many of them are based on smart phones. There are some specialty devices as well.

The medical tri-corder (like above, but used for field diagnosis) - There has recently been a crowdfunding campaign for a real one that connects to a smart phone via Bluetooth.

Transporter- Quantum physists have been working on this. And have succeeded in "Transporting" a single atom.

Warp Drive- Nasa scientists are deep in the theoretical planning phase of it's design.

I could go on. But the bottom line is this: I love your writing and would buy a Sci Fi novel penned by you! As I'm sure many others would (And make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice- in this context, that is a Sci Fi reference, by the way)

Great post. Thanks for the laugh.

You were smart to buy three vases. Whenever you find something you want or need, always buy several. No can repair anything anymore, no one can find anything. Bring them home, don't tell anyone, lock the doors.

Vase? How about breakfast cereal? I was shopping at a Super in my new neighborhood and couldn't find Cheerios, so I asked a clerk. Breakfast cereal or breakfast food, didn't work so I finally said: "You know, Cheerios, Rice Chex, Raisin Bran. That got me pointed in the right direction. BTW the clerk thought I wanted Jimmy Dean frozen Sausage/Egg Croissants when I said breakfast food!

Condesending children are hilarious! I once had a kid tell me that before photoshop there was no way to correct color in analog photography 8-D Mike how many articles have you written about analog color printing?

Amazon doesn't mention that Echo has a direct line to the NSA. No-one seems to care about privacy anymore. We use G-Mail knowing that Google reads everything. Your receipts from iMusic and PayPal helps them sell info. Many people overshare on social media. The list goes on. I will not be buying an Echo.

BTW2 my spelling checker wanted to change Bo Jackson to Book Jackson the other day 8-D Yeah gotta luv technology!

While scanning the Amazon listing, I immediately thought of "Star Trek". "Computer- what weapons exist on the planet we are orbiting?" Then I observed it wasn't an original thought.

As to the getting old part (I'm your age)- I recently had a conversation with an office worker about dated phrases. I used the old line "time to get back to the salt mine" to end the conversation. Hearing this, another (young) worker looked at me and asked "do you really work in a salt mine?" "No", I replied, and tried to explain the irony of how that was just another example of a dated expression. I failed to gain her understanding.

If it's any comfort, I had no idea what an Echo is or does until I got to the featured comments.

[Well, you could have clicked the link.... --Mike]

Being generally frugal so I can splurge too often on things like, oh, say cameras, I often enjoyed rummaging around the local Goodwill store looking for treasures and bargains. Until one day when a friend pointed out that unlike many people who shop there, I don't need to be quite so frugal to survive and perhaps I should consider leaving the bargains for those who have no choice but to shop there. Something to ponder, anyway...

A few years ago I visited my local Radio Shack store to buy a roll of solder. As soon as I walked in the door, a young clerk asked me, "Can I help you, sir?" I said, "Yes, please, I need some solder." And the clerk replied, "What is solder?" That's when I knew Radio Shack was doomed.

"I went to the garden center yesterday needing to buy a flower vase"

I don't know if that's the first place I'd go to look for one, kind of like going to the Agway (or maybe not, pure ag supply stores seem to have become as rare as pure camera stores) to buy a frying pan I'd think. A home furnishing store like Crate & Barrel
http://www.crateandbarrel.com/decorating-and-accessories/vases/1 would be more productive.
Speaking of C&B , who buys this?

I think most people don't know what a vase is because it's "that thing that cut flowers come in that you send to the good will because it seems to nice to throw away"

Speaking of the Goodwill, notice how they call 8mm film cameras video cameras?

Good thing you didn't ask for the frog to go with the vase.

I get blank looks when I ask for 'Paper Hankies'

'Oh, you mean tissues ?'


I've gotten one of the Echo devices. I suppose they are generally available now, rather than by "invitation", which I never understood. I suppose requiring a request for an invite to buy one limited how many people would bother to go through the ordering process, and head off any supply shortfalls/backorder issues.

But anyway. Significant privacy implications aside, it's an interesting product. Amusing, mostly, in what it gets right and what it gets wrong. My young son likes to have it tell him corny jokes, but is disappointed he can't reciprocate.

For me, it's fun to mess with but doesn't have any real "can't live without" functionality at this point. Amazon is adding more to it all the time (such as integration with WeMo and Hue devices), and the potential is impressive.

I'll lay odds "HAL" came up in the naming discussions on the Echo.

I am not so much confronted by ignorance of common things, but confronted by words that are so incredibly specfic, yet treated as commonplace, that I feel sure I have slid sideways into a paralell universe.

For example, on this very blog, I read someone using the word "tannoy" to generically refer to speakers. Some internet digging later, I come to find out that they were a ubiquitous UK public address speaker manufacturer. Really?!? Are you sure? That has to be a put on, who would call their PA equipment company something that sounds like a contraction of "to annoy"?

Likewise, I've fallen into a cultural rabbit hole a time or two - sometimes voluntarily (didn't watch the news from May of 1990-Sept 1995, so Gulf War I was a surprise) . Sometimes involuntarily - the birth of a child will do that. (E.g. there's this high end clothing shop with a preposterous name, called "white house black market" that suddenly exists! Why?)

A few other things seem to reappear in technology enough times that I don't understand why people don't understand them. E.g. Internet chat: 1994 MUDs, usenet, listservs, 1996 ICQ AOL, MSN, IRC, 2002 ichat 2003 skype 2004 Facebook, 2006 Twitter, 2010 instagram, 2011 imessage, LINE, 2013 Slack.

Every time you get trolls, sexting, impersonation, urban legends, and people dating. Every time people are surprised. (Fyi, iMessage is the best of the lot, followed by Slack, and Twitter...is like Game of Thrones, there's 140 characters and something terrible is always happening.)

I thought I would provide additional information about the Echo for the paranoid types: the Echo does NOT record every spoken word. It only records what you say after waking the device with the wake word. And it only records for a few seconds after that. If you don't speak after waking the Echo, it will stop listening after a few seconds. And you can easily turn off the microphones with a push of a button. In addition, if you so desire, you can go to Amazon.com and delete the recordings you've made. As for the NSA, it's already been shown they have no issue taking and analyzing data from citizens of other countries. If that's what your are trying to prevent, you are already too late. Disclaimer: I am not an Amazon employee; I'm just a fan of technology and of this little device.

This would appear to be a natural progression of the trend toward deskilling coupled with "me" generation narcissism. Does anyone even learn to drive a stick shift car anymore? That's aside from the obvious privacy and security issues.

My recent story is dissimilar, but gave me the same spooky feeling.
The police came around and looked for one of my neighbors. No clue why, don't care, nice guy.
So in the evening I thought he might like to know, so I went and told him they'd been around.
Now, I've lived here for 12 years, and he has always seemed a very normal, sane, pleasant guy.
... So the next day he knocked on my door and said: "Do you know about the police maybe having been around, looking for me? One of the neighbors told me about it..."
I'm 6.4 and rather distinctive. He'd forgotten my face and identity in half a day. Ooooh.

Don't know how it is in the US, but here in UK and most of Europe, if you want orange juice, you can't say "orange juice", you will get orange-colored soda. You have to say "Fresh orange juice" or such. Many of the young servers simply can't comprehend the difference. If it's orange and taste faintly of orange, it's orange juice, end of discussion. For me, if it has no, erm, orange juice in it, it's not orange juice.

Only thing worse is the disappearance of the word "literally". It's an important word, dammit. It does not mean "practically" or "virtually".

How have we gotten this far down the page without the Beloit College Mindset List coming up?

I'm surprised the weird things coming up here, though; I bought breakfast cereal in a supermarket yesterday, and there were a LOT of varieties. What actually startles me is how few kinds of jams and jellies are stocked these days.

Re: Flower vases....

More than you ever wanted to know about flower vases... plus an obligatory link to buy one at Amazon...


I think when we have vase buying guides, we have officially hit "peak internet".

Happy flower arranging... Will this lead to a cliche photo of flowers in a vase?


The flower receptacle thingey - I've heard it rhyme (here in England) with bars or cars (but omitting the soft 'r' sound), with gauze (much less often), and with haze (rather rarely). So another source of confusion over floral display devices.
What made me feel old though, was realising that a whole generation and a half after mine never spoke of a railway station, but a train station. More logical, I suppose, since it's the train that stops, not the rail, but unsettling.

Of course to the Brit of a Certain age this reminds me of the Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch about the HiFi shop about the man who wants to buy a "gramophone". And look at that it's on t'internet too.


There is nothing new under the sun. This is a generational issue and we are now the old guys asking for "a gramophone".

@Patrick Perez: Did we reach peak hifi in the 1960s?

According to Google NGrams HiFi (case insensitive) peaked in the 1820s (I kid you not!). Clearly another meaning from scanned books but aside from a bump in the 1980s HiFi is a term whose usage is still on the rise (in books as of 2008).


@KeithB: What does the Fi in WiFi stand for. Nothing much. It's just a trademark that sort sounds like HiFi.


@Robert Hudyma: I'm pretty sure that not everything you say is sent over the wire to Amazon (they wouldn't want the server load) but only the phrase you say after the "wake word".

I dread to think that there is a home out there with a daughter called Alexa and a cat called Amazon as they are the only two wake words so far. Got to sell the brand, I suppose. I'm sure this will change.

The other security question to ask is can it be hacked to do that? I'm sure there are people out there already working on that question.

And this is just a disembodied device ... just think what will happen when we get synths like Anita in Humans about the house? It's getting closer every day. Humans starts on AMC in the US on June 28. It's already on in the UK.


It increasingly seems that "backward compatibility" is not a part of our cultural system.

A quick online check (www.lextutor.ca) shows 'vase' to be in the 5th 1000 frequency list, so not that common. I wouldn't expect an intermediate-level student of English to know it. As a student of linguistics, I'm curious to know where you got the figure of 3500 to define a 'native' speaker's vocabulary size.

I have a "Dang, I'm Old" story in reverse.

Around these parts Wegman's is the default supermarket. You have likely been in one, Mike, as they are default in where S lives, as well.

The cashiers (of which there are many - the checkout lines are generally short and fast,) are usually fairly bright and friendly, and mostly teenagers. None of them, of course can make change without looking at their terminal display.

Except one. Several years a young lady, who I am reasonably sure was 17, actually counted back to make change without once looking at the screen. It's a good thing I was on my heart meds otherwise I think I would have collapsed of coronary failure.

And speaking of both Hi Fi and Goodwill ... I occasionally haunt the local Goodwill stores for LPs. Digging through the bins can be a chore, but some treasures can be found for pennies. The one nearest my workplace has a trove of jazz and an interesting selection of classical, including ballet music. There are other genres, of course, but those two dominate.

One day I decided to expand my search and go to other Goodwill locations. At one I found almost exclusively Broadway musicals and '50s crooners and pre-rock pop. At another the selection was entirely different, this time dominated by rock.

Did they do this on purpose? Even if not, it certainly is convenient for vinyl bin-diving. "Hmmm, I'm in the mood for some Al Martino today..."

Come on...you know where to buy flower vases...

...on Amazon using the T.O.P. affiliate link!


Thanks for the laughs Mike. Well done.
(further to John Ironside's comment - in Australia there is no consensus on how to pronounce the word either - so much so that my school teacher mother always jokingly used the word with the three versions of pronunciation - "Can you get me out a vorsz, varse, vayhse for these flowers please?")

Mike, I think its not that you are short sighted, but its the exponential progress of innovation.
One of my fav show was Star Trek, touchscreen, mobile gadget and voice command are already here. I guess we'll just have to wait for the spaceship and holodeck, and we'll be good to go :) (oh and the transporter)

A 'flower' vase? Are there any other types of vases?

p.s. I'm English so you have to read that 'a' in vase as 'ah' not 'ae'!

For example, on this very blog, I read someone using the word "tannoy" to generically refer to speakers. Some internet digging later, I come to find out that they were a ubiquitous UK public address speaker manufacturer. Really?!? Are you sure?

Yes. Tannoy make great speakers. In the UK the term 'to tannoy someone' meaning paging them on a PA system is almost as common as referring to vacuuming as Hoovering.

This entire discussion seems to require that we coin the phrase "chuckling with despair." As a college employee, I now feel obligated to quiz random students on their familiarity with vases, hi-fi, and sugar packets.

@Aubrey Silvertooth, your comment made me think of lamentations people in the previous century would have made over the youth of the day losing all recollection of saddlery, smithing and horse-craft. Why would you worry that students in the advanced programme lack familiarity with dying technologies?

(I can empathise with grieving for the loss of beautiful practices and mediums through obsolescence though.)

In reply to Wes above: how can the device, pray tell, be woken by the wake word if it is not already listening?

No, Mike. It's not you. The world is going to heck in a hand-basket.

Another bombout. I tried to buy it and found Amazon won't ship to Australia. This is a very regular, boring occurrence, I'm finding.

It's clear they don't want my business. I tried to buy an SD card and a 62mm UV filter last week. Total price US104. Total weight, what, 100gm? Shipping cost? US$110 ! I've given up even trying to buy from Amazon. Books, DVDs, it doesn't matter, they either won't sell to Australia or the freight is out of the question. Bye.

Meh. I can't be impressed with an item that has speakers that a cheap car stereo would put to shame and that isn't streaming Sirius XM "Metropolitan Opera" station. I might change my mind if I were in a full body cast.

Without a doubt the best post in a L O N G time. I found myself wondering why not Goodwill before you mentioned it. And re the stereo equipment thing, I have yet to encounter anything remotely interesting in a Goodwill. It's a low probability event.

@Aubrey Silvertooth: When I was young, everyone was taught cursive writing; but not all were taught to type. One of those I no longer use. More to the point: Are they learning their history? History of people? Do they care about it? Can they reason about it and about their social institutions? Can they make a coherent argument? Again, do they care? If so, you are succeeding. If they don't know how a rotary phone works, or even that there was this thing called "film", it certainly doesn't matter enough to worry.

As my wife says often, "We are hurtling towards Idiocracy." She can't watch that movie because she finds it painful rather than funny. The satire is just too realistic as Mike Judge's satire always is. Smart people really are waiting too long to have kids and dumb people are having way too many. I have a feeling that in 100 years our descendants will be staring at the rising ocean levels slowly drowning them like turkeys drowning in the rain; unable to comprehend what is happening while the water level is rising above their necks. Yes, I'm cynical and feel old at 38. I know I'm old because I put 2 spaces after every sentence and that method of typing is already passe since it most likely developed from typesetting and typewriters. Kids have no time to double space when texting.

"Wi-Fi" brought a smile to my face. Perhaps you're fortunate not to have asked for an enlarger in the photo department; they may have directed you to the pharmacy.

Wi-Fi you say? You'll need a wireless router: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00005QEVT?vs=1

Yes, but can the Echo understand:

"Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"

(Or does that date me)

Wi-Fi? That's so old -- I was using 4G all last week, that's good new tech.

In reply to:

"This would appear to be a natural progression of the trend toward deskilling coupled with "me" generation narcissism. Does anyone even learn to drive a stick shift car anymore? "

.... the majority of people in Europe, where automatic gears are still mainly the province of high end luxury cars or a niche part of most smaller ranges. We call the stick thing "the gear lever" and shifting "changing gear".

My car (a Golf) has a choice of 6 forward gears plus neutral and reverse.

Twitter, texting, and Fb

It is saddening, it's like a big portion of the world has descended into the equivalent of a big party, it's so busy and noisy that you can't hear anything significant, and people communicate mostly by hitting each other over the head with bottles.

Guys/Gals listen up this concerns all of us.
1] There has never been a generation who did not believe that the generations that came after them were stupid,incompetent,incapable of doing things as they had always been done etc. etc.

2]Were not convinced that the succeeding generation would make a complete hash of things and were sure to bring an end to the world and everything in it.

Well a brief look back at history should be enough to dispel one's fears as it's pretty obvious that nature has designed mankind to survive in all kinds of changing times and to deal with and overcome adversaries,so try not to get your knickers in a twist just because someone younger than you who has a different life experience uses different words and phrases and doesn't hold dear some of the things you do.

None of us are going to be here forever so it's not worth worrying about,have a good day.

I'm an Amazon Prime member and was offered one of these a few months back at discount before general release. i liked the idea and being a fairly early "adopter" of technology wanted to try it. My wife was not so sure we needed nor that she wanted something like that sitting in our kitchen or living room. In the end the cheesy video demonstrating the product really turned me off (when something like that irritates me I cannot help but have it influence me too), and then one last discussion with the wife reminded me of all the darn gadgets we have around the house (5 iphones, including "retired" ones now used as quasi-iPods since they no longer have SIM cards but still connect to HiFi, I mean WiFi...), 3 iPads (one for me, one for my son, and one my wife and 3-yr old daughter use) an iMac for my main workstation, and one MacBook Pro. Plus all the cooking gadgets on the counters like toaster, soy milk maker, yogurt maker, hot water boiler, blender, etc and it just seemed ridiculous to add an Echo too....

Funny - the name "Wi-Fi" was originally conceived as a pun on "Hi-Fi."

The echo looks like a flower vase!

Dear Roberto,

The same way you can be sitting in a room reading TOP on your tablet* and ignoring the conversations around you, not registering nor remembering a word, until someone says, "Hey, Roberto," and then you're attentive.

pax / Ctein

*(no one reads books any more-- so last century)

@ Dennis. No reason for Mike to write the sequel; David Eggars has it covered....

The Circle is a 2013 novel by American author Dave Eggers.[2][3][4] It chronicles tech worker Mae Holland as she joins a powerful Internet company which starts out as an incredibly rewarding experience, but as she works there longer things start to fall apart. It is Dave Eggers’s tenth published work of fiction.

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