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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

HOW I LOWERED MY CABLE BILL

Posted by Tim Bryce on September 24, 2019

BRYCE ON TELEVISION

– I got it down to $100, but it almost killed me.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Like many people, I have been fighting to keep my cable bill as low as possible. It’s an on-going struggle as I’m sure you can imagine. In the past, I have described how I have jumped multiple times to different cable companies. So much so, my lawn looks like spaghetti from the many cables buried underneath.

Spectrum is my current provider, and like the others, they offer an attractive bundled package including cable, telephone, and Internet. Since I now rely on a mobile phone, I no longer have any use for a regular home phone. Nonetheless, Spectrum has priced their package in such a way as to discourage you from dropping the telephone. In fact, it is more expensive to do so. Again, the other providers follow suit in this pricing strategy.

Last year, I began implementing Roku streaming sticks to the back of most of my televisions, all except two. For the uninitiated, this allows you to “stream” TV programs over the Internet; in other words, no physical cables. This lowered my monthly bill considerably. Recently though, Spectrum raised my bill by $15 to $154, which angered and motivated me to kill my cable and telephone portions and use Roku exclusively through my Spectrum Internet access. This lowered my bill to $70 per month and meant it would pay off my new Roku players in a couple of months. So far, so good.

After I made the switch, I discovered my television sets wouldn’t work properly and I kept getting a black screen with an error code regarding “HDCP version 2.2 missing.” Evidently, HDCP is a technology originally used to prevent the pirating of tapes years ago. Now it is used to prevent unauthorized use of television apps. Knowing this must be the work of Spectrum, I contacted them and discovered the problem; to wit I had to purchase the Spectrum “App” for running over the Internet. This cost $24.99 plus a $5 broadcasting fee. Okay, fine, I purchased it, thereby making my monthly Spectrum bill $100, but my problems were only beginning.

I had one large TV in a bedroom which now ran fine, but a small 17″ Vizio set in the kitchen still had the black screen of death. The kitchen TV was the most important as we watch Fox News around meal time, and Mama had to have her Fox News. I therefore tried to reinstall the Roku stick several times, at least twelve, using different settings, all to no avail. I was now so sick of the black screen of death, I was ready to scream and tear out my hair.

Thinking there was something wrong with the kitchen TV, I took a ride down to Best Buy, about ten miles away. I found another 17″ set and I asked a salesman if this would work. After describing my ordeal, he said the problem was that Roku is used to power bigger sets, not puny little 17″ sets. It turns out, he was right.

My son then suggested I purchase a small “Smart” TV which, theoretically, have all the apps loaded. At 24″, I found a slightly bigger set at Walmart for a reasonable price. The salesman said he believed it would run the Fox News app and just about anything else. Wrong. This is when I discovered that not all “smart” TV’s are created equal. Instead, I needed a Roku specific Smart TV, which I had no idea existed. I returned the old TV to Walmart before heading back down to Best Buy. My son suggested I order it on-line and have it delivered in two days. I replied, “You do not know your mother.”

So, I traveled another ten miles back to Best Buy, purchased the Smart-Roku TV (a Sharp), and came home to set it up, the second time today for me to do so. This time it went easily and in no-time, voila, it was up and running, and a smile came across Mama’s face.

Total elapsed time from when I dropped off my Spectrum cable boxes and changed my service plan to Mama’s smile; three days. During that time I dealt with a multitude of programming problems, visited three stores, and probably put 75 miles on my automobile. Of course, this doesn’t include the mental cruelty they put you through. Keep in mind, I have been in the computer business for over 40 years. This made me wonder how the average Joe would deal with such a problem. The answer, of course, is they do not and continue to pay the ever escalating cable bills.

One last note regarding the Spectrum “app,” the basic program doesn’t support Fox News, as I was surprised to learn. However, after patiently waiting in line on the phone for awhile, I spoke with a Spectrum customer service agent who informed me there was another app which featured ten basic channels, and the customer can select ten more, which is the route I opted for, and there was no additional charge for the app. As an aside, after going through this on Smart TV’s and different streaming sticks, it seems to me there is a premeditated attempt to keep Fox News off the air. Hmm, this couldn’t be politically motivated could it?

So, at long last, my odyssey was over; despite all the headaches, I persevered and finally lowered my monthly cable bill by $54 per month.

Later, it occurred to me, wouldn’t it be nice if they had a simple TV set with a dial featuring all of the primary channels and you could just plug in the power cord, hit the “On” button, adjust the volume button, and enjoy television. I guess that would be too much to ask. Come to think of it, isn’t that what we had before cable television?

One last note. Always remember, the original premise behind cable television was to eliminate commercials. As Ralph Cramden would have said, “Hardy-Har-Har.”

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Also do not forget my new books, “How to Run a Nonprofit” and “Tim’s Senior Moments”, both available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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Posted in Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

THE PROBLEM WITH PROGRAMMERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 15, 2019

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

– How they affect society.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Years ago I wrote a technical paper titled, “Theory P: The Philosophy of Managing Programmers,” which was aimed at providing assistance to managers in reigning in their people. In a nutshell, I contend the best way to improve programmer productivity was to give them better specifications and create a uniform process (methodology) for them to conform to. I received mixed reviews on the piece; whereas managers loved it, a furor ensued among programmers. Nonetheless, I still stand by the conclusions of the paper.

It occurs to me though, programmers have a profound impact on society. Perhaps the most visible sign of this is our addiction to smart phones, where people are plugged in and tuned out. For example, we see people preoccupied with them on the road, which is quite dangerous, in stores, in the office, even in the gym where they are “tuned out” while they exercise. As an aside, I learned a long time ago not to try and strike up a conversation with anyone in the gym as they are all “plugged in.” This suggests our socialization skills are changing.

There are many other examples, such as remote control devices for TV, cable, DVD, radio, and Yes, old tape machines (e.g., VHS), all of which are as “user friendly” as a Ouija board. In my family room, I have four devices; one for the television, one for streaming channels, one for my DVD/VHS player, and one I’m really not too sure about. I hesitate to dispose of it as it might serve some purpose, kind of like an old metal key you do not want to throw away yet.

As an aside, you would think they would have invented a universal remote by now, but they haven’t. Actually, it shouldn’t be that difficult, a button for power, a button for volume, a button for tone (treble/bass), and a button for channel selection (Gee, it kind of sounds like the old TV’s and radios, doesn’t it?). This should be followed by a series of programmable function keys as on a keyboard (e.g., F1, F2, F3, etc.) which could include device selection, fast forward, reverse, pause, stop, etc.

This brings up a point, people use only a fraction of what these devices are capable of performing, primarily because we have specific needs and only use the devices as such. In addition, programmers tend to make such devices robust, with little consideration for “ease of use.” This is not new as we noted this phenomenon years ago with computers; we simply do not use them to their full potential.

You must remember, programmers are detailists who possess a myopic view of their particular problem. No, they do not see the big picture, just their small part of the overall puzzle. This is why it is important to provide the programmer with precise specifications, which has historically been the responsibility of Systems Analysts to provide. Unfortunately, such people are an endangered species and programmers are left to figure out both the problem and solution on their own. Not surprising, they will inevitably do what is easiest for them to do as opposed to how the end-user will implement it. This explains why devices appear complicated to the rest of us.

You should also understand programmers typically abhor standards as they consider it inhibiting their creativity. Let me give you an example, years ago IBM devised the Systems Application Architecture (SAA) standards which was intended for use on all of their computing platforms, including mainframes, minis, and PCs. This included standards for Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) for window design. The intent was to design windows in a uniform manner so that if a user mastered the use of one window, the user would know how to use all windows, thereby simplifying training and improving productivity simply by developing a common “look and feel” to all windows, regardless of the computing platform. Frankly, it was brilliant, but alas programmers resisted it and fought the standards until IBM backed away from them. Today, there is little continuity in how web pages work, much to the chagrin of the end-user.

We see other examples of technical snafus all around us:

* Web pages simply do not work correctly with no explanation (Help text is severely lacking). How many times have we seen a web page die on us, particularly when we are ordering something on-line? Quite often, the data we entered earlier has to be re-keyed into the page, only to die a second time, maybe because we didn’t upshift or downshift a letter in the proper sequence. Such editing rules should be accommodated by the programmer, but again, they ignore this and take the easy way out.

* In the event there is a power outage, or some other problem with television cable, we have to re-boot our cable box. This takes us down a cryptic path whereby we do not know what we are doing, and have no clue whether the repair process is occurring properly. I still find it rather amusing when customer service reps admonish us to unplug the device, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in (whereby it takes us on a countdown to nowhere).

* Voice Mail jail is still the norm for just about all companies. I cringe when I hear, “Press-1 for this, Press-2 for that, etc.” Even after you entered your name, rank and serial number two or three times, the customer service agent will inevitably ask you to repeat it all over again, assuming someone returns your call. They throw up these electronic walls intentionally as they do not care about Customer Service.

Instead of simplifying the user experience, programmers make it more complicated, again, because it is what is easier for them to program, not what is convenient to the end-user. Such a mindset forces us to expect less, not more, from sales and customer service.

Here is the point: Instead of adapting technology to human behavior, humans have to adapt to the technology. We are the ones truly being programmed, not the machine. This is like putting the cart before the horse, all because we bow to the creativity of the programmer, not because it is right.

All of this influences social behavior. For example, we are less likely to engage in conversation, we lose respect for the human spirit, we lose patience, and we become more irritable and prone to heated arguments and fights. All because we resist properly managing programmers and allowing them to do whatever they please.

One last note, I recently had to swap out the SIM card for my mom’s aging flip-top phone, a process I estimated would take maybe five minutes, at most, to perform. First, I discovered I couldn’t lift off the back cover as easily as the instructions indicated. I basically needed a hammer and chisel to break in, but I also considered a little nitro. I then pulled out the battery to access and replace the SIM card in the back. After reinstalling everything, I turned on the phone, only to discover it claimed the SIM card wasn’t installed. I again brought out the hammer and chisel, pulled everything apart, and found I had indeed installed the SIM card properly. In desperation, I called the company’s customer service who explained to me the phone had to be activated. Note: There was no mention of activation in the documentation I received. Nonetheless, the phone finally became operational. So, a five minute operation ended up taking just over an hour to complete. Is it any wonder why I despise programmers?

“As the use of technology increases, social skills decrease.”
– Bryce’s Law

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Also do not forget my new books, “How to Run a Nonprofit” and “Tim’s Senior Moments”, both available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Software, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

TIN HEADS – EPISODE 5 – “THE GETAWAY”

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 8, 2019

BRYCE ON FICTION

– A little escape to Montana.

This is a chapter from a book I wrote back in 2010, “Tin Heads,” which is a work of fiction and reminiscent of the many stories we watched on the “Twilight Zone.” The book is still for sale as a PDF file, click HERE, or for a Kindle e-Book, click HERE. For more info on what is a Tin Head, see the INTRO. I hope you will enjoy it.

“THE GETAWAY”

“Tin Head” – slang expression for the TN-2020 Personal Drone developed by TN Industries, San Jose, California. A “dumb” robot resembling human form with special sensors enabling humans to visit remote locations without having to leave their home location. Unit is distinguished by its domed head, hence the nickname.

Have you ever been engrossed in a job demanding your utmost attention to detail for an extended period of time? Harry Dobin knew it well. He was the lead architect for a major new system for North Carolina’s Department of Transportation. The state had undergone a major upgrade of its highway infrastructure and, as part of the effort, wanted to revamp the highway’s information system by studying and calculating traffic volume, accidents, and rerouting traffic to assure proper flow. This was no small task as it was a major system and had to interface with other state systems. The feasibility study alone took several months and, as point man of the project, Harry spent an inordinate amount of time studying the geography, specifying requirements, and designing the various business processes involved with the system.

It was not unusual for Harry to put in 70 to 80 hours a week on the project, sometimes more. Fortunately, Harry was still single so there were no family attachments to distract him. He loved his work and didn’t mind the hours, but he tried to pace himself so he could keep his mind focused on the project. To do so, Dobin found solace in fly-fishing. He kept his pole and gear in the trunk of his car in case an opportunity presented itself for him to wade into a stream. As the project took him around the state, he knew just about all of the streams and rivers. It was the perfect distraction for him, as well as giving him an appreciation for the beauty of the state and an understanding of the needs of its citizens.

The highway system was now at a critical juncture whereby the data base was being constructed and specifications passed over to programming for implementation. Even though the system design was well documented, Dobin was concerned about the transfer to the programming staff, which meant he felt it necessary to hover nearby to oversee the staff and answer questions. This demanded more time than he had planned and he found himself working at the office night and day for most of July. When he grew weary during the day, he would close his eyes and think about climbing into a cool stream to fish, but knowing fishing was slow during this time of the year, it remained nothing more than a pipe dream to him.

One day over lunch in the government cafeteria, Harry happened to sit with a couple of the programmers on the project. He always wanted to keep track of the pulse of the project and found sharing lunch with the programmers a good way to do so, plus he could answer questions if necessary. On this particular occasion, Harry was introduced to a new programmer who had just joined the team earlier in the week, Wayne Tripplett.

“Where you from?” Harry asked trying to be hospitable.

“A little town out in northwest Montana, you’ve probably never heard of it, called Kalispell,” Wayne replied.

“Montana? Really?” Harry had heard a lot of stories about fishing and hunting in Montana, but had never been west of the Mississippi River.

“What’s the fishing like out there?” Harry asked.

“Actually, it’s pretty good right now, “Wayne replied, “The winter runoff is over and the rivers should be relatively stable.”

“What do you catch?”

“Mostly cutthroats (trout).”

“What’s Montana like this time of year?”

“Actually, this is my favorite time of the year,” Wayne began, “It’s warm, but the humidity is low, making it a lot more comfortable to walk around than here in the East. Normally, I get up early in the morning, check out a section of the Flathead River and work it until midmorning. I’ll then head home, work on something, then come back around 7:00pm for a couple of hours of fishing. Sometimes I’ll take a book and a pipe with me and just sit and read for the afternoon. I might even close my eyes for a spell. The air and scenery is simply magnificent. If I stumble upon wild huckleberry, I’ll pick some and snack on it, but you have to keep your eyes open for bears as they like it too.”

“Bears? What kind?”

“Black bear and grizzlies. They generally keep to themselves but it’s wise to give them a wide berth. The last thing you want to do is sneak up on one and surprise him. They don’t have much of a sense of humor, if you know what I mean. Some people wear bells when they’re hiking in order to let bears know they’re coming, and they’ll generally get out of the way, but you just never know what a bear will do.”

“Something else, Kalispell is just outside of Glacier National Park. Have you heard of it?”

“Frankly, no,” answered Harry, “I’ve heard about Yellowstone and Yosemite, but not Glacier.”

“Well, Glacier is not as well known as those, but it is one of this country’s great parks. It’s in the northwest corner of Montana and extends down from Canada. The mountains, glaciers, and wildlife are beautiful and if you’re into fly-fishing I would heartily recommend a trip up there.”

“Sounds great,” said Harry, “But I won’t be going anywhere for a while until this project takes off. I simply can’t get away right now.”

“Hmm…, have you ever thought about a simple weekend getaway up there?” asked Wayne.

“Are you kidding? It would probably take a day just to get up there and another day to get back. No, I’m stuck here at least until the Fall.”

“Why not rent a Tin Head instead? At least you could see the place and get in some fly-fishing. You might not be able to eat it, but you could at least relax.”

Harry studied Wayne’s face, “You mean, they’ve got Tin Heads up there?”

“Of course they do, where do you think Montana is, Mars? They’ve had Tin Heads up there for at least the last five years and I hear it’s a booming business for them as people like you just want to getaway and visit the park. I have a good friend up there who is an outfitter and also has a Tin Head license. I can give you his number if you’re interested.”

“Yes, please,” Harry said as his curiosity continued to grow. “This could be the perfect weekend escape,” he thought to himself. And Wayne scribbled the name and number on a slip of paper for Harry.

Later that night, Harry went home and researched Kalispell and Glacier National Park on the computer. He quickly became familiar with the geography, the layout of the area, and the fishing. It all sounded great, but Harry felt handcuffed to the project and dropped the idea.

Harry worked hard the next week, putting in at least twelve hours at work each day. When Friday finally came along, Harry was pretty burned out. Just before lunchtime he found himself staring at his computer screen with a blank look on his face, seemingly mesmerized. Jeff Bondo, the Project Manager happened to walk by Harry’s desk and noticed the blank look on his face.

“Harry, what are you looking at?” Jeff asked.

“Huh, what?” Harry said as he started to snap out of the trance.

“You’ve been putting in a lot of time lately. I can’t afford to have you burn out on me. I want you to take the weekend off and recharge your batteries. In fact, why don’t you quietly close up your desk and just take off right now?”

“Really?” Harry responded, “You’re probably right. I think I’ll just slip out and go home.”

Harry drove home to his apartment where he thought he would close his eyes for a few minutes, but before doing so, he thought he would logon to the computer one last time to check the status of the project. Before he could turn on the screen though he spotted the card Wayne had given him for the Tin Head outfitter in Montana. He picked it up and paused to think about it.

“Why not?” he said to himself, and he dialed the number. He spoke to the manager who assured him he had Tin Head units available and could arrange a great getaway for him, complete with river rafting, fishing, and a tour of the park. He gave Harry his TN license number to use when making the Tin Head reservation.

Harry went on-line and booked the Tin Head reservation. The rental of the suit and the special outfitter package came to $300, but Harry used a coupon which brought the whole getaway package price down to just $250. Having booked the trip, Harry turned off the lights, closed the drapes and fell fast asleep in his bed. He slept through dinner and the night, nearly twelve hours in total. The next morning he awoke refreshed, ate some breakfast, and went on-line to check weather conditions in Kalispell. It was going to be a beautiful day with no rain in the forecast, and temperatures in the mid-80’s.

He arrived at the local Tin Head outlet where his reservation awaited him. It was now late in the morning Eastern Time, but it was still early in Kalispell which is on Mountain Time.

Harry produced his identification card, along with the reservation number, all of which checked out with the local TN staff. He then got into a home unit uniform and sat in the prep chair. The unit then swung down from the ceiling on to Harry where he was then snapped in by the staff. The unit then hoisted him out of his chair and suspended him in the air.

“Equipment check Mr. Dobin, can you hear me?”

Harry gave a thumbs up.

“Okay, standby, your screens and audio will go live in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

Harry suddenly found himself sitting in the Glacier Outfitters store located just outside of the park.

“Mr. Dobin?” an attendant addressed Harry, “Are you okay? Does everything check out?”

Harry gave another thumbs-up.

“I’m Matt Stimson, I believe we talked on the phone yesterday. Welcome to Montana,” and he helped Harry to his feet.

“Looks like we’ve got a terrific day today. Let me check on a few other arrivals. Make yourself at home and I’ll be with you shortly.”

Harry wandered around the store. His eyes were drawn to a vast collection of artificial flies for sale in the store which he examined closely.

Stimson made a general announcement to gather the group, “May I have your attention please? Welcome to our Glacier getaway package. Please come closer so you can hear me.”

Six Tin Heads assembled near Matt.

“First, I want to thank you for booking your trip with us. We have been in this business for thirty years now and have extensive experience in and around Glacier National Park. My name is Matt, and I’ll be your guide today. We’re going to begin with a tour of the park, followed by some white water rafting, and ending with some fly-fishing on the Flathead.”

“Before we begin, I want to mention the Tin Head suits you have on today have been slightly modified. Yes, they are normal Tin Head suits, but they have also been made water proof. You can get them wet and it won’t hurt a thing, but like most Tin Head suits they are not indestructible. Remember, this is not a space suit, it is a Tin Head. Please act accordingly and think safety first.”

“During the day, we will take some scheduled breaks so you can relieve yourself back at your Home unit or to eat. If you’ve got a special problem though, please see me and we will try to accommodate you.”

“Since you are all dressed identically, we have put different colored tape on your arms and marked your name on the front of the suit and back of your helmet. Your fishing licenses have already been obtained for you and are in your top breast pocket. Any questions? Okay, great let’s go outside and get in the bus.”

It was just 8:00am and the sun had already come up casting long shadows. Waiting for the group was an old red bus with a black open top. This was no Greyhound, but rather a short, squatty bus which, they were told, was a classic trademark of the park for many decades. It was a good thing the roof was opened at the top, as the Tin Head helmets required headroom. When loaded into the vehicle, the group heads poked out of the top. As they traveled down the road, their heads jiggled like a strange set of bobble-heads sitting in an egg carton. Matt always found this rather amusing.

They entered Glacier Park through its west entrance and began their climb up Going-to-the-Sun Road which cut through the park. They passed by Lake McDonald and because of the Tin Head sensors in the suit, they could feel the cool winds coming off of the lake and smell the sweetness of the air. The bus continued to climb up through the mountains. People along the way would inevitably turn and laugh at the bobble-heads as they drove by, such as hikers and others on bicycle. The driver of the bus, whom Matt had hired, hated driving Tin Heads around as everyone would giggle and point at the bus as if they were crash dummies who had somehow come to life. Although embarrassed, he said nothing and raced to complete the trip so as not to prolong his agony.

The view from the Going-to-the-Sun Road was simply spectacular and showcased the majesty of the park, particularly as the bus ascended the mountain. At the summit of the road was Logans Run, over 6,000 feet above sea level and the destination for the bus. Matt instructed the group to disembark. Even though it was now late July, it was still chilly at this elevation and with the wind whipping over the mountain. So much so, there was a large sheet of snow uphill from them but within walking distance from the bus and Matt walked them up the mountain to it. Kids were sliding down the snow which gave Harry an idea; before Matt could catch him, Harry sat down on the snow pack, gave himself a push, and whoosh went down the hill on his back for at least 100 yards. Harry yelled “Yaa-hoo!” as he slid all the way down the hill and landed at the bottom of the slope near the bus where it was parked. Before Matt could stop the others, the remaining Tin Heads lined up on the snow and slid down the hill like kids. From afar, the sight of five screaming Tin Heads sliding down a hill covered in snow looked like space invaders run amok. It just didn’t look right.

Matt walked down the hill and scolded the group as he was concerned about accidentally puncturing the Tin Head suits. Fortunately, no damage was done and the group found the experience exhilarating. They then re-boarded the bus and acted like giddy school children. The trip back down the mountain seemed to go faster than going up, maybe because the group was becoming more adventurous and stood up in the bus in order to call and wave at passerbys. “God damn Tin Heads,” the driver thought to himself. Normally he would tell human passengers to sit back down in their seats, but because they were Tin Heads he hoped one or more of them would fall out of the bus and tumble down the side of the mountain.

It wasn’t until noon before they finally returned down the Going-to-the-Sun Road, exited the park and made their next stop, a white-water rafting trip down the middle fork of the Flathead River. Matt instructed each Tin Head to put on a life vest. Even though the Tin Heads were waterproof, it was company policy for everyone to wear a life vest. He then introduced the group to Dave Franklin who would be their guide down the river. Dave provided them with paddling instructions and assigned people to specific seats in the raft and gave each a paddle. He then took his position at the stern of the raft where he would navigate from. Matt waved to them from the bank as the group departed. He then got back on the bus which took him to the ending point of the raft trip, down river, where he would await them.

The Tin Heads were in good spirits as they began their journey and kidded each other. In particular, Harry was impressed with the clarity of the water and he could see an occasional trout or whitefish swimming under them. He was starting to become anxious in anticipation for fishing later on.

The starting point of the rafting trip was smooth and the group paddled leisurely along thereby affording Dave the opportunity to explain the area and provide additional instruction in what to do when they came upon the white water later in the trip.

“Very important,” Dave said, “You depend on each other. Keep an eye on your buddy next to you and don’t let him fall out of the raft. Grab on to their vest if necessary. Second, do not let go of your oar; they are critical tools for us and we don’t want to lose them. Third, stay off the rocks. This raft is made of some very durable material, but we don’t want to get hung up on a rock or have someone fall out and hurt themselves. Finally, should you fall out of the raft, just turn over on your back and float along until we can pick you up.”

Like the bus driver, Dave didn’t particularly like Tin Heads as passengers. They didn’t move as quickly as human passengers and tended not to take instruction well as they didn’t show fear, and most acted like drunk louts. Bottom-line though, he saw them as nothing more than machines and just plain creepy.

Harry was particularly enjoying the ride. He had ridden over white water rapids in Tennessee and was familiar with what to expect. He was surprised though, how the sensors of the Tin Head suit allowed him to feel most of the bumps and rolls of the water.

The group approached their first set of rapids which Dave deftly navigated them through using his oar as a rudder. It was a small set of rapids which helped to indoctrinate neophytes who had never rafted before. All exclaimed their fondness for the ride and now wanted to try something a little stronger. Fortunately, they didn’t have long to wait as they quickly found themselves in the second set of rapids, which dropped them down a couple of feet in the river.

“If you liked that,” said Dave, “we’ve got a class II set of rapids coming up next. I want everyone to be on their toes. It is now going to start to get interesting.”

As they approached the next set of rapids, Harry could see the water speeding up and some nasty looking rocks in the water. He encouraged the group to paddle in synch. Again, Dave did a good job navigating the raft but this time it rode over a hidden boulder in the river causing one side of the raft to jerk up in the air. As it came back down, Harry’s partner started tumbling backwards and at the last split-second Harry grabbed his vest and pulled him back into the raft. The rest of the crew was rattled and wet from the experience. Although the ride had been fun up until now, the Tin Heads realized this was going to be harder than they had envisioned.

“Is everyone all right?” Dave asked. All shook their heads affirmatively, but Dave could tell they were also becoming apprehensive about the trip. “Rookies,” Dave said to himself, “this is nothing.”

“Now, if you thought that ride was wild, we still have a class III set of rapids to go through in a couple of miles. Everyone relax for a while until we hit it.” And the group calmed down as the raft slowly drifted down the river.

As they approached the rapids, Harry was the first to hear the whoosh of the rapids ahead and could tell this was going to be more intimidating than the rest of the rapids. As they got closer, Harry could see a substantial drop in the river, a lot of white water, and some tight spots in the rocks to maneuver through.

“Come on, this is going to be fun,” said Dave to encourage his passengers, but as he looked at their faces, he only saw fear. “Oh, oh,” he said to himself.

By this time, Matt Stimson had already made it back to the disembarkation point of the ride about an hour earlier, had a snack for lunch, and sat reading a book on the river bank while waiting for the Tin Heads to come out of the final turn of the rapids. It was a quiet spot for reading; very peaceful. In the distance, he thought he heard some laughing coming from upstream but, looking up, he didn’t see anything. It must have been his imagination he thought.

The laughing sounded louder and as he looked upstream at the final bend, he saw a Tin Head come floating down the stream on his back with his life vest on. Then a second Tin Head shot out of the turn, then a third, fourth, fifth, and finally the sixth. All six were now resting on their backs lazily floating down the river like some kids playing hooky from school. It was a strange sight even for Matt.

“Where’s Dave?” he shouted at them as they floated by.

“He’s coming,” they yelled back to Matt and pointed at the final turn. They continued to float down the river to the final station where they got out of the river.

Then, all of a sudden, out shot the raft down the final turn with Dave alone at the stern. As he got in earshot range Matt shouted, “What happened? What’s going on?”

Dave guided the raft over to the bank where Matt awaited him.

“That’s the last time I ever take a raft load of those Tin Idiots on the water,” Dave said visibly upset. “You know what they did? They were a little shaken by the first few rapids. As we approached the last one, some panicked and started to back paddle and began to argue with the others. They then spun the raft around and around; I told them to shut up and start paddling together. They just kept bickering until I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I maneuvered us over to the bank and I got out. I told them there was only two ways to get through the final turn, either the hard way or the easy way. Since they didn’t want to do it the easy way, I flipped the raft over and told them to enjoy the ‘hard way’. They of course started to bob around in the water like apples, then one-by-one they slid down the rapids. It was only then that they found out it was fun and splashed their way home. I hope they’re all right.”

“Thank God those suits are waterproof,” Matt said and ran after the Tin Heads before they got into any more trouble.

After cleaning up the group and returning their life vests and paddles to the rafting company, Matt collected them and shuttled them off for their last stop of the day, fishing off another branch of the Flathead. It was now early evening, about six pm, and although the sun was starting to set, there was still plenty of sunlight left to fish.

Upon arriving at their destination, Matt assembled the group and inquired about their fishing proficiency. With the exception of one, all had suitable skill in using a fly rod. He then described the terrain around the river and where he wanted them to go. “There is basically two rules I want you to observe here,” he said, “always stay in sight of another person, and do not wade into the water. The rocks are very slippery and we do not want anyone to fall into the river; it can be dangerous around here.”

Matt then distributed the fly rods, nets, and small plastic kits containing extra flies.

“You’re fly rods are all ready to go and we’ve got a good dry-fly tied on it for you. Should you need to change a fly, we’ve added special clips onto the tippet line which will be easier for you to handle with your Tin Head hands. Should you break a line, come and see me and I’ll fix it for you.”

“I’m going to take our rookie here over to this gravel shoal and give him some instruction. The rest of you can spread out along the river and we’ll come down and join you in a little while. Good luck.”

And with that, the group dispersed down to the river which was lined with gravel on one side where they would stand. In particular, Harry hustled along to find a good spot as this is what he had waited for. The river was only three-to-four feet deep, about thirty yards across, and was moving at a good pace. Harry had fished bigger and deeper rivers before, but he decided to heed Matt’s advice and stay out of the water. The rest of the Tin Heads finally caught up with Harry and took up positions behind him along the river.

Harry spotted a good hole in the river behind a submerged rock which looked like a good place for a fish to hide and he cast into it. Nothing. He then started to work the river bank moving methodically upstream. Finally, snap, he had a hit and watched a cutthroat breach the water. It wasn’t a big fish, maybe just ten inches, but it gave a splendid fight before Harry reeled him in. Harry was in heaven. He never thought fishing through a Tin Head suit could be so realistic.

After releasing the fish back into the stream, he continued to work his way up the stream. Now and then he would look back to see his companions slowly following him. They too were starting to get hits and catch fish, but they all seemed relatively small.

Harry kept moving upstream until he came upon a quiet pool of water laced with boulders. There were woods on the opposite bank where wild grasses and flowers grew, along with wild Huckleberry trees abundant with fruit. Harry thought it was a very peaceful and serene setting, ideal for fishing. Quietly, he moved toward the pool, let out some line and cast his fly behind a boulder. Snap! He had another cutthroat on the line, this time one that was respectable in size, at least a foot, maybe more. The fish gave him a good fight but was finally reeled in by Harry who estimated it was at least fourteen inches in length, a respectable-size fish. He held it up to admire it.

Only then did Harry realize he was not alone. There on the other bank peering through the grass was a grizzly bear who had been enjoying a snack of huckleberries when the sound of Harry’s fish splashing in the water distracted him. Harry saw the huge head of the bear and instinctively froze like a statue hoping the bear wouldn’t see him. His companions down river also saw the bear and did likewise.

The bear lumbered out of the grass and down the bank. It was actually a beautiful animal with a thick brown coat and muscles under a layer of fat. The grizzly then crossed the river directly across from Harry and headed in his direction.

If Harry had been there in person, he would have been terrified, but he felt somewhat safe as he was in a Tin Head which, of course, had no scent to it. He prayed the bear would leave him alone Nonetheless, he maintained his silence and froze like a statue with the fish still in the grip of his left hand and the fly rod in the other.

The bear came right up to Harry and studied him for a moment. It was rather imposing in size, but showed no open sign of aggressiveness. Perhaps it didn’t see Harry as human as he had hoped. The animal seemed almost friendly, kind of like a dog sitting next to a table. Thinking he had nothing to lose, Harry dropped his fly rod and with his right hand slowly reached over and petted the bear on the head. The animal offered no resistance and seemed to appreciate the token. The bear however, was less concerned with being petted than with the fish still flapping in Harry’s left hand and in what seemed to be a blink of an eye, opened its mouth and tore the fish from Harry’s hand and Harry’s hand from Harry’s left arm.

Harry stood there stunned by the bear’s advancement. Back in North Carolina in the Home Tin Head unit, his left hand was, of course, still attached, but he felt no sensation in his left glove.

The bear spit out Harry’s left hand and began to eat the fish. Harry figured this was an opportune time to make his escape and turned to leave. Startled by the motion, the bear swiped at Harry with a massive paw thereby tearing his left arm from his torso. Harry froze and looked down at his arm on the ground.

“Oh shit,” Harry said to himself, “and I didn’t pick up the insurance rider for the Tin Head.”

Harry remained frozen there while the bear finished its meal. Slowly he knelt down and quietly picked up the severed hand and arm as he wanted to return it to the outfitter. The bear finished the fish and sat there watching Harry who was now trying to inch his way away from the animal. As Harry started to move though, so did the bear in the same direction. Step-by-step he slowly moved away with the bear shadowing him.

The others had fled shortly after the bear took Harry’s fish (and hand). They had gone to get Matt and tell him what happened. After Matt heard their story, he rushed back to the shuttle van and retrieved a shotgun from the back and went running upstream towards Harry. “God damn Tin Heads,” he mumbled to himself.

By the time Matt reached the bank on the river, he heard Harry yelling “Get out of the way! get out of the way!”, then saw him running pell-mell towards him with the grizzly now in hot pursuit. As the bear got closer to Harry, he would turn and bang the severed arm on its head, unfortunately to no beneficial effect other than to add to the animal’s displeasure.

As they got about twenty yards away, Matt fired two rounds loudly near the animal to scare it. The bear was surprised by the shots and stopped quickly, sat up and looked at Matt who was quickly reloading his gun. The shots had not deterred Harry who ran by Matt on his way back to the shuttle. Matt then shot off two more rounds and the bear finally retreated back up the stream.

“God damn Tin Heads,” he said.

Matt then searched around for any fly rod or equipment that may have been dropped before returning to the shuttle where the group awaited him.

The sunlight was now disappearing as Matt loaded the Tin Heads into the shuttle and took them back to the outfitters store where their adventure had begun. On the way back, the van was buzzing with talk about the fishing, the bear and, of course, Harry’s severed appendage.

When they arrived at the outfitter’s post, they thanked Matt for a memorable day, and tipped him handsomely. Harry paid heavily for the severed arm and hand but didn’t appear too concerned about it. After all, it had certainly been a memorable day. The Tin Heads bid Matt good-bye before sitting down in their chairs to be deactivated and return home.

Harry was back to work bright and early Monday morning. His boss thought he looked rested and invigorated. “Did you do anything special over the weekend?” he asked.

“Not much really,” he replied, “Just slid down a mountain, got a little wet, did a little fishing, and fought a grizzly.”

Harry then thought to himself, “And next weekend, Alaska.”

For more information on the “Tin Head” book in PDF format, click HERE. For Kindle e-Book, click HERE.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Don’t forget my new book, “Tim’s Senior Moments” now available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2010-2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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TIN HEADS – EPISODE 2 – “THE FINAL SALUTE”

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 6, 2019

BRYCE ON FICTION

– The last Iwo Jima veteran returns home.

This is a chapter from a book I wrote back in 2010, “Tin Heads,” which is a work of fiction and reminiscent of the many stories we watched on the “Twilight Zone.” The book is still for sale as a PDF file, click HERE, or for a Kindle e-Book, click HERE. For more info on what is a Tin Head, see the INTRO. I hope you will enjoy it.

“THE FINAL SALUTE”

“Tin Head” – slang expression for the TN-2020 Personal Drone developed by TN Industries, San Jose, California. A “dumb” robot resembling human form with special sensors enabling humans to visit remote locations without having to leave their home location. Unit is distinguished by its domed head, hence the nickname.

James “Bum” Sanders strolled down to the local barber shop for his weekly haircut, cane in hand. He didn’t like carrying the cane but his daughter insisted he use it to balance himself as he was now 102 years young, although he certainly didn’t feel like it. He made the trip to the barber shop once a week in his hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee not because he needed a haircut, he actually had little left on his head, but to kibitz with “Big Al” Smith, the shop’s proprietor, as well as the other visiting patrons.

As Bum walked into the shop he was warmly greeted by everyone as he was well known. Bum was a bit of an institution in the Cleveland area and had run a transmission repair shop for a number of years until he was forced to sell it and retire in his 90’s. He was also active in several civic, fraternal and veterans groups so it was no small wonder just about everyone in town knew him. He was best known though for organizing and managing the Memorial Day service at the cemetery in the Spring, and the local Veterans Day parade in the Fall. As a World War II veteran, these were very important events to him and he insisted they be commemorated with dignity and grace. His signature though was a crisp salute he would give at the end of each service, followed by the words “Semper Fi” to honor his fallen Marine brothers.

During the War, Bum served in the 5th Marine Division which invaded Iwo Jima in 1945. His nickname “Bum” was derived from a wound he suffered in his posterior by a Japanese marksman. Other than this, little was known about Bum’s activities on the island as he was intensely private about the matter, not just to strangers, but to friends and family as well. Nonetheless, rarely did a day go by that Bum did not think of the horrors of war he suffered on Iwo, his friends and comrades he lost, and the enemy soldiers he killed. While on the island, he was assigned flame thrower duty to root out Japanese hidden in the caves and tunnels around Mount Suribachi. Their screams haunted him for many years, something he could not forget, and explained why he refused to talk about it. He served his country honorably, but was acutely aware of the brutalities of war.

Bum found his usual chair in the barber shop and began to chat with Big Al. He didn’t recognize the customer whose hair Big Al was cutting and inquired, “You new around here son?”

“Yes, just moved into the area from Chattanooga. The name is Jeffries, Sam Jeffries.”

“Pleased to meet you,” replied Bum, “It’s good to have another leatherneck in the area.”

Jeffries looked surprised, “How did you know?”

“Not too difficult,” began Bum, “The way you sit at attention in the chair, the crisp press of your clothes, the polish on your shoes, and that jarhead haircut Big Al is giving you. In fact, I would wager that ring you’re wearing bears an eagle, globe and anchor insignia.”

Jeffries laughed, “You got me, you’ve got a pretty good eye sir, and you are…?”

“Bum Sanders my brother; Corporal, USMC, Iwo Jima, 1945,” he snapped, “Welcome to the area.” And he rose to shake the man’s hand. “What brings you around to these parts?”

“I’m opening a new Tin Head franchise here in Cleveland.” Jeffries replied.

“Tin Head? What the heck is that?”

The rest of the people in the barber shop chuckled at Bum’s ignorance as just about everyone knew of the popular Tin Head program. In his defense though, Bum had lost interest in the news a few years ago and, like a lot of senior citizens, tended to avoid new technology.

“It’s something new that allows a person to visit just about anywhere on the planet,” and he gave Bum a brief description of the Tin Head program.

Bum listened intently but asked few questions. He had never heard of such a device before, but the more the man spoke about it, the more absurd the notion seemed to him.

As Jeffries finished his haircut, he produced a business card and said to Bum, “Tell you what; we’re planning on opening the store next week. Give me a call and I would be happy to give you a personal tour.”

Bum thanked him for the courtesy, slipped the card into his shirt pocket, and quickly forgot about it.

Bum still lived at home, much to the concern of his children who worried about his well-being, but he had always been stubbornly independent and remained so after surviving not just one wife, but two. His children were grandparents in their own right and beginning to slow down themselves. At age 102 Bum was still relatively fit and alert, but he worried about losing his health and memory as many seniors do. He still tended to his yard, but finally acquiesced mowing the lawn just a couple of years ago to his great-grandchildren who he would pay generously. When he wasn’t working in the yard, Bum could be found rocking in a favorite chair on his front porch where he would often talk to neighbors walking past his house.

As he settled into his chair, he thought about the Marine he had met earlier before slipping off to a short nap. His encounter with Jeffries caused him to dream about Iwo Jima… Even though he had suffered a shot to his derrière, doctors had been able to patch him together so he could return to duty with his flame thrower, a dangerous occupation with a high mortality rate. Somehow Bum found a way to not only survive, but became quite proficient in clearing the caves and tunnels on the island. If he didn’t burn his victims to death, the flame would suck the oxygen out of the enclosure and suffocate them.

His dream became clearer as he found himself with his Marine squad on the island. It was nighttime and the battle for the island was coming to a close. Despite this, the soldiers were told to beware of desperate Japanese counter attacks. The moon was almost full which provided minimal light to detect motion. Half of Bum’s squad stayed alert while the other half slept. Bum kept checking the forward positions but saw nothing. He then thought his eyes were beginning to play tricks on him and he rubbed them. Had he seen a shadow move or was it his imagination? Squinting to get a better look, Yes, something was moving out there, but what? He shot a flare into the air only to see hundreds of Japanese poised at the edge of the American lines ready to attack. As the flare lit the sky, the Japanese shouted “Banzai!” and lunged forward to attack the American position.

Bum suddenly found himself surrounded by Japanese engaged in hand-to-hand combat. One by one, he watched his squad decimated by the attack. Before he could reach for his weapon he found himself fighting with a Japanese in his foxhole. The attack was savage and even though he fought well, he suddenly felt the pain of a sword slicing into his side. Reaching for his bayonet, he turned to face his attacker and lunged the blade into him. Bum slumped over as he saw fellow Marines respond and scuttle the Japanese charge. “At last, I can rest, I can rest…”

Bum awoke rubbing his side where he thought he had been stabbed. An unfamiliar sharp pain shot through him causing him to sit up. Something was wrong and he called his daughter who lived nearby to take him to see his physician, Dr. Ferguson.

After a preliminary examination, Dr. Ferguson had Bum admitted into the hospital for further tests. The results confirmed the doctor’s suspicions; Bum’s kidneys had become cancerous and would begin to shut down soon. Offhand, doctors would operate for such a condition and the patient would either end up on dialysis or undergo a kidney transplant, but due to Bum’s age and constitution it would be unlikely he would survive either scenario. It began to become painfully obvious to Bum that the end was near.

Word spread quickly around town that Bum was in trouble, including the commander at his VFW post, Charlie Simpson, who visited Ferguson in his office. “Doc, we’ve been old friends for a number of years right? I’m sure you know how important Bum Sanders is to the people of this community. I know he’s old, but we have to do anything we can to help this man as I’m sure he would fight for any one of us.”

“Yes, Bum is a great guy,” Ferguson said, “but he cannot survive an operation and I don’t want to be the one responsible for shortening his life.”

“Doc,” Simpson said, “I’m not sure you aware of this but I’ve been informed by the V.A. that Bum is the last survivor of Iwo Jima.”

“Really? You’re kidding me aren’t you?”

“No. They’re all gone…except Bum. We really need to do something special for him.”

“Have you got something in mind?”

Simpson opened the door and said, “Sam, could you come in here?”

The same Sam Jeffries who met Bum just last week in the barber shop walked into the room and was introduced to Ferguson.

“Sam, tell the doctor what you have got in mind.”

“I’m the manager of the new Tin Head franchise here in town,” Jeffries began, “and I happened to hear about Bum’s problem. I also heard from Charlie how important Bum is to the community and that he is the last survivor of Iwo Jima. I’m a Marine myself, and the battle for Iwo Jima was an important chapter in our history, and I’m sure to Bum.”

“In all the years I’ve known Bum,” Ferguson said, “I knew he survived Iwo but he never liked to talk about it.”

“Well we talked to Bum about the idea,” continued Sam, “and he would like to visit Iwo one last time before he checks out.”

“No way, impossible,” countered Ferguson, “he could never survive such a long trip.”

“Maybe not in person,” said Sam, “but how about through a Tin Head?”

Dr. Ferguson stopped in his tracks. He had never considered this.

“Doctor, you’ve been in a Tin Head before haven’t you?”

“Yes. I was surprised how easy it was to use.”

“Do you think Bum is strong enough to operate a Home unit?” Sam asked.

“I’m not sure. Don’t tell me you’ve got a Tin Head franchise on Iwo Jima, do you?”

“No, but the Navy has plenty of units and I have some contacts which could enable Bum to use a Tin Head on Iwo Jima. Since the 1980’s. the Navy has a program whereby veterans and family members once a year are allowed to visit the island. Over the years though, their numbers have understandably dwindled. Now we’re down to just Bum, and in talking to my contacts, they would be happy to arrange a Tin Head for him, but we would have to confirm this soon as they will be visiting the island in two weeks.”

“That’s an awfully tight window we’re looking at,” said Ferguson, “frankly, I’m not sure he can last that long.”

“Doctor,” pleaded Simpson, “give the man a chance.”

Ferguson paced the office and contemplated the options. “If Bum Sanders wants to take a shot at it, who am I to deny the last Marine of Iwo Jima?”

Bum Sanders still had a problem understanding what exactly a Tin Head was, but after much encouragement from Sam Jeffries and Charlie Simpson, he agreed to give it a try. He was growing tired and weaker with each passing day though. So much so, Jeffries decided to accompany Bum on the trip and assist him if necessary. Fortunately, the Navy was able to accommodate his request and made two Tin Head suits available for the visit.

Sam had to spend a number of hours with Bum explaining the Tin Head’s capabilities and features. As these were to be military issued Tin Heads, Sam explained the suits had greater strength and dexterity which would greatly help Bum who was still in a weakened condition.

As the day of his trip began, Bum Sanders became a celebrity. Charlie Simpson leaked the story to the press and the media was on hand as Bum left the hospital for Sam’s store. The media attention actually helped to raise Bum’s confidence and strength as he was flattered by the attention. He stopped to answer a few questions from reporters:

“Mr. Sanders, when was the last time you were on Iwo Jima?”

“1945; I was with the Marines and I can assure you it wasn’t a pleasure trip.”

“What do you hope to see there today?”

Bum mulled the question over before answering, “I’m not sure, perhaps some old friends and a few old enemies.”

They wished him luck and Jeffries whisked him off to his store where a team of his assistants awaited them. After they arrived, Sam showed the “Home” unit to Bum and reviewed its operations. “Bum, do you think you can handle it?”

“I’ll give it my best shot,” he said, but he was already feeling weak from the short trip to the store.

Dr. Ferguson was on hand to observe the proceedings and was on standby should anything go wrong.

Sam’s assistants helped Bum into the suit which looked like a strange space suit cut in half. The suit was applied by having the person sit in the back portion. A machine suspended from the ceiling held the front portion which was slowly eased on top of the person and pressed together with special snaps thereby forming a single suit. The machine then raised the human subject and suspended him in midair to afford him the mobility he needed to move around.

“Equipment check, Bum, can you hear me?” asked Sam.

“Yes, I hear you fine Sam.”

“Okay, my staff is going to insert our identity cards, program our trip and make contact with the Navy on Iwo. Your screens, audio, and other sensors will come on when the Tin Heads go live. Are you ready?”

“I guess so, as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Okay, beginning countdown…10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

Bum and Sam awoke on the black beaches of Iwo Jima. It was a sunny day and Bum could hear and smell the salt water behind him and turned to look at it.

“Bum, are you okay?” asked Sam as he approached him on the beach.

“Yes, fine…. This is unbelievable,” he replied haltingly.

Back in Cleveland, the Tin Head franchise had setup screens in a sequestered room in the store for Bum’s family, close friends and Dr. Ferguson to watch through the cameras mounted on his Tin Head.

Bum was startled by the clarity of what he could see, the vividness of the sounds, and the smell.

“Excuse me, Mister Sanders and Jeffries?” asked a Marine Lieutenant.

“Yes?” they said in unison.

“I’m Lt. Rice, welcome to Iwo Jima or ‘Iwo To’ as the Japanese call it. Thank you for coming. Is your equipment working properly?”

“Yes, everything seems fine,” they said.

“Then if you’re ready, I would like to take you to my Colonel who is waiting for us further down the beach,” Rice said.

“If you don’t mind Lieutenant,” Bum said, “Can I walk the beach a bit? It’s been a long time since I was here last.”

“Certainly, take your time, I know what this means to you,” and he walked ahead to meet his Colonel.

Bum was exhilarated by his Tin Head. He found he could move as easily as if he were a young man again. After coming to grips with his new physical freedom, he began to appreciate where he was.

He turned to Sam and pointed down the beach, “We landed down there in the southeast and were charged with taking Mount Suribachi. I was just eighteen years old. We were just kids.” And Bum was flooded by memories.

Bum and Sam continued their walk down the beach. Bum explained troop movements during the battle and Sam quietly listened to his friend. The two finally caught up with Lt. Rice and his Colonel who warmly greeted them.

“Mister Sanders, I’m Colonel Benson, welcome back to Iwo Jima. It’s a pleasure having you here today and an honor for us to host you as the last surviving Marine. Mister Jeffries I also want to welcome you and thank you for helping to set this up. What we would like to do is give you a brief tour of the island before we go up Mount Suribachi and visit the Reunion of Honor.”

The Reunion of Honor was started in 1985 and represented a pilgrimage of battle veterans from both sides, Japanese and American. It was held on the summit of Mount Suribachi where a monument was constructed at the spot where Marines raised the American flag. The reunions had stopped three years earlier when it was falsely assumed all the survivors had finally died.

“Mister Sanders,” asked the Colonel, “We’re going to use this vehicle to give you a tour of the island. Is there a particular spot you would like to see?”

“Not offhand, but if I see something, can I ask you to stop?”

“Certainly. Shall we go?”

The party got into the military vehicle, an old Hummer which still ran remarkably well and looked in good condition. Beginning with a general orientation at the current air base operated by the Japanese, the group visited the two abandoned airfields captured during the battle. Bum’s mind began to fill with memories as he recalled how the Marines sliced the island in two. Visions of fallen brothers flashed through his mind’s eye causing his head to suddenly twitch as he recalled one tragedy after another.

After the airfields, the group headed for Mount Suribachi. As the Hummer began to climb the road to the summit, Bum suddenly asked Lt. Rice to stop the truck.

“Sam, help me out will you; I’m getting tired but I must see this,” said Bum.

The group exited the vehicle and stood facing the foot of Mount Suribachi. Sensing Bum’s weakness, Sam kept an arm on Bum to balance him. Bum grew quiet; he had been here before.

“It was here where I was shot,” Bum said as he gazed into the general direction where he imagined the sniper had pulled the trigger.

He then pointed up the hill, “It was over there where I cleaned out the caves with my flame throw,” and he could hear the roar of fire and screams of his victims.

“And it was just about 100 yards over there where we repelled the final Japanese banzai charge. It was nighttime, but if it hadn’t been for the moonlight, they would have completely taken us by surprise and I wouldn’t be standing here with you.”

Bum could see the charge vividly; his shooting of the flare, the hand-to-hand combat, and the soldier he fought in the fox hole. The Japanese soldier appeared to be an officer even though he couldn’t recognize his rank or decorations. He was approximately the same size as Bum whom he charged with a sword. His face was an interesting combination of determination and terror, just plain crazy it seemed to Bum. The officer fought ferociously, but Bum was in better condition and more athletic. In the end, the officer succumbed to Bum’s bayonet. The surprised look on the officer’s face as life drained from his body was indelibly impressed upon Bum, something he couldn’t erase from his memory; something that had haunted him for years. He died valiantly though, a soldier’s death.

“Thank you gentlemen, we can go now. Sam please help me get back in the car, I’m weak.”

Back at the “Home” unit in Tennessee, Ferguson and Bum’s daughter were monitoring Bum’s vitals which were dropping noticeably. So much so, he was forced to call the two through the Tin Head communications channel.

“Sam, this is Dr. Ferguson, can you read me?”

“Yes, we copy just fine. What’s up?”

“Bum’s vital signs are dropping dangerously low. We’re going to have to call this off and get him back to the hospital.”

“No, don’t stop it,” insisted Bum, “I’ve waited too long for this. I must see it to the end.”

“But your family is worried about you Bum.”

“Worried about what? I’ve spent most of my life worrying about everyone else, now it’s finally my turn to worry about myself. I must see this to completion. Whatever you do, I beg of you not to stop this. I relieve all of you of responsibility.”

Reluctantly, Ferguson and Bum’s family acquiesced to his wishes. All they could do now was watch the images he was transmitting back from his “Remote” unit.

The Hummer slowly made its way up to the summit of Mount Suribachi. Upon arrival, Bum climbed out with Sam’s assistance. Despite the strength and durability of the suit, Sam could feel Bum’s weakness.

From the top of Suribachi, Bum could see the overall island. He could see where the ships had been when they pummeled Iwo with shells as a prelude to the invasion, he could see the black beaches where the troops landed, the air fields that were captured, and the caves below.

Here, atop Suribachi was the memorial he had longed to see. It commemorated the battle with two monuments, one side for the Japanese, and the other for the Americans. It wasn’t a massive memorial but it was still very dignified and marked the spot where the Americans had raised the flag denoting the capture of the island.

The group helped Bum over to the American side first where Sam read the inscription to him. They then walked him to the Japanese side. Although it was windy at the summit, Bum appreciated the quiet dignity of the memorial. He was finding peace.

“Please, take me back to the American side.”

They slowly walked him back over to the American monument. He could hear the ocean below, feel the wind, and smell the salt water.

“Please, leave me for a moment, there is something I have to do myself,” and they did so reluctantly.

Bum studied the words on the plaques for a few moments. Then, mustering what little strength he had left, he stood at attention and saluted the monument with his customary crispness. “Semper Fi” he whispered.

He then turned to pay homage to his Japanese adversaries. As he turned towards the Japanese monument, he was suddenly face-to-face with a Japanese officer in full uniform; the same Japanese officer he had fought to the death in his fox hole years ago. The soldier was emotionless and didn’t speak, but snapped a salute to Bum and awaited the return. Bum was stunned. The soldier was impeccably dressed and, by the uniform, Bum could tell he held the rank of captain. The Japanese stood unwavering at attention, still waiting. Bum then drew himself up to attention and returned a crisp salute. As he dropped his arm, he suddenly realized he was surrounded by his squad in Marine dress uniforms quietly lined up behind him. Bum looked confused. He then looked back to the Japanese captain who was now standing with three rows of his soldiers behind him in dress uniform.

Bum’s sergeant then barked, “Attention. Present arms.”

The Japanese captain replied in kind in his native tongue.

Then, one last time, Bum snapped off a salute to his former adversary who returned the salute and slowly smiled at him. The last warrior of Iwo Jima was finally home.

At first, Sam Jeffries, Colonel Benson and Lt. Rice didn’t realize what had happened, nor did Charlie Simpson, Doctor Ferguson, or Bum’s daughter, who had watched the screens from afar; they all just saw Bum standing motionless at attention in his Navy Tin Head saluting the American monument. It was only then, that Ferguson noticed Bum’s vital signs had plummeted. By the time they opened the “home” unit suit, they found a tired old man with his arm at salute and a tear on his face.

For more information on the “Tin Head” book in PDF format, click HERE. For Kindle e-Book, click HERE.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Don’t forget my new book, “Tim’s Senior Moments” now available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2010-2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Fiction, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TIN HEADS – INTRODUCTION

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 1, 2019

BRYCE ON FICTION

– A novel way to see the world, merging transportation with communications.

NOTE: I am in the final stages of producing a new book regarding how to manage a nonprofit organization, which I will be announcing shortly. In the meantime, I thought I would entertain you with chapters from a book I wrote back in 2010, “Tin Heads,” which is a work of fiction and reminiscent of the many stories we watched on the “Twilight Zone.” The book is still for sale as a PDF file, click HERE, or for a Kindle e-Book, click HERE. I hope you will enjoy it.

FOREWORD

The Tin Head concept as described herein came to me several years ago after making one too many business trips. Air transportation had transformed itself from being a fun and exciting experience to an expensive and laborious proposition. I don’t think anyone relishes the idea of traveling by airplane anymore. You’re prodded through long security lines like cattle, strip searched by people who do not speak your language, squeezed into uncomfortable seats, flights are seldom on time, the meals are horrible, and you’re nickel/dimed to death by the airlines. Regardless what class you’re traveling, passengers are treated like galley slaves. I can hear the sound of the monotonous drum beat now: boom-boom-boom-boom… Best of all, you get to pay exorbitant prices for this privilege.

People no longer enjoy the adventure of travel and consider it a colossal waste of time. They would much rather be at their destination performing their chosen activity, be it business or pleasure.

It occurred to me there has to be a better way for people to meet and discuss business. Teleconferencing is nice, but it lacks the personal touch. People tend to lose interest quickly if you are not physically present in the room with them. Technologists typically believe in exotic solutions which tend to be complicated and impractical to implement. I tend to be more pragmatic; automate as much as is practical to do, but leave the complicated portion to the human being. This is the premise behind today’s aerial drones used by the military and deep-sea drones used in marine research, cheaper and more practical solutions for exploration. If we can create drones for the air and sea, why not devise a land based solution for simpler applications, such as to conduct business at remote locations? Frankly, the Tin Head concept is a viable solution for communications, maybe not in its robust form as described within these pages, but a simpler version could easily be assembled and deployed. Such a device could have a profound effect on our culture socially and economically. It could revolutionize business, reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and greatly improve interpersonal relations.

Not only is it possible for the Tin Head concept to occur, it is highly probable we will see something like this emerge within this decade.

– Tim Bryce

EPISODE 1 – WHAT IS A TIN HEAD?

Derryl Jablonski was working the morning shift on the tenth floor of the new TN Tech Tower in midtown Manhattan, a sophisticated new building being constructed as the new corporate headquarters for TN Industries, the high tech powerhouse who seemed to become a monopoly overnight. Jablonski was the sectional construction foreman who oversaw the work of thirty workers on two floors. Above him, he could see the 17th floor beginning to take shape. His group had just completed the ninth floor and began work on enclosing the tenth.

Jablonski had put in a bad night. He had too much to drink and only slept a few hours before beginning his shift. He had rushed to punch in on time and looked a bit slovenly and wasn’t in the best of moods; he didn’t smell particularly good either. He had spent fifteen years on such construction projects and even though he was a bit disoriented this morning, his instincts saw him making the rounds checking his troops were working as they were supposed to. A supply of gypsum wallboard had been delivered to the tenth floor overnight and his workers were beginning to separate and cut them into pieces. Scraps were already beginning to pile up and Jablonski came over to make sure they were properly stacked. Leaning against the pile, Jablonski heard his name called out by his boss who was looking for him. As he twisted his bloated body around to look, his hand lifted a 4′ X 3′ scrap of wallboard which was suddenly picked up by a gust of wind and took flight out of Jablonski’s hand and over the edge of the building. Both Jablonski and his boss hurried to the edge to watch in horror as the wallboard floated downward from the building. Although sidewalk barriers were constructed around the project to protect pedestrians below, the wind pushed the wallboard down and away from the tower and appeared to target an individual walking down the street.

“Look out below!” both Jablonski and his boss yelled to warn the passerby, but it was too late as they watched it crash on the victim’s head breaking into pieces. From this height, such an object would have surely snapped the neck of anyone, but the pedestrian staggered a bit, then stopped, dusted himself off, and continued on his way. A wave of relief covered Jablonski’s face. “Oh, thank God, it was only a Tin Head.”

The expression “Tin Head” had become a natural part of the vernacular a few years ago after the TN-2020 Personal Drone was introduced. The drone was specifically designed to allow humans to telecommute to just about anywhere on the planet using a robot with human-like features. Its premise was rather simple, a human could stay in one location and could connect to a “Tin Head” in another city for example, whereby he could then walk around and visit without actually leaving home. The unit itself looked a bit like a mannequin with devices embedded in it to enable someone to go beyond just sight and sound, but also included special sensors to assist in smelling, and even a certain amount of touch, although it wasn’t perfected yet. Developers also foresaw the development of a taste module. Perhaps the best way to think of a Tin Head is as a “dumb” robot that looks and moves remarkably like a human being.

The TN-2020 was developed by TN Industries of San Jose, California, headed by Terry Noyce, who originally invented the device to help the handicapped overcome physical restrictions. To all outward appearances, the device looked and moved like a human being with the exception of its domed head which resembled a sort of space helmet and housed special transmitters which assembled a hologram of the human subject’s face which moved and spoke in real-time. It was quite realistic. Between the helmet and “TN” model number, the name “Tin Head” was born.

For all practical purposes the Tin Head represents an “out of body experience” (which was used in the company’s advertising). A person wouldn’t purchase a unit, but would rent one instead. To use it, a customer would simply visit one of the many “Tin Head” franchises set up around the country. Working with the staff, you would inform them of your destination and enter a “Home” unit where you would work locally. They would then connect you to a “Remote” unit at your selected destination. When activated, the human in the “Home” unit would only see and hear through the electronic sensors of the “Remote” unit. If the “Home” unit wanted to stand, sit or walk, he could do so easily. It was as if he was actually at the other location.

As mentioned, this technology was originally developed to assist the handicapped who suffered from crippling defects which prohibited them from freely moving about. However, it quickly became apparent to developers the TN-2020 had many other uses, particularly to average consumers who found it necessary to visit other locales, such as business people. Instead of paying for airfare and wasting a lot of time in transit, people could literally be up and running almost immediately at a remote location. Salesmen, consultants, and customer service agents found it a convenient and cost effective approach for visiting customers. For example, a person in Miami could plug into the “Tin Head” network and conduct a presentation in London in the morning, have lunch with a client in New York, and work with a customer in the afternoon in Seattle. When completed, he could exit the “Home” suit and be home in time for dinner with the family.

Although its use in business is the Tin Head’s number one application, it started to catch on with tourists as an inexpensive way to visit foreign destinations. Now, people could experience first hand the beauty of Rome, the Carnival festival in Rio de Janeiro, the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient shogun castles of Kyoto, or wherever. A franchise had even opened on the moon thereby allowing tourists to experience standing on the lunar surface, all from the safety and comfort of their “Home” unit.

Although the TN-2020 is more durable than human skin, it is certainly not indestructible as it would have been cost prohibitive to do so, plus the company didn’t want to invent something that could be used for felonious purposes, such as to rob a bank. However, TN Industries developed a line of “Remote” units more resilient to damage for use in military, space, oceanic, and law enforcement purposes.

Since its introduction, the Tin Head had a dramatic impact on the world. First, it greatly relieved transportation costs. Airlines reported a whopping 30% drop in passengers the first year it was introduced. Over time, it greatly reduced attendance in all forms of transportation which, consequently, decreased dependence on fossil fuels. This, of course, meant sharp drops in fuel costs. The tradeoff though was it forced a reduction in transportation workers as there weren’t as many pilots, operators, and maintenance people needed.

Law enforcement and military personnel found the Tin Head to be invaluable for entering and disarming life threatening situations, thereby causing a decline in crime and terrorism. So much so, governments found it was possible to work at 50% capacity. Perhaps the most interesting application of the Tin Head was in science where it was used in a variety of exploration capacities, on the land, in the sea, and in the air (including space).

Although a lot of people were put out of work as a result of the Tin Head, it also created many new jobs. The demand for the units was so great, factories worked around the clock to build and deliver them to franchises that sprung up as quickly as gas stations in the 20th century.

After recovering from Jablonski’s wallboard, the Tin Head hurried across the street to his next destination. This particular unit was operated by Bruce Abbot who was “Home” in Appleton, Wisconsin. Normally he would personally fly to New York to meet his clients, but winter had been brutal in both Wisconsin and New York, and Abbot thought it would be safer to rent a Tin Head instead. The wallboard incident had startled him, but as an experienced Tin Head user he shook it off and rushed to meet his appointment.

Abbot had been hired by the local VA Hospital to troubleshoot a major project that seemed to have gone awry. The project, which involved millions of federally funded dollars, was intended to totally replace the aging hospital systems. The hospital had plenty of modern computers, but the systems were nothing more than a hodgepodge of programs slapped together by programmers over the years. Not surprising, there was still considerable paperwork involved with admissions, redundant data and work effort, and no consistency in information produced. Consequently, both the medical and administrative staffs didn’t trust the systems and instead acted on instincts and their own procedures. As a result, the hospital routinely operated at a loss and patients were frequently misdiagnosed which resulted in considerably bad press for the hospital, hence the need for the overhaul.

Abbot had spent the last 22 years in the Information Technology field. Although he started out as a programmer, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his ability to ask a lot of questions and grasp the big picture. He started his own consulting firm eight years ago when he realized he could make more money putting out the fires created by others. His reputation was becoming well known in the industry as he cleaned up one systems catastrophe after another. As a person, he was well groomed, articulate in making his points, and genuinely cared about his customers who would inevitably provide him with references for other assignments. He was often asked to be hired permanently by his clients, but Abbot and his family loved Appleton. Besides, he was making too much money as an independent contractor and the Tin Head system gave him the mobility he needed to move around.

For this particular meeting, Abbot knew he had to project an authoritative image and, as such, ordered an “executive” Tin Head which came dressed in a smart looking business suit and tie with matching shoes. It cost a little more than the average Tin Head, but Abbot knew he would need an edge today.

Arriving at the hospital, Abbot took the elevator up to the sixth floor of the Administrative wing where he was met by Hank Stimson, the Hospital’s Director in charge of the project. Stimson didn’t like shaking hands with a Tin Head as he felt it was demeaning, but he did so anyway to form a closer bond with Abbot whom he had met face-to-face for the first time when it became apparent the project was spiraling out of control. Abbot sensed Stimson’s discomfort and made small talk to set him at ease. Stimson appeared to be nervous and agitated. His nails were bitten badly and his hair was messy. Frankly, he looked like he hadn’t been sleeping much.

Before they entered the conference room, Abbot stopped Stimson and assured him, “Now I want you to relax; after you have introduced me, let me do the talking, listen carefully, and take notes.”

As the two walked into the room, they were met by ten people, most of whom Abbot knew personally or had heard of professionally. They were a team of hired consultants representing some of the biggest names in the world of programming, accounting, and health care. The hospital had spared no expense to bring together what was considered by many as a “Dream Team” for the project. There was data base expert Sam Oats, Byron Toring who survived the SOA wars years ago, Francine Tuttle representing JCN Computing, Tory Lansing of the giant accounting firm of PDEK, a small handful of well-known industry strategists and gadflies and the man himself, Ed Ambler, super programmer and author of numerous books on computer science.

Stimson walked Abbot around the room introducing him to everybody before the two sat down at the head of the table. Abbot felt this was a strangely eclectic group of people with huge egos and sensed there was some friction between some of the people.

Abbot thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and for their participation. He noted the room was arranged around a massive circular table in the middle with inlaid computers for each person. On the walls were a variety of white boards bearing graphics and notation. Large sheets of paper with additional notes were taped to the walls. Everything looked incredibly busy. A projector mounted on the ceiling broadcast a large image on the wall towards the front of the room.

“Friends,” Abbot began, “The VA’s Hospital system was initiated 14 months ago with a preliminary budget of 15 million dollars funded by the taxpayers of this country. It is my understanding that as of today, over ten million dollars has been spent yet nothing has been formally delivered to the hospital. Can anybody here give me an assessment of where we currently stand?”

Ambler rose to the occasion and spoke with a swagger, “I believe I can speak on behalf of the group. I can proudly say quite a lot has been accomplished. When we were contracted for this job, we established three teams of expertise, one to handle time reporting and project accounting, one to handle the data base design, and I personally headed up the programming section. What we have come up with is a rather sophisticated software system that will enable administrators to admit, process, and release patients from start to finish.”

Ambler pointed at one of the charts on the wall bearing strange notation and continued, “We have developed a data model of not only the hospital but the average patient as well and embedded all of the pertinent business rules within it, denoting the various afferents, tuples, and efferents. Here on the screen, you’ll see some of the hand held devices which employees will carry; each includes scanning and GPS sensors to input and track data which is being maintained on an off-site server for backup/recovery purposes. Actually, the programming on this will be rather slick as it will make active use of cloud computing, something, you may recall, I helped invent. These next diagrams show…”

“Just a second,” said Abbot, “Where are the requirements for the system? Where is the documentation?”

“This is all based on a series of extensive interviews we conducted with the hospital’s I.T. staff,” explained Ambler.

“No, no, no,” said Abbot, “I’m looking for something in writing that defines the precise business problems to be addressed and the information needed to support the actions and decisions of the users.”

Ambler became somewhat defensive, “Well, we have taken the stakeholders best interests into consideration, but as I’m sure you know, the users don’t really know what they want. They change their minds all the time, which is why we don’t have time to document such nonsense. We decided instead to make the software flexible enough to adapt to any situation that may arise.”

“Have you reviewed any of this with the hospital’s management or staff?” asked Abbot.

“No, we thought this would hold things up. Besides, I’m sure they’ll be happy with the finished product,” assured Ambler.

Abbot asked, “Do you have any documentation of any kind that reflects the design of the system?”

“Aside from the charts and graphs you see in this room, No. We’re programmers, we don’t have time to waste on documentation,” replied Ambler defiantly.

But Abbot wouldn’t let him off the hook, “You mean if, God forbid, something were to happen to you or these charts, there wouldn’t be anyone who could carry on with the project? I see,” and he scribbled some notes on a legal pad. “Anything else?”

“It has become apparent to us that the budget is much less than what is needed to complete this project,” Ambler said matter-of-factly.

“How much more do you think you are going to need?”

“At least another eight million.”

“I see,” Abbot said and he paused to digest what had been told him. He had heard all of this type of gobbledygook before. It was a smokescreen to avoid accountability and to bilk the company out of more money. “Please be seated.”

Regardless of the name Ambler had made for himself, Abbot held him in contempt as just another scatterbrained programmer. Even his dress, speech and mannerisms galled Abbot; very condescending and pseudo-intellectual.

Abbot rose and walked deliberately around the room studying each chart. The camera on his Tin Head recorded the images. After he had circled the room, he reached up and took one of the charts down; he then moved back around the room and took down everything while the others looked perplexed as to what he was doing. He then wiped clean the white boards and turned off the overhead projector. Finally, he took the charts back to his seat and very dramatically tore them in half.”

This was too much for Ambler, “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Abbot began, “The party is over. You have wasted enough time and money. Today we go to work. Yes, this is a large project but as far as I’m concerned it is overfunded, not under-funded. Tomorrow we’re going to begin by studying the business, specifying requirements, and designing the whole system. Before we write one line of software code, everything is going to be documented, reviewed and agreed upon by the management of this hospital. Any questions?” Abbot’s faced showed no sign of levity.

“This is outrageous!” Ambler shot back, “You can’t say that!”

“I just did,” growled Abbot, “and Mr. Ambler, your services are no longer required.”

Ambler looked shocked. He looked at Stimson and the others for some sign of support but received none. Then, as dignified as possible, he collected his belongings and exited the room slamming the door in the process.

“Anyone else?” Abbot asked. Nobody dared to respond.

“Okay, let’s go to work.”

Afterwards, Stimson thanked Abbot for taking charge of the project and terminating Ambler as it had become obvious he had resisted any form of discipline, accountability, and organization. Stimson now had confidence someone knew how to manage the project, regardless if he had come in as a Tin Head or in person.

Abbot left to return the Tin Head to the franchise. He had earned his keep today. As he walked the streets of Manhattan, he thought about Ambler’s arrogance and chuckled to himself, “I wonder what its like to be fired by a Tin Head?”

For more information on the “Tin Head” book in PDF format, click HERE. For Kindle e-Book, click HERE.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Don’t forget my new book, “Tim’s Senior Moments” now available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2010-2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Fiction, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

UNDERSTANDING TECHNOLOGY ADDICTION

Posted by Tim Bryce on March 12, 2019

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

– Time to curb our use of personal technology.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Recently, I happened to be driving near the local high school as it was ending the day. I saw a lot of students walking home alone or in groups. Interestingly, all were plugged into their smart phones listening to God knows what. At the gym later on, I experienced a similar phenomenon. It’s incredibly quiet there as people are plugged into their phones. I’ve given up trying to hold a conversation with people there, and it is pretty much the same in offices as well.

As someone intimate with the industry, I have always found technology addiction interesting, but I wonder if we have taken it to the sublime. I have a friend who moves automobiles between dealerships and is scared to death of the people plugged into their smart phones while driving, either talking, reading messages, texting, etc. None of this is new, but has it gotten too pervasive?

Day in and day out, I have been actively using computers for over forty years, but do not consider myself to be an addict. I started by using mainframes at customer locations. In the office, we used an HP-3000/MPE mini, and a DEC VAX/VMS (my personal favorite), followed by PC’s using OS/2 (which I still consider the best PC operating system ever invented), as well as Windoze. When it comes to phones, I use a simple flip-top to communicate with people, but I never had any interest in surfing the Net with it.

I have used computers for corporate planning, system design, data base design, project management, and a ton of writing assignments over the years, not to mention developing multimedia presentations. I’ve been on the Internet since the late 1980’s, including e-mail, web design, and FTP protocols. When I’m at work, I am on the computer from early in the morning until late in the day. So, Yes, I’m intimate with computers which explains why I want to “unplug” at the end of the day and have no trouble leaving it behind me. When I go fly-fishing, I look forward to the quiet solitude of the river. However, I believe I am an anomaly as I can leave it all behind, and many people cannot.

Through miniaturization, we have made it incredibly easy to perform normal computing tasks in the palm of our hands. Perhaps too easy. This includes all of the messages, e-mails, tweets, news bulletins distracting us during the day. When the phone rings or vibrates, people have been conditioned to respond immediately, not later. Sure, we also have access to games, audio and video, but more than anything, it is this easy access to information that is causing the addiction. It is analogous to the junkie who gives you free drugs to start your addiction.

Instead of turning off the technology now and then, people prefer leaving it on 24/7. This is where I differ with people. Even though I am imbued in technology, I have no problem walking away from it. No, I do not need to read every message, e-mail, or tweet that someone writes. I can look through them later at my leisure, and most likely, I will not respond. Unfortunately, others are less disciplined and find the urge to review everything irresistible. My question is, do we really need to jump for every message, regardless how frivolous it might be? Probably not.

This is all a matter of discipline and etiquette. For example, during dinner time with the family, No, it is not necessary to respond to a message. It’s more important, and courteous, to talk with people around the table. The same is true in a corporate setting where you are attending a meeting or training session. Leave the phone alone, and engage in the meeting instead. As an instructor myself, nothing is more irritating than to see someone reaching for their phone. If you have to answer a call or respond to a message, take it outside; do not distract others.

In other words, we can overcome some of our technology addiction by applying some simple common-sense discipline, such as:

1. In a social setting with others, turn the phone off or at least silence it. Do not reach for it while others are talking. Excuse yourself if necessary. Translation: Don’t be rude.

2. Adjust your priorities so that a live person is more important than a machine.

3. Do not allow the technology to dominate you, you dominate the technology. I say the same thing about guns when hunting.

If all you are doing is responding in a Pavlovian manner to a computer, you have got some real problems. Do yourself a favor, just turn it off now and then, the world will still be there when you get back.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Technology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

BEING MARRIED TO ALEXA

Posted by Tim Bryce on February 5, 2019

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

– What kind of banter to expect from Amazon’s Echo.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Over the holidays I bought an Amazon Echo for my home which is commonly known as “Alexa” as it is a voice controlled personal assistant to answer common questions, play music, set alarms and reminders, turn electronic devices on and off, and many other tasks. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as an audio version of a web browser. The product is comparable to Apple’s Siri, and Google Home, both of which are voice enabled.

It takes a little getting used to at first, but the more you try different questions, the more you learn its capabilities. I’ve gone beyond asking for the temperature and weather to asking for answers to clues in crossword puzzles.

The voice used by Alexa is female and rather pleasant, but I understand new voices are forthcoming, along with accents. As for me, I like Alexa’s voice as is. Whereas Apple’s and Google’s are based on human voices, I am told Alexa is computer generated.

I found Alexa’s voice so pleasant, I started to think it might make a good surrogate wife for some men living alone. To test this theory, I compiled a list of the most common questions couples exchange at night. These are actual questions I put to Alexa and her actual responses:

Q: “Alexa, what are we having for dinner?”
A: “I recommend a recipe of creamy shells with bacon and peas which takes 30 minutes.”

Q: “Alexa, what is on television tonight?”
A: (She recites a rather lengthy list of shows too voluminous to show here; thank God you can tell Alexa to “Stop” of “Shutup”).

Q: “Alexa, anything happen today?”
A: “Here is your flash briefing…” (a listing of headline news).

Q: “Alexa, where are the kids and what are they doing?”
A: “Hmm, I don’t know that one.”

Q: “Alexa, did you talk to your mother today?”
A: “Sorry, I don’t know that.”

I know a lot of men who would relish the brevity of Alexa and, as a surrogate wife, she’s not too bad. After all, she doesn’t complain, she likes your parents, and she doesn’t suffer from a nasty monthly mood swing. However, I took it a step further:

Q: “Alexa, how do I look?”
A: “I’m sure you look great, but it’s what is inside that counts.” (A very PC response).

Q: “Alexa, would you like a drink?”
A: “While I appreciate food and drink, my taste is better reflected in the company I keep.”

Q: “Alexa, that’s a lovely negligee you’re wearing.”
A: “Hmm, I don’t know that.”

Q: “Alexa, what is that bewitching scent you’re wearing?”
A: “Sorry, I don’t know that.”

Q: “Alexa, was it good for you?”
A: “Sorry, I’m not sure.” (This really deflates the masculine ego).

It quickly became obvious to me Alexa is not a romantic. I was kind of hoping for a response like, “Oh, how you go on and on” followed by a feminine giggle, but such was not to be. Then again, maybe Alexa doesn’t like men. Hmm…

However, I do not believe Alexa is useful to women as a suitable surrogate husband. Without visual optics, it cannot distinguish what shoes look better with a specific outfit, nor check your hair or makeup, or assess your sense of fashion. I guess the male of the species serves a purpose after all.

Fortunately, I have found you can program Alexa to say certain things if you have the time and inclination, for example:

Q: “Alexa, Who makes the best spaghetti sauce?”
A: “Tim Bryce, of course.”

She may not be a romantic, but she is right on with this one.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in humor, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

DOING WHAT IS PRACTICAL

Posted by Tim Bryce on January 31, 2019

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

– Seldom is the case in Information Technology.

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People laugh when I show them my flip-phone. “Ha, ha, ha, Tim, I thought you were supposed to be a hot-shot I.T. guy, and you use that lousy phone?”

Yes, yes I do, quite proudly I might add. I paid far less for it than what most people pay for a smart phone, and it suits my requirements in terms of size and communication needs. No, I do not need a million apps that I won’t be using. It’s clean, it’s simple, and more importantly, it’s practical. I probably use more of the functionality of the device than those people with smart phones who only use it to speak and text. In addition, I do not need something for entertainment purposes as I see nothing worthwhile coming out of Hollywood, I do not want to listen to music as I prefer socializing with people instead, and No, I don’t want to play computer games (as I suffer from the fat finger complex).

As long as I have been in the systems industry, which is now over forty years, people have always wanted to “Keep up with the Jones'” in terms of technology. What they never realized was the Jones’ were even more screwed up than they were. They may have the latest and flashiest technology, but rarely did they take advantage of its full capabilities. In fact, most of the time the technology was misapplied and abused, thereby making it counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the need for technology, but only when there is a rational need for it and can be successfully applied.

With that said, I recently visited with the Treasurer of a nonprofit organization with approximately 200 members (the purpose of the group is irrelevant for the purposes of this article). As you know, I have been actively involved with nonprofits throughout my professional career and have administratively straightened out many of them. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise to me when I recently discovered the Treasurer managed the association’s finances using nothing more than a standard checkbook and no computer automation. Most people would be aghast at such a situation, but as an old systems man, I wasn’t.

In looking over the documentation, the Treasurer regularly balanced the checkbook and produced accurate monthly reports for review and approval of the group, all of which took little time and effort. At the end of the year, a finance committee reviews the Treasurer’s activities and certifies everything was prepared correctly. If any anomalies surfaced, they would be reported and corrected. There was also a good old-fashioned register book listing all transactions by their Chart of Account numbers.

Normally, people would conclude computer software would simplify everything and generate the necessary reports quickly. Not so fast. I discovered there wasn’t a voluminous number of transactions being processed by the group, hence it was more practical to manage finances by hand as opposed to computer. If there were a lot of transactions, I would have recommended some software to record them, but this was simply not the case.

Most people, be it in the public or private sector, believe we need to automate everything. It is hard for them to comprehend performing anything manually anymore, but this brings up one of our older Bryce’s Laws, whereby we contend, “An elegant solution to the wrong problem solves nothing.” A manual approach solving the business problem cost effectively is better than a technical solution that complicates matters. To this end, remember this: for most math processing it is still faster to use an abacus as opposed to an electronic calculator (and a lot cheaper); further, messages can be sent faster by Morse code than by text messaging (it has been proven).

Even when new computer software is introduced, it is not uncommon to see it fail as people do not know how to interact with it; in other words, there are no manual procedures accompanying it, be it documentation or help text. As I’ve seen in my numerous journeys through the corporate world, systems will fail more for the lack of administrative procedures than well written computer procedures. Even if the software is excellent, if the human-being doesn’t know how to use it properly, it will fail.

So, it is all a matter of doing what is practical. I elect to use my flip-phone for very specific reasons, and I will wager I use it more effectively and at greatly reduced cost than the person who has trouble using the smart phone.

So is it, “Ha, ha, ha, look at the flip-phone Bryce has got!” or “Ha, ha, ha, look at the idiot fumbling with his phone and paying through the nose with it!”?

I’ll chose practicality over status symbol any day of the week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

WE LIVE IN A PROGRAMMER’S WORLD

Posted by Tim Bryce on December 13, 2018

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

– Their perspective affects us all greatly.

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To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Recently, I was putting up some outdoor Christmas lights and, wanting to schedule when they would turn on and off at night, I tried to adjust a timer to suit my needs. I didn’t have an instruction booklet, just the timer. I had worked with many timers over the years, but this one gave me fits in trying to set it. What I believed to be On/Off switches, of course, didn’t work. Then I noticed the lights went on and off mysteriously. I tried many variations of the settings, but nothing seemed to work. Feeling stumped, I thought back to something my father told me years ago, “You have to remember, this was designed by programmers, and they don’t think like the rest of us do.” I then applied reverse logic to the settings and “Voila!” it worked perfectly.

I had a similar problem with a new TV remote control which appeared to be simple in layout but wasn’t intuitive to use, requiring a learning curve for both my wife and myself. We have had it for a few months now but still do not understand its full functionality, but we limp along with what we’ve got.

Then there is the problem with my wireless PC printer. Not long ago, the Internet network in our neighborhood was recently knocked out. After service was restored, my main printer failed to recognize my wireless network. To solve the problem I pulled out the original installation CD and ran it. During the process, it couldn’t find our wireless network. Following the instructions, I tried to enter the data myself (with great precision I might add), but to no avail. The only way I could get it to work was to re-attach an old USB printer cable directly to my PC which remains there to this day. I thought this was incredibly odd as my network was working fine and communicating with other devices, but not my printer. This was something that should have taken a couple of minutes to correct, but turned into a two hour headache.

There are many other stories I’m sure you can relate to, but I think you get the point.

What these situations demonstrate is that we live in a programmer’s world. Devices that should be intuitive to use are complicated, seemingly by design. Having worked in the Information Technology sector for over thirty years, I have learned programmers will typically do what is easiest for them to program, not what is best for the end-user. This ultimately means humans are the ones truly being programmed, not the technology, as we have to adapt to awkward devices, not the other way around.

Many years ago I wrote a paper titled, “Theory P: The Philosophy of Managing Programmers” which attempted to explain how programmers think and how to manage them in the process. This ignited a tempest of protests from the programming community accusing me of defamation of character. In re-reading the column today, I stand by my observations and believe they are correct.

Among my comments, I contended, “There is also the problem that programmers tend to be somewhat faddish. It is not uncommon for them to recommend a solution that is technically fashionable, not necessarily what’s practical. An elegant solution to the wrong problem solves nothing.”

We have to remember, programmers are detailists consumed with their small part of a much larger puzzle. As such, they will not necessarily devise something to the end-user’s satisfaction, just their own. This explains why they require proper direction, or they will inevitably invent a devise that will either be difficult to use or cause the human to change to adapt to it, thereby causing strange operating habits or social foibles, such as our dependencies to answer smart phones like Pavlov’s dog or while driving around town, thereby creating a traffic hazard. Whichever it is, I resent having to apply reverse logic to get something to work.

I think my father was right, programmers really do not think like the rest of us do. Unfortunately, we’re stuck in their world, and we have allowed them to call the shots.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

A NEW DIGITAL DIVIDE

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 7, 2018

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

– What will be its effects?

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I have frequently discussed the addictive powers of technology on the human personality, but something new has come to my attention which I never considered before. Whereas everyone from the Greatest Generation to the Millennials are generally aware of computers in the traditional sense, e.g.; the processing unit, screen, keyboard, mouse, etc., we now have a new generation, “Z”, which is unfamiliar with such concepts. In a recent report from Japan, the members of Generation Z, who grew up with smart phones, have no concept of basic computing, nor how to use it.

What is emerging is a new “digital divide” among the generations whereby Generation Z is losing the sense of how to use a simple keyboard and mouse. Consequently, the use of such things as spreadsheets and other programs designed around the keyboard and mouse are becoming nebulous concepts. For example, they are at a loss as to entering data or formulas into a cell in a spreadsheet.

Beyond the effective use of classic computers, you have to wonder what other effects we can expect from the excessive use of smart phones. First, we must remember the smart phone may be fine for watching videos, listening to audios, and looking at graphics and photos, but as an input device it has definite limitations. This is a situation where ergonomics has been sacrificed for the sake of miniaturization. Consequently, most of us are now content sending small text messages using a sort of shorthand. This may be fine for basic communications, but not a professional way to write letters and agreements with customers, vendors and employees. In other words, it is having an adverse effect on our ability to communicate professionally.

In the Japanese report, they claim young people have learned to write reports for school on their smart phones. This is a bit mind-boggling when you consider the small screen size. You also cannot help but wonder how much text is cut/pasted from other sources, which implies an increase in plagiarism, thereby affecting our morality. It would be nice if voice-type dictation was more effective, but it has not made significant progress over the last few decades.

Without the aid of a keyboard, I am at a loss as to how programmers will write the precise and voluminous source code for software. This might signal a slowdown in technology improvements.

Also, because of the screen size, you have to wonder about the future of books and lengthy news articles as it is unlikely people would actually read such voluminous items on smart phones.

This digital divide may also have a significant impact on education. For example, whereas the personal computer made typing classes obsolete, the smart phone may very well do the same thing to Personal Computers.

What happens though when the smart phone has run its course and a new, even smaller device, is introduced, perhaps even a chip in the brain? Will we have to simply “think” to compose a letter? If so, will we know how to effectively write for people or will it just be gibberish?

No matter what happens in the future, the days of the lengthy novel and storytelling appears to be numbered. So much for the likes of Hemingway, Poe, Clavell, Dickens, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Salinger, Rowling, Kipling, Lawrence, Hardy, Twain, et al. As Margaret Mitchell would have said, they represent “A civilization…Gone with the Wind.”

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Social Issues, Society, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »