How Do You Answer the Phone?

Alden Library 10-24-2013_8977I’ve touched on my negative love for cell phones in the past. I carried two-way radios on my belt for 25+ years and never minded that because they were designed as communication devices to be used only when you wanted to exchange important information.

When I became telecommunications manger and had to ride herd on hundreds of wireless devices, I was convinced they were the spawn of the devil.

When I was working, I carried two cell phones, each on a different carrier, because I was the Fone Guy. After I retired, I put all my eggs in one Verizon HTC Droid Incredible basket. The model served me well until just recently when it started misbehaving. Today it locked up, requiring me to pull the battery to do a cold boot. It flashed some debug code on the screen, popped up a couple icons, one shaped like a tombstone with RIP engraved on it, and died. It eventually rose from the dead, but I decided 2008 to 2014 was a pretty good run and maybe it was time to get a new phone.

If you wonder what the photo has to do with the story, it’s something I noticed when I was at Ohio University’s Alden Library last fall. It was striking how many students passed by with a glowing screen cradled in their hands.

I now own a Motorola Droid Ultra

Baker Center 10-24-2013_8997Here are more students with their electronic nooses. The guy on the down escalator at Baker Center looks like he’s holding a tablet, but he’s actually a dinosaur: he’s holding – Egads! – an actual sheet of paper. I showed in another post how more folks were interesting in texting and taking selfies than watching the OU football game they were attending.

The folks at the Verizon store on North Lake Blvd. in Lake Park have been a pleasure to deal with. Michael Valerio patiently showed me what devices were available. He actually listened when I told him I didn’t really care about taking photos, playing music, texting or putting something on my belt that was the size of a TV tray, and pointed me to the Motorola Droid Ultra. The price was right – Free, except for a $30 upgrade fee and the need to buy an Otterbox Defender Series case to protect it.

Getting all my old aps back was a lot simpler than the first time I went through the drill. It’ll take some time to get stuff where I’m used to seeing it, but I’m pleased with how many things things come built into the phone that I used third-party aps for in the past.

There was one problem, though. I had the phone charging behind me when I heard a strange noise. I hadn’t set up the ringtones yet, so I didn’t recognize that a call was coming in. When I picked up the phone, I could see it was Curator Jessica calling, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how to ANSWER the bleeping phone.

That was never a problem with my old Motorola MX340 two-way radio.

Escape from Cape

Emerson Bridge 08-187-2013_8293My escape from Cape didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. Mother and I were supposed to meet a plumber at her trailer on Kentucky Lake at 11 a.m. to move a shutoff valve to a place where it would be easier for her to get at it. I stayed up late to get the van loaded so we could pull out early.

I carefully activated an existing 8 a.m. alarm on my smartphone to give myself plenty of time to do a sweep of the house for forgotten items and to have coffee and a bowl of cereal. When I heard her moving about, I checked to see how much more time I could doze before having to put my feet on the floor.

My phone read 8:32. Unlike Brad Brune, who operates on Brune Standard Time, I got the a.m. and p.m. part right; I just hadn’t noticed that the alarm was set to go off on MTWTF, and today was S.

Mother elected to leave me behind

I loaded up the car, plugged in my phone and iPad, wrote down my starting mileage and pulled out of the driveway. Two blocks from the house, the Bluetooth display on my GPS said, “Disconnecting.” The phone was doornail dead. I tried artificial respiration, but ended up pulling the battery and doing a cold boot. It came back.

I plugged the charger in. Dead phone. Since the Verizon dealership was within eyesight, I went looking for help. Matt and Kelsey gave it their best shot, but the office was in the middle of a server upgrade, so they were busy handing calls to techs. They essentially did what I had already done, but with better results. I was back on the road again.

Cell towers and “if only”

KY cell tower 08-17-2013 8304As I got close to the trailer, I glanced at this cell tower and thought “if only.” Will, who was half of Will-Vera Camp Ground, approached Dad in the early 70s and said he was considering expanding his park and wanted to know if Dad would like to go in with him because of his construction background. Dad begged off saying he was working hard to wind down the business so he could retire, so the project never got off the ground.

I don’t know if this tower is on the plot Will was considering, but it’s adjacent to the park, so it might have been. I negotiated contracts with two cellular carriers to put cell sites on our newspaper building for somewhere between $6,000 and $8,000 a month if I remember right. This tower would probably have brought in as much money for Will and Dad as a raft of trailers.

Where’s the plumber?

Goodbye 08-17-2013_8331When I got to the lake, Mother was steaming. Not a pretty sight. The plumber wasn’t there, he hadn’t answered his phone and hadn’t returned messages she had left for him. On the off-chance that she had dialed the wrong number, I called one listed in my phone and left VM saying that I was going to have to get on the road, but I would turn on the water so she’d be able to stay the weekend.

About 10 minutes later, the plumber called me, very apologetic. He had every intention of being there at 11, but he had been involved in a car crash that left him with a totaled vehicle, several broken ribs and some other injuries. I allowed as how that might be an acceptable excuse.

I helped her with some odd jobs, then took the obligatory goodbye shot next to a new sign Brother Mark had made, Niece Amy painted and Son Matt hung to replace the original that had gone missing.

About an hour north of Nashville, I stopped at a rest area intending to take a 22-minute nap before pressing on. I had scarcely started settling in when a young security guard approached my window. Wondering what kind of hassle I was going to get, I rolled down the window.

It turned out he was a nice guy who wanted to point out that he thought my driver’s side headlight was burned out. “Geez,” I said. “I just replaced that one in February, and the passenger side one burned out yesterday. Thanks for pointing it out. I carry a spare bulb, so I’ll replace it before it gets dark.”

I jettisoned the idea of a nap, changed the bulb and made Manchester, TN, before calling it a night. Tomorrow will be a better day, right?


I Hate Cell Phones

Cell phones in Ken Steinhoff office at PBNI 08-27-2008What did people do before they had cell phones? When I became telecommunications manager at The Post in 1991, the company had exactly six cell phones – the original Motorola brick. They were part of a pool that could be checked out as needed. I quickly discovered that four of them were on permanent assignment, so that left only two in the pool.

Not long after that, I put our business out for bid and got a sweet deal from a carrier who would give us free phones and 60 minutes of local calling for $10 a month. Departments were happy to have an electronic noose around their employees for ten bucks a month and, since 60 minutes was more than anybody would ever need for business, they were permitted a “reasonable” number of personal calls for carrying the unit and being reachable.

Fast forward to 2007

By December of 2007, those six phones had multiplied to 577 phones, which racked up 302,166 minutes of talk time a month at a cost of $31,211.84.That’s a MONTH, not a year.

In comparison, our landline phone switches in 13 locations supported about 1,500 extensions and about 425K minutes of talking. The total BellSouth and ATT landline bill ran us about $16,500 a month, half of the wireless tab.

Every year I would negotiate a better contract which would give us more minutes at a lower cost and the usage would STILL go up. At one time, as you can see on the shelf in my office, I tried to hang on to one model of every phone we used, but the models changed so quickly that I never could keep up with them. The phones were only part of the equation. If we changed carriers or the carrier offered us “new and improved” phones, then all of the batteries, chargers, cases and accessories had to be changed out, too.

The Verizon Wireless bill ran 1,844 pages long. I always wondered how many of those minutes were actually used talking to advertising customers and news sources.

Did I mention I hate cell phones?

Ken Steinhoff's Droid Incredible 07-31-2013When I was working, I carried a cell phone on each of the two carriers we used. After all, if the message is, “Nextel’s down,” how is anyone going to call you if don’t have a phone from the other guy?

After I retired, I was persuaded to switch to a “smart phone:” a Verizon HTC Droid Incredible. I have to confess that it was pretty neat: I no longer had to have a laptop on the seat next to me if I wanted to check my mail on the road or get a weather report. Having live traffic data on the Google map was even better than using my Garmin Nuvi 760 for navigation. I hardly ever use the camera feature. If I want to take a picture, I’ll use a REAL camera.


All was going pretty well until last year when I made the mistake of letting it do a software upgrade. As part of the start-up process, the thing hollers “DROID!!” in a loud tone that becomes increasingly annoying when it goes into a reboot cycle at 2 in the morning. Every morning. The only way short of heaving it across the room is to take the battery out and reinstall it. A factory reset solved the problem, but that meant that I had to download and re-install all my applications from scratch.

I noticed several weeks ago that the phone was getting sluggish: stuff wasn’t loading as quickly as it once did and phone calls weren’t dialing as soon as I selected a name. Then, while I was in Ohio, aps started dropping off, starting with Navigation and going from there. It was like my whole smart phone had gotten dumb or had gone on strike. Soon, about the only thing that worked was Gmail. Facebook went belly-up yesterday morning.

Andrea pulled out her magic wand

Andrea at the Verizon store just over the hill from Mother said she had a magic wand she’d wave over it. After plowing the same ground I had, she said I had two choices: start with a factory reset (remember that?) or have an accident that would cause insurance to replace the phone. I assured her that if the factory reset didn’t do the job, there would definitely be an accident that would probably involve plastering a wall.

The factory reset (knock wood) looks like it solved the problem for now. Maybe my phone is smart enough to have taken my threat seriously.