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WORK OF ART: The price of their toys

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By Art Trujillo

Before the days of heightened airport security, I was at the terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and noticed a man struggling with two huge suitcases. This was before luggage grew wheels. I  offered to help.

Because of matters of balance — two trunks are easier to carry than one — the elderly man declined. As he rested, he pulled out a pocket watch unlike anything I’d seen before. It featured a thread-thin antenna for a radio; it announced the time; it had a 24-hour alarm, an adding machine, a ruler, level, altimeter and thermometer.

This was in the ‘60s, in the pre-Bill Gates days, when any such watch would have been a marvel. I had to have it, so I made him an offer, knowing it would probably cost more than a month’s salary.

We agreed on a price, and I removed the watch from his fob and began to leave the concourse. But he immediately called me back. Hefting the huge trunks, the old man shouted, “Hey, you forgot to take the batteries!”

Since then, gadgets have fascinated me. And just because I buy more five-dollar pedometers than anyone else, my family believes me to be the gadgetmeister. The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. The reason I have a stash of pedometers is because they go dead, they break or the clip snaps off.

I’ve ceded my mythical title in light of the realization that my daughter-in-law Connie can troubleshoot my Tivo better than I; my sons Ben and Stan can get my Internet back on track; my grandson and namesake can set all the digital watches in the house.

Recently I espied a strange electronic object shaped like a piece of melba toast. It’s called an iPhone, which has features my watch salesman in Chicago never dreamed of. John Detterick, the owner of such a phone, acquainted me with a dozen features on his phone, enough to interest my wife Bonnie, the erstwhile Madame Not Interested in Technology.

In an ironic twist, Bonnie decided she had to have one for herself. Now, she can’t call anyone without inserting, “I’m on my iPhone.” The first time we used a plain cell phone, a simple but bulky contraption that fit in a shoe box, everyone we called had to hear, “I’m calling from a cell phone.”

The iPhone has perhaps hundreds of features, some called “apps” (for “applications”), which do strange things. We used the GPS feature as we drove through Albuquerque, looking for an obscure street. We also used a feature that allows us to enlarge and reduce the objects on the screen.

For example, we had a map on the display. To reduce the image, we needed to work our thumb and index finger in a way we would in  trying to pick up spilled sugar. And to enlarge the map, we placed two fingers on the screen and spread them.

For a person with lots of spare time, there’s a marble game in which we tilt the flat phone to allow the marble to drop into a sequence of holes. Each time the marble drops, we hear and feel a realistic tone and the vibration.

But the feature that interests me most — a feature, by the way, that I get to use only with Bonnie’s permission and a signed note from the  superintendent — is an app that names tunes.

Remember a TV program of the ‘80s called “Name that Tune”? It was a production in which contestants competed against one another trying to identify a song by listening to a clue then hearing only a few notes of the song.

The iPhone variety has an app that allows you to place the phone near a radio. In turn it listens and analyzes, then usually provides the name of the song and the artist.

We had a blast with the device last week. Em Krall, one of the guests at a gathering in Pendaries, sang “Those Were the Days.” No luck. She couldn’t fool the phone. Besides, it detects only recorded music.

John’s wife Bobbye brought out a radio, and the phone took only a few seconds to correctly identify the songs. And when it was unable to specify, it also told us.

On a trip to Santa Fe on Sunday, we did the usual station-surfing on our satellite radio, parking on certain songs long enough to decide whether we were interested. My favorite station, which plays classical music, had an opera, “The Flying Dutchman.” Arthur, 13, in the back seat, suddenly asked me if I liked Wagner.

“Not too much; he makes me feverish,” I said. Minutes later, as we heard the beginning of “A Midsummernight’s Dream,” he asked my opinion of Felix Mendelssohn. “I like him much better. But waaaiiittt a minute. How do you know these composers, Mr. Smarty Pants?” I asked Arthur.

Then we discovered he’d borrowed Bonnie’s iPhone, purportedly to check the time and temperature. He’d been placing the iPhone next to the rear speakers and letting the name-that-tune feature do all the work.

It’s a fascinating piece of equipment but something I never thought would interest Bonnie. Yet, as I watch her fire off e-mails to all her friends on that phone, I realize that maybe she’s capable of learning enough about technology even to teach me.

Well, at least the batteries for the iPhone don’t require a U-Haul to power the unit. And watching the old man with extra trunks at the airport might also have indicated to me that he was simply an avid swimmer.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.