Friday, February 11, 2011

Hello? Hello?

I AM EASILY amused. I often get phone calls from a friend — and all I hear is shrieking children, obviously having a good time, with a parent in the background demanding “Give that back to me. That is not a toy.” Now if I attempt to talk back — “Hello hello, can you hear me? Helloooooooooooo?” the kids laugh even louder. I'm surprised when I do get a legitimate call from them. “Oh, it is you.”

My old reliable phone finally broke after many years of good service, and I got a new one, a free upgrade. Now many manufacturers attempt to copy the market leader (in this case, the Apple iPhone), but being short of funding, talent, intelligence, or common sense, this is often a failure. Some features are really hard to get right, and so a competent simplicity is no vice. Incompetent complexity is a vice. The touch screen display, for example, works, sort of, when I want it to (its actions are rather coarse and imprecise), but it also works far too well when I don't.

I take my phone with me wherever I go, and keep it in my pocket where it belongs. I got my first hint that something was wrong when my father called me several times — saying he was returning my call. I didn't call! At least I didn't remember calling — or did I? My memory must be failing on me.

Then I got a call from an acquaintance, who left a very lengthy message on the only possible reason why I would have called, and why I failed to leave a message. Kind of embarrassing, actually. But then I knew that there was a problem with the new phone. I managed to find the outgoing calls log, which showed me some of the recent self-dialing incidents. The phone dials itself when it moves around in my pocket, like when I'm walking. My sincere apologies to anyone I may have called by accident (especially at 3 a.m.)

This problem continued for several days. One day, the telephone dialed up four different people, some of whom I haven't talked to in years (I really do need to prune my phone's address book). I mentioned this problem to a friend, who suggested that it probably has lock screen feature. It does! I programmed the phone to not dial until I type in a short code. Problem solved.

However, what good is a cell phone if you can't use it in an emergency? That is the main reason why I have one — I've got the basic voice plan with no data services. Thinking of this eventuality, the phone maker thoughtfully allows anyone to dial the emergency number — 911 in the USA — even if the phone is locked.  So instead of randomly dialing friends or family members, the phone randomly calls the government emergency response number! That is so not good. As the 911 operators can determine my location precisely through the cell phone, I imagined firemen smashing through my front door, or the highway patrol chasing my car. I quickly turned off that feature.

I sort-of solved the problem by leaving a fairly innocuous menu item on the screen before I turn it off and put it in my pocket. I have a feeling that I won't be keeping this phone for very long.

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