I have to confess... I really hate the media. No, I'm not talking
about NBC, CBS, ABC, The New York Times, CNN, FOX News, The Huffington
Post, The Drudge Report, or the Washington Post.
I'm talking about VHS, doc, miniDV, LP, cassette, PDF, avi, 35mm, Hi8,
Polaroid, docx, 8mm, CD, Super 16mm, psi, DVD, WAV, MP3, FAX, Beta, and I
have a particular hatred for AAC and Pages.
Like it is with so many things, my hatred started innocently enough.
About a year ago, I looked around and saw most of my life recorded in
media formats that had become, or were fast becoming, obsolete. Color
pictures were fading, metallic particles were fleeing magnetic tapes,
thermal FAX pages were fading into nothingness, and a huge collection of
music I loved on records and tapes was never being played because
turntables and tape players died long before their offspring. I also
had a lifelong collection of my writing: stories, screenplays, essays,
letters, faxes and emails, that were lining the walls of my office (and
collecting a considerable amount of dust) in black three ring binders as
well as in file cabinets. And then came the promise... why not
digitize it all so that it would sit on my hard drive and never die?
What's more, it would be instantly accessible.
I admit that, to some degree, I have been influenced in this dream, not by science, but by science fiction. As a writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and Stargate SG-1,
I readily accepted the notion of the paperless society. Why shouldn't
everything be instantly accessible via the computer? Worked for Picard,
Geordi and Data. Why not me? The concept is seductive, but, in the
real (read: non-Trek) world it doesn't work quite so well. What's the
problem? Nothing is compatible with the format that came before it.
Oh, the manufacturers claim that it is, but that's never really the
I'm relatively savvy when it comes to technology, but I'm certainly not
one of the first adopters. I always like technologies to be around for a
while so that the bugs get worked out and the prices come down. Then I
buy. But even when buying relatively time and market-tested technology
(I skipped Vista and waited until Windows 7 had been around for while),
the problem we all face is how to get that new technology to work with
all the old stuff you've collected over the years.
My seven-year-old computer died a death in early August, and it seemed
that buying a new computer gave me the opportunity to convert all the
old media into files accessible on my computer. Brand new computer, new
operating system, lots of hard drive space. Sounds good. Doesn't
work. At least not without a lot of pain (and I mean white-hot,
ice-pick to the temple, screaming at the monitor kinda pain).
If you wonder why I haven't delivered on my promise, and updated my web
site recently, like, at all... this is where I've been for eighteen out
of every twenty-four hour period since August.
I won't bore you with details (and they are legion), but I have spent
the majority of the last month of my life dealing, not with the creative
work I want to do (or work that earns money), but with issues of
incompatibility between Windows 7 and all my old software, not to
mention all my new software and all my old media. The new Windows 7
Dell computer couldn't use the drivers of the three-year-old HP
printer. Had to get a new printer. Microsoft Office 2007 Professional
(including Outlook, the center of my universe) was only partly
compatible with Windows 7, as were all the programs in my Adobe CS 2
Because of this, I have gotten to know a bunch of really swell people in
India, and, on the upside, the phone connections between here and the
other side of the world have improved significantly in recent years,
although being on hold for hours at a time (listening over and over to
the same horrible "music-on-hold" song) does test my patience. And it
also tests my self-control, because I have to admit that, in order to
avoid being typecast as The Ugly American, I am on my best behavior when
talking to Kaustabh, Ravi, Kapur and my other new Tech Help friends.
It's like I'm doing my own "hands across the water" outreach. I suspect
that this is all part of a plot by the American companies that employ
them. Not only do companies like Dell, Microsoft, HP and Adobe lower
their costs by using lower-wage Tech Support people from India, they
avoid being screamed at about the incompatibility of their lousy
products like we would if we knew we were talking to a fellow American.
Anyway, after spending over a month at this, I'm a little better now.
I've managed to find solutions (jury-rigged though they may be) to solve
each of the many insane file conversion issues. I've converted about
half of my old letters to PDFs, about a third of my record and tape
collection to WAVs and MP3s, about half my photos to JPEGs, and am
making a serious dent at old family films and videos to AVI files. It's
really great to have all of them at a fingertips' reach via my hard
And right now, I feel really good about the process... I really do...
until all of these file formats are made obsolete by some new tech
development that is incompatible with the past. As I said... I hate
the media. 09.11.12