Is it even remotely possible . . .

With the flick of a switch, it would put all the incompatible black boxes in line and peace would reign in the Bairstow household. Wrong!

Nov 1st, 2003

The other day, I capitulated and "invested" in a DVD player. Despite having covered electronics and computer technology for several decades, I am not usually an early adopter. That's partly because I'm certifiably cheap and I know that the price of this year's killer electronics gadget will be cut in half next year. And it's partly because I don't really have much use for the latest portable MP3 player or some such gizmo, snob that I am.

However, on to my new DVD player. It's a nifty little unit in a silver-colored case that doesn't match the exteriors of my (ahem!) entertainment center components. Nor does its tiny remote operate any of my prehistoric remains, I should mention that these components have been assembled over many years of leaning on old friends. "Whatever will you do with that amplifier when you get the latest Nakamichi hauled in from Tokyo?" Which means that the components are so not together that operating the whole kit and caboodle requires the physical agility of a Houdini and the mental capacity of a Bobby Fischer.

Basically, you pick up this 10-lb box of remote controls and attempt to identify which control goes with which black box. You then try to turn that particular unit on (always assuming the particular remote has batteries that still show some spark of juice). There then follows a display worthy of Leonard Bernstein as you wave the afflicted remote in the air in an attempt to get the appropriate channel, a passable volume level, and/or play the DVD disk you just brought home. Reminds me of the good old days when you let the TV set "warm up" before peering at the fuzzy black and white images. Remember B&W? Those were the days of great TV if only you could tune the little devil properly.

My family thinks this is hilarious and admires my salty language as I go through this procedure every time I want to play a DVD. Humiliated, I vowed to buy a "universal remote." With the flick of a switch, it would put all the incompatible black boxes in line and peace would reign in the Bairstow household. Wrong!

With great trepidation, I entered the local Circuit City and tried to find a sales "associate." All the associates seemed to be associating with other associates so I prowled around myself. Then I discovered just how far remotes have come since the peak days of my vintage entertainment center. For four hundred dollars (that's $399.99 plus tax, guys) you can get a nifty unit from Philips that—get this—can control units not in view. Yes, you read it correctly, out of sight. Aha! Just the ticket for jamming the neighbors' TV when their wretched dog starts howling at the moon. I had visions of driving around town zapping TVs and DVDs with great abandon. That's not what the execs at Philips had in mind, of course.

I also discovered that for a mere 25 bucks I could get software that would convert my Palm Pilot into a "full-featured" remote. Terrific. The batteries in my Palm Pilot have a half-life of about 10 minutes as it is. What sort of maniac wants a $300 handheld to use it as a remote? I know, I know, they are the same guys you see on a plane with $4000 IBM Thinkpads and they are all playing Solitaire .

Since none of the associates cared to associate with me, I marched out of the store and dropped into a nearby Radio Shack. I remember when the Radio Shack computers were derisively called Trash 80's (TRS-80) but the old Shack has moved on since those days. And, lo and behold, there was the answer to my remote pain in the rear—the Radio Shack 4-in-1 Universal Remote, capable of coping with the codes used by some 350 manufacturers and all for less than a sawbuck ($9.99 to be precise).

This little gadget worked like a charm and so I now sit in quasi-regal splendor in my recycled reclining chair zapping away with the best of them. Only one problem—it won't zap that pesky dog. Rats!

Jeffrey Bairstow
Online Editor
jbairstow@pennwell.com

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