What’s Really Happening In the News

The PotusThe President gave his best shot at explaining the complexities of building a website yesterday, and I was able to accept nearly everything he said, except for: “The Federal Government is not very good at buying I.T. services.”  Sitting at my Commodore, I nearly dropped the joystick.   In fact the Feds are very, very good at buying I.T. services.   While starting out with a miserly budget of  $60MM, they were able to expand the Healthcare website development to $200MM without blinking.

Now that is how you buy I.T.!

But there is something much more intriguing that happened at the President’s press conference yesterday.   For the first 15 minutes, there was the unmistakeable clatter of a typewriter in the background.

girl friday typewriter

Could it be the true “systemic” problem that the President was alluding to?   Do you think it was press-sec Jay Carney typing out name badges?   Or perhaps the prompter was down?   Or maybe Bob Schiefer was hammering out a Tweet in time for the afternoon mail pick-up?

Which brings up another phenomenon of the TV screen today.   Is there a news show today that is not yet displaying Tweets while attempting to deliver a news story?   It seems that Twitter-on-the-News is really like target practice at the arcade.   A quiet heckling that the speaker can’t see, but persists in 140-character blasts across the bottom of the screen.

Well, not quite at the bottom of the screen.    Actually, the TV viewer today is lucky to see anything at all on a conventional TV monitor.   When the Tweets aren’t pinging below the speaker podium, the broadcast network is busy branding the presentation with a banner headline and of course, their logo on the bottom one-third of the display.


This may really benefit unprepared reporters who otherwise would need to wear pants with their suit jacket and tie.  It is also a lifesaver for those celebrity chefs who are talking about their preparation of waffles flambé, but madly scrambling to extinguish the blaze on the stove.   The network message covers it all up.

Except for the crawlers.   While the news takes us to a rained-out chicken rodeo roast in the southwest, we can ignore that while reading a continuous stream of other news, curtly written and dragged across the very bottom of the screen.   This is the crawler.  Aptly named, it’s a reminder like a leaky faucet that, despite the whopper that is being unfolded up above, there’s a lot of other stuff we should catch up on.


But back to the typewriter.   In last week’s October-November AARP magazine (my mother’s) I noted this newsworthy finding on page 14:   a typewriter repairman can earn up to $50,000 per year.    Apparently there is a market-worthy segment of writers and literati out there who use typewriters, and when the keys jam, you need a professional.   Keeping this all in mind, I would gently advise those repair professionals to hang around the White House press room.

It could be a $150,000 job in no time.


Let Me Get This Call

A decade ago, we registered for the Federal Do Not Call service.   Happily, as forecast, the telemarketing calls stopped almost completely.    One downside was we no longer knew when to sit down to eat, because they no longer called us at dinner time.   As one could expect, nearly everyone registered for DNC.   Recent counts total in excess of 72% of all Americans’ phone numbers were registered.   Incidentally, you can tell when a government program IS popular, because everyone flocks to it.  Kudos to the team who put that website together, unlike the poor mopes who have spent gazillions to operationalize HealthCare.Gov.  So far, it would appear that their Do Not Call listing is working fine.

But ours no longer does.  That titanium-hard walled fortress surrounding our phone number has been breached, and we are now more popular than Bieber, Kardashian and PizzaHut all rolled into one.  The phone rings, starting around lunch time, and continues into the early evening, with the periodicity of a school yard alarm announcing classes, recess, and potty breaks.  And when we pick up, the pitch is always the same: a pause, followed by a recorded voice stating, “Hello.    The FBI reports significant growth of home invasions…” or “Hello.   This is the last warning we can provide about your bank account…”   or “Hello.   Triffids can reduce the value of your home…”.

I used to look forward to the telemarketers in the early days of DNC.    I could actually speak to the poor schlep on the line, and advise him that he was incurring a possible Federal felony charge with fines of not more than $5,000, and then listen as the line went dead.

But it is not like that any longer.   The telemarketing gurus figured out the perfect tactic.   Fire the schlep, and use a robot.   Give it a shameless pitch that goes on longer than an outraged legal beagle like me can wait.   Avoid identifying yourself or your brand.   Then, close the pitch with options to (1) Have a person call me back.   And when that happens, there’s no way to complain, because I asked for it!  (2) Remove me from the calling list.  At which time I will be removed from the 6pm rotation to the 9pm wave of follow up calls next day.

The fact is, the DNC program has successfully registered just about anyone but a dead voters’ list in Chicago.   As a result, there is no way the Feds can keep up with the complaints, even if we knew who to complain about.   In 2011, there were 2,200,000 complaints filed.    I wouldn’t be surprised that the complaint line number is on DNC too.  “We’ll get right on it!”

So as a last desperate step, I went to .   Monkeys may have designed this site.    Or chickens with disabilities.   No Federal logos or impressive eagles nor any U.S. FCC or FTC seals.    I imagine a t-shirted hacker sitting in his mom’s basement waiting for the next registrant.   The home page cautioned me about tele scammers and other hazards of the phone world, and then offered to take my name, email address and up to three of my phone numbers.  Really?   I could not do it.   The whole act of supplying this contact info to a government department seemed like setting down a bowl of red meat in the lion’s cage.

Instead, I have developed a failsafe strategy.    It required changing our voice mail greeting, but I doubt any one would be disappointed with the new instruction.   “Hello.   Congratulations, you have successfully reached HealthCare.Gov.  Please hold.”