FORT KENT, Maine — We do things pretty old school here at Rusty Metal Farm and tend to regard new-fangled contraptions with equal parts suspicion and skepticism.
Except when it comes to entertainment, in which case I — the woman who still uses a rotary dial telephone — am a firm believer there can be no such thing as too much high technology.
So when my dad’s television feed from the satellite dish began failing, it was clearly a sign from above to begin exploring new and improved viewing options.
One phone call to the local satellite television provider was all it took for me to jump on board the newest and latest hi-tech television gizmo available.
Now, my father really enjoys his television and thanks to the faulty satellite connection last week, this decorated Korean war combat veteran had gone without it for a few days. I explained the situation to the nice folks at Gene’s Electronics in Fort Kent, and honest to goodness, I had barely hung up the phone before it seemed like the technician was here to install the new setup.
OK, so that’s admittedly a bit of an exaggeration. But the young man was here the next morning and, as I had recommended, with a very, very tall ladder to access the satellite, which was perched atop the highest point of my house.
Did I mention the temperatures were in the teens and a cold wind was gusting?
Undaunted, the young man immediately set to work dismantling the old satellite connections and installing the new, improved equipment.
With drill in hand — along with seemingly miles of cable and more ladders — the technician scrambled up and down the roof and eventually had everything all tied together via a rather circuitous route along the outside of the house, down through the floors and into the basement before snaking back up and to the magic boxes through which all television now arrives into the house.
These boxes are called “Hoppers” and feature a dancing kangaroo on the packaging. Actually, I have the “Hopper” on my television while my father has the smaller, yet powerful “Joey.”
Perhaps this means we can get Australian television? Or maybe there is a marsupial channel of which I am unaware.
Thanks to the Hopper, there is now a dizzying array of viewing options at our fingertips. Movies, documentaries, televisions series, music and heaven only knows what else is available not only on the televisions, but on my computer, smartphone and Kindle.
TVs, it would seem, are so 2011.
All of this new technology is controlled by a remote, which sports 53 buttons that I am fairly certain control not only the Hopper, but also the Atomic Clock, the CERN supercollider and the Mars Rover.
Of those 53 buttons on that remote, all my father needs are on/off, volume, channel up, channel down and the number keys.
While sleek and responsive, that remote really was not designed with elder users in mind. The keys are small, spaced close together and some are even black-on-black.
No problem, I thought, a quick trip to the store to pick up a more father-friendly remote was the obvious solution.
Not so, it turns out. Seems Hopper technology is not compatible with universal remotes.
In many ways my father is the smartest man I know. But that remote? By the time we were done with the tutorial, there was a great deal of talking through clenched teeth.
First area of contention — turning things on and off. Unlike the previous system with one power button, now there are two — one for the TV and one for the satellite. Both must be turned on and off.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: “OK, all you have to do is push this red button and then the other red button to turn it on.”
Dad: “This one turns it on and this one off?”
Me: “No, they each must be on and then off, and it does not matter which one you press first.”
Dad: “So this is on and this one off?”
Me: “No, both are on and both are off.”
Dad: “Which one do I press first?”
Me: “It doesn’t matter just so you press them both.”
Dad: “Which is on and which is off?”
This conversation lasted a disturbingly long time and was devolving into our own “Who’s on First?” but things did sort themselves out eventually.
Along the way, I attempted to explain some of the newer options, only to have my dad say firmly, “I don’t want to know.”
It was then time for him to fly solo.
That lasted about 10 minutes before he came to get me with the announcement, “Something’s wrong.”
I’m not sure what he did, but the screen had gone to a text menu, and at this point I insisted he learn about the remote’s cancel button, which undoes the previous action.
Peace reigned for several hours after that, during which time I was exploring the Hopper and having a grand time watching television while recording two movies — talk about multitasking.
Right about then in comes my father with those dreaded two words, “Something’s wrong.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he insisted. “The channel just changed.”
“Impossible,” I said. “Channels do not change by themselves. You must have done something.”
Sticking to his guns that he had not done anything untoward, he led me back to his television where, he said, he had been watching some historical show about World War II and suddenly it switched to “Finding Nemo.”
Now there’s a stark transition — from Nazies to Nemo.
As it happens, we may have discovered the Hopper’s Achilles heel. If my TV is recording two things and I am watching a third, my poor father is stuck with one of those three — and trust me, it will never be military related.
Obviously, I need to make a call and determine if the Joey can live a more independent life from the Hopper.
Until then my dad and I have reached a television detente in which he is free to watch what he pleases and I will refrain from excessive simultaneous viewing and recording.
At the same time, I will continue exploring the options available with this new technology.
Forget about the Mayan sun calendar portending the end of days. If the world goes dark on Dec. 21, it will likely be due to my hitting the wrong combination of buttons on that fancy remote.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.