Showing posts with label electronic machines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label electronic machines. Show all posts

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Shopping in Manhattan

I bought this gadget back in 1971, during my first visit to the USA, when I was making plans to shoot a series of TV specials in the domain of artificial intelligence and brain research. The day before my return flight to France, I wandered into a sleazy-looking shop on Times Square and purchased this device without knowing much about what it might be capable of doing. As far as I knew, it was a relatively sophisticated pocket calculator, with the possibility of loading mathematical functions from a plastic card. [Clive Sinclair's primitive ZX computers were still a decade away in the future.]

Now, a funny thing happened in that Times Square shop, at exactly the moment I had paid for my calculator, which was being wrapped up by a friendly young salesman. Four New York police officers (one of whom was female) strolled into the shop, walked behind the counter, drew out their pistols and promptly handcuffed an older member of the shop staff. All this happened so rapidly that I didn't have time to imagine what might be taking place, and why. I had been about to leave the shop, and the sudden irruption of the police wasn't a pretext for hanging around like a naive tourist. So, I walked out onto Times Square, doomed to remain ignorant of the reasons why the shopkeeper had been arrested.

Back in Paris, I tried to get my Times Square calculator to work. Impossible! I could get it to light up, but I couldn't coax it do anything whatsoever in the way of calculations. Little by little, I started to realize retrospectively why the shopkeeper in faraway Manhattan might have run into problems with the authorities. I soon got around to concluding that he had probably sold me a make-believe calculator: no more than a plastic box with a battery inside to make it light up. As for calculating mathematical functions, I imagined that it was no more capable of such tasks than a pocket lamp.

You might be wondering why I've never tried to elucidate this mystery, either by contacting the alleged manufacturer, or by simply smashing the thing with a hammer and taking a peek inside. In fact, I keep it intact as a personal souvenir of my first and last shopping excursion in Manhattan.

Now, why have I dragged this old story out of mothballs today? Well, a year ago, I bought an Epson color laser printer through the Internet, and I've never succeeded in making it work correctly. It prints stuff, but the results are deplorable. Besides, the documentation looks as if it has been written by a Zen poet. It refers to buttons that simply do not exist, and menus that seem to go around in circles. At times, I've been tempted to imagine that the Times Square dealer might have moved to France and started up an Internet business selling printers.

Finally, this afternoon, I found the address of an Epson repair shop in Grenoble. I phoned them, and I'm going to take the printer along to them tomorrow to see if they can fix it. Now, wouldn't it be weird, tomorrow, if a squad of French gendarmes were to burst into that repair shop just after I've left my printer there...