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April 13, 2009

There's plenty of room at the bottom

Driving in to work today I noticed there was a larger than usual population of Sunday drivers on the road. That's the non-cussword name I've given to the people who never drive in rush hour traffic except on the rare occasion they're driving to or from some holiday getaway. They don't know that the lane on the far left is the faster lane, or that the lane next to it is the still-not-slow lane. During periods when the traffic breaks they poke along 25 miles slower than anyone else and then exactly two feet before their exit they remember they want to get off on Hollywood or Sunset and they try to get across five lanes of traffic by becoming virtually stationary in the roadway waiting for an opening to pass through. People honk and show them the California State Bird.

One guy was doing such a bad job of driving this morning that I tried to take a picture of him. But my camera wouldn't work. For just a moment I had a flash of hope and excitement -- maybe my camera had died and I could now freely purchase a new one that takes better pictures! Sadly, it dawned on me that my camera battery was just dead, and if I charged the beast it would again turn on and take its predictably blurry pictures.

I love what happens when I tell people I hate my camera. They ask what kind it is (a Kodak) and then say they're surprised (I have always used Kodak cameras, they have the best skin tones in my opinion) and then they ask what the problem is. I bought this little point-and-shoot off the innernet just before my trip to Rome. It has 12 (!) megapixels and it's small and compact and very simple. I like point-and-shoot cameras, as I prefer to take really impromptu pictures of things like bumper stickers and stupid signs and guys picking their noses in traffic and I don't need a digital SLR camera with manual focus and RAW output for the type of high art I'm into.

But this camera is a lemon. No matter which setting you select or whether or not you use image stabilization or whether the planets are aligned or if you prayed twice to the camera gods and spun in a circle counter-clockwise, this camera takes blurry pictures. The only way to increase the odds of a non-blurry picture is to use the tripod and the timer in daylight or in daylight with flash. Which defeats the purpose of both the point-and-shoot functionality and the nice Kodak skin tones, all annihilated by the gigantorflash. And even with every precaution, the mere rotation of the earth is enough jiggle to make the image blurry.

So when I tell people it won't take clear pictures they all have the same exact reaction: Have you tried so-and-so? Have you tried digital image stabilization? Have you tried using different settings? Have you tried standing still? Have you tried eating nothing but eggshells and walnut husks and then taking a picture?

Because it is impossible for anyone to believe the camera is just a lemon. Obviously, it must be user error.

So about two months after I got the camera and had experimented with every setting and pronounced it a lemon, the guy I was seeing at the time took the camera out of my hand and said, "Let me take a look at that!" Because Lord knows he could fix it. He would find the magic button that I, crazy picture-taking woman, could not find. After four hours he handed it back to me and said, "Maybe it's broken?"

I thought this was a very funny story and so I told this story to a friend of mine at work who is in the computer whatsit division. He said, "You must not have the settings on accurately." I gave him the camera and told him to keep it as long as he wanted. Computer whatsit guys tend to be able to magically fix things and I was hopeful. Honestly, I don't have any ego wrapped up in fixing things -- I tend to break things with great vigor, but if there truly was some user error going on, I was happy to know about it and fix it (the camera, by the way, was not returnable.)

But a week later he gave me the camera back. "Maybe it's a lemon," he said. "I think I got one picture out of twenty that wasn't shaky."

And so I still have the lemoncamera, every day wishing I had my little old brick of a camera back with it's tiny 3.0 megapixels of sweet Kodak clarity. Eventually I will buy a new camera, maybe for my birthday. I do manage to fix most of my blurred-out pictures in photoshop anyway, it's just such a hassle.

All of this camera talk reminded me of something that happened a few weeks ago at Target. Because people are so seriously sure that they can do it right -- no matter what the issue -- and you're a dumbass. I find this incredibly amusing.

So there I was at Target standing in line, checking out. It was quite early in the morning, maybe a little before 9 a.m. and the store was still fairly quiet. The woman and guy in line behind me seemed to be in an awful hurry, well, at least the woman half of the couple was. She was doing that L.A. linecrushing thing, you know where someone impatiently hovers so close to you that you can actually smell their coffee breath breathing down the back of your neck. I will never understand people who do that. It really doesn't make the line move faster. If anything it just makes me do things like randomly flip my hair so they get a mouthful of my split ends.

So I was checking out and I swiped my card through the electronic keypad/cardreader. This particular Target has the touchscreen keypads, the little LCD screens that show you the pin keypad in images and you use the stylus to push on the screen. The cardreader recognized my card but the LCD screen wasn't recognizing the stylus. I tried my thumb and no luck. I used to develop graphic content for touchscreens at work and the technology can be sensitive and buggy and sometimes no matter what it won't read the touch.

"I don't think the touchscreen is working today," I said to the checkout clerk. She shrugged, "Yeah, sometimes it just doesn't want to cooperate."

So just as I was about to hand my card to the checkout gal to run it manually, the woman behind me in line grabbed the stylus out of my hand and started punching away at the keypad. You can imagine it was getting a little crowded there at the keypad so I took a gentle step to the side, as the woman in line behind me -- a complete stranger -- tried to FIX the situation, since I was clearly doing it wrong and was clearly a stupid idiot. The checkout lady just stared. I am sure she sees some crazyass things all day, but even she was a little shocked. She looked at me. I shrugged.

After furiously stabbing at the screen with the stylus, the strange woman with coffee-breath said in disgust, "This thing is broken!"

She wasn't embarrassed, or even slightly humiliated that she had pushed another customer out of the way and grabbed the reins. She just stood there, tapping her foot impatiently. The guy with her tried to silently disappear into the candy rack. At least he was embarrassed for her. I mean really now.

I paid, signing the receipt the old-fashioned way, with an ink pen.

People are funny, ya'll. They are just too damn funny. I would have taken a picture of the whole thing but it would have come out blurry.

Posted by laurie at April 13, 2009 7:58 AM