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If It Sounds Too Good To Be True.

by Rose Madeline Mula

I got such a bargain last week! A web camera for only $4.74, after in-store and mail-in rebates. It was so unbelievable, I bought two—one for me and one for my niece Shelley 250 miles away, so when her 3 -year-old Madeline demonstrates her ballet twirls and 1-year old Alexandra waves "Hi" over the phone, I'd actually be able to see them. Technology—it's wonderful. Or not.

I filled out the registration form for my camera; then, to save Shelley the time, I also registered hers before sending it to her. Not easy. One of the blanks to be filled in was the camera's serial number, which was etched in faint, miniscule characters on a translucent, light-reflecting panel smack on top of an intricate circuit board. A half hour and two magnifying glasses later, I managed to decipher the numbers. I then attempted to install my camera. Another problem: the accompanying leaflet that masqueraded as a manual was about as helpful as a paper parasol in a monsoon.

So I winged it. I studied the camera. So cute! (I'm a sucker for miniature electronic devices.) I figured out how to connect its cable to a USB port in my computer. Drunk with success, I then inserted the software-a floppy disk and a CD-ROM that refused to run until I begged St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes, to intercede. Finally, an encouraging display appeared on my monitor. I clicked on various headings, and another window popped up with a graphic of a small TV screen. Now what? One of the buttons on the display was a question mark.

It was reading my mind.

I clicked on the question mark, and it linked me to online instructions—over fifty pages of links and super-links that had to be accessed separately. I printed them all out-twice-one for me and one for Shelley, resulting in the premature death of a $28 printer cartridge; but what the heck. Seeing Maddie twirl and Allie wave would be worth every penny. These images inspired me to take a break from my installation activity and rush to the post office to send Shelley her camera and instructions printout—Priority Mail, $4.50—but I'm not complaining.

Then back home to finish installing my own web cam. Four hours later (I'm not exaggerating) I still hadn't succeeded. I kept getting error messages: "The video capture device is in use. Please close the application that is using video capture and retry." No other applications were running. I had no idea what this meant. Another message popped up: "There was a problem contacting the server." Huh?? I gamely (spelled s-t-u-p-i-d-l-y) kept at it. Two hours later (still not kidding), I decided to uninstall the program, go to bed, and start again from scratch after a good night's sleep. Right. Like I could sleep.

At 3:00 AM, I got up, turned on my computer, fired off a "Help!" message to the camera manufacturer's technical support e-mail address, then tackled the installation again. I was still at it at 7:00 AM (true; I swear). By now, I had not only not installed the camera, but I had managed to mess up my whole system. I could no longer connect to AOL, and I couldn't even shut off my computer properly-I had to do it by turning off the power (a big NO-NO in computerland). Fortunately, my computer has a "Go-Back" feature that allows me to revert the system to a selected previous time. I set it to go back 24 hours, before the web cam madness began. This restored my computer's sanity, but not mine.

Now able to connect to AOL, I checked my e-mail and found a response from the camera manufacturer's tech support. It suggested I call an 800 number for live help to resolve my problems. I did. After being kept on Hold Hell for 45 minutes, listening to repeated messages of praise about the company's products and services, an actual living being came on the line. I told him my problems. He said he could help. He lied. Not that he didn't try. He guided me, step by step, through various procedures. I could sense he was becoming as frustrated as I when he kept running into the same roadblocks I had encountered on my own. Suddenly, I heard a click. He was gone. An accidental disconnect? I think not.

I called back. That's right. Hold Hell again until another techie finally answered. Different guy. Same story. Except he didn't hang up; at least not until he told me there was obviously something wrong with the camera. "Take it back and exchange it," he suggested. And start this exercise in futility all over again? Not on your life.

If I want to see Maddie and Allie perform, it will be easier to drive 250 miles, even in a blizzard.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.


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