CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: MARTY

HED:Marty Russell: '1998: A Space Odyssey' arrives three years early

Talk about chutzpah.

The Daily Journal began an upgrade, and I use the term loosely, of its telephone system just scant days before election night, one of the busiest nights of the year for incoming and outgoing calls to the newsroom.

Tuesday afternoon, there were still more bugs in the system than in a public restroom and the reporters were starting not only to panic but also to do something very dangerous for journalists - speculate.

"It scares me," one said as I listened to the rants, ravings, cries and whimpers from my fellow reporters. "It's possessed. Do the phone cops do exorcisms? It calls me back whenever I get a busy signal but it doesn't say anything! But when I get a busy signal a voice tells me the line is busy even though I can hear the busy signal in the background! I want my mommy!"

Journalists will stare down the barrel of a gun for a story but we're cowering, helpless slaves to the telephone.

Tuesday, we were like those apes at the beginning of the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey," trying to make that quick edit from using a bone for a tool to piloting a spaceship. The apes were better at it.

The beeps, whistles, bells and occasional music erupting from the newsroom phones - sometimes without anyone even around - were indicative Tuesday of a well-oiled machine that has suddenly found itself going over a cliff and is screaming its lungs out to no avail and, apparently, to no one in particular.

As with all new office phone systems, ours has more features than a normal human could master in a lifetime. Supposedly, you can even place a call, although about mid-afternoon Tuesday we were beginning to wonder if management had actually sprung for that function.

The system has so many features, in fact, that the sexy female voice that tells you you've exceeded the number of errors allowed and must be killed immediately, will even ask you, after you've exhausted every other possibility and assuming you haven't exceeded the number of errors allowed and are therefore alive, if you would "like anything else?"

The men in the newsroom have searched the manual and turned the phones inside out looking for the button to access that feature.

But in reality, it's that anonymous female voice that bothers me. I've gotten used to the voice of the Journal's own receptionist, Wanda Bishop, welcoming me into the phone system and prompting me to do this or that for the past umpteen years since the last phone system crash, er, upgrade.

With Wanda's recorded prompts, you could put a face to the familiar voice. And knowing it was Wanda sometimes made it a little easier not to curse the stupid phone when it tells you that you must first sacrifice a newborn child before dialing this number.

Sometimes.

I'm thinking of asking Wanda to record some prompts for my computer at home that not only require occasional human sacrifice but also an occasional good swift kick.

I'm also convinced that it's this sexy but alien female voice that is haunting our new phone system and is responsible for all the glitches. Bring Wanda back and maybe the phone demons will be exorcised and the system will again be at peace.

I would suggest that to the new system installers.

If I could get a line out.

Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal

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