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Steelhammer: Remote control blues

Life without our television's remote control is not something I'd like to get used to.

The device gave up its ghost image a few days ago after weeks of sluggish response to increasingly intense thumb jabs.

We've had the thing for years, and used it constantly, except for a few days worth of down time as it vacationed in the sofa lining, under a dog bed, or once, on a two-day tropical lark in a furnace vent.

But a last-ditch battery transplant did nothing to revive the long-suffering remote control this time. After a brief consultation with a help desk staffer at the cable company's call center, a mutual decision was made to retrieve and recycle the fresh batteries and swap the old remote unit for a new one.

While the now-deceased remote unit was probably subjected to less wear and tear in our home than some others, since both occupants are at work most of the day, the pressure it endured was intense.

Only eight of its 60 buttons were ever used with regularity. Most of the remaining buttons, sporting names like "PIP," "Aspect" and "Page," controlled functions never known to its owners, and were never used, except accidentally.

While waiting for the day I would be able to swing by the cable company office to pick up a new remote switch, I had to endure the strain and indignity of having to stand up and make the three-step trek to the television set. There, with the aid of a flashlight to read the tiny letters and numbers, I would manually surf the channels, raise and lower the volume, or play pre-recorded programs.

Discovering that despite having access to 1,000 channels, there is often nothing worth watching, was once a process that only took a few seconds to confirm. Now, by having to stand, squint and press my thumb down firmly on a television-top channel selection button, it takes an eternity -- well, up to a minute, anyway.

While I have picked up a replacement remote to carry on the work of its predecessor, I would be equally happy getting my hands on a Zenith Flash-Matic, the world's first wireless remote control switch, introduced back in 1955. The pistol-shaped Flash-Matic required its owner to point it accurately at a sensor panel just below the TV screen, then pull a trigger that emitted a channel-changing beam of light. The way I see it, the Flash-Matic combined the pleasure of playing a primitive video game with the convenience of not having to put down your snack, get off your duff, walk to the TV and crank the channel-changer knob.

But as I pound out these letters and words, I have just returned from the cable company office, where I picked up our replacement remote.

It only requires a seven-phase series of commands to program it to be compatible with out set.

How easy is that, and what possibly could go wrong?

Wish I had a Flash-Matic for a backup piece.

I don't want to spend Super Bowl Sunday with a cold remote control in my hand.


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