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Letters 08-22-2016

Historically Wrong In regard to Mary Keyes Rogers’ column about the downtown charter amendment, neither Samuel Adams nor Thomas Jefferson were at the Constitutional Convention...

The Film Possibilities I was surprised that none of the Traverse City Film Festival films addressed the most pressing and dangerous issue of the day: radical Islamic Jihad. Perhaps a storyline could have illustrated how the West brought this on themselves, or if we could only find jobs for those fellows! Perhaps put it down to global warming...

Helmets Save Lives The facts are in. Wearing a helmet is the most effective tool to save your brain in a motorcycle accident. The bonus? Helmets also save hearts. Nearly two yrs ago, on Aug. 26, 2014 our son lived...

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Do-it-yourself Videoconferencing

Harley Sachs - December 29th, 2008
Back in the 1940s when a ticket to the movies cost 12 cents and Saturday matinees included a cartoon, a newsreel, a double feature and an episode of Flash Gordon, my brother and I chilled at the sight of Ming the Merciless.
Ming the Merciless was an arch space villain with drooping mustachios. He was obviously Oriental, a holdover from the old days of the “Yellow Peril” and the Fu Man Chu mysteries. What we particularly liked about this sci-fi cliffhanging thriller wasn’t just the fake model rocket ship spewing sparks. It was Ming’s sinister, triangular television screen. With a buzzing of electricity, the screen grew cloudy and Ming’s fearsome face appeared. This was better than radio and was long before television.
What we didn’t know then was that German technicians had already experimented with video phones. In the 1940s, Germany was ahead of the technological curve. It was possible for someone in Berlin to talk face-to-face with someone else in the country via a video connection.
The experiment ended in World War II when the allies bombed the huge Berlin television antenna. After that, television phones were the subject of speculative gee-whiz technology. Women thought: “Gosh, what if I get a call and my hair isn’t fixed or I’m not dressed?”
Now, thanks to free Internet software, you can turn your computer into a videophone. All you need is free software from Skype.com, a web cam, microphone, and broadband high-speed Internet service. It won’t work with a dial-up Internet connection.
To get Skype, just google Skype.exe and download the program. It takes only minutes. Installation is easy, though I had to first upgrade to Internet Explorer 7 to be compatible. The software has a feature that allows you to test your microphone and your web cam; then you can add the email addresses of contacts.
Once your contacts are set up with your email address it’s a simple matter to click on the telephone icon. You’ll hear the beep-beep of the call. When your target answers, shades of Ming the Merciless! There’s their face in a small screen and in a smaller one where you can see in a small box if your hair needs combing with what your system is sending.
You can use Skype to call regular telephones anywhere in the world for pennies per call, or simply “phone” your online friends for free computer-to-computer chats.
Some of the old Flash Gordon episodes turn up now as one dollar bargain DVDs in thrift stores. I can’t remember which century Flash Gordon is supposed to have awakened up in after being put into hibernation by Dr. Zarkov’s sleep gas, but here we are: free long-distance video conversations around the world from your laptop. Or, check out Skype’s new Videophone -- a hand-held device with built-in webcam, speaker and screen.
I must find some fake droopy mustachios to stick on my face to surprise my brother next time he calls. Welcome to the 21st century, AD. Sinister laugh. “Kill Flash Gordon!”


 
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