Friday, January 30, 2009

End of week quiet time

The house is empty and I'm left alone to do my blogging.


I cherish these alone times. (I've already written about that, so no more elaborating here.)

Yes, I know. The Senate voted to move the mandatory analog TV switch-off date to June. Then the House defeated the measure. Now it's headed back through the Senate. (Kinda reminds me of that old Schoolhouse Rock piece "I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill...")

Sure enough, it's on You Tube.

Back to the subject at hand. Even if a delay is agreed upon by Congress, the buzz around the media boards is that most stations will still switch as scheduled on 2/17, mainly for the reasons enumerated in my post here. Since I posted that entry I've heard, just as an example, that KAET-TV, the Phoenix area's public TV station has to pay an additional $10,000 per month to the local electric utility to power the extra transmitter.

It should get very interesting in the next few weeks. Speaking of which, my Eye TV hybrid USB TV stick arrived earlier this week. I haven't used it yet since there's no over-the-air to be had around here. Therefore I'll take a drive either Saturday or Sunday and take a gander at broadcast TV in both analog and digital. Who knows, I might even pick up a hi-def program.

I could rant about the lack of signals here at my casa but I won't. Face it, I can drive an hour in almost any direction and pick up something with the laptop. Come to think of it, I can go not very far and have my choice of stations. That's something many folks don't have the luxury of doing. I remember back to when I lived in Houston as a young lad. Seems you could drive quite a while and still be in the Houston TV DMA. Same with Albuquerque and Phoenix. At least out here I get variety in exchange for an hour's drive.

I hope the device works as it should. I'll certainly post my results here. Maybe even include some screen captures if I understand the software.

Monday, January 19, 2009

If you could go back in time...

Back in August, who would have thought this NFL season would yield such surprises? Consider:

1) A team would go 0-16.

2) Pat Bowlin would fire Mike Shanahan.

3) The Cardinals would be playing in the Super Bowl.

That's the fun of organized sports.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A tough goodbye

It's time to say so long, old friend.

We've traveled together for so many years now, you're like second nature when I packing my bag of electronic items.

(To the readers: Because of the analog switch-off, my hand-held, battery-operated LCD TV will soon be obsolete.)

I knew this day was coming. When I bought you in 1998 I already was aware of the upcoming digital TV broadcasts and that the old analog signals would leave the air forever. Back then January 1, 2006 was the projected turn-off date.

While you got a bit of a reprieve I now have to tell you that you will be relegated to the shelf in the basement where an old cable modem (not compatible with the system where we now live) and a Zip drive sit.

This will be hard. How many places have we been together? The answer doesn't even take into account the number of times you traveled with Geogal or were used by little Geoana to keep her occupied in the back seat while on a road trip. How we purchased you for Geogal's train trip to San Francisco?

How many different TV markets have you been in? Nearly every one in the southwest United States, and you were starting to make a dent in the Midwest as well.

I'll always have the memories. What about the time I was surprised I could pick up the TV stations licensed to Wailuku, on the island of Maui, Hawaii. While these are full-power stations I was confused as to how I could pick them up on the western side of the island (specifically Lahaina). It wasn't until much later that I learned the towers were on Haleakala, rather then near the town of Wailuku. Ahh, that explains it. Or when I brought you to work a couple of years ago, the day after Thanksgiving? I anticipated (correctly) it would be a slow afternoon so I got to enjoy Texas playing Texas A&M, not to mention Colorado versus Nebraska.

And one memory I wish wasn't there. I remember grabbing you and the AA batteries as I headed to work, watching the unfolding events of 9/11. On your screen I watched the twin towers fall, feeling emotions I never knew I had.

What about all the times I spent in airports watching programming via nothing more than your antenna? Or just powering you up while I was sitting in a vehicle riding shotgun? Such as the time Geogal and I were driving to Las Vegas. We had to wait for a construction project near Hoover Dam, one of those scenarios where vehicles have to stop for a pilot vehicle. To ease the boredom and satisfy my own curiosity, I clicked you on and entertained Geogal (who was driving) with cheesy soap opera dialogue. It also reminded me we weren't far from Sin City, not too much more car time.

I could go on and on with these memories, but that's enough for now.

You will be a hard act to follow. But what will replace you? I did consider looking for a comparable handheld LCD that is digital, but there's hardly any on the market right now. But doing some research revealed another solution. Today I placed the order for the EyeTV Hybrid from Elgato.

Now my trusty Macbook will double as my digital TV when I'm on the road.

But no matter what happens, old friend, I won't be forgetting you anytime soon.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Further chatter on DTV

While the digital TV switchover/analog turn-off/transition/changeover hubbub continues in the media, I'm feeling the urge to share more of my thoughts and (non)experiences.

First, to those who are hopeful President-Elect Obama delays the analog shut-off date, don't hold your breath. Why? Several reasons. Notwithstanding those that have already made the change (Hawaii, Wilmington, NC, the stations I referred to a couple of entries ago, and others that I just don't know about), all of the remaining full-power stations have already started or are preparing to begin a power-down. It seems this is necessary for the engineering folks to climb the towers and switch out the analog and digital antennas for some stations. Even though these stations have operated the two signals simultaneously, for several years in some cases, now that the deadline is near the focus is on getting the digital antennae to their maximum height and power, essentially replacing for good the older signals. These tasks are not spurious nor are they inexpensive. No doubt station managers and chief engineers have spent months if not years planning the timetable for such drastic changes. Even if the government moves back the mandatory analog switch-off date, the majority of stations will not revise their transition plans.

Second reason: money. Bean counters don't like paying a higher-than-normal electric bill to power both analog and digital signals. When you consider a full-power VHF can have around 100,000 watts effective radiated power, and a UHF could potentially go as high as five million watts, you're talking big bucks to the local electric provider. This cannot continue indefinitely.

Third, what good will delaying the switchover do? Some may cite the lack of (current) funding to continue the $40 coupon program, but this can be remedied without changing the February 17 date. (Shoot, the government seems to want to bail out everyone from Wall Street to Joe's Plumbing Supplies, let them cough up a little more dough for a converter box.)

Last but not least, the change needs to come. Why delay? Just makes it worse for everyone involved. If you cannot pick up digital signals now, you still won't be able to receive them in May. Or October. Or 2013.

Enough of my ranting. It is true that this is the most significant change for television viewing since the invention of the idiot box and I won't argue that point. Yet there was a significant event that brought changes to many TV viewers around the country.

Happened in 1994-95.


If not, you probably weren't living in one of the markets affected. What happened is this: New World Communications acquired many televisions stations in various markets. (How this occurred and the related timeline is beyond the scope of this blog post. There are several web sites which can explain this in detail. Use a search engine.) The fallout meant many UHF stations which had been affiliates of the Fox network since its inception in 1986 were switched to VHF channels, with the Big Three now finding one of their stations now on the UHF dial. You can think Fox's acquisition of the NFL for being the driving force behind all these transactions.

I didn't live in an affected market at the time (I was in Tucson if you're curious.) But our larger neighbor to the north, Phoenix, saw its ABC station wind up on channel 15, Fox going to channel 10, CBS moving to channel 5, and channel 3, the previous ABC outlet in the Valley of the Sun becoming first a WB station, then an independent operation. Other markets had equally dramatic changes: Denver, Atlanta, and Birmingham stand as good examples.

Just a reminder that you can fool around with people's TV habits and they will adjust accordingly. In other words, make the adjustment and move on!

Coming up: Saying goodbye to an old friend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

List with potential

I won't spend much time writing my thoughts about the deaths of Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan, both of whom entered eternity yesterday.

I will, however, bring up another subject that has fodder for good blogging. Geogal and I enjoy listening to Hugh Hewitt even if it's via podcast. (Since leaving Phoenix for the Kansas hinterlands, podcasting or streaming audio from a Salem affiliate station is the only way for us to catch his show.)

Most Fridays he spends the final hour with a movie critic: Emmett of the Unblinking Eye. Emmett always includes a "Top Ten" list of some topical importance. In the January 2nd show he and the guest host allowed callers to give their ideas for future Top Ten lists. I remember one in particular:

Top Ten Science Fiction Movies That Are Not "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" Related

What would my list be? I have some ideas, as does Geogal. We'll share them in a future post.

Just for all to know: My favorite Star Trek movie is indeed "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

DTV, but for me....

Several posts and many weeks ago I wrote about building an outdoor antenna for a couple of reasons: to see just what I could receive in this area and to enjoy multiplexed digital TV signals.

The result: I got the thing agglomerated to my liking, connected all the cables, powered up the booster, and turned on the TV with the digital tuner.

But no signal. Not for digital, anyway. Switching over to old-fashioned analog I could pick up several channels, but faint, ghosty. Well no wonder I couldn't pluck the DTV signals out of the air. For those of you who are slightly familiar with the concept, DTV is an all-or-nothing venture. The only signal drop-off you will notice is some pixallation, but if the signal is too weak your set will just give the message I saw: "No channels detected."

(Maybe not a verbatim quote, but you get the idea.)

Since I am not an engineer and don't have access to high tech equipment to judge signal strength from any given location I have to operate on guesswork and the data provided by TV Fool. Taking a closer look at my situation, it seems I am a victim of topography and distance. The nearest towers are KSNK and KLNE and I thought those two would at least give me a viewable DTV picture. Yet considering my house is in a creek valley (but not a floodplain) seems to affect the line-of-sight from these transmitters.

Now I am left to wonder how the signals can be picked up in other areas near here. Such as the neighborhoods that are on the open prairie rather then the creek cracks.

But at least I no longer have to wonder what I can pick up from my house. A few weekends ago (before the cold and snow REALLY hit) I took down everything and packed them in their assigned boxes. I'm keeping everything as you never know where you might end up.

So I find it ironic that this big transition, just about a month away now, will occur with me on the sidelines. Watching my DirecTV (and local channels via the cable company.) Truth be told, the transition is already happening around here. KSNK and KSNC (both on the cable system) have already shut off their analog signals. Given the high cable penetration of this area, it's not surprising I've noticed no complaints in local media.

Here's an amusing side story: A couple of Sundays ago we played hookey from church and headed to Grand Island to do some serious (i.e. Sam's Club) shopping. I brought along my handheld LCD TV (it's a few years old, and totally analog) because I am the type of nerd that just always wants to see what I can receive. (I even did this on the island of Maui some years ago.) The results were what I expected: Channels 11 and 13 come in fine. But why can't I get KHAS, channel 5? I'm only 20 or so friggin' miles from the transmitter?

Once home I go on to RabbitEars. That answers the question! KHAS already completed their transition. According to the Wikipedia entry management decided to take care of things early before weather became a factor.

So the transition out here in the sticks seems to be going just fine!

More to come...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It can't be....

Not only are the Cardinals playing in the NFC Championship game, but they're hosting it!

I'm scouring the 'Net today to see if hell did indeed freeze over.

More here. And here. (The Cardinals, not H-E-double hockey sticks)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Insert generic New Years greeting here

It's amazing how one's creativity comes and goes. Like any person who writes strictly for the fun of it, I get tired, lethargic, and sometimes venture into self-pity because I cannot generate an uproariously humorous blog entry whenever I think I ought.

Last night I kept thinking: Last day of 2008, you really should write something. But the demands of a workday, followed by dealing with little Geoana and her overnight guest, plus grilling some burgers outside, left me drained. Tired. So I chose to sit on the sofa and read.

I think it did me good.

Yes, I fired up the propane beauty and cooked outdoors. At the end of December. In Kansas. Yes, it was dark and cold, but the result was worth it. When I resided in Arizona I grilled year-round and never gave it a thought. Some habits die hard, especially when they're food-related.

Moving on to other stuff: I drove home from working out Tuesday evening, clicked my radio over to KOA in Denver just for the heck of it (its 50,000 watt signal comes in quite well in these parts, particularly in the wintertime where the sun doesn't cause much interference). It was the top of the hour, time for news. I was as surprised as anyone else when I heard of Mike Shanahan's firing.

Just goes to show there is no "head coach for life," unless you own the team. (See: Connie Mack)

And I couldn't agree more with Pat Forde's conclusions.


I can't help but chuckle when I see all these news stories about 2008 being a terrible year. Hmmmm, I guess that depends on one's perspective. For the Geoclan this was an eventful year but the end result was very positive. Is the quality of our life better now than it was January 1, 2008?

A very emphatic "Yes."

And that response has nothing to do with politics, $$$$$, or anything the media deems important. Just take care of yourself and your own household, be sensitive to the needs of others (but don't neglect your own needs in the process), pay attention to what's going on, and don't worry about what other people "may think."

That's my pearl of wisdom for the new year.