In Memoriam

George Carlin — 1937-2008

 

George Carlin, whose routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” led to a key Supreme Court ruling on obscenity, has died. Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon, June 22, 2008, complaining of chest pain and died later that evening. -33-

 

“Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. And then we assign a word to a thought, and then we’re stuck with a word for that thought, so be careful with words.”

– George Carlin

 

 

I Want (to get rid of) My DTV

My mom is a rebel and a non-compliant consumer of an ancient era. She never owned a computer, often deprograms her TV’s remote control (how she does this remains a mystery to me but it may be a ploy to get me to visit more often) and she absolutely refuses to go Cable. She feels very comfortable in the world of the four major VHF broadcast networks and still calls UHF channels “Those new, foreign stations.” If she knows it or not she and tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands or millions of her fellow citizens are about to become the great American forlorn souls as analog television quietly blinks off the air for the last time in February 2009. Before disaster set in where she could not watch her favorite Britcoms, I went to work to bring her technology up to speed and into the modern digital era.

To get my mom up and running with her analog antenna and TV I purchased two Analog to DTV converter boxes at my local big box electronics superstore using the Government co-pay program. As many of you know the Government subsidizes the purchase of these converters to the tune of $40.00 each and assists each American in purchasing two of them for their use in the digital conversion.

SIDEBAR: This writer found that $40.00 covers about half of the purchase price. In general, everywhere I shopped within normal retail channels I could not find a box for under $79.99. This was supposed to be painless to those citizens who could not afford cable and were only able to receive analog TV through an antenna so the selling price came as somewhat of a shock.

I brought the devices to mom’s home, dutifully hooked-up the converter box judiciously following the instructions, half in English and half in Spanish… then I saw it. I read the part of the manual that said an Eight year old could do this. I knew I was in real trouble after reading the words “Easy Setup.” I have to say that auto setup and electrical hook-up was pretty painless but that is about where the painlessness ends. Oh, My throbbing temples.

The headaches came when the little black box auto tuned to about 20 Spanish speaking channels, 10 channels of God TV and a bunch of Infomercial stations with picture and sound that is as solid as a rock and as sharp as a serpent’s tooth. One would think this is a good thing–solid picture and sound–what more could one want. What it neglected to tune to were two of the eight major digital channels in the area. Not a good thing, especially for mom.

Now understand that mom speaks no Spanish and while she is not Godless, at 93 she doesn’t really need some, ten different, sweaty evangelist to talk down to her about the ravages of sin while asking her to dig deep into her pocket and send him all her pictures of dead presidents that appear on all of her dirty money. She already has 103 Juicers, 117 Air Ionizers, a Pocket Fishing Rod and enough Cubic Zirconium jewels to start her own mine. The Infomercial channels are definitely not in her best interests.

Back to the headaches. This thing was pumping out a good signal and all was right with the world but unwanted channels aside, this gizmo would only tune to six of the eight local digital channels. Where are the other two high powered, local digital channels you might ask? So did I. So did mom considering several of her favorite TV shows are on those channels. I told her that they seem to be off in the cosmos somewhere with no ability to sweet-talk them into her TV. I got freeze frames and the infamous broken-up boxy image because of weak signals on two of the “found” local channels too. How can this be? I am in the suburban area of a major broadcast market and I am only 8 miles as the crow flies and in direct line of sight to the transmitting towers of these stations. They are all high powered and the towers are located in the same “Antenna Farm” within a couple thousand feet of each other.  I can see them with my naked eyes on a clear day. Why can I not tune these two major channels?

At this point, without missing a beat, mom stared me down and said, “Well, fix it. You’re a television engineer.” Woe is me… Not a good day for the guy who is supposed to be knowledgeable of all things technological. Not a good day for the little black box either as I began to approach it to perform a lateral adjustment with a finely calibrated 30-pound sledge. Visions of my mom bragging to all her neighbors about what a smart son she has began to fade.

Now for the brass tacks (or rusty tacks, depending on your outlook). Mom’s roof antenna is upwards to 45 years old so it don’t owe nobody nuthin’. It is half in the trees and the wind has caused many crashes into the surrounding foliage categorically stripping off many of the elements from the antenna mast. Over time, every once in a while mom would find them on the ground around the yard and think God sent her little aluminum plant supports from heaven. I never lead her to believe that that was not true. This delighted her to no end as she tied everything from tomato plants to creeping Ivy to the little hollow silver rods.

The long and short of all this is, me thinks mom needs a new antenna. Just goes to show you how forgiving and robust good ol’ analog was. It too just goes to show you that, even to a technology savvy installer frustrations can overcome any hope for success. Nothing is easy. Murphy was right. I can tell already that it is going to be a long hot summer. -33-

IPTV Explained

A Reader Asks

 “I recently heard of television programming that is available on IPTV. Can you please tell me what that means?”

 IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is a method of delivering television services in the form of IP (Internet Protocol) Packets. When these “Packets” reach your home the converter box on top of your TV converts, or more technically “Decodes” these to a signal that your television can translate and deliver programming to you.

 IPTV is a very secure, closed system with content controlled by the service provider. There is a high level of quality and control connected with IPTV. This is totally different from a confusingly similar sounding technology named Internet TV where video is streamed over the Internet to your computer. An example of Internet TV might be YouTUBE® or some of the many other similar services available on the Web. These services are typically presented at a much lower quality than IPTV.

 IPTV allows a two-way street promoting interaction with the program materials and On-Demand services. Typically streaming video is a one-way street with few viewing options. This two-way street also allows the service provider to “sneak a peek” at the viewing trends of their viewers and adjust offerings and advertising accordingly.

 Unlike current Cable and Fiber technologies being transmitted directly to the user’s home IPTV content is transmitted to a central office where the analog or digital television signals are “Encoded” into data packets, indexed for searching and stored in memory waiting for the consumer to call-up their favorite show. These data travel to the consumer’s home and are “Decoded” to standard television signals for use on a standard TV receiver.

 Eavesdropping on your viewing habits is not the only benefit of IPTV’s interactive nature. This can also help engineers optimize the signals delivered across the service provider’s entire region. For example, let us consider five communities in a particular area. If areas one and three are heavy users but two, four and five are not consuming as much of the bandwidth, adjustments to the system could be made instantaneously to divert more signal resources to the heaver use areas and balance the unused bandwidth against the demanded bandwidth. When the lower use communities demand increases they could be fed more bandwidth to meet demand.

 Basically IPTV technology provides much greater control over technical resources and allows for customized, technical quality control as needed by demand. This allows for a much more cost effective network than one that sends the same “Power” to all consumers without regard to usage trends.

 In the United States IPTV is not a widely embraced technology. There are about 1.2 Million IPTV subscribers in the United States. In comparison there are approximately 90 Million subscribers to satellite, cable and fiber services. -33-

TV Converter Box Coupon Applications Available

Article Updated January 2, 2008

Happy New Year. Your federal government has a late holiday gift for you. If you follow Televising The Revolution you already know the FCC has set February 19, 2009 as the date when analog television will end its broadcast day and begin to broadcast in digital.

GET YOUR COUPONS HERE

Beginning January 1st, 2008, American consumers will be able to log in to http://www.dtv2009.gov/ and request up to two coupons worth $40 each to assist in purchasing new digital-to-analog converter boxes. Alternately you can call 1-888-DTV2009 to apply over the telephone. Printed applications will also be available at post offices and at public libraries, in English, Spanish, and other languages.

THE CHECK COUPON IS IN THE MAIL

Once you apply be patient because the coupons won’t be sent out until mid-February of this year. Starting February 18, 2008, the government will send coupons via The US Postal Service in the form of a gift card consumers can use at electronics retailers that sell the set-top converter boxes . Currently the selection of converter boxes on the market is slim but that should improve as more manufacturers jump on the bandwagon over the next several months. As of this writing the converter boxes are retailing for $60. to $70.

BACKED BY UNCLE SAM

The coupon program itself is administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). It is backed by $1.5 billion appropriated by Congress and established in Title III of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 (PDF)

TELL THEM WHAT THEY’VE WON

What will this “converter box” do for you? Not much more than the basics. According the NTIA proposal the converter box shall:

  • appropriately processes all Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) radio frequency (RF) signals provided to the antenna-only input and then provides output signals in standard definition video for display on a National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) television receiver/monitor;
  • delivers NTSC composite video and stereo audio to drive NTSC monitors;
  • delivers Channel 3 or 4 switchable NTSC RF output for television receivers;
  • complies with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements for Closed Captioned, Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the required parental controls;
  • operable by and includes a remote control; and
  • tunes to all television channels 2-69.

The government is not in the entertainment business. By providing a basic digital to analog converter it wants to make sure it is only paying for the bare minimum to supply people who are using analog receivers with a viable alternative to continue to receive free television from over the airwaves.

THERE’S MORE 

For more information, or to sign up for coupons, you can call 1-888-DTV-2009 or visit http://www.dtv2009.gov/. -33-

Lithium Ion Battery Air Travel Restrictions

If you are one of the many air travelers who carry spare lithium laptop, cell phone, camera and other electronic equipment batteries with you when traveling by air, take note: The government has some new rules which go into effect on New Year’s Day, 2008.

 

There are new regulations going into effect on January 1, 2008 if you travel by air with lithium batteries. Everyone would be well served by checking with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website BEFORE they travel. 

 

The SafeTravel.Dot.Gov website has additional information that may be helpful.

 

This information is subject to changes by the Federal Government. Check back with the above links often for the most up to date information. -33-

 

EDITOR’S NOTE – 12-30-07 at 2100H – Minor revisions to clarify article.

 

Video Archiving

A READER ASKS 

What can I do to obsolete proof my video archives? Most of them are on Beta SP®. Do I need to go to a Duplication House to have copies made?

  Just a few quick thoughts:

  • There is no real “obsolete proof” archival format.

  • Beta SP® is still a very active format used by broadcasters, industry, education, media professionals and some hobbyists around the world.
  • You do not need to go to a duplication house to have your Beta SP® materials dubbed (copied). Will the format be here 20-, 40- or 60-years from now is anyone’s guess.
  • Most any television station, cable company, corporate facility, editing house or even your local event (wedding/party) videographers have the equipment to do this for you. The format is rather ubiquitous.

FORMAT HOP

If you are looking for long-term storage of your program materials your best bet is to format hop as new formats develop. Beta SP® (A Trademark of Sony) is an analog format. An important issue with analog is that it does not copy into multiple generations well, although Beta SP® is one of the better formats for multi-generation duplication because signal quality holds up through several copies.

GO DIGITAL

You should consider converting your program materials to a digital format (this is called “Digitizing”). To do this you would have your Beta SP® original digitized and placed on a DVD as a MPEG file. This is not a complicated process. You can simply go to your favorite electronics store, purchase a DVD player/recorder and connect it to a Betacam® VTR and you are on your way. 

Once it is in a digital format it can maintain the visual and audio quality of the original software. This means that you can make copies of copies with little to no loss in quality.

BE READY TO JUMP SHIP 

Format hopping comes in when you begin to see DVDs and MPEG formats slipping in popularity. Always go with the latest stable format to duplicate your materials. It is a lot of follow-up but well worth the effort to protect today’s program materials for generations to come. This is a big problem for still photographers. Many question if archived images taken today will be able to be opened for viewing 50, 75, 100… years from now. -33-

Shockley and Bardeen and Brattain, Oh My!

Where would our modern world be without the ubiquitous transistor? Many of the “things” that we take for granted on a daily basis would not work or even exist without this little switch. Televising The Revolution celebrates the Sixtieth birthday of the Transistor, born on December 16, 1947. 

GLORY DAYS OF MA BELL

 With a tip of the Televising The Revolution hat we thank the three physicists from Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., who built the world’s first transistor. William Shockley, John Bardeen and William Brattain. This triumvirate of inventors had been looking for a semiconductor amplifier to take the place of the vacuum tubes that made radios and other electronics so impossibly bulky, hot and power hungry. They were so instantly certain they’d found their answer that they didn’t speak a word of it to anyone for six months, until they could experiment further and apply for patents. 

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

 June 30, 1948, Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain held a press conference in New York City. They showed the world not only a big model of a transistor but also a TV and a radio with transistors in place of the tubes. Nobody was talking about anything like computers yet, but it was a first look at the future we all live in. The world’s response? The New York Times ran an item at the bottom of its “News of Radio” column on page 46.  

Just another world rocking invention that began with a whimper but certainly commands a roaring presence today. -33-