TV

Obama Speech Earns Nomination

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It’s been hard to watch TV the past few days without being inundated by the videos of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Dr. Jermiah A. Wright, Jr. In grabbing the link for Dr. Wright, I was quite surprised to see that he’s still listed as the pastor for the Trinity United Church of Christ, and that his bio hasn’t been moved to a page of its own, with the current pastor occupying the above link.

There’s little doubt that those videos are filled with hate speech. While there are a few who have tried to defend Dr. Wright, in particular the current pastor of the Church, most (including Obama) have at a minimum distanced themselves from the specific remarks.

Everyone was waiting to see and hear how Obama would handle himself in today’s speech. Well, if not everyone, at least Lois and I were waiting. 😉

We watched the speech a little while ago, live. It was one of the most extraordinary speeches I’ve ever seen/heard/read. It was not just eloquent and well delivered, it was extremely deep and accurate in taking us all through the history of racial strife in this country, including the progress that has been made and the still sorry state we’re in.

In addition, he painted an honest and interesting view of how some non-black people come by their views (prejudices) in a way we can all understand and relate to. In that, he continues to portray the vision of potential uniter.

He handled the Dr. Wright controversy in a way that should (hopefully) get it off of the news (at least off of the every 15 minutes cycle). If it continues to get the same airplay it did before, then (in my opinion) it’s purely for the purpose of attempting to damage his candidacy, something the news media is certainly not above doing.

So where does that leave us, or more specifically, Democrats? I believe that this was the last best chance (the Dr. Wright controversy) for Hillary Clinton to push her one message, that she’s more electable than Obama. In fact, that may be true even after his amazing speech.

If that’s true, what does it say about Democrats? Is it more important to get a Democrat in the White House, at all costs, than to put forth the clear winner in the primary process, who brings more hopefulness to more people? That’s essentially what it’s going to come down to.

If Democrats really want to see change, and really want to support a more hopeful future, then even if they believe that Obama can’t win the national election, they need to clearly rally behind him, and show the country and the world that they are not afraid to show The Audacity of Hope!

If they can do that, then perhaps the audacity of hope will actually win out. If they can’t, then by definition, it will have lost (at least this time around), even if they end up securing the Presidency via Hillary Clinton.

If Obama wins the nomination, I am sure that the Dr. Wright tapes will rear their ugly head again, and will cause him renewed pain, possibly in ways that will cost him the election. But, I believe he’s earned the right to find out, and the rest of us need to find out, whether he can overcome that obstacle as well.

On a related, but no longer relevant note, I was surprised not to see any media outlet tie the Dr. Wright hate speech to Michelle Obama’s previous comments on America. It would have seemed perfectly appropriate to ask whether she formed those opinions as a result of Dr. Wright’s preaching or not. Who knows why the media let that one go, but they did, and it would be sour grapes to ask that question now, given Barack’s excellent handling of the matter today.

Finally (also unrelated to any of the above!), the Florida delegate fiasco. I continue to be amazed at the blame thrown at Republicans for the mess that Democrats have caused themselves. Grow up people! It may very well be true that the Republicans in Florida forced the unpleasant issue upon the Democrats, but it’s the Democrats who chose to break rather than bend (or go with the flow).

Their arrogance was in believing that there couldn’t possibly be any consequence to their actions, and in the famous words of Dr. Wright, those chickens are coming home to roost now!

OK Democrats, time to make up your minds who you really want to be! 🙂

Lost Season 3 on DVD

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Well, mid-January has arrived, and as predicted, we found some time to hunker down and watch Lost Season 3 on DVD.

We started on Sunday, and with a push to stay up much later than we typically do, finished the entire season at midnight last night. There are 23 episodes in season three, roughly 45 minutes each (since there are no commercials), so total viewing of roughly 17 hours. Whew. 🙂

The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe more than Lois did, but she enjoyed it as well). That said, the details aren’t as simple as that.

I had heard the following complaint from a number of die-hard Lost fans, who watched season three on TV last year: “Too many repeats!”. I didn’t know exactly what to make of that comment when I heard it (over and over). I didn’t want to ask for clarification either, because I’m one of those people who love to be completely surprised, whereas Lois loves to know exactly what’s going to happen.

Now I can guess what they meant, but I still can’t be sure, because I didn’t watch it on TV, waiting a week for each episode. Originally, I thought that perhaps they meant that season three was delivered with lots of full-episode repeats throughout the year, making it painful to keep the story fresh and connected week-to-week. Now I think that people were complaining that in each individual episode, there was more repetition of previously viewed scenes.

I don’t mean the inevitable “Previously on Lost” mechanism that nearly all serials have to use, but rather flashback scenes that were 95% identical to previous flashbacks, only shown from someone else’s point of view. It’s a legitimate complaint. But, on DVD, when watching in marathon sessions, it’s not as bad.

I think the real frustration with that technique in a weekly serialization, is that you get less new stuff, and then have to wait another week for a dose. On DVD, you plow through the repetition, pick up the new 5% in the scene that they were trying to convey, and find out the new new thing minutes later anyway.

Another complaint (that we had) is that the show meandered a bunch in season three. Not in the sense that they had no ideas, but rather that they crammed in too many ideas and plot twists. Some were truly mind-bending, but I believe that this is due more to the fact that they hope to spin this franchise out for so long, that they want to plant as many seeds and hooks as they can. If they told a deep, but simple story, they’d be under pressure to wrap it up more quickly than otherwise.

As with the past seasons, the finale is a two-hour action-packed frenzy. They introduced a new technique in those episodes that hadn’t been used before in the previous 69 episodes, and it was horribly executed (in my opinion). I won’t ruin it, for those who are like me, and won’t want to know. Trust me, I didn’t give away anything with the above.

Both Lois and I felt that the writing in season three was a bit “Lost” (sorry, couldn’t resist). That said, I still loved it, will absolutely watch season four, and will continue to praise the show to newcomers, searching for something they can obsess about, lose themselves in, and soak up tons of entertainment time on, for relatively little money.

The only argument in our house will be whether we agree to suffer the weekly episodic wait (Lois is leaning in that direction), or skip this season and wait for the DVD (my preference). Lois wins nearly every argument on every subject matter, so you can guess what the outcome of the above dilemma will be. 😉

As with the past seasons, I am continually impressed with the ingeniously simple explanations that they often come up with when solving a previous puzzle/conundrum. Many times, you wait for a fantastic (as in fantasy!) explanation, which would be fine, but perhaps not as satisfying as a clever explanation that you just hadn’t thought of.

HDTV Transition Continues

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In September, in this post, I reported that we finally broke down and bought our first HDTV. As predicted, after watching the new TV for nearly four months, I started presenting all of the holiday deals on HDTV’s to Lois, whenever I saw them. I know she considered it nagging, rather than presenting. 😉

Finally, she said “just do it”. Her rationale (and I’m not kidding) was that we’re more generous with our friends than we are with ourselves (generally speaking), and that it was a shame that I didn’t splurge for these new “toys” for myself.

So, we took the plunge and bought two new HDTV’s for the apartment (bedroom and living room). One is the identical model that we have in the bedroom in the house. It cost $300 less than it did in September, at the same Sam’s Club. The other one is slightly larger (47″) which was the perfect size for the living room. It’s a Philips.

We brought them to the apartment on Thursday. While Lois was dreading getting them unloaded and up in the apartment, it turned out to be relatively hassle free, with the help of the building staff. Both TVs were set up in a very reasonable amount of time. The only problem was that we didn’t have HD capable cable boxes. I also had two HDMI cables on order that were scheduled to arrive the next day.

The HDMI cables showed up at 6:37pm yesterday. This morning, I walked over to Time Warner Cable’s store, and exchanged our two DVRs for HD DVRs. When I got back, I wired everything up. When I turned it on, I got a mini heart attack. There was zero sound through the HDMI cable. It had worked perfectly in the house, with FiOS, with the same cable, and the same exact TV. Oh oh…

Since both TVs got zero sound, I knew it wasn’t the TV. A single Google search yielded a forum thread from 2005 where people complained about this exact problem, only with Time Warner (so it wasn’t the box, it was the software on the box). The solution turned out to be trivial. There is a software setting (available through the settings menu) where you can direct that the sound be sent through the HDMI interface. Whew. I have concluded that the Internet is a good thing. 😉

One last thing for the near future (just didn’t feel like hassling with it today). While these DVRs come with 160GB disks, the FiOS one comes with 320GB, and it is puny when it comes to recording things in HD. In particular, with our travel schedule, the disk can fill up fast. So, I bought an external drive the other day that supports eSATA. The FiOS boxes have an eSATA connector, but do not yet support that port (they claim that eventually, a software update will light it up).

Time Warner (supposedly) supports eSATA, so I can turn my 160GB into 660GB when I plug in the new drive. I’ll get to it in the next week or so, no rush since the disk is empty at the moment, and we’re around for a while to watch whatever we record.

This leaves only one TV that remains non-HD. That’s the downstairs TV in the house, which is an ancient 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi. We’re rarely down there any more, and the thought of moving that beast out is not interesting to either of us, so it will be a while before it succumbs. It will happen, no doubt, but not just yet…

Hotel TV Victory

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In this post, I mentioned that it wouldn’t be until January that I got to try out my new low-tech cable solution for watching our own stuff on the hotel TV.

We just had the longest stretch in six years of not being in a hotel. Our last stay ended on November 20th, and tonight is our first night since (we’ve stayed with friends for five nights during that stretch, so they weren’t all at home).

Tonight I pulled out my low-tech cable and connected it to the TV in the hotel. I then put two AAA batteries in my programmable remote and looked up the code for a Philips TV. After a moment of panic, when I noticed that there wasn’t a button labeled Input on the remote, I finally found (by trial and error) that there was a button labeled A->B which did the same thing.

Sure enough, I was able to change the hotel TV to all of the inputs (S-Video, Front RCA, Rear RCA, something else, etc.).

I then connected to my home DVR (the DirecTV Hughes HDVR2 that I’ve recently resuscitated) through my SlingBox, and we watched a two hour show that I had recorded months ago. It worked flawlessly!

I enabled a second monitor and extended my desktop to it. I then ran the Sling window in that second monitor and maximized it (800×600) which was the perfect size for the TV. I was able to play Poker on the main laptop screen, without interfering with the show on the TV (also very cool!).

But, there was one last problem. I like having the sound on for the Poker tourneys, so that if I look away from the screen, and it’s my turn, I hear the beep. But, to get the sound on the TV to work, I really have to crank the sound to the headphone jack on the laptop. That would make the Poker beeps way too loud on the TV.

My solution is almost Rube Goldberg, but it worked! 😉

I have a tiny USB sound adapter (I can never get the Microphone input to work, and the volume on the output is deafeningly loud, but, it works). So, I first connect the Sling when the normal headphone jack is enabled. Then I insert the USB sound device, and set that to be the new default sound device. Poker (and most other apps) immediately switch to the new default device, but the Sling keeps playing through the device that was the default when it was launched.

So, I listened for the Poker beep through earbuds that were connected to the USB sound device, and the low-tech cable was connected to the S-Video port and the headphone jack.

Total Victory! Sweet! 🙂

Lost – Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD

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On the weekend of August 18th, 2007, our godson and his good friend (who we count as a good friend as well now for many years) visited us in NYC. I commemorated that weekend with five posts in a row. For me personally, the highlight was our accidental (and serendipitous) discovery of Girlyman on August 19th at Joe’s Pub!

We all had a total blast (on the off chance that you couldn’t tell that from the posts themselves). 😉

To thank us for the weekend, they bought us the DVD sets of Lost, Seasons 1 and 2. Of course, we were thankful for the gift and the recognition of our effors to create a memorable weekend. That said, we didn’t expect that we’d enjoy Lost all that much.

A number of times, I’ve mentioned that on some things, I’m a huge laggard. It took me forever to buy a standalone DVD player. I had a few DVR’s, so I didn’t see the need to play any DVD’s.

Lois, being a collector/archivist/gatherer (pick your own noun), was buying DVDs that interested her, long before we had a machine to play them on. When the choices started to include wide vs full screen, I encouraged her to buy wide screen, even though we didn’t own a wide screen capable tv!

Anyway, we eventually bought a DVD player for the house and the apartment. We also finally got a wide screen (HDTV) for the bedroom in the house, though everywhere else is still an old analog tv.

That background aside, the reason we didn’t think we’d enjoy Lost is that we had zero interest in watching it when it first came out. We don’t like any kind of horror movies. We don’t watch any reality shows either. Somehow, this felt like the combination of the two (at least from the buzz).

We had it on the shelf for two months, and I could feel Lois itching to at least try it, so that we could honestly give our feedback and say thanks (again) for the gift. A little over a week ago, with only reruns on regular tv anyway, we started season one. We’re obsessive types to begin with (I’ve mentioned that a number of times as well), so we averaged at least four episodes a day, every day. Each DVD has a maximum of four episodes on them, and there are six DVDs per season, plus one bonus DVD.

It’s interesting from the beginning, but for us (remember, our tastes probably aren’t normal), the first three episodes were also quite choppy, some excellent moments, and some mind-numbing stupidity. We hesitated pushing on. We are both 100% sure that if we had watched it on regular tv, with commercials, waiting a week between episodes, there is no chance that we would have watched after the third episode.

Thankfully, watching on DVD, with zero commercials, and the ability to watch as many episodes in a row as you can stand, and with the additional motivation of not wanting to tell our benefactors that we gave up, we kept watching.

We got totally hooked. We just finished season two this morning.

Here are a few thoughts on the show, without giving away anything whatsoever.

There are two separate themes in every episode:

  1. What is happening to the group, in terms of their predicament
  2. What is happening to individual characters, in terms of their former lives, and how it has shaped them and somehow becomes mirrored in an island interaction

The general story line is incredibly inventive, and often brilliant as well. There are things that happen that you simply can’t imagine how they are going to explain, without some magic. Often though, many episodes later, they explain it in a way that simply feels completely right and natural. Kudos to the writers for delivering that kind of experience so masterfully.

The other thing that is done nearly flawlessly are the flashback scenes where you learn about each character. The depth of the back stories is amazing. They show scenes that all by themselves would make for a compelling show, rather than just trying to explain why a particular character acted in a particular way on the island. Considering how many different characters get detailed back stories, I can’t even comprehend the talent of the writing staff.

For the vast majority of the cast, the acting is also flawless. There is one notable exception. For us, the star, Matthew Fox, is wooden at best. On rare occasion, he can deliver a scene in a believable manner, but not often.

For me, season two was better than season one (which was excellent). Again, there was an episode or two that didn’t live up to the rest, but nothing like the first few in season one where you just scratched your head wondering if they just lost their way.

So, is it a perfect show? Not even close. In particular, to me, they don’t really know what they want to do with Jack (the Matthew Fox character). Lois got so annoyed at me yelling at the screen “No way he could be that stupid!”. She finally asked me to zip it, and that she got it already.

The writers might respond that it was their exact intention to engage me, but if that’s true, I say hooey! Characters can have a twist, but they should be understandable, and hopefully even explainable. Too many times, he simply appears stupid.

Is it a great show? To me, the answer is an unequivocal yes! We have already ordered season three on DVD, but we won’t get to watch it until mid-January given our crazy schedule. The timing just worked out perfectly for us to plow through two seasons in roughly one week. One of the reasons was unfortunate. Lois was quite sick for the past six days (she’s still sick, but hopefully on the mend), so she didn’t slave away at the computer as much as she otherwise would have) and that made her mellow enough to watch for hours on end.

So, is there a difference between a great show and a perfect one? Of course. Would I ask a rhetorical question if I didn’t have the answer? 😉 To us, Burn Notice is a perfect show. We can’t wait for it to return this coming summer!

On to the extras. On many of the DVD’s, there is a Bonus Features section. In addition, there is a seventh DVD in each season’s package, that is only bonus stuff (behind the scenes, interviews, how certain things were done, etc.).

The vast majority of the bonus features on the bonus DVD are well worth the extra time to watch. For me, who knows zero about how movies are made, it was a blast to see how they do things (including getting the plane on to the island, etc.).

One of the bonus features on the first season DVD was the audition tapes of many of the actors. Interestingly (to me) was watching Matthew Fox read the part of Sawyer (most of the male actors read the Sawyer part to begin with). He was horrible. Even people that could never pull off the current Sawyer from a believability perspective, at least read the parts believably. Fox didn’t. I had already formed my opinion that he played his part weakly, but wondered whether they wanted him to play it that way. Watching the auditions convinced me that he just doesn’t have the talent that the rest of them do.

During season one, we were more interested in not breaking the rhythm of watching the episodes, so we didn’t watch a single bonus track on the non-bonus DVD. However, when we finished the first DVD of season two (four episodes), we decided to watch the bonus feature on that DVD. It was really interesting, but, amazingly, they (I assume accidentally!) gave away a key secret that didn’t get revealed for another two or three episodes! I couldn’t believe it, and now I won’t watch any of the bonus features on a regular DVD until the season is over.

One of the underlying themes in the show is the interconnectedness of the various characters (the six degrees of separation). They do it well. That said, it’s still in the over-the-top phase for me (though I enjoy it thoroughly!), since we don’t yet (even after season two) have a clue as to why it’s all happening.

Lois made an insightful comment last night. We both saw the movie Babel (with Brad Pitt), and thought it was incredibly stupid and poorly done. Of course, it too was themed on interconnectedness and six degrees of separation. She commented last night that Lost achieved this goal whereas Babel failed.

Anyway, while I’ve probably lost every single reader by now, the bottom line is that if you haven’t seen Lost yet, get the DVD’s, and don’t give up before you finish at least the entire first DVD, perhaps even the first two (even if you are tempted!).

Thanks guys, this one really hit the spot, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving, in that it lasted well over a week and will continue when season three arrives! 🙂

Low Tech Often Beats High Tech

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In this post, I discussed traditional video senders, that wirelessly extend a video source to a remote receiver (TV, VCR, DVR, etc.). The 5.8Ghz model that I bought from Amazon.com is still working perfectly.

In addition to that need at home, we travel a lot for business and therefore spend a lot of time in hotels. While we’re not terribly picky about what’s on TV when we’re tired after a long day’s work, sometimes the pickings are pretty slim, and with the current writers strike dragging on, they will likely get slimmer.

I decided that I wanted to find an effective way to display things from my laptop on the hotel TV. This would allow watching DVDs, Internet videos, and my home DVR via the SlingBox.

I mentioned in the past that once I purchased one thing from X10, I got bombarded daily by a giant email newsletter from them. Just at the time that I was considering the above need, their daily newsletter had a special to purchase a wireless VGA to RCA Video extender. I ordered the following package that day (and I paid a lot less than the current price shown on that page).

The device works, for some definition of works, but I am not happy with it. I don’t know if it’s interference from WiFi devices (of which the hotels have many, and so does our house), or if there is some other problem, but, while I an get the video to show up (so it’s not broken), it’s not a satisfactory experience.

Now a diversion. A few weeks back, we were visiting friends in Richmond, VA. Another friend came over with a DVD of photos from their trip to South Africa. After trying a few ways to display the photos on the TV, I looked at the back of my laptop and noticed (for the first time) that I had an S-Video port. Our host happened to have an S-Video cable, and I was able to connect my S-Video out to his S-Video in, and display the photos.

When I got home, I did a search and found the following site (they ask for links, claiming that they don’t advertise!), and specifically, this low tech cable. I got to use the cable for the first time last night (in the apartment), and it worked pretty well. Extremely low tech, but extremely effective.

That said, my problem isn’t quite solved. It turns out that the hotel that we stay at all the time doesn’t include the ability to select alternate input sources (even though the TV has both RCA inputs and S-Video in). The remote control doesn’t have an input button, and the menu doesn’t contain one either.

A little further search on the Internet suggests bringing your own programmable remote to the room, and searching for their TV model, and hopefully being able to control the TV with your remote, including changing the input source. I’ll give that a try in January, when we are next in the hotel. Even if it doesn’t work, this new cable will find occasional use at home, when I want to watch an Internet video on the TV. A lot cheaper than buying something like Apple TV, etc. 😉

My Hughes HDVR2 Gets Resuscitated

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In October 2003, I bought a Hughes HDVR2 from Weaknees.com. It is a Tivo Series 2 device, which has DirecTV tuners (two of them) built in. I ordered two disks (each 160GB) which at the time, was a large system. Today, they build terabyte (and greater!) systems, so mine is pokey by those standards.

In this post, I discussed getting FiOS service and our first HDTV. We didn’t get rid of the DirecTV at the time, largely because it’s the only place you can get the full NFL Sunday Ticket package. I’m actually watching less football nowadays, so it might eventually go. I also have the full premium package, so I get all of the HBO/Showtime/Cinemax, etc., even though I rarely watch any of them. I don’t have that package on FiOS.

A few weeks back, our DirecTivo (the Hughes) died. It was rebooting itself once a day for weeks, so I knew it wasn’t going to last long, but I had no idea how long. When it died, I went on to the Weaknees forums. I posted about my problem, and an employee of Weaknees conjectured that it was a bad power supply. I responded to a few of his questions, and he then raised his confidence level to nearly 100% that it was a power supply.

Weaknees sells power supply replacements for many models, and mine cost $69 including shipping. I searched the net, and no one else seemed to sell new ones. Most people suggested buying a used machine on EBay, and then pulling out the power supply. I bid on a number of them, but lost all of my attempts. In the end, I ordered the power supply from Weaknees.

It arrived at Zope while we were away. We got home yesterday, and I popped in the new power supply (I had already removed the old one before we left). It worked on the first try, and we now have a working DVR for the DirecTV system again, and we didn’t lose any of the shows that we had previously taped. Very cool, as I am really not handy with this type of stuff, at all!

I don’t intend to do this, only because I am not investing any further in the DirecTV system (even though I’m not close to giving it up just yet), but, once I had it open, I realized how absolutely trivial it would be to pop in two 500GB drives to replace my 160GB ones, and triple my disk space. My only real complaint about the FiOS DVR is that it only has a 320GB disk, and they haven’t (yet) lit up the eSATA port to permit external disks (which they claim they will, one day…).

NBC Got It Right

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I’m a complete sucker for sitcoms. Even stupid ones make me laugh. Yes, I can distinguish between a good one and a horrible one, but like I said, even most horrible ones make me laugh.

Unfortunately, the same isn’t true for Lois. She really loves to laugh, and there are some sitcoms that can really set her off (in the positive sense), but she can’t tolerate stupidity, even if the aim of that is just to get you to laugh.

That puts us at odds. There are a number of shows that I enjoy, that she can’t stand, that I totally understand why. Enter the DVR. I can record those shows, and watch them at some point when Lois isn’t interested in watching TV.

I try fewer new shows than I might otherwise, just because I know I’ll be watching them alone. This year, I decided to try Chuck (on NBC) and Bing Bang Theory (on CBS). I set the DVR to tape both, and we left for our normal trip to Zope.

When we got back, I saw three episodes of Bing Bang Theory, but only two of Chuck. I realized that since I was now taping (how quaint, I meant recording) most shows in HD, even though I have a 320GB disk, I filled it up. The first episode of Chuck got erased automatically.

Some shows (Pushing Daisies for example) go down much smoother if you see the pilot episode, where they set the entire premise. Chuck seemed like that would be the case.

A quick search on Google found the above link to the show instantly. Sure enough, they offered full episodes online, for free. There are certain things that I don’t do, even though I can afford them. For example, there’s simply no way that I would have paid $1.99 to download the episode from iTunes (if that were the only place it was available).

Watching the episode on NBC was quite pleasant, their player is pretty good. I also had to spend 30 seconds a few times during the show to have an opportunity to view Sprint ads. While I didn’t select any of the ads, I was certainly well aware that my viewing pleasure was being sponsored by Sprint, and I had no problem with that at all. Of course, I happen to be a very happy Sprint customer, but that’s besides the point. 😉

I enjoyed the episode. Actually, I enjoyed the premise more than the actual episode. There were a number of weak moments in the episode, but I’m interested enough to watch the two I’ve recorded already, and if those are good too, I’ll watch the rest of the season. So, NBC got a viewer for the show by making past episodes available online, for free. Even if you assume that I will fast forward through every commercial that sits on my DVR, I sat through the Sprint sponsorship online (better than nothing for them!), and while Nielsen doesn’t count me, if they collect anonymous stats from FiOS, they’ll know that I record Chuck, which will count toward their viewership.

I still haven’t watched any of the Bing Bang Theory episodes, so I don’t know if I’ll like them.

For an example of a show that I’ll watch, that Lois won’t, you can check out Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton’s new show, Back to You (on Fox). We were both interested in watching this new show, as we loved Frasier (Lois, especially). I liked Everybody Loves Raymond. Lois didn’t, but she appreciates Patricia Heaton (we also saw her live on Broadway with Tony Shaloub).

Anyway, Back to You qualifies as an incredibly stupid show, that is filled with cheap laughs. The key word (for me) is laughs, cheap or otherwise. I definitely laugh out loud at a number of the lines and situations, but everything about the show is just downright stupid.

So, kudos to NBC (perhaps others, but that’s the only one I’ve needed and tried so far).

TV Experience Just Got Better

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In this post, I mentioned that I ordered a video sender from X10. The device was priced well, arrived quickly, is nicely packaged, and probably works as well as they describe it to. So, I have no complaints about X10 as a company, or this specific product. Well, the one semi-complaint about them is that I agreed to sign up for their email newsletter, and they send one every day, and it’s a giant file, with lots of image links, etc. I haven’t unsubscribed yet, but I’m close…

On to the device itself. Like I said, it likely performs exactly as described. Unfortunately, my setup was not conducive to the limitations of space and intervening walls, floors and stuff. In addition, given that the device is 2.4Ghz, it also could have been suffering from interference from my WiFi setup, but I did try all four independent channels on the X10.

My new TV is in the bedroom, and the DirecTivo (which is what I wanted to broadcast from) is downstairs, diagonally opposite the bedroom. So, the signal needed to travel the length of my house (diagonally), and through one floor and at least two walls, possibly a closed door as well, etc.

With a lot of jiggling, positioning, running around, etc., on rare occasions, I could get an acceptable picture. There was a hint of snow, but not that bad. The audio was passable, and had annoying hisses. If Lois moved her leg in the bed (no, I’m not exaggerating!), then the snow worsened, and the hissing got really bad. She had to immediately reposition, in order to get the picture back. Clearly, this was not going to work long term.

If either of us walked in the path of the beam, the picture went bananas…

Just before we left for Zope this past trip, I ordered the following device from Amazon.com. I had it shipped directly to Zope, so that I would have it ready when we got back last night. I was nervous, because the device costs more than twice what the X10 did. Obviously, I can afford it, but I hate buying things that just don’t work.

Anyway, even though my cordless phone system (a Uniden) is 5.8Ghz, this new RF-Link device works flawlessly. The picture and sound are as good as I’d like. We can break the beam with our bodies and the picture and sound are still good (if slightly affected), and the IR extender is working perfectly as well. Whew!

Ironically, I have a good use for the X10 device, so it won’t go to waste, but it won’t get the yeoman’s duty that I was expecting it to.

FiOS TV Leads to HDTV

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As much of a technophile as I am, including being a gadget freak, I am also a reasonably late adopter for many technology breakthroughs. This included being very late to the Compact Disc party, among others.

HDTV was no exception. I have friends who have had HDTV for a few years now, so I know how awesome the picture is compared to regular TV, but still, I wasn’t motivated to get one.

Usually, it’s pure laziness that causes me to adopt late. In fact, many of my most favorite gadgets were gifts. In that regard, I’m easy to get gifts for (albeit very expensive ones!), because I usually don’t rush out to buy the latest thing. I am thankful that my first Blackberry, first Treo, first GPS, etc., were all gifts, or I might never have gotten them, and I love(d) them all. 🙂

In the case of HDTV, it was more of a logistic/tactical reason, rather than pure laziness. In our family room (downstairs), we have a 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi TV that we bought when we first moved in to the house, over 18 years ago. After weeks of nightmarish repair calls 11 months after we bought it (one of the few devices that I ever bought an extended warranty for!), they finally agreed (reluctantly) to replace the motherboard with the newer model (Diamond Vision II). Since then (17+ years), the TV has been flawless. The picture is hardly state-of-the-art (not even close), but it’s big, clear (enough), and has tons of stuff sitting on top of the massive cabinet that it is housed in (in other words, it’s a useful piece of furniture as well as being a functional TV).

It’s (obviously) not HD capable. When we first bought it, we had sliding glass doors to the backyard patio right next to where the TV currently is. Getting this monster in the house wasn’t all that painful. A few years later, we sealed off those doors and they are now just a giant (un-openable) window. The thought of ever replacing that TV is daunting. I have no idea how we’ll get it out, other than completely breaking it up. That would be a shame, as it would make for a fine TV to donate, to the local VFW for example.

In addition to that, I have DirecTV (non-HD version!), and had Cablevision without a cable box, and therefore without HD service either. I could get a new HD capable dish for DirecTV, but then my current DirecTiVo (with 250GB disk in it) would become useless. Painful upgrades, including installing the new dish outside, but still, I’d have to deal with the TV itself. In other words, status quo was the perfect solution. 😉

Upstairs in the bedroom, where we actually watch TV 99% of the time anyway (the downstairs mostly gets watched on Football weekends, by me alone), we had a 27″ regular TV. This TV also showed a nice picture, but it’s as pedestrian a TV as you can find. Only two inputs, coax and red-white-yellow audio/video input (which is called Game mode, for Nintendo-like consoles). The size of the TV was determined by the available shelf space in our wall-to-wall built-in. Given how deep the TV was, and the size of the only opening made for a TV, this was as big as it could get.

Enter FiOS TV a few weeks back. Previous to this, all of our equipment was downstairs. There was a single coax connecting the downstairs to the upstairs TV. Using a remote control extender, I could turn on various devices downstairs, and watch the DirecTV upstairs, etc. If all downstairs devices were off, then the basic cable was automatically passed to the upstairs TV.

With FiOS TV, we had our first cable box in the bedroom, including our first DVR in the bedroom. Of course, it is also an HD box (both DVR and live). After thinking about it for a whopping two weeks, I decided to break down. Yesterday, Lois and I went over to Sam’s Club to buy an HDTV. I don’t know all that much about them, so I spent about 30 minutes doing very light research (difference between Plasma and LCD, etc.).

Given that these sets are flat panels, I knew that I could go bigger than the current 27″, since the TV could be wider than the opening that the current one is in. I figured that I could go as high as 46″, but 42″ was likely optimal. Sam’s carries lots of HDTV’s, in all sizes and capabilities. After browsing for a long time, I narrowed it to a JVC 42″, a Sharp Aquos 42″, and a Magnavox 37″ (that I knew would be much more pleasing to Lois, aesthetically). All were full HDTV, 1080p, 1920×1080 resolution. I was leaning toward the Sharp. The JVC only had a 1200:1 contrast ratio (I have no idea whether that’s good or bad, but some other sets there were 15000:1, yes 15 thousand), so the JVC sounded puny next to that. I think the Sharp was 6000:1.

Well, it turned out that on the shelves under the demo TV’s, there was no Sharp, but there was one JVC, and one Magnavox (the 37″). I grabbed the JVC and ran. 🙂

Amazingly, the TV comes with zero cables, other than the power cord. Clearly, they assume that whatever source you are connecting to the TV, had to come with cables, or you prefer (yeah right) to buy your own. This, on a TV that can accept 5 simultaneous inputs of varying types! (actually more, but who’s counting)

Having not had any experience with HDTV, or even component cabling, and having hooked it all up before bothering to read either the JVC manual (which I eventually read cover-to-cover) or the STB (Set-Top-Box) manual, the only way I was able to get a picture was to use the lower-end red-white-yellow audio/video connection. That doesn’t carry full HD on it. So, while the TV looked very good (very good indeed!), it still wasn’t awesome. So, I got online and ordered an HDMI cable, which will arrive in a week.

After reading both manuals, I realized what I had done wrong, and I was able to use the component video plus separate audio cables, and I now have full HD working on the TV. Wow, cool! The HDMI cable should be simpler from a cabling point of view, but I doubt the picture will be materially better (if better at all).

Of course I was right about the aesthetics, as Lois wished (after the fact) that we had gone for the 37″ model. I (of course) am delighted that we went with the 42″ one. 😉

Lois also wished that it came in either white or grey, rather than the stark black (our built-in is cream colored), but there really was no choice at all, especially given that there was exactly one 42″ 1080p in stock. That said, none of the other demo models were really anything other than black or charcoal gray either…

At the moment, we can’t (without a lot of pain) watch the DirecTV upstairs. While I have a pair of video extenders somewhere in the house, an exhaustive search didn’t locate them (it’s been over 10 years since they were used). I ordered a new pair from X10 on Friday, and they too should get here by the end of the week, when the HDMI cable shows up. That should easily let me switch between FiOS and DirecTV. I still won’t have HD from the DirecTV dish, but it should still look awesome on the new JVC.

While it’s still likely off in the distance, we can both already feel more HDTV’s in our future. At some point, I’ll break down and replace the ancient TV downstairs, especially now that the FiOS stuff will immediately work on it. We had also already discussed getting one for the apartment living room. We never watch TV there alone, but it’s a gathering place when we have company in the city, which is reasonably often, so we might break down and do that in the near future. We’ll let this one sink in first though… 😉