Archive | March, 2013

Shocking disclosure: TV is Free!

31 Mar

Retro TV

It’s hard to remember old technology. That includes devices popular just a few decades ago.

I was surprised that there are people today who don’t know TV is free.

I tried explaining broadcasting and networks to a younger person who had a difficult time with the concept. He only knew that TV came through a cable. He didn’t know that a significant portion of what is on cable also travels through the air and that with something called an antenna it can be brought onto a screen and viewed.

For free.

And because cable can deteriorate data, the broadcast signal actually is clearer, like a higher high definition.

Old tech

Old tech

This lost knowledge of pre-cable TV is being used by at least one business to draw attention to its product – an antenna. In a full-page newspaper ad made to look like news, the ad’s headline reads: “Public gets Free TV with no monthly bills.”

The “story” that follows says the announcement is being made by CompTek, a company whose phone lines, it adds, are ringing off the hook.” The ad list all the Philadelphia area zip codes that can get free TV, and urges people living there to immediately call CompTek.

It’s highly deceptive, but not really a lie. It fails to mention that every zip code can get free TV, as long as it’s within the range of a broadcast.

“Philadelphia area residents who call the Toll Free Hotlines before the 48-hour order deadline to get Clear-Cast can pull in Free TV channels with crystal clear digital picture and no monthly bills,” the ad says.

“Clear-Cast” is the antenna. No mention that other companies sell them and don’t have a 48-hour order deadline. No price for Clear-Cast is listed in the large ad.

After a hike several months ago in my cable rate, I cut the cord in protest and bought a new-technology antenna. I wanted to save money but also had a spare laptop to connect to the TV for Netflix and other Internet TV.

The new antennae are not like the rabbit ears of old. You can buy them for the roof of your house if you want, but the more popular kind go inside the home. They come in several shapes. Mine is from RCA. It is square and flat and black, about the size of an iPad.  I think I paid $40. All you do is connect it to the TV.

New tech

New tech

Well, that’s not all you do. After you connect it, you have to program it on the TV and allow it to locate nearby signals. It takes a few minutes. The TV runs a sequence of all available channels and grabs the one in your area.

I had hoped to get signals from Philadelphia and New York, but my reach was not that strong. New York was out. Big disappointment.

Still, I found myself running the sequence several times to see if I could capture more. It reminded me of fishing. You hit the button on the remote and then wait and watch the screen for a catch. I actually captured more signals the more I ran the sequence. But this doesn’t mean you can watch all these channels, nor does it mean the position of the antenna can stay the same for all.

Just as people used to move the rabbit ears around to get a good signal, the new antenna has to be moved, depending on the station you want to receive. I generally have two positions. One gets about two-thirds of the signals, the other pulls in the remaining one-third. It is bothersome to have to get up and move the device, but you get used to it.

 

Weather and atmosphere seem to be factors. Sometimes the signals are strong and you get everything. Sometimes a few are weak and they conk out or break up. There are a few you almost never get.

It’s not perfect, but it is a big savings over a monthly cable bill that usually runs toward $150. What I like least is there is no program guide. You may be watching a movie but there is no way to check its title or which actors appear. You don’t know when it will be over or what is coming on next.

And, of course, there is no DVR or On-Demand. You’ll have to use a connected computer to help get around this.

And just a reminder, you won’t be getting any cable stations – no CNN, or Comedy Central or TBS or ESPN. You get only broadcast channels on networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS, plus local stations.

Unlike old TV, most networks broadcast their main channel and a couple supplemental ones. The supplements usually aren’t high definition and the programing is second-rate. Still, there are old movies, old shows and plenty of cooking and fitness demonstrations to watch.

So if you didn’t know, now you do: TV IS FREE.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

 

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Danger – I’m talking about race (but also art)

26 Mar

cab calloway-2

I sat down to write about creativity but will begin with race. I’ll get to creativity later.

Normally, race is a subject best avoided. Even good-intentioned statements can offend. I don’t mind offending, as long as I offend everyone. When I discuss race, I generally keep these three precepts in mind:

  • All people are basically the same.
  • Even so, likes prefer likes.
  • Whether acknowledged or not, every group thinks it is better than the other.

I’m told that, historically, each tribe of Native Americans referred to themselves as “the human beings” or “the people,” while the names they gave other tribes were epithets describing creatures who were less than human.

That’s us! Is it not?

Dividing us by race and setting us against each other seems like a cruel thing for the Creator to do, but I guess there was a reason for it. Giving us the capacity to enslave others, however, is too harsh to even remotely understand. That capacity is what rightfully gives racial issues their hypersensitivity.

I can wish everyone wasn’t so sensitive, but there is too much working against it.

While smart people don’t discuss race, I have to admire those who do. One is Bob Huber, a writer for Philadelphia Magazine. In the March edition of the magazine, he wrote a piece called, “Being White in Philly.”  In it he tells stories of race from a white perspective.

“Everyone might have a race story, but few whites risk the third-rail danger of speaking publicly about race, given the long, troubled history of race relations in this country and even more so in this city,” he wrote. “Race is only talked about in a sanitized form, when it’s talked about at all, with actual thoughts and feelings buried, which only ups the ante.”

So let’s talk!Philly Mag

After Huber’s article, many did. This was his intention. There were a number of public forums around town and the online version of the article – as of March 25 – had 6,292 comments.

The article, among other things, mentions how whites, upon entering a local convenience store, hold open the door longer for blacks than for whites in order not to offend them. Later, Huber quotes a Russian woman who thinks blacks do nothing but sit on their front porches smoking marijuana. It’s that kind of material.

In response, the only full-time African-American employee at Philadelphia Magazine wrote a counter piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She described her coworker’s message as: “black people are essentially what’s wrong with the city and that white people who live here are afraid of them.”

My test of the article’s validity is not its truthfulness but its honesty. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, the piece accurately describes how some white people feel. It would be dishonest to argue they don’t feel that way. Whether or not they accurately portray blacks is a totally different issue

I think it is good to know how people feel. I want to know how people feel about me, even when they don’t like me. My natural assumption is many will not like me, or at least think I am less that I am, certainly less than they are.

In the extreme, this may anger me, but I can live with it.

I understand that others may not, cannot and will not.

But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing about creativity. Mainly, I want to know if one race is more apt to be creative than another – specifically whether minorities are more willing and more capable than the majority in advancing art.

In the past I’ve had thoughts on this. They resurfaced recently when I heard a radio interview with a black record producer. By his own admission, this producer is not your normal black record producer. In order to set up a story about his style of producing, he told the show’s host that black artists create something then quickly leave it behind to create the next thing. White people, he said, go back and revisit what already has been created.

Then, in a twist, he said, “I’m that white guy.”

Twist aside, I saw truth in his stereotype, especially in the progress of music. By the time white bands, for example, took up the blues, black artists had left it way behind.

Shortly after this interview, PBS aired an American Masters episode called, “The Blues Brothers Band Remembers Cab Calloway.” The Blues Brothers movie, of course, clearly depicts the tendency for whites to revisit the old. More interesting was a specific story in the documentary about the legendary Cab Calloway.

John Landis, the movie’s director (white), told how he wanted Calloway (black) to sing his 1931 classic  “Minnie the Moocher” in the movie and to do it in the original style. When Calloway saw the music charts, he expressed disgust and said something like, “What the hell is this?”

He could not comprehend why anyone would want to put a near ancient rendition into a contemporary movie. Landis eventually talked him into it, but it was completely foreign to Calloway.

I was amazed at how closely this little story paralleled what the black record producer had said. The record producer might not fit the stereotype, but Cab sure did. I wondered just how deep this pattern went, or even if it were true (Little Anthony and the Imperials, after all, still perform their hits.)

One of the shockingly bad things about art in any form is that it so often is a copy of something done by an innovator. I believe it was Paul Gauguin (not a minority but definitely off the path) who suggested that there are only two kinds of artists: plagiarists and revolutionaries. It could be said that the plagiarists have a stake in the status quo while the revolutionaries want to destroy it.

Could this be the case with the white-black creative dichotomy described by the record producer and illustrated by Cab Calloway?

While few want to discuss race, I’d like to hear from people on this. Let’s forget about Philly Mag and the suppressed hostilities of whites for a while and talk about whether muses favor those who have been pushed outside the mainstream. What drives a person to originality and risk when so many others are content to stay stuck on what’s popular?

Is white innovation a rarity? Surely there are white revolutionaries. In a pinch I could name 10. (Pollock yes; Presley no.) Do white innovators have to try harder, or must they – unlike blacks – possess a genetic mutation or be social misfits?

I can’t speak first hand to this. I’m hoping others can. Please write.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

The lives we lead are not our own: Why privacy is valued

14 Mar

 

Privacy

Aton Chekhov, in one of his most famous stories, pauses from character development to discuss privacy.

The passage comes in “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” about a young woman and an older man having an adulterous affair that they have kept secret.

“The personal life of every individual,” he wrote, “is based on secrecy, and perhaps it is partly for that reason that civilized man is so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.”

That was written in 1899, long before the act of “liking” something would send data on your habits and behavior to thousands of marketers. The Internet has become a place where we share its wonders and benefits in exchange for our privacy. We do so either without complaint, or else unknowingly.

Chekhov didn’t have to worry about such things. Nevertheless, he studied the nature of the private life and believed “every man led his real, most interesting life under cover of secrecy as under cover of night,” and that everything in the open was false.

A person who, for career or avocation, looks closely at something will share this notion. For as they investigate one thing they invariably see other things not meant to be seen.  Investigate the assassination of President Kennedy and find that there is a cult in Texas wearing underwear made of aluminum foil. I made that up. Real examples would be stranger.

Last night I read the Chekhov passage on privacy. This morning in the newspaper I noticed stories about:

  • A “cannibal cop” convicted of conspiracy to abduct, roast and eat women.
  • An ex-principal charged with possessing child porn.
  • A bookkeeper who stole nearly $650,000 from her employer over several years.

This was just one section in one newspaper in one day.

I agree with the Russian writer that we don’t project much truth in our daily comportment, but it is a little frightening to think that people we consider normal  harbor great inner darkness. Perhaps it’s the complexity of our DNA and the innumerable variations of its structure that produce humans destined to act or think in so many different ways that there is no normal and that everything imaginable – and unimaginable – gets covered.

We are going to be learning a lot more about this, what with cameras everywhere now and odd folks freely indulging themselves on the never private Internet.

All of us are bound to long for the days when those phony exteriors Chekhov spoke of hid the harsh truth of our species.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

A land once overcrowded now builds cities for no one

9 Mar

 

Struggling to sell real estate. -- NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO

Struggling to sell real estate. — NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO

 

A Chinese casino dealer from Vancouver called about an investment. He said vacation homes in China’s tropical Hainan Island, off the southeast coast, were selling for 600,000 yuan or about $92,000. A friend of his bought 16.

China once had no room for its people. Dingy one-room apartments were the norm. That was 25 years ago. Today, there is housing galore. There is so much housing that many cities are completely empty.

Shiny, modern, architecturally splendid ghost towns.

They’ve been built for no one.

According to a report on CBS’s 60 Minutes, these empty new cities are being constructed at a rate of 20 or more a year.

The ghost towns – the name used for them by the Chinese – are not modest. They are grand, with rows of skyscrapers. Many resemble Manhattan.

Why are they being built?

They are being built because people like my friend and his friend are willing to buy them whether they are empty or not. People want to buy them because they see housing as a sure investment, with prices – because of massive speculation – going up and up and up, as if there will be no end to it.

To a smaller extent, this happened in the U.S. Remember? Homeowners all thought they were rich, or would be soon. A bubble was created, and it burst, causing the recession of 2008. The thought of easy money (the easier it looks the harder it hooks) causes people in both the West and the East to lose all reason. But how in God’s name can someone look upon an empty city, knowing that many other empty cities exist, and think real estate is a good investment?

How can developers get financing for these cities? How can an economy that not long ago could not feed its people sustain such ridiculous, irresponsible and wasteful practices? It strains my mental capacity to come up with answer.

But I feel confident of this: Soon there will be great hell to pay.

As the high price of wheat caused an Arab Spring, a drop in housing prices could cause revolt and even revolution in China. I see it as that serious. Average people have invested entire fortunes that will most certainly be lost. Chaos will follow, but it won’t bring back the money.

The Chinese government has tried to cool the housing market and stop the wild speculation. Recently, it said it would apply a 20 percent tax on the sale of investment homes. The New York Times photo at the top of this post shows people struggling to sell their properties after they learned of the new tax.  The Times also reported that couples are getting divorced as a way to skirt the tax and have two people claim residence in two houses.

Some China experts say crafty people will find ways to avoid the tax or the government will end up ignoring it.

So, the frenzied buying of homes is not likely to stop soon. It’s like a contagious disease. Even I would like to have a $92,000 vacation home on lovely Hainan Island if it will be worth $200,000 in a year or so. But if I can control myself and wait a little longer, I might be able to get it for $10,000 – or maybe two for 10.

In a country of 1.3 billion people, I’ll probably have the Hainan beach all to myself. A ghost beach is so much better than a ghost town.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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