Tag Archives: technology

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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The end of privacy

11 Feb

 

Digital technology brings the world to you and you to the world.

It tracks and records you, follows you around, knows where you have been, what you like, who your friends are. It can predict what you are likely to do.

There is a story circulating that a person with good credit was denied a mortgage because his friends in the digital world were un-creditworthy. You know, birds of a feather.

True? Don’t know. But certainly possible.

Now it seems people with information to protect are taking great steps to secure it when they go abroad. The New York Times this morning describes the precautions taken by a China expert at the Brookings Institute when he travels to that country. The account says such measures are now commonplace for government and business officials.

He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings ‘loaner’ devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”

At home, the average person’s privacy is compromised for marketing purposes. Someone wants to sell you something. It’s not a pleasant idea, but most can live with it. If it ever becomes political and used as a repressive tool of government, we’ll have quite a lot to worry about over a simple game of Angry Birds.

Am I’m being naïve by saying “if it ever ….”?

When technology kills art

29 Jan

"The Artist"

Chaplin

I never thought much about how technology can create art forms until I saw Laurie Anderson perform. I never thought much about how technology can destroy art forms until I saw “The Artist.”

In the movie, a popular star of the silent screen refuses to make talking pictures. He does so for artistic reasons. His protests aside, the studio and public really don’t want him anymore.

He’s out of work; out of a career; out of a life.

Laurie Anderson

The film’s main character is endearing, but vain and maybe not even a real artist. He is certainly not Chaplin, a historically great performer who for a time also refused to make talkies.

The old and new film mediums required such different skills. The new forced actors to give up almost everything. How could Chaplin, such a master, abandon everything he knew simply because someone invented a new machine? How does a person at the utter and absolute top of his craft retire an art form that not only made him rich and famous but defined him to the world?

It’s nearly impossible.

More important, how is it that the art consuming public allows a great art form to be retired?

Things Chaplin did are still being done by mimes and clowns and dancers and comedians. But they are not being done in such a concentrated fashion and they are not being delivered to such a mass audience.

I find this sad, as I found “The Artist” sad.

Still, the work of tech-art pioneers like Laurie Anderson makes me feel good, which is at least some compensation.

Invariably, if you give an artist a new form of expression, he or she will use it to create something so exciting that people will turn away from the past.

Ancient technologists, in pre-historic times, learned to make paint-like materials and then decorated caves with them. Since then, and perhaps even before, technology and art have been forever linked.

No one can really fault that. In a way, it’s life affirming.

Why America loses jobs

22 Jan

Jobs fair in China (NYT photo)

A noted columnist recently said that young Americans would like a 35-hour work week, as compared to young Indians, who would like a 35-hour work day.

The willingness of those in the developing world to labor hard and long is no longer commendable. In many cases, it represents an acceptance of a new form of servitude.

The New York Times today reports on why Apple can’t assemble its products in America. As an example, it mentions a case where last-minute design changes were made to iPhone, which needed to be on store shelves in two weeks. According to an executive interviewed by the Times, this is what happened at a Chinese plant.

“A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.”

The executive said: “The speed and flexibility is breathtaking.”

My question: Will those workers eventually become more like us, or will we become more like them?

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