Wednesday, October 26, 2005

FAQ to the Future

I worked in a TV repair shop for seven years. My tenure included watching consumer electronics (as well as watching TV!) move from the twilight of vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits. I received enough on-the-job training to eventually become a fair technician. These days, I know enough to be willing to take the covers off stuff and either fix them or reduce them to landfill in a matter of moments.
Part of that education was the whole antenna/tuner thing. Remember TV’s with dials? The big one that went from Channel 2 to 13, along with the little one that went from 14 to 83? Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency! UHF Stations were usually low power, low self-esteem stations, where reception was wobbly at best – the world really ran on VHF. San Diego was and still is an area overwhelmed with cable subscription; the terrain assures that most consumers can’t get at least 2 channels, combined with our seeming need to have at least 40 channels of lowest-common-denominator programming at our fingertips. Electronic tuners and the reality of cable companies converting UHF stations to VHF numbers for their band had pretty much relegated UHF to the scrap heap, or at least that’s what I thought.
Sunday, we bought a new TV. A(n) HDTV capable TV. I hooked up the cable and DVD and stereo and such and went hunting for a(n) HDTV program. Imagine my dismay when it didn’t look nearly as good as it did in the store. Actually, I was smart enough to realize that I hadn’t yet tapped into the digital vein, just yet. I lacked knowledge. Little did I know what lay in store.
The internet, of course. There is more information – including an abundance of outdated information – than I ever wanted to know about HDTV. The salient point to this essay is that over-the-air HDTV stations are UHF STATIONS! The band seemingly allocated for obscurity in the early 20th century was now and is the platform of innovation and data packets. If only the parents of UHF were alive to see it (I have no idea who that might be, and I’m not sure how to Google that, nor am I compelled to know).
I couldn’t wait to get home and try it out. Alas, I could not find a suitable loop or even bow-tie antenna amidst the morass (we passed ‘clutter’ in 1998) that is my garage. What to do? As a TV and electronics tech for so many years, I a) Have thrown more of these away than you can imagine, and b) could not imagine even paying $1.49 for one at a local store – if I could find one. Bingo! I took a 75-300 ohm converter, and made a loop from terminal to terminal with a length of solder. I attached it to a length of cable, hooked it up, and, as my Mother would say, “Glory Be!” I was getting 4 or so crystal clear channels of HDTV. For FREE! Oh, Serendipity; joy unbound!
The bad news is that I am nestled up against a mountain that I’m confident that will prevent me from ever getting a signal from 2 network transmitters located 13.1 miles away on another peak on the other side (internet information – I was able to determine the exact latitude and longitude of my address, and plot it in relation to the transmitters up to 100 miles away – waaaay too much information). Couple this with the siren song of the independent film channel and a smattering of educational programming for the kids – a cable upgrade is inevitable – resistance is futile. But for now, I’m just tickled pink, happier than a clam at high tide, with my solder-loop antenna stuck to my hi-def TV. Who’d a thunk it?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Someone else is speaking my mind

Thanks to Tom at Unresolved References, an article that addresses this issue better than I could ever hope to.
The Abortion Debate that No One Wants to Have
Study this if you want to understand part of how it feels to be me.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sorry, my Muse was Bruised

Man, I’ve been sick. Sick up and fed of being sick. It’s always an amazing feeling to me, as it was this morning, to wake up feeling better than I did when I went to bed, to gradually feel whatever this crud is oh so slowly leaving my body. As the old song goes, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. . .” Amen, sister.
I’m a wimp when it comes to being sick. I don’t wanna, I ain’t gonna; just leave me alone with my bed and my remote control. This, of course, eventually, after a while, makes me feel kinda guilty about all of the things I’m supposed to be doing – one of the sure indications that I’m getting better. I live with one of those people who never seem to do what I do – declare I’m sick, I’m going to bed, and then drop off the face of the earth for a few days. She just keeps on going like the Energizer Bunny. I’m sure that it has a lot to do with her knowing that it won’t get done unless she does it, but I think it goes deeper than that. I do not know how she does it, but in the final analysis I don’t care. I yam what I yam – “just a spud boy who found his real tomato” (30 points for emailing me with the proper reference for that modified lyric).
I went to “the church of Springsteen” a couple of Sundays ago. I found myself on the bow of a houseboat, moored in a cove at Lake Mead, my coughing carcass jammed low into a canvas chair with his latest, “Devils and Dust” mostly gently playing in my headphones. It was one of those moments where the confluence of mood, fatigue, the desert fauna, a cool wind, and artistry brought me to tears more than once. Until the one song with the seemingly out-of place lyrics jerked my reverie back to wherever it is I usually live. One has to appreciate these moments when they occur, they are as fleeting as spring flowers in Death Valley. It’s also hard to describe to someone else, isn’t it? I’ve never been a true fan of ‘The Boss”, but these soft, straining songs reveal feelings beyond polish, beyond production, true experience. Honesty is the best policy. “Matomoros Banks” is my song of the year.

Even though we’ve been doing this for umpteen years now, and I always knew it, I used Google Earth to look around Lake Mead before we left, and was able to see how actually stinkin’ close our wilderness adventure is to Las Vegas. To explain, there is a significant mountain between eastern Las Vegas/Henderson and Lake Mead – getting to Echo Bay requires a 45 minute drive from Boulder City, around this mountain. It’s probably only about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from Echo Bay to the Strip. They are worlds apart, however, which only adds to the awe of it all. The bad news is that, at night, there is a pronounced glow to the West. The good news is that you can still see the Milky Way and shooting stars until you go to sleep. I woke up one night, looked out the window, and saw Mars and the little dipper. It’s so easy to forget that this stuff is always there – a reminder between REM states that to stop and wonder is still a wonderful thing. Whatever your opinion of Las Vegas as a technological triumph over the desert may be, the juxtaposition of it against this wilderness is never lost upon me. All this, of course, from my comfy chair down the hall from a working bathroom and shower, on a Man-made lake. Did I say I’m a wimp when it comes to camping, too? Yeah, probably.