Things you should know about HDTV

I’ve been running into a huge number of people who don’t understand what’s going on with HDTV lately, so I figured I needed to put something out for the couple of people who do read my blog.

  1. The HD broadcast switch is a funded federal mandate. (see item #3)
  2. You do not have to get rid of your existing TV unless you really want to. (see item#3)
  3. Every household in the US is entitled to two (2) coupons good for free HD to SD content converters. You can get your coupon from https://www.dtv2009.gov/. These are set top boxes that go from a standard pair of rabbit ears or whatever you’re using as an antenna to your TV and let you watch HD content on your regular old non-HD TV.
  4. You are getting something (two things!) from the government for FREE here people.
  5. If you plan to continue using a VCR or other SD equipment (Tivo series 1 and 2, Windows MCE, MythTV, etc) to record programming make sure that you get a converter box that can change channels on a schedule or can be controlled by your recording equipment. If your recording equipment has built in schedules of some kind they may not match the new HD lineup and schedule.
  6. Shop for a new TV carefully. Just because you buy a new “HD capable” TV does not mean you can just hook up an antenna and start getting HD content. Many “HD Capable” TVs sold do not include an HD tuner (though it’s better than it used to be) since for the most part the manufacturer’s figure that you will have either a cable box or satellite receiver that will do the tuning instead. A TV with an HD tuner will likely cost $100-$200 more than an otherwise identical model.
  7. Not all HD capable TVs are widescreen. Many manufacturers make several “normal” (4:3 aspect ratio) sets that are just as “HD capable” as their widescreen versions.
  8. Not all HD capable TVs are light and thin. I personally own a ~125lb 30in widescreen CRT that I really quite like except when I decide to move it up or down stairs. CRTs still for the most part look better than other competing technologies. The problem is that, as evidenced by my 125lb wonder of modern technology, the technology does not scale well to really big screens.
  9. “Plasma” TVs use much more power than a similarly sized CRT. Really big plasma TVs use proportionally more power. My brother heats his living room with his (Not a joke).
  10. LCD TVs use much less power than a similarly sized CRT. Really big LCD TVs use proportionally more power which may actually be more than your current 27in non-HD TV uses. Do not take the word of the salesman at the store on this one, get a Kill-A-Watt and find out for yourself.
  11. The biggest downside to many of the non-CRT technologies is that they can be very difficult to see anything when you are not directly in front of them (though it is much better than it was a few years ago). Some sets are much better than others. If the comfy chair is off in a corner you may not be able to watch anything on that big new thing heating the living room. Before you go to the store, figure out where you might end up trying to watch it from in your room and figure out what that distance and angle are and try and replicate it in the store to see what it will look like.
  12. A 30in widescreen TV has a picture that is about the same size vertically as a 27in “normal” (4:3) TV. Remember that the measurement is diagonal.
  13. You do not have to have cable or satellite to get local broadcast HD channels. Most satellite receivers get their local HD content from an antenna you hook up to the back of them. Some cable systems don’t display all of the local HD channels.
  14. Most cable systems highly compress their content so it is very possible that NBC/ABC/CBS/FOX/PBS/CW/etc might look better from an antenna in your area.
  15. Not all content from HD sources is really HD. There’s quite a bit of programming (especially children’s and daytime programming) that is still displayed in SD. Re-runs of Cheers and Friends will always be in SD. The HD source might make it look a bit better than the old SD signal though.
  16. Not all stations that are broadcasting in HD are broadcasting HD content at all. Up until Fall of 2007 my local CW affiliate in particular was broadcasting everything in 480P which meant the widescreen dramas (Like Smallville) get shrunk to fit the lower resolution and looked really bad on my widescreen set with black bars on all sides. (Thanks to Aaron for pointing out they had changed over) Still, it is something to watch for in your area, especially on stations that are not affiliated with the big four networks.

That’s all that I can think of right now but if anyone has any questions feel free to ask them. If I don’t know the answer I’m more than willing to look them up.

Netflix public profiles

I finally got around to looking at the new community features on Netflix this morning. There’s some interesting stuff they’re trying to do here that I can’t help but think would work better with a more open model for social graphs. It was only a month or so ago that I found that a couple of friends had Netflix accounts and managed to get they added to my friend’s list. More interoperability would make that sort of oversight very difficult, though there is the obvious (to me) caveat that these systems should also make it relatively easy to partition how some of that information travels.

Anyway, some items in particular with the Netflix Community features that I found interesting where the difference between “public” and “private” information and the “Reviewer Rank”. I am, unsurprisingly, pretty low on the ranking coming in somewhere just shy of 65,000th.

But you can see some of that by going directly to my profile.

Sound memories

I’ve always found sense memories to be terribly interesting phenomena.

My most intense sense memory involves the texture and flavor of pancakes with butter and apricot syrup at a Perkins somewhere near what I think was Omaha when I was somewhere around the age of 7ish. I think we were coming home from a funeral for a great uncle and got caught in a plains blizzard on the interstate but in particular the warmth and sweet/tart/sweet/buttery flavor of those pancakes in a warm room at a table with my family is one of my most enduring and cherished memories. I often wonder if that is what I am trying to recreate when I go out with friends and family for dinner as an adult. There is something significant about the feeling of comfort, joy, and connection with my family in that memory that I can almost put into words.

While I have other taste memories (sweetbreads at Cosmos with Lauren) and certainly many visual memories (the synaesthetically “noisy” red backdrop to an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center with Heidi), many of the most emotionally intense sense memories are essentially audio cues centered around music. It’s pretty obvious to me that one of the reasons why music is associated with such strongly emotional memories is that for as long as I can remember I have always used music as a sort of proxy to structure my thoughts.

My brain, like almost anyone else’s as far as I can tell, is a fantastically active place. Thoughts do not occur in isolation so much as they occur in chains and groups alongside other chains and groups and emotion can be a component of those thoughts or sometimes more of a medium that the thoughts are moving through. When it is working well it’s a lot like a big pot of boiling pasta with the varying textures of the vaporizing water and the bobbling pasta shapes dancing around at the top of a startlingly clear medium that siphons off easily and quickly through my hands and mouth and body to manifest in the world. At it’s very worst it seems more like an impenetrable pool of magma that is painful to handle and flows exactly like the fire that it is. Searing and destroying everything in it’s path. Music allows me to sift the particulates in a cloudy medium and settles the roiling boil so that I can actually see what is going on rather than simply having to guess at the contents from the random stew at the surface.

My first music focused sense memory involves sitting in my dad’s car in the parking lot of Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids on a cool fall day with the sort of intense sun that makes it impossible to keep at a comfortable level between baking and chilled. We had just arrived but we were taking a few minutes to finish listening to one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on the radio before MPR had separate classical and news stations. It was one of the remarkably rare times I remember my dad sitting with the car off and the radio on with the volume up. I don’t know why we where there that particular time, though at a guess it was almost certainly to visit one of his parishioners who was in the hospital for one reason or another.

That example aside, it feels like many of the music memories are related to relationships, and romantic relationships more often than not. They Might Be Giant‘s album “Flood“, the song “Birdhouse in your Soul” in particular, for the interminable week it took me to call my first girlfriend up for a first date. Public Image Limited‘s song “Rise” and The Godfather‘s album “Unreal World” punctuates everything about the relationships with old friends during the summer between high school and college and the implicit and explicit transitions that where happening. Enigma‘s album “The Cross of Changes” for the new friends found at college shortly thereafter. Morphine‘s album “Cure for Pain” as the intensely stereotypical soundtrack for the breakup with my girlfriend from college. Midnight Oil‘s song “Been away too long” and the rest of the “Capricornia” album when Betsy left me that also signaled ends and beginnings to so very, very many things.

I think I can count myself lucky that it has happened often enough that I actually come to recognize that the memory is being formed while it is happening. It’s not a conscious effort, it just seems to be something that I do. Since I use music to organize the screaming mess in my head it is a very natural event for me. This has the obvious upside of proving that I have at least a glimmer of self awareness but also has the accompanying stark terror of the absolute unknown since I do not know what will end up being frozen in that crystal of amber when the moment has completed.

Whatever this piece of amber will contain, it’s soundtrack is going to be Sufjan Steven‘s album “Illinois“.

Tweeting tools

An important portion of my close friends recently found Twitter so I’ve decided to make the effort to re-create my account and use it.

The core service is just about as consistent and stable as I remember it being last year, but I do have to say that the web site seems to be incredibly less stable than it used to be. It should not take me six attempts to do something as innocuous as fill out my profile information. Using the system through a non-web method is very highly recommended.

To that end, I’m making use of two particular tools this time around:

  • TeleTwitter seems to be one of the better windows desktop clients. Certainly not perfect, but I liked it slightly better than Twitterlicious and Twitteroo or the rest of the dozen or so clients I tried.
  • I have spliced in my Google Reader Shared Items feed using a service called TwitterFeed so that when I share an item it shows up as a Tweet from me. So far it’s working pretty well though the character limits in Twitter make some of them less readable than others. I chose TwitterFeed over rss2Twitter based solely on TwitterFeed supporting OpenID.

I’m trying to decide if I am going to use TwitterFeed to splice the RSS from this blog into the flow as well. I could just share my own articles from Google Reader, but that seems slightly disingenuous since I don’t actually think all of my blog posts are actually worth marking as shared. Though I could effectively replace the Google Reader sidebar on the right with a similar item of my Tweets since that will have my shared items in it too.

Shared Viewing

There isn’t any word on when/if it will be deployed but there is some very interesting information about the direction that Netflix is heading with their Watch Now feature. Of particular interest to several people I know at about 7min into the presentation they show a shared movie viewing interface that allows you to sync up movie viewing with people that are, presumably, on your Netflix Friends list. There is also a built in IM client for chat.

A few of the other things that they show off are Firefox and Macintosh compatibility as well as support for Chapters and Subtitles which are all extremely welcome additions.

Something else that is not stated, but I think is at least somewhat implicit is that since the new player is built on Microsoft’s Silverlight (formerly WPF/e) technology it should be relatively easy to create a Media Center plug-in that can run the player. I’m hoping that is part of their design plans but I’m not quite holding my breath just yet.

All that said I have to say that I actually think that the existing implementation is an excellent start. There have been a couple of occasions when I was between movie shipments and wanted to watch something that I was able to use Watch Now to see a few things, including all of Red Dwarf Series 2 and 3. While it is not nearly as comfortable to watch things at my desk as it is from my couch, the convenience was still nice.

Recent Reading: Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein

I finished “Dark Cities Underground” by Lisa Goldstein yesterday, and I’m still having some trouble figuring out exactly what to say about it, but I think I need to say something.

To begin with, I really adored the idea behind this book. While it isn’t entirely original, it is a very nice twist on several similar ideas seen in books by Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Rankin and is related in many ways to movies like “Stranger than Fiction”. It is a sort of meta-fiction where the line between fiction, mythology, and the real world is a sometimes elusive thing. If you are like me and enjoy that blurring of reality the basic premise of “Dark Cities Underground” is worth looking for despite the problems of the narrative.

Oh, the problems of this narrative.

For the record: I am not one that needs a lot of depth to my characters. I’ve been reading and enjoying mediocre SF and Fantasy for long enough that as long as the story or idea is good the characters can be borrowed from the front of a high sugar cereal box and I’m just fine with that. I do however have my limits and the lack of depth in Ms Goldstein’s characters is pretty amazing. I think that it might be possible to argue that this lack of depth could be appropriate for the meta-fiction context by placing simplistic characters in a blended world of fiction and reality except that my personal definition of meta-fiction involves putting realistic characters in that blended world where the edges of fiction and reality are vague. Without good characters my suspension of disbelief just can not kick in, and I end up writing a paragraph about how I didn’t like the characters.

Cardboard characters themselves would not by themselves inspire such caution about recommending this book to friends. The plot, or more specifically the author’s use of the Plot Stick of Doom, is where I get reticent to even mention this book. If you have ever watched classic horror or SF movies before George Lucas got into the industry you would be hard pressed not to have noticed the obvious strings, models, and primitive blue screens that were the state of the art until the late 1970s. If you have ever watched an episode of Star Trek and noticed that “rock” is Styrofoam or an episode of Doctor Who and the plethora of bubble-wrap costumes, you will have some idea of how subtle Lisa Goldstein is with plot. If you don’t like books that are telegraphed early and often you will not like this book.

Despite all of that I kind of liked it. Despite the flawed narrative the very interesting core idea is explored very well and in decent context. I still don’t think I can call it a good book, but it might be worth reading.

Playing with authentication systems…

I’ve added an OpenID authentication system to my blog. Mostly this is so that hopefully friends of mine who read the blog that are on LJ will have an easier time being able to post comments since they should just be able to use their LJ ID to authenticate to do the comments.

Please let me know if this is working or not working as I’m pretty interested in seeing this sort of system becoming more common and adoption among the fringe can sometimes be a good proving ground for the core.

Update: I’ve switched over to the default template in order to allow the OpenID system show up in the comments. I had been thinking of doing a major theme change anyway now I just have to find one that supports what I want in it, or hack one together myself (which seems much less likely).

Adding it all up

When I got my new (to me) 2003 Golf TDI in April, I decided that it was high time to actually keep a fuel mileage log to keep track of how things were going. Having tried all sorts of electronic versions in the past, I decided to go old school and got a notepad and pen to keep in the car for each fill up. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been keeping up very well and only drove off once without getting all the details, most of which were recoverable from the receipt and reseting the trip counter immediately when I realized my mistake just a few blocks down the road.

Not too long after I got started with the mileage journal, Google released their Spreadsheets beta and I have been using that to calculate actual mpg and all sorts of other neat statistics from data provided by the journal. For example, as of today my Averages section reads as follows:

Averages

Gallons Price $pg Trip Mpg Mi Per Day Days $pMi
11.92 $35.01 $2.93 522 44 77 11 $0.07

As I was reading through the morning haul in my feed reader I ran across a link to a new wiki called WikiCars and ran across their list of the top high mileage cars and noticed that they didn’t have the VW TDI vehicles listed, and went ahead and did what any good wiki browser should do and added them after creating an account.

That site howerver led me on to http://fueleconomy.gov site, which I seem to end up browsing through an awful lot where I found something I hadn’t seen before: a pretty decent online mileage tracking application! My only complaint with it so far is that it doesn’t allow nearly as much customization as my spreadsheet, but the big advantage is that you can share your data with other users on the site so that on the next update cycle, you should see a “MN” in the current shared mileage info for 2003 VW Golf TDI (manual trans) on the site.

Ideally I think it would be interesting to share mileage information with friends directly but I think the biggest problem is that I just don’t know how many people keep detailed information and would be willing and fastidious about entering it online.

Change happens.

Posted to L-Space:

For the past 6+ years I have spent time, effort, electricity, and bandwidth on what has been overall one of the most fun little projects I’ve ever had. A little BBS with a stable user base, interesting content, and lots of friends. It has not been without some occasional trouble, whether social or technological, but on balance it has been well worth the effort.

Over the past 10 months I’ve been doing some extensive analysis of the message traffic on the board. It had seemed like things were quieting down, and I thought that I was hearing my own voice a bit too loudly against a lowering murmur of other voices. Sifting through the numbers suggested it as well and after 3 months of tracking I had a pretty solid and steady graph that said overall public message traffic was dropping at a fairly steady rate and that my personal posting frequency was increasing rapidly. So I decided to put together some projections and over the last 7 months, the decline in traffic has fit it more accurately than I had thought possible.

I’ve talked with a few people about this and thought about it for a considerable amount of time. And while, as one person said, it is good for a board to have the voice of it’s owner, I’m not comfortable with how much of my voice has been here. A BBS should be like a choir and not like a soloist with some backing vocals. I would also prefer to take the board down while it is not yet a chore to maintain.

I want to thank all of you for your time and your thoughts, and in many cases your effort to help make this a nice place to hang out on the net. It has been a singular honor to host such as you here.

All things must eventually come to an end and as of Monday May 22, 2006 at 9pm CDT, L-Space will be shut down permanently.

In the intervening week I would exhort you all to get a hold of people you may only know through this board if you want to maintain contact with them. An unsurprising majority of users here have LiveJournal accounts, and some of them and the rest of us have blogs of one sort or another, that can provide a somewhat similar way of keeping connected if you are interested in doing so. In the same way, you may wish to update your bio with current contact information if you want other users to be able to get in touch with you easily.

Thanks.
— The Management

From the maker’s of Sioux City sodas: White Rock Organics

While doing some quick soda shopping before a couple of friends stopped by to play some boardgames, I ran into some new bottles at the local Kowalski’s that looked interesting. White Rock Organics soda comes in 3 flavors: Red Peach, Raspberry Creme, and Passion Orange. I got a 4 pack of all 3 flavors and have so far tasted very mixed results.

The Red Peach is actually incredibly good. It is more sweet and intensely flavored than I would normally like, but the carbonation is light enough and the cane sugar they are using is fairly decent quality so the flavor is at least very good. It also really tastes like very good fresh peaches.

The Raspberry Creme, on the other hand, tastes like cough syrup. And, as one of my friends last night pointed out, not even like good cough syrup. The flavor is fruity enough but the intense sweetness and the overwhelming sticky taste of bad vanilla-esque flavor is just horrible. None of us wanted to finish the bottle. I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of the other 3 bottles without offending someone I like, or just pouring them out. I’ll probably give a second bottle a taste to see if it was just a bad bottle, but it tasted exactly like any other really badly fruit flavored soda I’ve ever had. Heck, it’s easily in the same league as Shasta Strawberry, if you can believe that.

I still have yet to try the Passion Orange, though I’ll probably get to that tonight. At this point I’m wondering if I should be looking forward to it with dread or excitement.