Sunday, 5 February 2012


Perusing the shelves at Wal-Mart this weekend I picked up Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level, which is a very long-winded title for something relatively simple: a three-episode preview of the upcoming Blu-Ray transfers of the series. Unlike TOS, where they took the original film and replaced the model work and primitive effects shots with modern CG elements, here CBS has mostly recomposited the original film and model-based effects shots, so basically what you’re getting is a much clearer picture of what was originally shot—instead of copies from the broadcast master tapes at 480i60, you’re getting scanned film at 1080p24. Everything basically looks great.

The episode selection is pretty decent, as well, although two of the choices are relatively light on effects shots. First you get the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” squished together as a single episode (as originally aired? I’ve never seen it except as a two-parter), in all its glory—including the near-legendary cringe-worthy overacting from Denise Crosby, Marina Sirtis, and Michael Dorn. Granted, all three (Sirtis in particular) are saddled with some pretty terrible dialogue to begin with; indeed, almost surprisingly, Wil Wheaton and Jonathan Frakes are the only actors whose dialogue generally works throughout, while Patrick Stewart at least manages to ham up some of his more absurd dialogue to the point it works (for example, his expository announcements to nobody-in-particular on the bridge before they get to Farpoint), and Brent Spiner’s Data at least is decently-written when he isn’t on the bridge. Nobody’s going to accuse this of being great television by the standards of 2012, although with some judicious editing you might be able to come up with a 90-minute episode that made sense. Obviously this is the most FX-heavy of the episodes included, and it looks great, even if it’s the worst Trek pilot ever (including both TOS pilots—for my money, DS9’s “Emissary” is historically the best).

You also get season 3’s “Sins of the Father,” which benefits more from the transfer quality than you might think; the second half of the episode, set on the Klingon home world, where every set was dimly-lit, always looked like a dark mess on TV, but here everything is clear. It’s also a far better-written episode, which makes it a rather less painful experience for repeat viewing, with some nice humor (much of it stemming from Kurn’s fish-out-of-water status on the Enterprise) despite the dark subject matter. Even if Picard does still send the Enterprise to the “first city of the Klingon Imperial Empire,” which is just a little bit redundant.

Finally you get season 5’s “The Inner Light,” a legendary TNG episode. I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, but as one of the great real science fiction stories (as opposed to space opera stories) in Trek it’s one I’m really looking forward to, even though again it is not a particularly effects-heavy outing.

At retail I think it might be a little over-priced for what you get—but then again compared to a new-release Blu-ray movie $15ish isn’t bad for essentially three hours of entertainment, albeit three hours you’ve probably seen before. I can’t imagine myself splurging for the whole collection but hopefully the transfers also find their way to Netflix and other online streaming sites in due course.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tony Tony Tony has done it again!

The brain trust that runs ESPN into the ground has decided to suspend Tony Kornheiser for two weeks from his PTI co-hosting duties for his criticism of ESPN SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm’s recent attempts to up her MILF factor with age-inappropriate wardrobe choices.

The irony that they are punishing their viewers with two weeks of Dan LeBatard and Bob Ryan far more than they are punishing Mr. Tony (who I am sure is just heartbroken that he gets to spend an extra hour a day in the Barcalounger) appears to be totally lost on the suits.

Update: Deadspin claims that the real reason TK was suspended is due to different comments he made in the same rant about Chris Berman’s shilling for NutriSystem and ESPN’s acceptance of said advertising.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Many of my good friends and esteemed colleagues at TAMIU often lament the absence of what we might call “Anglo culture” in Laredo. No less a figure than our university’s president has recently spoken of this problem, stating ”[i]n that most universal of all media, radio, Laredo today has no station which connects us… to our national dialogue.”

Yet I wonder if the real solution for this problem lies in bringing NPR to Laredo. I have no doubt that my colleagues would enjoy listening to All Things Considered, and some bright, motivated teenagers might enjoy it as well, but the bulk of public radio programming is not of regular interest to most Americans, particularly young people.

Rather, there is a far more pressing absence from our local airwaves: PBS television. PBS may be available on cable and satellite, but much of our population—particularly those most in need of English-language programming aimed at young people, like Sesame Street—cannot afford those sources of programming (and PBS is unavailable at all to people in Nuevo Laredo, who comprise the majority of the population of our metropolitan area). I know that several years ago KLRN, San Antonio’s public broadcasting channel, applied for a permit to construct a retransmitter of its broadcasts in this area, but apparently nothing came of that.

But due to the advent of digital television, there is a low-cost solution: including PBS programming on a subchannel of an existing digital broadcaster. With the exception of KLDO and KGNS, the remaining local digital television stations (both in Mexico and the United States) are only providing one channel of television in their digital allotment, even though at least four standard definition (non-HDTV) channels can be carried on a digital channel (even with HDTV programming on the channel, one SD subchannel could be carried with little loss of quality—KGNS is currently carrying two, with noticeable problems on its main feed during some broadcasts). No federal permits need to be applied for; all it would take is an agreement between a local station and KLRN to retransmit their programming, and for the local station to receive the programming from San Antonio via microwave or satellite transmission (which is already being done to supply Time-Warner Cable and DirecTV and Dish Network subscribers with KLRN), and adapt its existing digital television encoder to multiplex the KLRN signal as well.

Realistically, young people in Laredo who need to be exposed to standard American English, including the wealth of childrens’s programming available on PBS, and the culture of the United States outside our community—and our friends in Mexico as well, who may not be familiar with what American society is like beyond brief visits to the border zone—are much more likely to benefit from television broadcasts than radio. And while I do not seek to discourage those who seek to bring NPR to Laredo, we can get PBS here and on the air at much lower expense with the cooperation of a local digital broadcaster like KVTV, XHBR, XHLNA, or XHLAT.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sunday Bloody Sunday

I think a good time was had by all at my (first annual?) Super Bowl party at the humble abode on Sunday; the company was nice and the game didn’t disappoint, despite KGNS forgetting to hit the “HD switch” in the control room until near the end of the first quarter, a glitch I called in advance in my invitation email. And while I predicted the final score exactly wrong all-in-all it was a pretty good evening, capped by a classic Office episode. A win-win-win, I’d say.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

From the department of colossally bad ideas (aka Congress)

Our beloved Congress, having spent the last year or so steadfastly ignoring reports from the FCC regarding potential problems with the upcoming digital television transition, has finally decided to do a 180 and delay the mandatory transition date at a point so late in the process as to invite unmitigated chaos.

I’ll gladly concede that Congress needed to fix the accounting rules that made the converter box coupon program “run out of money” (on paper at least) but fixing those rules easily could have been done anytime over the last year (when Congress was doing exactly nothing worthwhile that I can remember) without any impact on the transition date. Instead, now we have a situation where a billion-dollar public education campaign—still ongoing as of today—that has been drilling into Americans’ skulls the date “February 17, 2009” for months will be rendered moot because a small percentage of the population can’t find it in their annual budgets to find $50 for a box to make their TVs still work and can’t plan ahead enough to get a coupon to shave that down to $10.

The best part of this bill, however, is that it’s going to create a 120-day “half-transition” period during which some stations will switch off their analog signals and some won’t. So the folks without boxes are still at least partially screwed, since there’s a good chance they will need the boxes anyway on the 17th, and folks with a box or a digital TV will get to play the fun game of “make the TV rescan for channels” every time over the next few months a local station decides it’s had enough of spending $20k/month broadcasting its analog signal and goes digital on its own whim.

At least there are some winners. The cable and satellite industries must be loving every single minute of this nonsense.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Bust a move

I enjoyed last night’s episode of Mythbusters for a variety of reasons. For starters, I now have Smart Board Envy™, projectiles and explosions are always fun, and seeing Adam, Jamie, and Kari drunk was a hoot.

The social scientist in me, though, really enjoyed the “beer goggles” experiment. In fact, the show, edited down to just include that section, would make a great primer on “how social scientific experiments work” for my undergraduate methods course when I teach it again, presumably next fall. On the other hand, I was less thrilled with the “sobering up” experiment, but the comedy factor of drunken Adam trying to run on a treadmill without a handrail, with all-too-predictable results, made up for the scientific shortcomings therein.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Technology run amok

AVSForum user DigaDo describes a high-tech new antenna technology for digital television. This advanced device, however, is not recommended for use outdoors or in damp environments.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Muy muy es olympioso

I got sucked into the Olympics today, although in fairness for an hour I was flipping between reruns of The Office on TBS (which included some of my favorite bizarre Dwight behavior from the series, as he decides to inspect the CFO‘s house during a cocktail party rather than mingle with the guests).

Maybe I’m just getting old and/or acquiring some rudimentary paternal instincts, but I wonder whether all that individual pressure—I’m thinking in particular of the gymnastics contests, which seem to attract the youngest competitors—is really good for teenage kids. I’m all for putting tough challenges out there for young people to meet (if I wasn’t, I’d probably not be much of a college professor), but the idea of dealing with the potential of being the best X in the world at 15 or 16 just seems a bit too daunting. Then again, maybe it’s better to go into those things with a touch of naïveté, not really knowing just how monumentally “big” the challenge of being the best is.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

QotD, Skip Bayless and Woody Paige suck edition

Alan Sepinwall on Pardon the Interruption:

It is the first, best, and really only tolerable one of ESPN‘s “Angry Middle-Aged Newspapermen Yell At Each Other for 30 Minutes” shows.

I only have one suggested improvement: replace “Newspapermen” with “Media Whores” and you also exclude the odious Jim Rome, the negative-talent younger sports talk radio clone of Jim Gray. For reasons I can’t fathom, Rome has somehow parlayed a combination of obsequiousness and being shoved by a mediocre quarterback into a two-decade media career.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Accentuating the negative

Harry Brighouse reports secondhand that a British survey (of Radio Times readers) found that Hugh Laurie on House has the fourth-worst American accent by a British actor.

Commenter Matt McIrvin thinks things generally have improved:

There used to be a lot of British actors doing terrible American accents. You can hear them if you watch old sitcoms and Doctor Who serials from the sixties and seventies (the rocket pilot in “Tomb of the Cybermen” is a particularly choice example). Most of them seemed to be doing one of two accents. One was an outrageously exaggerated cowboy drawl used mostly for comic effect; but the other, used for non-cowboys, sounded sort of like an attempt to imitate the style of 1940s radio or newsreel narration—this rapid, somewhat nasal, loud barking patter that I’ve never heard any American use in actual conversation. I assume that acting classes were actually teaching it as a generic American accent.

Used to? For all my love of Inspector Morse, I don’t think any of the alleged “Americans” on that series ever managed to sound like an American—most sounded like a British person trying to imitate John Wayne and failing miserably because they weren’t John Wayne and no other American talks like him. More recently, the less said about the accents of any of the actors in Dalek during the first season of the Doctor Who revival, or the president they killed off last year, the better.

John Barrowman sounds like an American on Torchwood, but that’s largely because he is one. (The incongruity there is that nobody ever seems to be very bothered by the fact he’s running around Cardiff dressed like Bomber Harris and talking like an American, not even the people who ought to be predisposed to dislike Torchwood. Or Americans, for that matter, which may be an overlapping set.)

Saturday, 24 May 2008

CECB mini-review: LG/Zenith DTT900

To continue the CECB mini-review series, I picked up an LG/Zenith DTT900 at Circuit City in Southaven this evening with one of my two digital converter box coupons (and $24ish of my hard-earned money at Sam’s Town’s blackjack tables).

With essentially the same setup and conditions (same television and el-cheapo VHF/UHF indoor antenna) as the RCA DTA800B tested before, the initial channel scan found the same 17 channels/sub-channels. However, the Zenith’s ability to manually add channels meant that I was able to add WMC-DT/NBC 5 (RF channel 52) and with some fiddling get a reasonably stable signal, something I was unable to accomplish with the RCA—this isn’t that surprising, since the Zenith is based on LG’s ATSC digital tuner chipset, which is known for its superior reception capabilities over most other silicon. In addition, other channels (WHBQ-DT/Fox 13, WPTY-DT/ABC 24, and WLMT-DT/CW 30) that were less-than-stable with the RCA were rock-solid with the Zenith. Bear in mind that WMC is running on a different frequency (and lower on its tower) than it will after the transition is complete in nine months, so indoor antennas in Shelby County at least should cope better with WMC when it is back on VHF channel 5.

The built-in guide is a little weaker than that included on the RCA model; the Zenith’s only shows program data for one channel at a time. The Zenith, however, has more functionality accessible from the remote control, including a “favorite channels” feature that would be useful for the compulsive surfer who isn’t interested in switching past the news and weather loops on 3–2 and 5–3 when doing the Letterman/Leno (or Conan/Craig) shuffle, and a sleep button. I also thought the Zenith’s menus were a little more polished and better organized.

On the antenna front, the Zenith, unlike the RCA, does not provide an attachment for digitally-steered “SmartAntennas,” which may be a consideration if you already have one of these (they are apparently uncommon at present) or have hard-to-tune channels in multiple directions which might benefit from this high-tech solution. The Zenith’s better signal-handling may reduce the need for a fancy antenna, however; either way, you should probably check out TVFool’s antenna aiming guide or the somewhat less-friendly CEA/NAB-sponsored AntennaWeb website to determine what sort of antenna solution is going to be necessary for you before spending money on one.

The only real problem I encountered in testing was that the “zoom” setting seemed to behave oddly; at first, letting it decide on its own seemed to work OK on some channels, but then I ended up with some bizarre “squeezed” pictures on several HD channels. Expect to manually fiddle with the zoom setting when channels switch between showing native 16:9 and pillarboxed 4:3 programs. Those who use closed captioning will also find that it seems to forget the CC setting when you switch channels, although I think there’s a menu option to leave closed captioning on all the time.

Finally, caveat emptor: many manufacturing runs of this converter, and its near twin sold by Best Buy under its Insignia house brand, apparently have an audio problem that certain TVs seem to be more susceptible to than others. The converter I purchased had a manufacturing date of April 2008, which has been reported to be the run in which this problem was fixed, and I observed no audio problems during my testing (on an admittedly low-end CRT stereo television/VCR over RCA cables).

Overall, I’d assess the LG/Zenith DTT900 as a better option for those who are planning to use the converter on a regular basis; however, if you’re simply buying a converter to serve as a “lifeline” when cable or satellite television is disrupted, or if you would like to take advantage of the SmartAntenna connectivity on that unit, the RCA model is probably adequate for most needs and seems to retail for about $10 less.

Monday, 19 May 2008

CECB mini-review: RCA DTA800B

Mom and I went to Wal-Mart today to pick up two digital converter boxes (specificlly coupon-eligible converter boxes, “CECBs”) as emergency backup for Comcast’s frequently-incompetent cable service in Memphis. It took about 15 minutes for the assorted checkout staff figured out how to ring up the converters and use the government coupons for them, but eventually we escaped with two RCA DTA800B converters.

I found the box relatively easy to use and hook up. The boxes included quick start guides in English and Spanish and full user manuals in both languages, as well as a programmable remote control (with batteries) and a short push-on coax (F-type) cable for attaching the box to a TV over the “antenna” TV input.

Both boxes worked moderately well in southeast Memphis with a rather lame RCA unpowered indoor VHF/UHF antenna I picked up a while back, which is no Silver Sensor but a bit more compact to haul around, less likely to attract quizzical stares from airport security, and better than nothing at all. Neither box was able to scan WMC‘s rather weak digital signal (authorized at 394 kW but clearly not transmitting at anything close to that power) and there’s no manual tuning option. I’d imagine if I’d brought a decent directional antenna like the Silver Sensor I’d have gotten WMC and a more stable signal on some of the other channels.

So, overall, I have no real complaints about the boxes themselves, except for the lack of a manual tuning feature available on other converters, and the SmartAntenna feature will be nice for folks with hard-to-tune channels in multiple directions when you can actually buy one again. I’ll probably examine some of the other CECB models before settling on one, however, particularly now that it appears that the reported Zenith DTT900 audio problem is fixed in newer boxes.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Up now on The Soup

Kim Kardashian on doing a PSA about Burma (via Kerry Howley):

It’s an incredible story and I’m honored to have helped raise awareness about Burma’s plight. Over all it was a really fun and eye-opening experience!

As Joel McHale would say, she’s famous for having a big ass and a sex tape—not for having a high IQ.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Streaming video onto a TiVo

Over the weekend I discovered pyTivo, a replacement for TiVo Desktop that can use ffmpeg to transcode pretty much every video format on the planet on the fly for viewing on any TiVo. There’s something fun about the prospect of “obtaining” and watching a certain science fiction television show about a guy with a funny accent who flies around the universe in a blue box with strange women without any fiddling around with conversion software… once pyTivo is set up, all you would theoretically have to do is drop the file in the right directory and it would show up as a program you could transfer onto your TiVo. Très cool. Alas, all I’ve been using it for is properly-licensed video that doesn’t feature a flying blue box.

Of course, if I got SciFi HD I might not be tempted go to such lengths to watch the blue box show a few weeks before they show it. But the picture quality on regular SciFi blows, as does the editing for time. Thankfully the better angels of my nature have stopped me from succumbing to any temptation to see the adventures of the man in the flying blue box before being supplied to us Americans in edited form.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

CECB Reviews

AVS Forum poster “10frog” has posted a detailed side-by-side comparison of the Digital Stream DTX-9900 and Zenith DT900 digital television converter boxes, which may be useful for those of you who have taken my advice and gotten your government coupons. Both boxes are available at RadioShack (but typically each RS only carries one of the two—most of the RS’s around New Orleans seem to carry the Digital Stream box); the Zenith is allegedly available at Circuit City and the apparently-electrically-identical Insignia NS-DXA1 is on the shelves at Best Buy.

Meanwhile, Slashdot is claiming that at least one of the CECB peddlers on the Internet is a scam artist.

Friday, 22 February 2008

HD DVD is dead, long live HD (upscaled) DVD

You know, Toshiba won’t exactly be helping Blu-Ray adoption anytime soon by dumping a raft of players on the market that, in addition to playing HD DVDs, are extremely good upscaling DVD players in their own right, including being the only dedicated players I’ve seen that handle pillarboxing of 4:3 DVD content over HDMI correctly. At sane viewing distances, I suspect most non-videophiles couldn’t tell the difference between an upscaled DVD and high-def anyway—Jennifer Morrison doesn’t look any different in HD and upscaled DVD that I can tell.

That said, I can’t figure out why you’d even spend $50 at this point on an XBox HD DVD add-on, since it doesn’t upscale DVDs any better than the built-in DVD player on the box.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Your gratuitous YouTube links of the day

The ads for It’s All Good Auto Sales in southwest Memphis. There’s just something so deeply wrong about these ads, I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Inspired by the Mungowitz, who has uncovered the Mo Money Taxes ads, which spring from a similar vein.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Get digital: a Signifying Nothing PSA

If you rely on an old-school antenna to get your television fix like a surprising 15% of my fellow Americans—or me during the two weeks it took Cox to get their crap together this summer when I moved to New Orleans—it’s time to get your digital television converter box coupons from the government. While you wait for your coupons and for the boxes to show up at your favorite retailers, use this website to figure out how to get all your free-to-air digital TV with an antenna. Even if you use cable or satellite, I’d consider getting one of the boxes just to have for when your cable or satellite service goes out during your favorite sporting event or other TV show.

Of course, if you want high-definition television (or at least the full benefits thereof, since the coupon boxes will only give you downscaled HDTV at best), you’ll need to just junk the old TV and get a new one.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

High def, cheap

Today’s Woot is the Pinnacle HD Pro Stick; I can attest that I have one of these and it’s pretty cool. Presumably Elgato’s EyeTV, which works really well on my MacBook, is bundled with the Mac version—the PC software is pretty lame, in my experience, but maybe they’ve figured out the crashing problems it had. It also works under Linux with the right patches—not sure if they’ve made it to the latest Linux kernels yet or not.

So, check to see if you can get some HD television over the air, and if you can then pick up one of these babies. If you miss the Woot deal, you can get it (or the more Mac-happy Elgato model that’s basically the same, but lacks an antenna and includes the full version of EyeTV) at instead.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Digital TV coverage maps

Find out what digital stations you can get with just an antenna and a new TV (or other ATSC tuner, like a TiVo HD) here.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

WDSU-HD back on Cox cable

If only they’d done it a day sooner, I’d have been able to avoid scheduling manual recordings for Earl and The Office. All zero of my NOLA readers can see the announcement here.

Monday, 17 September 2007


My OTB co-blogger Alex Knapp writes:

I am still baffled and amazed and thinking about “Blink”, which is not only the best episode of Doctor Who that I have seen to date, but also stands as probably the finest one-hour episode of television science fiction that I have ever seen…

Indeed, it’s probably my favorite episode of the series thus far. More Sally Sparrow, please.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Stargate math

The following equations hold:

Jewel Staite > Paul McGillion
Amanda Tapping > Torri Higginson

So, by the transitive property, we would expect:

Stargate Atlantis Season 4 > Stargate Atlantis Seasons 1–3

But for some reason I’m not holding my breath…

Friday, 4 May 2007

The end of analog

Craig Newmark helpfully links to a website that does a good job of explaining the coming (in February 2009) shutdown of analog over-the-air television transmission in the United States.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Jaime Hyneman: Stone Cold Pimp

EDSBS’ Mustache Wednesday this week features Mythbuster Jaime Hyneman and his impressive ’stache… although the comment thread is more a discussion of “build team” co-star Kari Byron, who thankfully doesn’t sport a Walrus-style mustache (although she would probably be cute in a beret).

Incidentally, in this post-Imus world, are we allowed to call people who don’t work in the sex industry “pimps” any more? Ruling from the commenters, please.