Friday, June 29, 2012

600 channels and nothing to watch???


Recently, I've had to make some changes with my Internet service provider. I'd been sharing a connection with someone for over 12 years. However, it was time to get something of my own.

At the same time, I had been reviewing my cable television bill. If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area changes are extremely good that your provider is Comcast. I've had Comcast at my current residence since April 1994, when the San Jose Sharks made their first NHL Playoff run.

After considering non-cable options for Internet, I finally decided it was best to go with Comcast's Triple Play. I was able to get a deal that was a little more than what I currently pay for cable only, and yet I didn't have to sign up for a long term contract, something that I'd have to do if I switched to another carrier. A Win-Win IMHO.

* * *

It amazes me when I hear people say, "There's nothing good to watch on TV these days!!" Now, granted some of the shows are pretty abysmal (Jerseylicious, Big Brother or Housewives of <fill in the blank> are perfect examples of TV gone wrong). But to say there is nothing to watch when you have between 200 and 600 channels to choose from if you have cable is astounding.

As I sit here watching all sorts of programs that I didn't have before last Saturday I started thinking back to when my family first signed up for cable television.

We could say with pride that our family was among the first houses to get cable in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can't speak for what was available here in Albany back then as we were next door, in Richmond. Our service provider was Bay Cablevision.

I think I must've been at school when the cable man came because I don't remember seeing him install it, and just know that's something I would have been sitting there watching get done.

On top of the old TV sat a gray-brown box with two rotary dials that would make a loud clicking sound as you turned them. This WAS the cable box of its day and you manually switched channels by the use of the two dials. One dial had numbers on it, while the other one had letters. The differing combinations would offer different channels.

(The remote control never entered my house until many years later. After all, it was only a few years earlier that we bought the first color television ever in our family, a Hitachi. I still have that TV in storage, and the colors were just as good the last time I hooked it up, as the day we brought it home from Dale Sanford Television, in Alameda.

Back then it seemed you got multiple channels for each of the THREE networks. This was way before Fox, WB and other newcomers came to play. All your news coverage was local, unless you happened to catch the evening national news, presented by Walter Cronkite (CBS), John Chancellor (NBC) or Howard K. Smith & Harry Reasoner (ABC). CNN wouldn't show up until I was in high school. And I can remember when Atlant's WTCG, proclaimed itself the first super station, being seen Coast-to-Coast thanks to cable TV.

TV Guide was something like 10 cents, and was a real guide, not the magazine you see these days. Beyond that, Bay Cablevision used to release a heavy paper guide that showed what was on HBO and the other special movie channels they had. There were three colors, Green, Red, and Yellow. Each one was a higher priced package. I remember us having the Red package, which included Green, but the Yellow package must've been financially out of reach because I remember looking at it and seeing what we wouldn't be getting. Also, movies were on, generally, for three months, before something else rotated in.

To get HBO, there was a special filter you connected to your cable box by way of a patch cable, and then the outside cable from the telephone pole. It was apparently very important not to disconnect the filter because if you did, the cable man had to come out and set it back up. Not sure if that was real, or not, but that's what we were told. Also, there was a $50 deposit on that filter, which is comical because I think it was nothing more than a low or high pass, filter which probably cost $3.

* * *

But now we've reached another metamorphosis in the world of television entertainment, which will make today's television offerings seem as antiquated as my first experiences were in their day.

Though traditional broadcast channels and cable networks has the largest variety ever, it's also the hardest for a new producer to get into. It seems that networks will spend most of their production dollars on what they think are sure hits that will get them a high rate of return. That's why you're seeing so much Reality programing. It's relatively cheap, and fills what they perceive as being the viewer's most common wants.

However, in steps the Internet to fill a need. With higher and higher streaming speeds available, and storage costs plummeting, anybody can become a programmer. I'm a tech news junkie and more often than not I'm watching one of the TWiT.TV shows streaming on YouTube.

Leo Laporte has to be one of the most successful producers who has made a jump from traditional media to the Internet. After having his career controlled by others, he took the plunge and started netcasting his first show, This Week in Tech, in 2005, from an outbuilding on his property. Last year he made a move to a major production facility in downtown Petaluma, producing 29 shows, as well as maintaining a live 24/7 streaming channel. 

Chances are good that if there's a subject you are interested in, there will be some type of netcast about it. If not, there probably will be one shortly. And if you feel so inclined, you can start a program yourself. Most of today's smartphones have a good enough quality camera, which shoots high-definition video, which can be used till you decide to upgrade your equipment.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I had a dream…


Apologies to Martin Luther King, Jr. for borrowing his famous saying, but that's what came immediately to mind.

* * *

Have you ever had a dream that you immediately wake up from and can remember pretty much every thing that went on? I think most of us can say yes, to some extent or another.

A couple of days ago I had such a dream, and I can still remember pretty much all the major points as if I was experiencing it right now.

Not exactly sure what kind of company it was that I was working for. It had recently been taken over by some bigger company, and I was supposed to be  on the sideline of a high school football game the very next day.

Now here's where it got strange. For whatever reason, I had been given a metal water bottle earlier in the week. I had been carrying it around all the time, and it was supposed to record the sights and sounds of being on the sideline during the game.

At the meeting, I was shocked when the manager told me that this recorder had been live all week long. Every place I'd went. Every thing I'd said. EVERYTHING had been recorded into their database. Needless to say, I was very upset as I had been expecting it to only be active during the actual assignment.

We went back and forth about this for some time before I finally told them I would quit and then demanded they removed all recorded information from their computers. We were in the middle of removing records when I woke up. Or more exactly, my baying Jack Russell, Sally, woke me up, and I had to get up.

* * *

This dream brought to mind two things.

First off, what would you do if you found yourself in this situation. I studied to be a journalist when I went to the University of Montana (GO GRIZ!!). This was back before the Internet played such an important part in everyone's daily life. When most people wrote a physical letter rather than email through a computer program.

Journalism was a specialized field, with certain rules of form and style. People were columnists, not bloggers. In fact, the term "blogging" didn't even come into vogue until mid-1999, when Peter Merholtz coined it as a contraction of Web Log, which John Barger started using only a couple of years earlier. Now, as newspapers, one by one, are shuttering their doors anyone, with a computer and an Internet connection, can call themselves a blogger and share their wit and wisdom. (I can see the comments from the Peanut Gallery right now!!).

There's tons of awesome goodness on the Web where a person can have absolutely no idea about something, but within a few clicks of their keyboard have more answers than the venerable Encyclopædia Britannica. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of bad stuff that's totally inaccurate, and often misleading. The reader has to decide if they believe it, which may be hard depending on how much they knew to begin with.

Second thing brought to mind was regarding privacy and how much the freedom of information on the Internet has eroded that. Not so much little by little, but in a big "fire hose" deluge as of late. In fact, Google likes to use that phrase, fire hose, when talking about developers connecting to their collection of information and links.

And every time there's a minute change to the privacy statement at Google or Facebook people are screaming bloody murder as if they're giving away Social Security and bank account numbers. In reality, they are not publishing using anything that is not either publicly available or that you, as a user of some form or another has voluntarily provided them.

I scratch my head when people complain so much as if they expect these FOR PROFIT companies to give them what they want due to some altruistic belief.

In September 2011, Simon & Schuster published a book by American journalist Jeff Jarvis, called Public Parts. In it Jarvis argues against the common public perception that the Internet, and especially "social media," are making America a dumbed down society, surviving on sandwich-sized bites of information at a time.

Jarvis goes on to suggest  Society needs to protect the Internet as it belongs to everyone and for everyone's use. Just look at last year's Arab Spring. There is little doubt that had it not been for publicly available social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook, many countries in the Middle East and North Africa would still be under the thumb of their dictatorships.

People just need to make sure they educate themselves when they fill in their private information to understand where it might be used by the organization they're giving it to. They also need to understand it WILL be used by the organization for their needs, which might include sharing it with other organizations.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bus drivers behaving badly

(photo from Google Images)

I've run into a bit of car trouble recently, so as of now I'm not going too many places, if I can help it. For those places I cannot get to I end up using AC Transit and/or BART. Today's blog entry is my sharing of what happened on my way home from church, south of Lake Merritt.

Normally, I don't file complaints, but felt the need to do so today. There were three incidents, which added up, caused me to do so.

First incident was when I was waiting for the bus. A bus from a different route was already in the bus stop, and when I noticed the bus I was waiting for down the block I raised my hand to make sure the driver knew I was waiting for her. She stopped 20 yards down in a red zone. I figured she was waiting for the first bus to pull out. After it did, she started pulling forward. However, instead of pulling all the way up to the stop, which was now vacant, she stops 10 feet down the street.

After I board and go find my seat in the back, I can hear her complaining to the passenger in the front seat about my not walking down the block to board the bus and how she would have been through the intersection, instead of sitting at the red light. She then complained to the passenger how she was 30 minutes behind schedule already.

Had this been the only incident I might have brushed it off just as someone having a bad day. However, when we got to the stop at 14th/San Pablo, there was a woman that called to the driver, saying she needed the backdoor ramp. The driver did not acknowledge her and then when everyone boarded she started pulling forward.

Figuring maybe the driver hadn't heard her request, the woman said something again. This time, the driver said she had to pull up a bit. That's fine. Those ramps can't be lowered if there's an obstruction that might be in there way. HOWEVER, when she came back to open the ramp she literally told the poor woman, "I can only do one thing at a time!"

After letting the woman out, she returned to her driving duties and joked for the next five minutes about fixing her hair. Mind you I was near the back of the bus, but she was so loud I couldn't help but hear her.

She did stop once to yell back, rather flustered sounding, wanting to know who kept pushing the button, and did they need help knowing where to get off? Mind you there were several of us in the back, and people had been coming and going along the way so it was probably several different people who had already exited.

The most egregious thing came about 20 minutes later in downtown Berkeley.

Perhaps she was still trying to make up time, but for whatever reason, she did not pull to the curb at one stop. Unfortunately for her, she had to stop at the intersection anyways as the light turned red.

A young man walked up to the coach door from the stop she had planned to bypass. I know she saw him as she started talking at him through the door. She NEVER opened the door to let him on the bus despite plenty of time to do so, nor did she pull over to the curb across the street.

In fact, she and another passenger seemed to think it was a funny thing when the young man whipped out his cell phone and took photos of the bus at the intersection as well as when it pulled away. I have to wonder if she's already a star on YouTube as I write this?

Now, I can understand being stressed if you're behind so much on your route and you'd normally be taking lunch at the end of this leg. However, there was no reason for what occurred.

Mind you, I don't think this driver is the rule, rather than a unique example. However, I thought it worth sharing on this nice sunny Sunday. To me it was a reminder that you never know how your behavior, negative OR positive, might have an effect on someone.

Hopefully, the next time I need to take the bus this week, it will be uneventful.

* * *

I've removed references to info that would identify the driver as there's no need to mention that here. I have already sent a letter to AC Transit Customer Service.

Should you find yourself in a circumstance such as this, the BEST thing to do is write down the coach number, the time of the event and the nearest stop you were by so Customer Service can pinpoint which driver was involved. This goes for any carrier, not just AC Transit.