Archive for August, 2010

A Temporary Pause

August 31, 2010

It has been some time since my last post here, and I’m sorry for that.  I’ve been on a bit of a treadmill here trying to get a couple medical problems straightened out.  It seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time to schedule the various tests needed to diagnose the problem.

I’m not going to go into a long litany of symptoms (real or imagined) because it would just bore you to tears.  Suffice it to say that it is some sort of internal functioning that’s off kilter and causing bodily distress.

I find it hard to sit down for long periods of time, and, since I can normally be found at my computer most of the day, this cuts down on how long I can sit here.  The rest of the time I find myself with my feet propped up in my living room chair surfing the satellite TV for some sign of life on this planet (although the satellite itself is technically defined as being ‘off-planet’).

The following opinions are my own, and I stand behind them (because I sure as hell am not going to stand in front of them).

I have discovered in the last month that the various movie channels (HBO, Showtime, IFC, Sundance, etc. plus the most enjoyable one – TCM) tend to run the same movies in a cycle of rotation that is far too quick.  Fox Movie Channel is a prime example:  they show the very same movie THREE times in a row every Friday night.  What a waste of bandwidth.

My absolute pet peeve is the HD channels.  When HD first came out, and I went to a demo at some store (I forget which) and thought that now we were finally going to get some really great programming and pictures.  We’ve come a very long way from the snowy, grainy, and faded out black and white of my first TV in 1954 to super-duper HD we have now.  What I am seeing on the HD movie channels is absolute crap!  The phrase that strikes fear into my heart is “this movie has been reformatted to fit your television screen”.  Come ON guys!!!!  My screen is 16×9 right now and when you slap a pan and scan movie on it, it looks TERRIBLE with those black bars on either side.  If I eliminate them and stretch the picture, then everyone looks like a three-foot tall toadstool and cars look like roller skates.

When a movie is cut to pan and scan proportions you lose about 30 to 35% of the picture.  The sides are chopped off and the top and bottom lose a little also.  When what’s left is zoomed full screen, it gets very grainy.  So, what you get on a HD channel with a pan and scan movie is a very sharply presented fuzzy picture.  Why the hell can’t they present a widescreen movie as it was produced (and copyrighted) on at least the HD channels?

A few of movie channels (Starz, The Movie Channel and, of all things, IFC) are now occasionally putting widescreen movies on their channels.  To them I say:  “You go for it!”  I’ll watch their movies before I’ll watch any pan and scan crud.

It is interesting to note that if I flip back and forth between my basic cable and the satellite for channels that match, there is a definite time lag between the land-based and the space-based presentations.  If I am fast enough, I can get some hilarious out-takes; especially if I go from space to ground.  This cuts out around 1.5 seconds of dialog.  This gap is more than enough to chop out entire words which results in what I call ‘Indian-Speak’.  “Um – we go now.  Come back later”  (NOTE: this is not very PC in today’s world, but what the hell.)

Flipping the other way (ground to satellite) you get the same dialog spoken over again.  This is also hilarious and reminiscent of Max Headroom (if you remember him – Matt Frewer).  “And that-that-that-s what hap-happened”.

The invention of the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) is very nice.  It allows you to record programs that come on during the time you are sleeping so that you can ignore them until your disk maxes out and you have to overwrite them.  This is simply because you cannot watch TV all day and then try to watch the ones that were recorded during the previous night.  Hint:  not enough hours.  One thing the DVR does let you do is zip through the inane commercials – which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Not a lot of people know that virtually every network show will put out a bit of digital one’s and zero’s immediately before a commercial comes on.  This is to alert the receiving stations that a commercial is about to start (see, it sort of fits in that way).  There is no reason I can see why the makers of the DVR couldn’t key on this digital signature and simply SKIP the commercials and record only the show.  Most probably the big reason is that the advertisers would tie the CEO of the company to a stake and burn him.  Perhaps that’s a deterrent – you make the call.

TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is a great channel.  The absolute newest movie I’ve seen on that channel in the last six months was one made in 1993.  The month of August they streamed out a LOT of movies made in the 20’s and 30’s.  Their other feature that I like very much is what they’re calling “The Summer of the Stars”.  This lets them feature a particular actor/actress for almost a 24-hour period.  What I don’t like about it is that this channel presents the movies of their star that were less than critically received (I.E. bombed).  This is not always the case, but I’d venture to say more than 50% of the time.  For example, on neither Henry Fonda’s day nor Maureen O’Hara’s day was the movie “Spencer’s Mountain” shown.  My opinion only:  that it’s a great movie and deserves to be shown.

TCM is also one of the very few channels that do NOT broadcast the copy-protection scheme that won’t let you save the movie directly to a DVD.  For some really obscure (read: stupid) reason, you can TAPE it and play it back, but you can’t even do a tape to DVD without being told that it won’t happen.  I realize there are ways around that.  Buying a ‘picture stabilizer’ will work, as well as having a TV tuner on your computer and ripping the movie to the hard drive.  The second method is very labor intensive and takes approximately three times as long to get recorded than to just sit and watch it the first time.  The first method is simply wrong, even though the ‘stabilizer’ will remove the copy protection pulses from the digital stream, it’s illegal.

So, here I sit – er – lay, propped up in my Barka-lounger, contemplating my navel and whacking a few keys on my laptop.  Once this strange malady gets diagnosed, and the treatment started (if any), and I’ll be back pecking away.