Monthly Archives: April 2013

Fly Aereo Fly

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Control is a powerful thing. Observe little kids in a schoolyard or the flock of seagulls in Finding Nemo. If something suddenly appears to have value, the first thing in their mind is: MINE! MINE! MINE!

MINE! is a big deal in life. Our ancestors lived and died over the possession of food or shelter. This is a classic conflict in corporate board meetings. Wars are fought over it. People skilled at calling MINE! become CEOs or dictators or both!

Television is no different. A new Internet service called Aereo has begun a business by relaying over-the-air digital television signals to computer devices. The technology is either miraculous or really hokey. Allegedly, subscribers each rent a tiny dime-sized antenna and Aereo merely passes what it receives to your computer or handheld device.

The physics don’t add up. The wavelength of television transmissions are much longer in length than the size of an Aereo antenna. It’s like receiving pictures using a paper clip – a broken, curled up paper clip bundled into a honeycomb with hundreds of other bundled up paper clips. Unless you are really, really close to the point of transmission (the Empire State Building or Times Square) the likelihood of resolving digital TV this way is not probable. Remember TV antennas? TV antennas tend to be big. I’d love to see a white paper on this technology. Right now, I’m not buying it – not even a little. They are probably using a traditional antenna like everyone else.

Aereo also adds a powerful tool to their basic delivery: You can record your over-the-air reception for later playback. You’ll swear there is a Tivo in your iPhone. It is very convenient, useful and addicting. Missed Modern Family last night? No need for the ABC Player! You can see it over Aereo.

What is Aereo really selling here? They claim it is nothing more than a master antenna relay service. Television station owners don’t think so. Aereo is making money ultilizing expensive programming that TV networks and stations produce and sell to cable and satellite delivery services. Why should Aereo get it for free? The anger is so heated that Fox and Univision are now threatening to turn off their transmitters completely. Considering how many people still watch over-the-air TV directly, they would proably save money in this emotional move and suddenly have a good excuse for doing so.

Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, broadcasting was considered a public service. License holders had to earn the right to use the public airwaves. As part of the bargain, broadcasters had to serve the public by providing programming that people wanted to see sometimes even without commercial content. TV programs served everybody – not just a core demographic who (according to market research) wants to see endless blood and gore and guts every evening. Cable TV did not exist. Licenses were coveted and sources of endless gold.

Cable, satellite and Internet TV programming services have sliced and diced the broadcasting pie into a hundreds of pieces. Analog dollars have turned into digital dimes or pennies or less. Popular programs dream about attracting ten percent of the viewing audience. You can’t continue to make tons of money this way. Over-the-air TV broadcasters have lost a majority of their revenue stream to ESPN, CNN and the like. In defense, they arm-wrestled cable and satellite providers to share profits under a guise called ‘retransmission fees.’ The show must go on and the money has to come from somewhere. I hear the seagulls chanting again.

Aereo has won its battles in court to continue operation without being indebited to the TV stations it relays. For the moment, the archaic concept of broadcasting being in the public domain remains. Aereo isn’t inserting their own commercials into broadcasts. They just pass TV channels to end users. How can Aereo sleep at night while constantly ripping off TV broadcasters? I know one good reason.

In June 2009, the broadcast television industry, on their own accord and design, ended analog TV. This transition also removed any practical means to see over-the-air TV using portable hand-held devices. Unless they are used in very, very strong signal areas, digital portable TVs are not practical and simply do not work. The TV industry is currently readying another incompatible digital format to make mobile TV work again. Don’t hold your breath!

Aereo closes that gap sweetly and gracefully. Broadcasters would hate to admit it, but Aereo brings portable TV back to life. No longer are wires and endless set-top boxes needed to view programs. You can get all your programming from one source. You don’t have to hunt for it on dozens of web sites. You don’t have to be connected by wires. All you need is an Internet connection. Even better, Aereo increases the broadcasters’ audience sizably. Broadcast commercials will be worth more. The cherry on the cake? You can watch portable TV live again. You remember the concept of being live? Hulu can’t do live. Aereo can.

Aereo’s forecast isn’t all cloudy and rain. Bloomberg Television has voluntarily joined Aereo for distribution. A bigger audience is a good thing, you see. Rumor has it that Aereo is negotiating with AT&T and Dish to brainstorm ideas for economic program distribution in the future. Aereo costs $80 a year. Many people pay twice that or more for just one month of cable or satellite TV.

Aereo also offers a one dollar a day option or monthly service for $8. There may be a future in these plans. It’s hard to beat!

So maybe, just maybe, Aereo is a good thing. I think it is brilliant. If the over-the-air broadcasters had foresight, they would have put together a distribution system like this from the start. Going to a new web site every time you want to change channels just isn’t practical. Aereo is live and recorded and smart and it’s a logical move forward. It provides a service that should have been inaugurated a long time ago.

Poor network television. Someone else thought up a good idea and no individual broadcaster can call it MINE! Doesn’t that infutriate you Fox and Univision? Damn! I hate when someone else beats you to the punch! No control. No revenue stream. They don’t like this at all. Maybe they will take their bat and ball, end the game and go home. Maybe they will wake up and see how Aereo will insure their audiences and make them grow. Someday, we will know. Right now, its fun to watch!

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Knowing When to Leave

Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing that anyone can learn….go!

Lyricist Hal David struck the right key when he wrote the score to Promises, Promises. Professionally and personally, I have been blessed with an infallible sense of knowing when to leave.

Many of my friends, especially my graphic artist friends, might be amazed that I have completely left the world of Microsoft.

Full context follows: I was the victim of a terrible alignment of the stars – at least the ones that shine over the computer world. Not only did I purchase a Dell Inspiron 1525, it came pre-loaded with the latest step in Microsoft operating system software: Vista! This was a lose-lose proposition from the start.

What didn’t happen to this computer? I noticed, quite early on, that the audio was not only deficient, but it was pretty deaf in one ear. I spent a fortune of time with Dell support just to make it listenable. I kept up with Windows updates and was slugged in the gut a few times in the process. Things stopped working. Things disappeared. Dell touchpads have this annoying habit of flying your text cursor all over a page. Type quickly and you may find a graph or two broken apart in another universe somewhere else in your document. I auditioned many fixes to make this infuriating habit to cease. I never found a cure.

I lost my first of three hard drives just after I had embraced and worked like a pack dog trying to enjoy iTunes. I suffered terrible corruptions trying to use iTunes on a Windows platform. My basic music library is over 80 megabytes. You don’t want to experience the sadness and frustration that occurs when one of your passions in life is suddenly swept up into the wind and scattered like a loose-leaf notebook set free. These wounds heal slowly.

Finally, after years of being a very patient owner, my Dell began to behave quite erratically and then ate its way through three designed-to-be-disposable power supplies. Now, all I want to do is remove its hard drive, archive it and move on. Enough already!

It is such a shame that Dell has deteriorated into a disheveled mess. What used to be a reliable standard in desktops and laptops is now a corporate equivalent of a totaled Mercedes in a junk yard. How could I ever buy one again?

Need to get a clue, Karl? Go to the nearby Danbury Fair Mall. There you will see visual verification that I am not alone. Stroll by the always packed Apple Store and witness the legions of blue t-shirted Apple helpers pouring over everyone’s computer curiosities with care. A few steps away, you’ll see the twice as large Microsoft store trying to pedal weirdly designed tablets running Windows 8 to an audience of zero.

Microsoft has really lost its way. Its sails are torn and its rudder is broken. Its direction has no plan and is hopelessly adrift. I just don’t understand what they are thinking. Oddball tablets running Windows 8 are nothing but a poor knee-jerk reaction and response to the iPad. All the rapidly choreographed TV commercials in the world wouldn’t get me near one of those things! Ask yourself this: Do you know anyone, anywhere, who actually owns one of these? I didn’t think so.

You have to understand that my Windows loyalty took a lot to break. I began even before IBM promoted DOS and worked my way through decades of Microsoft releases. Remember the breakthrough of Windows 3.1 and then Windows for Workgroups? Remember 8 inch floppy disks? Where do we stand now? Apple has won legions of fans following basic laws of marketing and design. They know aesthetics not only makes sales but actually creates a world that they control. Think of the impact of the iPad, iPod, iPhone and MacBook!

Apple also treats their customers with concern and respect. If something goes wrong with your Apple computer, you have a trusted place to go for help with a real person to talk to. It is an expensive investment in their clientele, but it earns them billions of dollars in sales. Only one other company understands their clients so well: Disney. Their handle on management and execution even surpasses the miracles that transpire from Mickey’s magic wand!

So now there are at least a couple of roads to take. I have witnessed Apple software and I know how it can stir up rough surf from time to time. Perfect it isn’t. Another path leads you to Linux and Unbuntu on a road to new adventure and mystery. Here deficiency and adaptation are seen daily. It may be decades before a new contender might create and establish themselves with the kind of foundation Microsoft let crumble. How I wish there were more choices!

Apple has such a strong grip and control of all in its domain. It will tell you that you no longer need a CD/DVD drive because you can get everything at the iTunes Store. You don’t really need a standard feature like an audio input or a USB port unless you really want to pay for it. Apple insists that they know what you want (and that’s their way, not yours.) Obviously, millions of people don’t want to argue! 

I went window shopping online to find a MacBook that would fit my needs. I love multi-media. I like to be able to use a computer as a building block for all my other activities. It would never be ‘just a computer.’ I’d love to rid myself of mechanical spinning hard drives and go solid state. MacBooks do exist that meet my specifications but, facing a long period of college tuition poverty getting daughters through school, I can’t quite rationalize a $3000 Apple purchase. So here I sit using a very old Dell Inspiron 1505 leftover from a previous life! Lord, have mercy on me!

Postscript: In a similar vein, my computer housekeeping led to some blog housecleaning, as well. I’ve happily been using Blogspot for about five years. They have become less independent and are now dominated by Google and its subsidiaries. To continue my alliance with Blogspot, (and continue posting pictures) I would have to become a registered user of Picasa. It is a photo sharing site that invades your computer wanting to upload every picture you have into its collection. This lack of privacy was a little too invasive for me. I picked up my stakes and moved to a new pasture called WordPress. Here we are! I hope that grazing here will be tasty for many years to come. Drop by often, ya hear?