With this very long entry (c. 3,700 words), I hope to give readers who are unhappy with cable TV some guidance as to factors to consider in seeking alternatives, and some specifics on how actually to make use of the alternatives I have found. One section deals with installing and using a digital converter box. Readers who have already done this or have no intention of doing it can skip that. And, as always, any visitor who is not interested in the written topic can just check the pictures, which today are of my early spring-flowering bulbs in bloom, plus two masses of little mushrooms poking out from under my yew.
Crocuses in backyard near driveway, early stage.I have been unhappy with cable-TV for some time now, and did a careful evaluation of its cost as against value to me. Cablevision Newark's plans jump from Broadcast Basic at $9.32/month, for only over-air channels, which I can get without cable (if with poor picture quality on some), to a Family Cable package at $52.95/month, plus a bunch of digital channels above channel 100 for another $11, which gives you about 180 channels, including all broadcast channels but no premium channels (HBO, Starz). There is nothing in between $9.32/mo and $52.95/mo. I have a three-story house and spend time on every floor, so have to have three cable boxes if I am to watch TV wherever I happen to be, at $6.50 each ($19.50/month for the 3) plus about $1.50 a month for each remote. Add that to my Internet service (Optimum Online) at $45 (a $5 discount over the cost of Optimum alone, without TV), and my cable bill has been running around $133 a month, or $88 a month for the TV portion.
I realized recently that there are about 140 channels I never watch, ever, but am paying for; and perhaps 40% of what I have been watching was on broadcast channels. Here in Vailsburg, perhaps 15 straight-line miles ("as the crow flies") from the Empire State Building, my reception of most over-air stations, even with analog TV, is pretty good. Channels from 2-5 aren't so hot, but those from 7 on up are crystal clear, so I definitely don't need cable for broadcast channels. I also realized that there is so much crap on TV, broadcast and cable, that there are periods of hours at a time, especially on Sundays, when I channel-surf in desperation for something, anything, fit to watch. Moreover, the enormous mass of advertising nowadays has become maddening. Ads and promos for future shows now take up almost 1 of every 3 minutes of broadcast time, an outrage that Government seems to have no intention of correcting. Some channels not just scrunch the credits at the end of a show, but even superimpose audio promos that obliterate the last minute or so of the program now ending! So you can't find the name of that guest star whose name is on the tip of your tongue, and you can't hear the last words that may resolve one last plot point!
Different clump of crocuses.A commercial break can now run 3½ minutes, with 7 different commercials and a couple of promos or, occasionally, PSA's (Public Service Announcements), some of which are very offensive. One PSA run by a NYState program to get people to stop smoking shows truly disgusting medical images. I don't smoke; never have. Why should I be attacked with revolting images of cancerous lungs, or plaque being squeezed out of an artery taken from a dead person?
On MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann interrupts long commercial breaks with snippet "teasers" about what is still to come. So we get two minutes of commercials and promos for other shows, 30 seconds of teaser, then another two minutes of commercials and promos! TV advertising has become hugely abusive. I might not be so angry about that if TV were free, as it used to be. But it's not. I'm supposed to pay to watch this crap? I don't think so.
In a rational world, you would pay for cable or suffer commercials, but not both. It's like PBS: either begathons or commercials, but not both. Unfortunately, on both cable and PBS, you get both bad things, not one or the other. Almost every PBS show nowadays has onscreen announcements of the contributors to production costs. The announcements for corporations are indistinguishable from regular commercials. There are types of commercials I wouldn't mind on PBS: advocacy pieces pro and con, oil or coal; argumentation about impending legislation, such as the proposed new way of organizing unions, and why it should or should not be passed. But a commercial for Mercedes Benz or Liberty Mutual Insurance? No.
Daffodils (narcissuses), and blue hyacinths just coming up.Further, something like 90% of entertainment programming on cable is reruns, some of shows decades old. It has reached the point that almost anything I'm likely to watch, I've already seen, usually more than once. I don't need to pay to see these things again. I don't watch sports channels, but the one good thing about sports channels is that most of their programming is new. Not all. I was channel-surfing a couple of weeks ago and saw what looked like old film. Sure enuf, a sports channel was showing a baseball game from the 1960s! Entire. What the ...?!
Even serious stations, like the History Channel, History International, Science, and Discovery, repeat their shows endlessly. Make new once, show as reruns dozens of times. The same movies are shown a hundred times a year, on different channels: Joe Dirt, Barber Shop, Beauty Shop, The Wedding Singer, Van Wilder, Miss Congeniality, Independence Day, Men In Black.
Isolated crocus in a new location. I don't know how it got there unless crocuses produce seed that some critter carried 50 feet.And shopping channels and tons and tons of infomercials! Hours a day on dozens of channels, some called "programs" and actually listed in the channel guide: Guthy-Renker crap, fad exercise machines, get-rick-quick scams, and worse. One women's channel actually runs a shop-at-home "erotic" service, with dildos and other obscenities for you to run across in channel-surfing!
On top of all that, Cablevision Newark runs what are supposed to be monthly tests of the Emergency Alert System not monthly, not weekly, but sometimes every day, blanking out the sound of whatever program (rarely a commercial) happens to be on at the moment, for a full minute. You can lose a plot point, or the solution to the mystery that the entire hour has been building to, in that minute.
So I decided Tuesday, I've had it. No more. And I called Cablevision to preserve my Internet connection but turn off cable TV completely.
The woman who took my disconnect order asked, for feedback purposes, why I was discontinuing cable TV, and I told her some of the above, plus complained about (1) the listings on channel 14 not showing all the channels, including three I would occasionally watch, and (2) sometimes channel 14 would carry a hockey game — even tho there are dozens of vacant channels Cablevision could use for that — and drop the scrolling program listings altogether, not even move the listings, rather than the hockey game, to one of those many vacant channels.
She offered me a discount on the Family Basic package to $30/mo for a year, but I said that I would still have the expense of 3 converter boxes (and associated remotes), so I'm not interested. I'm not saying I'll never resume cable TV. If I win the lottery, I may reconnect. Or not.
Closeup of largest clump, before peak bloom.Alternatives to Cable: (1) The Internet. Fortuitously, a lot of programming is migrating to the Internet. I can watch entire episodes of many shows, and clips from many others, perhaps a day late. I can watch the Tonight Show with Jay Leno live over-air with an acceptable picture on my ground floor and a pretty good picture on my third floor (I haven't installed an antenna on my second floor yet). If I miss something, as in switching back and forth among Leno, Letterman, and Kimmel, the whole Tonight show is available on the Internet the next day and for a couple of weeks thereafter. Letterman and Kimmel are also available, but with a longer delay.
Wide view of my little front yard, with many but not all daffodils open.MSNBC offers free shows, in video and audio, but the instructions are unclear. I did as they said: right-clicked on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and selected "Copy", but nothing happened. When I then tried to "Paste" it into a directory ("Folder") on my computer, I got only the graffic button I had right-clicked on! It turns out the instructions should say, "Right-click, then choose 'Save Target As...', to save the podcast's current file to your computer". Once I figured that out, I was able to store both formats, .WMV and .M4V.
The .WMV file plays in the built-in Windows Media Player. The .M4V file plays in the Quick Time player, tho I had to start that player first, then load the file from a "Details" view of the directory I had stored it in, because it wasn't recognized automatically. I can also play .M4V files in iTunes. I don't have an iPod or such, but if you have, you can subscribe to these things, not download each when you think of it.
In any case, even without an iPod I have at least 3 ways to play these MSNBC files (and other such files from other content providers), so can be fully as distracted by playing video (as, essentially, background audio) at the same time as I am working on other things, as I was with cable! Isn't that great?! But, I can turn this off and back on at any time I'm at my computer, without regard to when it shows on TV. If I want to focus on something for a moment, I can pause the playback, then resume when I've finished whatever it was that required more attention.
Daffodils, small blue hyacinth just coming up.For my purposes, since I don't have an iPod, there's no point in storing the .M4V file, because the one test file I downloaded (in perhaps 3 minutes, via cable modem), was an hour-long full episode of Countdown. In .M4V, the file size was 179MB; in .WMV, only 93MB. Both play equally clearly, but if I'm in Windows Explorer (right-click on "Start" button, then left-click on "Explore"), I can simply double-click on a .WMV filename, and Windows Media Player will come up automatically. But to play an .M4V file, I have to start Quick Time or iTunes first, then call up the .M4V file via that program's "File" menu. So the .WMV file is doubly better for me.
The podcast has the additional, nearly thrilling feature of being stripped of commercials! None. No commercials!
Countdown, an hour-long program with commercials, is only 41 minutes and 47 seconds long in the video file. So, as you can see, 18 minutes and 13 seconds of this show as broadcast live is commercials and promos: as I said, for every 2 minutes of programming, there is almost a full minute of commercials. Deplorable.
Daffodils in full color, hyacinths not yet in color (pink).Comedy Central's Daily Show seems, at present, less cooperative, full episodes being available only after a five-day delay. Hulu.com has bunches of complete episodes of many dozens of series. TV.com has others. I haven't done an exhaustive study of what is available on the Internet because until yesterday I had cable. Now I don't, so will look. I'll think about which programs I would like to watch that I have heretofore watched on cable, and search for downloadable or streaming episodes online. And my total cable bill (for high-speed Internet access) will now be $50 (plus tax?), rather than $133. At $83/mo savings, I might buy a new laptop in a year or so (or some Internet-TV device, if there be such). I will then be able to use my wireless router (which I didn't take the time to make work before) to access the Internet from any floor, even the basement if I'm doing laundry. (But I usually play pool while waiting for the dryer.)
Clump of many small mushrooms under yew at retaining wall along sidewalk. I wouldn't imagine they're edible, and I'm not taking chances.Alternatives to Cable: (2) Digital TV. Over-air broadcasting is available to me free until mid-June, by which time the unwarranted shutdown of analog broadcasting will require me to get digital converter boxes. With such digital boxes, I can get a number of additional channels, many of which merely duplicate the analog channel (that is, digital channel 4.1 has the same lineup as analog channel 4). 13.2 has children's programming 24 hours a day. Why? I didn't know how many of these over-air digital stations I would be able to see clearly. Will UHF stations that did not come in clearly (or at all) in analog, be clearer in digital? I thought I wouldn't find out until mid-April.
Unfortunately, the Government gives out only two $40 coupons to be used in the purchase of digital converters, per household (max). I applied for the coupons online Tuesday, and the confirmation page said they will be mailed April 10th. I didn't want to print that page but store it (to save color ink; my b&w laser printer isn't working; don't you just love technology?). The "Save" function is, however, apparently disabled on that Government site. I don't know either why nor how. There is a workaround you may or may not know: Alt+PrintScreen puts a screen capture into the Windows buffer, and then you can call it up into your word processor (in my case, WordPerfect 11 or OpenOffice 2.4), where it comes in as a graffic box. You can then save that file as a regular word-processing file and call it up anytime you want. This works for all sorts of things and is a neat feature. Since the file is a graffic, you can alternatively call it up in a graffics program and manipulate the graffic as you like, if it's the picture and not the info that's important to you.
Other clump of mushrooms, behind retaining wall about two feet farther up the front stairs.In that I understood that I would have to pay for one digital converter box on my own, with no coupon, I figured, "Why wait?", so went to Radio Shack in the Ivy Hill shopping center on Irvington Avenue. The only model they carry costs $60, $20 over the coupon, plus 3.5% sales tax here in Newark. I see cheaper converters offered on the Internet, but when shipping, handling, and perhaps full sales tax is added, the savings may be only trivial, and you have to wait. I also bought a better antenna, for another $20. If you already have a good antenna, and you use a $40 coupon, the Radio Shack unit will cost you twenty bucks plus tax (69¢ in Newark). And that's your total expense for digital TV, for one or two TV's. For any others, it will be $70 plus tax, once. And then TV is free for all the digital channels within reach of your antenna, in perpetuity.
I took the converter and antenna home, unpacked them, read the quick-start instructions for the converter, plugged the power cord in and put the converter between the antenna and the TV; turned it on, and started the auto-search of what is available. In perhaps two minutes, it presented a list of 28 channels. Entire elapsed time from opening the first box, about 25 minutes.
Crocuses in backyard, at peak bloom.The picture is brilliant on most channels, but on some channels the picture breaks up or goes black ("NO PROGRAM" or "WEAK SIGNAL" is all that appears) and the sound is missing, no matter where I put the antenna (on my first floor). Planning ahead at Radio Shack, I had bought a coaxial cable coupler ($3.29) to join the antenna to a longer cable so I could move the antenna closer to the window, but some channels still would not come in, including, irritatingly, 13 (WNET) and 50 (NJN). There is an "analog pass-thru" button, however, and if I press that, I can then move the channel selector on the TV off the default channel 3 to channel 13, and the signal comes in clear as a bell. I still can't get 50, however, or a few other channels I should be able to receive, according to what the auto-search found. That may be a problem only on my first floor, and getting higher off the ground may give me more channels. Maybe I can run an extra-long coax cable upstairs and get those missing channels. If the antenna works better at a different location, you can have the box scan for available channels all over again at any time.
The converter has a remote that selects channels, controls sound volume, and will mute the TV entirely to reduce the irritation of commercials, take a fone call, whatever. Even better, it has a Closed Captioning button that allows you to get the CC2 datastream sent out by that channel, which around here is usually Spanish. If you want to improve your Spanish, you can leave this on and read the captions when you want, or turn CC2 off.
Whiter.Alternatives to Cable: (3) Reading, in Hardcopy or Online. If worse comes to worst and I can't relax with TV, I have books of my own, books I can borrow from the NPLibrary, and Google Books, some of which are so old that you can read the whole book because it's no longer in print. With newer books, you can read a limited number of pages, which the publisher hopes will entice you to buy; and then you can follow a link to online booksellers (Amazon and such) or the publisher's own website to order it.
If you have not yet found Google Books, the story is that Google has optically scanned in 7 million books, 1 million of which are in the public domain so can be read entire, online, or even downloaded as (presumably gargantuan) .PDF files. Unfortunately, a book on (English) spelling reform printed in Sweden in 1932 that I hoped they would have, Anglic: An International Language by R.E. Zachrisson, is not available online. At least not yet.
Purpler.Some Google "Web" search results will produce Google Books pages. To get to Google Books directly, go to Google.com and click on "more" on the right, whereupon Books will be listed in the dropdown menu. Click on that, and you will see a main page with a number of book covers displayed and another search box specific to books. I wanted to see if they have (the late) Alan Karcher's book about the history of the State of New Jersey's breaking up large municipalities into ever-smaller units that Luis A. told me about, but could remember only the key phrase "municipal madness". That did it, and I found a "Limited preview" for New Jersey's Multiple Municipal Madness. A search on "Alan Karcher" produced a bunch of other items, some of them only "Snippet view". I don't know how many pages you can read in a "Limited preview", but I guess I'll find out. Naturally, if you're reading online, you can listen to online music at the same time, in streaming radio, including Newark's own WBGO.org, "Jazz 88[.3 FM]".
Separate small cluster.Does the NPL have this book? You can find out what the Library does and does not have thru its online catalog, "Clavis". Finding a book there is trickier than with Google. An "Author" search for "alan karcher" did not find it, nor him. But "karcher" produced a number of listings, the first for "Karcher, Alan J.", and a click on that produced 4 results, including the one I was particularly looking for, but also one I'm intrigued by, What's Right with New Jersey.
Interestingly, what I had regarded as NPL's online index also produced results for the New Jersey Historical Society's library. Another screen at some point announces:
A KEY[*] to the Resources of
• The Newark Public Library
• The Newark Museum
• The New Jersey Historical Society
• The Irvington Public Library
* The word "clavis", pronounced kláa.vis — with a short-A as in "clavicle" (collarbone), tho I would have thought it a long-A, as in "conclave"; see why I'm a spelling reformer?— is Latin for "key".Golly.
Little clump between "false cypress" and barberry shrubs. Each clump grows bigger with passing years, thru bulb splitting, and now I am seeing more locations, so there must be some spreading by seed as well. However it happens, the crocuses are an early spring joy that the prior owners of my house presumably planted. I planted the daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. What a great change from apartment life in Manhattan.If I read the Clavis listing correctly, What's Right with New Jersey is available only in the reference section (noncirculating) at both the Main branch, NPL, and NJHS. "Municipal Madness" is available in the same two reference areas and in the circulating collection at NPL Main. Good. I can borrow it. I don't imagine there are too many people waiting in line for it.
How about Richardson Dilworth's The Urban Origins of Suburban Autonomy, which has a chapter called "The Rise and Fall of Greater Newark". Drat. It's only in reference, NPL Main. Got to get there. I suppose I can sit and read that chapter on premises. Too bad my laptop computer stopped working, or I could type notes in the Library.
In any case, I should be somewhat less distracted now by trying to multitask, watching cable newschannels while also working at the computer. That won't reduce multitasking on the computer alone, switching from drafting this blog to making notes and drafting language for my book on spelling reform, and checking the news, and writing the day's entry for my Simpler Spelling Word of the Day website, and fixing fotos in my graffics program, and looking up word patterns (for instance, above, *clav*, in my electronic dictionary, and checking email on all of my categorized email addresses (personal, political, gay concerns, spelling reform, Newark, etc.). I should also have more time and energy for other things than TV and computer, which should prove a very good thing, especially as the weather gets warmer. I've got seeds to start, leaves to rake, compost to scatter, a birdfeeder to keep full and carrots to cut up and put out for the squirrels and possums, to make up for last year's total absence of acorns, and lots of other work to do in both house and yard. In the immortal words of Billy De Wolfe, "Busy, busy, bizz-zzeee!!"