Justice Scalia

There’s not a lot he and I agree on. However, he is astoundingly smart, smug and charming.

I’ve just pressed pause while watching the 60 Minutes interview with Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justice.

There’s not a lot he and I agree on. However, he is astoundingly smart, smug and charming.

You don’t see a lot of “The Supremes” on TV. I saw Scalia once before, probably on C-SPAN, debating Justice Breyer. I was in awe of their collective brilliance and collegial sparring.

How they could they both possess such amazing minds and opposing viewpoints?

On 60 Minutes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was used to provide the same contrast. She and Scalia are close friends, though they seldom vote the same way.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m writing.

I watched the interview and all I could think of was, he will be played by Nathan Lane.


Note: I swear I didn’t look for the photos until after I’d written the entry.

Scary Multimedia

As I type this entry, I’m playing poker and watching 60 Minutes, all on my laptop. I’m in the family room, but I could be anywhere in the house or nearby.

Until a few minutes ago, we had been using an 802.11b Wifi wireless network. The pipe wasn’t wide enough to pass high quality video. Now it’s 802.11g.

Simply, I increased the network capacity a factor of five just by substituting one piece of hardware for another. The additional investment was under $50. The practical implication is, my DVR&#185 can now push high quality, full motion video over our in-house wireless network.

When I put the original wired/wireless network in, there was no hint it might not produce enough bandwidth. In fact, when that original network went in, my connection to the outside world was through a dial-up modem.

Now, I realize, this new network is just an interim step in a never ending search for unlimited bandwidth. I will constantly need more bandwidth in-house and more bandwidth from the outside world. There will be more reasons to push bits around the house.

Some of those reasons, like video, I understand. Other reasons probably don’t yet exist.

Here’s how more bandwidth changes my DVR. Until recently, if I wanted to look at a recorded show without sitting in front of the actual DVR computer, I copied the whole file, machine-to-machine, across the network.

Even on the fastest in-house connections, computers that are wired not wireless, it took a few minutes to move a file to the playback machine (my typical video file runs approximately 2 Gb per hour). Now I can stream to the playback machine, moving only the bits needed when they’re needed. Playback starts instantly.

This little hardware switch also allows me to use a new piece of software, the MythTV Player. I’m watching 60 Minutes using it right now.

There’s nothing about this player that looks any different as it sits on my computer desktop. What it does do is read markers produced as my DVR records shows. They point to the beginning and end of commercial breaks. This player automatically removes the commercial breaks as you watch a show… and it’s been very effective so far.

As you might imagine, this is pretty scary to over-the-air and cable television stations, which make their money selling commercials. That’s how my employer pays my salary.

Luckily for me, the immediate nature of TV news makes it relatively DVR proof. That’s not true for most entertainment programming. Viewers should understand – no one will pay for big budget programming unless there are big budget returns.

This technology is changing the landscape of television. Some of the changes will be very good. Other aspects are sad. Without revenue, highly produced programming will disappear.

What good is having unfettered access, if there’s nothing to access?

&#185 – My DVR is a homebuilt computer running MythTV software on top of Ubuntu Linux. The guts of the computer were being thrown away. I added a $75 card and extra hard drive. My only other cost was time and a modicum of grief.

A Career Well Spent

I have just sat, spellbound, watching the 60 Minutes tribute to Mike Wallace. I am beaming from ear-to-ear, and I hope Mike Wallace is too. He has been involved in some incredible stuff.

Yes, it’s true, I miss the ‘low hanging fruit’ portion of his career, when he went in, cameras rolling, to confront some two bit crook, never Mike’s intellectual equal.

It was classic TV – though easy for Mike. He doesn’t do that anymore.

Let me back up. 60 Minutes is a show I’ve been watching forever. I remember when the stopwatch still had its manufacturer’s name on the face (it was a Tag Heuer), when the show aired on Thursday’s, and then when it was done live on Sunday evenings (and began with news headlines).

I used to love the letters segment at the end of the show, but never (quite) understood… their interesting use (of) punctuation when they edited.

I remember Shana and Jack and Nicholas and all the other Point-Counterpoint commentators. Andy Rooney hasn’t been there forever. It just seems he has.

So, yes, I saw Mike Wallace interviewing Horowitz and Streisand and busting the gas station guys who preyed on people in RVs – all first run.

Mike Wallace could have easily been a hack. He could have stuck with the one-no-one, single point lighting, interview shows he did in the 50s. He didn’t. Hell, he could have left 60 Minutes decades ago. It is difficult to think he might need the money.

Instead, he stayed and worked hard and always did work that he could be proud of. I know he is difficult to work with. I suspect he enjoys that reputation. It is the passion that comes with pride.

As Mike Wallace was finishing his career at 60 Minutes, I was celebrating my 22nd anniversary at the TV station. My career hasn’t been as Earth shattering.

There have been many times when I’ve thought how ill equipped I’d be to do a job like Wallace’s. I think I could confront the evil, but not the weak or those who’ve already suffered greatly. That’s part of what he does.

This is not to say my 22 years have been without merit. There are lots of things I’ve done which have had a positive impact – storms where people were protected or causes which were advanced through my efforts. I’m just no Mike Wallace.

Who is?

Historical Footnote Dies

One of the most famous recurring bits on the early Saturday Night Live was a Point-Counterpoint confrontation between Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd. It was based on the end-of-show feature on 60 Minutes with Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick&#185.

Curtain would make a point in their argument, only to have Akroyd respond, “Jane, you ignorant slut.”

I loved 60 Minutes back then. The show was different than today – less self conscious. The look was different too, as 60 Minutes was the last of the news shows to be shot on film. It even started with one of the correspondents reading the day’s news headlines live.

In the pre-Andy Rooney era, Point-Counterpoint was a pretty big deal.

I’m sure you know where this is going. It’s another death announcement.

’60 Minutes’ commentator dies of cancer



LOS ANGELES — Trailblazing journalist Shana Alexander, whose verbal skirmishes with conservative James J. Kilpatrick on CBS’ “60 Minutes” were spoofed in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, has died of cancer. She was 79.

This will probably go unnoticed by most. That’s a shame. Shana Alexander was responsible for some very thought provoking TV.

&#185 The feature actually began with Kilpatrick and Nicholas von Hoffman. Shana Alexander replaced von Hoffman in 1972, producing the iconic relationship best remembered.

Dustin Hoffman

I am watching 60 Minutes profile of Dustin Hoffman as I type this. Somehow I would have never expected him to be featured here. As big as Dustin Hoffman is, he doesn’t seem big.

To me, he is America’s great actor. When I’ve said this to others, I’ve always couched it… he’s one of the best. No – I was wrong. He’s the best actor of my lifetime.

His body of work is astounding, though so far 60 Minutes hasn’t shown the movie I feel might be his finest, “Papillon.”. He has played every possible role from drama to comedy. That might be another reason he is bigger than he’s perceived. If he were a dramatic actor or comedian he’d be easier to categorize.

What has impressed me with this story so far is that Hoffman seems to be exactly who I expected him… no, I wanted him to be. He is the angry man, unwilling to compromise his art. It is an attitude few of us are afforded. Yet, in Dustin Hoffman’s case he has been richly rewarded in spite of it

My friend Howard says, never meet the stars you enjoy. They will always be a disappointment. Howard wasn’t thinking of Dustin Hoffman.

Somebody Want To Get Me Don Hewitt?

Though Don Hewitt is no longer the executive producer of 60 Minutes, tonight’s first story was researched, reported, edited and approved on his watch. The story concerned the Patriot Missile system and its shortcomings.

I have no problem with the facts as reported. I wouldn’t know if they were wrong anyway. That’s an interesting part of the news business. The giver of news must establish that his organization is absolutely trustworthy.

That’s why what I saw, though a minor point, irks me so much.

In the story, I watched a Patriot Missile during the first Gulf War shoot down a Scud. As the two hit, an explosion filled the center of the screen with bright light and a large boom was heard.

In real life, the boom is heard long after the light! The speed of light is much faster that the speed of sound.

Since I had recorded this show, I rolled the video back to look and make sure I had seen what I thought I’d seen. There is no doubt, on 60 Minutes the light and sound happened at the same instant.

For these two events to have taken place contemporaneously the camera had to be real close (it wasn’t) or someone screwed with the tape to provide a look that was consistent with what people expect.

This was the wrong thing to do. There are no small lies in the news business.