Comcast And AT&T: Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

New Haven Comcast officeComcast is in the process of swallowing Time-Warner. AT&T has just announced they’re purchasing DirecTV. Maybe I just haven’t looked closely enough, but where is the benefit to citizens?

The biggest trend in American business over the past few decades has been consolidation. Much of it is subject to regulatory approval. It should be subject to regulatory scrutiny. That part seems sorely lacking.

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

Comcast as every incentive to do more of the same, protecting their legacy businesses through the terms they offer consumers.

Will programming and distribution deals be structured, as many are now, to protect Comcast’s cable TV business? Why do I even ask?

There was a time in America when bigger was better. Charles Erwin Wilson, nominee for Secretary of Defense in the early 1950’s famously tried to hold onto his GM stock while in office&#185.

Because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.

att_logoAnd maybe, sixty years ago, it was. Employment scaled up as company’s did.

Is there anyone who actually believes the Comcast or AT&T acquisitions will have a positive outcome for America? More choice? More employment? More investment? Better technology?

“This compelling and complementary combination will bring significant benefits to all consumers, shareholders and DIRECTV employees,” said Mike White, president and CEO of DIRECTV. “U.S. consumers will have access to a more competitive bundle; shareholders will benefit from the enhanced value of the combined company; and employees will have the advantage of being part of a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned to meet the evolving video and broadband needs of the 21st century marketplace.” – AT&T press release

The important part is there in the last sentence:

a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned

We’re already dealing with companies treading very close to the anti-trust line. Take the bundling of cable TV services, where I have to buy loads of channels I don’t want to get the ones I do.

Typically, the “tied” product may be a less desirable one that the buyer might not purchase unless required to do so, or may prefer to get from a different seller. If the seller offering the tied products has sufficient market power in the “tying” product, these arrangements can violate the antitrust laws. – Federal Trade Commission

The system is being gamed and these mergers and acquisitions will only make things worse. It’s time to put a stop to it.

&#185 – He sold his stock before his appointment, but after his confirmation hearing.

Weather Is Always Eclectic And Strange

It’s tough to explain something before it’s happened that’s going to be tough to recount after it’s happened!

weather center.jpgI’m not complaining. My ‘office’ is well lit and well equipped. I have cable TV at my desk. I am not lifting boxes in the factory. I get it. Still, this week has totally wiped me out and it’s only Wednesday.

Thankfully the forecast has been reasonably fine. That’s not the problem. It’s just the complexity of the week’s weather.
We haven’t had weather as much as we’ve had samples!

After the fact someone will try and pin a specific reason why this week has been so weird from a weather perspective. Whatever they say will sound studious, but be wrong! Weather is too complex to easily fit into soundbites.

Weather is always eclectic and strange. This is the rule, not the exception. We seldom see average weather.

Here’s my problem right now: It’s tough to explain something before it’s happened that’s going to be tough to recount after it’s happened! Every word becomes critical. It’s been like this all week. My head is spinning.

All through my professional life strangers have told me how boring it would be to forecast in Los Angeles or San Diego. At this moment that seems so appealing.

Will You Pay For Info? Confusion Reigns

An eyeball viewing content on the net isn’t worth as much as that same eyeball watching a TV commercial.

ny-times-technology-page.pngAt the TV station my bosses have a quandary. They know many of you are changing your habits and getting your info on the Internet. Should we follow you?

Don’t answer yet because the problem is complex and confusing.

An eyeball viewing content on the net isn’t worth as much as that same eyeball watching a TV commercial. We move you to the net at our own peril. Of course if we could charge viewers to subscribe to our product, as cable TV and satellite radio already do, we could supplement income from commercials and continue to pay the mortgage.

So far getting consumers to pay for web content isn’t very successful. At one time the NY Times had a partial paywall behind which its columnists and some other premium content lived. No more. The Wall Street Journal is currently somewhat successful in charging for much of its content. There aren’t many other examples.

Entire lines of business are dependent on getting the correct answer to this question which is why the Technology page on the NY Times website is so frustrating. Co-existing on one page are the following headlines:

  • 80% of US Consumers Won’t Pay For Content
  • About Half in US Would Pay For Online News, Study Finds.

Is there an editor in the house? Aren’t these mutually exclusive?

If the answer was easy we’d all be doing the right thing today instead of being petrified what we’ll do is wrong.

Blogger’s note: For clarity I used Photoshop to make the capture of the Times Technology page fit on your screen. Nothing germane to my point was removed.

Changes Through My Life

That’s an important point not to be missed. Many things that did exist have been democratized by sharply falling prices.

When I was a kid, I’d ask my parents what their life was like growing up. I heard their words and knew their world was quite different. I never fully understood how much things had changed.

They listened to the radio, which was programmed like television… well, like television used to be when it was dominated by scripted programs. “We used our imaginations,” my mother would say. I’m sure they did. That kind of radio didn’t stand a chance when TV came along.

I was reading an article in the paper tonight which, reminded me of those conversations with my folks and made me think of how I’d answer that question today. How has the world changed since my childhood?

A short list of things that didn’t exist, or weren’t available to me:

  • Computers
  • Microwaves
  • Satellites/Astronauts
  • Cable TV
  • Remote Control
  • Affordable long distance phone service
  • Affordable airfare
  • VCRs/DVRs
  • Any digital media
  • Touchtone phones
  • Seatbelts/Padded Dash/Crumple Zones
  • Transistors/ICs/LSI
  • Fruit in the winter
  • Single Serve Bottled Water
  • McDonalds, etc
  • Family safe/friendly Times Square
  • Answering machines/Voicemail
  • Credit Cards

I looked around the room while I typed that. So many of the things I’m looking at were unavailable or unaffordable to most people.

That’s an important point not to be missed. Many things that did exist have been democratized by sharply falling prices. Nothing is more amazing than what’s happened to long distance rates.

In 1950, New York-LA, 5 minute call: $3.70, 10 minute call: $6.70. Tack on inflation and New York-LA, 5 minute call in 1950, in 2003 dollars: $28.19, 10 minute call: $51.04!

Businesses needed workers a lot more back then. Workers are expensive. Bosses looked to replace as many as they could. They couldn’t. We weren’t in competition with China. Hell, we weren’t speaking to China. International shipping was a nightmare.

My parents made their younger years sound romantic. That’s not what I see when I look back. There’s little of anything I’d want reverted to its original state. Today is better than yesterday.

People are scared of terrorism today, but we were scared of the Soviets and “the bomb.” Are the potential consequences really any different? Do they hate us any less?

I don’t know where the next changes will come from, but there’s no doubt more innovation is on the way. The long term future is unpredictable. Maybe that’s what makes it so much fun.

About Those Cameras

I have a suggestion: make the cameras available to everyone. Seriously. If they’re looking at a public space, open them up. Put them on the Internet or put them on the cable TV feed that goes to this project. Someone will watch!

It’s a terrible story from New York. A woman, walking in a Brooklyn housing project is grabbed and then raped by someone she believes is from the neighborhood. Though the housing project is blanketed by 200 cameras, police see nothing.

From the New York Daily News:

The knife-wielding predator was caught on various cameras following the woman into an elevator, and then forcing her up the stairs, sources said.

The sicko was caught on up to 30 minutes of video, but only about two-and-a-half minutes actually played on the monitors cops were watching, sources said.

“Either they saw it and did nothing, which seems hard to believe, even for this unmotivated crew. Or they were busy looking at something else. Or they were asleep, which seems most likely,” said a police source familiar with the lapse.

It’s a tragedy and, unfortunately, far from an isolated incident.

Surveillance cameras should be a deterrent, but they really aren’t. Often, all they provide is a retrospective look at what was missed.

I have a suggestion: make the cameras available to everyone.

Seriously. If they’re looking at a public space, open them up. Put them on the Internet or put them on the cable TV feed that goes to this project. Someone will watch!

Actually, it shouldn’t be limited to these housing project cameras. If they’re publicly funded and looking at a public space, every camera possible should be made available.

There are cameras all over New Haven (as an example). I have no idea where they go or who, if anyone, is monitoring. Put them on the Internet!

As with cellphones, which have undoubtedly saved lives as accidents and incidents are more easily and more rapidly reported to police, the democratization of cameras will achieve the same result.

If this idea seems half baked or invasive to you, please post a comment and let me know. Right now, I think I’m on to something.

Huge Changes In Television

If you have a working 1950 DuMont TV, you can still use it today! Let’s see how much software your five year old computer will run!

DumontTV.jpgA huge change in television is about a year away on February 19, 2009. Most likely, you will not be affected.

The analog TV channels, some of which have carried broadcasts for 60 (or more) years will be shut down. Television will move to new digital channels, all of which are already broadcasting in parallel today.

The reason you won’t care about this change is, cable TV and satellite providers will convert the digital signal for you. An overwhelming majority of Americans get their TV signal from a provider, not off-the-air. Your old set will still work fine, unless you’re using an antenna on your roof or rabbit ears.

This will be a sad moment, because it eliminates a system which allows any TV ever made to still be used! Amazingly, every change to TV over the years has been accomplished without making old sets obsolete. Those days are over.

When color TV first came on the scene, it was called compatible color, because the TV signal was altered in such a way that black and white sets would still work just fine. The same was the case when stereo sound was introduced.

If you have a working 1950 DuMont TV at home, you can still use it today! Let’s see how much software your five year old computer will run… or where you can play your 8-track tapes!

For TV stations, this is a huge burden coming at the very same time their profitability is threatened by new media. Building a transmission facility for digital broadcasting is a huge financial undertaking, especially when you remember nearly no one watches over-the-air.

On top of that, at some point local stations will also have to begin originating HDTV. Right now, most just pass through what the networks provide. Local programming like news and syndicated show are still sent in the old school standard definition, with its four by three format.

All these capital expenses will be undertaken without a real understanding of potential ongoing demand. Do you really want to see me that clearly?

As the off switches are thrown across the country next February, new operators will be standing by with new services. The FCC is in the middle of auctioning off these TV frequencies which will be abandoned.

The original station operators got them for free! We were much more innocent back then. Now they’ll bring tens of billions of dollars and come with many strings attached.

I don’t know where TV will be five or ten years from now. Computers are becoming more adept at delivering video content. Maybe that’s the logical platform?

Will there be enough bandwidth if everyone decides to watch online? Some experts are saying no… but no one really knows.

I don’t see anyone predicting where TV will be a decade from now.

History Channel’s 1968

For me, 1968 was the seminal year. I graduated high school, left the comfort of my family to travel out west with a pen pal I’d never met, and started college.

I watched Tom Brokaw’s paean to 1968 last night. The History Channel is running it.&#185.

For me, 1968 was the seminal year. I graduated high school, left the comfort of my family to travel out west with a pen pal I’d never met, and started college.

In July 1968, I was working at Sears on Northern Blvd. Flushing. It was a store so obscure, until I worked there, I didn’t know it existed (I’d lived in Flushing nearly 15 years at the time). I was saving my $1.50 an hour wage to buy record albums.

In 1968 I bought Janis Joplin, Blood Sweat and Tears (pre-David Clayton Thomas), The Doors and Cream albums. As I remember, the going price for an album was $2.79. I was also going with my Cousin Michael and our friend Larry to concerts at the Fillmore East in the pre-stylish, quite seedy, East Village.

1968 is when I registered for the draft.

The Vietnam War was raging in the late 60s. The real controversy started a few years earlier, but by ’68 it was a festering national sore. Even with film instead of videotape, and without the immediacy of satellites, we were seeing more of the battles and horrors of war than we do in Iraq. Anti-Vietnam War sentiment was rising – rising rapidly.

1968 was the year the police went wild at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I remember the horror in the face of Dave Kulka’s mom as she watched (while Dave and I didn’t) at their hillside home in Greenbrae, California.

Lyndon Johnson was abandoned. Bobby Kennedy as killed. Richard Nixon was elected. Men circled, but didn’t land on, the moon.

Of my 57 years, 1968 was undoubtedly the most historically significant. I wonder, in retrospect, if I was less cognizant of the nuts and bolts of the social and political tumult than I thought I was at the time? There was so much going on.

I liked how Browkaw treated this year. I remembered most, though not all of what went on. He connected some dots that I had not. I was disappointed in myself for not doing that sooner.

It was funny to see Tom Brokaw talk about his suited and skinny tied self, while portray his inner life as significantly hipper. Was he, or was he just a wannabe?

If you get a chance, this will be two hours well spent.

&#185 – The good news about cable TV is, even if you’ve missed it, it will run again… and again.

Free At Last

The NY Post is announcing the NY Times soon will be giving away web content they’d been charging for. This is the “Times Select” program. As a print subscriber, I’m already getting this material. I’m glad you’ll have access too. There’s some really good stuff there.

Some of the Times columnists have complained their columns were less available than those of contemporaries at less widely read papers elsewhere. That’s sad.

Meanwhile, this is just another sign that web content cannot (right now) sustain a subscription model, as cable TV or satellite radio do.

Last night, as I was going through my printed edition of the Times for the fourth or fifth time, I thought about how lucky we are to live in an era when information is so freely available. No society has ever had virtual libraries delivered to the home – until now.

I’m not just talking about hard news. I am constantly digging deep to find stories that broaden my knowledge base. Sure, I might never need to refer to a recent article about train travel within sub-Saharan Africa, but I’m glad I read it.

There is always something new to learn, and learning in the abstract is good.

It will be nice to have the Times op-ed writers see the light of day again. Now, it’s up to you to read them.

The Need For Speed

“The Cable Show,” an industry trade show for cable TV is underway in Las Vegas. To a certain extent, I’m surprised this show still exists. There aren’t that many CATV companies left.

Comcast Corp&#185. Chief Executive Brian Roberts dazzled a cable industry audience Tuesday, showing off for the first time in public new technology that enabled a data download speed of 150 megabits per second, or roughly 25 times faster than today’s standard cable modems.

This is huge news. Speed is capacity and no one ever has enough capacity – think closets in your home.

It is easy to think faster cable modems mean getting web pages and videos faster. And, of course that’s true.

More importantly, higher bandwidth changes what a data service can provide. I can’t imagine all the possible applications, but this certainly brings us closer to an environment where everything is on demand. For instance, higher bandwidth could allow all video (TV shows, newscasts, movies, sports, etc) to be individually fed.

Since Verizon is already rolling out its FIOS service, with high speed data directly to the home via fiber optic lines, this cable achievement assures some level of ongoing competition.

My fear continues to be cable and phone companies favoring their own (more profitable) products when it comes to transmission speed to the home. It’s the whole concept of network neutrality. But even that becomes less of a factor when there’s a broader pipe.

&#185 – I own a small position in Comcast as part of my retirement plan.

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.

Hooked On Consumerist

When it comes to customer/retailer disputes, the customer isn’t always right. Unfortunately, often times he is, after the sale, when consumers have almost no leverage.

Maybe that’s why I’ve become hooked on reading It’s a guilty pleasure, like reading about Paris Hilton or sneaking a candy bar from the bag left over from Halloween (you think this is a surprise to anyone in the Fox house?).

I am often amazed by the reported (not verified) outlandishly bad behavior of America’s big merchants. And believe me, some of this is pretty mean.

On the other hand, I also see consumer weasels trying to game the system and then getting upset when they don’t succeed. Reading their letters of complaint makes my blood boil. Consumerist often treats them as legitimate complainers, though I wouldn’t.

Business weasels seem to outnumber consumer weasels. Again, remember where the leverage is after the sale.

I am curious how big business looks at sites like this? All of a sudden, the Internet has made one person’s word-of-mouth louder and opened up publishing to nearly anyone. Bad customer experiences trying to cancel AOL’s service, get a cable TV problem fixed, or expose customer neglect by airlines have been well documented with pictures and sound.

Do big businesses weigh the cost of this bad publicity and if so, how much weight is given to sites like this? Is someone from Cingular or Home Depot or any one of the sites often mentioned reading Consumerist as part of their job?

I can tell you from experience, no official has ever responded when I’ve written about a product or service I was dissatisfied with – but this blog gets minimal traffic.

‘Buzz’ has created today’s celebrities. It’s also responsible for web hits like YouTube, Craigslist and MySpace, which seemingly grew without organized promotion (at best with minimal promotion). Can buzz injure established brick and mortar companies too?

Read at your own peril. The site is addictive.

Not Welcome In Boulder

from TVNewser:

John Ramsey’s attorney says the “media onslaught” is “worse than it’s ever been.” The AP reports: “The intense coverage has Ramsey considering a move out of the country…”

A few weeks after JonBenet Ramsey was killed, I was in Boulder, CO with a full TV crew. We were there to tape interviews and produce ‘ins and outs’ for Inside Space, the show I hosted on SciFi.

With the university’s research into planetary science and space in general, and government facilities like NIST, Boulder was a perfect trip for our show.

Boulder was beautiful; reminiscent of what my friends in the late 60s would have envisioned for the future. The city was clean. Downtown was thriving with restaurants and shops&#185. Every parking meter was also a bike rack (and some residents even rode their bikes in the snow).

Strangers often asked why we were asked why were there? When we answered, almost uniformly we were told how intrusive and awful it was to have the crews there and how Boulder didn’t want or need this publicity.

It’s not that the other crews were rowdy or disrespectful. They were just there and the story they reported was tawdry, reflecting poorly on what Boulder was trying to be… what it actually was.

I can only imagine how Boulder will react this time. Cable TV news and tabloids were nothing then compared to today. The pressure is greater. The crews will be more visible. The reporters will be more aggressive.

I don’t know what will come of the ‘suspect’ being flown in today from Thailand. All I know is, Boulder wishes it were already over.

&#185 – One night we ate at a downtown brewpub. Though I don’t drink, I was proofed! Being in my forties, I liked that. I also had Jamaican Jerk Chicken so good, I can still taste it.

When Cable TV Automation Fails

Usually I put the entry title first, then write my blog entry. I’m not sure what to call this. Though, as a broadcaster, I find what I’m watching troubling and sad.

I was looking for something to watch on TV and tuned by Channel 101. That’s The Weather Channel’s digital service, “Weatherscan.” It’s automated and people free.

When running properly, it flips through radar, observations and forecasts. Tonight, it is not running properly… or at all.

It’s 11:10 PM, Saturday evening. The clock on Weatherscan says it’s 5:09:13 AM. The screen is frozen in place. On the lower right, a radar shot show rain about to enter Connecticut. The temperature is 43&#176. The 24/7 music is gone. There is only silence.

If this happened at a TV station, people would be scrambling. The phones would be ringing off the hook. If it wasn’t fixed in a few seconds, we’d at least acknowledge the problem.

It’s possible, when you’re on Channel 101, and one of three weather services on the cable system, no one noticed… or cared.

It is most likely I will never know what happened. Someone will quietly discover whatever has gone wrong and push a button or reboot a computer to revive the system. No attention will be drawn.

Is this really the future? Wouldn’t a person have outperformed a machine here? Wouldn’t it make economic sense to pay for that person?

Yes. Yes. No.

Steffie Goes To College

Every life has milepost days. Yesterday was certainly one of them, as we took Steffie to college and helped her move into the dorm.

Make no mistake about it. This has affected me. But whatever I’m feeling pales in comparison to what Helaine and Steffie are feeling. I can claim to understand, but I can’t.

Our day started very early. It was supposed to start just early, but Helaine couldn’t sleep. When I woke up, a few hours before my scheduled time, she was already out of the shower.

We planned to leave the house at 7:30 and were pretty much on schedule.

If you’re reading this, waiting for the moment when the wheels fell off the wagon, you might as well stop now. This day went exceptionally smoothly. Nearly everything went as planned and the college was shockingly prepared and organized.

Is this my life we’re talking about?

The trip to Long Island took around two hours. There is a ferry available, but it only makes sense if you are going to far Eastern Long Island – not us. We headed down the Connecticut Turnpike which becomes the New England Thruway at the New York State line.

As we passed over the Throgs Neck Bridge, I realized that at some time Steffie would be making this trip on her own. I wanted to let her know about some tricky exiting.

An hour and a half into a two hour trip is too late to start. The best way is to let her drive it some time, with me in the passenger’s seat.

As we pulled on campus, a uniformed guard moved toward the car. Before Steffie went to her dorm, did she have her 700 number?

Sure, it was under a room and a half’s worth of stuff!

Steffie and I set out for the Student Center. This was actually a good thing, because she was able to get her student ID, which she would need for virtually everything else.

Next stop, the dorm. Steffie’s room is on the 6th floor of a 13 floor tower. The building is poured concrete, with some brick and cinder block. I would suppose if you’re going to build a structure to hold hundreds of 18-22 year olds, you’d want to make as little of it flammable as is possible.

The concrete looks like it was poured into wooden molds, so the grain pattern of the wood is still visible on the building’s exterior. I’m sure some architect somewhere will wince when he reads this, but I like that look. At least dull, drab concrete is given some modicum of texture.

Another campus cop, dressed like a park ranger, was near the dorm, directing traffic. He asked me if I could squeeze into a spot, which I did. The rear hatch of the Explorer was poised at the edge of the sidewalk. Perfect.

We walked inside where Steffie registered for the dorm, got a sticker added to her ID and a key for her room (don’t lose it – replacements are $150). Then we moved back outside for the surprise of the day.

The college had a small fleet of wheeled bright orange carts. Instead of hand carrying a car’s worth of stuff, we filled up the cart (twice) and rolled it to the elevator and then the sixth floor.

Steffie’s room was ‘prison modern’. It’s small room, with large window. The floors are some sort of easily cleaned, plastic derivative. There were two desks, each with a hutch, two dressers and two large standing hanging closets.

Near the door was the outlet for high speed Internet and telephone access. It, and the cable TV/phone jack, were the only real mistakes of the room. In order to bring the Internet to the desk across the room, you’d need to run the school supplied Ethernet cable across the floor… or go out and buy a fifty foot cable (which is what I did).

I thought Steffie had overpacked… and maybe she did… but she managed to squeeze everything into her half of the room. Once she put some photo montages and other personal touches on the wall, the room began to look homey.

While Helaine and Steffie fixed the living space, I tackled the electronics. Her computer quickly connected to the school’s network. Her two speakers and subwoofer sounded great on her desk.

At one time a student would pack up a small stereo system for a dorm room. There’s really no reason to do that anymore. Steffie’s laptop will serve as her stereo. It’s loaded with all the MP3’s that are in her iPod, and then some. Plus, it will play CDs.

All this time, while the unpacking and set up was going on, Steffie was alone. Her roommate, coming from Kansas, had not yet arrived. Half the room was warm and fuzzy. The other half was Cellblock-G sterile.

Being on the sixth floor and facing west, the room has a great view. The building in the center of this photo is North Shore Towers (where my friend Peter’s parents once lived), about eight miles away.

As the afternoon moved along, we realized there were a few items we had forgotten, so we headed out, looking for a ‘big box’ store to load up.

When I went to college, there was an old black and white TV in the common area in the basement. With its rabbit ears antenna, we could only get a few fuzzy signals. The was Boston’s Back Bay, where even a rooftop antenna brought ghostly signals and where cable wouldn’t be introduced for at least a decade or more.

Today, there is cable TV in each room! Steffie has multiple channels of HBO. Hey, we don’t have that at home!

We had decided to wait on getting her a TV until we got there. And, quite honestly, there wouldn’t have been room in the car.

First stop was Best Buy. It must have been a cold day in hell for me to walk in there, because Best Buy and I just don’t get along. I don’t want to go into the whole story, but my last trip to a Best Buy, much closer to home, ended with me screaming at the manager, “OK then, call the cops.”

We found an off brand 20″ TV for… Oh, go ahead, guess. I’m waiting.

The TV was $87.99. How is that humanly possible?

Forget the labor and parts. How can you ship a weighty box halfway around the world and build a Best Buy on the profit from this thing? I’m not sure how is possible. The TV has remote control and input jacks for a DVD and/or VCR.

The remote came with batteries!

We also picked up a little DVD player. Sure, the computer can play DVDs, but this is what she wanted… and again, it was dirt cheap. The DVD player was $31.99.

Here’s what I can’t figure out. How can this TV/DVD combination sell for less than the frames for my eyeglasses? There’s some disconnect here… or the ability to make a boatload of money producing cheap frames.

The TV fit nicely on top of Steffie’s dresser. The DVD player needed to be turned into one corner. It’s not optimal, but it will do. It’s a dorm room, after all.

Next stop for us was the theater for a lecture on fire safety. I had already given Steffie my own cautionary tale about fire alarms and dorms. It will go off often. She still needs to leave. She can’t take the chance it will always be a false alarm.

There was another paragraph here about the lecturer, his demeanor and his warmth. I have removed it because I don’t want to be sued. ‘Nuff said.

Evening was approaching and Steffie’s roommate was still a no show.

At the lobby of the dorm there was a short list of who wasn’t there. The list grew shorter as names were crossed off. Not this one. She was top of the list and still missing in action.

We went to a barbecue on the intramural field. There were previously warm hot dogs and cheeseburgers (with unmelted cheese on the burgers) and we ate away.

Time was running short. Helaine and I had to return to Connecticut. We didn’t want to leave Steffie before the roommate arrived, but we had no choice.

Our goodbyes were tearful. Steffie put on wide sunglasses, but tears still poured out. Helaine was no less emotional.

After being with Steffie virtually every day for 18 years, we would be separated. Helaine will be seeing her in a month. It will be longer for me.

If you would have asked me how Steffie would fare in college a year ago, I wouldn’t have had a ready, positive answer. It’s different now. This last year has seen her mature a lot.

She has said, and I believe her, that she’s ready for college and the college experience. I think she is.

It will be interesting to see how she ‘plays with others’. As an only child, Steffie has had her own bedroom, bathroom and playroom. Now she’ll be sharing a room with one girl and a bathroom with a floor of them.

There are so many things to learn in college. Classroom work is only one part of a very large experience.

Blogger’s note: Steffie’s roommate arrived, alone, right after we left. She had packed light with more being shipped over the next few days.

More Television Future Shock

Do you need a TV station to have a TV show? Yes and no. The advantage of a TV station is, it is a known commodity, usually with a well visited address.

If our newscasts on Channel 8 were to move tomorrow to the SciFi Channel, ratings would plummet. That’s not to say bad things about SciFi, we just have better channel position with more traffic.

The disadvantage of a television station is it usually has high fixed costs. Smart operators are trying to work those costs down through automation and other technical advances. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t – but it’s obviously the wave of the future.

This leads to a question. Is it possible to have a successful TV show without having a TV channel (or cable network) behind you?

I’m wondering if the answer is yes after having seen a show produced by It features Kevin Rose who was on Tech TV’s The Screen Savers.

The show I saw last night was well produced, but on a topic so technically dense that few except the chronically nerdy would have watched. There were no commercials – how can it be economically sustained? Using the bittorrent protocol it took around 10 minutes to download.

Of course, it was free.

What I watched looked as good as anything produced for over-the-air or cable TV. If it had been something more attractive to a wide audience, with some way to pay the freight, I think it might be successful!

Bittorrent is an interesting distribution method, because it uses the collective bandwidth of the users, not a central server paid for by the program’s distributor. That’s a major cost saving when each viewer needs to receive hundreds of megabytes of data.

For attractive media (defined as something a specific group of viewers would seek out, because it scratches a specific itch) this might be a godsend.

Think of subject matter like photography, knitting, ham radio and kayaking. Each of these has a dedicated base of fans who want to see more on their hobby or avocation, but there’s not enough audience tonnage to make this work on an established channel. Because the audience would be sharply targeted, each set of eyeballs would be worth more to advertisers or underwriters (this is non traditional media – why not a non traditional economic model).

It could be commercially viable – though more on the retail level than the mass marketing we’re used to on TV. In other words, it makes sense for a person or small group of persons to do this. It doesn’t make as much sense for a larger, high cost basis organization to get involved.

The big question is, will people do all the things necessary to download these files? Is there a way to preserve the cost structure as it is and make it seamless for the end user?

This could be very exciting.