A Friend Indeed

Today I saw Dr. Mel as I realized what was going on. So, if you like tonight’s tie you know who to compliment.

shirt and tie.jpgI can’t believe it. I forgot my tie! This happens two or three times a year.

In the past I’ve borrowed from Noah Finz. Today it was Dr. Mel as I realized what was going on. He said yes.

Would anyone have noticed? “Look! Channel 8’s weather people all have similar ties.”

If you like tonight’s tie you now know who to compliment.

I need to store ties at work!

My Stevie Wonder Story

As Stevie begins moving into the second song, a voice is heard calling, “What key? What key?” Who was that… and why? That’s what I wanted to know.

little-stevie-wonder.jpgI went to dinner with Noah Finz, our sports anchor, tonight. Somehow the conversation turned to Stevie Wonder and I got to tell a story that flashed back to me. It was about the day I interviewed Stevie.

I was working in Cleveland at WGAR radio. I was a disk jockey, working nights. Stevie Wonder was appearing, probably at the Blossom Music Center.

I watched the show, then headed backstage with my little tape recorder. It seemed to take forever for Stevie to appear and when he did he was escorted by two men with their hands under his arms. I assumed he was pretty stoned by the time we spoke. I’m not really sure why I thought that, except the long period of time between his performance and my interview.

There’s not much of the interview I remember today, except the one question I really wanted him to answer. It had to do with his first hit as Little Stevie Wonder, “Fingertips Part 2.”

Fingertips was recorded at a live show. Stevie finished singing and as the applause rose and an announcer gave his name, the band began to play him off. But Stevie didn’t leave the stage. Instead, he started playing the harmonica, breaking into another song. It is one of the most exciting live performances ever on record.

As Stevie begins moving into the second song, a voice is heard calling, “What key? What key?” Who was that… and why? That’s what I wanted to know.

As I remember him tell it, back then all the artists would play with a single large ‘house band.’ Because the show was long, players would take breaks from time-to-time, moving offstage to go to the men’s room or smoke a cigarette.

In this case, a horn player was returning to the stage. He was caught unaware Little Stevie was about to continue. He was ready to vamp and fake it with the rest of the group, but he didn’t know what key they were playing in!

I always wanted to know and I found out from Stevie Wonder himself about 35 years ago.

My Fighting Side

As a kid, some of my fondest moments were spent screaming politics with my Uncle Murray

I enjoy a good argument. If done right, and with the right person, it can be fun. As a kid, some of my fondest moments were spent screaming politics with my Uncle Murray.

I had a good argument last night at work with our sports director, Noah Finz. He’s just started a web feature where he debates a sports oriented topic with one of our staffers. The result is posted on the station’s website.

Since he and I had been ‘discussing’ the UCONN football team’s decision to play a home game out-of-state, instead of in their new, taxpayer financed, stadium, we argued about that.

Believe me, he is a friend, I am not ticked off at him. I am more than a little perturbed at the UCONN Athletic Department’s decision.

How Do You Deal With It?

I like Noah Finz, our sports guy at the TV station. I like his wife, Kendra, too. I’ve known her a lot longer than I’ve known Noah. They are both technophobes.

Actually, being a little skittish in the face of technology puts them in step with most everyone, which leads me to what happened today.

Noah’s laptop was old. He wanted to upgrade to faster hardware, especially with a two year old, infant and very nice camera for picture taking.

Most people would have unplugged the old machine, plugged in the new and then forgotten what was left on the laptop. Sure, they’re networked together, but how many people know how that works? Few!

I popped in the car and headed to Fairfield County.

His Dell desktop machine was the most quiet PC I’ve ever heard – startling, since the trend has been in the opposite direction. It needed a Firewire and wireless network card. No sweat, except it only had two slots, one of which was already filled by a dial-up modem.

“Put this away,” I told Noah as I handed it to him in an anti-static bag. Truthfully, it will never be used.

The Firewire card was effortlessly installed suing native Windows drivers. The wireless card was more trouble. It didn’t conform to Belkin’s instructions!

It finally installed because I ad libbed. How do they sell and support these things when the installation process isn’t remotely connected to what’s in the instructions?

As with Helaine’s computer, this Dell came loaded with ‘nagware.’ I don’t want programs bugging me. Some are difficult to remove. Others are confusingly described. Most have limited lifespans, meaning you’re later expected to shell out more money for the software that came on your PC!

Hats off to Cablevision, Noah’s ISP. Their Optonline cable modem service has an automated configuration tool which set up Outlook Express correctly on the first try.

We installed Picasa, MS Office, the new free AOL anti-virus suite and a few others. Then it was time to move photos and documents. I couldn’t get his computers to speak to each other. I have no idea why, nor do I know how I finally encouraged them to have limited access to each other.

It just happened.

You never accomplish 100% on a mission of mercy like this, but we came close. Again, I have no idea how Noah or Kendra could have done this themselves, and they can’t be alone.

What do most people do? Or do people like me just drive around on weekends helping out and playing with little kids – they couldn’t have been cuter.

Color Versus Monochrome

Taking a lot of photos has made me a better photographer. They’ve also made me a better Photoshopper. Without Photoshop (or sometimes “The Gimp” – a free equivalent) I’d be lost.

My pictures are sharpened and brightened and intensified. They don’t necessarily look exactly like what I photographed. They tend to look like what I want to remember.

I sense, if you had traveled the west with Ansel Adams, you wouldn’t have seen exactly what his amazing photos show. So much of what is portrayed on his prints is the product of the time and effort he spent in the darkroom.

From time-to-time I make offers to friends to help them with their photos. Sometimes I can make a real difference. Sometimes I just want to fool around with someone else’s work to see if there’s something in their shooting technique I can use later.

I’ve been bugging Noah Finz, our sports director at work, to bring some photos of his daughter Paulina, so I could make a poster. In the past I’ve done oversize composites of orchids and our Mexican vacation. I’d never concentrated on a single person.

Last week Noah brought about a dozen shots, and I went to work. I had asked for close-ups, which he had.

Paulina is incredibly photogenic and expressive. The poster came together quickly and easily. I liked how it turned out.

Then, I experimented.

I went to each photo individually, converting it from color to monochrome with fairly high contrast. There is a ‘desaturate’ button that will do all this, but I wanted more control and the ability to achieve a more stylized outcome.

I then added an orange filter. It actually doesn’t look orange in the finished product, and I’m not sure why. I tried to adjust it to warm the print and give it a classic look.

I did some A/B comparisons. I like the tinted monochrome version better. Maybe I’m biased, since it was my decision to go on from the color version. I don’t know.

To me, in the color version, Paulina’s clothes are too bright. They detract from her. Let Paulina be the center of attention.

In this way, photos differ from real life. I’m sure she was as adorable as could be wearing bright colors. Like I said, I want the finished piece to look like what I want to remember.

Blogger’s note: Click on either photo to see a larger version. The actual files being printed for Noah are significantly larger still – too large to fit on your computer’s monitor.

A Quick Glance At The Future

I went out to dinner last night with Noah Finz. He’s our sports director at the station, a very nice and smart guy, but a technophobe.

We got to talking about where technology is going, especially as it concerns communications. I was surprised at how interested he was… or how well he feigned interest.

With that in mind, I thought I’d write a little about where I see things going. Please remember, the past has taught us it’s really tough to accurately predict the future. This is even tougher than weather prediction because this part of the future will not replicate past events. And, remember these predictions are coming from someone who loves technology. I’m trying to hold back my bias.

To me, the key to the future is not in speedier processors nor more memory and storage, though certainly those things will enter the picture. The big deal is bandwidth. It is the 500 pound gorilla in the room.

Bandwidth limitations is why you ‘only’ receive 150 TV channels. Bandwidth bottlenecks are why your computer often waits while it is plucking data off websites or the Real player takes so much time caching those first few seconds of video before it starts to play.

With enough bandwidth, television can become a one to one medium – unlimited video on demand. Any show or any video source can be run when you want it. Desperate Housewives Tuesday at 8:41 AM. Why Not?

Already, even if you’re not in their home market, you can still watch your favorite baseball team play, because nearly all the games are available over the Internet. CPTV, here in Connecticut, sells a package of UCONN women’s basketball games for out-of-towners with high speed Internet access.

The radically changes the paradigm of commercial television. Without a mass audience watching the same commercial at the same time, television begins to lose its unique sales appeal. There will have to be another way to pay for this.

It could be commercials, maybe a subscription, or maybe both. We’re not limited by what we’ve seen in the past. Sending video as a digital stream rather than analog allows for the integration of other info.

This ability to receive the programming you want, when you want it, will turn television into a narrowcast medium rather than its current broadcast model. There is a demand for shows on knitting or cars or computers or… well you get the idea. Those sharply targeted programs&#185 will steal audience from today’s broadcasts.

In the pre-cable days there were a lot of shows that, today, look like they were ‘going through the motions’ to fill the time. I’m afraid we’ll look back at what’s on TV now in the same way, as soon as the floodgates open in this new communications world.

The days of high production cost TV production are limited. Gresham’s economic laws will be seen affecting TV. We’re already seeing some of that as networks run more ‘cheaper to produce’ reality shows and re-run more of primetime TV.

Is there a long term viable business model for shot-on-film hour long dramas? I’m not sure.

Today, local television stations serve two general purposes. They produce and distribute local programming, like news, and they act as a distribution channel for nationally networked and syndicated shows. With video on demand, I can’t see why these program producers will need local stations.

Local stations will be forced to be local stations. Those who don’t will be marginalized out of profitability. This has happened in radio over the last 40 years.

That doesn’t mean the economic model of local TV is gone. It just means stations will have to better understand how to produce more content for local consumption. I also think they’ll have to shift their focus from producing programming to fill their air time to being producers of programming for anyone who will distribute it.

Today’s TV stations will have to turn out video streams the way Chinese companies, like Twinhead, turn out laptops. The majority of Twinhead’s products are produced for others with other people’s brands on them. You might be using one now, with no way to tell. Twinhead’s expertise is production… as is today’s TV stations.

A newspaper in Wilmington, DE is already producing video webcasts of local news. The New York Times is expanding their multimedia content online. I think, in the mature model, newspapers will provide the news and a company with video production expertise will package it for them.

All this is happening and we haven’t even hit our stride as far as bandwidth is concerned. My cable modem at home now brings in data nearly three times as fast as it did a year or two ago. It’s getting to the point where it will soon become faster than my home network can handle!

The price of this bandwidth will do nothing but fall for the foreseeable future. There are many factors at work here.

First, there is the onrush of technology which promises to deliver bandwidth wirelessly. That should add another level of competition for the cable and legacy phone companies.

Next, there is a vast network of ‘dark’ fiber – glass lines that have loads of capacity but have never been used. My guess is, the intercity capacity of unlit fiber is a multiple of what’s currently in use.

The people who really need to be worried are the incumbent wireline phone companies. More bandwidth is their enemy. Already they are facing competition from broadband VOIP companies like Vonage, with cable companies jumping in.

When there are wireless access ‘clouds’ of connectivity over most areas, portable VOIP phones will trump cellular and wired phone networks with cheap and probably unmetered, flat rate, phone service.

It is a very exciting, very different world of telecommunications that’s right around the corner.

&#185 – I am having trouble using the word program here because it describes something that might not be. When content becomes very narrow and the viewer becomes very focused on its content, the formality of a ‘program’ may vanish altogether.