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Broadcast Television: In Praise of a Relic

The latest incarnation of Apple TV has again fired up the “cut the cord” talk – killing off your obscenely-priced cable or satellite subscription.  The stranglehold is broken.  Cutting the cord is absolutely a trend.

Apple TV, for example, has now joined more than 100 other devices that support Netflix streaming, which allows unending access to a huge library of programming direct to your television.

Wired just issued a complete guide, fronted by Joel McHale (from NBC’s Community and E’s The Soup), about how to watch all the best stuff without cable or satellite.  Here’s another how-to-live-without-cable-or-satellite from (not as fun as McHale’s).  A Google search produces at least a dozen more.

What you want, when you want it, as often as you want it – it’s easier than ever and doesn’t require a $100 cable bill.  Just a little bit of new hardware, a high-speed internet connection, maybe some new software, some non-cable and non-satellite programming subscriptions …

Just don’t tell me it’s about saving money.

Broadcast tower television digital signal high definition

Go old school: harness high definition television in its cleanest form with a $10 antenna or even a paperclip - compliments of your local broadcaster.

High definition television in its cleanest, purest form is always available to you at no cost.  The signal gets no better than straight out of the air.  No expensive hardware to purchase (because you already own that 42″ HDTV).  No cable, no satellite, no high speed internet, no Hulu, no Netflix … no subscription required of any kind.

Digital broadcast signals are in the air and all you need to harness them is a $10 antenna (though a large paperclip will often suffice).  Again, high definition television in its cleanest, purest form can be brought into your home at no cost.

  • Yes, you’re limited in programming.  In most areas, though, you’ll get a dozen channels or more between primary and sub-channels, from such content providers as PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Univision, Telemundo and others.
  • Yes, you’re giving up some precious control, subjecting yourself to a linear broadcast with incessant commercial interruptions.
  • Yes, it’s ludicrous to imagine cutting a high-speed internet subscription.
  • Yes, you may want to augment your options with a sub-$10 Netflix subscription.

But … over-the-air television is absolutely free.  Right now.  All the time.  And it’s nearly 100% stupid-proof … just plug it in and turn it on.  It’s the true essence of passive entertainment.

If your mobile device was equipped with a DTV tuner, you could have it all available wherever you go – without paying for mobile internet access.

I know this sounds like the ramblings of your grandfather, but the point remains: if your argument and motivation for “cutting the cord” is financial, you must celebrate the role your local broadcaster plays in entertaining and informing you.

High definition television in a linear form is a relic.  And it’s absolutely free.

Toyota: Lost in the Wilderness?

What a great ad. What a great message. What a great brand.

I loved where Toyota was with this:

The automotive branding textbook example is “Volvo = Safety.”

A runner up: “Toyota = Reliability.”

Once the darling of the automotive world for its efficient production, fantastic sales and extreme reliability, however, Toyota‘s taken quite a hit over the past year.

3.8 million cars. 8,000 trucks. 600,000 minivans270,000 luxury vehicles just last week.  That’s a lot of recalls (and that little recall rundown’s far from complete!).

Reliability ratings have fallen, too.

Result: a hard tack away from reliability toward

Wow!  That’s a ton of “safety.”  A quick count has them at seven mentions per :30 spot – nearly one time every four seconds!

On the upside: message is loud and clear, yet casual and clean.  Also, safety is not wholly separate from reliability; I consider the two concepts quite compatible.  It’s also timely and topical, if not a little bold given the state of all things Toyota.

On the downside: if you’re a Toyota owner (which I’ve never been), you may not buy the message – especially if the recalls have been particularly inconvenient.  This “safety” onslaught (I’ve seen several full-page print ads to match these spots) is not even fresh on the heels of the safety and reliability problems – it’s amid them.  I feel strongly, though, that something often enough repeated comes to be believed (for better and for worse).

I feel like this direction could really work … but they’re already giving up on it.

“They’re Already Giving Up” Exhibit A:

In short: “smart, young go-getter gets a helping hand from a good corporate citizen.”  Two notes: “Erica” does say the word “reliable” and it’s the same voice as the safety campaign.

The “safety” sell, though, seems to have expired.  They must have research that suggests their problems with perceived safety and reliability are over – or that those perception/imaging problems were never too deep.

If not, I’m considering Toyota lost in the wilderness.

Disclaimer: Toyota is obviously a highly sophisticated marketer.  My observations are based strictly in mainstream television and magazine messages.  I expect fully that they’ve got many targeted, niche campaigns striking exactly where needed that are beyond my view.

Pikes Peak: Gleeful Ignorance vs Mental Challenge

Tomorrow, I’ll day-hike Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak and back down for the second time.  This hike, however, already feels different.

My first ascent was undertaken in gleeful ignorance just three weeks after moving to Colorado Springs.

  • Sure, I knew I’d be hiking about 25 or 26 miles round trip to the top of “America’s Mountain,” the inspiration for the writing of “America the Beautiful.”
  • Yeah, I knew it would require most of my waking hours that day.
  • Absolutely, I was up for a walk up through three distinct ecological life zones (Montane, Spruce-fir and alpine).

It wasn’t until I hiked up alongside of JJ, a 20-something from Denver who’s in the Colorado Mountain Club, about 5 miles up that I really understood the accomplishment of day-hiking it.  The young man filled me in.

Pikes Peak, Barr Trail, 14er, mountain, summit, hike, peak, Colorado, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs

First summit hike of Pikes Peak by Barr Trail, September 2006

Pikes Peak by Barr Trail is marathon-length, the longest approach of any of Colorado’s famed 14ers (+14,000 peaks).  It also has the greatest elevation gain of any approach; from the trailhead in Manitou Springs to the summit, you climb approximately 7,500 vertical feet.

Among more than 50 qualifying Colorado peaks, Pikes ranks 30th at 14,110ft above sea level.  So, it’s not even close to being the highest.

It’s also not the most technical.  In fact, it’s probably the least technical.  Barr Trail is a Class 1 walk-up, about as simple a summit hike as you’ll find.

It’s also insanely civilized.  To call Barr Trail heavily used is a gross understatement, even by 14er standards.  There’s Barr Camp halfway up, where many hikers spend the night, purchase t-shirts, eat a pancake breakfast or pick up a bottled drink.  The summit itself is a tourist’s delight, designed to satisfy all those who drive up the Pikes Peak Highway or ride up the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.  In addition to a huge gift shop, replete with the requisite “Got Oxygen” t-shirts, summit house offers a snack bar and fresh donut stand.  Note: in addition to hiking it, I’ve been up by (rental) car and by cog railway.

So, what’s the difference between my initial go at it and what I’m preparing for tomorrow?  I don’t keep a list, but I’d guess I’ve climbed a couple dozen mountains since my day-hike of Pikes Peak.  So what’s the big deal?

I’ll call it the mental aspect of endurance.  It’s a little more in my head now.  I’m thinking too much about it.  It’s shaping up as more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

It’s going to be a long day – probably 12 or 13 hours of hiking.  I’m going to start before sunrise.  I’m certain to have blisters by the end of the day (even though I plan to switch between shoes and boots near treeline).

I’m not going up the much shorter Crags route on the west side of the mountain.  I’m not splitting the hike in half with by staying overnight at Barr Camp.  I’m not hiking up, then catching a ride back down in a car or on the train.

Instead, I’m heading up as fast as I can, buying a Gatorade in the summit house, seeing how full the parking lot is, then hauling all the way back down and out (the hike down’s different, but it isn’t easy).  I’m already wondering how tired and sore I might be as I head in to work on Monday morning.

To feel a little more prepared, I put on my boots and a full pack and did The Incline this morning.  And to think … last time, I simply decided on a Thursday afternoon that Saturday’s weather looked good, so I should head up that mountain in my back yard.

All kinds of Pikes Peak photos from my Flickr photo stream are here.

Positive Outcome from Dubious Marketing Ploy

A note on a dubious markeing ploy …

I’m “friends” with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter on Facebook.  I’m not sure how or when this happened, but, as a positive consequence, I get some useful info about goings-on at the state level.  Because of this “relationship,” I was treated to this in my Facebook News Feed yesterday morning:

Zeitgeist Movement Colorado tags Governor Bill Ritter on Facebook

Zeitgeist Movement Colorado tags Governor Bill Ritter

Like many of his 4,868 other “friends,” I watched the video out of curiosity alone.  “We are all connected” … sounds interesting!

As it turns out, the Governor appeared nowhere in this video, which was a fascinating production – particularly the audio mix.  Among those who did appear, probably without their knowledge or permission, were Bill Nye the Science Guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson (PBS), Carl Sagan and Richard Fenynman.  The video became repetitive, running about 2:00 too long.

Obviously, the tagging of the Governor by a member of the movement was a tactic to get attention – a “spray and pray” effort to cast a message as widely as possible by whatever means available with the hope that a target will be struck.  The downside: this runs against new, targeted, permission-based marketing principles.  The lamentable upside: it actually works …  I’m writing about it right now (!?).

So what is this Zeitgeist Movement that made its way into my consciousness by way of a dubious marketing ploy?  They seem to have semi-laudable but wildly impractical goals/ideals.  They call for a “sustainable social design” built on a “resource-based economy.”  Those are nice-sounding phrases.  It’s all based on the life’s work of industrial designer and social engineer Jaques Fresco.

I say it’s “laudable” because their critique of the status quo is harsh, highlighting the ugliest things about the way we live, work and “prosper.”  Also laudable are emphases on: world as singular organism, humans as singlular family, dependence upon healthy environment, natural processes, and the scientific method.  Per their intro video, they endorse the “humane application of science and technology to social design and decision making.”

I judge it “impractical” because it seeks a complete and fundamental redesign of all the world’s social and economic structures; its coming to pass seems wholly impossible given human nature.

In hindsight, I’m glad my Facebook News Feed was “hijacked” by a fallacious video tag.

They’re “out there.”  They’re disconnected in nearly every way from mainstream thought.  They’re imagining an experience, even existence, here on earth completely unlike what it is today.  I expect that this separation from mainstream is a primary reason they resort to such tactics.

A positive outcome: they reminded me of something valuable.  We owe it to ourselves to consider every now and again how our fellow human beings are thinking and dreaming differently.

I never endorse such tactics, but I always endorse thinking, dreaming and listening.

Here’s their US homepage:  Zeitgeist Movement

Here’s a video introduction:  Zeitgeist Movement

Like Father, Like Son: Hughes

The recent passing of John Huges brought an outpouring of memories and appreciation from all kinds of people, all over the world, on all the social platforms.  A wildly-celebrated American filmmaker, Hughes directed many 80’s classics, including this amazing run:

Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1986), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1987), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

His credits as writer and producer are even more impressive.  His greatest commercial success, Home Alone, has become a holiday classic.  Full career details can be reviewed here on his IMDB page.

Born John Wilden Hughes, Jr, in Lansing, Michigan, he built his career and filmed extensively in Chicago, Illinois.  His films raised a mirror to 80’s teen culture and employed music quite rightly and very smartly.  It’s no coincidence that his son, John Hughes III, is a wonderfully creative musician living, working, and running a record label in Chicago.

Father and Son: Hughes

From Carl Sandburg’s “City of the Big Shoulders” comes Hefty Records, created and run by John Hughes III.  Specializing in electronic and experimental music, the label’s current concept of self is “Future Roots Music.”  The concept’s best exemplified in the album “We All Have a Plan” by Slicker (Hughes’ recording name).  Think: the intersection of pop, dub, jazz, hip hop and electronic.

I really love that album, except for – somewhat surprisingly – the first single.  I own many Hefty releases, including those from Telefon Tel Aviv, Solo Andata, L’Altra, Phil Ranelin, and, of course, Slicker.  I’ve seen many Hefty performances, most memorably series of sets at a 2001 summer solstice party at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  I greatly admired Hefty’s reissuing and re-mixing of the work of Detroit trombonist Phil Ranelin, introducing it to new audiences in new ways.

The point of the post: to recognize and celebrate the work of both men, father and son, pursuing personal passions to the benefit of us all.

A couple links (just click the description):

A rare John Huges interview in which he discusses “Reach the Rock,” which incorporates Chicago, his son, music, and indie filmmaking.

The Chicagoist interviews John Hughes III on the 10th anniversary of Hefty Records.

UP NEXT: an interesting “Like Son, Don’t Like Father” post about a musician and a crafty bastard, respectively.

Be a Winner at the Game of Life

One of the game our family plays at home is one you might remember: “Life.”

I played it as a kid and fondly recall this 80’s jingle, imploring you to “be a winner at the game of Life:”

Life has since been updated.  We’ve got a 2007 edition with updated scenarios (“Buy an SUV!  Pay $40,000” or “Win a TV Singing Contest!  Collect $100,000”), as well as more current jobs, costs, salaries, graphics, and more.  The awesome, spinning wheel in the center of the board and charming, plastic buildings and mountains remain.

The Game of Life

Our 6-year-old loves the game, serves as banker, and frequently wins.  The question: is he learning the right Life lessons!?

At the outset, you decide if you want to borrow $100,000 to attend college, increasing the likelihood you land a higher paying job, or if you want to head straight into the working world debt-free.  Marriage, homebuying, children, and grandchildren arrive in sequence.  Various opportunities and pitfalls await.  You earn valuable “Life” chips when you vote, learn sign language, visit a foreign country, or similar.

Basic takeaways: go to school, get a decent job, earn a respectable wage, expect some bumps along the road … basic, traditional, and straighforward.

Owen’s takeaway: Spin to Win!

Interestingly, in earlier editions of the game, this “Spin to Win” portion of the game was positioned as “playing the stock market.”  Now – it’s transparently a straight-up gamble – a 1 in 10 chance that pays back 10x over.  You’re in a much better position – 4 in 10 chance – if you’ve got a special card that allows you to place your bet on 4 numbers instead of just 1.

The Game of Life - Spin to Win

Example: someone lands on a Spin to Win space.  You opt to participate.  You put $100,000 on “2.”  The spin stops at “2” – you get $1,000,000.

Owen recently won a game with more than $9,000,000!  There isn’t enough cash in the bank to cover that, nor are there enough high-end properties (Mansion, Penthouse, Luxury Mountain Retreat) to hold that value.

A year ago, when we first started playing, a winning score was more like $1,725,000.  However, it has since become obvious to our child that putting it all out there at every opportunity is the recipe for success.

At this point, each of us has no chance of winning the game of “Life” without taking an aggressive approach to “Spin to Win.”  This new practice is dictated by the play of our child.

If you want to “be a winner at the game of Life,” you have to gamble big and gamble often.

Do you think that’s a good lesson?

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