Tiger Woods and others

February 18th, 2010

Tam: This is 1480 WKZ-AM, Zenith, and I'm Tam O'Shanter with the O'Shanterbury Tales. Dead men may tell no tales, but I know where the bodies are buried! Where we don't listen to Rush Limbaugh because he's too liberal, and we think Fox News should be investigated as part of the vast left-wing conspiracy. We'll take your calls at 1-800-444-4444. And it's Michael from Zenith Heights, you're on the air!
Michael: Uh, hello?
Tam: Yes, you're on the air, go ahead.
Michael: Am I on the air?
Tam: Sorry, [sound of toilet flushing] I have to avoid stupidity, let's go to our next caller. It's David from Mohalis.
David: Hi Tam, I just wanted to mention that they're going to have Tiger Woods on TV Friday, apparently he's going to talk about all the things he's done.
Tam: Yeah, I heard that, too.
David: I'm hoping he'll come clean about everything, and admit to the murders he committed.
Tam: What are you talking about?
David: Well, you know he killed his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and...
Tam: No, no, no, that was O.J. Simpson. Tiger Woods is a golfer who got caught with his pants down with a bunch of other women than his wife.
David: Oh, I see. I always have trouble with guys like that, they all look the same to me.
Tam: Well, [sound effect of garbage truck cycling] it's time to take out the trash! Let's go to another caller. This is Marie from Zenith. You're on the air.
Marie: Tam, I don't know if you remember me, I met you a couple of weeks ago at the park.
Tam: Oh yes, I remember now.
Marie: I certainly hope you do, you bastard! You knocked me up, you son-of-a-bitch!
Tam: Uh, we'll go to a commercial and I'll be back in a moment.

Television Stations

January 21st, 2010

I decided to write an article for TV Tropes about American Television Stations.

Television started in the U.S. long before it became available anywhere else. A lot of people were involved in developing various pieces of it. Vladimir Zwyorkin invented the picture tube, Philo Farnsworth started the Philco brand of radios, and later television.

Television stations in the U.S. were started as experimental stations operated by private companies, but the experiment was stopped when World War II intervened and the equipment - and many of the men involved - were busy in foxholes and tanks trying to win the war.

After the war ended, Television in the U.S. more-or-less took off. A few television stations were started as early as 1948. With the discovery that they could sell commercials - the first one was a video showing a Bulova watch during a sports game - there was a realization that money could be made doing this.

Originally, television stations operated on Channels 1 through 12 (VHF). Channel 1 was never really used, and its frequencies were released to the military. Later, there were so many television stations around that it was becoming harder to find free space for new channels. So the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a freeze on further licenses for television stations. This continued for several years.

Eventually the FCC developed the UHF television band, and added TV channels numbered 13 through 69,[Update 1/31/2012] numbered 13 to 83. Eventually the high stations didn't get much usage, so the FCC took channel numbers above 69 away and auctioned them off for use, at least now, for new forms of cell phones and wireless data services. [End Update] They also set up an allocation system, each community in the United States was assigned a series of channel allocations, generally designed to prevent stations from interfering with each other.

On the VHF band, no two stations could be assigned next to each other, so there would never, for example, be a channel 9 and 10 in the same area. There are some exceptions, because of the distances between frequencies, a channel 4 and 5 can be in the same area. Also, Channel 6 is at the high end of the FM band, so any FM radio can pick up the audio of channel 6. In the UHF band, generally at least 6 channels separate adjacent stations. UHF stations are also allowed to use much higher power output.

This also made for some strange channel configurations. Channel 3 is almost never used except in fairly remote areas. The nearest channel 3 for Southern California is over 100 miles away in Santa Barbara. Los Angeles was allocated 2,4,5,7,9 and 11. San Diego was allocated 8 and 10, but as a sop to the Mexicans, Tijuana was allowed to have 6 and 12.

The addition of the UHF band allowed for the addition of something else: Educational Television. This originally began in the mid 1960s with the National Educational Television network, which was privately operated but had government grants to help with some of the operating costs. Also, educational stations are not permitted to run commercials, so most of them were started by local governments who used them to run programs to their local schools. In some of the larger cities (LosAngeles, NewYork, Washington, D.C.) educational television stations were licensed by private non-profit groups.

Unlike the choices made by other countries, the government never got into the broadcast business for domestic consumption. All US broadcast stations, radio and television, are privately owned. Some stations were operated by local cities for educational television services, but in general, in the U.S., private for-profit companies operate television stations. This is the reason why most countries have less than 10 broadcast television stations, and the U.S. has over 7,000.

Same thing for broadcast networks. There are no federal networks; all broadcast networks, radio and television, are operated by private organizations. Even the educational networks are operated privately, although they do receive some public funding.

Up until around the 1980s, the maximum number of television stations that could be owned by an organization was limited to seven, of which a maximum of five could be VHF stations. This rule was later changed to limit stations by amount of coverage of the country rather than absolute number. Also, during the 1970s a rule was created that prohibited a major newspaper from owning a television station in its home market. (Many television stations were owned by the local newspaper, one example being WTMJ Channel 4, the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was owned by the Milwaukee Journal.) Many newspapers solved this problem by making trades with other newspapers in other cities to own a station outside of their home area.

There is, however, an exception to the 7-station rule for educational television networks which are operating on a state-wide basis, they can run as many stations in the state as they can find the funding for. With the exception of a small amount of money from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, educational stations have to find ways to raise money on their own. Since they can't show commercials, most educational television stations have "pledge weeks" where, instead of running commercial breaks, they have people come on and beg viewers to call in and subscribe to the station, usually asking for about $10 a year or so, with the amount rising with inflation, and as of 2010, the usual request is for about $30. Many stations offer premium gifts such as boxed sets of various programs, book tie ins, and other special offers in exchange for larger donations of $150 to $365 a year.

The above 7 station rule (for commercial stations) meant that even the networks could only own seven stations around the country. Typically they owned the three major markets (LA, Chicago and New York), but beyond that the locations differed. Currently, the four major networks own stations in the following cities:

  • ABC: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Durham NC, Flint MI, Fresno CA, Toledo OH;
  • CBS: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Miami, Denver CO, Fort Worth TX, Minneapolis MN, Sacramento CA;
  • FOX: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Miami, Austin TX, Ocala FL, Orlando FL, Tampa FL, Phoenix AZ;
  • NBC: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Fort Worth, Washington, Miami, San Diego CA, New Britain CT, San Jose CA;

Up until the 1970s most stations only operated from about 5 in the morning until about 12 or 1 AM. While television stations were always licensed to allow them to operate 24/7, most did not. This changed when the FCC changed the rules on commercials.

Until the 1980s, a television station was restricted to no more than 21 minutes of commercials per hour. In fact, they were required to list every time that they exceeded 21 minutes at any time. I have examined the public inspection files of television stations all over the country as a private citizen, and found that during the 21 minute restriction, it typically was a technical error, e.g. a station at one time might have accidentally run 21:10 of advertising.

This rule limiting advertising to 21 minutes in any hour was eliminated in the 1980s. This then allowed the stations to sell time during what would normally be off-air time to producers of infomercials. So stations that don't have enough material to fill the late-night time can sell the otherwise off-air time to infomercial producers.

Which brings up another thing: any person can visit a television (or radio) station by asking to see the documents called its "public inspection file." Since television stations are privately licensed, the licensee is supposed to show that their being licensed to operate a station is in "the public interest, convenience and necessity." So they keep files of all the comments they get, positive and negative, as well as information about what good stuff they do, in hopes that their license will be renewed. In reality, a station is about as likely to have its license renewed as a single candidate in a dictatorship is likely to be re-elected. It basically takes either serious corruption by the licensee or some other misconduct before it would not be re-licensed.

[Update: 1/31/2012] This happened in the case of WOR, New York's Channel 9. It was owned by RKO General, a division of the General Tire Company. I suppose General Tire ended up owning the RKO movie studio as part of the conglomerate fashion of the 1960s and 1970s where companies routinely bought ones that were often unrelated to their core operations, and in a lot of cases, found out eating err I mean "integrating" them caused the holding company too much indigestion and they would sometimes divest them just as fast as they originally swallowed them.

Well, General Tire got involved in some scandals of some kind, and as a result there was a distinct possibility that they would lose their broadcast licenses, including KHJ in Los Angeles and some licenses elsewhere in the U.S. Well, I think it was one of the congresscritters that General bought or rented, got a law passed which provided that a television station broadcast licensee who moved its station to an unserved state would get automatic license renewal. At that time, there were only two states that did not have television stations: New Jersey and Delaware. So, RKO General moves WOR-TV channel 9 from New York City to the nearby city of Seacacus, New Jersey. I used to joke at my brother when he'd speak to me about Channel 9 in New York City, and I'd point out there is no channel 9 in New York.

Also, I suspect with the FCC's attempt to get broadcast stations off of 3-letter call signs, they had to change their call sign, and thus they became WWOR. When carried on distant cable companies and satellite services, Eastern Microwave Inc. carried WWOR's signal, which had slight differences from their broadcast because of program licensing rules, so the version of WWOR carried on Cable and Satelite was known as "WWOR EMI Service."

I think WWOR eventually got sold (along with KTTV 11 in Los Angeles) to become either part of the Fox network or another one of those also-ran networks like CW or WB or MyTv.

I should clarify a point. Television and radio broadcast stations got either 3 or 4 letter call signs, possibly depending on the phase of the moon or whether someone at the FCC had a hangover (or maybe the station asked for a specific one). Well, the FCC wants broadcast stations to have 4 letter call signs so it can make 3-letter call signs exclusive to shortwave services. So stations are grandfathered. Television and Radio broadcast stations in the standard broadcast frequencies are allowed to keep non-standard call signs:
* stations to the east of the Mississippi River having signs beginning with K, like KDKA in Pittsburgh
* stations in the west having signs beginning with W
* stations having 3 letters (KOA, Denver; KFI, KHJ: Los Angeles, WSM: Wherever the Grand Old Opry is broadcast from, Memphis, probably {Wikipedia says WSM-AM is located in Nashville).
But if their license or location changes they have to get new call signs, which will usually be 4 plus possibly a dash and the 2-letter license class (-AM, -FM or -TV). [End Update]

James Cameron's Next Billion

January 14th, 2010

News is that James Cameron's latest film Avatar is on track to or has already done a billion dollars in ticket sales. This makes him the only director to produce two films to make over a billion dollars. The first, of course, was Titanic.

Cameron was lucky Titanic was as successful as it was. Since it cost in excess of $200 million and was digging such a financial hole when he was making it that he agreed to give up his percentage to be allowed to finish it, if Titanic hadn't been such a huge success, my guess is he'd have been exiled from the film industry, sort of the way Michael Cimino was after he basically bankrupted the studio that made the $50 million flop which was so bad I can't even remember the name; I'll come back and edit this once I find out what it was Heaven's Gate.

Even at that, Cameron was smart enough - or humble enough - to hide out for a few years until he got someone willing to greenlight another of his films. But it also points out something someone once said, if you have to produce anything, better you have too little money than too much. Too little money means you have to be creative and often your solutions are much better than if you have plenty of money to try things.

Some of Cameron's best work in The Terminator were when they either had to scrounge to get the resources or did things "under the table." The 10-second scene where a body bag was zipped up was done on top of a car at McArthur Park, presumably without any permits. The end scene where the Terminator finally "dies" shows his eyes dimming out and smoke coming out. The smoke was from a cigarette blown off camera.

In the background to the movie that appears as an extra on the DVD, Special Effects Supervisor Gene Warren tells how, when they were trying to get the last scene in the movie where the jeep drives off into the horizon, they waited until the road becomes totally clear, and just as they are about to film the last scene, a police officer rolls up. They don't have any permits or anything to film the scene - there's no money to get them anyway - so someone gets the bright idea to tell the cop that it's a student film being made by Warren's son who's studying filmmaking at UCLA.

Sometimes when you have to do things with limited resources, you can get better results. Which reminds me of my own story.

I was living in Long Beach, California with my family over 20 years ago, when the people living directly below us were evicted. Based on our size and weight, it was strongly suggested by our landlord that we move to the first floor. So we did. We also had something else that followed us along: a bunch of cats. My mother basically fed practically every cat in the neighborhood and let lots of them stay in our place. But they didn't go in the house; for that they went out. But at one point, I walked out to the kitchen, where it was completely "paved" with cats; you could not see the floor at all, there were so many eating.

Well, we moved downstairs, and shortly thereafter a uniformed city official came looking for the people upstairs, due to complaints about all the cats they kept. Well, my brain went "whir-click" as I quickly thought of an answer. I didn't want to get caught if I lied to him, so I tried to think of something that wouldn't get me in trouble. Then I discovered a way, I told him the complete and utter truth: I said, "Oh, they moved!" Which was true; we had moved downstairs. And if you looked in the windows, you could see that the apartment upstairs was empty. So he thanked me, and left.

Sometimes honesty is the best policy, and sometimes not telling "all" the truth is. I have, over the years, discovered that not lying is a much better policy. I don't have to remember what lies I told people, and more than that, I can live with a clear conscience as I don't have to wonder what lie I told what person is going to come back to haunt me. I don't tell lies and so I don't have dishonesty hanging over my head waiting to trap me.

Short Video regarding my eviction

January 10th, 2010

I decided to post a You Tube video which basically recreates my homeless story which appears on the main page. Basically I point out that after being evicted, it has taken me 5 months to recover, e.g. to get a new place to live, buy replacements for some of the more critical things I lost, and so on.

Why not? What is the harm?

December 31st, 2009

Ever since I got kicked off Yahoo Answers I've been visiting other venues in which I get to express my opinions to people who actually do want to hear what I have to say.

Here's one from Askville, Amazon.Com's Q&A service, and my answer.

Sex with Robots, should it be allowed?

Those who object to people using a device for sexual gratification - whether it’s a dildo, a doll, an artificial vagina or anything else, including a robot - do so because of some puritanical and potentially pseudo-religious arguments against such things, but what it comes (no pun intended) down to is that they don’t like it. What people choose to do in the privacy of their home with the devices and equipment they have is nobody else’s business.

It is no different than a person who masturbates using only their hands, and should be treated the same way. I don’t see any more ethical issues for a manufacturer over the use of its robots for this purpose than Procter and Gamble should have ethical issues if someone uses Crisco shortening or Ivory Soap as a lubricant during sex or masturbation.

If you want to argue there may be problems with people using robots for sexual gratification where the device is not designed for that purpose and there may be dangers involved (like electrical shorts because of exposure to bodily fluids or that because of the design of the device there could be potential for injury if used in this manner) that's a different matter and may be an issue to argue about whether the manufacturer should be responsible for injuries if it was forseeable. One of the supposedly fun things some people do is have sex on top of their washing machines while they are running because of the vibration issues. I doubt anyone thinks it's an ethical issue that Maytag or LG have to be concerned over.

If you want to argue against doing something in public or exposing such activities to people who don’t want to see this sort of thing, that’s also a different matter. But when someone claims that someone else’s private use of their property in their home for sexual gratification is subject to a veto by them, they, in effect, are claiming some form of ownership of the people who would be doing such things. And I think ownership of people has been universally banned for over 100 years.