Friday, April 27, 2012

How to drag the CBC kicking and screaming into relevance

The CBC is facing decreasing budgets. The Conservative party of Canada, who find even the idea of a publicly funded national television station outdated and counter productive to their philosophy, have cut the budget of the CBC yet again.  The CBC is an easy target, because they've done so many things wrong over the years.

Ultimately I believe the CBC to be a worthwhile public expenditure.  Whether I feel they're left biased or not, like the BBC and PBS and others in their respective countries, any modern well off nation should have a public broadcaster.  If only to provide coverage where "for profit" or private entities don't.

So with that out of the way, my main belief (not surprisingly to regular readers of this blog) is that the CBC has bungled their digital OTA (Over-The-Air) conversion. 

Certainly, switching from analogue to digitial  costs money, and certainly the CBC is seeing less and less of it.   Realistically, the CBC should have 10 years ago set aside money to take advantage of the opportunities OTA digital broadcasting provides them, both in serving communities and citizens across Canada, and in the potential to make extra cash.

Why should the CBC care about OTA?  In their own words OTA is dying (it's not), and not worth paying for (it is).  The CBC should care for OTA because to OTA viewers, CBC is king.  And OTA is set to increase as more and more people abandon Cable TV, just like CBC is abandoning their "Bold" digital channel.  People don't need 400 channels.  People realize they're watching the networks, including CBC, and maybe a few other shows.  They're either getting what they want online, or waiting for DVD's.  Cable isn't going away any time soon, and certainly Canada has a ridiculously high rate of cable subscribers, but I believe that it's only going to go down, and CBC should take advantage of that fact.

Secondly, digital OTA provides opportunities for the CBC to better service communities and perhaps even make money.  How?  Read on.

With Analogue signals, people received one channel that was often fuzzy and subject to ghosting and what have you.  Ever since the digital conversion last year, at least in most major cities, with an ATSC rather than NTSC tuner you can now pick up a perfect digital signal.  Which is great, but even better for the CBC, is they can multiplex additional signals.  What does this mean?  The CBC can, as many American stations do, add SUB-channels and make use of unused space to broadcast more stations.   The CBC generally broadcasts a 720P HD digital signal.  At least here in Winnipeg they do.  That means they could add 3 digital Standard definition sub-channels. 

The CBC has a large back-catalogue of programming.  What could they offer on a sub-channel that would be relevant to Canadians?

They could offer CBC News Network, but they probably won't as they get a fee for carriage from the cable companies mandatory by the CRTC.  Which is backwards thinking, but whatever.  However, they could offer a CBC News Lite channel that simply gives headline news on a loop and none of the extra programming one would find on CBC News Network (I still call it Newsworld)

They could offer a childrens subchannel.  There are years of Mister Dressup, Sesame Street, Friendly Giant, and other programming in CBC's archives.  Couldn't hurt to put it up on a subchannel.   Educating kids is a great public service, and people will be more furious at future CBC cuts if they feel quality childrens programming is being attacked.  Right now the Conservative government gets away with its CBC cuts because people think the CBC is wasting money on overpaid union staff, poor quality television, and is basically lock in step with the Bells and Shaw Cables and Roger TV's of this country trying to suck money out of Canadians for artsy fartsy productions that nobody cares about.  I disagree with this, there is a lot of decent and even great programming on CBC TV and Radio, but that's the perception, and that's why the CBC is an easy target.  Unless they work to change this perception, they're doomed.

Another subchannel option the CBC could offer, with little real effort needed, is to offer a weather or Environment Canada style channel on OTA.  Weather warnings, Local weather updates.  Basically the text weather channel on most cable offerings.  All they'd need to do is get some programmer to write a script and output the info to the screen.  It probably wouldn't even take much bandwidth as a subchannel.  The best thing is instead of background music, they could put CBC Radio One, Two, or Three as the audio feed.  They could even offer a similar CBC News channel that basically prints out RSS feeds from their website to the screen.  Or they could have a third channel that's just community news and events.  Just the lowest quality text only video they can get away with, along with giving another outlet for their radio offerings.  Why wouldn't they?  They might even be able to put cheap local advertising on a scroll at the bottom of the screen. 

No matter how you look at it, sub-channels offer the CBC a way to harness their dominance in OTA in Canada and make themselves less expendable in the long run.  Now, what about places outside of the major cities?  Some of them have been abandoned by the CBC and major networks.  This is the shame, but here is another opportunity for subchannels to help bring a resurgence to OTA and the CBC's relevance. 

Obviously the CBC can't afford to blanket the country in digital as they did when they originally began broadcasting.  However, theres nothing preventing the CBC from working with smaller towns or municipalities to find a way to cover the costs of a repeater tower in their communities.  You could fit 8-10 standard definition channels on one transmitter.  The cost could be shared between the CBC and other channels (SRC, or even Global, CTV, what have you), until such a time as it would be cost effective for them to build out their own tower.  In the meantime, the CBC could operate and maintain the antennas.  Who knows.  They could even rent out subchannels for religious or advertising purposes, assuming the CRTC allows it.

You can pick and choose what you think are good ideas, but there are options available, and the CBC doesn't seem to be pursuing ANY of them.  Which doesn't help their case as being relevant to Canadians.  Relevant to Canadians who make money thanks to the existence of the CBC, perhaps, but that's not enough. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The One True Keyboard

If you know anything about keyboards, you should know the IBM "Model M" is the pinnacle of Keyboard technology. I first experienced them typing up essays in high school on old PS/2 IBM's. I believe they were Model M2's which are somewhat smaller and more compact, but I was able to bang out essays of unsuspicious quality about 40 minutes before class. Good times. The secret is the buckling spring technology, which makes for a noisy yet satisfyingly responsive typewriter like experience.

Since then, I have acquired both the beige Model M (Which came with an AT connector), and the Model M2, which came with a PS/2 connector. The M2 has a flaw where the capacitor needs to be replaced, but it's a simple enough fix. In any case, I was not without a Model M keyboard.. though my Thinkpad laptop keyboard is certainly a passable one. Imagine my surprise when, for $1, I found a Black Model-M13 keyboard.

Though not quite the holy grail of Model M keyboards (That would be the Model M15 ergonomic adjustable keyboard pictured above), The Model M13 is the only Model M keyboard that came in Stealth Black (including the keys), and it even has a red trackpoint. Sometimes known as a nipple mouse. As a thinkpad owner, and owner of a standard trackpoint IV keyboard, I knew I wanted it. I didn't even know for sure if it worked. Though, being a Model M, the odds of it not working were minimal. These things are tanks.

I wiped it down a bit to clean it off, plugged it in via the PS2 ports on my server computer, and lo and behold, it worked. I went online, and imagine my shock to find that these keyboards generally sell (USED) for $250.

I did some more research, and UNICOMP still makes Model M keyboards. They even do custom work and have a $100 version that comes with a trackpoint. That's pretty cool. I mean, I paid $1, but I could have paid $250. But $100? That's a decent price for a good keyboard.

However, looking at it, I realized they're missing out on an opportunity. First, UNICOMP doesn't sell black keys with lettering on them. Even their black keyboards come with white keys. Supposedly people complained that the letters were somehow wearing off. So they stopped selling them completely and only offer completely black blank keys. This I find curious. Dell makes nothing but black shity keyboards. Their lettering doesn't seem to fade. Or if it does, who cares?

Second, while they have a Trackpoint option, exactly like the M13 I got for a buck, It might be a good idea for them to update to three buttons as most modern thinkpad laptops do. I made a mock-up below. Basically I cut and pasted the three mouse buttons from a thinkpad trackpoint on top of the two from the UNICOMP keyboard.. Nowadays the middle mouse button is indispensable for scrolling down web pages or what have you. Also middle button pasting.

Third, If they did offer lettering on their black keys, I'd love the option of a Linux penguin instead of the Windows logo on the meta key. Heck there are even apple fans of the Model M style keyboards, so give them their meta key or an apple or something.

Anyways, if I were designing the successor to the M13, those are the three main things I'd do. Obviously I prefer black, but others prefer white or clear. Beige is kind of passe .. though it could make a retro comeback. Most store bought non Apple monitors are generally (and perhaps annoyingly) black, and people like to have things that match. Also I'd use blue trackpoint caps.

UNICOMP seems to offer a quieter option of keyboard. I have no idea what that means. Is it a clicky keyboard without the noisy click? That seems interesting to me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Google street view car spotted in winnipeg

Saw it on pembina around Jubilee today.  Probably updating things?  Was this in the news anywhere?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tips for making money while Time Travelling

I think it's a good idea to memorize the winning numbers of the biggest jackpot of every year, JUST IN CASE you end up time travelling to the past. Cause otherwise, what are you going to do? I mean, you could buy apple stock or microsoft stock or coca cola stock or whatever depending on how far back you go, but you gotta start somewhere.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Facebook bought Instagram


Peter MacKay is right

Canadians were not misled on the cost of the fighter jets. We knew we were getting screwed and that it was a waste of money and the only people who thought otherwise were either liars or sockpuppets.

Did anyone truly believe the Conservatives numbers were legit? Of course not. Why would we believe anything they say?

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Oompa loompa derpity blap

The Johnny Depp Charlie and the chocolate factory movie is unwatchable crap.

I saw the Tim Burton  master(bation)piece on the shelf at goodwill, and I got excited thinking it was the superior original, but alas, I lose, sir.  Good Day to me.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Shaw is discontinuing analogue FM Radio

According to as part of its plan to free up space for High Def channels, Shaw will be discontinuing their Analogue FM radio service sooner or later. It will be available as a digital channel, presumably unencrypted. Which is probably better for everyone. Still no plans for unencrypted clear QAM channels, however. Which means I personally will continue to avoid paying for shaws digital TV service.

I mostly write this as a followup to a previous article I wrote