Longtime patrons may recall the days when Ostentasia came into our lives. That was the inordinately large rectangular cathode-ray tube I bought in late 2000 – an HDTV capable widescreen. Not HDTV, but HDTV capable. You might have asked: so how’s that HDTV? And I’d say: don’t know. Ask me when the receivers come down from eight hundred bucks.

Which they didn’t. I still remember setting up the TV at the old house, firing it up and seeing the video feed from the dish (TV, beamed from clean cold realm of space itself!) and thinking:

This looks like crap.

Because I was spraying a standard TV signal into widescreen mode, of course. Normal TV has something like 440 lines on the screen. (Or 380. Or 400. Cursory google search leads me to baffling videophile sites I haven’t the patience to wade through.) DVDs have about 800 lines. (See parenthetical note to previous sentence.) They’re better. HDTV has 1081 lines. It was like driving Porsche around the patio in other words. Great power, underutilized. Not that I really cared. I bought it for the widescreen capability, so I could watch big wide movies as they were meant to be seen. But regular TV was full of jagged artifacts, and it looked like the inside of the screen was smeared with Vaseline.

Yesterday I got the receiver. I toggled back and forth between the HBO feed and the HBO-HDTV feed. Here’s the difference. HDTV:

Regular cable:

Just for demonstration purposes only, of course. (That’s a DVD screen grab. Name that movie! Hint: When you scroll around the main menu, your highlighted choices are indicated by an icon of a ship. When you select an item, the icon turns upside down. I’m not kidding. And yes, I bought it. Five bucks for high 70s cheese; who could resist? Especially when it contains Gene Hackman as one of those Angry Men of God whose pastoral nature is indicated by a turtleneck [all Angry Men of God wore turtlenecks in that era] who yells at God a lot, especially when He smotes Shelley Winters.)

The basic HDTV package is cheap: eleven bucks a month. Of course, you don’t get much, since DirecTV doesn’t have a lot, yet. HBO in HDTV, ESPN (yawn), Discovery, and two special networks with the usual mishmash: your choice between a movie or soccer at eight, and a bikini show after midnight. It’s one of those “on location” shows that takes you “Behind the scenes.” Meaning, all your illusions shattered as you watch some oil-slathered doxy roll around in the surf for a pot-bellied photographer in loud shorts.

But there’s more! The package included the CBS network feed. Toggling between regular local CBS and the HDTV feed was stunning – the picture quality is so extraordinary you don’t know where to look, because every detail just flies off the screen. You can see the fake name of the beer on the can, the innumerable hues of the painting in the background, the individual strands of hair on the actresses. It’s the difference between watching a play from the balcony and watching it on stage. Here’s what really surprised me, though: the sitcom I turned on was shot widescreen, 16:9.

Rich man’s plaything! You say. Well, when I bought my old Sony 27 inch in 1993, it cost about $750. The other day at Circuit City I saw a 30” Samsung for about eight hundred bucks. Give this all a half-decade to move through the great American python, and this will be standard.

I also saw the first High-Def consumer camcorder in the store. Four grand.


Eighty-something degrees today; fifty something tomorrow. <dark scowl> I need spring, and lots of it. Today I opened the windows and the scent of flowers flooded the kitchen; it was like a shot of Knob Creek after six hours of live radio. Heaven. Of course, tomorrow the flowers all DIE because of the cold snap.

Boring stuff ahead, but there’s a treat at the end.

Ah, Fallujah. Peaceful, verdant Fallujah. City of Gardens. City of Perfumed Alleys, the Mesopotamian Eden. One day a quiet happy burg of peace, the next a victim of American overbearance. From the Boston Globe, a lede by Thanassis Cambanis:

U.S. warplanes fired on Iraqi insurgents Tuesday in Fallujah in strikes that shattered a fragile cease-fire negotiated over a week ago.

Got that? We had a nice cease-fire going, and for no reason U.S. warplanes went and shattered it without provocation. I just stopped reading right there.

In the future, I think, newspapers will become almost entirely devoted to local news and happy fluff, like me. I depend on my paper for local news, because I don’t watch TV news. Yesterday’s paper had a front-page story on the conversion of an ancient vacant three-story building downtown into a boutique hotel with a spiffy new restaurant. The editorial page was happy about it, but reminded us how downtown had lost so many SRO (single-room occupancy) hotels like this one, displacing transients and day-laborers. True. Of course, this hotel was vacant, and had been vacant for quite some time. I used to walk past the front door once a week; the aroma of micturation would burn the bristles off a boar. Then it stopped smelling, because everyone who lived there was kicked out, and they stopped peeing in the lobby.

I lament the loss of the old great hotels as well, and I wish they were still around – but if the Nicollet and Andrews were still here, they’d be gutted and turned into condos with incredible views and nosebleed tax assessments. That’s what market forces would require. In the past, the government leveled Skid Row on behalf of new urban theories, and it did so with the full approval of the technocrats – not despite its effect on transients and day laborers, but because of its effect. The old flophouses were stinking lice-ridden hellholes with naught but chicken wire and cardboard to segregate the occupants; demolishing these places was seen as a great civic good. Be done with them, and let shiny white Corbu towers rise in their place. (Note: they didn’t.) But no matter who drives the car – government or the market – prosperity will push some people out of downtown housing. Good thing? Bad thing? Reasonable people can disagree, as they say. But that’s the type of story local papers can handle, and do fairly if they wish. I’m not talking about a six-part series on Housing Trends in the Core that no one reads, because it’s a six-part series on Housing Trends in the Core. I’m talking about ongoing coverage of ongoing issues, the sort of thing hometown newspapers are perfectly positioned to do. That’s the niche that waits for them. The internet will swamp their ability to sum up the daily state of the world, because a) there’s so much available on the net from the big dogs, and b) small little-noted institutional biases in the paper’s selection of news stories will kill their credibility with those who sample from many sources.

And now, via the Monkeys, your reward.

Klingon bastiches!

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