high definition revolution
Tuesday, July 13 2010
I'd been looking at possible places on the solar deck for attaching the new Dish Network dish. One possibility would be to start a overhead framework that would give me a whole new layer of attachment points for future panels, but that was too elaborate for my time restrictions, so I decided to give up a reserved spot on the solar deck annex (which is lower and south of the main solar deck and serves as the load-bear rail for the two smaller commercially-built panels I'd added in 2006 and 2007). There'd been room enough there for a third panel, and it was in that space where I decided to put the dish. It's a pity that the sun and geostationary satellites both live in the southern sky and compete for space with the things that need to see them.
As I was rounding up the necessary lumber for the new dish's foundation, I heard a weird monotonous tweeting coming from the driveway. The Dish Network van was here and was backing up.
The dish network installer guy looked to be about thirty. He was compact and muscular and not the sharpest knife in the chandelier. Still, his was far from a routine job and involved creatively dealing with all sorts of roofs, architecture, and wall designs. I could tell that he wasn't one of my people from the somewhat weirded-out look he had on his face as he asked "what that is" (indicating the solar deck). I didn't want to talk solar with a guy with an attitude like that, so I quickly said, "It's some solar panels." Then I took him up there and showed him my proposed attachment point. Presumably most of his customers don't know where south is or the importance of south to mainstream satellite television, so he had to use a compass and some sort of cheap plastic sextant to establish for himself that my attachment point would work. He seemed somewhat surprised that I knew enough about this stuff that I'd found him a suitable place. When I showed him that all the holes through the wall were already drilled and even lined with PVC, he resorted to cliché, saying I was "easy like Sunday morning."
I sat near the guy as he installed the dish, asking what the tolerance for being mispointed was. The guy apparently was unfamiliar with the idea of tolerance (perhaps in the social as well as the engineering sense) so I rephrased it to a question about how many degrees off it could be and still work. For some reason he refused to answer this question, instead acting as though I was questioning him about how tightly the clamps and bolts would be and whether it would be possible for me to accidentally knock it askew. So I gave up and will have to live in ignorance on that matter. The reason I'd wanted to know was that I might some day have a need to move the dish, and in that case I'd want to have a good chance of pointing it sufficiently precisely.
Though the dish lies near the peak of the roof, there is still enough room for me to get past it and venture further along the ridge. This is important because the Solar Deck provides me general access to the house's roof itself, though it's too steep to traverse except along the ridgelines.
Because I'd made the siting and wiring so easy, most of the installation involved waiting for the HDTV receiver to configure itself, a process that involved a long series of progress bars. The installer guy spent this time out in his van smoking. I could tell because every time he came in from that point on, he reeked of that now-fairly-unusual smell.
Meanwhile Ray had picked up our new 42 inch LCD television from Astoria and had delivered it. It was in great shape and worked perfectly. And it came at precisely the correct moment; originally we'd thought there would be a period of time where the big new teevee would be hooked up to the old standard-def Tivo or the new HD DVR would be hooked up to our 13 year old CRT.
A the end of the installation, the installer guy gave me a quick lesson on how to operate the new DVR. Surprisingly, he didn't actually use a DVR himself and his knowledge of how it worked proved very shallow. I asked if I would still be able to record two shows simultaneously (as I could with the old Tivo) and he didn't know. He called his boss and even then couldn't give me a straight answer. (I was relieved to find out later that I could.) You would think he would have had to answer that question before. Are the DVR users of America really as incurious as this incident suggests?
In the course of trying to use the new setup (and it was completely new) we definitely experienced a learning curve. Our new DVR had something called "recurring timers" that served the purpose of Tivo's "Season Pass" but (as the clunky overly-technical name implied) these were not precisely the same thing. They're more like stored searches, making the DVR record shows that match the given search term. This is tricky when there is a show like CSI (which is good) and CSI Miami (which Gretchen finds unwatchable). There is, however, a concept of "exact match" that sort of saves the day, though in a kind of an awkward way. There were other bits of the interface we found irritating, such as the inability to delete a show you're in the process of watching (as if it was a file on a computer and you had it open). A home entertainment system should be able to figure out what the user wants in cases like that and then just stop showing the damn program and then delete its ass.
This evening we plunked down in front of our our new setup eager to watch Jeopardy for the first time ever in high definition. This would be the crest of the fist wave of the high def revolution finally reaching our household. But Jeopardy had been preempted by a special and monotonously-repetitive broadcast eulogizing the life of George Steinbrenner, who had just died. Honestly, all I knew about George Steinbrenner was that he had been involved in some way in some sort of sport, and I had no interest in his life and times, particularly when it was preempting what I would have rather been watching.
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