Basic home/car electronics questions

Dear #Lazyweb – it’s the holiday season, and there are a few simple electronics questions I have for you.

  • Are Ethernet -> WiFi-G adapters really that expensive? I need a simple G wireless adapter for a DVD player that only has an Ethernet port. Isn’t there some option besides all the overpriced “wireless gaming adapters”? (And yes, if I am going to play FPS’s online, you can be sure I’m using a wire, just in case). Prefer Netgear, since that’s the router.
  • Can anyone tell me what the exact ports on the back of a Sony XR-430 car radio are? I’d love to connect my iPod to my car stereo, and I know there are some RCA jacks on the back (from a fuzzy picture online), but I don’t want to actually pull the stereo out to plug in a 3.5mm plug -> RCA adapter to find out that they’re only outputs, not inputs. My CD changer is slowly dying, so I really need a better way to play iPod music in the car.
  • Is there really that much difference in HDMI cables? I’m looking to upgrade to a medium size flatscreen – possibly a 37in at 1080 (that’s as big as will fit, I think), and I’m wondering if I really need one of the $50+ HDMI cables to stream videos, or if one of the cheaper ones (or one of the insanely cheap Amazon.com ones!) will work well enough.
  • Home furnace electrical backup. We have a gas boiler for steam heat, and an older timed setback thermometer. When the power goes out, the gas stays on, as does the thermostat (and the water and water heater, nicely enough). But the boiler itself has a 120v circuit, so… no heat in the winter. Isn’t there some fairly simple way to hookup a battery backup for the boiler? It’s got a permanent pilot light, so what the heck does it need much power for other than sending the thermostat’s “yes” or “no” signal? If we could solve this, we could comfortably ride out any winter storm even without electricity. (Well, at least until all the laptop batteries die, that is!)

Thanks again #Lazyweb, and I hope you’re having a wonderful winter holiday season!

Mix 98.5 listeners aren’t as cool as I expected

I knew it! I knew it! I meant to post this two days ago, and just now I there’ll be no more Lander in the Morning (HT2UH)!

Seriously – I thought Mix 98.5 was supposed to be one of the ‘hip’ stations in the market. But a recent morning drive-time poll proved otherwise with Lander and his crew.

The question was “What movie franchise is the most popular of all time?” They actually spent so long taking reader calls (and playing a song, and doing morning DJ talk stuff), that I actually ran into my office and tried calling in to answer – I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before.

While a number of the answers were obvious – the staff guessed Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), and Star Wars (is on the list). Many listeners guessed Batman (yes, it’s a franchise, but it’s not that big), Rocky (which I understand in a historical context), Harry Potter (a good guess), Pirates of the Caribbean (which I would have dismissed personally – not enough of them yet), Jurassic Park and The Matrix. Those are all fine.

But who in the world guessed Back to the Future? And was disappointed when it didn’t win! I loved the 80’s as much or more than anyone who grew up there – but get real, honey; the time traveling Delorean was a flash in the pan, and not at all a serious contender for franchise popularity. And Lethal Weapon? Or Home Alone? Who are these people?

As Dave Barry says: I am not making this up. It really took them almost 20 minutes to find a winner. Sheesh. No wonder Lander’s moving on. (OK, I know, it’s all about contracts – but the timing is still ripe to call conspiracy theory!)

Internet killed the radio star

Hey, do you have a radio station in a box?

Well, you’d better let it out!

Seriously – how many radio stations in a box do you have in your market? The first one in the Boston area was kind of exciting, and it had great and just perfectly snarky precanned announcers and station ID’s. But with the slow crawl of automation across the spectrum it gets pretty tiresome. It was especially galling for the one station that did the deed over a period of months: you could imagine the despair in the remaining DJ’s faces as they went to their two or one shift per day, as more and more of the day was programmed by CPU. I stopped listening to that station, just out of spite for the owners.

I’m sure in many circumstances it can be a profitable business decision to cut the lease on your office space and rent some rack space. I do wonder how ad revenues change when they make the programming switch – I suppose there may be significant differences during drive time, given that the various local DJ chatter is likely a significant factor in listener behavior. But obviously dropping virtually all staff expenses has got to be a huge savings.

My question is: does this serve the public as well? How can the same set of music, but with only pre-recorded announcers voices instead of live, knowledgeable human conversation, possibly be a better value to the public? I don’t see it.

The issue is the old fashioned idea that the airwaves belong to the public. The FCC manages them for us all: with mixed results perhaps. But if the airwaves are licensed for the public good, how can we allow all these stations to replace their blood with electrons? I can’t see how losing the experience; the traffic and local news blurbs; the chance to call in, or have fresh and locally accented commentary, or even just plain human contact during your commute? Music is a given (in most stations that is); the fact that perhaps a box station has a few more minutes of music doesn’t count for much public good. But the loss of the more responsive and human content to the station really feels like a significant loss to me.

Seriously: is the station format any portion of the FCC’s licensing decisions? I somehow doubt it, but I am kind of curious. Even though I will admit that I do listen to the MIKE-FM box, although only because I don’t yet have an MP3 radio installed in my car yet.

Put on your yamukla, it’s Radio Hanukkah!

With apologies to all 4 of my readers so far with being too late for you to sign up – free, no less, nu – to streaming XM 108, Radio Hanukkah, in time for the best hour of the day:

12/18    4-5PM ET
Continuous Klezmer
Host Annette Ezekiel of the Klezmer punkp band, Golem, traces the rise of this quintessential Jewish music form from Eastern Europe to the lower east side.

HT to Riba Rambles for the tip:  I’m going to sign up just to bump their demographics.

http://www.osmond-riba.org/lis/journal/2006_12_10_j_archive.htm#116629509865411361

Tip: the password for the free XM Radio subscription (only this week, natch) is “TheChosen”.

Your Mother is watching what you listen to

Mother – Mother USA, that is – is now offering a service to tell you when your favorite songs are coming on the radio.  I suppose this isn’t breaking news, since the company that does it is ‘patent pending’ and has a number of clients.  But it was still an interesting real world “Duh!” moment about how technology changes our world.
Basically, you subscribe and set alerts on your favorite songs, so that right before W-insert-client-station-logo-here -FM plays one of your songs, you get a text message.
Personally, I’d be happy to sign up if they paid me, since the real win is for their listener stats and advertising revenue.  But slap an enterprise-level filtering mechanisim on it (don’t text me at night, or when my phone’s on mute) and it’s an excellent example of just-in-time information delivered where the user wants.

See: http://mike411.motherfm.com/ (and various other branded URLs)

Internet Radio-in-a-box == D.J. TiVo

Having listened to MIKE-FM (actually WMKK-FM, but their marketing department never ever actually uses that) for long enough, I’ve realized that they don’t actually have “less DJ time”.  They just TiVo, or timeshift, their DJs.

From their perspective, it makes business sense.  Instead of having several DJs on staff, they simply have a handful of voice talents on retainer.  DJs have to be on during certain hours, since they’re generally live (allowing weather, news, traffic breaks with banter).  Voice talents, in this modern age, can work anywhere and anytime, as long as the .wav or other files get delivered to the server before the broadcast.  MIKE-FM seems to have two main voice talents (the main snarky guy and the older, goofy comic foil), and a couple of other occasional ones (some community ad and other longer spots).

The thing that gets me is that Mike doesn’t really seem to have less talk!  I’d love to see someone do a time comparison of Mike vs. competitors for a certain timeslot.  While Mike’s automated voice talent bits are typically pretty short, they come along very frequently – every other song, usually; and sometimes they have a couple of blurbs together.  They have a fairly good repetoire of blurbs: they clearly record plenty of blurbs and then randomly stick them in.  They even have some blurbs that are very topical: they clearly shuffle the voice lineup at least weekly.  But they still have just about as much talk as other stations, overall.  So while it may be a “Voice Actor” they hire, they’re still doing the same job as a DJ – just timeshifted, and without any of the actual human connection.  Too bad.

If they could actually go the next step, it would be interesting to see some radio stations do that.  Imagine the Web 2.0 or Semantic Web or whatever applied to this model.  Timeshifted DJs, but where a music director actually choreographed entire sets of music (or styles of music) along with some semi-topic-specific blurbs.  Scatter a handful of daily-topic blurbs throughout (daily voice talent recordings of the previous days scandals, for example), and it would feel pretty ‘live’.  This needs a very rich semantic catalog of music (for automated style selection and matching), as well as improving current beatmatch technology (which I thought some radio station had a big proprietary way to do interestingly but I can’t find it right now) to really cross styles and be more accurate.
Although I still like my live DJs on some stations, please.

“we’re run by a button marked ‘shuffle'”

And they say that like it’s a good thing.

So what’s happened to all the DJ’s? Or rather, where did all these internet-radio-station-in-a-boxes come from?

It’s not like it’s a completely wild concept these days with computers running stuff, but it was still odd and unsettling when one local station (WBOS) proudly announced on it’s commercials that they were getting rid of the DJ’s to play more music. It was like the best thing since having 2 stereo speakers instead of mono. I just can’t think what it must have been like for the voice talents recording those announcements, knowing that they were basically announcing the layoff of many local DJ’s with the commercials. I stopped listening to that station for quite a while in protest.

They’re quickly becoming overly slick in their setup and marketing. It’s amazing to see this many different radio stations being transformed into completely automated little boxes, including in-depth and integrated websites with concert listings, listener lines, request forms, etc. Hell, you can call in your request to these stations, and if your song gets picked (who knows how), the computer automatically plays your voice recording before playing your request. A bit different than the old days where a human answered the call and did a nice back-and-forth during the intro.

The thing that really gets me – and is the real reason I bothered to write this – is the over-the-topness of their marketing. Apparently the new trend is to spend marketing thought on station names – there are a whole bunch that don’t use call letters, just marketing names – and the marketing names are all people’s names. Trying to make you think that actual humans work at the station regularly. Yeah, right: the only people working there now are ad execs and sysadmins. Ugh. Cf. Ben-FM in Philly too – at least their call letters actually appear to be “WBEN”.

The really wierd thing is I can’t even figure out what the call letters are of 93.7 Mike-FM in Boston are anymore! I didn’t happen to hear them on the hour, and it’s certainly nowhere obvious on the website. And unless I missed some radical FCC changes lately, the official call letters are not “MIKE”.

Oh well. Not like all the DJ’s were worth listening too – but some of them were; heck, I used to listen to WKLB just because I like the DJ’s. I wonder what the larger impacts are on the DJ and voice talent market now that computerized audio is completely commercialized.