Smart TV: impressions of a cheapskate

I don’t understand how you can be so cheap about some things, yet you don’t mind spending all that money for a little television!
-Common refrain I’ve heard in the past week.

Hey look, I understand your confusion.
I’m constantly writing anti-consumerist dirges on this blog and I “boast” of eschewing the materialistic culture. So yes, my motives are confusing.
See, I’m a gadget freak and this tendency trumps all my other lifestyle traits. If there is a product that remotely captures my fancy, chances are I will fixate on it, winding myself up into a state of childish frenzy until I can no longer resist and run to the nearest store (or website) and fork out hard-earned dollars in order to buy the new toy. This despite the fact that I refuse to eat out, and fast once a week for economic reasons, and lug a coupon case to the supermarket where I scour the aisles for sales and fill my basket with store brands and and reams of groceries which will supply me for months to come because the sale dictates that you must buy three.

Yes, I am miserly. Cheap.
But when it comes to technological toys, I can’t contain myself. Price is not a reasonable issue.

Just this year I’ve bought a new computer and all its associated accessories, an Amazon Kindle, and now…my latest venture into overpriced cutting edge technological babble. On Tuesday, after a few days of fixating on Sony’s new Smart TV and weighing the pros and cons in my little skull while attempting to lead a purportedly productive existence, I visited a local Best Buy, somewhat conclusive research fresh in mind, and purchased the 32″ version of the television.

I brought it home and in the darkness of my dimly lit apartment (one more symptom of my cheapness is that I use light bulbs right until the moment they fry themselves in a flash of exhausted glory) somehow managed to rig it up. I purchased an additional “Monster Solutions” kit the cute salesgirl talked me into buying. It included a “green” surge protector, a screen cleaning fluid (designed for my screen!), and an HDMI cable which I resigned myself to buying for the sake of attaching the Xbox to my new treasure. HDMI cables are the scam of the century. To not purchase these golden wires is akin to turning your back on the mesmerizing wonders of glittery hi-def and the ostensible message you’re sending yourself is that you are willing to pay a shitload of money for a device but you can’t enjoy its pomp and circumstance unless you fork out a little more money (which pales in comparison to what you spent on the big item) so what the hell, you do it, and if you do it at the same time you buy the big item, it doesn’t seem like so much money. It’s all psychological and once you start spending money, it’s like a drug and you spend a little more to complete the experience just right. Being that this is a new product, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to purchase an extended warranty through Best Buy. Two years seems adequate…I figure any kinks which might surface in a new product should do so within that time frame. And a visit from a surly Geek Squad geek should be worth the price.

When all was said and done, the same man who uses soap bars until they are small dime-sized chunks of non-lather walked out of Best Buy that night having spent $1,162.57 for a 32″ LCD Smart TV, a “Solutions Plus” kit and a Best Buy 2-year warranty. Packed the shit in my car and off I went, technological dazzle in my eye.

Firstly, I don’t watch much television. But the lure of streaming video channeled from the net directly into my television was an irresistible beacon since it presented me with the possibility of cancelling my cable television service as a way of offsetting the money I spent on the damned television. Understandably very much an “in the long run” type of transaction, but nevertheless. The television in my life is used primarily for Xbox duty, the occasional news program, and quite often, to watch streaming movies through the Netflix/Xbox collaborative effort. Admittedly, this was a lot to spend on a television for someone the likes of me, but I viewed the Smart TV as more than “just” a television. It is also an “internet machine” of sorts which further offers the promise of viewing all my entertainment items streamed through my cable line as computer data.

Upon sliding the Smart TV out of its box, I was amazed at its slenderness which I suppose is the norm nowadays. But when you consider that my previous television was a 100-pound bulky elephant I bought in 2004, it may put my amazement into a clearer context for you.

Fastening the stand which the not-so-heavy television rests on is relatively simple even for the non-mechanically inclined such as I. You will need a Phillips screwdriver to fasten the 3 screws tightly for the sake of peace of mind. I don’t own a Phillips screwdriver and due to forgetfulness infiltrated with equal amounts of laziness, I haven’t borrowed one from anyone yet. Essentially, my Smart TV is sitting in the correct bracket slots but unfastened. If we happen to be rocked by the much-hyped “Big One” here in L.A. during this period of time I keep procrastinating screwing the screws in correctly, the television will most likely fly out of the fasteners and tumble in a free fall to the carpet below. Although if a quake of such magnitude invades Southern California, a fractured Smart TV will be the least of my troubles.

The wired hook-up is straightforward. There is a lone cable/antenna jack in back of the unit for connecting the cable line, an ethernet jack for the modem or router connection (although the Smart TV is capable of a wireless connection which I generally dislike in any form) and 4 HDMI slots for connecting media players, game consoles, etc. The television’s menu and guide through initial set up is self-explanatory. Seriously, anyone who bothers investing money is this contraption is quite capable of maneuvering through the menu and setting up the connection and option values. It’s not rocket science in the least. I had my television up and running within half an hour. You control the television through an overpopulated remote keypad. It is only battery-powered, so prepare yourself for some regular battery expenses. If you’re cheap as I am, this is irritating, but it’s the price you pay to play. I’m crossing my fingers that eventually Sony or a third-party firm will develop a wired keypad.

The initial set up involves running the television through a “detection” process whereby it detects all available channels and tallies them for you, analog versus digital. I don’t subscribe to full cable service. I pay the minimal charge in order to receive a digital signal which I needed for my old analog television set. Which I don’t believe I need any longer… I’m a television ignoramus and I have no idea what I should do. I’ll probably need to do some research in order to make sure it’s safe for me to totally get rid of my cable TV service. Once the detection process was completed, I began “surfing” through the vast array of digital channels which have strange number demarcations like 133.1 or 7.1. The picture is indeed clearer and I’m not sure if it would be considered acceptable by those in the know. The picture seems crisp to me, but I’m not an expert in the aesthetics of television screen quality by any means. I’m not one of those television geeks whose standards of television quality surpass anything I might remotely imagine. It’s a picture, I’m happy with it. Most televised crap is not worth much, who cares what it looks like?

My ideal television-watching experience is best defined as that which occurs when I feel like it and on my time schedule. Which is shorthand for when I’m in the mood, which is rarely, and when it happens, is usually at odd hours. DVR is too expensive and I can’t reconcile spending that much money to watch recorded garbage, so streaming television was a great option. For instance, I’ve used Hulu often to watch various television offerings and I thought it was another possibility to explore with the new Smart TV.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The Smart TV boasts that it can access the internet via the Chrome browser which is actually a wonderful tool as opposed to the limited “app” option available on most internet-ready televisions. The first thing you notice when you open up the Smart TV’s home screen is that the Chrome browser is itself an “application” as well, so while you may reach the internet at large through your television, it is nevertheless going to be limited by the self-contained infrastructure of a proprietary “app” so essentially your surfing is restricted within the boundaries of the box’s design. Nevertheless, while surfing with the Chrome browser, you are able to access all websites, and my first attempt to download video was on Hulu. Oops, not happening. Hulu is currently not encoded to run on the Smart TV platform. Evidently, the plan is there. Perhaps. The message leaves that opening.

OK, fine. I thought surely I would be able to stream video from the 3 major commercial networks. Unfortunately, ABC, CBS & NBC proved equally uncooperative with the Smart TV.

I realize this Google/Sony television is a virgin confluence of technology and the seamless interaction between various data providers is not quite ironed out, but still I was disappointed. The only videos I was able to stream from the internet through the Google app were Youtube videos which unquestionably is a site that has a pre-established working relationship with Smart TV. Other applications available which pertain to normally computer-accessed websites are Pandora, Netflix, Napster, CNBC…but be warned this is not a raw internet experience in case that’s what you are expecting. In fact, the Netflix application must be used to stream movies. If you try to access the Netflix website via the Chrome app and stream a movie directly, you’ll merely receive an error message telling you that you cannot view a streaming movie because it is not “supported on your [Chrome app] browser.” What you must do is use the browser to add a movie to your instant play cue, switch over to the Netflix app and play the movie from the cue. In fact, the Netflix app is basically only your cue. You don’t have the ability to browse movies or categories from the Netflix app.

The Pandora app is somewhat limited but a little more user-friendly as you don’t need to combine different online sign-ins in order to initiate music playback. Most of the internet options available to Pandora users are also available in the app.

I’ll wait patiently for Hulu and network television apps (if and when)…that will truly make the Smart TV worth the effort.

Smart TV is in its infancy and as happens to fresh technological innovations, disparate players in equally disparate playing fields must find a common language, a common mode of data exchange, and I forsee that in a short while, the major networks and Hulu (if not another online video service) will easily interchange with the Smart TV and others of its ilk. The Smart TV as it exists now is a slight media wasteland. It has some interesting options and snazzy tools, but it has a ways to go before reaching its theoretical potential. One short-term fix I’ll give a shot is to look at Google-hosted streaming sites which I’m positive will easily click into place with the Smart TV.

However, if you’re a technogeek like me who finds the lure of being first on the block difficult to refute, and you have too much money to burn because you horde it due to your lack of life, run out and buy one now. The software platform is constantly being updated and I envision we will be seeing many more apps and add-ons in the future which will hopefully make the Smart TV a little more friendly.

And if you still have doubts, consider this. You will be convinced, one way or the other, with this in mind.

Edit 11/13/10: I’m a little bitter that Hulu Plus is still not available on the Sony internet television despite the fact it is apparently available on a similar Samsung television and on the Sony Bravia, and soon, on the VIZIO and Tivo Premiere. I would gladly dish out a ridiculous $9.99/month for Hulu Plus and rid myself once and for all of cable TV. Strike one!

***Special note: I make some claims and assertions in this post which are admittedly semi-educated and possibly ignorant. My aim is not to trash the Smart TV. If in the course of learning further about this product, or if I am corrected by readers, as to the inaccuracy of points I’ve made, I will gladly add clarifications as they roll in!

On Silly

I just want to be silly.
Nothing more, nothing less.
As if it’s such an unachievable task. Some people make it seem so idiotically easy. There are certain times of year that make silliness shine and I feel frankly left out.

Friday, the weekend beckons, girls making their plans.
Costumes, all the encumbrances that accompany. Mindless and incessant chatter about what each other’s respective children will wear, utter and debilitating silliness.

Silly is that quality I can’t conjure from the sludge-filled depths of my strict personality. How can I convince Them that I am not (really that) serious? I am not. But I come across as one serious, somber Mother-effer.
I can’t help it. This is how I’m wired.
I find no amusement in Halloween and all its attendant foolishness. I find it difficult to treat this Friday as anything more than a normal work day. A normal day. I forgot this weekend was Halloween and the way they went on about it was frankly a bit startling if not dismaying. Dressing up, acting flip, strange festiveness in the air, some people taking the day off or leaving early, not sure if it was directly related to Halloween, but the sense in the air was of Silliness. Obtuse goofiness man. I just wanted to work. They were carrying on about Star Wars, and I thought Princess Leia and Hans Solo were lovers. Had to be corrected about that decidedly unromantic relationship. Fuck, I’m supposed to know this shit? It’s silly, damnit.

Star Wars is silly, Halloween is silly. It’s all silly shit because it isn’t life. It’s all phony fake fantasy that distracts from the ball.

This is why I am not silly.
Because I can never take my eye off the ball.

I’m a dour anchor who drags fun-loving erratic culture down with me into the joyless depths of gravitas. People revel in stupidity and aimless buoyancy.
I don’t get it man. Women especially love this bullshit, this plastic and meaningless cultural filler that adds nothing but diversion, and provides an urgent reason not to deal with life’s bitter edge directly. I’m not silly, I can’t humor silly. Life is silly enough without us having to try and up the silly ante, because seriously, you, me, every other miserable cretin, is incapable of replicating the silliness that life’s dark twisted charade can spit out its gooey orifice(s).

Costumes are silly, fantasy is silly. Mindless chatter is silly.
How do I be silly?

Surely it must be easier than it seems because most people display it splendidly and thoughtlessly.
Is there a silly pill?
A silly class?
A silly online course?
A silly forum?

I need to divert myself and find pleasure in meandering trivialities and idle chatter and groundless ineptitudes.

In order to be silly I need to “lift” something.
I need to be able to lift a sense of comprehension and variant disbelief; snub distrust and go against my better instincts.
I must be silly and I must forsake rhyme and good reason. I must wade in this pool.

I must be silly.
Will it bring happiness?
I think not.
Will it dispel this alienated anguish?

Life is a good time, bastards, and there is nothing to disentangle because we take the route cleared free of psychic entanglements.

oh god

Ford Tempo, hell on wheels

Throwing gravity out the window. Or, gravitas that is.

Tossing it the hell away because I don’t have the energy nor the will to humor such bullshit dignity this evening.
Lazy and sullen here in the strangely dry SoCal evening. It’s been hot and it’s been chilly today. A fucking vertigo of weather conditions that play with your mind and your body. My lips are chapped and my skin, dry.

As I drove to work this morning, down Cesar Chavez Boulevard actually, a car drove by on my right and out of the corner of my sleepy eye I thought it was something else.

But it was a figment of my imagination. I thought I saw something there that wasn’t. A fleeting memory drove by me in the form of a modern-day popular sedan, I think it might have been a Honda, but in the instant it passed through my field of vision, I thought it was a Ford Tempo. A bit startled, for that would be odd. Oddly so.

A Ford Tempo…was, and is, odd.

Why don’t we see Ford Tempos any more?
I checked Wikipedia’s “Ford Tempo” entry earlier and discovered that the Tempo was manufactured between 1984 and 1994. Eleven noble years of automotive insignificance. And a tremendous testament to the ability of a cyber clearing house to contain every minute scribble of knowledge vomited by man over his forgetful existence on planet Earth.

The invisible Tempo.
Why do some cars vanish entirely from the road without us noticing or caring?

There were some very nice cars made during that span of time. By “nice” I don’t mean fancy; I’m talking about exciting to look at and to drive. In 1988, I bought a new Honda CRX Si, a car that boasted only about 105 horsepower, but. And a big BUT. It weighed less than a ton and had the nimblest suspension I’ve ever driven in a production car. I powered that little rice rocket back and forth over Sunset Boulevard to Malibu quite a few times and its glue-like graceful grip adhered it to the blacktop, allowing me to keep pace with cars much more powerful and expensive than mine. And being that this was Pacific Palisades, that’s all there were. Cars which could easily whoop my ass on a straightaway, but lost that edge here on the twisty road as they attempted to maneuver 3000+ pounds of metal through hairpin turns. My little CRX was like a go-cart with a little more power. In 1993, I bought an Acura Integra GSR, another great car which I promptly spent thousands of dollars customizing. That car drove like the CRX. It had that light, feathery and exceedingly ergonomic touch which made you feel as if the car was an extension of your limbs. And it had 170 horsepower! With headers, free flow exhaust and a custom air filter, I probably pushed it to at least 175! The headers lent it that racetrack screeching appeal. It was a wonderful car to drive, and I’m sure there were many during the span of time the inconsolable Tempo graced our automative wasteland.

Unfortuantely, the Tempo was not a treat to see or drive.
It was lackluister American automotive science at its most mediocre. I suppose it was not a bad car, but by the same token, it was not a memorable car either. So immemorable that even though I can still spot occassional CRX’s dotting the roads of today, and plenty of Integras, there are no Tempos to be seen. Not quite a disgrace.

While Japanese carmakers were cranking out many noteworthy products during this period, the American automotive industry was “discovering” itself. The Tempo was the epitome of corporate chicken-shitted, hand-tied product planning and design. Too many voices, too many decision-makers, too many meetings and too many interests to sate, both governmental and private. The final result was an indistinct blob of unshapely metal that lacked identity and performance to match.

Here, from the indomitable Ford Tempo Central, a summary of the yawn-inducing “performance” stats of the young, infant Tempo from 1984.

Even the stellar performer of the group, the 5-speed coupe mind you, managed to shudder deliberately to 60 mph in a geriatric 12.9 seconds…the only of the group to break the monumental 13-second mark. Wow! Strap on your seatbelt and get ready to feel some serious g’s in that puppy. Dude, this car moved so slow you’d be lucky to experience negative g’s but at least you might pretend you were floating off in space, far from the drudgery of Dearborn. Top her out at 100 mph and you’d probably feel like you were reliving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Perhaps I’m being harsh on the glorious history of this innocuous mechanical obscurity, but I can’t help it being that today I was reminded of the car after I was startled to behold its apparition which was really nothing other than a current Honda Accord; and the irony of the situation struck me that the car, the Tempo, God Bless her, has faded from the landscape of Americana so truly and anonymously that even when you think you spot her it’s just the ghost of her mundane sheet metal absorbed into the body of a modern day automobile. I’m sure the Tempo was great for some, but one cannot fail to mention this car’s emblematic existence in American automotive history as the droll, middle-of-the-road market-driven art of marketing studies aimed at comglomerating disparate tastes into a hybrid jumble of mechanicals which please nobody, strongly. Except for those who perhaps view a car as the lowliest form of personal locomotion…which hey, is me now. If this was 1986, you’d probably find me puttering about town in one of these rather than my sick CRX.

Firebombs: the rain

This is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

I ran like a man on a mission.
Because I was.

Firebombs rained from the sky.

The sky was black and endlessly empty. But blossoming from nowhere deadly flickers of flaming fire descended from the vacant sky.
Some landed to my left, some behind me, some so close I could feel the scorching heat singe my skin.
I smelled the unmistakable acrid odor of burning flesh.
I ran because I had a mission and I ran so fast, so tirelessly, that I felt disembodied, inhuman, nameless.
Because I ran.
And spires of fire rained upward from the ground. Into the sky.

As if a recycling plume of flames, the fireballs, launched from random spots on the landscape’s surface, some of my left, others in front of me, sped upwards into the sky, into the black misty void where they hung lazily like an aimless full moon, and once tired, retreated angrily back to the ground.
Some escaped just impaling me on their way up, some on their way down.
I felt heat, but I escaped and still I ran like a madman.

And then, after running for 15 days, I saw the Cave.
I knew this was my goal.
My destination.
As I ran and dodged the fireballs as they ascended and descended, I fixed my sight on its mouth.
And still I escaped the firebombs.

Finally, after 16 days, I entered the dark cool entrance.
I was summoned here.
This was my goal.
Apprehensively, I entered the darkness which was still and cool and outside I heard the flailing commotion of enraged torment.

But in the cave there was silence.
Dark but light.
I could see the void.
I saw the walls but I saw nothing.
Or I saw something.

Interrupting the void with his figure.
Old, grizzled, serene, peaceful but haunted.
Huddled in the dark corner.
He watched me but I could not see his eyes.
He smelled me but I could not see his nose.
He touched me but I could not sense his fingers.

His touch prompted me to sit on the ground across from him.
A fire raged in the dark.
A fire. It raged invisibly.
It lit the somber psychic darkness but did not leave shadows on the walls.

He asked me to sit.
Tired. Winded. I welcomed the rest.

Outside, deadly fireballs flew noisily.

When I sat he seemed even more haggard and slumped.
And recessed into his cloak. His skin was drawn, and it folded and pulled back his flesh into a tightly wrapped casing of condensed life. Or lack of life. The man was lifeless but so…vibrant. His heart beat loudly like a lost drummer in the dark. His heart was as loud as the fireballs crashing outside the cave. His heart beat a mighty force.

He pointed at me inquiringly.
I knew the question.

And I was ready.

His eyes (which I could not see) seemed perturbed by my presence. Or was it my existence?
They implored…

And I spoke without opening my mouth.
It was a mystery.
So much noise and thundering outside, and my voice, so silent and still but thoughts still flowed unleashed.

“Can you tell me,” I asked. “Is a man more fortunate if he experienced Joy in retrospect, or is he happier if he never experienced it?”

The man leaned his back solidly against the wall.

“Memories are fucked. They are a waste of time,” he answered mockingly.
He entreated me to dare him.

Or to issue a rebuff.

In the face of silence, he continued.
What good are they?

They sit miserably and linger in your psyche, remnants of a non-existent past.
They sooth your lonely and longing soul.
They beseech you to consider the past, to fixate on it.
Which is dead. And gone.

Do they create?
Do they create life?

Memories are the scourge of thinking man. We’d all best be served if we had no memory. Memory deals us a deadly hand.
You…you cling to your precious memories like they are gold.

You wallow in their vague pleasures.
Memories only pull you deeper into the depths of longing and futility.

Even in the best of circumstances, memories only reaffirm triumph and self-avowed mastery.
Still, they only serve to feed complacency. They merely cement one’s precarious boasts. The minor ego seeks to be ingratiated by the tendrils of the memory.

Memory is a piece of shit and not to be trusted.
The moment you, my dear sir, find yourself rehashing memories, stop. Pause.
Examine the motive for your inner jaunt.
Why must you wade in this shallow pond of murky water?
Do the the fleeting memories further your satisfaction, or merely set the closed stage by which your ego may flourish for the span of a fireball?”

And then, nothing

Everyday my life shrinks.

Or: my life shrinks.

Each living generation condenses.
Folds unto itself. Into oblivion; into puny and irretrievable gestures of its former self.

New dimensions.

Each day becomes smaller.
Becomes minute.

Everything I stood for becomes a symbol.
Loses power and hope.
Everything I hoped and yearned becomes an empty loose thread.
Nothing to hold on to.
Flailing like a discarded spool.

Every day I am used and dipped like an instrument.

Losing feeling.

Retreating into the wilderness.

It was nice while it lasted.

Devoured by these cold hands.