Digital Channels

If you’re in the business of trying to get people to buy a $199 digital box and pay an extra $20 or so per month all for the purpose of receiving digital cable television, you’d think that today would be a banner day. Today, you see, is the day that 40 new digital channels come onstream.

And you’d think that you’d want to Make a Big Deal out of all of this, because these new digital channels are the first compelling reason to switch to digital cable.

And, indeed, some cable operators are making a big deal.

Alas over at the tired old Eastlink website there’s no mention of the digital channels at all. Sigh.

Soy Milk

When my grandmother Nettie was in her 80’s she came to visit us here on the Island for the first time. We had a grand old time, and helped her accomplish many “firsts” for her life: first time she ever went through a drive-thru (the source of my favorite story: I’m in the drive-thru line, placing my order, and Nettie, from the back seat, says “who the hell are you talkin’ to?”); the first time she ever went to a brash rock and roll-drenched movie; the first time she ever ate lobster.

It was a fun visit.

About the second or third day, I came down for breakfast and noticed that she was putting cream and sugar in her coffee. This was unusual, as I’d always remembered her taking her coffee black. When I asked her why she’d changed she told me that she’d been drinking coffee black for 60 years and had never tried it with cream and sugar. Earlier that year she had and, much to her surprise, she said, “it just tastes a lot better.”

In this same vein, Brian Cudmore announced to me the other day that he had started drinking soy milk. And he likes it. A fact confirmed to me by the feisty woman at the Uncommon Grocer who sells it to him (and who went to school with Brian’s daughter [PDF file]).

It goes without saying that it has not been an easy couple of weeks for the Cudmore family and their employees, but it’s heartening to know that, in the midst of all the hullabaloo, soy milk can sneak up and seize the day. Not because it tastes better (does it?), but simply as proof that no matter who you are and what’s going on, if go off the beaten track once in a while, you might just find you’ve been missing something all along.

And that’s a lesson we can all take something from.

Lost vs. Amazing Race vs. The Mole

Wednesday night saw the debut of two new “reality” television shows, Lost on NBC and The Amazing Race on CBS. Along with last season’s The Mole on ABC, each of these shows involves groups of people competing with each other during travel around the world. How the winner is determined, the number of people involved, and various other details are different in each game.

The Mole has by far and away the most compelling host: Anderson Cooper (son of Gloria Vanderbilt and former ABC News correspondent) has the perfect demeanor for this genre: a perfect mixture of deadpan delivery, humour and “yes this is a stupid game, but I will take it seriously.” Phil Keoghan is the host of The Amazing Race and although he tries to approximate Cooper’s style, he pales in comparison and comes off like a lightweight punky kid. Lost is essentially unhosted: an unseen announcer provides colour commentary, but there’s not facilitator present as in the other two programs.

In terms of pure entertainment (and is there any other reason to watch shows like this?), my favourite is The Amazing Race: it’s well paced, occasionally thrilling, and has a good shtick in having each team of two a different variation: mother/daughter, husband/wife, gay partners, separated couple, frat brothers, etc. That it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Enemy of the State, The Rock) production is obvious: it’s shot like an action/adventure series, with well-match music and spectacular locations.

The Mole, while occasionally silly, is the most intriguing show of the three. It takes a more cerebral approach to “the game,” with more intellectual challenges than physical, and its plot is based around the need for contestants to identify who among them is a plant — the “mole” — secretly working against them all. The result is an interesting cauldron of insecurity and paranoia.

Lost is an odd show: most of tonight’s episode was shot in a dry desert on Mongolia. There was nothing much to look at other than gentle Mongolian nomads riding their motorcycles. In a sense, however, it’s the most “honest” of the bunch: it’s shot more like a documentary than a rock video, and the challenge — to get from Mongolia to the Statue of Liberty — seems actually challenging. The casting in Lost is spotty: there are a couple of interesting pairings, but there are an equal number of bratty urbanites that grow tiring after a couple of bratty tirades.

Lost airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Atlantic Time on NBC, The Amazing Race airs Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. Atlantic Time on CBS (with a repeat of the first episode airing this Sunday, Sept. 9 after 60 Minutes) and The Mole returns to ABC later this fall, airing on Fridays at 9:00 p.m. Atlantic Time starting Sept. 21.

None of these shows will improve your life or teach you much, but they are a good way to lose yourself in TV for, well, I guess it’s three hours a week now.

In praise of public libraries…

I’ve said this before in this space, but it bears repeating: public libraries are amazing. Wee Oliver and I took our first visit to the children’s section of the Confederation Centre Public Library yesterday.

Oliver loves books. He will always favour playing with his books over playing with stuffed toys or other diversions. And so sudden being in a room with thousands and thousands of picture books, all free for the borrowing, was something of an experience for us both. Oliver especially lived the statue of Peter Pan in the corner; I think he though it was a Real Boy.

Anyway, when you step back and think about it, the whole idea of a public library is amazing. Amazing, and a stark incongruity compared to the way we tend to run the rest of the world.

Here is a publically supported organization which has as its sole purpose the edification and entertainment of all citizens. Their services are available without charge or prejudice, and they actually have smart people on staff to help you find what you’re looking for. And you can take anything home for a couple of weeks for free, just by showing your library card.

Next time you see your local librarian, thank them for helping to preserve such an important tradition.

Any linguists in the audience?

I’ve had cause to wonder recently how it is that many western languages — like French and Spanish, for example — have the concept of gender built into them (le chien / la voiture, etc.) whereas English does not. How and when did English evolve away from this? Or was it ever a part of English?

Part of my curiousity comes from a newfound fondness for the word Spanish word compañera which is high on my list as a replacement for partner, lover, spouse, wife, etc.

If there are any linguists (or just general smart people) in the audience, I’d appreciate having some light shed on this language/gender issue.

Mugs on demand

Reinvented Mug CafePress.com has an interesting idea: let anyone, anywhere, sell mugs, T-shirts and other brandable items with no up front investment, no inventory and no risk.

You select which images appears where on which products using a simple, well laid out web-based application. They handle both the on-demand manufacturing and the e-commerce part of things — billing, customer service, shipping, etc. — and host your online store for you.

When customers buy products, they ship and you get a cheque every month. While you can set your own margins, to be within a reasonable range it’s not exactly a way to make a killing. But then again there’s no risk and next to no effort required.

I found CafePress.com by clicking on a link at the bottom of the Blogger store and was intrigued enough by their setup that I took 10 minutes this afternoon to set up a Reinvented Online Store. It’s an interesting experiment.

What if PEI disappeared on a holiday?

It’s a holiday Monday again, and, as usual, there’s no update to CBC Charlottetown’s website. Presumably there simply aren’t staff assigned to come in on holidays.

I still cannot fathom why things that happen on Sundays and holidays are deemed any less important than things that happen on weekdays.

Site renovations

In dire need of procrastination activities today, I’ve made some renovations to this website.

First is the long-requested (at least by Steven) function to allow discussion of individual posts. The complements the guest book, which can remain a place to talk about issues of general interest.

Second is the link to the statistics about traffic to this site. I’ve been gathering these numbers all along, but have never linked to them. I couldn’t think of a reason not to.

I would appreciate comments on either new feature. Handily enough, there is now a mechanism in place to let you do this! Just click on the Discuss This link below.

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