Overthinking It

Another post from my secret time as part of the ratings system. Much shorter this time:

July 19, 2015

There’s a testing thing… I’m trying to remember what it was. Something about the simple fact that you’re observing changes the outcome of the experiment. I’ll track that down here sometime.

That is precisely what has been crossing my mind every time I look at the TV now. I think about what I’m watching more than I ever did before. Will they note the fact that I turn the volume to “mute” every time a commercial comes on? Will they realize that 5 minute commercial break is the reason I turned that show off?

I actually turned the TV on, then off again, then on again debating this sort of stuff in my head. I’m clearly thinking things over far more than they want me to. The idea is they want me to just do what I did before without thinking about it. How can I do that? They’ve inserted a step that makes me think about what I’m doing.

We’ll see if that changes as I go forward.

Shhhh! It’s a secret!

I’ve had a secret, but I can tell you now. I think they want me to wait a little longer, but I also think it very unlikely that anyone will actually check up on me. For the past 2 years our house has been a Nielsen ratings family. We’ve had a bunch of stuff hooked up to our TV and our computer to report in on what we’ve watched and how we’ve connected to sponsors. It’s been a long, secret journey but it’s over now. Since it was such a secret I wrote stuff down as we went. Now that we’re done I’m going back and giving up the details!

July 2, 2015

I’d heard of TV ratings for years. Everyone touts that they have the “number one show” or the “number one comedy” for shows that aren’t actually the most watched but come in higher in the ratings than other shows like it. I know about demographics and I understand that I’m really not anybody’s target demo anymore. I just never really knew exactly how it was all figured out.

It was a really big surprise when somebody that works for Nielsen (the TV ratings folks) actually knocked on my door and asked, “Do you want to be a Nielsen family?”. Uh, sure? I guess?

In my head I immediately thought, “OH! I can help out all those shows that don’t get the love they deserve.”

Then I started to think about it a little more. How much do I really watch TV? Truth be told I’ve written a number of times about the paucity of programming despite more channels than ever and the shallow level of thought involved in attempting to grasp for my dollars. I’d actually shut off our cable for about 3 years – and after an initial detox period I didn’t really miss it. Even now that I do have TV again I don’t watch any network shows. Everything I want to see is online, on demand or part of a smaller channel. TV is a time sink and I use it to help clear my head so I can get some sleep most nights. I can’t think of the last regular TV show I watched all the way through, start to finish. I wasn’t lying when I told the rep that I probably wasn’t the demographic he was looking for.

Undaunted, Dave (the rep) told me that was fine. They’re interested in measuring what we actually watch and if our eyeballs looking at a show lead us directly to a website. They’ve started this new tracking bit – they put a small tracking program on your computer that counts if a website that was mentioned in a program is accessed on your computer. We’re going to represent about 25,000 average households for their estimation purposes. Our “vote” counts quite a lot.

There were lots of survey questions to determine where we “fit” compared to other people that are on the program. There wasn’t any actual paperwork for me to sign – so that was a little surprising. Dave the rep did all the work. The cool bonus to him doing all the work? Nielsen likes to thank folks for being part of their ranking system so they give you gifts – like $50 the day they install the tracker thing on your TV. Then a couple weeks later they send you another $50. So we’ll start with $100 and hit a little button when we turn the TV on to start tracking. That’s not a bad deal in my mind.

So, all this cool stuff – all the neat things to talk about and all the thoughts rolling around in my head my next thought was, “This will be so cool. I can’t wait to get together with everyone at Watch The Skies and let them know what’s going on”.

Not so much. Dave the rep told me this is actually a secret. I’m not actually supposed to tell anyone because they’re afraid that other folks will attempt to sway what I watch and when I watch it. He told me to watch the mail carefully because they don’t even mark their envelopes – the mailman isn’t even supposed to know.

Well, crap. Now what? I’ve got all this cool stuff and I can’t tell anyone about it. For a writer and sometime blogger that hurt. It’s interesting, it’s important to some degree and it’s uncommon enough that people will be interested in knowing what’s going on… and I suppose that’s exactly their point. I know (directly or indirectly) independant film makers, script-writers, authors that are looking to sell the rights to their work, entertainment bloggers, book bloggers and any or all of them might be interested in swaying 25K votes on what shows go or what shows get better ratings.

This is just the initiation. It will be about 2 weeks until the installation representative comes to the house and connects up the little box to start counting what we watch.

So it’s a secret. I can’t tell you until it’s all done and over with (and that can be as much as two years if we keep up with it). What to do about it?

Keep a secret journal of course! I’ll keep making notes and tracking how the whole thing goes. Hopefully this will be as interesting when this is all done as it sounds like it could be now.

New Story!

Just in time for that perennial Summer launching Memorial Day weekend – Fortress Publishing presents : TV Gods – Summer Programming! 18 stories taking your favorite pantheons and mashing them up with memorable TV shows to allow hilarity to ensue. Only $16 and available from Fortress Publishing after 5-27-17.

I’m really looking forward to the book launch at this year’s Balticon!

My story “Somebody’s Got Talent” will be one of the stories in there! IF you want a little teaser – here’s the cover art:

Killjoys

Somehow it is July already. I’m not certain exactly how that happened. I think June went into some kind of witness protection program or something. That’s not a big deal except for one thing – a TV show I really enjoy is starting a new season tonight.

I really don’t like a lot of things about SYFY’s recent past – or the not so recent past. The science fiction channel spent a lot of time antagonizing the people it purportedly catered to. I actually tend to refer to them as the syphilis network.

However, the network does genuinely seem to be making an effort to create and show good (or at least fun) science fiction again. I rather enjoy their show “Killjoys” and the new season starts tonight. IF you haven’t checked it out before and you’re into space faring bounty hunters, you might enjoy it!

http://www.syfy.com/killjoys/videos/killjoys-season-2-trailer

American Football

I’m certain that fans of the game will have differing opinions on what I write here, but I’m actually hoping to reach non-fans on this one. There is some compelling stuff toward the bottom of this – it’s worth a read (and a listen if you pop out to Radio Lab).

American football is the only “reality TV” I watch. No, I don’t watch chef kitchen whatever or survivor island race whatever. Do I know about them? Sure – how could you not in this day and age. Yes football is reality TV – complete with elimination matches and a massive soap opera attached to the players – it just happens to make over a billion dollars a year. It is the biggest, baddest reality TV show on the block and it doesn’t care much what the soap opera players it hires do – unless they can’t perform or they make the show itself look bad (and when I say bad, that’s a relative term). The only folks close to the same level? NASCAR. Believe it. NASCAR just doesn’t have the history that football does.

Football is and always has been a brutal game of aggressive ground acquisition. We are actually watching the fastest, hardest hitting yet safest version of the game ever. Don’t believe me? What if I told you there was a football season where 19 people playing died? Torn ACL doesn’t sound bad compared to dying. This tradition of brutal has carried forward. In recent past years there was a player that had a portion of his finger amputated rather than have surgery to save it so he could get back onto the field sooner rather than later. Who needs that part anyway, right? There are players every year that drive their bodies to a point that most of us would find ridiculous to consider.

The intense competition of football gives us genuinely compelling stories. It is fascinating to see the inspiration, the rage, the horror and the joy all generated by a group of men trying to push a ball in one direction or another, televised weekly but only a few short weeks out of each year.

A friend of mine pointed me to this really interesting article on Radio Lab about the history of football. They talk about some of the origins of the game (if you’ve heard of Pop Warner football leagues, did you know there was a man behind that name?) and the things those men did to push the game to become what it is today. They bent the rules or exploited the not yet a rule situations to win. Do you want to understand why it takes 15 minutes to play out the last 30 seconds of game time? It’s because we’ve had a hundred years of little boys standing in the grass yelling,

“DID NOT!”
“DID TOO!”
“FINE! DO OVER!”

This is the heart of the game and now the results mean the difference between winning and losing on a multi-million dollar stage. Brutality and bending the rules to gain any possible advantage. Don’t believe me? Listen to that Radio Lab article. It tells about the little things that changed each year because of the things the men running the teams did in order to get any little advantage. Guess why you can’t paint the ball to match your uniform jersey – because somebody did it. Puts a little inflation argument in better perspective? The Radio Lab article also discusses the Carlisle Indian School and their influence on the game. History right in our area – close to my family actually. I hope to get down to see the historic marker soon. I also hope that when the film makers tell the story of the Carlisle Indian school they do it justice. There’s a lot of history there and I would love to see it done well.

There’s a local college that houses a lot of information about the Carlisle Indian School. It’s a story worth checking out.

Keep the picture in your head of two little kids on the playground arguing next time you see football being played, just put that attitude into grown men. It put a bit of a different spin on things for me once I figured it out. I’d love to hear what you think – do those never ending final seconds of the game make more sense in that light?

Football

The Return of Addiction (Television)

Today is the day of “The Big Game”. I still don’t understand why I’m not allowed to call it what it actually is – but that’s a different topic. I’ll be watching this evening and I won’t be too worried about atmospheric interference. We have television again – and not just the intermittent broadcast signal. We’ve “spliced” the cut cable.

I know it’s not some great big announcement or anything beyond average really, but to me it IS a big deal. This month (February) would be the three year anniversary of cutting cable and essentially shutting off television. I had thought I’d never turn it back on and I was convinced enough to put it in writing when I missed the not-so-super bowl last year (Oscar Who?). That box in the corner really is an addiction and it was very, very easy to slip back into dangerous habits.

Why? That’s a good question.

At the end of last year I was laid off. Three and a half months (particularly through the holidays) is enough time to convince anyone that more dramatic cost cutting measures than those you already took need to be looked into. Just as these thoughts were crossing my mind I got a notice from the cable company that my rates would be going up again for my internet connection. I gave up TV, but I need the internet to hunt for work. Pay more for it while not having a job? Yeah, awesome… or NOT. I started to take notice of the competition that was constantly “knocking at my door” and wondering if I was interested in taking a look at what they had to offer. Well, if I could save money I was interested for sure.

Turns out the competition was willing to bend over backwards to get me on board. I got better net connection speed for just a little less each month PLUS they’d throw in two years of their television service including a year of premium channels, a year of Netflix service and a free tablet. It wasn’t really much of a choice. The old provider didn’t have a chance against that. They tried when I called them to shut things off, but it was a half hearted attempt. They knew they couldn’t compete.

The competition was also fast. They wanted me on their team ASAP. Just a few days after saying I’d make the deal they had a guy at the house hooking everything up the way I wanted it and making certain he did neat, clear, professional work. It was probably the smoothest transition I’ve had between companies for just about anything I’ve done.

And then, there it was. The remote control was just sitting there waiting for me to figure out where all my old channels were. If I couldn’t see what I wanted just then, there was ON DEMAND that allowed me to pick up a show whenever I wanted. It was easy. I just needed to sit down and fiddle with the buttons for a few minutes. Simple.

So, after almost three years away I’m connected again. I’m really not sure I feel good about it. I’ve certainly not been shy about watching things – but I think that’s part of the issue. There have already been a handful of times when I knew I should be working on something when I decided I would just take a spin through the on screen guide to see if there was anything on. I’d take a few minutes doing that, reading show notes and looking ahead in the schedule to see if I needed to be sure to be back in my seat for anything coming up. Then I’d see a re-run of a film I really liked or a show I’d heard about but not seen and I’d settle back and see what the hype was all about. Some hours later I’d realize I’d missed my chance to actually work on whatever project was now cold and without inspiration in the other room. I really can’t imagine how hard this is for a physical addiction. It certainly gives a certain amount of perspective.

Even as I sit here typing I can feel the siren call from the other room. Creating things is hard to do well and it takes all that time and practice and typing hurts your wrist and wouldn’t it be easier to just come to the couch and sit here? There’s not really anything on, but you never know you might find something, right? There are commercials for the upcoming commercials that should run in the big game and 86 and a half hours of pregame show and so many other things you need just the same way you need your net connection…

I’m hoping as the new-ness factor wears off that I’ll have better impulse control when it comes to watching things and how much time I allot for that. The combination of going back to work (the tired that goes with that) and the availability of ‘entertainment’ that asks nothing in return has been rough on my creativity. It’s not all bad. I have shared some shows with the family that were fun to watch. I’ve caught up on some genre movies I’d been meaning to watch. The key here is the perspective my time away has given me. The television isn’t that important. I can walk away any time (and likely will once the 2 free years are up). Until I walk away, I’ll just have to be sure my projects are getting top billing and avoid the ease of sitting on the couch and staring at nothing for hours on end.

I’ll let you know how all that works out… but probably not until after the game is over.

Spliced Cable

SYFY is Back?

This was originally published in Watch The Skies for November 2014

“If I insult you, it’s probably because you deserved it.” Harlan Ellison

Disclaimer: I don’t have cable any more. More than two and a half years ago I got fed up with another rate increase. I had just taken my second paycut in an attempt to survive a floundering economy and things looked bleak. I was forced to take a long, hard look at what cable television programming had to offer me and that programming came up wanting. Choice made, cable cut. While the seperation was difficult, I believe much like dropping a dangerous addiction, I don’t miss it.

I have stated many times that I am a fan first and foremost when it comes to all things science fiction and fantasy. One of the things I enjoyed when I had cable was the channel where those things I loved could call home. Then came a number of very poor choices from that channel, not the least of those being professional wrestling. While professional wrestling is fiction of a sort it fails to meet the criteria for science fiction on every front. I spent a great deal of time bashing and despariging the network that once gave me a weekly dose of crumudgeon (and I still miss those rants). I was not alone.

While the channel carrying the name of my beloved genre was busy trying to shed the loyal fan base the entertainment, the core, the very shows that should have lived there dashed off to other channels where they met with wild success. There are now far more popular genre television shows on other channels as there are on the network that claims them, if only in title. There were a number of failed experiments in genre programs that I would have thought should have been on a channel dedicated to science fiction. It should have all been on a channel dedicated to science fiction. Reaching out and trying to attain something is vital. Own the subject, good, bad or indifferent. The channel didn’t, it ran and hid. It was, and is frustrating. The experiments, the thought provoking stories wrapped around circumstances not of this world were popping up anyplace other than “home”.

Giving credit where credit is due, the channel I have often compared to a sexually transmitted disease now seems to be owning the error of their ways. A recent article published by EW gives some insight into how things will work going forward and gets the new head of original programming Bill McGoldrick to answer some of these criticisms. The article is full of hope and positive, forward thinking statements.

“I think now it’s about giving our audience some fresh stuff.” Mr. McGoldrick said. He gave out some thoughts on where the channel has been and where he sees things going. I’m intrigued by what he has to say. I like the idea that the channel dedicated to science fiction will be heading back to outer space. The mini series Ascension looks like it could be absolutely fascinating. The other thing it is? Most importantly it’s not like other things that are on right now. The things that do the best, the ones that get the highest ratings or score the biggest returns are the things that give a story that’s different than what’s out there. I don’t want another procedural. I want compelling story telling.

They talk a good talk, but can they walk that good walk or are they just walking dead? I look forward to finding out.

http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/10/28/syfy/ The EW article is worth the read.

War and Art

Being part of the military is an intense experience. Despite the time I served being less than 4 years in total, and never in an active combat zone, the things I witnessed and the things I did have affected me in ways that have lasted more than twenty years. I have some sad and some funny anecdotes from the various exercises, training missions and trips over seas. These stories go along with a handful of items, the artifacts and photos of that time in my life. These things bring memories and emotions along with them each time they come out of storage.

Memories when attached to pictures and small objects have a startling clarity. Even with clarity and a deep imagination, I fail to grasp the depth and connection of what the soldiers who served as part of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops from WWII have when they look at their art.
I am behind the times catching up with the documentary showing the amazing work these artists, these engineers, these soldiers did under the undiluted pressure of the Nazi war machine. Knowing the load of stuff any soldier is asked to carry these true artists were also certain to have pen or pencil and paper with them too. Sketching the war, but also crafting an amazing deception.

If you are an artist and you think from time to time, “I just can’t work under these conditions” or “well, this would be a better picture if I had the right tools” you should definitely take a peek at these inspirational artists. Imagine this quote, “…we were sleeping in hedgerows and foxholes, but nothing kept us away from going someplace to do a watercolor…” They certainly worked under conditions most artists wouldn’t. Being a soldier and being an artist are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

Take the opportunity to catch the film The Ghost Army, I highly recommend it.

Other Links:

PBS

The Atlantic

Wil’s new show

I’ll start with the blasphemy just to get it out of the way – I don’t like Star Trek that much. I enjoy it, but I’m not a fanatic. For a long time I’ve said, “That’s not MY science fiction”. It was a part of a certain ensign’s career that landed him in fandom’s collective memory however, so I do understand the need for credit where it is due. In the past couple of years I’ve come to enjoy reading Wil Wheaton’s blog. I admire a lot of things about the way he approaches life in general. I love the fact that he’s so into games and gaming. I watch Table Top as soon as it comes out whenever I can (and when I can’t… it’s the internet, I can go back for it).

In case you missed it, Wil has a new show on cable. I won’t lie, I have a naked hatred for the channel he’s on. I don’t want to advertise for them. I couldn’t just ignore the new show though, so I went and watched the first episode. If you’re interested, go and check it out here.

I have decided it must be me. I’m old or something. The show was OK, but it didn’t wow me. I was hoping for at least a little insight or a segment that really worked for me. What I got was essentially talk soup for stuff I don’t watch. I wanted to like this show so much and I’m totally indifferent to seeing it again. There were some bits that made me chuckle (the dragon was very funny, but it was like 3 seconds and a totally juvenile joke) and some bits that made me wonder (signing Hugh was too long) and some stuff that was just lost on me (haven’t had cable for a long time now).

I won’t give up on the show, but I don’t know how many episodes I’ll last. I suppose all I really have to do is last a handful of episodes – if the show becomes popular I suspect it will be cancelled right away (or maybe I’m projecting toward this channel I don’t like).