Secrets and Star Wars

I went back to look at where I’d left off with all the “secrets” posts and found something I’d forgotten. It’s fortuitous timing as well, since I wanted to talk about the Star Wars trailer that was shown very specifically at half time of the Monday night football game.

Is that really the target audience? Who gets the most help from that – the franchise or the NFL and their saggy ratings? This is not the first time they’ve done the “event” trailer thing – did it help last time?

October 20, 2015

The human body has an amazing capacity to care for itself. My sleep patterns are not always the best and I end up somewhere on the sleep deprived scale more often than I would like. When that happens, my body does (eventually) right itself.

Last night during halftime of the Monday Night Football game a trailer was supposed to premier for the new(est) Star Wars movie. I had no real interest in the football game and wasn’t even planning to have the TV on last night, but I DO actually have an interest in Star Wars (even if it’s only nostalgic at this point). I did all the work I could before going out and settling on the couch. Hit the little buttons to make sure all my screen time was counted. Paid some attention when the commercials aired, just to be sure I didn’t miss anything… then my body decided enough was enough with this whole ‘not sleeping’ thing and turned me off – like a light switch. I woke up just as the announcers declared that halftime was over and the third quarter was ready to roll. I missed the whole damn thing. It’s not that I couldn’t go see the trailer on the internet the very next morning. I could (and did) more than once. It was more the idea that I attempted to actually make the advertising thing “work” and just conked out. On the up side – it still counts because even though I wasn’t actually awake to see any of the other commercials before or after, the little buttons were pushed and the lights were on recording that I was “there” for the big halftime ad. One to the good for the ratings?

A possible fan?

This is the next up from my series of “secret” posts about being a ratings family.

October 7, 2015

It still bugs the crap out of me not to be able to tell anyone what’s going on. What I find more interesting is that the reps from Nielsen (still not allowed to talk about anything) remember their accounts and the people they work with so clearly.

We had a “check up” session or some such thing (read: audit) where a rep had to come by the house and go over all the survey questions again, reinstall the computer audit app on the computer and check all the channels on the TV to verify that nothing has changed. Took around 90 minutes total – and yes it was totally redundant.

The part that really threw me off was that our rep remembered our conversation from last time she was here (4 months ago) and asked me how my writing was going…

Wow. I can only imagine if I had fans.

The fact that she remembered, and asked is weirdly motivating. I really feel the need to jump onto another doc on here and just keep typing.

Off I go to do just that thing!

Interesting Lesson

Continuing with my series of posts about being a ratings family. I suspect I was over-thinking things, but I have a tendency to do that very thing. I can honestly say the further I get from pushing the button the more happy I am that I don’t have to deal with it anymore.

September 21, 2015

Yes, hitting the little button every 42 minutes is still a pain in the butt. The bigger question is how accurate it all really is. What is their margin of error on any of this stuff? I only ask that because when I got home after 6 hours away I noticed that my wife had simply kept hitting the “OK” button without changing who was actually listed as “watching” or whatever they categorize it as.

Interestingly enough it was still my programmed music channel running through the on-line connection. Different listener, same content… does it make a difference? That’s what our house was doing, so that counts? I suspect they wanted more finite data than that.

While I’m thinking about finite data, part of the deal is programming in whenever a guest is watching with you. I’m not sure how your friends are, but if they’re like mine they pay attention – particularly to new technology. How exactly do you explain your “secret” when it’s movie night?

The first time folks were over I actually turned everything connected to the TV off. Just didn’t use it rather than explain the whole thing. You know what? Didn’t have any kind of negative impact on the evening at all. We played a game, chatted, had some food and generally had a great time that didn’t involve media. Perhaps there’s a lesson here.

Adjusting to “The Secret”

Continuing my series of entries from my time as a ratings family. Adjusting to changes isn’t always the easiest…

September 5, 2015

This is becoming a pain in the ass. I hate the fact this company has set the sensor to need you to “check in” every 43 minutes. I’m certain that time has something to do with how long tv shows on networks are or something like that, but it absolutely doesn’t fit how I “watch” things. Let me restate – It’s a pain in the ass.

Example – I have a “smart” TV (the quotes are because I don’t believe it to be particularly smart – it’s simply connected to the net so I can listen to music or watch YouTube on it). I like to put a music provider service up, pick one of my channels and allow the music to be my background while I do stuff around the house. Never gave it much thought. NOW, every 40 minutes or so all the little blinky lights on the Nielsen box go berserk if I’m not paying attention to them. As part of the deal I’m supposed to hit the remote and “check in”. Yes, I know it’s stupidly simple. All I have to do is hit a button. That’s really the point though – before Niellsen it didn’t require any more thought once I turned it on. I would have it on or I wouldn’t. They have by their nature effected their own data. There have been times I have just turned things off when I might have kept them on before because I was tired of having the little blinking lights going off when I was in the middle of doing something else – or worse yet, at the climactic point of the movie I’m watching in the dark.

I’m not sure if there’s a way to change this. I’m certain they’ve got a stack of folks that routinely put a lot of thought into stuff like this and they’ve not come up with a better answer yet, so I doubt I’ll come up with anything either.

As I look over the mail that came in today something else has occurred to me. I can’t just trash the junk mail.

Yes, junk mail still happens but now I can’t toss it without looking at it first. Why? Because Nielsen is so worried about people influencing me and my watching choices that all of their correspondence arrives in unmarked envelopes. No logo, no name on the return address, nothing to give away our “big secret”.

OK, I get it. I know a number of people connected (loosely and distantly for sure) to the media that wouldn’t mind swaying numbers. So now I have to open all the junk mail – just in case.

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:


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!

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,


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?


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