Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Busy Day In Patriot Nation

The Pats waived Kevin O’Connell, and Tedy Bruschi announced his retirement.

I kinda saw the O’Connell thing coming, but I was totally stunned by the Bruschi news. I figured he'd play out this year as a role player and mentor, and retire at the end of the season.

What a horrible note to end the weekend on.

To affect the quality of the day...

"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look. To affect the quality of the day – that is the highest of arts."

Henry David Thoreau

The crowds that lined the streets and overpasses to pay their respect as Senator Kennedy's hearse passed by, the mind boggling lines of people who waited patiently to give their condolences to his family as he lay in state, all seemed to have a story to tell of how the Senator had helped either themselves, or someone dear to them.

Ted Kennedy affected the quality of the day for many people, and the quality of their lives as well. He changed lives, and he changed the way many look at life.

By Thoreau's standard, he was truly an artist of the highest order.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Kennedy Passes At 77

Although we knew it was coming, it doesn’t lessen the sadness. He was a great man who touched many, and his passing creates a hole that will be hard to fill, on so many levels.

The Globe has some great articles and retrospectives on his life and legacy that you can access here, and I’ve put a link at the end of this post to my own reflections on the man and how he touched my life that I had posted back when I had first heard of his illness.

It’s been a tough time for his family, with both he and his sister Eunice passing so closely, and while this is a newsworthy and historical moment, I hope everyone gives them the respect and privacy they deserve. Please join me in sending out your prayers for both the Senator and his family.

From Tuesday, May 20, 2008: Our Thoughts and Prayers

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Goodbye Cable, Hello FiOS TV

Verizon rolled out FiOS in our neighborhood a couple of years ago, and we were one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. Our old copper phone lines had gotten almost unusable. Loud static and pops, disappearing dial tone, cross talk from the neighbor’s line, it was ugly, and so was our DSL connection. Verizon had tried to repair our service several times to no avail, and finally admitted that the copper infrastructure in the neighborhood was beyond repair. They offered to cut us over to fiber at no charge, and I readily accepted.

At the time, they still hadn’t rolled out FiOS TV, but I was super happy anyway. I finally had a crystal clear phone line and a constant 5/2 Mbps internet connection to boot.

When they began offering FiOS TV service about a year later, I hesitated, because I would need a box for every connection in my house. PiP on the main set, a Media Center PC, spare bedrooms, yikes… that’s a lot of additional boxes.

There was no way around it, as FiOS is an all digital signal and you need a box to get anything on an analog set. Even on a TV with a built in ATSC/QAM digital tuner you get very little, just the local channels, and in my experimentations the signal seemed to confuse the tuner at times.

So I stuck to cable. Expensive, bad cable, at that. The signal was so weak that I had to install a bidirectional amp, and the cost kept going up. Plus I was paying two different companies. So when cable started putting little love notes in my bill telling me that they were going all digital soon and I would need a box for all of my TV’s, I decided the time was right to jump ship.

Verizon offered me their Triple Play deal if I added the TV service. They’d give me a new and improved wireless router, up my internet speed to 25/15 Mbps (download/upload), “Multi- Room” DVR service, free HBO and Skinamax for 3 months, and knock $30 a month off of my bill for the first 6 months. That’s a pretty hard deal to pass up.

The best part though, is that the overall cost of the three services, voice, internet and TV, is $20 less per month (before the $30 promotional discount!) then I was paying before in total through the two different carriers, plus there’s one less check to write each month, so my wife is lovin’ me (at least for now), and the quality is head and shoulders above the competition.

It’s without a doubt the best picture I’ve ever seen since I began my pay TV odyssey so many years ago. All the TV’s are crystal clear with no preamplification, save from the set top boxes, so I got to retire my little bidirectional digital amplifier. The guide feature is much better, and there’s also all kinds of widgets you can pop on the screen that show you local weather, traffic, news, there’s even a Twitter and Facebook widget so you can post while you watch (be careful with this one, Verizon says that the name of the show you’re watching appears in the post…). You can even program the DVR remotely via the internet.

How does that work, you might ask? Well, Verizon ties a cable run into your router, and all your boxes draw an address from it. Networked STB’s, too cool! They claim that you’ll be able to stream video from your computer to your TV’s very soon also. Sounds a lot like Windows Media Center to me, only without the need to add Microsoft’s “extenders”, or an Xbox. I’m curious to know if they plan on using Media Center as the tool for this, or if they’re working on a third party solution.

So, I have near perfect landline quality, a blazing fast 25 Mbps internet connection, smaaht boxes, an awesome picture, new channels, and I’m saving money to boot. Man, I’m livin’ the geekazoid dream...

If you can get FiOS TV in your area, you should make the switch, you won’t regret it.

And if you can’t,


ahem. sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

That is all.

I Don't Like Being Negative...

so I won't even mention the Sox or the Patriots right now.

Addendum, 08/22/09 7:30 PM

Sox 14, Yankees 1. I'm feeling much better now.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Plethora Of Sports Thoughts

Sox Trades, the return of Tom Brady and Jerry Remy to the Boston sports stage, the unveiling of a new FM sports station, whoa…, heady times for New England sports fans. Where to begin?

Let’s start with my favorites, the New England Patriots. I thought the first team looked fantastic, and I was really pleased that they played so long (almost 2 full quarters!). In other years, they haven’t been seen much at all in preseason, but I think it’s really important for them to play as a unit, under live fire conditions, to get back in the groove. Last year they all had to adapt to a different, Brady-less type of offense, and it’s important for them to “recalibrate” with Tom. It’s also important for Tom to take a few hits, stretch that arm out, and get back into the flow and rhythm of the game.

They made some very good off season acquisitions on both sides of the ball, and although it’s too soon to know who will stay and who will go, it’s a good bet that this may be a better team than the ’07 /’08 Pats. Let’s hope the outcome is a little different this time.

One last thing before we move on. How about that Edelman, explosive, or what? I’ve heard him referred to as “Welker Light” already, although I think he’ll prove himself anything but light before camp is over.

Before we get to the Sox, I have to mention how great it was to see Jerry Remy up in the booth again. An amazing guy, and an inspiration to us all. Get well, but get back!

OK, the Sox. Ah, the Sox… wait, where’s my Zantac?

I’m very pleased with the pickup of both Victor Martinez and Alex Gonzalez. Martinez gives you backup at 1st, 3rd and the plate, which is huge, and as we saw last night, he’s no slouch with the bat. Gonzo, shoulda never left. He’s far from a power hitter, but man, can he flash leather.

The team seems to be coming back to life… who knows? The whole Papi thing has been a huge distraction, and probably contributed more than we know to the outcome of this last horrendous road trip. Truthfully, I could care less. Not that I condone juicing in any way, shape or form, but in 2003 it was a different situation. I’d be more interested to see who wasn’t on the list that year. I know for a fact that most of the “health supplements” available at that time were completely unregulated and contained more crap than an outhouse. It’s no excuse; it’s just the way it was.

Anyways, the trades, the bench clearing brawl, and the return of the King (Remy), may be enough to jolt them out of their funk. I hope so…

Hey, I’m a Sox fan, and by definition, that either makes you a pragmatist or a crank. I’ve been following them since the early 60’s, and I’ve learned to take the pragmatic approach to things. I take what they give me each season, and line up for more the next.

Last but not least, there’s the debut of 98.5, The Sports Hub. I must admit, I was a little ticked off that they lead off their opening day with 7 hours of bygone games, even though they were Super Bowls, but things smoothed out as the day went on. How can you miss when you have the whole BCN/Patriots team coming over to your station as a complete and cohesive unit, and your premier is on the same day as the first preseason game?

I’m starting to enjoy the programming. I was a little leery of the projected lineups, but they seem to be working out pretty well so far. I’ve always been a Zo fan, and was pleasantly surprised to hear Jerry Trupiano this morning. The real joy so far though is the sound quality. I was flipping back and forth between EEI and BZ yesterday to contrast the two stations, and the thing that struck me the most was how bad the broadcast quality is on EEI. Static and fades, tinny sound, I don’t know how I ever put up with it.

WEEI’s single biggest mistake, aside from their morning programming, was not jumping to an FM station in the Boston area. They could have at least started pumping out an HD channel on one of their Entercom FM stations (and they will, and soon, mark my words). I just don’t get it.

I guess they were so interested in expanding their signal throughout New England, that they took their eye off the ball here at home.

That is all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Dawg was in the house tonight, and he brought back the Mojo.

Jerry Remy made an all too short visit to the booth tonight, and it just felt so right to see him back where he belongs. There’s been a wobble in the Earth’s rotation since he left Red Sox Nation.

The frosting on the cake was that the Sox went on to club Detroit 8-2.

Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

HD Radio

I mentioned in my last post that WBCN will live on in cyberspace and will also be broadcast on 98.5 HD2, and it got me thinking about how great HD radio is.

It offers CD quality sound, no static or interference, a wide variety of programming (in most cases 2 or 3 times the stations you’re receiving now), a data stream (song, artist, traffic, stock info), iPod tagging, and best of all… it’s free.

Most radio stations are now multicasting digital signals along with their standard analog broadcast, giving you 2 or 3 completely different broadcasts simultaneously. Take 98.5 for example. There’s the standard analog broadcast, WBZ-FM, then there’s a digital version of the same that you would pick up on 98.5-1 on your HD radio. But wait, there’s more! There’s also a 98.5-2, which is going to be the new home of WBCN in HD, and if you act now, they’ll even throw in 98.5-3, an HD version of WBZ-AM. Same holds true with WZLX. 100.7-1 is ZLX in HD, and 100.7-2 is Radio Mojo, Boston’s only all blues station. Mojo is my new favorite station, and it makes me wish that all of my radios had HD tuners.

How do they do it, you ask? Well, here’s a pretty good explanation from the people at Ibiquity, who came up with the idea of digital multicasting.

Did I say that it’s free? Doesn’t matter, it bears repeating. It’s F.R.E.E. free! All you need is an HD tuner, and pretty much all of the big players are beginning to incorporate them into their products. Here’s my review of my personal fave of the moment, the Sony XDR-S10HDiP HD Radio With Dock, and I see that Microsoft has built an HD tuner into their latest Zune. Portable HD radio… now that could be a game changer for me. Do you hear that Apple..?

Nope, probably not, but I can dream.

Here’s a listing of what’s available in the Boston area right now, and WBCN has a great listing of what’s to come later this week, after the big shuffle.

So, if you haven’t tried it yet, you should. Great quality audio with no subscription, no wires, no WiFi, no 3G, no strings attached.

It’s the future of radio.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Sports Hub

I love August; it’s the most wonderful time of the year. There’s still at least a good month of summer left, baseball season is just beginning to heat up, and football is warming up. Sitting by the pool, flipping between the Sox and the Pats, steaks sizzling on the grill, now that’s my idea of heaven.

And this year we have a little added bonus.

98.5 The Sports Hub debuts as the new player in the field of Boston sports media this coming Thursday, August 13th, which coincidently is the date of the Patriots first preseason game. The station will feature a sports talk format, and will be the new home of both the Patriots and the Bruins. Don’t worry, Gino and Gil will still be the voice of the Patriots, although the rest of their lineup is still a work in progress.

Regardless of who or what they fill the airwaves with in between games, it will still be great to have an alternative to the same old same old of local sports radio, and a strong signaled FM alternative, no less. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to listen to the Sox games on FM for the last couple of seasons on North Shore 104.9, and the difference is incredible.

Hopefully, audio quality won’t be the only improvement we see. Although WEEI has been a pioneer in sports radio, I haven’t been able to listen to them for quite a while.

My stray from WEEI started off slowly, with me flipping to either WBZ news or an FM music station whenever the talk got so hot that I could envision the spittle flying from my radio’s speakers. Each time it would take longer and longer before I would switch back, until finally I stopped switching back. It’s been about 4 months now since I’ve listened to WEEI. I just can’t take all the ranting and raving, yelling and screaming, punctuated only by long interminable commercial blocks, and way too short and underdeveloped sports flashes. It offends my modest sensibilities, and quite frankly, it gives me a headache. I find the sports news better on WBZ-AM anyways. Hopefully WBZ-FM will stay true to form. It would be great to hear Gil doing the news segments, and I’d love to see them pick up Troy Brown for a little football talk. Oh, the possibilities…

So, as I said before, it will be great to have an alternative in sports radio. WEEI likes to say they’ve trounced all their competition to date, I say BS. You have to be able to get a station in order to listen to it, and none of the alternatives to date have been even close to listenable in my area, so there hasn’t really been anyone to give them a decent run for their money.

That changes this week, and with the bar currently set so low, and football season about to get underway, I think The Sports Hub will find a place in this town.

Remember, the Pat’s first preseason game is this coming Thursday, August 13th @ 7pm on both WBZ-TV 4 and 98.5 WBZ-FM. Don’t be looking for it on WBCN, because you won’t find it. Speaking of which, BCN will still be available streaming on the web and on WBZ-FM HD2 (98.5-2), for those with an HD radio.

That is all.