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1936 Perspective on Television 224

An Anonymous Coward writes "The New Yorker is running an article from their archives from 1936. In it, E.B.White (author of Charlotte's Web) discusses a demonstration he attended of the current state of television, which didn't impress him at all."
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1936 Perspective on Television

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  • Lately I've found my real life to be more interesting than what's on broadcast television. Occasionaly, cable brings about something interesting. :)

    I promote dumber TV shows! It only drives people to interact with the real world, or at least get on the web
  • by jchawk ( 127686 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @03:32AM (#3583271) Homepage Journal
    Times don't change, 63 years later and still nothing is worth watching on tv.
  • "It ain't all that great." And now, 66 years later, I can say the same thing about network television.

    HBO, on the other hard, well...it's not TV, it's HBO! ;)
  • by bman08 ( 239376 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @03:35AM (#3583276)
    E.B. White was also a co author of Elements of Style. A book so many of us in these forums should spend more time with.
    • Your second sentence is a fragment; it should be joined to the first sentence by a comma.

      It seems that you could benefit from reading the Strunk and White, too.
    • Mr. White also wrote many outstanding essays. In his 1948 Here Is New York, he extols the city's resilience and eerily predicts what a few airplanes could do to it.
  • Very interesting.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by sixSecondsOfDefeat ( 580997 ) <user@garyCondit.com s/$RAPIST/aol/> on Saturday May 25, 2002 @03:36AM (#3583277)
    Oddly enough, EB white had been known to do significant work in Alan Turing in the development of a perfect AI model. As noted, EB white brought, "creativity and imagination to mathematics", in light of the little known fact that White WAS a physics major, and an expert in syllogistic systems.

    Apparently Turing also shared many of the same political beliefs as him as well.

    Just a strange little fact i guess that would indirectly affect us in the internet community.
    • by bgfay ( 5362 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @12:04PM (#3584088) Homepage
      E.B. White was a physics major? And what do you base this on? White went to Cornell to learn to be a writer. He didn't go there to learn physics. And where do you get the Turing connection. I've studied E.B. White for many years and have never come across it.

      I doubt that E.B. White had much to do with technology beyone his typewriter. He used to keep the telephone in a closet because it bothered him so much. He missed the days of an operator. He hated having his kitchen modernized, he preferred a sail to an engine.

      Probably his one love in the technological world was his Model T. Everyone should read three short books by E.B. White. _Welcome to New York_ was great already, but after September 11 is just gorgeous. _Farewell, My Lovely_ is his love story with the Model T, and _Stuart Little_ is still the funniest and most wonderful of his children's books. That it was largely banned on its release is still funny.

      But White and physics...well, that's a bit more than I can get behind.
      • Wait wait wait!

        You forgot his most significant book of all time, _The Elements of Style_. It is one of the most straightforward and well written books I've ever come across designed to improve one's writing. Wouldn't you say that this is a particularly pertinent suggestion for the many readers of and 'writers' on slashdot?
  • I'm not to impressed with it either. :)

  • by jnana ( 519059 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @03:40AM (#3583289) Journal
    What I think people don't realize (enough) is that there is no such thing as television as a (free) service -- there is just networks doing whatever they can to get more advertising dollars. It is incidental to the pursuit of more advertising $ that a good show comes out every now and then. They just want your attention, which is to say that the advertisers want your money.

    Television in the united states is akin to a company providing a free email service so that they can spam you relentlessly and regularly. You think it's about the email service or the television program, but the spam and the commercials are what it's all about!

    • so how does the internet fit into this? my theory (ok I just came up with this this second) is that advertising will decrease in effectiveness because word-of-mouth will sell your product more efficiently.

      If I want to buy something, I would like to get opinions of others about it. (I'll take my chances on weeding out the honest opinions from the lies and [potentially] company-sponsored posts.)

      Advertising probably still would have a place in making me aware of something I might need or might make life more convenient for me. But if the ad lied, word of mouth would expose the lie...

      And if content-providers didn't have to spend so much on marketing/advertising, prices would go down...
  • Old news... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gandalf04 ( 447716 )
    "Mr. Sarnoff next gave a little talk, in which he cheerfully, and with enormous self-effacement, admitted that the real problem of television was not its mechanical vagaries but finding programs for it when it finally gets ironed out."

    It seems to me that this is the very same problem facing us today with HDTV. History has shown us that this hurdle can be overcome (obviously). My only question is, why is it taking so long these days?

    With the increase of the pace of technological change, why is the transition from TV to HDTV taking as long as the transition from radio to TV?
    • Re:Old news... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Afrosheen ( 42464 )
      Don't put the cart before the horse.

      If things keep going the way they are now, you'll only get crap like Dark Angel and Everybody Loves Raymond in higher definition. Who gives a shit? Get good programming first that drives the demand for HDTV.

      While the radio to tv transition was probably much more dramatic, it was also a paradigm shift. You went from only hearing to hearing and seeing. Kinda like the difference between reading the book and watching the movie (and you know which is better right?). The change between TV and HDTV will be so miniscule to the average joe it'll just perpetuate the public and broadcaster's attitude of 'why do we need this?'. Admittedly, watching dvd's on a widescreen hdtv is sweet, and has tons of decent content available, but broadcast tv always has and always will suck ass. It's up to cable or directv to rescue us.
      • Talking of "paradigm shifts," imagine this: at one time, not very long ago, there were no sound storage/transmission systems. No phonographs, no radio.

        It must have been a quiet world, and one in which plays, speeches, bands, and other performances must have been held more precious.

        No telephone. No news hour. No little jerks with 500W woofers thumping mindless distorted bass as they drive through the sleeping neighbourhood at 2AM. No "Friends" and no "Survivor." No DCMA, RIAA, televangelists, soundbites, slow-speed highway chases!

        I think I'll go move into the wilderness today. Seeyas!
        • I think I'll go move into the wilderness today. Seeyas!

          Seeya in a couple of days, when the urge strikes and you need your Slashdot fix... ;)

    • With the increase of the pace of technological change, why is the transition from TV to HDTV taking as long as the transition from radio to TV?

      Why do mobile phone networks world-wide tend to far excel those found in the United States? Invested infrastructure.

      Sure, if one was buying new equipment today, the more advanced tech would be an easy choice. However, companies involved in providing these services have already invested heavily in equipment that supports the older systems. And these systems are still perfectly functional.

      Chucking out the old equipment and financing the new infrastructure is a hefty choice with a hefty price tag. Little wonder those who would foot the initial bill are asking whether the cost is worth it.

    • With the increase of the pace of technological change, why is the transition from TV to HDTV taking as long as the transition from radio to TV?

      What is the compelling reason to do so, other than legal requirements? Is HDTV more than an order of magnitude better than the millions of tvs and their currently satisfied users?

      Is WWF and Pokemon really *that* much better on HTDV?
  • by Elbereth ( 58257 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @03:41AM (#3583293) Journal
    The web didn't impress me much when I saw a demonstration of it in a computer lab. My friend said, "Hey, Matt, check this out! You can throw a snowball at these scientists when you click on this link!"

    I'm waiting for special internet keyboards that can send a shock to people to say something stupid. Now that would be cool.
  • The thing that I came away with was not so much how lame tv must have looked back then (and as others so gleefully point out, looks now), but how unimaginative the author was. True, the technology must have been a bit underwhelming, but my goodness, being one of the first members of the general public to witness the ability to send pictures real time across the ether. I would have thought his mind would be reeling at the possibilities of the technology, vs the un-impressive state that it was currently in.
    • Perhaps it wasn't a lack of imagination on the part of the reviewer... The inventors/demonstrators of the technology had something to do with it too (by the sounds of it)

      It happened then and it happens now - some really clever brightspark invents something 'cool'. What he doesn't invent is a purpose for the technology - why someone would actually want to buy one!

      Think to our time and something like the 'Internet Fridge' - wowzers that's great technology! My fridge can detect when I've run out of something and order me some fresh milk across the Internet. Instead of saying, "Wow, this'll change the world!" we all end up thinking that our nice old 'dumb' fridge works very well thankyou-very-much.

      Same attitude in the 1930's I think - the world was perfectly happy reading newspapers, listening to radio (err, I mean the 'wireless') and visiting the cinema.

      TV was cutting-edge technology, but they didn't explain why someone would want one!

      Bringing mass media into the living room back then was a place already taken by radio. As slashdotters probably realise - it's difficult to unseat an existing technology that's wildly popular... (even if it is obsolete)

      • This is offtopic but relevant.

        The funny thing about all this is to think that with all this computerization, video, etc., there's still not enough bandwidth for decent video over the net. People are *still* listening to 'radio' after all this time. Internet radio is a precious resource and I doubt better video will change that. It'll be nice if/when XM satellite radio receivers start shipping on pcmcia cards.
        • This is offtopic but relevant.
          Hey! You read slashdot too!
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Porn already far surpassed that expectation for most of us slashdotters when we first got nntp access and were downloading HOT LESBIAN ACTION PATRY C00L C00L.zip. May I kindly suggest that you hook yourself up to a porn expierence worthy of the 21st century. Single's clubs have meta searched live video convergences that rival the size of small cities. You can find 30 women that will take their clothes off for you for 2-3 minutes if you'll do the same. It is sort of the ultimate safe sex routine borne out of the lingering fears of such things as aids and babies. I'm certain when sex suits become more popular we will all have them, and we will see all the poor 40 year old trolls dissapear forever into masturbatory bliss and a new generation will arise to take their place with new pictures of new sexual animals that they have created in their vicariously-lived psuedo life where they have become sexual predators.
      • As slashdotters probably realise - it's difficult to unseat an existing technology that's wildly popular... (even if it is obsolete)

        You're talking about the X Window System, right? :)

    • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @04:22AM (#3583349) Homepage Journal
      "...but my goodness, being one of the first members of the general public to witness the ability to send pictures real time across the ether"

      I believe this would have had impact if the Television was a video phone vs. 'radio (entertainment)with pictures'.

      If the people could see what we watch today, oh yeah they`d dog-pile on it. But what did they have to compare it to back then? I can understand the cynical view of it, particularly if you consider what had to be done to make the 'moving pictures' work.

      I often fantasize about taking what I know about making movies today and going back in time to the early years of TV and making a huge name for myself. But if you were to present me with a new challenge (such as 128 kbit video for a Palm Pilot), I'd be hard pressed to think that I could make anything that anybody`d care about. I'd immediately say that it was too 'unsophisticated' for me to do anything with. But you know what'd happen? Somebody out there would make a cute/creative movie in that format and surprise the crap out of everybody.

    • The thing that I came away with was not so much how lame tv must have looked back then (and as others so gleefully point out, looks now), but how unimaginative the author was.

      Read Charlotte's Web, you have not. Very dull, it is.
    • Blockquoth the poster:

      The thing that I came away with was not so much how lame tv must have looked back then (and as others so gleefully point out, looks now), but how unimaginative the author was.

      Well, we have to remeber something: We're coming off a decade of unprecedented growth fueled by spotting The Next Big Thing. We expect disruptive technologies and keep an eye for them. In 1936, it was less clear that consumer electronics would ever be a giant market, and certainly unobvious that any family would own several types of media. Heck, most families owned only one radio, period. So his lack of imagination has a cultureal context that makes it make sense.
  • I just have to say that it's enheartening that the idea of critical disappointment in reviews is not some aspect of a cynical new age, but because the human race hase always been cynics. It gives some hope that the world isn't getting crappier, it's just as crappy as it seemed to people in the past.

    I also wanted to say that the tone of this review strikes me exactly as describing the plot to (and LucasFilms' hyping of) Episode One. But then, I think I was E.B. White in a past life.

  • I loved the Job #4704 routine. The times really change. I can't imagine mainstream papers these days getting away with having the reporter typing how much he wanted to rush out to "really bang-up look at" some woman.
  • by satanami69 ( 209636 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @03:55AM (#3583317) Homepage
    From the article:
    "First there had to be a moving picture. Then there had to be the business of iconoscoping it, or whatever the hell it's called. Then it had to be sent by direct wire to the Empire State Building, and back by megacycle to R.C.A., where it appeared in a television set which IN TURN had to be itself iconoscoped, or scooped, and the image sent to the Empire State, and then back again by megacycle to R.C.A., where it hit us squarely between the eyes."

    "iconoscoping", "direct wire", "megacycle", when the hell are we gonna get stuff that sounds this cool.
    • by red5 ( 51324 ) <gired5.gmail@com> on Saturday May 25, 2002 @04:03AM (#3583328) Homepage Journal
      Lets see.

      To post a comment on slashdot.
      First you have to telotype it in.
      Then press on the virtualcontrol labled "submit". From there you comutational appliance sends an HTTP post request all the way to Holand or where ever the hell they host slashdot.
      Finaly it hase to be parsed and committed to the online database.

      Yah your right still not as cool. :)
    • I liked how 'megacycle' was used as a noun - the signal was 'sent by megacycle'.

      That must have intrigued readers of the day. "Wow, you mean they've invented a new sort of bicylce as well??"

      Of course, it's likely that the signal was sent on a radio carrier of several dozen (or hundred) Megacycles. (or what we would now call Megahertz)

    • Don't waste your money...I hear that there are these new things called 'orthicons' that are gonna sweep the industry...
    • "iconoscoping", "direct wire", "megacycle", when the hell are we gonna get stuff that sounds this cool.

      To quote Scotty: "Keyboard?! How quaint."

      Here's some goodies I remember:
      • "Xeroxing" documents
      • "rabbit ear" TV antennas
      • rotary telephones - the reason why you "dial" a number
      • "radar range" ovens
      • "betamax" recorders
      • "daisy" rifles
      • "vacuum tubes"
      • "Switchboard operators"
      • "USENET" (just testing)

      Anyone else miss the old AT&T standard issue rotary phones. You could pratically pound in nails with the receiver --virtually indestructable *sniff*. Sometimes monopolies make good products.
      • Heh, the reason why AT&T's telephones were so indestructable is because they weren't a product. They came with the telephone service, so everytime someone broke their AT&T telephone, AT&T had to pay to replace it.
    • CODEC, compressing, encoding, encryting, rendering, et al.

      In 70 years, these too may be odd sounding relics of a distant time passed.
    • (* "iconoscoping", "direct wire", "megacycle", when the hell are we gonna get stuff that sounds this cool. *)

      This is what happens when you let the press talk to geeks. The marketing staff would have been able to say, "This is a television camera. It is just like a movie camera, but does not have to wait until the film is developed. Now we are going to use the camera to show a picture of a television screen, almost like taking a movie picture of a movie screen."

      Geeks may be great at building the stuff, but DON'T let them talk to the press, unless you want your stock price to take a dive.
  • by red5 ( 51324 ) <gired5.gmail@com> on Saturday May 25, 2002 @03:56AM (#3583319) Homepage Journal
    1 million and 1 comments about how "the more thing change the more things stay the same. There are no good shows on yada, yada, yada."

    There are good shows on tv you just have to be more selective.
    • I agree with you to a point, however the industry isn't doing a very good job of making me optimistic about new shows. Most good shows I find nowadays are totally by accident. The new shows that come out, particularly the over-hyped ones, tend to be the soul-less biproduct of committee thinking.

      Take Team Knight Rider, for example: I read a press release about this show that had a cool back story that tied in to the original show. I was pretty hyped about watching it, but then I actually saw an ep of it. Then I realized that the show didn't care at all about backstory, rather every scene was a result of somebody saying `we could improve the original Knight Rider show by making the semi into a cargo-jet`...

      Are there good things to watch? Sure! But the desire to go looking for it fades when so many shows have the inspiration distilled out of them.
  • by Darth Paul ( 447243 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @04:32AM (#3583358)
    This is a little off topic, but the mention of Charlotte's Web, and all the posts here saying "TV is still crap, struck a chord with me ...

    I've recently gotten into anime and I'm really, really loving it. I've never been an avid TV watcher but lately I've been doing several hours of anime a day. I ask myself what it is I love about anime and it's not the visuals or the cuteness or the different-ness, it's the simple fact that they have stories. A series of 26 episodes is about 8 hours of viewing, and in that time you can pack in a seriously good story and excellent character development. Good stories are just not found in (my local) australian tv anymore.

    Here's the state of TV in Australia, I don't think it's majorly different to america apart from the fact that cable has relatively low penetration here. Most of the prime time shows are:

    • Socalled reality shows, big brother, survivor, popstarts. Mush.
    • "Edutainment" shows, like how to build a coffee table, or travel shows, cooking and gardening. If I come home and collapse and turn on the box, I'll watch 'em because they're there, but I won't make a point of coming back next week.
    • And the soaps, often imported from america. Often, there is no story in these - usually it's just a bunch of people living every day lives, cracking a few jokes. No story to speak of (apart from who's going out with who this episode?)... a little character development but not much reason to tune in regularly. I can watch an episode, skip a few weeks, and not miss anything significant.

    There are no regular shows which tell a decent story!Star Trek is probably comes closest. DS9 and Voyager are gone, just a single episode of Enterprise weekly, late on wednesday nights. I haven't been watching much though. DS9 and Voyager particularly suffered overly from the hit-the-reset-button-at-the-end-of-every-episode syndrome. Despite, they have far more continuity and return appeal (for me) than most other shows around.

    So, where have all the decent stories gone? All this hurrah about "Spiderman rocks because everybody relates to it!" is a crock to me. The recent blockbusters (Ep2, Spiderman, LOTR) have been successes because they are uncommon good stories told well. Visuals and action and romance put together do not make a good show. It's the story which captures your imagination and takes you away for a few hours.

    Back to the anime, episodes often finish on a cliffhanger note, and I'm excited in the few seconds it takes to change directories and load up the next divx. Can you imagine what it must be like to see this episode and have to wait a whole week to see it resolved? GUARANTEED VIEWERS.

    This is related to how Harry Potter is lauded as making it "cool for kids to read again". I hope Hogwart's is as real to today's kids as Kirrin Cottage (don't laugh!) was to me as a kid...

    Good storytellers have always been hard to find but unfortunately it seems the TV networks have given up the search in favour of DIY handymen.

    • by Bodrius ( 191265 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @12:15PM (#3584128) Homepage
      Well, let's see what happened to series that tried to tell a continuing story:

      - X-Files tried and very successfully told a good story through its mythology episodes. Guess what: what people complain about the X-Files are the mythology episodes. They demanded more independent episodes, "alien or freak of the week" stories. Their words are typically along the lines of "I can't skip it for a week or two because when I come back, I don't know what's going on".
      So the X-Files ended up being a mixture of independent episodes, independent mythologies (so you could pay attention for only a season), and weird malabarisms to tie the mythologies of each season together. This was partly done to keep the audience interested as mentioned above, and partly to keep milking the series after each mythology ended.
      A problem with good storytelling is that, in order to tell a good story, you need a beginning, development, and an ending. Unless you're remarkably inspired that's hard to build on-the-spot, but if you tell the networks you plan to finish the series in exactly 3 seasons they are not going to be happy. If the show is bad, they'll cancel it before, but if the show is good, they want to keep it running for as long as possible.

      - Millenium tried to do the same as the X-files mythology. It had great character development, a good story to tell, great production values... and no one watched it because they didn't understand what was going on.

      - Babylon 5 was the most ambitious series in that sense of storytelling. Continuous story, almost no isolated episodes, pre-planned five seasons... and is considered the geekiest show ever because you either have seen all of it from the beginning, or you don't know what the big deal is about.
      Mainstream interest degenerated in a direct correlation with the development of the story, in spite of big compromises to try to bring new viewers to the series.

      On the other hand, Star Trek has been successful mostly because it does not depend on real storytelling. Almost every episode is completely independent of each other, and each issue is either completely resolved in an episode, in a series of two-three episodes, or will never be resolved. Watch TNG any time, in any order... you'll notice it just has better execution of the "hit the reset button".

      I agree with you with the need for decent storytelling, and that this depends mostly on continuity, as it is really hard to pack good stories and character development in a couple of episodes.

      Unfortunately, the general public does not.

      They don't have the time or the will to pay attention to a story periodically for that long, and the networks know it (they would probably be reading books if they did). Continuity helps to build a cult out of people who cares, which helps to hype something up to the mainstream media, but the networks are careful not to overdo it, as alienating the mainstream in preference is a bad market move.

      They will put up with the storytelling in the movies because, in order to go to the movies, they have planned already to dedicate their attention to that story for as long, and only as long, as the movie takes.

      Basicly, they are willing to read a book in one sitting, but if they have to stop at a particular chapter, and then remember what they have seen by the time they watch the next chapter, they get annoyed... or worse.

      This is a fundamental problem with television which may or may not be solved with Tivo and similar systems, where the rythm to watch the story is not as imposed.

      I also enjoy that about Anime: it tends to have a sense of story, as opposed to the recurring sketch that is a modern sitcom. But that is just more common in Anime, not prevalent. Some of the most popular Anime series have no story development whatsoever, and that happens to be their main appeal (Ranma comes to mind, Slayers), have a background story that is completely irrelevant/accesory (late Dragonball Z), or are just plain crap (too much to mention).

      So just don't put all your hopes on Anime, if you haven't been exposed to that much of it you might be really disappointed. It's just a new market where you might find a bit more of what you're looking for. You may be lucky, or not, but you probably still have to search a bit.

      Series I recommend for storytelling (in case you haven't seen them yet): Lain, Evangelion, Shojo Kakumei Utena, Noir, Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop...
    • I've recently gotten into anime and I'm really, really loving it. I've never been an avid TV watcher but lately I've been doing several hours of anime a day. I ask myself what it is I love about anime and it's not the visuals or the cuteness or the different-ness, it's the simple fact that they have stories.

      I think it's more likely that you've only seen the good anime. I'd guess that as with all genres about 1% is great, 10% is watchable, and 89% is unbelievably awful. The benefit of anime is that us Westerners don't have to sift through the drek - the importing houses aren't going to waste their time dubbing and repacking stuff that won't sell - so we are only exposed to better-than-average quality of stories and artwork.

    • Looks like what you found in animes are in fact common trait in Japanese TV shows. Most comments on the parent seems to miss the point, not surprisingly because most people here are not familiar with how the Japanese TV shows are made.

      Japanese TV shows, especially dramas or animes, which involves a story typically have a life span of three or six months. This is a bit different from the concept of the ``season'' of American TV shows. However a particular TV show may be popular, it is predetermined that the show ends after 13 episodes (typically for 60 minutes shows) or 26 (typically for 30 minutes shows--most animes fall into this category) episodes.

      Given such a restriction, creators of a show concentrate on creating one big continuous story of about nine hours. They don't have to worry about the show being cancelled because they are not going to have another season anyway. Compare this with shows like the X-Files which one of the replies to the parent mentioned. The Japanese creators already know when the mysteries have to be solved, when they have to make the finale, etc., from the beginning. This makes it a lot easier for them because they have a perspective. It would be quite hard for creators when they don't know when they have to reveal the secrets, while they have to keep the interest of viewers.

      There is a peculiar genre in Japanese TV shows, which used to be called ``trendy dramas.'' They typically involve a couple of guys and girls. The interest of the viewers is who is going to be together with whom and how. But the viewers already know when they will know the result. The whole season becomes a process with sometimes twists and detour. Creators spend their effort to make the viewers guessing so that they see each episode. With a limitation of the number of episodes comes a simplicity that allows creators spend efforts in story development. Thus one can see them as if they are a long version of movies.

      Not every story on Japanese TV follow this format, or not every story is a good story, or sometimes they may fail in execution of storytelling, but this format is pretty much predominant, and I think this is a major difference from the American way of storytelling on TV.

      It is quite interesting to see how TV culture developed so differently in Japan. It used to be merely a copy of how things are done in the US. But it seems that the culture developed in a different direction. It is also interesting to see how some ideas are being exported to the American TV culture in recent years (America's Funniest Video, Iron Chef, etc.).
  • i wonder if this is kind of like the segway... not accepted much when it first came out, but is embraced later on.

    just a thought.
    • No, you're thinking of the Edsel.
  • by saphena ( 322272 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @05:08AM (#3583403) Homepage
    At the start of the Afghanistan campaign recently I watched a live broadcast by the BBC correspondent John Simpson perched somewhere up a mountain in Afghanistan who was using a satellite video link.

    The video was a bit jumpy and flaky and I was initially critical of the quality and thought "why can't the BBC do better?".

    A little while later, however, I suddenly realised the significance of what I was seeing:-

    Here we have a man, perched on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, in a country with no electricity and being bombed by an overwhelming force, actually making a live broadcast with sound and colour video! I'm sitting in the comfort of my living room witnessing events as they happen several thousand miles away.

    Isn't that truly amazing? It's easy to criticize the defects of new technology. Sometimes it needs a real leap of imagination to spot the virtues.
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @05:11AM (#3583407) Journal
    Thank God they shit-canned that idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I know each country likes to believe they invented Radio, TV, the lightbulb etc, however by 1936 the BBC already had a mature 405 line service up and running in England, they were doing this sort of experimental stuff with Baird equipment in the late 20's.
  • The invention of TV (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gargle ( 97883 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @09:06AM (#3583703) Homepage
    http://newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/?020527crat_a tlarge

    Philo T. Farnsworth was born in 1906, and he looked the way an inventor of that era was supposed to look: slight and gaunt, with bright-blue exhausted eyes, and a mane of brown hair swept back from his forehead. He was nervous and tightly wound. He rarely slept. He veered between fits of exuberance and depression. At the age of three, he was making precise drawings of the internal mechanisms of locomotives. At six, he declared his intention to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. At fourteen, while tilling a potato field on his family's farm in Idaho, he saw the neat, parallel lines of furrows in front of him, and it occurred to him--in a single, blinding moment--that a picture could be sent electronically through the airwaves in the same way, broken down into easily transmitted lines and then reassembled into a complete picture at the other end.
  • Megacycle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eap ( 91469 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @09:56AM (#3583802) Journal
    The part about them transmitting the signal back on a "megacycle" caught my attention. I took this to mean they sent the television picture back over the airwaves at a frequency of 1mHz (1 Hz = 1 cycle), or a wavelength of 300m. That's a pretty low end of the spectrum to send a complex signal like television, given that most television signals are now between 150 and 200mHz. You can send a signal at ~15mHz, albeit at a slow scan rate. Does anyone know what frequency they likely used for this transmission?
    • Re:Megacycle (Score:3, Informative)

      by RevRigel ( 90335 )
      1mHz = .001 Hz
      1MHz = 1e6 Hz
    • Re:Megacycle (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      (* The part about them transmitting the signal back on a "megacycle" caught my attention. I took this to mean they sent the television picture back over the airwaves at a frequency of 1mHz (1 Hz = 1 cycle), or a wavelength of 300m. That's a pretty low end of the spectrum to send a complex signal like television, *)

      He probably chopped off the multiplier from his write-up. They probably told them something like, "it goes over a 100 megacycle frequency", and EB only wrote down "megacycle".

      You know how the press is.
    • Re:Megacycle (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hollinger ( 16202 )
      Try this link [50megs.com]. It looks like the low end was around 40-50 MHz.
    • (1 Hz = 1 cycle)

      1 Hz = 1 cycle/second
  • Radiation nostalgia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gray ( 5042 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @10:56AM (#3583939)
    The quote mediating on the irony of shooting a signal that represents a picture of a television around New York is pretty amazing to me.

    I remember the first time I streamed audio to a shoutcast rebroadcaster half way across the country and then received it back on a second computer. Thousands of miles and an arsenal of human technology just so I create a 3 second delay and lose some audio quality. It's been 70 years, the battle continues.
    • If you want to see something slightly related and cool, point a live feed into it's own monitor. You get some hella trippy effects, like blue swirling globs of lava lamp looking stuff. You have to be close the the monitor in a dark room, otherwise you just get a hall of mirrors effect. It's interesting that the effect can be "seeded" too. A red light will seed the red image which will keep feeding back after the red light is off. Play with it sometime.
  • by rnturn ( 11092 ) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @11:14AM (#3583969)

    ...of the current state of television was presented in my family room this morning. I wasn't impressed either. Not much has changed on the past 70 years.

    Luckily I have a stack of books that I haven't gotten around to reading yet.

  • More interesting, I think, is the ever-thoughtful Malcolm Gladwell's [gladwell.com] review of two books about Philo T. Farnsworth [newyorker.com]. Contrary to the expected take of how small genius inventors are destroyed by large credit-stealing corporations, Gladwell argues that corporations are the safest and sanest way to let genius inventors concentrate on inventing. Worth reading.


    "In Trash Tango, the human race has become so feeble that the alien invasion of Earth occurs by means of a memo." -- Steve Aylett, _slaughtermatic_

  • I believe it was in 1990. My campus did not have direct access to the Internet, but it had a Vax, and a 9600 bps leased line to Western Michigan University, which had some limited access to the Internet via a bizarre customized terminal server hookup. If I entered the right incantations at the terminal server prompt I could telnet out of the system, to anywhere - well, at least a certain percentage of the time, and it seemed many sites where not reachable.

    I had a friend from high school who had somewhat less resitricted access to the Internet in California. Luckily I was able to telnet into his account and gain access to all sorts of wonderful things. Usenet, chat, and MUDs... I think I lost a year to a wonderful little place at MIT called "The End of the Line".

    A year later we got dialup access and a Unix system and I was able to enjoy all of this, plus line noise at 1200 bps.

    I guess my point (if I have one) is that things are accelerating. I now sit at the end of my own dedicated 1.5 Mbps pipe on a laptop which is probably something like 100 times faster than that Vax I used to access the Internet. This after only 12 years. TV hasn't changed much in 50.

  • It seems to me that E.B. was impressed with the idea of television, just not the (flawed) execution of the idea that he was a witness to. Surely anyone from back then would be able to guess how ubiquitous this device would potentially become...
  • "Television? the word is half Latin and half Greek. No good will come of it" - CP Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!