Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weather without the Foreplay

I don’t mean to be crass, but think about the way the local weather forecast is delivered in the late evening news. They start to talk about it at the tail end of the first block but never really get us there.

Here’s the basic format: It’s “news” from 11:00 to 11:09, then the resident weather geek with a first name from 1952 like Norm, Stan, or Kip with all smiles tells us what already happened today.

We get what the high and low temperatures were today, when the sun rose and set, and what the dew point was. That’s right, was. So we get what we’ve already experienced unless we decided to stay inside all day with the shades drawn or we work at a casino. That’s not a weather forecast, it’s a recap.

Then they might tease us with some overnight temps, which is the beginnings of a forecast, but it’s not what we’re waiting for. Besides, it’s almost midnight. Predicting the next 12 hours isn’t really that difficult. It’s a fairly accepted concept that it will, in fact, get cooler overnight, regardless of your location or the season.

Then they tell us there’s more to come later in the full forecast. Well that was rather unsatisfying but I’m not going anywhere. So I sit through some commercials and more “news”. Eventually we get to the full forecast. The anchor usually segues with something novel like, “Boy, it was a cold one today, wasn’t it, Charlie? What do you have in store for us tomorrow?” Our favorite Doppler-junkie chortles, reminds us he doesn’t actually control the weather, and sashays over to the green screen to work his magic.

And he works it slowly.

We get the same info we got in the top segment, now with some history. We get the day’s high and low temperatures again, but now with a comparison to what they should have been, the record low dating back to the 1800s and the record high. No Farmer’s Almanac reference? I’m disappointed.

Next we get the current temperature. Well, temperatures. Everywhere. There are dozens of them. Luckily, Byron only has time to mention a few. [Honestly, I do get excited when they name my town – I don’t know why. “22 degrees in Whoville! Represent!”] And just to drag it on even longer, we get what the temps “feel” like. Hmmm. Wind makes us feel colder. But exactly how much colder, Chad? Apparently my tactile senses can’t help me. I need a number.

Well, we’ve discussed the current temperatures we could have ascertained by poking our heads outside in one collective motion, and we’ve illustrated quite effectively that they do fluctuate a few degrees the further north, south, east or west one might travel. Great. What about my drive tomorrow? I need to go to sleep.

But first, the sunrise/sunset and high tide/low tide. Are you kidding me? I don’t set my schedule by the sun - no offense, farmers - or by the moon’s pull on our shorelines - no offense, crabbers, shuckers, fishermen, CSIs (I hear low tide is the best time to find the bodies).

OK, surely now I can plan my morning…Hold up, satellite & radar. Do we really need both? It is some expensive equipment, and they’re constantly bragging about it, so no surprise we’re gonna get some pictures. And we take it all on faith. They could be using Google Earth and Microsoft Paint and we’d be none the wiser.

I’m alright with the images…it’s the science lesson that bothers me. Every single night. High pressure, low pressure, warm fronts, cold fronts. Jiminy H. Christmas. TMI! No offense to the profession. I’m glad you enjoy your job, but Flipper the Moneymaker doesn’t take us back through macroeconomics every time he delivers the DOW closing.

So class is over and finally I can…nope, false alarm. It’s tomorrow’s lite forecast: wake up, lunch time and afternoon. Another slow tease that finally leads into the seven-day forecast. You couldn’t open with that? Really? And they have to whip through it because Sparky still has scores to deliver and they’re running behind, so I have to decipher the graphics (is that lightning, wind or snow on Thursday?).

I think we could get our entire local news in under 30 seconds:

Today there were 8 murders and 3 fires. The economy sucks it. A local, national, or foreign politician did something questionable or corrupt today (probably both). Here’s an outrageous story about a random person you feel comfortable judging but won’t remember in two weeks. Puppies are still cute. In sports, we won! Flash the weather graphic and "Thank you, good night!"

Maybe I really just want to know why everyone follows the same format. Local or network evening or morning news. How about mixing it up? Bring some happy. And not the patronizing, insincere stuff or kitchen segments; just something truly positive.

Simplify the weather and give it to us earlier. Later in the broadcast, you can show us how your past predictions actually fared. Show me last week’s seven-day forecast and how close you were. Give us a real measure of your prognostication skills and we’ll decide who has the most accurate forecast in town.

Idea for April Fools: Replace the extended forecast with tonight’s power ball numbers and see if anyone really notices.

Maybe the truly amazing thing is how much time I just spent talking about the weather, knowing it’s online whenever I want it and there is no reason to sit through a local newscast at all.

George Carlin really nailed the absurd side of weather forecasting as Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie Weatherman back in the 70s…

“Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued dark throughout most of the evening, with some widely scattered light towards morning.”

“Currently it's 70 degrees at the airport, which is stupid because I don't know anybody who lives at the airport.”

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Procrasti-Nation: I want my…I want my…I want my DTV

You’ve seen the ads and messages scrolling on your still-functioning TV screens for a year. Analog television is going away. The transition to digital has actually been in the works since 1996. On February 17th, some television stations will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and only broadcast in digital. It was supposed to be all television stations but thanks to the DTV Delay Act – that’s right, an act of Congress passed 13 days before the deadline was reached from the last DTV Act of Congress – our government catered to the procrastinators and extended the deadline (again), this time to June 12th.

Broadcast television is a service that doesn’t charge you a dime to watch programming that is broadcast over the air to your home. It’s all paid for by advertising – mostly annoying advertising, but free. Even HD is broadcast over the air from your local affiliate for free. You just need a properly equipped TV.

If you don’t subscribe to cable, FiOS or satellite, and you haven’t bought a new TV since the first Bush administration, and you only get your stories the old-fashioned way, with a rooftop aerial antenna or rabbit ears and tin foil (you probably also don’t realize foil has been made with aluminum for decades), you’re going to see snow on lots of channels until you get an analog-to-digital converter box available from a gazillion different local and online retailers for $50 to $80, and that’s before applying a $40 coupon that’s now on back order because laissez-faire people like you never ordered one (you’re eligible for two) from DTV2009.gov, or you didn’t use it before it expired. [Apparently when I get really sarcastic, my run-ons run on even more.]

Here are two sites that should be able to answer all of your questions:
DTV Answers

Citing the economy for a reason to extend the deadline for people to prepare is ludicrous. If people have procrastinated this long, adding a few months in an economy spiraling downward to allow them to save up $50 or finally order a coupon changes nothing. They still won’t be ready. Wait until their shit stops working – then, they’ll be motivated.

What does this mean to all of the local broadcasters? Lots of confusion, unnecessary expenses and more red tape. Think about it from their perspective. They have analog equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars that they are replacing. They stopped ordering new parts to maintain this older equipment once they were given the thumbs up to completely dump it on Tuesday. Last week, they were told "Wait a minute...you'll need it for another four months...maybe." And who says it won’t be extended again?

I was really hoping analog, digital and satellite radio stations across this apathetic land of ours would unite on the day of the transition and broadcast Orson Welles’ classic radio drama War of the Worlds, just to mess with folks who deserve some messing. But now that prank is vapor because there is no single transition day.

So legislators have really messed things up again, but why should we be surprised? These are the same people who decided the converter coupons expire 90 days after they are mailed. Perhaps 90 days after the actual transition occurred would have been a little smarter.

By the way, my digital HDTV (which required 24 interest-free payments well before the transition) is stunning. I really don’t know what you’re waiting for!