My last cable box had pushbuttons

Today a couple of different people at work commented on the screensaver I currently use. It is xanalogtv from the xscreensaver package. It simulates switching channels on an old boxy rotary-channel-selector television, complete with snow, image ghosting, wiggly vertical sync, and all of that. The author of this screensaver put in an impressive amount of work to get a crisp modern digital monitor to emulate a grainy old television.

It then occurred to me that kids that are just now turning old enough to start remembering their childhood will really have no experience with the sorts of fuzzy analog that this screensaver is trying to emulate. Glitchy CDs and DVDs usually result in stuttering. Glitchy video files result in square, blocky, multicolored graphics. With television all digital now, small glitches in the video signal results in the video stuttering a bit and large glitches cause the TV to drop out to a solid blue screen. There’s no fuzziness, no rolling picture, no ghosting. For better or for worse, it’s history.

This then got me thinking about the last time I remember experiencing fuzzy rolling video. That was also the last time I had cable. That cable box had a “remote control” — a boxy thing on a 20′ wire with twelve buttons and a four-way selector switch. Three positions on that selector switch chose three different sets of channels and the lowest position was “off” (the TV plugged into the cable box, so it could turn the TV off; televisions were dumb and had no memory or other state that could be lost if unplugged). It looked a little something like this, wood grain and all (via Wikipedia):

The dial on the right was to fine-tune the selected station. Just about every kid in the neighborhood knew that if you clicked down two or more channel buttons, then played with the dial a bit, you could kinda-sorta-maybe tune into the porn channels. The audio was usually pretty good. The picture always had analog glitches. Sometimes the colors were inverted. Sometimes, the picture was covered in wavy static. Sometimes you just got sound — no usable picture. Those were the days of analog.

These days, the “cable” shows that I watch are perfectly crystal-clear (well, aside from the occasional mpeg artifacting, but my eyes are now trained to look for that sort of thing, otherwise I doubt I’d notice much of that). They come off of the internet, be it iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, or otherwise. Bits and bytes are ones and zeros. They work or they don’t. It’s not like in the old-school days where you needed thick gold-plated cables for the ultimate quality (no matter what Monster tries to tell you about their spendy “magic” HDMI cables). With no degredation in quality, the bits come from the internet, through the computer, and out to the television. No more snow, no more ghosted images, no more sync issues.

And you either get the porn channel or you don’t — no fuzzy mistuned analog channel. Kids these days won’t get that. Of course, when I last had cable, there was barely an internet. There was no cyber-nanny. Daddy’s porn stash was a box in the back of the closet, not a hidden folder on the hard drive. I think kids these days are probably okay on, if not overflowing in, porn. And it’s crisp and clear and digital.

Posted in: Dear Diary Television Work

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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

2 thoughts on “My last cable box had pushbuttons”

  1. I just want a analog watch which has a digital clock on the face of the watch also. I’m aiming for an analog watch with a digital stopwatch and/or timer.

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