Wednesday, January 20, 2010

take a chance

The email from Fox urged me to visit a special website for the show "Human Target." I played along and entered my name, email address and phone number. Before long, a video started playing with my name cleverly inserted in the graphics and on a list of names. When the lead character made a call, my phone rang. It was the voice of Christopher Chance, urging me to open the case.

The case in question had arrived in the mail yesterday. It was one of the nicer promotional items I've seen. The briefcase contained a DVD of tonight's episode, a Christopher Chance ID badge, a copy of "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook," a 1GB flash drive shaped like a bullet and a cigarette lighter. Huh?

The desired effect of the freebies was to get me to watch "Human Target" tonight, which is being recorded on my DVR as I type this. As a TV completist, I wanted to go back in time to see the pilot episode I missed on Sunday. Fortunately it is available online, both at the Fox site and at, which I can work into my next commercial for Comcast High-Speed Internet.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

we have clearance, Clarence

The third meeting of the FBI Citizens Academy involved pizza and a field trip. We went to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory tonight for presentations on super computing, espionage and counter-intelligence. Our FBI instructors knew that no trip to Oak Ridge is complete without Big Ed's Pizza. Either someone at Big Ed's has a security badge that let's them make deliveries past the guard shack or someone at the FBI picked up the food and brought it to the meeting.

The lecture on super computing included high-resolution images shown on a power wall. Imagine 27 rear projection screens seamlessly blended to show 35 million pixels. They told us about the Jaguar, a computer that performs 1.3 quadrillion operations per second. I learned that floating point operations per second are called "flops." They are dealing in kiloflops, megaflops, gigaflops, and teraflops.

A counter-intelligence agent showed us Internet chat transcripts between an ORNL engineer and an alleged woman in China. She, if she was really a she, tried to get him to come to China for a visit. He finally got around to reporting his relationship with a foreign national months later than he should have and ended up losing his job when he tried to rekindle the online romance after being warned by his bosses.

The highlight of the evening for me was the hidden camera footage from operation "Barrier Reef." An FBI agent took us through the case study of Roy Lynn Oakley, a laborer for Bechtel Jacobs, hired to help dismantle the K-25 uranium enrichment plant. He smuggled out pieces of sensitive equipment in his work gloves and tried to sell them to France. His first plan was to contact the French government while traveling to Canada but he couldn't shake his wife and her relatives. Then he bought a Tracfone and tried calling the French consulate using the fake name "Paul Collins." The FBI assigned an undercover agent to run a "false flag operation." Oakley made a dead drop of a CD with photos of the stolen barrier tubes. The photos inadvertently showed part of a mailing label with Oakley's real name and address. The agent met Oakley at McGhee Tyson Airport and videotaped him as he showed the stolen tubes and took $200,000 in cash. They arrested him and got the money back. He pleaded guilty this past January.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

dream a little stream

If money were no object (but it is), I would drop a hundred bucks or more on one of the fancy new WiFi clock radios I've had my eye on. In addition to receiving AM and FM, they can receive any radio station that streams online. One model can even record audio, like a DVR does with TV.

For years I had gotten along just fine with a regular clock radio. I would awaken to the audio simulcast of WATE. Before the digital TV transition, any station on channel 6 would bleed through onto the FM band at 87.7. I learned in college that the entire FM band sits between channels 6 and 7 on the old VHF dial.

At 4:00 each weekday morning, ABC World News Now gave me a good dose of news that helped prepare me for work. Plus listening to talk helps me wake up whereas music puts me back to sleep. Now that WATE has gone digital, the 87.7 simulcast is no more. Obviously I could put a TV in my bedroom, but I really don't want one in there.

Since June, I've been trying different stations searching for something I like. Because I'm not a conspiracy freak or a believer in UFOs and the paranormal, I find the the overnight programming on the local news talk station to be unlistenable. I tried listening to Fox Sports Soup on the sports talk station but didn't like the way all the hosts yell, including Matt Smith who used to work with me at KROQ. The NPR station is still playing classical lullabies at that hour. Even the uptempo music on Star 102.1 didn't wake me. I needed a talk fix.

As I started thinking about how much I could use a WiFi clock radio, an alternative idea came to mind. I realized I could save $100 or more by leaving my laptop in sleep mode on the nightstand. In the morning I could pop it open and listen to a radio station online. But which one? Perhaps I should try some stations from the places where I used to live.

When I first started working the early morning hours at WAVA, I would wake up to Larry King's overnight radio show. I especially loved it when he had showbiz old-timers on as guests. When Larry gave up the radio show, I started listening to Bill Mayhugh on WMAL, not so much for him and the cheesy Roger Whittaker album he often played, but for the rambling live news reports phoned in by Larry Krebs on the police and fire beat. When I moved to California, I tried a few options before settling on KNX.

The CBS streaming player works well. I can choose a station before bed, start streaming, close the laptop and it resumes when I open the laptop in the morning. WTOP in DC uses the Microsoft Silverlight player which failed to restart when I opened the computer. In my sleepy haze, I don't want to have to navigate around a website to find the "listen live" button.

One night I started streaming KFWB and really liked the way they have shifted their focus to include a heavy dose of entertainment news. They now use the slogan "Hollywood listens to KFWB." However during the 4 o'clock hour (Eastern time) they air a refeed of "Doug Stephan's Good Day." I switched to KNX that morning.

I also tried WINS in New York and will sample other CBS stations. Listening to WINS was a little disconcerting. They play most of their commercials individually rather than in a cluster. Each on-air commercial is replaced by a different commercial on the stream. Unfortunately the transition isn't smooth. It wouldn't be as bad with a cluster of spots.

On Friday I clicked onto WMAL in DC. From 3 to 5 a.m. they air The Midnight Trucking Radio Network. While I expected a lot of talk about carburetors and such, what I heard would have fit nicely on any conservative-leaning talk station, such as the news talk station in Knoxville. At 5:00, I heard a few minutes of The Grandy & Andy Morning Show before I had to leave for work. In case you were wondering whatever became of actor-turned-congressman Fred Grandy, know that he sounds like he's enjoying himself as one of the very few live and local hosts on a station full of syndicated programs.

When I got home from work on Friday, it was still early enough to catch some of the Kevin & Bean show. In the 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) hour, I empathized with Bean's anxiety over his wife wanting him to take a dance lesson with her. I doubt that he will cave in like I did. At least my wife doesn't expect me to attempt the super-difficult Argentine Tango.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

lap land

When my daughter and I got new laptops a few years ago, my wife got stuck with our daughter's old computer. The keyboard doesn't work, so she has a desktop keyboard plugged into a USB port. The battery has no life left, so she has to keep it plugged in to the wall. Sometimes it overheats and shuts itself off right in the middle of whatever she's doing. Fortunately, an article in USA Today tipped us off that Walmart was putting a limited number of laptops on sale for $298 on Sunday morning.

Walmart was like a ghost town at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. At least the one in West Knoxville was. Meanwhile my wife was waiting in line at a different Walmart in Northern Virginia. Each person was given a ticket to show their place in line. My wife was the eleventh person there. The advertisement said each store would have a minimum of ten laptops. Fortunately that store had about 60 laptops available. If they had run out, I was on standby to buy one in Tennessee. She paid 5% sales tax instead of the 9.25% I would have paid in Knoxville, a savings of $12.67.

As you can see, the Site to Store display was much nicer in Knoxville. They still had ten computers left when I got there around 8:15. I would have gotten there sooner if I hadn't wasted time looking in the electronics department first. One of the employees told me they started with 21 bargain laptops and had already sold some that morning. They also sold some by mistake at midnight, eight hours too early. Meanwhile in Virginia, the sales clerk asked why my wife was taking pictures. Apparently the answer, "they're for my husband's blog," was perfectly satisfactory.

My wife is pretty happy that she has a new "lappy." She won't get to put her new Compaq Presario CQ60-419WM Notebook PC through its paces until after it has been on the charger overnight.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

this site won't harm your computer

The news that Google accidentally broke the Internet came as a great relief. I was glad it was them and not me. I was one of the many people using the search engine around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. Everything I searched for came back with a warning that clicking the links would hurt my computer. The stumble by the mighty Google surprised me so much that I didn't even try another search engine. I might have thought to save a few screen grabs if I weren't worried that I had been infected with a virus or spyware or whatever the next bad thing will be called. Or that maybe Google had been hacked. Fortunately others did save their weird results. Depending on your political views, you can choose to be amused by the idea of a dangerous Pentagon website or a harmful New York Times homepage.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

perpetual light skype upon them

In this Internet era, everyone could benefit from having a Google Alert for their own name. I've had one in my name for a while and I've recently suggested that my wife and kids set up some for themselves. This past January, Stacy McCloud got a laugh when a Google Alert showed her name in my blog post titled "local news anchor on pot."

When I first set up my own Google Alert, I would get a lot of links to pages about the late politician and judge Frank Murphy and to news stories mentioning the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. The famous Michigander turned up recently in a story on George Mason University's History News Network. Sometimes I got news of former NFL player Frank Murphy. Lately there have been even more Frank Murphys turning up on the Alert.

There's a Frank Murphy who is a "streetwise scrum half," whatever that means. In Florida, there's a Frank Murphy who is the president of Catholic Charities, Diocese of St. Petersburg. A Dr. Frank Murphy is vice-president of the South Carolina Animal Care and Control Association. However it was yet another Frank Murphy who gave me reason to write this post.

He's a funeral director in Salem, Massachusetts who has started using the Internet to help grieving families. He sets up video streaming to allow far-off relatives to view funeral services online.
The process requires only a single camera, a laptop and an Internet connection. There is a 40-second delay, but viewers are essentially watching the proceedings in "real time" through a link to a secure page or by logging in to a password-protected portion on the Murphy Funeral Home Web site.

The biggest challenge was practical, not philosophical. The church lacks an Internet connection, and Murphy is not ready to take the service wireless — at least not yet. Fortunately, a benevolent neighbor of the church allowed a cable to be run from his router, enabling the broadcast to happen.
As an aside, I thought it funny that the website for the local newspaper in Massachusetts is called

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Saturday, August 02, 2008


An article about the Smithsonian caught my attention a couple of weeks ago when the new exhibits "The Truth About Crystal Skulls" and "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" opened to the public. The writer wonders how the pop-culture inspired displays are in keeping with the museum's mission for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."

The crystal skull is at the National Museum of Natural History, which may explain the problem the writer has with it. Usually all the pop culture stuff goes in the National Museum of American History, which is closed for renovations until November 21. That's where my daughter saw Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt almost three years ago.

The Smithsonian has some radio artifacts including a microphone used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jimmy Kimmel recently emailed me a link to the site for a new radio that could end up in a museum someday. It's easy to use like a table radio but has the brains of a computer that can play both terrestrial and Internet stations. The two places I listen to radio most (on my own time) are in bed and in the car. It would be great to wake up to some of my favorite stations from around the country but it's not worth spending $650 for the convenience.

Most of the time I have the TV on while I'm reading and writing on the Internet. I do it in an effort to keep up with the accumulated shows on my TiVo and my HD-DVR. I would like to make time to listen to a few radio podcasts and maybe I can now that I know how to increase the playback speed on Windows Media Player.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

something happening somewhere

Some heavy thunderstorms in the area knocked out our electricity for a few hours last night. Everything went dark except the glowing screen of my laptop. We used it to help us find a flashlight and a little battery-powered lantern. By the time I called KUB for an update, the automated voice told me there were still about 3,000 customers without power.

Rather than just sit there, we watched two old TV shows that had been saved on my computer for almost a year. When my TiVo starts to get full, I will transfer some shows to my laptop using the TiVo Desktop software. I don't always get around to watching them, although I did make a dent in my archived collection during the writers strike.

My son and I watched an episode of "The Loop." The single-camera comedy was a short-lived favorite of ours that was never given a chance to find an audience. In almost every episode, the airline employees are asked to find ways to cut costs. Maybe the show was ahead of its time.

Then my wife and I watched an episode of "Monk," a good show that I rarely see. I only recorded this episode because it was about a radio host suspected of murder. That idea has been used before, going back to "Matlock" and "Perry Mason." I thought that Steven Weber was very convincing as a modern-day shock jock. And I should know.

When the new fall schedules are announced at the upfronts next week, a couple of shows that I had picked last year will be gone. "Back to You" and "Aliens in America" got the bad news this weekend. I'm all caught up on "Back to You" but there are quite a few "Aliens in America" episodes on my TiVo. I'll move them over to my laptop in case the power goes out again.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

lines of code of Harry

Video games have never been my thing. I was too cheap to ever put my quarters into an arcade game and too interested in other aspects of my TV and computer to get involved in gaming at home. The computer games I owned were titles like "Jeopardy" and "You Don't Know Jack." Even though I'm not a gamer, I still think I want to see the documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," which is about a champion Donkey Kong player. I've heard many good things about it.

Like any normal boy his age, my son enjoys video games. He plays "Madden '08" at home and is going to a "Mario Kart" party tomorrow night. Today I jokingly told him that there was a new game coming out that may finally get me interested in picking up a controller and exercising my thumbs. The game will be based on one of my favorite TV shows, "Dexter." I've previously written about the Showtime series, which is currently being shown on CBS. Are any of you watching it on regular TV? I wonder what a "Dexter" video game will be like. Maybe you'll control the main character as he goes to the store to stock up on cellophane, duct tape and syringes before going about his bloody business.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

key club 2: welcome to the lockbox

The sequel arrived today. As I suspected, Fox sent me a promotional lockbox to generate interest in "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

The box came with a note from both Fox Affiliate Marketing in Los Angeles and WTNZ in Knoxville. They must not realize I'm one of the deejays who saved the key they sent yesterday. I was disappointed to see that they taped another one to the outside of the lockbox. C'mon! Where's the fun in that? Of course, I used yesterday's key to open the box, just on principle.

The lockbox contained a DVD with the first two episodes and a shiny 125 MB flash drive. The drive held an electronic press kit with some short MPG promos and PDF files of cast bios and other production notes. I'm still thinking that it would have been cool if they had sent the key a few weeks earlier and challenged me to find it in the clutter on my desk once the lockbox arrived.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007


The 512 megabyte miniSD card from my cell phone served as a conversation starter for my son and me the other day. I think our family's first computer had 512 kilobytes of RAM. As I held up the 512MB card, I told my son to picture 1000 desktop computers in our house, together totaling the same amount of RAM as I held on my fingertip. We were looking online at the price of a microSD card to go in the next generation of phone that I will get as part of the "new every two" upgrade. The micro chips look to be about half the size but with 8 times the capacity of the mini chip I got two years ago.

During his college career, my son will probably get to use computers with terabytes of memory. Naturally, he wanted to know what was bigger than a terabyte. We looked it up and found a list all the way from bit up to the most amusing of the names, brontobyte (unofficial).
1 Bit = Binary Digit
8 Bits = 1 Byte
1000 Bytes = 1 Kilobyte
1000 Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte
1000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte
1000 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte
1000 Terabytes = 1 Petabyte
1000 Petabytes = 1 Exabyte
1000 Exabytes = 1 Zettabyte
1000 Zettabyte = 1 Yottabyte
1000 Yottabyte = 1 Brontobyte
Two days later I was skimming through the Knoxville Blog Network and saw something about bits and bytes that I might have overlooked if my son and I hadn't just been talking about it on Monday. An entry from Think Time had a link to a fascinating post by James S. Huggins that gives you an idea of how much memory it takes to hold various types of information.

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