No, we're not going outside much these days: the outdoor thermometer read -20F this morning, and it was in that same range yesterday. I tried to get the old carbeurated 4x4 Bronco truck started, but it refused to turn over. Fortunately, the roads are clear enough for our other vehicles, so I'll try the Bronco again once things warm up.
The upstairs of our barn is so large, it has plenty of room for both hay and a gymnasium-like play area (including a basketball hoop, and space to ride bikes). But when it's this bitterly cold out, the kids are only allowed to play inside. They're beginning to bounce off the walls a bit, but cabin fever hasn't hit with full force yet. We will be visiting two different sets of friends later today, and both have large kid-friendly basements; hopefully that'll burn off some of their energy before the weekend.
Needless to say, in weather like this, one's thoughts turn to parts of the country where kids can actually go outside to play in mid-January. I don't know about the rest of you, but Hawaii would sure be nice right about now (and I don't blame the President-elect a bit for vacationing there last month). But Hawaii was back in the news yesterday for a different reason: they are the first state to make the total conversion to digital television that the rest of the nation will be undergoing next month.
How did it go? The AP has this report:
Even before the change, residents lit up special TV help center phone lines set up by the Federal Communication Commission and broadcasters. More than 300 calls came in Wednesday, and 10 lines were lighting up Thursday.
On home screens, the shutdown message flashed for about a minute in white text on a blue background. Then, a seven-minute announcement video began a broadcast loop that will continue for several weeks on major island stations.
Technicians are calling it the "analog night light."
Officials at the call center made last-minute checks with some 20 TV stations around the islands, with all reporting they were ready.
"The calls we're getting now are from those people who are waking up and saying, `Oh my God, what do I do?'" said Lyle Ishida, the FCC's Hawaii digital TV project manager, just before the switch.
Yes, you read that right. People are waking up and saying, Oh my God, what do I do?
In Hawaii, of all places. How about, uhm, maybe going out and enjoying the beach? Taking a bicycle ride? Planting a backyard garden with all the cool things we can never grow on the mainland?
I couldn't help thinking of a classic Simpsons episode, from all the way back in Season 2, called "Itchy and Scratchy and Marge." In it, Marge goes on a crusade against the violence in a popular cartoon show. When the cartoon is transformed into a non-violent version, the kids of Springfield all get so disappointed they turn their televisions off. I searched in vain on YouTube for a clip of that scene, but long-time fans of the show will remember it well. Here is a detailed summary of that scene from the SNPP fan website:
Marge: Aren't you going to watch the rest of your cute cartoons?
Bart: Naah. Come on, Li.
Lisa: Maybe there's something else to do on this planet...
The scene is repeated in TV rooms all across town, and (to the strains of the first 53 bars of Beethoven's 6th Symphony) the kids step outside, rub their eyes, and proceed to do wholesome childlike things. Krusty meanwhile, tapes his show.
Krusty: Hi, kids! [laughs] [sees empty studio] Huh? Is it Saturday?
At dinner, Marge asks the kids what they did. Bart and the guys went fishing, and Lisa and Janie went bird-watching. They excuse themselves to work on the soapbox racers. Homer is amazed.
Of course, by the end of the episode, the violent cartoon makes a return and the kids are again all camped in front of television sets. But the episode is an interesting social commentary nonetheless.
Some folks, including the President-elect, are pushing to delay the conversion to digital television. But I think the situation in Hawaii demonstrates something that most of us (especially those who have taught school) already know: some people procrastinate and will not take action until they have no other choice. As the AP reported:
"It's really amazing how many people wait until the last minute," said June Gonzales, a member of the FCC team.
It's not as if television is a life-or-death service, the way telephones are. I say do the conversion as soon as possible, and leave the procrastinators with dark screens. Perhaps they'll come outside and see how bright life can be without television.
And it'll be interesting to see what happens in pockets of the country with heavy concentrations of newly dark screens. I bet Robert Putnam is already preparing to study the impact on social capital.