Feb. 17, 2009, will mark the end of the era of analog television. About 15 percent of households-those with analog sets that do not already receive a digital signal-will be affected by the change, but they don't have to run out and get a new TV.
(If you bought your TV before 1998, it almost certainly is analog. If it was cheap, it almost certainly is analog. If you're using an antenna in bad weather and you get snow on your set, it's analog. If you turn to a channel where a station isn't broadcasting and you get snow, it's analog.)
The cheapest option is to purchase a converter box, priced between $50 and $70. To take the sting out of the cost, the federal government is making available up to two $40 coupons per household, one per converter box. Once they've hooked up the converter, viewers will still be able to get free, over-the-air TV using rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna.
Coupons are available from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon or 888-388-2009) on a first-come, first-served basis. They expire 90 days after issue and must be used at the time of purchase. As of Feb. 8, about two and a half million applications had been received, with most applicants requesting two coupons. The government will distribute up to 33.5 million coupons.
Another option is to subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service. Subscribers with old analog sets receive a digital signal through the converter box supplied by their provider. Or viewers can buy a new television with a built-in digital tuner. Look for televisions displaying a SDTV (standard def), EDTV (enhanced def), or HDTV (high def) logo.
The FCC cites two main reasons behind the congressional decision to mandate conversion from analog to all-digital broadcasting. It will free up frequencies for emergency responders and provide bandwidth for new wireless mobile technologies. The federal government began auctioning off the old analog frequencies on Jan. 24.
For the past several years Toshiba has been battling Sony to become the dominant high-definition DVD format. In February Toshiba formally acknowledged what the market had already decided: HD DVD is dead. The funeral came on the heels of announcements by Warner Home Video, Netflix, and Wal-mart to support exclusively Sony's Blu-ray. Those February announcements followed earlier decisions in favor of Blu-ray by Disney, 20th Century Fox, MGM, and Sony Pictures.
Although similarities exist to the 1980s battle between VHS and Betamax, which VHS eventually won, it may not be quite the same because those technologies conveyed real technological benefits to consumers. The benefit of high-definition DVDs isn't so clear. Seventy percent of HDTV owners are content to watch standard DVDs on their high-definition sets, according to market-research firm NPD Group. Plus with convenient downloading of movies a near possibility, it is possible that even Blu-ray will soon be obsolete.
Lectures by Reformed Theological Seminary faculty are available for free online at the iTunes store at iTunes U. You can download varied lectures-from Lauren Winner talking about "Writing a Spiritual Memoir" to John Frame on the "Seventh Commandment." Widely disseminating these lectures is a great way to build up the church both at home and abroad. It will be great if other seminaries follow suit.
The Mechanical Universe . . . and Beyond is a 52-part series of half-hour-long videos covering the basic topics of an introductory physics class-and it's available free on-line at learner.org/resources/series42.html. Mac users will have to download a Windows Movie Player (which may or may not work), but Windows users shouldn't have any problem accessing the videos. Cal Tech produced the course with funding from the Annenberg/CPB Project. This could be a valuable resource for homeschoolers and college students wanting a Cal Tech-caliber physics course without paying Cal Tech tuition.
According to the online version of The Times of London, a Chinese professor plans to sue Yahoo! and Google, in U.S. courts, for blocking his name from internet searches performed in China. Guo Quan told the Times, "Since Jan. 1 a lot of friends told me that websites with my name had been closed. They told me it's impossible to search for my information on Google and Yahoo!"
Guo earned Beijing's enmity by demanding multi-party elections and promoting an underground opposition party. Before his name was erased from search engines, Guo's blog was shut down and he was demoted at work for "violating the Chinese Constitution, which stipulates that China must be ruled 'under the leadership of the Communist Party.'"
Guo plans to sue the parent companies since neither Google nor Yahoo! has a formal legal identity in China: "They have infringed my right to my name, and also the rights of anyone called Guo Quan because you can find no information for this name. They have violated my political rights. I am opposed to violence and dictatorship but these sites have blocked me."
He said in his open letter that threatened the suit, "To make money, Google has become a servile Pekinese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists."
For decades Americans have been cleaning out their closets and selling their old stuff at garage sales, or donating it to organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. In 2003 folks in Tucson, Ariz., concerned about the amount of trash that ends up in landfills, had the idea to use the internet to help match old stuff with new owners. The Freecycle Network now has more than 4 million members in 80 countries and more than 4,000 communities. It calls itself a "worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills."
Unlike a garage sale, Freecycle items have to be free. Unlike donations to a nonprofit organization, givers receive no tax benefits. But Freecycle may be able to find a home for hard-to-donate items that nonprofits don't want: a broken TV or that green microsuede sofa with the yellow paint pawprint, for instance.
Each community has its own email member list. Before a volunteer moderator allowed me to join the Austin Freestyle Network (AFN), I had to give my zip code, area of town, and the major cross streets near my house to make sure I was eligible. It took about 24 hours to be approved and able to read notices for items "offered," "wanted," "taken," and "received," including a twin bed, "little boy jeans," Christmas ornaments, and a washer and dryer.