Ancient (2007-2008) archives

Have you ever heard your voice played back to you? (I was going to add “on a tape recorder”, but that would show that I’m old enough to remember such analog devices.) To me, my voice doesn’t sound “right”; it’s different that what I hear when I speak, and it’s similar enough to be almost creepy. It’s why I don’t enjoy listening to recordings of me. Similarly, I don’t usually like reading what I wrote a long time ago, and that’s why it’s taken so long for me to migrate all my really, really old blog posts.

Long, long ago, before I became acquainted with WordPress, I launched my blog with GoDaddy’s QuickBlog. When I moved to this superior platform, I didn’t give much thought to the old, discarded news bites that littered the path behind me. I should have realized that part of the fun of discovering a new blog is reading all the old posts, if for no reason than to see how often the writer was wrong about predicting coming events.

So finally, here are the remains of that old blog. I copied over all the posts but not the comments, which seem to have aged even worse than the posts. If you haven’t already, please be sure to peruse all of the more recent posts before digging in here. If you really want to read the old stuff, here it is.

Bummed out

4/30/2008
NAB Show logoSorry that I haven’t written lately. I’ve been depressed that there won’t be any Kansas City baseball games on FTA this season. Except when that team plays one of the teams that are still available to us.

I can watch my old beloved team by paying for it, like on MLB.TV. (And if you want to sign up too, using that link will help support FTAList and FTABlog.) But it’s not the same energizing thrill as finding KC games for free a couple of times a month and rearranging my schedule to be sure to watch.

I wasn’t bummed out about visiting the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas this month. I don’t think that very many people there would be big fans of FTA, and even fewer would admit it, but fortunately I had been recruited to write a couple of stories about a couple of exhibitors there. If you ever get the chance, you really ought to attend. There are more satellite companies there than for CES, and it’s a lot less crazy-crowded. Just Google “NAB Show free pass” and you’ll probably find some generous exhibitor who can get you a free registration. Keep it in mind for Aprils to come.

How to Make a Custom Zap2It Grid

3/6/2008
Zap2It logoNow that you have decided the Mexican soccer question, I have space to tell you about a great discovery. It’s possible to set up a custom FTA program grid in Zap2It.com.

The good thing about Zap2It is that it has listings for several FTA broadcast channels that TitanTV doesn’t. The bad thing is that it’s harder to set up and customize. I also prefer the way TitanTV grids look, but it sure is nice to have KDEVLP, KLMN and the other channels that TitanTV doesn’t have yet. And meaningful program data for The Research Channel, University of Washington, and others for which TitanTV just has placeholders.

To set up your custom Zap2It grid, you should first sketch out the channels that you want in the order that you want to see them. You’ll see in a minute why this is important.

Then go to Zap2It and register for an account there. (You can build a grid without an account, but you wouldn’t be able to retrieve it from another computer.)

Next, for the first channel on your list, you have to find an existing grid that includes that channel. For most broadcast stations, that’s as simple as using the getting the local listings for each station’s Zip Code.

When you see the listings that include the desired station, click on that station’s name on the left. When you see five days’ worth of listings for that station, click the link that says “Add to Favorites”. Zap2It then includes that station as one of your favorites above any other set of listings!

When you add your second favorite, you’ll see it in the grid below your first favorite. The third will go below the second. There’s no good way around this, and that’s why you need to know the order before you begin.

I’ll add a comment (this entry is long enough aleady) listing the Zip Codes I use. Please add any that I missed.

Please Vote on Mexican Soccer

2/19/2008
Mexican soccer ballHere’s a question that I want you to answer: Should the FTAList sports listings include games of the Mexican Soccer Premier League (Primera División de México)?

There are a fair number of Mexican League games available through the Spanish-language broadcast networks. Until now, I’ve overlooked them, just as I overlook almost any event that involves one dude beating up another dude, scripted or not. But I’ve always listed Spanish-language MLS games and national-team games, so maybe it’s time to add the Mexican League.

Arguments in Favor:
• The quality of play is reported to be at the same quality level as the MLS.
• There are a lot of soccer fans that would enjoy knowing when more games will be available.
• It might open the doors to other national soccer league listings, once I get someone to translate some other channels’ schedules. (Want to volunteer?)

Arguments Against:
• It’s all in Spanish, a foreign language to a lot of visitors here.
• It might distract visitors looking for more popular sports by cluttering the list.
• Maybe there aren’t that many people here who care about the Mexican League.

Please cast your vote in the widget below. I’ll keep the poll open until March 2. Thanks!
(2011 note: That widget is long gone.)

Over-the-Air Antenna Experiment

2/11/2008
spiky antennaAs I mention now and then, I think the smartest TV viewers are those who watch their local network channels via over-the-air (OTA) signals and add legitimate FTA satellite channels, all without spending a dime on subscriptions. (Second place goes to people who absolutely need a particular dozen pay-TV channels, so they make sure to subscribe to get them. Count me in the second-place bunch.)

To get OTA TV, you need an antenna. Not one of those nice smooth ovals that we use for satellite signals, but usually something that’s all spiky. I’ve got one of those on the roof; it’s great on some channels, but I’m not happy with its reception on some of the fringe stations.

I ran across an interesting homebrew HDTV antenna project on YouTube. The result looks roughly like a series of bow-tie UHF antennas mounted on a piece of wood. (Go take a look now, I’ll wait.) If you’ve already got some spare wire hangers, a 3-foot piece of 2-by-4, and one of those goofy old adapters that goes from coax cable to bare antenna leads, then it’s really cheap.

After driving around to find someone to sell me wire hangers (I should have remembered the dry cleaners) and spending $4 at the Radio Shack for that goofy adapter, I put it together on a Sunday afternoon. The hardest part was scraping away the coating at strategic points along the wire, then making sure I had good connections where the wires meet.

The results were a little disappointing. If the antenna had performed worse, I would have believed that I’d done something wrong. If it had been a little better, I would have called it a full success. Just sitting next to the TV, the antenna was only a little worse than my rooftop antenna. When I moved it around the house, there were a few positions next to windows where it outperformed the rooftop. But I don’t think I want this homely homemade indoor antenna hanging at my window with a long coax tail leading to the TV in another room.

But I’m sorry, I guess I’m looking at these results and calling the glass half-empty. If you don’t already have a rooftop antenna (the spiky kind) and you want to pick up your local UHF-based channels, then this project might help. It’s no worse than a lot of indoor antennas, and it costs less than most of them. Just keep your expectations lower than I did.

Finally, a note of warning. Long, long ago, when I first installed my Dish Network dish, Dish didn’t yet provide all of the local channels. So I foolishly bought a $40 OTA antenna that clips on to the dish. After the hassle of getting on the roof and running the signal through diplexers, I found that the reception was only a teeny bit better than when I used my $5 indoor rabbit ears, and the rabbit ears were a lot easier to install. For OTA, I recommend that you either get a really good outdoor antenna or stick with indoor solutions. Don’t go halfway with clip-ons.

Rio Carnival Coverage Returns

2/4/2008
Rio 2008 logoFashion TV (on Galaxy 25) says it will be covering the Rio Carnival again this year. In 2007, as noted (earlier), FTV was live with the amazing parade of stunningly elaborate, colorful floats and costumed, underdressed performers. It makes the Macy’s parade look like a high school homecoming.

The difference for 2008 is that FTV’s coverage won’t be live. They’re advertising that they’ll show “all the action non-stop” from Friday through Sunday, Feb. 8-10, but the Carnival itself is finished by Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday, Feb. 5. I don’t know what the delay will mean for the coverage, but if it’s anything at all like last year’s, then it’s worth tuning in.

You can find out more about Fashion TV’s coverage at its 2008 Carnival page. (That page is okay, but the video clip it links to is not safe for work.) You can also learn more about the Carnival itself at Rio-Carnival dot net, but I’m not going to link to it because, even though they’re of an internationally famous outdoor festival, some of its photos are probably not safe for work.

The Internet is Your Friend (Second in a Series)

1/31/2008
There are lots of resources on the internet to help when you’re tinkering with your FTA setup. Let me mention a couple of them that I should have talked about earlier.

First is Fortec Star’s Video Learning Series. Some of these online videos are meant to help with Fortec receivers, but most of them work for anybody who’s ever tried to set up a dish, or who just wants to understand more of what’s going on with satellite TV. There’s a lot to watch here.

The second is DishPointer.com. That is one great domain name. The site starts with the idea I presented in the first installment of this series, then automates it to a degree I never considered. (Mind you, the folks at DishPointer probably thought of it all from scratch.) It is a very cool tool, and one of these days I might add its widget to FTAList somewhere. Maybe I’ll start by using it as an illustration for this blog entry.

Temporary Bonus Channels

1/29/2008
keep quietOne of the fun things about FTA is scanning for temporary feeds. Some of those feeds are really pay-TV channels that have slipped temporarily into the clear, or are being used to test some distribution system.

What should I do about them? If I include them on FTAList, I have two problems: I’ll have to remove them once they stop being tested or the scrambling gets fixed, and then some folks will blame FTAList for tipping off some TV executives, leading to the channels’ removal. On one hand, I think that’s like blaming me because your snowman melts in May – it’s going to happen no matter what. But on the other hand, it’s always good to be cautious.

Another factor is personal. When I see a FTA channel that I can already get with my Dish Network subscription, I don’t get too excited about it. I’m not saying that’s a good attitude. In fact, I should sympathize more with the intelligent, frugal households who limit themselves to true FTA + OTA for $0 a month. So here are a couple of tips.

AMC 4 has long been a place to check for channels that sneak into the clear. It’s particularly true right now. And over on Galaxy 16 (formerly Galaxy 4R at 99 degrees west), there’s one channel that’s supposed to be PowerVu scrambled, but isn’t.

If you’re reading this in February or later, these feeds might already be scrambled or gone. Maybe if you scan some more satellites, you might make the next interesting find.

LNB Comparison Test

1/28/2008
Last weekend, I took advantage of relatively good weather to try out a new LNB that someone sent me. I tested three low-noise LNBs to see whether it was worth changing what I already had.

My dedicated Galaxy 10R dish sported a large 2-year-old Invacom LNB rated at 0.4dB. (Remember that for noise, lower numbers are better.) I took my receiver out to the dish and hooked it up directly, bypassing the switch and the long cable runs. Pointing at the 11720 transponder, it was showing signal quality in the mid to upper 50s. So far so good.

Next, I swapped in another 0.4dB 2-year-old LNB, the small FSKU-v from Fortec Star. When I first got it a couple of years ago, I tried it out but couldn’t get a decent signal out of it. Just for fun, I tried it, and this time, its signal quality numbers were just as good as the Invacom. What did I do wrong two years ago?

The third contestant was the newest entry, the Tracker II+ from WS International. It’s rated at 0.2 dB, and it is tiny! Although it’s a standard (non-universal) LNB, that’s not an issue with most North American satellites. The cable connector is recessed, making me glad that I had my 7/16-inch wrench handy. I made the connections, adjusted the skew, and got quality in the lower 60s! Neither of the other LNBs had ever broken 60. The Tracker II+ stays.

Thanks to Robby Dosetareh of WS International for sending this out. All three LNBs are good, but the Tracker II+ is the best today.

CES Report

1/28/2008
CES logoIt’s been a few weeks since I returned from the Consumer Electronics Show, but I haven’t written about it because, well, I haven’t written about much of anything lately, but also because there was just nothing to write about from a FTA perspective. No cool breakthroughs. No updated receivers. Zilch.

I take that back. I saw a few FTA receivers, but they were all in those office-cubicle booths that make up the international section. The receivers were being shown by Asian manufacturers, looking to hook up with a North American company to rebrand them. I didn’t hear of anyone making such an FTA deal with them, at least not during the show.

CES was fun despite the lack of FTA materials. It was so noisy and crowded that when I left the show floor and walked over to the Las Vegas Hilton’s casino area, it seemed quiet and calming. The best “handout” that I picked up at the show was from the GoDaddy booth, where they swiped my badge to email me a free domain name. I used it to add FTAMovies.com, which takes you directly to the FTAList Movies and Sports page.

Anyway, sorry for my prolonged absence here. You’ll hear more from me soon.

Attack of the Signal-Killer Pumpkins

8/10/2007
pumpkins and their vinesA few days ago, after a strong thunderstorm, my FTA system went down. The next morning, I started trying to find the problem. Did some rain get into the wiring? Did lightning fry some equipment? I checked one piece after another, only to determine that the problem had to be somewhere in the line between the grounding block and the spot where it enters the house.

Some of that wire runs past a garden where I have pumpkins growing. If you’ve never grown pumpkins, you’ve got to try it some time. They expand explosively, taking over the whole garden and beyond with fast-growing stalks supporting 18-inch leaves. Meanwhile, they send out curly feelers to grab on to anything they can for support.

The hard rain had knocked down some of those stalks with some of those feelers. Which had grabbed hold of the RG6 wire next to it. Enough plants somehow yanked down with enough force to pull the cable out of its crimp. It was an easy problem to fix, but I would have never thought to look there first.

All of which is why I was slow to add the returning KFDF to the list this week. It’s great to have another RTN channel to choose from.

Minor Harry Potter spoiler

7/23/2007
This blog entry contains a minor spoiler about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is a fine conclusion to the Harry Potter series. If you don’t want to know the very slightest thing about what happens, then keep reading the book and come back here when you get to Chapter 24. It’ll be safe by then.

If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve probably noticed how most characters do not want to mention You-Know-Who’s actual name. The final book illustrates why. (This is your last chance to avoid the spoiler.) The Dark Lord made his name taboo, so that his followers would instantly know whenever anyone said “Voldemort” out loud. And since his followers knew better than to do that, the only people who would say the name out loud had to be folks who were against him, often speaking from concealment.

That’s a little bit similar to why I don’t mention the league names or team nicknames on my list of FTA sporting events. It’s not that the leagues or teams are evil, just that they have an understandable interest in anyone who mentions them. We view all FTA channels with the implied consent (or lack of sufficient opposition) of the channel broadcasters and their program providers. That’s why we all have a vested interest in keeping these parties happy, or at least not too grumpy.

I assume that these leagues and teams use internet spiders to find references to them, and based on what they find, some employee of the league or team reads the results. Will that human be happy to see that lots of North American viewers can watch some Newark Grasshoppers games for free? Or will that human worry that he’s losing sales on his American Insect League PPV package? To be on the safe side, remember to treat the gift of free TV with appropriate respect. Be thankful instead of complaining or clamoring for more. And to be even safer, let’s not mention exactly who it is we’re talking about. We don’t want to run afoul of the taboo.

Farewell GNF Movie Channel

6/22/2007
waving goodbye to Setanta and GNF MoviesOur unofficial free sample of Setanta Sports ended earlier this week, and now I have another bit of sad news about Galaxy 25. The GNF (GamezNFlix) Music Channel will go off the air July 1. According to GNF, they want to focus on “advancing the development of the GNF Game & Music Channel, reflecting the company’s mission to deliver quality programming in the extreme sports, video-gaming and music genres.”

Personally, I think that GNF had its best idea at the very beginning. It got some space on G25, where most of North America’s stationary Ku-band dishes are already pointing. Then around the beginning of 2006, it apparently acted as an America One affiliate, passing along that network’s programming. Whenever a local ad slot came along, GNF filled it with ads for its core business – DVD and game rental by mail for a monthly fee. What a brilliant low-cost way to reach a new audience!

Then something changed. In March 2006, GNF acquired the rights to a bunch of TV shows, apparently mostly music with some gaming. The next month, it licensed 3600 movies. The GNF channel dropped the America One content and eventually morphed into two channels, one with movies (licensed and public domain) and one with those TV shows. GNF started work on signing up broadcast stations and on streaming the channels on the internet. Did they reach too far away from their core competencies? Did they make the right move to adapt to the market? Time will tell.

In the unlikely event that I would have been in charge, I would have done a lot of things differently to promote the GNF Movie Channel. I would have cut way back on the in-movie commercials; showing the same product ten times instead of five won’t increase sales that much. I would have made the online streaming version a clickable option instead of trying to launch itself as soon as a user visits the page. I would have made the program guide meaningful like the White Springs TV grid, with more information per show than just a title. And I would have started an email mailing list with weekly program highlights. Someday, someone’s going to put together a fine channel that way.

Meanwhile, I hope that some other company sees the potential in bringing America One back to Ku-band dishes. (It’s also available on Galaxy 23 on C band.) When the right company checks the costs, then compares them to a national mailing or magazine ad campaign, it will see what a great deal FTA can be to introduce the company into a new market.

Enjoy Setanta while you can

6/15/2007
Setanta Sports logoI hope that you’ve been enjoying the free sample of Setanta Sports on Galaxy 25. In a lot of ways, I wish that ESPN was more like Setanta, where you get actual events any hour of the day instead of endless studio shows of folks talking about sports.

I don’t know how long Setanta will stay in the clear, but once it’s gone, you should consider subscribing. It’s available from World TV (formerly GlobeCast), from DirecTV, and there’s a rumor going around that it might become available from Dish Network. Is that the reason Setanta’s in the clear now? All I heard was that there were some “technical issues” and that it was the “decision of the channel” to be FTA until those are resolved.

Anyway, when the time comes, it might be worth getting whichever proprietary hardware you choose (World TV, DirecTV, or maybe Dish) just to subscribe to this great channel. Check it out!

Pirates and dandelions

4/30/2007
No piracy signIt’s spring, and that means it’s time for me to get out my dandelion pluckers. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just gave up and let the dandelions take over the lawn; sadly, I think that a couple of my neighbors are trying that experiment.

Saturday, I ran into a different kind of unwelcome sight. As I was checking a couple of pages on FTAList, I saw that one of the ads Google was serving up was for some pirate TV stuff. Ick! I hurried off to Google to block that domain from advertising on my site. It was like popping a dandelion; that one’s gone, but others may sprout.

Advertising pays FTAList’s bills, and the Google-served ads are part of that. Not every automated ad that comes in is a winner; I hold my nose when I see ads that want to sell you a way to get internet-based TV channels. (Hint: Check the links near the bottom of the FTALinks page for free directories of those channels.) If you’re really interested in looking at their offers or any other legitimate products, go ahead and take a look. But if you see any other advertisements for pirate TV web sites, please let me know so I can block those sites from advertising with FTAList.

The occasional emails from pirate wannabes are another minor annoyance. I feel sorry for them. If you subscribe to a pay-TV provider, it’s as simple and reliable as electrical service. But if you want to try to jury-rig a system to pirate signals, you can’t be sure when your box will stop working or when you’ll get the knock on the door that lets you know that your busted supplier coughed up a shipment list with your name on it. Hassles and paranoia, or just plain law-abiding TV? Sure seems like a no-brainer to me.

FTAList is dedicated to legitimate in-the-clear free TV. So if you see any weeds in our yard, let me know so I can get rid of them.

Hello KLMN. What are you?

4/23/2007
KLMN station ID cardOver the past week, we’ve seen the departure of KFDF, Fort Smith AR, and the arrival of KLMN, Great Falls MT. At least that’s what it looks like. Let me elaborate.

Last Tuesday night, KFDF was replaced with color bars saying that “KWFT/KABL” was not available. Which was confusing right there. In real life, KWFT had morphed into KPBI, and I can’t find any reference to KABL as a TV sttation.

The following afternoon, the old KFDF slot still had color bars, but now it said that KLMN was not available. And by Thursday evening, the slot was showing KLMN Great Falls MT, complete with station ID cards such as the one shown here.

But it wasn’t going to be quite that simple. On Friday morning, it was showing Retro Jams, complete with station IDs for WUJF-LP, Lake City FL. It was there again when I checked Friday night.

On Saturday, KLMN was back to showing Fox programming. And this morning, Retro Jams is back, but with a KLMN station ID in mid-song. Everything changes, but for now I’d say that KLMN is here for a while. So what the heck is going on with KLMN?

According to Wikipedia, KLMN used to be the local Fox affiliate but is now a MyNetwork station. The TV listings services and the Fox Sports site all show KTGF to be the Fox station in Great Falls. But the Fox network affiliate page shows KLMN as its only listed station in Great Falls. And then there’s the station ID card.

The lack of online listings compounds the confusion. Neither of the big TV listing syndicates carries KLMN, so it joins KEGS, Las Vegas NV, as an English-language OTA listings orphan.

We’ve lost KFDF, which had little programming that wasn’t duplicated by other FTA stations, and we’ve picked up another Fox station. It might be hard to tell what KLMN will be showing on any given day, but that’s still a pretty good trade.

Changing dishes isn’t as easy as it looks

4/5/2007
satellite finderWell, sometimes changing a dish goes smoothly, but not this time, not for me. I was swapping my good old Winegard 76 cm dish with a nice new Fortec 90 cm dish. It’s pointed at Galaxy 10R, the satellite with the best English-language content but a relatively weak signal.

I thought that this would be easy. First, I put a stake in the ground to mark the exact pointing angle for the old dish arm. Then off went the old dish, and on went the new one. The first surprise was that my 7/16-inch wrench (see my getting started list) was useless; the nuts appeared to be metric. Oh well, whatever they were, an adjustable wrench still worked on them. I lined up the arm, adjusted the elevation and … nothing. No hint of a signal.

I tried the usual minor adjustments left-right and up-down. Still nothing. I tried wider adjustments. Still nothing. It was time to get back to basics.

When I was first installing my Ku-band dish, a cheap little signal finder (like the one pictured) saved me. More on that in future blog entries. Anyway, I dug it out and, because it won’t work with the universal LNBF mounted there, I dusted off my old original standard LNBF. And I do mean “dusted off”; it had been sitting outside on a workbench shelf for over a year. It looks just like this one,
a DMSI ASC321.

Using one of these little signal finders is as much art as science. You turn the knob until the needle on the meter moves to somewhere in the middle, as the device squeals. Then when you move the dish closer to a strong satellite, the squeal gets louder and the needle moves to higher numbers. Adjust the knob to move the needle back to the middle with this stronger signal, and repeat.

Remember when I said that G10R has a weak signal? That meant that it was easy to find every other nearby satellite. By seeing what channels were visible, I could tell when the dish had strayed to AMC 16 or Galaxy 13. That’s how I could tell exactly what elevation setting to use and about where to move it east-west. Once the G10R signal locked in, the last adjustment was the optimal position of the LNBF on the arm. I swapped my sensitive universal LNBF back in, and everything’s better than ever.

Lessons learned: Maybe you can’t predict direction by the way the dish arm is pointing; the replacement dish’s arm was at least half a degree to the right of the old one. Those old standard LNBFs work remarkably well for their low price. And even if you only use it once a year, it’s worthwhile to keep a cheap little signal finder around.

OMG! It IS Heidi!

3/31/2007
We’ve been double-crossed. (Okay, I’ve been double-crossed.) Yes, it was the special “April Fool’s Edition” of SciFi Friday, but the trick was that instead of science fiction, it really was Heidi. The SciFi Friday podcast is going to be all about how unusual it is to have an orphan doing so well even when living with a cantankerous grandfather.

Now we just need to get a show that takes these fine public domain movies and heckles them. Unless Mystery Science Theater 3000 has some kind of patent on that.

Is Heidi right for SciFi Friday?

3/27/2007
sign for No HeidiIn addition to a fine schedule of educational programming, the good folks at the Utah Education Network (KUEN) provide a weekly slice of cinematic cheese, SciFi Friday. On their web page devoted to the series, they try to provide some educational background on each movie, even when the movie is goofy trash such as last week’s The Snow Creature. But I suspect that most of its viewers are like me, just happy to have another alternative for a commercial-free flick on Friday nights.

The weird part is what’s going to be showing this Friday, March 30. Both major TV listing companies are convinced that it’ll be Heidi. Yes, that Heidi, the TV movie best known for truncating a pro football game broadcast in 1968. Which means that somebody at KUEN probably provided that info to those services.

Heidi just doesn’t fit. It’s not on theme. And it wasn’t even listed on UEN’s schedule page, which left that slot blank until this morning. (Now it too shows Heidi!) So I called my UEN contact. She said that she checked around but no one would tell her what’s going to be on that night. She did point out that it might have something to do with it being the broadcast that’s closest to April Fools Day. So I don’t know what’s coming Friday, but I’ll bet it’s not Heidi.

Kansas City baseball is back!

3/26/2007
baseball sceneYou’d never know it from the online TV listings. You’d never know it from the team site, which still lists defunct network affiliations for its member stations. (Psst, WB doesn’t exist any more!) But I’ve got the news from a well-placed source: Kansas City baseball will return to FTA with the home opener next week! KWBM is confirmed, and I’m guessing that other FTA stations will add KC too.

This is of particular interest to FTAList HQ, where the KC home opener is an annual company holiday. With absolutely nothing showing on either major TV listing service, I was starting to get nervous. Yes, the game happens to be available this season on the big cable sports network, but what’s the fun of that? I wanted to get long, lingering looks at the stadium fountains, lots of ads for season tickets, and really bad announcers. Okay, I don’t mind if they get better announcers, but it’s fun to hear a hometown perspective on the game.

And later in the week, WNGS will be showing the Cleveland home opener, which has its own nostalgia for me. Long ago, before the web was popular, I helped found the fantasy baseball section on CompuServe. As we made long-distance friends, we decided one year to try to gather the fantasy owners in our league for an in-person draft. The spot we chose was Akron OH, and the night before, we drove up to Cleveland for the home opener at old, cavernous Municipal Stadium. Our hosts spent freely on copious amounts of refreshments, and even the chilly, lackluster game was great fun. The highlight was when someone from another nearby group was inspired to do a tightrope walk along a roof support. He waved vaguely to fans beneath him as they began the chant, “You’re going to jail!” That chat intensified as the security officers collected him and escorted him away. Ah, memories!

WNGS will also pick up some New York games from both leagues, although those games won’t start showing until April 17. You can see the station’s full schedule on their web site. We’ve already seen some St. Louis preseason games, including the surprising, unscheduled addition of KWWF, so that ought to be covered when the broadcast schedule resumes on April 15. And we’ll see whether the erratic Houston and Texas games return, or whether other surprises await. Keep checking the Sports and Movie Highlights page for the latest info.

And thanks to all the visitors who have dropped by during this hiatus. I’ve got some stories warming up to serve you here in the days and weeks to come.

Daylight savings = TV listings confusion

3/8/2007
spring forwardYou’ve probably already heard that the next weekend will be the shortest of the year. It’s that weekend when we set our clocks forward by an hour, throwing that time away until we get it back in the fall. So we’re left with just 47 hours for those two days.

Not only does that mean less time for sleep or chores (or maybe even having fun), it also means that the sports and movie listings for Saturday night and Sunday get very confused. Depending on when each station or each listing service moves forward an hour, well, you just never know if some of those schedule times might be an hour off.

I’m not sure what we can do about this, but at least I’ve warned you. It should all settle down by Monday.

A whole lot of basketball coming

3/7/2007
basketball on a pedestalLast year around this time, there was one basketball conference tournament available on FTA. That was pretty good, but this year is even better. There are over two dozen conference tournament games scheduled, from three conferences, in just three days. Add in a Sunday conference championship, and you’ve got one great sendoff to cap the college basketball season. Check out the Sports and Movies page for the full details.

It reminds me of a long time ago, when I was a young newspaper reporter/editor in Kansas City. Think Jimmy Olson. I was assigned to cover the NAIA Tournament one year as the backup reporter. The older reporters would drift in and out covering teams of regional interest. I was there just in case something newsworthy happened while the other reporters were gone. To this day, I’m not sure what that would have been. A bench-clearing brawl? A sudden blackout? Meteor shower in the building? No, none of that happened. Just a lot of basketball.

The NAIA Tournament is an amazing event. To reduce travel expenses, they squeeze a 32-team tournament into six days on one court. (In recent years, they’ve been nice enough to add a day off before the semifinals.) To make that work, there are eight games a day for the first three days. The first is at 9 in the morning, and the last is scheduled to start around 10 that night. There are no halftime shows; the time is used to warm up the next pair of teams. It’s constant basketball for 15 straight hours. For three straight days.

The experience taught me valuable lessons in life. You can hear thumping basketballs and squeaking sneakers in your sleep. It is possible to get too much of a sport you enjoy. And concession-stand nachos make an awful breakfast.

Lists are now printer-friendly

2/22/2007
If you had ever tried to print any of the channel lists from FTAList.com, the result wasn’t pretty. The ads on the side squeezed the information into a narrow space. The navigation tabs and links – they were still there, but they didn’t help on paper. The thin table grid, helpful when viewing channels on the screen, weren’t so thin when printed, and they just took up space.

That should all be changed now. After a thorough revamp of the pieces of the page generation process, all of the lists should now look pretty when printed. There were also a few minor cosmetic changes, which you might not even notice, depending on your browser and its settings. So go ahead! Pull up your favorite chart and print it. Or if you want to save paper, just check Print Preview.

Rio Carnival is live on Fashion TV

Rio carnival screen shotIt’s Sunday evening, and as I flipped around the FTA channels, I came across Fashion TV’s live coverage of the Rio Carnival. It’s jaw-dropping. FTV captures the stunning spectacle of floats as big as houses strolling down the street, (the screen shot at right is of one of the smaller floats), always accompanied by literally hundreds of dancers in colorful costumes. And then FTV switches to lingering close-ups of some of the lead dancers. That can be jaw-dropping too. It’s like the Macy’s parade for grown-ups.

I had heard that FTV (which is on G25) was going to cover Rio, but I thought that just meant more of those runway visits where the models walk funny and wear clothes that make them look like they lost a bet. But this is great! If you missed the live coverage, they’ll be running “best of” highlights late at night for the next few days. You can find FTV’s program grids here.

UPDATE: At 9 pm Eastern, the picture went scrambled here. The audio’s still on, but that’s no fun. We’ll see when it goes in the clear again.

2nd UPDATE: And at 10 pm Eastern, it’s back. As with so many things in FTA, yaneverknow. Enjoy it while (or if) you can.

Moneymaker idea for FTA dealers

2/15/2007
groundhog, not really PhilAs I stare at another two days’ worth of snow and remind myself that Punxsutawney Phil (right) supposedly didn’t see his shadow a couple of weeks ago, I’m reminded of summer. It’s a time of warmth, sunshine, and outdoor flea markets.

My idea is to go to any nearby popular outdoor flea market and rent a booth with a southern view and hopefully a little electricity. Bring a large tripod and set up a Ku-band dish, probably pointing at either G25 or G10R. Add a small TV and a FTA receiver, and you’ve got an instant lure to your booth. Haul out a stack of fliers showing the channels that are available for free. Then either sell dish-LNBF-receiver self-install kits or sign up visitors for dealer installations. And when the customers want updated channel listings, tell them to come here.

Name That Channel!

2/9/2007informercial screen shot
Here’s a perfect occasion for you to exercise that commenting privilege. On Galaxy 28, formerly IA8, Jaam-E-Jam International is gone. (You can still find it on Galaxy 25, formerly IA5.) In its place, at 11780-H 29000, 1024 1025, is … I don’t know what. I’ve recorded and fast-forwarded through over two hours of it, and all I see are infomercials with commercials in between. No station ID, no sign of the name of this network, if that’s what it is. I saw cutting knives and something about removing all my toxins – I hope those were separate infomercials.

So if you want to watch long enough to figure it out, don’t hurt yourself, but if you learn anything, share it with us.

Experimenting with Comments

Starting with the next blog entry (the one above this one), I’m going to try turning comments on. I’ve seen a lot of spam in blog comments, and the only good alternative is for me to approve each comment. That means that, unfortunately, you won’t see your witty, incisive comment immediately, although you will see it as soon as I can check it. Together, we have a lot more good ideas than any one of us. I look forward to hearing more from you.

The Galaxies are fixed

2/8/2007
Whew! I finally got around to making all the changes on the lists to reflect all those Intelsat Americas name changes. I kept getting distracted by entering all the great audio channels that are available now on Echostar 7 (119 W). It’s not that they’re new, it’s just that it took me a while to get to them. One of these days, they’ll be part of an FTAList expansion to include audio, but for now they’re just fun.

The main reason I never added a permanent Echostar dish is that pretty much anything that’s FTA there is stuff that I already get as a Dish Network subscriber. So first I needed a circular-polarity LNBF on my main motorized dish. Then I needed to find out how to add audio channels manually – my receiver isn’t scanning in all of them, and the manual audio-only addition procedure wasn’t in the documentation. But now I’m listening to dozens of good stations. It’s one of those times when I marvel at just how much cool stuff there is up there for free.

Korean channels gone again

1/30/2007
There’s an old joke about a guy who asks his stupid friend to look out the window to check whether he left his car’s hazard blinkers on. The friend looks and answers, “Yes, you did. No, you didn’t. Yes, you did. No, you didn’t.”

That’s the way I feel about the six-channel set of Korean programming that’s scrambled again. It moves into the clear often enough that I see them available and add them, then they just get scrambled and I have to remove them, as I did this morning. Next time they get clear again, I’m going to wait a little while before adding them again. The lesson here is that if you want to be sure to get those channels reliably, you’re just going to have to sign up with GlobeCast and subscribe.

An aside: If you want free Korean-language programming, check out KFTL on AMC6 between midnight-4 am Tues-Sat, when it has a Korean block scheduled. The majority of KFTL’s programming is in English, but it also has a bit of Vietnamese, Russian, and maybe even Chinese. Check its schedule here.

New channel names

1/28/2007
Intelsat satelliteEven though you can still find plenty of references to “Telstar 5″, those dear people at Intelsat have decided to change the names of 16 of its satellites, as of Thursday, Feb. 1. Here are the changes that are
relevant to North America:

At 129 degrees west, IA-7 becomes Galaxy 27 or G-27.

At 121 west, IA-13 becomes Galaxy 23, G-23.

At 97 west, IA-5 (formerly T-5) becomes Galaxy 25, G-25.

At 93 west, IA-6 becomes Galaxy 26, G-26.

At 89 west, IA-8 becomes Galaxy 28, G-28.

and for those people who can see the satellites over the Atlantic:

At 58 west, PAS-9 becomes Intelsat 9, IS-9.

At 45 west, PAS-1R becomes Intelsat 1R, IS-1R.

At 43 west, PAS-3R becomes Intelsat 3R, IS-3R,

and also at 43, PAS-6B becomes Intelsat 6B, IS-6B.

Full details here.

Product Review: Invacom QPH-031

1/27/2007
LNBF photoI’m having a great time with my latest LNBF, Invacom’s QPH-031, which simulateously receives Ku-band signals with linear and circular polarizations. Its not very helpful on a stationary dish, unless you want the few FTA channels on both Galaxy 11 and Nimiq 1 at 91 degrees west. But hook it up to a motorized dish, and suddenly you’ve got easy access to all the channels you can see in the clear.

It was easy to set up. I just swapped out the old linear-only LNBF and plugged the circular-polarity cable to my DiSEqC switch. The only real trick is that only one of those lines can control the motor. So when I want to check on Echostar 6 or Nimiq 2, I have to first fool the motor into turning the dish into the right position for me. I did that by adding new fake linear-polarity satellites to my receiver. For this example, I called them “Position 110″ and “Position 82″. So watching the circular-polarity channels is a two-step process – first tune in a channel on the fake “Position” satellite, then switch to the real one.

The sensitivity on Invacom’s linear side seems just a little weaker that the old 0.5 dB LNBF it replaced. Then again, that old 0.5 outperformed a “0.4″ that I once tried, so I’m starting to wonder if those figures are as variable as shoe sizes. The good news is that I no longer need another dish for circular-polarity channels. For the money, this might be the best motorized-dish system improvement that you can buy.

New channels on Galaxy 10R

1/21/2007
I just love discovering new channels, or hearing about them when helpful visitors let me know about them. (Thanks Raul!) And I’m always happy when we add more useful English-language channels, as we did over the past week.

WUJF station IDWUJF-LP popped up mid-week, and I’d love to know the full story of what’s going on with it. That spot on the transponder had been a test card for Univision in Jacksonville FL, which matched the publicly announced plans for that channel. The owner’s channel list page shows those call letters now for a station in Dothan AL. On Dec. 11, The FCC reported a construction permit for those call letters, also in Dothan. And what we see there now is an all-Retro Jams station occasionally showing its ID as WUJF-LP Lake City, presumably in FL. (There is no Lake City in AL.)

WBLU logoWBLU(-LP) arrived yesterday, and it’s much less mysterious. (I try to leave the station suffixes, such as -TV -CA -LP, off the listings unless they’re needed to prevent ambiguity.) It’s a MyNetwork/RTN hybrid in Lexington KY, and it has TitanTV listings and a Wikipedia entry.

As with all channels, they might change or disappear at any time. I really hope they stay around for a long time, but in a word, yaneverknow. Enjoy them while you can!

PBS HD shifting transponders

1/17/2007
If you watch the PBS HD feed on AMC 3, you’ll want to make note of this change. This Sunday, Jan. 21, PBS will add an HD feed at its new “permanent” location on transponder 22 (12140-V). It’s scheduled to turn off the old feed on tp 21 (12128-H) on Jan. 31. It’s part of PBS’s transition away from Digicipher II to DVB for all of its satellite feeds, except for The Annenberg Channel.

Supposedly, that’ll be it until late 2008, when AMC 21 is launched to 125 degrees west longitude. PBS says it has a long-term agreement for broadcast space on that bird, which is supposed to cover the continental United States plus Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Finally! Listings available for KDEV-LP

1/17/2007
At long last, one of my long-standing goals has been achieved. I can finally find the listings for KDEV-LP, the little channel that’s available to me and maybe 100,000 or so other viewers in the central and eastern parts of the Denver area over the air, and available to uncounted thousands of viewers watching the FTA signal bounce off the satellite.

It’s not available from TitanTV yet, which confuses it with the full-power Wyoming station KDEV, so I can’t add a code to the channel listing here. It is available through Zap2It, which gets its listings from the same source as my TiVo, which alerted me to the addition. When you go to Zap2It, use Zip Code 80222 and click TV Listings, then choose Local Broadcast (Antenna), and you’ll find it at Channel 39.

The next holdout channel is KEGS from Nevada. My TiVo isn’t going to tell me about that one. TitanTV always thinks it’s some Spanish language station. Even though it’s supposed to be available over the air in Reno and Las Vegas, I can’t find any Zip Code that will show it to me on Zap2It. If you know of any KEGS listings, please send me an email at (the normal contact address).

My search for the KDEV-LP listings had gone on for over a year. The station carried every available World Baseball Classic game last spring, but I only found out about it after the fact when I visited an official baseball site’s page that listed all of its stations and the games they would broadcast. The newspapers here never mentioned it, and I couldn’t find the listings anywhere else.

I wish I could tell you the whole story of my search, but it might embarrass the people who were helpful to me along the way. There were fleeting victories and setbacks, and in the end, I was left to wait for the listings to surface through an established source. That day has come, and it’s a happy day.

Secret grid of White Springs movies

1/16/2007
If you’ve checked out the FTAList Movies and Sports page, you may have noticed all of the movies that are broadcast by White Springs TV. You can see the whole long list, mixed in with movies from other FTA channels. But if you would like to see just the White Springs schedule grid, which includes a few non-movies, I’ve been quietly creating and hosting their grids for a few months now. You can always find the current grid through the White Springs TV front page, or by going directly here.

One of these days, I’ll add a more obvious path from the FTAList front page to the White Springs listings grid, and hopefully others. But for now, you can only get there if you already know where you’re going.

Back from CES

1/12/2007
Whew! After a day to recuperate, I’m ready to talk more about the Consumer Electronics Show.

The saddest part of the show was my visit to the Hauppauge booth. These folks make some fine computer cards and USB devices for over-the-air TV reception and for FTA satellite, but I didn’t see any satellite equipment there. When I asked, the Hauppauge rep told me that they still make the DVB-S cards, but they don’t market them for sale in North America because too many pirates were figuring out ways to use them to get free programming from Dish Network and Bell ExpressVu. Usually I just consider piracy to be an annoyance, mainly because so many co-opt “FTA” to be a euphemism for illegal reception. When they start driving equipment vendors off the continent, then that really starts to hurt.

Fortunately, the high points of my Wednesday visit more than made up for the sad news. CaptiveWorks showed off the CW-3000HD, a Linux-based system that will include HD, FTA, a DVR and a DVD burner. The prototype is shown here with the lid off. The president of CaptiveWorks told me that the unit would be ready in a couple of months at a very reasonable price. We’ll see. They’ll probably have more info on their site when it’s almost ready.

The best part of the day was having lunch with David McGrath, general manager of Fortec Communications, and later talking further with him and Jamal Sadoun of Sadoun Satellite Sales. They gave me some great feedback on the directions in which FTAList should grow. You’ll be seeing changes here in the weeks to come.

VistaPrint apologies

1/9/2007
I apologize if you’ve ever ordered anything from VistaPrint as a result of any links from my sites. In my recent experience, VistaPrint did not deliver when it said it would, and somehow passed along personal information to a “partner” who solicited me by phone. When I called to get at least an adjustment for late shipping, the CSR was more eager to find excuses than make anything right. If they treat me, an affiliate, this shabbily, I have no confidence that they would do better for my readers. I have terminated my relationship with them, and again, I apologize.

Briefly back from CES

1/9/2007
Thanks to a convergence of the Consumer Electronics Show, crazy high hotel prices, and crazy low Southwest Airlines fares, I’m commuting to CES this year. I spent one really long day there yesterday (Monday), and I’ll do the same tomorrow (Wednesday).

Digital free-to-air via satellite, or DVB-S, still seems to be a lot more popular in Europe and Asia than it is here. I met with some equipment manufacturers who were curious why the FTA market in North America has stayed so small. My take is that it’s a lack of information. People either think it’s part of that whole Dish/DirecTV thing and get disappointed that there’s no ESPN, or they think that it’s some way to steal TV signals and they don’t want to be part of anything illegal.

I’ll post more after the second trip, but for now here are pictures of a flat DBS antenna, an amplified(!) DiSEqC switch, and what every home needs, an IP-based doorbell.
(2011 note: Sorry, pictures were removed.)

Database is fixed, just in time to fly

1/8/2007
I don’t know just how much you want to hear about the underpinnings of the FTA channel lists, but I’ll mention this anyway. The hard drive that stored the whole database crashed a few weeks ago, and I’ve been restoring the database to a new computer using the old backups. It’s finally working as well as the pre-crash system was running, just in time for me to add SatMex6 to the system. There are a lot of nice Chinese language channels out there now, at least for a while.

And that all got finished just before my trip to the Consumer Electronics Show early Monday morning. I’ll be looking for anything and everything that’s new in satellite TV, and I hope to post some photos to DBSTalk.com during the day. If not, I’ll post some notes here on the blog as well as the CES News area of DBSTalk on Tuesday when I get back.

The Internet is Your Friend, 1st of a Series

1/5/2007
The first step in erecting an FTA antenna is choosing a place to put it. If you’re limited to your apartment balcony, you just put it there and take what you can get there. But if you’ve got a house with some land, then picking the spot with clear angles to all the satellites you want to see can take some work. Especially if your lot is aligned at an angle, it can be difficult to work out the compass angle, and exactly what’s in the way.

Enter Google Maps. Just find a satellite close-up of your house. Zoom in on your house, and you’ll get a perfectly north-south aligned image of what you’ve got to work with. You can even use the shadows to determine the height of any obstacles. Figure out what angles you’ll need to the satellites you want, then find a dish site that’s clear for all of them.

Note that the photo won’t be exactly current, so you might have to consider trees that have grown or any new construction in the line of sight. But on a snowy winter day, you may prefer this way to find your antenna site from the comfort of your computer chair.

Welcome!

1/5/2007
Welcome to the first entry of FTABlog.com. You can also get here at Blog.FTAList.com. In the coming months, there will be a lot more information and ramblings a lot more often than in the old Movie/Sports page blog. Thanks for visiting, and be sure to check back soon for new entries.

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