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10.22.2004

a most unusual remote control

TV-b-Gone ("a new universal remote that turns off almost any television. The device, which looks like an automobile remote, has just one button. When activated, it spends over a minute flashing out 209 different codes to turn off televisions, the most popular brands first.") I haven't read much reflecting my concerns about this thing yet. Of course it's easy to say TV sucks and everything's better without it. Inventor Mitch Altman is apparently trying to foster communication.

Here's a minor grievance:

"The devices don't always work. At a pizza restaurant, a giant Samsung HDTV turned off only after a couple of tries. After a kitchen worker turned it back on, TV-B-Gone had become impotent against the blaring football game. Altman said manufacturers periodically add new codes, though he said he had never seen the device work once and then lose its effect."

This guy worked at the store and was maybe paying attention to a game while distributing pepperoni and green peppers. Pretty challenging work, maybe, and who knows, he might fuck it up if he's got an eye on the ballgame. But he's just trying to earn a living. Here's an idea: instead of eating in a bargain pizza joint with TVs in it, go somewhere more in line with your sensibilities.

I'm not saying I don't understand the impulse to be away from unavoidable, intrusive noise. Not long ago a few friends and I made the unfortunate decision to eat at a Hard Rock Cafe on a Friday or Saturday night. There was a point during the meal, after I'd gone hoarse yelling to my friend, seated directly across from me, "ISN'T THIS GREAT!?" for the fifth time, when I'm pretty sure a blood vessel popped in my neck and it was only through some miracle of the congealing powers of the animal fat I was swallowing at the time that I didn't keel over right there. It was a fucking awful experience. I won't go back there. Now instead of deciding not to go back there I could have, of course, decided it was my prerogative to change the setting to be more enjoyable for me. Of course it wasn't so much the TVs in the place that were causing the ruckus, it was the masses of drunk frat guys and sorority girls and some table full of forty-somethings who were trashed, ugly, and unfortunate. I could've wished I had some device to shut everyone up. Like a machine gun, that probably would've done it.

"Those people were making it impossible to have a conversation," I would've told the police.

Maybe the real meat of what I wanted to talk about with this device is that it sounds like it could be used in more beligerent ways than what's being discussed. Turning off a neighbors' TV, repeatedly, comes to mind. Hopefully I'm right in assuming that no hospitals use monitors that respond to remote off-signals, and no security systems rely on TVs as video screens.

So that stuff was the original impetus for this rant, but the real outrage for me turns out to come from the fact that it isn't universally agreed that TV sucks. I recently took my car to the dealership for an oil change, and had to wait for about half an hour in the waiting room. This place had a bunch of those molded plastic chairs with a hole in the lower-back area, arranged in a square. There was a TV mounted on one wall. There was one old dude snoring in one of them when I got there. There was one of those fangled coffee machines that takes individual little plastic cups, inserted in a pull-out tray, and turns them into coffee. I used the hot water thing on the side to make tea. When I finished filling my cup the thing started making an awful, grating sound. Three lights on the front flashed yellow and red. It shook and rattled. The snoring dude woke up pissed off and stared at me. I stirred some sugar into my tea. The thing started screaming "feed me! feed me!" The guy ran out of the room. I started opening and closing the thing where the little plastic cup goes in. The guy came back in and said the lady at the desk said she'd be back in a second. Just then a guy came in and said, "it's out of water." He unhooked a big plastic water jug that I somehow hadn't noticed, and he took it out back and filled it from a hose. I sat down. There was one magazine in the room. It was a Lady's Home Journal from last year. On the TV there was some weekend morning "news" show with a camera panning around downtown New York to show how everyone's a fucking idiot who loves to jump up and down screaming at cameras now. Then Tears for Fears came on and sang "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," followed by some new song. I had no idea they got back together. I was entertained for approximately eight minutes. Which is eight minutes more than I would've been entertained if there wasn't a TV there.

Hello, my name is I and I like to watch television.

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