Tag Archives: TV

The Traffic Jam They Don’t Talk About

 

This coming Monday, August 21st, is the Great American Eclipse, the first total solar eclipse to pass through a large part of the United States since 1979 and the first coast-to-coast American total solar eclipse since the Woodrow Wilson administration.

The narrow zone of totality crosses from Oregon to South Carolina.  And many eclipse observers who can afford it and can get the time off will travel to the area.  As predicted, the airlines have jacked up their fares substantially.  Other observers will drive to the path of totality.  Even if they get to the path ahead of time, in most cases, they will have to drive quite a bit more to dodge cloud cover.

640px-Traffic_jam_Charleston_WV_20080321

The interstates may not be the only superhighway clogged with eclipse traffic.

If lots of eclipse observers do this simultaneously, there will be huge traffic jams on the highways reminiscent of what happens with those mandatory evacuations that they have for coastal storms.  But, aside from the photo illustration, this post will concentrate on the other traffic jam – the one nobody talks about as well as how effective a possible remedy would actually be.

 

It has been known for quite some time that NASA-TV will be having quite a bit of coverage of this event.  Sounds like a good idea.  But due to the fact that very few, if any, cable services and only one satellite network carry NASA-TV (the reasons for this will be the topic of a future post), this means that NASA-TV is pretty much an Internet-only TV channel.  This works under normal conditions, but is a major problem for events like the eclipse.  For those who are a bit unfamiliar with how the Internet works, NASA-TV uses web servers to put their content online.  And these servers can only handle up to a certain number of people hooking up to them to view the content.  As the number of people viewing increases, the performance of the server in delivering the content deteriorates.  If the number gets high enough, it malfunctions.  Historically, this has happened to NASA quite often during major events.  Not surprisingly since their computer hardware, like everything else, was put in by the lowest bidder on a government contract.  While this isn’t too bad for rockets as the engineers at those contractors work with physical things and they generally do a reasonably good job building rockets, when it comes to computers, those people are a different breed.  In physical engineering, it is common practice to build things a bit stronger than they actually need to be so there is some reserve capacity and also to cope with the unexpected.  However, when it comes to web servers, computer people tend to go with the minimum capacity for the job.  It would be better if they followed what I call “The Roebling Rule” (named in honor of the Roebling company that built the Brooklyn Bridge).  They insisted that, if a part on the bridge was supposed to support one ton, it had to be able to support six to ten tons.  As a result, the Brooklyn Bridge is a sturdy structure that is still around today.  Another company built a similar bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, but was told to keep the budget down.  Due to the corners that were cut, the bridge had to be replaced years later at enormous cost.

The other online eclipse coverage sites also suffer from the small server problem.  The Exploratorium in San Francisco has done eclipse coverage in the past and has had problems.  Compounding things are their rather amateurish production skills.

On top of all this, those people who do not have broadband Internet or have metered bandwidth (only so many gigabytes per month) will have problems accessing the online coverage.

If only there was a way to get video coverage of the eclipse that didn’t depend on bandwidth and server issues and can handle any number of viewers… wait, such a technology does exist and we have had it for years… television!

While this eclipse is well suited for television coverage as it does pass through quite a few cities and towns in the United States, the response from the mainstream (referred to hereafter as “lamestream” to use a term coined by Jim Kurdyla of Facebook fame) media has been extremely underwhelming.  The remainder of this post will discuss the TV eclipse options known to me as of the moment of this writing.  Some of this information may be subject to change.  Here goes…

One would expect that the lamestream broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS) would have an interest in this.  Sadly, that interest appears to be rather small.

ABC: This network was probably the first national broadcast network to announce eclipse coverage.  The show will feature Sara Haines, Rebecca Jarvis, T.J. Holmes, Ginger Zee, Matt Gutman, David Kerley, Nick Watt, Adrienne Bankert, and Eva Pilgrim.  I suppose if you crammed all their astronomical knowledge together, you might get something equivalent to an entry-level amateur astronomer.  There are reports that some affiliates will go above and beyond this.

CBS: The national network seems to be taking the wimpy way out on this one.  They will only be having coverage online.  Some affiliates, mainly those along the path of totality, may take matters into their own hands.  One reason given by some wags is that CBS doesn’t want to preempt their daytime programming at eclipse time.  This consists of two daytime dramas (News flash: Daytime drama is a dying genre) and “The Talk”  Guess they don’t want to preempt “The Talk” or it might get Les Moonves in trouble with the wife at home.

Fox: Unknown.  They might decide to leave it up to affiliates.

NBC: Evidently realizing what ABC is doing, NBC will be doing a one-hour national show as well.  It will be hosted by Al Roker, Lester Holt, and Dylan Dreyer.  Not ideal, but it is better than CBS and Fox.  Wonder how these astronomical lightweights will manage?

PBS: Some PBS stations (not all) will be carrying a one hour program titled “Total Eclipse Live”.  I have no further details on it.  But, later that evening, PBS will show its talent for after-the-fact coverage of astronomical events with a special episode of “Nova” that will incorporate some footage from that day’s eclipse.  This is a rather rapid turnaround since it usually takes a few weeks at least for the “Nova” crew to put together something on an astronomical event.  As with the other networks, some affiliates might do something on their own.

Eclipse coverage is a lot like the Emmy awards in the fact that cable channels trounce the broadcast ones.

The Science Channel: This network is going to cover the eclipse completely in a program called “The Great American Eclipse”.  And in a departure from what the commercial broadcasters are doing, this program will be hosted by actual astronomers.  And, if that isn’t enough, there will be a recap show that evening.

The Weather Channel: The one channel on just about every cable system is doing quite a bit of coverage on eclipse day.  Their special “Total Solar Eclipse” will feature coverage from all over the eclipse track as well as from a ship off South Carolina.  And they are prepared.  In the event of bad weather at any location, NASA-TV coverage will be used as backup.

Of course, this information may be subject to change between now and the eclipse.  So, if you can’t see totality or are clouded out, keep an eye on the TV listings.  But, if you are where the eclipse is visible, don’t forget to see it for yourself (using proper safety methods).

Advertisements

The Video Some Newsletter Editors Didn’t Want People to See

Today, is September 13th (at least I am writing this on the 13th though it may be actually posted a little later as I am trying to get video embedding to work).  Back when my astronomy club still had a newsletter (as of this writing it has been dormant for months with no end in sight), I had a regular column and every September I would have an article pertaining to the Moon.  I am starting a similar tradition on this blog, but it will be on September 13th.

The reason for this is to honor(?) the greatest lunar explosion that never happened except in the imagination of the late Gerry Anderson (1929-2012), a British TV producer who had a thing for puppets that prompted him to devise (and be the only person to use) a technique called “Supermarionation” in no less than four TV series (“Captain Scarlet”, “Fireball XL-5”, “Stingray”, and “Thunderbirds”).  Anderson also had a fondness for blowing things up that might have inspired Michael Bay.  In addtion to his puppet work, Anderson also had two live action TV series: “UFO” and “Space: 1999”.  On the latter series, Anderson imagined that the Moon would be used as a gigantic version of the waste repository the U.S. government wanted to put inside Yucca Mountain.  And on September 13th, 1999, the whole kit and kaboodle exploded (evidently inspired by reports of a 1957 waste dump explosion in the Soviet Union) and launched the Moon and a dysfunctional group of humans on a crazy ride where every week they ran into aliens who were even more dysfunctional.  Since I like to connect seemingly unconnectable things, I figured a lunar article every September would be the perfect way to thumb my nose at Anderson and his special effects laden but quality-challenged series (or honor it – either way works).

So, in one of those lunar columns, I thought it would be fun to put in a link to a rather hilarious video that a group called “Ill-Conceived Productions” created that raked the series over the comedic coals by taking clips from the series and turning them into an old style black and white silent movie, complete with simulated film degradation, title cards and piano music soundtrack.  But, when the column ran in the actual newsletter, the link and explanatory text were missing.

Turns out this wasn’t an accidental omission.  It seems the newsletter editor at the time (actually it was the individual who gave him his marching orders) decided not to include it since they felt the humor would go over the heads of kids.  Evidently, this person has hung around Cub and Boy Scouts so long that they had this delusion that kids actually read the newsletter.  Actually, the newsletter had more readers among the Grays and Reptilians (non-existent UFO aliens) than it did among the kiddie set.  Come to think of it, it didn’t have a big readership, period.

Fortunately, that newsletter editor and his boss do not have any jurisdiction over this blog.  So, here is the video.  In case anyone is wondering, the cast of the series was evidently cool with the video, at least that is what I heard from Martin Landau (Commander John Koenig on the series) himself.  Enjoy.

In case the embedded video doesn’t work for you, here is the direct Youtube link as well as the Metacafe version