Light is Right Joe Campbell

I prefer waves to wires. It doesn’t matter. Wires prevailed.


For more than half a century, I received my television programs over the air, free of charge, via radio waves. Now I get them on the ground, for a price, via telephone wires. This, I realize, is a step backward, technologically and financially. Wireless is on the cutting edge and free of charge is how I like to cut it.

But the advent of digital transmission and high definition TV induced me to alter the frugality of a lifetime. The technological shift rendered my analogue TV set obsolete. Although I could have upgraded it, I stood to lose a channel if I persisted in intercepting programs without paying for them. Since I had only three channels to begin with, I bought a digital, high definition TV and opted for wire-based reception and more channels than anyone should have to endure.

To enhance the visual and audio quality of my DVDs, I bought a blu-ray player and a sound bar. Oh, yes, and I hired the lad who sold me the three units to install them. He also taught me, or thought he did, how to use the remote control devices that purported to operate them.

No sooner had he left than I discovered a pecking order. The sound bar remote reserved to itself the privilege of turning the TV on and off. It also insisted on controlling the volume of the entire assembly. The TV remote was allowed to select channels and the blu-ray remote had permission to turn its unit on and off. But these concessions made my work no easier. I still had to operate all three remotes to watch a DVD.

It took a couple of weeks for the service provider to add me to its network of telephone lines. In the meantime, I continued to enjoy free programming. I didn’t enjoy coping with conflicting aspect ratios, as the rectangular TV distorted images intended for a square screen.

When I watched football, the wide receivers looked like defensive tackles. When a commercial interrupted the game, the once lithe lady who promoted a weight loss diet looked as if she had fallen off the wagon. Playing DVDs didn’t help. With an extra forty pounds, Fred Astaire no longer ranked first among dancers I enjoyed. Nobody did, as my entire collection of Hollywood musicals flirted with obesity. I used to carry the collection in a large suitcase. Now, I wondered if I could lift it.

I solved the problem by hiding the sound bar remote and letting the other two run wild. The three of us, the two remotes and I, figured out how to summon black borders to turn the rectangle into a square for both TV and DVD viewing. This got rid of the lard.

The assembly was now ready to join my laptop and telephone as part of the wired world, or so I believed. The first technician to arrive—there were three of them—strung wires, brooded over phone jacks and introduced me to another remote. Oh well, I thought, as a child I learned to juggle three tennis balls. As an adult I should be able to juggle four remotes.

Shortly after the technician left, the phone rang. Nothing unusual about a phone call, except that when my wife answered it the laptop went off line and the TV refused to acknowledge my limited instructions through the new remote.

Over the objections of the laptop and TV, I completed a call to the service provider for help. After making a preliminary diagnosis, the representative I reached dispatched the second technician.

On his arrival, a couple of days later, he persuaded the telephone to co-operate with the laptop and TV. Not being technically inclined, I have no idea how he did it. Although he tried, he failed to make peace among the remotes. Not being electronically inclined, I have no idea why he didn’t do it.

Despite the unruly remotes, the assembly worked well enough. Even the aspect ratios shifted automatically between standard and high definition images.

When I accepted, at a price, an arrangement that allowed me to record TV movies directly to a set-top box, the service provider dispatched the third technician. I wanted to record movies that ran at awkward hours and re-play them at my convenience. The technician said the provider made it simple enough for an idiot to do. After he left, I tried recording a couple of musicals scheduled to run on different channels after midnight, and I proved him right.