Shameless fascination with the A&W helium commercial

I know it seems odd to be posting a television commercial after such a hiatus from posting, but there is something of a mass media critic in me that is fascinated with this ad.

Prior to doing what I do these days, I got my name on a couple of awards from the Advertising Federation of Cedar Rapids for some stuff I helped write and produce during my days at KRUI. Small achievements that almost had me consider getting into the advertising realm for a short period of time, especially if I could be creative as this commercial.

Ryan Beil - A&W funny guy at the 2010 Jessie Awards in Vancouver (photo by miss604 on Flickr)
This is where I find this ad to be somewhat brilliant. Maybe I’m in the minority of people who watch this commercial and laugh each time it pops on, and that’s even after it’s being re-used in a carbon-copy campaign right now that ran at least a year ago. I think that speaks to how well the creative was done on this commercial, not to mention a bit of pure luck.

In an era where it seems that Geico has 50 mascots and 20 spokesmen, you can develop creative to your heart’s content, come up with a funny script, and use all the CGI in the world, but the chances of having that single cut where the balloon shoots off the helium tank and deflates on the manager’s shoulder as perfectly as it does in that single shot is something that doesn’t just happen when you want it to. As soon as it cuts away to the product shot at the end, you have to imagine that the whole set burst out laughing.

“It’s a party! Everyone’s invited! Bring your kids!”

Maybe I dissect too much of what I take in terms of media, but hamburgers are something I certainly don’t ingest these days. However, it never hurts to laugh a little and appreciate another aspect of creativity.

A bad day at the station

In my time in radio, I’ve been apart of my fair share of absolute train wrecks. Those broadcasts that start off innocent but head straight down the drain. On the air, it all works out and everyone does their best to maintain some sort of professionalism so it looks like what happened was supposed to happen, but behind the scenes, everything has gone to shit.

Global BC’s noon newscast had that happen this past Monday, and they played this one off beautifully.

Dare I say, this video has a good chance of going viral

Getting over the air (OTA) digital television (DTV) in Vancouver

For Christmas, Rebecca and I decided to upgrade our TV and move into the digital television age. Our previous TV was graciously given to us by our friends Gus and Russ shortly after I moved here when they upgraded as well. The present to ourselves wasn’t an easy one in terms of picking one out, but we were finally able to settle on a great 40″ Samsung that we found at London Drug.

Before I continue, let me just say that everyone should do their research when purchasing a TV like this. It’s not as much as finding out what is out there but what you can get in terms of where you can buy and the models they have in stock. When asking if this Samsung had a built-in digital turner for over the air reception of digital television signals (which is the main point of this post), no one had the answer. In fact, they even told me that the only way you could get HDTV, especially in the U.S. after February DTV switch(FAQ), was if you have cable, and if you didn’t have cable, then you wouldn’t be able to get HDTV at all.

I’m a broadcast technician in my day job. I worked along side TV engineers for Iowa Public Television and witnessed first hand as their transmitter site in West Branch, Iowa got massively overhauled for the DTV transition. Don’t let these sales people convince you of this false information, and I would bet that cable companies would prefer if everyone thought this. Over the air (OTA) digital television (DTV) is very possible, and more importantly, it’s free.

It wasn’t until I found the following video on YouTube until I started getting really excited about making our purchase. Everything in baby steps, and we weren’t going to do the upgrade all at once in terms of getting a HD box for our cable and bump up the monthly payments. However, if I could make my own antenna and get OTA DTV, then that is something to be excited about, even if there is only three digital stations in Vancouver so far.

This video sounded too good to be true, and poking around found a lot of people reporting success with it. While on our vacation in Iowa at the beginning on this month, I decided to take on a test with my parents’ television and built this contraption. Unfortunately it only worked well on the second floor of the house due to their location in a river valley. That’s not to say that it didn’t work at all. They just need to put an antenna up on the roof and everything will be peachy, but it worked like a charm otherwise.

I dismantled my prototype, threw the metal parts in our checked luggage, and put it back together when we got back to Vancouver. The result was this.

My homemade over the air (OTA) HDTV antenna

Living in the west end of Vancouver, we’re in a prime location to receive OTA DTV signals since Mt. Seymour is home to nearly everyone who broadcasts TV or FM signals. It’s worth noting, without getting overly technical about it, that UHF and VHF frequencies generally travel in a line of sight manner, and cement and wood can be problematic for reception.

My homemade over the air (OTA) HDTV antenna I took some of the extra pieces of the metal clothes hangers and fashioned a way to hang this in one of our windows. There has been some thick fog covering the city for about the past week, and it has caused some minor issues in terms of reception. Being that DTV is all or none, you shift the antenna a little and the picture pops back on in full glory. This little hook allows me to place it nearly where ever I want to.

Just for some extra proof, I snapped some photos during the newscast last night on CBC.

Camera shots of CBC HD from my homemade OTA DTV antenna

Camera shots of CBC HD from my homemade OTA DTV antenna

Honestly, since I can see this in HD for free, it makes me want to watch the news. The pretty, pretty news…

Camera shots of CBC HD from my homemade OTA DTV antenna

Currently in Vancouver, there are only three networks transmitting DTV signals, and you might find some U.S. signals from Washington state depending on your location in the lower mainland.

  • CBC – CH. 58.1
  • Global – CH. 22.2
  • CTV – CH. 33.1
  • Omni – CH. 42.1

My homemade over the air (OTA) HDTV antenna It’s not much in terms of selection. However, you might notice that OTA signals give a slightly better picture quality due to the lack of compression that you have occurring through your cable connection or digital satellite, so there is give and take. Not much selection, but three channels in eye popping quality, at least with their programming is in HD as well. Hopefully more stations come on line with DTV transmitters in the coming months, especially as Canada prepares for its own digital transition on August 31, 2011.

Update as of April 14, 2009: I found this great list of television stations in British Columbia on Wikipedia that has details on all terrestrial TV broadcasters as well as the digital channels they have been asigned. Took me a while to figure it out, but anything highlighted in red is currently “dark” until those stations do something with them.

Update as of December 30, 2009: Thanks to the comment from John Davis below, it appears that Omni is now running their digital signal on channel 42.1, but it doesn’t appear that they are broadcasting any digital programming at this time. I’ve also added this to the list of channels I am able to receive with my antenna as noted above.

Update as of January 10, 2010: Comments have seemed to trickle in on this post a lot as Christmas must have seen Santa bring the gift of new TV’s to people’s homes? Regardless, as the reports come in of where they built this antenna, I whipped up a Google Map to pinpoint what people are getting from their areas in the lower mainland.

View OTA HDTV Reception in Lower Mainland, B.C. in a larger map

Update as of January 6, 2012: It continues to amaze me how popular this post is in term of the comments that keep coming in. I just have a few things I’d like to add to respond to some comments as well as provide some addition information.

First, you cannot get cable based channels by switching to over the air digital television. You are at the mercy of what is being transmitted over the air in your area. This means, in terms of the Vancouver market, you can get CTV, CTV2 (formerly A Channel), CityTV, and CBC, but you won’t be able to view CBC News Network, TSN, Sportsnet, Discovery Channel, BBC World, or other various cable channels. This is just like the days of have two or three TV stations that you could only pick up with a pair of “rabbit ear” antenna, but much better quality.

Perhaps if Canada ever adopts digital subchannel broadcasts, local stations could provide some of those channels on those already established frequencies. Why this isn’t being done in Canada already is beyond me, but it would make so much sense to do so. I already knew this was coming in the DTV transition in the U.S. before I moved to Canada and always marvel at its availability when visiting my family back home.

I always like to look at the regional ABC affiliate KCRG. Their implementation of subchannels has allowed them to push more local programming to their 9.2 channel, promoting local high school sports, locally produced programs, and so on. Or if you missed their morning or evening newscasts on 9.1, they rerun it on 9.2 at various points throughout the day.

At least if CBC Vancouver were to employ digital subchannels, they could put their CBC News Network, Documentary, and Bold networks on a signal frequency. Then it would look something like:

  • 2.1 – CBC Vancouver
  • 2.2 – CBC News Network
  • 2.3 – Bold
  • 2.4 – Documentary

Remember that this is strictly hypothetical and is not in current operation. However, you could see how this would provide even more content over the air than just the single channels currently being broadcast in the Vancouver market. CTV could even do this with channels like CTV News Network, TSN, or RDS, being they are all apart of the same parent company. And to think it out further, imagine CityTV putting CityNews Channel and SportsNet on some side channels since they are also all owned by the same company.

And finally, I found this website that take the same concept that I’ve employed in here and added an extra element to the construction of the antenna. The idea is to add a reflector to the antenna to boost it’s signal reception, which makes a lot of sense upon first examination. I have yet to try to implement this, so take it for what you will.

Going from the U.S. to Canada, watching the Beijing 2008 Olympics on TV the whole way

When we were in Kansas City last week, the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics started. During our time there, every TV we were around seemed to be tuned into the games. Pretty much everyone was talking about the opening ceremonies, and my family nearly dropped everything to find a TV to watch the amazing show they put on to kick off the games.

Photo by Kris Krug
Photo credit: Kris Krug on Flickr

Quite honestly, I love the Olympics. Winter or summer, I get glued to anything and everything. I think it basically comes down to the competition of the world’s best, and it only happens every four years. I really dig that. Well, maybe not curling just yet (maybe Vancouver 2010 will change that), but the rest of it is pretty cool.

In various hotel rooms and living rooms of my relatives, it was NBC, MSNBC, and USA Network to flip between and feed the need. According to my brother, who is very into digital satellite and HD, he had access to a few more extra channels of continuous Olympics coverage, but that’s extra that you have to pay compared to this standard trio of channels that most cable TV subscribers get.

Being on vacation, I can’t complain about the coverage too much because we were on a trip to see my family and enjoy KCMO. Still, when we could, we caught what we could of the games, whatever events were being shown. Combined with some incredible coverage by our Raincity Studio pals Kris Krug and Robert Scales, renowned new media gurus on the ground in Beijing, we were keeping up just fine and dandy.

Photo by Kris Krug
Photo credit: Kris Krug on Flickr

Come back to Vancouver, and the scope of coverage changes dramatically on TV. Of course, it’s all CBC back in Canada, but the amount of coverage and the way they do it is significantly better. (Hint: get proxy access and watch their streaming coverage)

On the CBC, you do see more events that you probably wouldn’t see on NBC’s coverage, and a lot of that is due to the precedence that comes from showing as much U.S. athletes as possible. If there is a game of beach volleyball between two countries in an elimination round and one of them isn’t the U.S., you’re probably not going to see it unless it’s for a medal. You’ll get highlights, but you probably didn’t get to watch China take out Austria today like we did on CBC. You might get the highlights though.

Do I care about any of those teams? Not really, but it was a good match, regardless of how bad the Austrians played. Oh man, and it was really bad.

One thing we have access to back in Vancouver is a NBC affiliate in Detroit and Seattle, giving us both east and west coast coverage. Basically, all of the “live” coverage that the east coast gets is mostly prerecorded live and run in prime time. That makes sense because NBC wants to maximize their audience (which mostly means maximize profits so they can jack up the prices to advertisers who run their commercials during those events at the most inconvenient time).

On the other hand, CBC seems to be running as much as they can in real time. East coast runs the desk in Beijing until it’s time for the west coast prime time to kick in. They’re subtle about stuff that is tape delayed, but they hardly call it “live”.

Ron McLean has even been up front about some airing of events being tape delayed. I’m fine with that. There are so many events, there is no way that you can show everything all at once. Even at work I’ve turned on Radio-Canada in the background just so I can see the events. I don’t understand a lick of French, but they run a lot through the day to give me my fix, much of it being repeated over and over until Toronto kicks back in with English.

Duane shared this post with me, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one feeling this. To say that Russell Beattie is somewhat upset with NBC’s coverage is slightly understated, and he goes on to point out numerous reasons that makes a lot of sense to me in hindsight, especially in comparison with the coverage I see on CBC now.

The absolute blind rage I’m experiencing trying to view the Olympics is going to give me a fucking embolism. I was already prepared for the worst from NBC, who have fucked up the last 3 Olympic games coverage, but I honestly couldn’t have imagined how evil and extortionary they have become. [russellbeattie]

I’m not going to say that what NBC has done so far with these games is wrong, right, better, or worse, but once you are able to get away from it, you have to wonder about how much better it could be done.

Since everything is shown in the evening prime time, there is no stopping everything in the middle of your work day to watch some amazing, breath stopping event. There is no cohesion with the world in being in that one, true moment of greatness. This does not represent the “one world” notion that the Olympics is meant to be.

We watched Michael Phelps win his 8th gold medal when it happened. It wasn’t shown on the west coast feed on NBC until four hours later. We saw highlights from the end of the womens marathon on CBC just a few hours after it was over, but we were able to watch the end of it “live” nearly five hours later on NBC.

I’m not sure how you change it, but there is something being lost by the way NBC is conducting their control over how the U.S. gets Olympic coverage. I’m not sure that many Americans even know it.

Fenway Park cameraman shows off his expensive toy of a day job

This is pretty wicked. Found this via Robert Scoble who found it via Jakob Lodwick, and what we have here is an incredible video that was put together by Tom Guilmette who is not only an avid video enthusiast, but his day job is being a camera man in the outfield at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

This short video is a small tour of the camera he uses to do his job, and the camera he used to make this video blog of sorts isn’t anything to sneeze at as well.

Fenway HD Camera – Sony HDC-910 – Canon 75x from Tom Guilmette on Vimeo.

I would love to be able to do something like this with my day job, but in all honestly, radio is not as pretty and it sounds. No seriously, it sounds way better than what it technically takes to make radio happen.

CityTV in Toronto punished for using Flickr photos and not giving proper credit to owner

CityTV in Toronto had a great story. Burglar gets caught in the act by home owner, attempts to get away by leaping off balcony, busts his leg, and someone snaps pictures of the poor sap while he lays on the ground as cops are called and arrive to the scene. What avid Flickr user Joel Charlebois did with the photos afterward is the real story.

When CityTV heard him mention that he was going to post the photos to Flickr, they not only checked them out but used them in a news story. Problem is, there was no mention of the person who took the images. This is also known as a violation of copyright. As any good Flickr user and avid photographer will tell you (like Duane did on his blog post on this same topic), you protect the things you love. Yes, you can protect your photos on Flickr with a copyright, and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council agreed with the complaint brought against CityTV.

Charlebois, displeased, took his case to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), and today, nine months after the complaint was filed, a majority of the National Specialty Services Panel found that City’s broadcast did indeed violate the Association of Electronic Journalists of Canada’s RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, which states that “Plagiarism is unacceptable. Broadcast journalists will strive to honour the intellectual property of others, including video and audio materials.” (The full decision is here.) The panel took particular issue with the lack of credit to Charlebois, stating that “the broadcaster knew full well the identity of the photographer whose still shots were used in the news report,” an omission that they deemed unfair, for news reporting or otherwise. (They note that the American RTNDA states that “professional electronic journalists should…clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders.”)

As a result, City must issue a rare on-air statement at least twice, during prime time, over the next ten days. That statement will follow a script set by the CBSC, stating that, in part, the news organization breached the aforementioned Code of Ethics and “included three still photographs of the injured burglar without providing any credit to the photographer, whose identity was known to the broadcaster. By failing to provide that accreditation, the broadcaster has failed to honour the intellectual property rights of the photographer.” [torontoist]

What is important to me on this story is that intellectual property was protected as it should be, no matter how it is being utilized. On top of that, it gives comfort to know that mainstream media will be held accountable for violations of copyrighted material. It’s not a full safety net, but that means that even the little guy stands a chance against big media companies when it comes to protecting your content.

Even Charlebois admits in the story that all he was really concerned about was the proper accreditation, not the punishment handed down to CityTV. I think it’s interesting to note that there is very little discussion of fines or compensation.

Rebecca to represent on CBC’s Test The Nation

CBC Test The Nation Rebecca left this morning for a whirlwind weekend in Toronto and an appearance on CBC’s Test The Nation television program. She got the call a few weeks ago to participate on the team of bloggers, going up against other groups like taxi drivers and celebrity lookalikes, to see who knows their trivia better. Viewers can also participate to see how they measure up.

The program airs live on CBC, January 20th at 8PM. Of course, it will actually live for the east coast, and then we’ll get the tape delayed version here in Vancouver. We don’t have access to an east coast feed, so I’ll have to wait for the pacific time airing, unless someone out east puts it up on bittorrent right after it airs, wink wink nudge nudge.

Going to the CBC’s website for the event, the picture that represents the bloggers team is laughable. How much more slarm can you cram into that generic, over-stereotyped photo?

Team: Bloggers For the love of god, CBC, get someone like Kris Krug to shoot you some real photos and ditch the bubblegum sets for these things. Seriously, it looks like a promo shot for a new CBC television show, Blogger Force 5!

And what the hell are they all looking at?

I have full trust that Rebecca is going to rock this thing. She is always kicking my butt in anything trivia or Scrabble related, plus she’s basically taught me everything I’ve come to know about Vancouver to Canada in general. She puts up with my stupid questions by knowing everything I don’t, but it goes both ways when it comes to various topics pertaining to the U.S.

So I’ve finally played Guitar Hero

dad you are so lucky i didn't buy you that for plant watering
Photo credit: gusgreeper on Flickr

While hanging out at Muffin’s house last Tuesday, I finally broke down and tried my hand at Guitar Hero[wiki]. Yes, it was the first edition of the game, but the bigger point is that I’ve tried my hand at this thing that has seemed to grip the gaming nation. I’ve been suckered into the Mario Kart[wiki] realms in the past and watched the disturbing rise of Dance Dance Revolution[wiki].

The Adam and Corinna are big GH fans, and I’ve never mustered up the extreme interest in picking up an axe and trying my hand at the game. The game looks and sounds like fun, but it never stuck me as something I really wanted to try. Stick me in front of a gaming console with a hockey game of some sort and you might have me asking for a try, even though I’ll have no clue how to play.

So, I’ve finally tried it. I had already thought that by knowing how to play bass and a little guitar would cause some conflict, and that was slightly the case. There is something to be said about having rhythm, and then it’s another story when you have to hit the right buttons when the game calls for it. To me, that’s more timing than the groove you kinda get when you are jamming on your guitar or bass. It kinda threw me at first, but I adjusted.

However, did you catch the recent episode of South Park about Guitar Hero? The part where they say something to the effect that it would be amazing what these kids could do if they spent all that time and energy learning how to actually play guitar versus playing a video game where they pretend. Made me laugh pretty hard.

And then Randy where he plays the game in his underwear. That was hilarious, but happened to me on the second time I tried my hand at the game, even on easy level. Of course, I wasn’t nearly naked when I did it, but maybe I should try that and see if I improve. Maybe it will make me man enough to tackle GH two or three now.

BitTorrenting in some Finnish league hockey


The beautiful thing about BitTorrent[wiki] is that it allows us to pretend that we have a DVR. Well, in Vancouver, they are known as PVR, but it’s that digital video box that is so much sweeter than what a VCR ever was or can be.

Anyhow, on one of the many sites that I watch for the latest torrents that I want to grab, something popped up that caught my eye. It said “Finland” and “hockey” somewhere in the title, and there was also a “vs” in it as well. I’ve heard a lot about the Swedish, Finnish, and Swiss leagues that NHL players jump ship to play in, so I thought I would download it to see what it was.


Sure enough, it was a Finnish league hockey game, and the broadcast was entirely in the native language. HD, widescreen format with sound that had some killer, stereo quality sound. Who ever did this rip, did it with passion, and the broadcast wasn’t half that bad either.


I didn’t get a chance to watch the whole game because I was going through the collection of stuff that has been accumulating for us to watch prior to recording the latest episode of The Crazy Canucks last night. I actually needed to help free up space on my hard drive, so I parsed through it rather quick. That’s not to say that I wasn’t able to make a few observations, if not get a feel for how the game went.


First and foremost, the amount of logos on the jerseys of the players should make any NHL fan rejoice that we don’t have to endure such blatant advertising. The arena wasn’t the biggest, but the home team made quite the noise when the home team scored. I think they were the ones in the blue and orange uniforms, but I don’t really know if they were SaiPa[wiki] or Tappara[wiki].

Checking into those Wikis, there are a couple of players on these respective teams from B.C. and Minnesota. Some good ol’ North American hockey kids, dontcha’ know, eh?


Both of these teams, finding this information out while writing this post, are in the SM-liiga[wiki] in Finland. Interestingly enough, this league is regarded in Europe the same way that the NHL is thought of in North America. Playing at this level is nothing to scoff at, and watching some of the action is evidence of that. International rules or not, these guys can play.


So Tappara won, and I think I’m pretty confident that they are the guys in those blue and orange uniforms, but now I’m second guessing myself and saying that the home rink was that of the guys in yellow and black. Or was it yellow and blue?

I don’t understand a lick of Finnish, so there is no way I can say for certain as to who was who, but 4-2 was the final score, Tappara was the winner. The guys in orange and blue. At least our numerics cross language boundaries.

Thank you, mysterious Finnish league hockey fan, for taking the time to put this out there for me to discover. Like I said, I’ve only heard about these leagues but never have had the chance to really get any exposure to it. On top of that, the announcers are fun to listen to, even if you can’t understand the language. Granted that it’s no Mexican league futbol match in terms of the quality and entertaining play-by-play, but these folks get just as excited.

I mentioned it in the recent episode of The Crazy Canucks, but the NHL should really do more with the technology of bittorrent. I’m not the first one to promote or come up with the idea, but it just might help grow exposure to the league if you make games available like this as soon as they are complete. Posting games to Google Video three days after they happen is… well… hmm, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, they’re easy to forget about.

Finland, you’ve got some good stuff over there. You make me want to come visit the home of Sami Salo[wiki] and stay for the hockey.

Now you can watch lacking Canucks PPV on an even bigger screen

Hold on to your hats, the Canucks are coming to a big screen near you.

Forget Hockey Night in Canada, how about Hockey Night on the big screen? Cineplex Entertainment is bringing back Canucks pay-per-view games as a regular feature in select theatres across BC.

The idea was first tried out last year, and Cineplex says it’s been successful enough to warrant a sequel. The next “big screen” game is on Sunday, when the boys take on the Blue Jackets. [news1130]

As incredibly cool and nonintoxicating as that sounds, why would you want to watch a standard definition broadcast of a hockey game on a huge screen? Changes are coming to Canucks Pay-Per-View, but it’s still the same, over priced dribble that we have watched for the past two seasons. It could be longer than that, but I haven’t watched it for that long.

Come on, PPV people! I get that we don’t have to watch commercials, but what else do we get besides that? John Shorthouse and Tom Larschied? Yeah, that’s cool, but there could be a whole lot more.

Dare I say it, but TSN does some cool stuff by having their guys down on ice level, smack dab in between the benches. Or how about cameras on ice level? Give me a Fin cam or something more than just your standard Sportsnet broadcast with static cameras.

It’s not about being flashy or bells and whistles. I’m just saying that you could make a lot more money if people really got primo content from PPV. I don’t mind visiting our friends on the north shore to watch the game on their huge DLP TV, but if we couldn’t make it over, we’d live with listening to the radio.

The green graphics and the in between period set where Dan Murphy hangs out is nice, but that’s it? Should have spent more money on going HD, and that’s a whole other gripe.