HDTV, Whitemail, Ice Production

Hey, Matt: I’m disappointed in current HDTV and 4:3-aspect television. I cannot see any difference between the old and the new, quality wise, except people now appear even fatter. Can I blame AT&T U-Verse, or is this common? However, I am astounded by the vivid colors on CSI: Miami, HD or non-HD. Why can’t (or won’t) all the other programming look that good? — itsmechuck, via email

For this one, we had to drag out the elves’ aluminum-foil techie hats, the ones with the coax chin straps and rabbit-ears toppers. They sat in a circle in a spot in the dining room where they say they get the best reception while I checked in with our staff tech rep. We all decided we weren’t sure about your TV setup. You have high-def TV service playing on a 4:3-aspect TV — with the big black lines at the top and bottom of the screen? HDTV-aspect ratio is 16:9 (16 units wide, 9 units high). The 4:3 aspect is our old, squareish screen with about a fifth the number of pixels as a high-def screen. If that’s the case, then your TV is downgrading the quality of the incoming signal to accommodate your pixel deficiency, so something’s gotta give. Picture quality is probably one of them. We may have misunderstood your situation, but a 4:3-aspect screen isn’t going to give you the best HD picture.

If you actually do have a wide, 16:9 HDTV screen and you’re still disappointed with the picture quality, it might be that every channel you get is digital but not necessarily high-def digital. (Depends in part on the broadcasters and on AT&T.) And some channels that are high-def during some viewing hours and just digital the rest of the time. And according to some scuttlebutt the elves captured, some other U-verse customers are unhappy with their picture quality in some areas. Might have something to do with how AT&T compresses its signal to fit more into its bandwidth.

As for your CSI question, we can give you a definitive answer. We have the inside dope from one of the show’s several directors. Yes, CSI is screamingly vivid. Intentionally so. Super-saturated colors, tweaked in postproduction to jump off the screen into your eyebones. Bright, bright primaries and secondaries. Blues are too, too blue. Orange? Pure Halloween.

When the show was still just a discussion around a big table, it was decided that to attract the audience they wanted (the delicious, nutritious, juicy 18- to 35-year-old males), they would try to duplicate an environment they know and like. A bar or dance club, maybe. With bright colored lights. Friendly and familiar to the males’ eyememories, to subliminally excite them and make them want to dial in and watch. So, does CSI make you want to cut a rug or hit on a chick? The producers hope so. Think of all those postproduction techies jiggering the pixels just for you.

Matthew: So what’s with blackmail? If it’s the opposite of whitemail, then what’s whitemail? I’m not planning anything. Just wondering exactly where blackmail came from. — Good Citizen Matt, via email

Well, yeah, blackmail is the opposite of whitemail, ’smatterafact. Naturally, we have to go back a century or four to figure out where it came from. Four centuries and several thousand miles. So, you’re a grubby, low-down farmer in Scotland in the 17th Century, workin’ like a dog for the clan chieftain who owns your land. You pay him rent (Scottish word for rent: mail). You pay him in coins (Scottish word for coins: white money). Your rent is whitemail. But rent’s not nearly enough for the chieftain. If you don’t cough up more dough, he’ll come through and smash your fields and your house and whatnot. The grumbling farmers paid up, and of course they called the payments “blackmail.” The term might have been lost to time had it not been so darn handy in the days when the rich got richer and the poor helped the rich get richer. Say, that sounds familiar.

Hi, Matt: I recently was looking at an episode of Little House on the Prairie where they needed ice to get rid of a fever. My question is how did they produce ice in those days without electricity? — Joe Wayton, El Cajon

Grab a ice saw, Joe. We’re a-headin’ out ta the cow pond. Should be good an froze-up by now, I rekkin. We be needin’ three-foot ice blocks, so start a-cuttin’. Then we’ll lug ’em onto the sled an’ drag ’em ta the ice house, out by the barn. Put down a couple-a inches a sawdust, then ice, then sawdust, then ice. We need mebby six inches a sawdust on the top. Block summer heat, ya know. Keep the milk cold. G’night, John-Boy. G’night, Joe.

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