Sunday, November 30, 2008

Communication: the key to success

I got my affairs in order yesterday. Picked out the clothes I would be wearing to work today, clothes that would be comfortable for working on four DVD presses for twelve hours at a clip in an environment which could possibly run hot and cold at different times of the day. Made my lunch, all assembled and bagged and ready to go. Set my alarms for 3:00 this morning. Called the overtime/layoff information hotline to confirm that may name was not on the layoff list. Got to bed by 9:30, though I tossed and turned and didn't finally fade into unconsciousness until well after 11:00. Had a dream that involved going to some sort of a convention with a bunch of my friends, including friends from the Internet. I was climbing the stairs of the hotel when a horrible noise pierced my consciousness.

What the hell is that?, I wondered.

Of course, it was my alarm. I bounced out of bed, made a pot of coffee, ate a bowl of cereal and had a mug of coffee and a glass of juice. Took a shower, started the car so it could de-ice, came back inside for a second mug of coffee. Called the layoff/overtime recording again to verify that my name was not on the layoff list. Was on the road by 4:50 so I could get to work well ahead of my 6:00 AM start.

Obeyed the speed limit the whole way there, especially through the construction zones. Not much traffic anyway. Got to the plant around 5:35. Killed time for a bit. Went in. Put my lunch in the refrigerator. Punched in at 5:42. Went to the office to get my assignment.

Punched out at 5:52 and headed home. Seems nobody in the office knew I was coming back today, and they were fully staffed without me. So I'm on layoff today. Maybe tomorrow, too, and the rest of the rotation, and the rotation after that.


Speaking of communication, the DTV changeover is still being planned for February 17. After the collapse of the economy, I kinda thought that this transition might be postponed a bit.

Let's do a Fermi estimate of the economic impact of this transition:

  • Say there are 100 million households with TVs in the U.S. I have no idea if that is high - assuming on average three people to a household - or low.
  • Now assume 50% of those households never ever draw any signals from the air. So that leaves us with 50 million households that sometimes get signals from the air.
  • Now assume half of those households have relatively new televisions that are capable of receiving DTV signals. (Even if these televisions are so equipped, are they connected to antennas capable of picking up the DTV signals?) So now we are left with 25 million households that get signals from the air at least some of the time and are not equipped to get DTV signals.
  • Now imagine that every one of these 25 million households buys one converter box. How much are the converter boxes? I don't know. But the coupons are good for $40 off the cost of the box, so let's assume the cost of the converter boxes is somewhere from $50 for a basic model to $100 for a fancy one, requiring a consumer outlay* of $10 - $60. Let's guesstimate very conservatively (and for the sake of an easy calculation) that the average cost to the consumer is $20.
  • So this leaves us with a consumer outlay of $500 million for the privilege of continuing to watch "free" television over the air.
Is this high? Low? I don't know. It ignores the cost of new televisions and antennas, and of getting connected to cable and satellite providers to avoid the issue entirely. It ignores the landfill space that will now be occupied by all the handheld and portable televisions that have internal antennas and cannot be connected to converters and will effectively become paperweights and boat anchors next February 17.

Now for the fun part: Who the heck gets signals from over the air, anyway? A lot of people, actually. They tend to come from the lower economic strata of society - the poor, the elderly, the people living in places that are unserved by cable. How many residents in nursing homes have their own televisions to keep them company in their waning years? How many of these televisions will go to static on February 17, cutting off the residents' last connection to the outside world? How many coupons will be assigned to each nursing home? Who will go out and buy converter boxes for the residents? Who will connect them? Who will bear the cost of this?

It's coming. Nobody is planning on putting the brakes on this thing until after the economy recovers. Are we ready to make this investment?

*And who do you think funded the converter box coupons in the first place?

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