Thursday, March 15, 2012
My Least Favorite Day
Let me back up and explain...
More than a year ago, our local cable system made the switch from an analog/digital broadcast format to an all digital broadcast format. Once that switch was made, any TV without a digital tuner (i.e. any TV more than 3 or 4 years old) could no longer display the digital only signals getting pumped through the cable. In my school district, virtually every TV is more than four years old. As such, on that day a year and a half ago, ALL of those TV's went dark.
The cable company, though, is required by law to provide cable TV for free to classrooms, so they sent to every school an analog to digital converter, one for each TV in the building. Sounds like a great solution, right? Except for one thing: These digital tuners require a much stronger signal than do the tuners built into the analog TV's. And the cable signals in our buildings are infamously weak. In the new wing of the high school, each classroom cable is split by a signal amplifier, which attaches to the electrical power of the building and increases the gain of the signal, but in all of the rest of the high school and in all of the rest of the buildings, the cables are split with 22 cent coaxial splitters, and they're usually split time after time after time, making for a VERY weak signal.
If an analog TV has a weak signal, it will still display the picture. It will be snowy, sure, but it will still display the signal. With a digital tuner, though, a weak signal isn't shown AT ALL. And that's what happened in the majority of our classrooms throughout the district. Sure, we could have purchased signal amplifiers for each building at the cost of thousands upon thousands of dollars, but when I went to the building administrators with this possibility, they immediately nixed the issue.
"Who cares?" one of them said in our monthly administrators' meeting. "No one watches cable TV in class, anyway. Everything's United Streaming" [an educational streaming service that the state of Kentucky provides to every Kentucky public school] "or YouTube or something like that." The other administrators all agreed that this wasn't an issue worth worrying about. Some even said they were glad that the cable was gone from the classroom because now they didn't have to worry about walking in on teacher's in their classrooms on their planning periods who were watching soap operas. So everything was rosy.
Until the first day of the men's NCAA basketball tournament. On that day, the same principal who had said to me that no one watches cable TV anyway called me and said, "Bryan, can you do whatever your magic is so that we can watch basketball over here?" I had to inform him that--despite his apparent misconception that I was a supernatural creature--I did not, in fact, have any magic that could make a weak digital cable signal work on an analog TV. He was actually pretty angry with me. "You KNEW this was going to be a problem, didn't you?" he shouted. "Well, then, will you unblock the CBS website so that we can watch the games over the Internet?" (For the record, I don't have the CBS website blocked, just the part of the site that streams the video.)
"I can't do that," I said. "It would be a violation of our district AUP for staff or students to watch it. Besides, we don't have the available bandwidth to support bunches of people watching online video all at once."
"So what are my options?" he said in an irritated voice.
I wanted to tell him, Maybe you could forget about the games and actually do your job. But hey! The University of Kentucky was playing, and I've learned from a lifetime of living in the Bluegrass that you don't mess with a Wildcat fan. "You could purchase an over the air digital to analog converter at Wal-Mart and a cheap rabbit ears antennae, and you could hook them directly to a TV. It'll cost about $60."
"About $60," I said. "Six months ago you could have gotten a coupon from the federal government and gotten the converter for free, but that program's over now."
"No way I'm paying $60!" he said. "Forget it!" And he hung up.
I felt bad for the guy, but can I tell you a secret: I'm GLAD that the games can't be shown in the classrooms. It eliminates the temptation. When I was a teacher at the high school, I resented the other teachers in the building who played the games. Students would come trouncing into my afternoon classes and say, "Hey, Mr. Sweasy! Can we watch the games?"
"Nope," I told them. "We're here to learn English, not to watch basketball."
"But Mr. _______________ let us watch it last period!" someone would shout, and then I'd get a laundry list of other teachers who were letting their students watch. I would inevitably give in and hold the game like a carrot above their heads.
"Let's get _______________ done first," I'd say, "and then we'll turn the game on and watch it for five minutes--FIVE MINUTES--before coming back together and doing ______________. Once we finish that, we'll watch again for five minutes. Is that okay?" They would always say that no, that wasn't okay, that we should watch the game for the whole period, but when I told them that it was a take it or leave it proposition, they always took it.
So I'm actually glad to remove that whole argument on behalf of the teachers.
But still, this is the one or two days out of the year when everyone realizes that their cable TV doesn't work anymore.