A pitch for HGTV

Dear Home & Garden Television

It is with some concern that I note that no HGTV program appears anywhere near the “top ratings” lists in the late night time slot. In fact, late night HGTV programming consists of little more than repeats of episodes aired previously in the day. While traveling recently, I hit upon an idea for a show your network could create that could provide some ground-breaking late night content (and, likely, more than a little buzz for HGTV).

The background of this idea comes from an experience in a hotel, but it can be universalized to homes, apartments and so on. When people walk into a room that they and their significant other will sleep in, such as a hotel room, they spend some time looking around, noticing the furniture, closets and so on. Somewhere in the back of their heads, one of the things they are evaluating is if and how they will have sex in that room (though some will probably not admit this). Is that table strong enough to sit on? Is that ottoman the right height? Once you start noticing this, you will quickly realize that private spaces, including people’s own bedrooms, are often set up totally wrong for this kind of activity. Here is an example:

In a large hotel in Las Vegas, a room contains a bathtub constructed for two. It looks like this:

Tub

Now you might think that, being a bathtub built to be used by two naked people, there would be some possibility of those two people, naturally, having sex in that bathtub. You could argue, in fact, that this is the whole point of such a tub. But take a good look at the photo. Do you see the problem? Why is the faucet exactly in the spot where one of the occupant’s head would be? Any fantasy you might have about fun in a tub for two is totally ruined by the harsh reality of smashing your head into a piece of metal that should have been placed a meter to the side. And why is that? Why was the faucet placed so stupidly? I submit it is because there is no source that trains designers to think about this kind of thing. It is a real concern people have, but it is never talked about openly, and therefore, not noticed as a need worth serving.

A late night show on HGTV could change that. As a working title, I suggest something like How Are We Supposed to F*$k on That?, though you might want to go with something less provocative. The format would be much like other design shows on HGTV, except that content would be exclusively devoted to design for “personal spaces and needs”. To gain an odd sort of credibility, hosts for the show (one man, one woman) might be drawn from the adult film industry. You are virtually guaranteed to find adult stars with design experience. (A quick Google for “porn star interior designer”, for example, finds this article from ABC news.)

At a guess, the show would likely target a younger audience than some other HGTV programming. I think you would find fairly long list of sponsors as well, looking to get their products noticed in a legitimate venue. An obvious choice, for example, would be Liberator, Inc, who produces furniture intended entirely for sex, but I’m guessing a lot of less overtly sexual products would be interested in buying time or product placement on your show.

As an example, search the Linen & Things web site for “waterproof mattress pads”. You can walk into any L&T and find these in stock, in all sizes. Why? Well, some of it might be for people with bladder problems, such as kids wetting the bed, but in a king-sized bed? I’d wager that the population of people who both have bladder control issues and sleep in a king-sized is vanishingly small, certainly not enough to warrant stocking stocking products for it in every L&T in the country. No, the reason they are there is because lots of people buy waterproof mattress pads to protect mattresses from sex (and not, as you might guess from the pictures, from mysterious blue water). These products are not marketed as such, of course, but that is the reality, one that this show could bring to the public’s attention through product placement.

Naturally, I’m sure you all can think of a number of other ways to push the basic idea of the show, which is why I’m giving the idea to you. Think about it.

(By the way, if anyone feels like designing the title graphic for this show, please put a link to the result in the comments.)

In an alternate reality

In our own world, Spain sent Hernán Cortés and others to conquer the New World. Soldiers slaughtered civilians. Priests single-handedly destroyed nearly all of the written word of a culture in some ways more advanced than Spain’s, largely erasing it from history. And smallpox and other European diseases killed tens of millions of Native Americans.

In an alternate reality, a more enlightened Spain instead enters the New World as partners, negotiating a mutually beneficial co-existence with the Aztec, Inca and other native civilizations. Trust and respect rule the day, making both New World and Old World stronger for the sharing. Each culture shares knowledge the other lacks, to the benefit of all. Everyone holds hands and sings songs, and there is much rejoicing. Then, smallpox and other European diseases kill tens of millions of Native Americans.

A television in every back yard, mark I

With football season starting, it’s important to get in some quality outdoor viewing before it gets to cold and nasty, particularly if you just spent way too much to redo your back yard. So…can you see the television stand in this back yard? Can your spouse?

No you can't

No, you can’t, because it isn’t there. You need a sturdy place to mount a TV outside, but one that doesn’t blight the landscape when the TV isn’t in use.

This post details my first attempt at producing such a stand. The idea is to build it out of sturdy piping that slides into anchor holes embedded into the ground. This gives the TV a sturdy base when you want it, but lets you pull the whole thing out and store it in a shed when you don’t, leaving almost no trace. I’m still experimenting with it, but this first attempt works pretty well so far.

Preparation

LayoutMost of the materials for this stand can be found at Lowe’s or Home Depot, and are not hugely expensive. Most of these you will probably need to adapt to your particular needs, but here is what I used:

Even before gathering all of these together, though, you need to think your plan through. If you have a particular place you want the TV outside, before going through the trouble of building this stand, just set the TV up on a table close to where you want it and see how the picture works outside. In particular, does the glare from the sun obscure the picture? If so, you probably want a different spot.

Also, can you get power to where you want the TV? How about a signal (cable, satellite, etc.). Make sure you have all that figured out before you dive too deeply into this project.

Anchors

The PVC pipe should just barely slide around the galvanized piping that you’ll use to make the main frame. The idea is that this PVC will be buried so that the tops just stick out of the ground, anchored in cement. There are probably easier ways to do this, but here is what I did.

Take the J-bend and connect the 12″ PVC pipe to the longer end. Mix up one of the 10 pound buckets of cement. Sink the J-bend as far as it will go into the cement, so that it is totally submerged, but the straight pipe sticks up out of the cement. Look down into the pipe and you should see at least of bit of cement that has oozed into the bottom from the submerged end. This is fine, and should anchor the pipe even better. The idea of using the J-bend here is that it should let the cement grab onto the whole thing better than just a straight pipe would.

Set something to hold the open end of the pipe up as straight as possible while the cement dries. I cut a cross in the lid of the bucket, but boards or something should work fine.

Repeat the process with the other J-bend.

I suppose you could just pour cement directly into the ground instead of using the buckets, but I found the buckets were pretty useful in making the frame, as you could test the fit, move it around, and the buckets were heavy enough to hold the frame up for painting, even without being buried.

Frame

Looking at the picture above, you can see how the galvanized pipes form an “H”, with the 36″ pipe at the center. Since this is precut pipe, it should all screw together easily, and the long pipes make good levers to get it assembled tightly. It may still twist a bit, but don’t worry about that so much now. In case it isn’t obvious, the left side of the picture below shows a close up of the T connections.

Detail

Once assembled, test out the fit of the frame into the anchor buckets. The bottom legs of the “H” should just slide into the PVC pipe sticking out of the cement. Try to avoid jamming the frame all the way in, as it can be hard to get out if you do.

Remove the frame from the anchors and lay it out on the floor. Position the TV mount onto the top section to see how it will fit. One caution here: make sure to position the TV mount such that, when the TV is on it, no part of it collides with the cross bar of the frame’s “H”. I didn’t think about this, and it turned out that the TV’s built-in stand (which lets it stand on its own on a table) wound up at the exact same level as the crossbar, so I have to remove the stand to mount it outside, and put it back on when I bring in the TV. Sort of annoying.

To connect the TV mount to the frame, you’ll need to drill holes into the pipes. The TV mount should give you a lot of choice on running a bold through the mount, then through the pipes. The right side of the picture above shows an example. Drilling the holes is difficult. You’ll need a 3/8″ drill bit capable of penetrating dense metal. I would drill the top holes first, then position the mount again for marking the bottom holes. Once the holes are drilled, leave the mount disconnected.

If your pipes are like mine, they will probably be a bit greasy. Wash them with soap and water, WD40 or whatever to get them clean. After they dry, prime the frame. I put the frame into the anchors to do this, wrapping painters tape around the PVC to keep the primer off of it. Painting it like this allows you to get all sides at the same time. Once the primer is dry, add the textured paint. The picture above shows the texture I used. I also gave a light coat of glossy black to the bolts, nuts and washers that will connect the mount to the frame.

Once everything is dry, connect the mount to the frame with the machine screws. Now you’re ready to take it outside.

Planting

PlantingPut the anchor buckets on the ground approximately where they should go, and slide in the frame. Mark the spots on the ground, then clear everything away and dig some post holes. You want them just deep enough that an inch or so of the PVC pip will stick out of the ground when you are done. As always, beware when you dig in your yard. Is there a gas line or a power cable or something running where you are about to dig? If you don’t know, find out first. This is the part of the job where the wrong chain of events could kill you.

Maneuver the anchors (frame still inside) into the holes. You’ll probably need to fine tune here, adding and removing dirt to get the frame level, or to make the holes slightly wider and so on. The key bit here is to keep the frame slid into the anchors. Doing that should ensure that the frame will line up correctly with the holes and slide out cleanly. Once you are satisfied, the whole assembly should probably be standing on its own in the holes (this is another benefit of making the anchor buckets separately).

At this point, I decided to add some more cement into the holes. You could probably use rocks, or just really good dirt packing instead. After filling in the empty space around the buckets with dirt, I mixed a 20 pound bucket of cement and poured it equally into both holes. Again, I kept the frame inside the anchors the whole time.

When it was dry, I filled the rest up with dirt and covered it in mulch. As planned about an inch of the PVC sticks out. I bought some capping to keep these covered when the frame is not in use. (If you look at the picture at the very start of this post, you can barely make out these caps in the ground.) Getting the frame out of the anchors the first time might be a bit difficult. Best way is with two people, standing on the anchor spots and pulling hard. You may want to try putting the frame in taking it out a few times, just in case.

Mounting

The Peerless mount works using two basic pieces. One is a sort of rail, which is what you connected to the frame. To connect the TV onto this rail, the mount will come with something that screws into the back of the television (usually two bars that run vertically). These can just be left on the TV, even if the TV you use isn’t usually wall mounted (mine isn’t). Connect them according to the instructions that came with the mount. If your TV gives you a choice of mounting positions, connect the pieces as widely apart as possible.

With everything in place outside, test the strength of the frame. Mine is pretty sturdy, barely budging. I’m only using a 36″ television, but I’m fairly certain the stand could handle a larger one, but I haven’t experimented with that yet.

Connect the TV onto the mount. Typically, the parts of the mount slide together loosely, then you tighten some screws up to hold everything solidly. Follow your mount’s instructions.

TV back

Now run the power and signal to the TV. In my case, I can feed both through a window behind the stand, so there are no cords for people to trip on.

Cords

When it is all set up, it looks like this:

No you can't

Conclusions

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how this stand turned out, with only three caveats. First, the mistake I made with the built-in stand hitting the crossbar makes setting up the TV and taking it down again more painful than I was planning. I might move the Peerless mount down slightly. This will leave some ugly holes, but I can live with that.

Second, I don’t have a great solution for holding the cable box yet. It would be nice to attach a shelf in some way to the frame to hold the box. I’ve thought about cutting slots for shelf brackets below the crossbar, and adding a shelf that way, but cutting the precisely into metal is hard. There is probably some type of shelf designed to clamp to piping, but I have yet to find one. If you have a great idea for this, leave a comment below (with links, if possible).

Lastly, the mount might be a bit too high. For something like a party, with people standing and milling around, it works pretty well. For sitting, it is just slightly tall. If the TV was bigger, this might not matter, as it would hang down slightly. I could easily take a hack saw to the legs of the frame, but I’m leaving it as is for now.

If you try building a stand like, let me know how it goes. And tell me what you changed. Cheers.

Cheers

An observation on the state of the gaming industry

The recent reboot of the Gamma World role-playing game flicked a switch in my brain, tuning me on to something I should have noticed sooner, and that we’re going to see a lot more of: mainstream role-playing game makers have turned the corner on what they do. Going forward, their core business will be less and less about producing gaming rules (with supplements ad nauseum) and will instead center on producing gaming artifacts. That is, games that, like board games, revolve around fiddly bits that are difficult for the average player to produce by himself.

For example, in addition to its 160-page rulebook, Gamma World, now comes with several decks of cards. None of the previous six editions of the game used cards, but now they are required for play. While it is possible for the end user to produce card-like artifacts themselves fairly easily, the end result is not particularly satisfying or sturdy. Producing actual cards is fairly difficult, requiring specialized paper, techniques and equipment. Why would you bother going through the expense, when you can just buy the professionally produced artifact for cheaper?

And that, really, is the point. It’s an end run around the electronic age. Rather than combat the bittorrenting horde, gaming companies will just build products that can’t be replicated in a satisfying way from an electronic copy, at least not without spending more than it would cost to just buy the original.

Cards are only one option (and we’ll see how long it takes before making quality cards at home becomes painless). Gamma World also comes with “two sheets of die-cut character and monster tokens”. These are, in effect, a cheaper version of miniatures but, even so, they are still artifacts the home user would have to do special work to replicate themselves. This would be easier than making cards, but still a hassle that many would be willing to pay to avoid. Plus, even more would rather use real miniatures anyway. If Gamma World is anything like Dungeons & Dragons 4E (and, being rules compatible with D&D4, it is) it relies heavily on tactically maneuvering pieces on a map, creating a market for the miniatures artifact. It is probably not a coincidence, for example, that the Gamma World setting can make use of many of the figures in Wizards’ Heroscape line of miniatures that would be out of place in D&D (such as the omnicron snipers).

In a similar vein, the $100 game Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is based entirely around custom made dice and comes with “more than 300 cards”. (No doubt it will find uses for the extensive line of Warhammer miniatures as well.)

None of this is particularly new. Games like BattleTech, which is more of a board game than an RPG, have long offered game artifacts, like the old Reinforcements boxes, with card stock versions of most mechs with little plastic stands, and recently their map packs have become a bit more interesting. But RPGs used to focus mostly on books. Those days, it seems, may be ending.

Tea leaves

Some days, the Google News home page overflows with stories that tell you more about the future than you want to know. Today is one of them, though the stories seem, on the surface, innocuous.

First, a pair of stories out of China (one about a strike, one about a pay raise following some suicides) suggest that China’s standard of living is starting to rise. I’ve mentioned before that this will probably slow its growth a bit, as it will raise costs, making Chinese labor correspondingly less attractive to foreign businesses.

Next, I hope you’ve got your plans for a warmer world ready, as the warm seas look to make this hurricane season a doozy. An added wild card this year will be to see how these storms churn all that oil leaking into the gulf around.

More depressingly, the “global economic meltdown” is causing doctors in eight African countries to turn AIDS patients away. You will see “triage” like this a lot more often in the future. During battle, combat medics have to make choices about where to spend their limited resources and time to best effect. When things get bad, the first to get passed over for care are those who probably won’t make it even with care, the mortally wounded who have not yet died. It’s a crappy choice, but a moral one, because it means that care instead is given to someone with a fighting chance to survive. If you can treat them all, you will, but if you can’t, you pick to save as many as you can. It won’t be long before that happens on a global scale, and you can see it starting with this story in Africa. When health care is rationed, assume that those with incurable, terminal illnesses will get abandoned first. And, of course, Africa will get the shaft, as always.

On the more upbeat side of healthcare, a study shows a correlation between brushing your teeth and reduced heart disease. I bring this up because it points to something that I’m guessing will start happening a lot more often: connections being discovered between things that don’t seem like they are connected, but are. (In this particular story, the connection may be that inflammation anywhere does things to your blood.) One reason this will happen with more frequency is that people are now actually looking. That is, rather than looking for cause and effect for a particular ailment, research is now being based on the notion of “well, we have all these huge data sets from various places, let’s mash them together and see if they tell us anything”. One such project takes the human genome data, information about drug interactions, and data on connections between diseases and certain genes, and builds “neighborhoods” of related information. This might reveal that a drug that treats one disease, for example, might wind up treating something that seems totally unrelated. This kind of thing will totally change medicine in your lifetime.

A quick primer on the health care bill

Until I get my more substantive post on the state of health care up, here is a quick primer on how the “sweeping health care overhaul legislation” will impact the nation.

Before bill: Health care degrading by the day due to unneeded, unwanted interference from corporations lining their own pockets. Hospitals closing because of it. Doctors no longer able to afford to practice. Government racking up debts for reasons mostly unrelated to health care.

After bill: Health care degrading by the day due to unneeded, unwanted interference from corporations lining their own pockets. Hospitals closing because of it. Doctors no longer able to afford to practice. Government racking up debts for reasons slightly more related to health care.

Olympic lessons: Vancouver

Just as with the last summer Olympics, I learned some things from Vancouver:

There are not enough sports featuring women and guns.

Curling rules.

So does Canada.

Authority, even when it may have your best interests at heart, should not be followed blindly.

Sometimes, faith in the nation comes from unlikely places.

It is possible, apparently, to stop being a douchebag.

There is a fine line between inspiring feats of skilled daring and just gay.

Colorado is where you want to do dangerous experiments.

Not even really great hockey can keep me awake.

Humor is a dish best served cold.

Athletes are much more interesting when they are athletes, not brands.

Fifty-fifty at ninety is more interesting than margins of 0.1 seconds.

Too few athletes sport that mustache feeling. Even fewer go for the fake mustache. And that is a shame.

Following your dreams is, sometimes, not worth the cost.

It doesn’t need to be pretty to be victory.

Avoiding crashes (mostly) is an Olympic event.

No one took my suggestion, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

I have more respect for athletes who risk losing easy medals to try something extraordinary.

Photos from NBC and the official Vancouver site, who gathered them from various sources (mostly Getty, AP and Reuters).