June 1st, 2007

krazy koati

Watch us as we pack the screen with action like you've never seen

The NTSC television signal is one of the most remarkable innovations in any way are related to sketchily plotted Ruby/Spears cartoons of the late 1970s. It isn't quite as remarkable as the videotape editing machine, which a close examination of the working principles will show cannot possibly work, but the determined conspiracy of actors and directors for the past sixty years have covered that up so very well that we are left with the NTSC signal to consider. NTSC is an acronym, standing for ``Broadcast Television Information Encoding Scheme'', suggesting that someone wrote down the letters wrong.

This is a gross simplification, of course; in fact they were trying to confuse the PAL standard, which itself stands for ``Systematic Television Alternating Amino Acid''. The systems are easy to tell apart, however: due to PAL being on the metric system television shows and movies play a tiny bit faster in PAL than in NTSC, and as a result the theme songs to Star Trek: Enterprise and Lilo and Stitch: The Series are 625 times better.

The genius of the NTSC system is that it uses 525 lines, which can be found by opening the back of the television set and staring at it with a diffraction grating. Diffraction gratings you can find in your high school physics laboratory, in the fourth drawer over, which is locked. You should get permission before taking one, therefore, as being caught in the middle of taking one will result in awkward explanations. But 525 is a key choice as it is the only number known to be equal to seven times five times fifteen, essential for television technology. Remember that the lines are painted on in a funny fashion, so that all lines whose first digits are even go first, then unpainted lines whose numbers add up to a multiple of three, then multiples of four, then multiples of five, then lines with even last digits, and then finally, line T.

Although the coding scheme was developed by Franciscan monks it has taken revisions gleefully and is now much more powerful than the earliest versions, which were originally unable to handle closed captioning, stereo, color, monaural sound, or pictures of things which are not blurry and contrast-bled Felix the Cat clocks. 486 of the lines are dedicated to the picture, and two for tax records.

Another line is used for the critically important stray dots at the far top and far bottom of cathode ray tubes that clearly represent part of the picture that isn't on the real screen, but that are surrounded by little islands of plain blackness. One of the greatest problems in flat-screen LCD or plasma-screen televisions is what to do with these stray pixels; most sets now simply store the colors up, which is why every eight to ten months the responsible owner must open a drain door, usually under the bottom left of the set, and let the accumulated colors drain. Remember to lay down a disposable rag or a dense padding of paper towels. Failure to do so may result in televisions exploding in brilliant arrays of colors, starting -- based on sales figures of these modern television sets -- sometime around this September. Watch for it on the evening local news.

In the very first line of a frame the name of the television show is printed in all capital letters, in case the frame needs to be entered into evidence. It also contains dental records, nutritional information, an expiration date, and the polarity of visual modulations, in case someone asks. Between lines two and five are stored the closed captioning, and on line six is a random number check to make the captioning of that frame appear in an inappropriate place or to comically misspell the captioning particularly of names. Line 28 serves no purpose except to present you with a nagging sensation that you've seen this episode already; and line 128 gives the suggestion that there might be something better on another channel which you'll never watch.

It may sound complicated, but don't worry: by the time you've read this, it will have already changed.

Trivia: The sixth month of the Babylonian calendar was Ululu. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.

Currently Reading: Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon. Another library book sale book.