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Unnervingly facile and sleeping with the television on
February 9, 2000

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I sleep with the television on, possibly because of old Billy Joel songs. Also possibly because I sleep alone, these days. Either way, it's what I do. Generally, I leave it on the Cartoon Network unless I'm falling asleep somewhere near 2 am. The Flintstones come on at 2 am on the Cartoon Network, and the Flintstones suck, in exactly the way the sitcoms they were an animated version of suck. I don't watch Nick at Night or TVLand, and therefore I don't want to watch the Flintstones, got it?

Last night, I left it on Game Show Network (a nice safe choice as game show hosts have an uncanny ability to lull you to sleep with their cadences) as it was around 2 am and my two usual fallbacks (VH-1 and Comedy Central) had nothing on I wanted to listen to as I fell asleep. Burt Ludden's Love Buffet was on, and gave way to The Newlywed Game as I drifted off.

I woke up around 5:30 AM, cold. Cold is not enough to wake me. I live in New England. Cold is part of the fun. But it was also silent. And that seemed odd. Opening my bleary eyes, I saw a blue screen on my television. The Blue Screen of my Satellite Dish complaining.

Now, if it had not been cold, I would have turned over and fallen back to sleep, no problem. But it was cold, and the combination got me up to turn up the heat (it was a cold night in general) and see what the deal was with the Dish.

It claimed I needed to "insert my Smart Card."

The Smart Card, for those who don't know this technology, is a plastic card with a chip on it. Said chip contains a unique code which works with my unique receiver, the combination creating the specific decryption algorithm my setup uses to receive instructions from the eye in the sky. Those instructions tell my setup what channels to unscramble. Got all that?

Without my Smart Card working properly, the receiver hasn't a clue how to unscramble a thing. Thus the silence. So I shut the thing off, waited ten seconds, and powered it back up.


Now, it's after 5:30 in the morning. I should go to bed. Naturally, I call the DiSH Network's 800 number for technical support.

Note for users of DiSH network. 5:30 am is the best possible time to call technical support. I've never called DiSH with less than a ten minute wait. This time, I was answered on first ring.

I described the problem. The woman ran my receiver numbers and checked my account. All right -- seems there was a software upgrade beamed to me in the night (the ultimate push technology). They do this whenever they find a bug they want to kill -- it surprised me, hearing about it, until I realized they're sending out a lot more information than that every day, just to transmit QVC to peoples' homes. Apparently my Smart Card freaked when the software entered.

She had me unplug the machine entirely, wait a moment, and pull the Smart Card out. I then waited ten seconds, and powered up the receiver. Only after it came on was I supposed to reinsert the Smart Card.

The DiSH information channel appeared. I scrolled through the channels to Cartoon Network, which had a Popeye cartoon on. I thanked the woman and went to bed.

Later, in another context, I was described as both "unnervingly facile" and "freakin' weird." I blame sleeping with the television on.

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