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Comfort food, comfort technology

What's your favorite comfort food? For a Midwesterner, it might be chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. For a Bostonian, comfort food might be clam chowder. In San Francisco, comfort food could include an Italian specialty from North Beach or chocolate from Ghirardelli Square. The common element in each of these examples is that the dish provides something that the diner finds familiar, pleasing, easy to access and meets an emotional need.

Now, replace the word “food” with “technology.” What would you define as comfort technology?

For many, it might include their cell phone, their computer or perhaps their television. These devices provide communication, entertainment and even security. They meet our needs. They can be battery-powered, so they are portable. However, in times of severe weather, only the television can provide real-time visual broadcast weather information, but DTV is not yet portable.

This spring's severe weather with tornados and flooding affected much of the nation, especially the Midwest. There were also fires along the West Coast. The East Coast had heat emergencies. And no one can forget the hurricane devastation to New Orleans and our Southern seaboard in 2005. In all of these cases, viewers had the opportunity to receive life-saving severe weather information from portable TV sets.

I own two battery-powered TVs, and they work quite well. One is cell phone sized, so I sometimes take it to the pool so I can follow a baseball game or newscast. But I've also used them for weather information. Unfortunately, by this time next year, those analog TV sets will be worthless in receiving severe weather information because they can't receive DTV signals.

Digital TV is still a relatively young technology and laden with an appetite for power. So, while analog chip designers have, over the years, refined their products for maximum efficiency, digital TV is so new that portable applications have yet to be similarly perfected. That, plus the demand for HD being the market driver, has placed portable applications on chip designers' back burner. Therefore, there are few DTV receivers available.

Maybe broadcasters should make the point to the FCC that DTV is the only true broadcast service. It covers everyone and all areas. Best of all, it's free. When it comes to distributing information to mass audiences, broadcasters do it best. A cell phone-delivered severe weather service can't compare. In addition, what about hearing-impaired viewers? What will they do for weather and emergency information?

Viewers could build their own inverter power supplies. If you add enough 12V batteries and an inverter, about any AC device could be powered. But even that solution comes with its own set of obvious problems.

One might try moving a 57in HDTV plasma display from the living room to the basement while a tornado is bearing down. And don't forget to power the STB or dish LNA. All things considered, such a DIY portable solution sounds a bit unrealistic.

We'll get portable DTV sets; it will just take some time for a variety of options to become available. Meanwhile, keep that portable radio handy. I know that in an emergency, sound without pictures may not be comforting, but for now that may be your only choice.

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