How remote controls program us


They should have tried him for writing Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Then sentenced him to read it over and over.

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“fast-forwarding through sexually explicit scenes.”

Fast forward through, yep, I imagine. Mostly.


“fast-forwarding through TO sexually explicit scenes.”



I am often perplexed visiting friends at home and finding a whole pile of remotes, and even the owners aren’t sure which remote controls what. It would be child’s play to slip in an extra that’s actually a listening device. Weeks or months later somebody might notice: “Samsung? Why do we have a Samsung remote?”

I’m just grateful they can’t make the mind control devices that small yet.


It took me three tries to finish Jude the Obscure, but it eventually became one of my favorites.

“Well, it’s kind of hard to tell isn’t it 'cos you tend to fast forward if anyone’s dressed. Sometimes I forget and do that with proper films. I can get through a lot of movies in an evening.” - Jeff Murdock, Coupling


This explains Fox News.

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When my dad died around 2005 we burred him with his remote control in his front pocket.


the shape as it relates to the hand, orientation, transmitter placement, and button placement on all current designs is dumb. they’re simultaneously awkward to use and the exact optimal shape for something you would want to slip under the couch cushions. seriously, if I asked you to design an object that would work itself into your upholstery without any outside help, the “remote control” shape is what you’d make.


Another device, another remote, more batteries, I’m getting tired of it. Some remotes I only use to turn the device on and off. Couldn’t I just have a button the device. Or lets get everything on a cell phone.

I remember when I was a kid a friend of mine had an old TV that had a remote that produced a high pitched sound. There were these little metal cylinders inside, and whenever you pushed the button it would cause a hammer to strike the cylinder and cause it to vibrate like tuning fork. Something inside the TV would respond to the sound, and it would change the channel or do some other function. It was very interesting.


Here’s a bit about that system:

Adler’s solution was to use sound waves to transmit signals to the TV. The first remote control he developed, the “Space Command”, used aluminum rods, analogous to tuning forks, struck by hammers toggled by the buttons on the device, to produce high-frequency tones that would be interpreted to control functions on the television set.
In the 1960s, Adler modified the remote control to use ultrasonic signals, a technology which went on to be used in television sets manufactured for the next 25 years, until replaced by infrared systems which could transmit more complex commands (but, alas, require batteries to run).

And here:

This technology was widely used but had certain issues such as dogs being bothered by the high frequency sounds.

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(and @AnthonyI) wow, no batteries, just vibrations–cool! I think I’d prefer one with audible tones, actually. wish I could still get this option.

I’m surprised the author chose not to mention “on screen” programming/displays-- rather difficult to use some of these things without a remote control. Remotes also make a lot of sense for rewinding and fast forwarding video.

The ten foot interface relies on a remote control-- though periodically, boingboing commentators do argue against the TV, and for consuming video on a computer instead, making a remote silly.

The one thing that bothers me about remotes-- other than sliding gracefully into the crevices of sofa, is that they are unidirectional, narrowcast devices. This has two consequences-- one is that if your remote is even capable of multistep macros-- turn on the tv, turn on the amplifier, turn on the bluray, switch inputs from this to this, and this to this, and play the video… any one of those commands could be missed by the IR sensors,

The other issue is that text entry, such as in a search box, is hit or miss. I once had a player that usrged me to use the remote as I would a cell phone and TXT in the various letters,… Horrible, but the most common iput method involves selecting letters with arrow keys, on screen.

Contrast that with the two way “appleTV remote” app for ipad. All commands are received through a TCP/IP network which is neither line of sight nor one way, and when the appleTV wants the user to input text, it simply tells the ipad to display a keyboard.

This article seems like making a mountain of papers and citations out of a cultural molehill.

This happens when we let an English prof writing about technology. Linguistic analysis of how the words are used, an excursion into gender whateverology, and factual omissions.

The article does not mention the DIY nature of the earliest remotes that were homemade hacks shared in hobbyist magazines; motorized remotes for radios date back to 1920’s there. Nor was the Zenith one the first for TVs.

A better article is here:


A TV, with its fixed scheduling, is a provider of opportunities to watch the nth rerun of Star Dreck in the light workshop and actually do some work instead of putzing around on the internets.

That itself is not that much of a problem.

This is an issue. The unidirectionality of the controller is only part of it, though.

Could be worked around with e.g. a raspi computer translating codes from one certain remote (or a smartphone or any other kind of input device) to the individual devices’ ones. But having all the devices on a standardized bus (ideally wired Ethernet, but that’s my own taste, I’ll take anything that is so standardized everything supports it and that a complete-enough documentation is out there, whether officially or not, I can dream…) would be the better option.

That’s atrocious, in one word. I’d have a rich choice of other words, too, both nouns and adjectives and even some verbs, but they aren’t supposed to be uttered in a polite company.

The worse thing is that the users seem to be meekly accepting of that nonsense, their imagination so thoroughly killed by the stream of formula-based TV programming that they are unabe able to ask for an alternative to the clowning around with cursor that’s about as fast as a wasp in molasses. The old-cellphone-like data entry would be heaven in comparison.

Then there is the issue of standardization. The mute button, for example, is in a different place on every remote I have, which is rather annoying, especially when the inevitable sports appear in the news channel. But at least they still have buttons that provide tactile feedback about their position, not like that plague of touchscreens spawned upon us lately.

And grossly incomplete one, to boot; contains the important buzzwords and rewarded themes, misses the pivotal events and evolutionary background of the issue.
Welcome to the Ivory Tower.

I just have this:

It tries to remember the internal state of each device, so that macros such as
actually work for devices like TVs and receivers that don’t have a [HDMI 2] button.

Of course this only works if
a) the devices in question actually receive each command-- given that some of them have narrow IR receivers, this isn’t guaranteed.
b) only the harmony is used to change the state of each device.

Thus, a two way, non-line-of-sight signal would solve some of my problems.

For people like me, a plethora of buttons actually make sense-- it’s easier for me, (or Logitech) to get the desired behavior–one button turns on everything and switches everything into the proper modes. And one button switches everything off.

Of course, I never touch those remotes-- they’re stored away in a shoebox,

(Having such a fancy remote has occasionally saved me money, since I can buy Open Box stuff without worrying whether the manufacturer remote is included.

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Raspi with computer vision (to watch the TV screen and maybe the LEDs on the boxes), IR transmitter, and some radio receiver (Bluetooth? Zigbee?) could solve your problem neatly. :stuck_out_tongue:

Could even do speech recog without use of cloud.

Thought: Intrinsically safe speech/gesture recognition for the living room; a computer that is not connected to the internet at all, and is instead wired to another computer through a single-direction serial line with bandwidth- and information-restricted and auditable protocol. One computer has ears and eyes, and is incapable of telling the other one (nor any other one) anything but the recognized commands. No way from the other computer to attack the first one and gain access to the eyes/ears, even if under full control of an adversary.