A report by John D. Sutter on the technology pages of the CNN web site alerted me to the work of Matt Richardson, a do-it-yourselfer in Brooklyn, N.Y., who works as a video producer for Make mazazine. Richardson got tired of hearing saturation news coverage about the celebrity-of-the-moment -- he mentioned Charlie Sheen, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian as his examples; each person may have their own particular annoyances. Richardson, however, did something about it.
He's created a device called the "Enough Already," which reads the text information used to generate closed captions on a TV signal and will look for any particular word or name in the captions. When it finds a word on its blocked list, it will mute the TV for 30 seconds. So if the TV newscast does a story about, for example, Snooki from "The Jersey Shore," and you have that name programmed into your watch list, the TV will go silent and will remain silent until 30 seconds have passed without a mention of Snooki.
The device isn't perfect, of course. Newscasts and other live programs seem to be a likely target for the device -- after all, if you don't like Snooki, you probably wouldn't watch "The Jersey Shore" to begin with. Instead, you'd want to block mentions of Snooki on other shows that you do watch, such as newscasts or talk shows. The trouble is that live programs, such as newscasts, have to be captioned on the fly, which means the captions may run a few seconds behind the audio. So you may start to hear the story about Snooki before the filter kicks in. (Even in Richardson's demonstration video, you hear the first few seconds of the story before the TV mutes.) Captioning, especially of live broadcasts, often contains typos or misspellings, especially of proper names. If the captioner types in "Snooky" and your filter is looking for "Snooki," you're out of luck.
Even so, this is a clever solution.
A story and video about the device is available at the web site for Make magazine. As commenters there have pointed out, the device could be used in reverse. If you were looking for one particular news story, you could leave your TV on mute, in which case the device would have the effect of unmuting the TV when a keyword turned up.
Richardson plans to demonstrate his invention at the Maker Faire, a convention for high-tech do-it-yourselfers, later this month. The device was made using a type of circuit board called an Arduino, popular among electronic hobbyists.
There's not yet a commercial version, and the do-it-yourself version requires you to program your keywords into some form of computer code which then has to be loaded into the device's memory. But perhaps someone will develop an easy-to-use commercial version.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.