Southwest Brings Free In-Flight TV To Your iPad

tv ipad inflight
Paul Ingles, Flickr

These days, most of the news coming from airlines seems to herald the start of a new fee or surcharge, so it’s both a novelty and a relief to hear about a new service that will cost absolutely nothing. Southwest Airlines announced today that it will offer free television streaming for passengers traveling with their iPads and iPhones.

The service – known as TV Flies Free – is being offered in partnership with pay TV provider DISH, and will give travelers access to live television and around 75 on-demand shows.The TV programming is transmitted to your gadgets via the plane’s in-flight Wi-Fi, but the good news is you don’t have to cough up anything for the connection (which costs $8 per day) to be able to access the TV.

Streaming will work on a range of personal devices like tablets, laptops and smart phones. There’s no need to download any apps or jump through any hoops to watch shows – programming will run on your device’s regular browser.

Since the entertainment runs over Wi-Fi and requires the use of personal electronics, you won’t be able to watch shows during takeoff and landing, but hey, it’s hard to complain about free TV. You can access the service on any of Southwest’s 400 Wi-Fi enabled planes.

Smithsonian Channel To Air Special King Richard III Discovery

The Smithsonian Channel will soon air a documentary about the remarkable discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III in a parking lot in Leicester, England.

“The King’s Skeleton: Richard III Revealed” premieres Sunday, April 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The two-hour show was produced by the only team allowed access to the scientists, the excavation and the lab tests used to determine the skeleton’s identity. The documentary has already aired in the UK and attracted five million viewers. This will be the first American showing.

Gadling received an advance copy of the show. For some background, read our article about Richard III and the discovery. Also check out these amazing photographs from the dig. Our review follows and contains some spoilers. Of course, everyone already knows how the story ends!

%Gallery-185896%The documentary follows the quest of Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society to find the king’s remains, said to have been buried the now-disappeared Greyfriars church in Leicester after he was killed by Henry Tudor’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Research with old maps revealed it to be under a municipal parking lot. Langley raised money from society members and spent years convincing the local council to allow an excavation.

Langley tells of how when walking through the parking lot she felt certain that she had found the spot where Richard lay. Remarkably, the letter “R” was painted on the very same spot. The documentary fails to mention that this R was a symbol for Reserved Parking. Once the excavation begins and a skeleton is found, there’s a sudden downpour. This normal English weather is given a spooky significance by the producers.

Once the paranormal silliness is dispensed with, we get to the real meat: the excavation and meticulous examination of the body. One interesting sequence is of an art historian talking about how later painters commissioned by the new Tudor dynasty made Richard look deformed, which then was considered a sign of moral corruption. This was the origin of the Shakespearean Richard with the hunchback and withered arm.

Then comes an interesting sequence where members of the Richard III society get their say. They’re dedicated to rehabilitating the king’s image, denying he killed his predecessor’s young heirs and denying he had a hunchback. Their main objection to his having a deformity is that he couldn’t have worn armor. Anyone with a passing knowledge of medieval warfare knows that knights and royalty didn’t go to Ye Olde Shopping Mall to buy armor off the rack; it was made to their specific measurements. Try wearing metal plates on your body that aren’t shaped to your dimensions and see how well you can move! This obvious rebuttal wasn’t mentioned in the show, although surely the producers were told this by their scientific advisers. It seems narrative tension is more important than historical clarity.

While I found some segments of the show distracting, historians and archaeologists get plenty of airtime and we learn a bit about how bones are analyzed and how a DNA match with one of Richard’s descendants proved it was him. There’s also some gruesome detail about all the wounds on Richard’s body, including demonstrations of some of the weapons probably used. The army of Henry Tudor repeatedly hacked at Richard and appears to have humiliated his corpse by stabbing him in the rear end. It was a grim end to a short reign.

My wife, a scientist with no special interest in medieval history and perhaps more representative of the target audience than a former archaeologist like me, commented that the documentary could use some more historical background to place Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth into context. This could have been easily done by shaving off some of the more frivolous segments.

Despite these reservations, we both thoroughly enjoyed the show for its stunning imagery, clear narration and scientific detail. We recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the archaeological discovery of the year.

California Restaurant Month Kicks Off In January

chez panisseThe land of goat milk, arugula, and honey continues to prosper, and no surprise, given that California’s 81,700+ farms produce nearly half of all domestically-grown crops.

Thus, the third-annual California Restaurant Month kicks off in January, offering up 33 destinations where visitors and locals alike can savor the flavor of the nation’s most cutting-edge culinary state (sorry, New York).

Select California restaurants will offer special dining promotions such as prix-fixe menus, wine pairings, and other treats designed to promote the state as both food and vacation destination. Add-ons to culinary tourism are available, including skiing, surfing and spa visits.

Nine new dining destinations are a part of the 2013 promotion, including Berkeley (above photo is of the legendary Chez Panisse, now in its 40th year), Beverly Hills, Downtown Long Beach and Santa Monica. Established locales include the wine regions of Temecula Valley, and Santa Maria, Monterey, and Santa Ynez Counties, and small-farm epicenters such as Marin and Shasta counties.

[Photo credit: Robert Holmes]

NBC Looking For Contestants For New Show Hosted By Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls is hosting a new reality show for NBCNBC has put out a casting call for a new reality show that promises to be quite an adventure. The unnamed show will be hosted by Bear Grylls of “Man vs. Wild” fame and features a large cash prize, although just how large remains to be seen.

The show’s format sounds vaguely familiar with the premise being that teams of two will be dropped in a remote location and will have to learn to exist in the wild while racing against others towards a finish line. The description indicates that the competitors will need to work together as a team, while maintaining their courage and determination, in order to avoid being eliminated. That seems to indicate that there will be distinct stages and challenges for the competition, not unlike CBS’s popular show “The Amazing Race.”

To audition for the show simply email the names of the two people on your team as well as the nature of your relationship, to bearshowcasting@gmail.com. The email should also include brief bios, occupations, contact info, photos and a note as to why you should be picked to be on the show. Contestants must be legal residents of the United States and 21-years of age or older on February 2013. A valid U.S. passport is also a requirement, which seems to indicate that this adventure will take place in a foreign country.

In the press release info that I received, the show is being billed as the “Ultimate Outdoor Adventure Competition.” If that sounds like it’s your cup of tea, than blast out that email ASAP. Now if only we can get a “Team Gadling” into the competition.

[Photo credit: Bear Grylls]

517 Channels And Nothing’s On: The World’s Most Bizarre Hotel TV Package

arab phone sex tv channelHave you ever found yourself in a hotel room, searching for a sporting event on TV only to find Arab phone sex line networks, Yemeni soap operas, Russian shopping channels and a host other unwatchable programming?

Two of my life’s passions are travel and sports. There are only a few places in the world I have no interest in visiting and I can watch just about any sporting event, save auto racing, and a few of the more obscure Olympic sports. My sports addiction is so intense that I actually try to avoid traveling during the four grand slam tennis tournaments each year, the World Series, the Stanley Cup and other major sporting events.

But when you plan a big trip, such as the three-month reporting trip I’m on now, you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to miss some of the matches and games you want to watch. You can find websites airing sporting events, but have you ever tried following a tennis ball on a computer screen with a slow Internet connection? Good luck.When I lived overseas, I had a Slingbox, which gave me remote access to a friend’s U.S. DVR, but even that is sketchy if your Internet connection is slow. I was OK with missing most of the first week of French Open tennis while in Greece, but as the matches became more important in the second week, I started hunting for a place to stay that might have a channel showing the event.

I found a beautiful, affordable two-bedroom apartment in Samos at a place called Sirena Village and when they told me they had a satellite TV subscription with more than 500 channels, I almost wept in joy. Surely of those 500 channels, one of them would be showing the French Open, and the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, right?

Shortly after checking in one day last week, I started methodically flipping through the channels in search of the Roger Federer-Juan Martin Del Potro match from Paris. The hotel management hadn’t lied – the room did indeed have more than 500 channels – 517 of them to be precise. But it took me a full 90 minutes to flip through all of them and the French Open was nowhere to be found.

yemeni soap opera screenshotWhat did I find? Dozens of home shopping channels in a variety of languages, scores of religious programming from the Middle East, an evangelical Korean channel, Persian music channels, more than a dozen networks offering phone sex with “Arab women,” an Italian poker channel and a host of unwatchable programs from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Poland, Romania, Syria, Yemen and a host of other countries. Oddly enough, there were almost no Greek channels.

At first, I was just angry. There were 517 channels, but only four I’d actually consider watching: BBC World, France 24 in English, CCTV and Al Jazeera International. But later, when I decided to indulge my curiosity in this truly bizarre satellite TV package, I was able to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I had more channels from Kurdistan than from the U.S. I had the Somali Network, but not CNN. I had Dubai Sports 3, which seems to show no actual sporting events, rather than ESPN or Eurosport.

One of the only American channels listed in my guide was The Pentagon Channel, of all things, but thankfully it didn’t come in. I had a Persian language-shopping network called MI-TV, based in Dubai, that was peddling what looked like a blatant rip-off of the Ab Lounge. I had a channel called Iran Beauty that featured a woman in a chador making what looked like wedding favors, and I had not one but two Afghan channels, both advertising PO boxes in Fremont, California.

I spent a few minutes watching what looked like the Sudanese version of “Meet the Press,” trying in vain to divine what was going on. I had no clue, but I was fascinated by the moderator, who wore what looked like a small Christmas wreath, rakishly on the side of his turban, like a rapper with a Yankees hat worn terribly askew. In fact, there were dozens of channels broadcasting in Arabic and all of them seemed to be airing talk shows or prayer shows.

Oman TV featured a rotating slideshow; an Iraqi channel called Al-Iraqia featured a cooking program with an obese chef who made omelets but mostly just pontificated; a channel called Al-Mustakillah featured a blurry image of a wailing cleric with the URL for the channel’s Facebook page; Deejay TV showed grainy footage of the Eagles playing “Hotel California”; TV Quran showed pages from the Quran with a narrator reading them; a Persian channel featured an obnoxious puppet show; a channel called Al Fayhaa featured a folk band that reminded me of an Arab version of the Village People; and Yemen TV showed what appeared to be a children’s talent show, where all the little boys wore traditional costumes with big daggers tucked into their belts.

Oh, and there were all kinds of sex channels, but none showed actual nudity or sex, just vaguely Middle Eastern looking women advertising phone sex lines. There was Arab Girls TV, Arab-69 TV, Hot Arab Sex, Arab Jins, Arab XXX, Arab Sex Club, and the Arab Babes channel, to name just a few.

The Italian networks were winners too. One advertised a phone sex line by featuring a young lady in shorts and halter top, dancing, with her backside facing the camera, mostly bent over a hand shaped chair and an Italian shopping network featured a montage of Italian housewives recoiling in horror at the site of rats and other bugs and rodents to sell some sort of pest control product. I had 517 channels and was determined to watch all of them.

Friday brought the start of Euro 2012, but alas, none of my channels were showing the matches. Luckily, soccer is significantly more popular than tennis here, so there was no trouble finding the match at a bar. I know that I shouldn’t be trying to watch sporting events while traveling, so I’m ready to be roundly condemned in the comments section. But it’s easy to cut yourself off from the world of sports for a week or two, but three months is another story. My name is Dave and I’m an addict.

Luckily, I found a wonderful Brit named Wendy, who runs the Rendezvous Café in Kampos, Samos, and has been allowing me to watch the French Open on Eurosport. God bless Wendy and my 517 obscure channels from around the world. Thankfully, I have both the God Network and Church TV to help me give praise.