email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sometimes, Doing Nothing Is Good

And by that title, I mean that good things sometimes come to those who just sit in frustration.

Warning, long post ahead!

Background:

Six years ago, I desired to connect my stereo system to my 1st HDTV because flat screens are too thin to have good built-in speakers.  I couldn't get it to work.  Oh, I got TV sound through the stereo system, but in one arrangement, I got off-synch sound from both the stereo and the TV which was too annoying to listen to.  In the other, I got only stereo system sound but with a 1/2 second delay which was too annoying to watch.  So I gave up and separated the 2 systems.

Two years ago, my stereo tuner died and I ended up with a Pioneer VSX-42.  It did everything!  Way more than I had any use for, as a matter of fact.  Not just controlling stereo components, but the TV, the DVD, internet radio, gameboxes, Pandora, bluetooth, and some things I don't even know what they are!  All I wanted was a new tuner.

Turns out it made my old "dedicated buttons radio station controller" obsolete.  I miss having dedicated buttons to 20 radio stations.  With the Pioneer, you just have a single preset button and if you want station #12, you have to press it 12 times.  Not exactly the end of the world, but annoying.  And instead of dedicated buttons for each function (like radio, CD, tape deck, phono, and all those others I don't understand), there is a dial you turn to see each function choice displayed on a LED screen.

As you might guess, I am not intuitively good at modern electronic components.  I have to really work at it.  But as a "success through persistence" kind of person person who can (eventually) sift through instruction manuals, I get by.  Seriously, sometimes I actually draw flowcharts to figure out what the technical manual is trying (badly) to tell me.

So with the new Samsung HDTV in place, I dragged the old stereo system back into the TV room (I wanted to rearrange the rooms anyway).  First thing was to add a surge protector to the new HDTV.  A tech guy (not the floor salesman) at the store told me that power surges cause the cycling on/off problem I had with the previous HDTV.  So I bought one that had 2 more outlets than I thought I needed.

At home, I discovered I needed a 2nd coaxial cable, so I started a list of more stuff I needed.  That's when I decided to try again to connect the old stereo system to the HDTV.  I figured that "Hey, this Pioneer control unit seems designed to be the central control point for seriously integrated home theater system, I have to at least be able to listen to the TV through the stereo speakers".

So there I was, with the HDTV stand pulled away from the wall in one direction and the stereo cabinet angled in the opposite direction so I could see all the ports and cables.  I had a flashlight and all the manuals by my side.  Well, "almost all".  I couldn't find the Pioneer manual.  But I looked stuff up on the internet and I had some basic diagrams of various cable connections.

First instruction was to find the "audio out" ports on the TV or cable box.  Naturally, nothing was labled "audio out" on either.  The TV had "audio in" ports and an "optical audio out" with a plug shape I have never seen anywhere.  The cable box had some ports just labeled "AV"  The Pioneer tuner had every type of plug imaginable.  It was daunting!  I was very worried that connecting cables to the wrong ports might blow out some piece of equipment.

But I was willing to try.  Actually, just re-attaching the stereo speakers to the Pioneer tuner was an exercise in frustration.  Whoever designed the connectors was either an idiot or a sadist.  There are little knobs to loosen to expose a tiny hole to stick bare wire into.  The knobs are so close together that you need tweezers to hold the speaker wires to get them at the connection holes.  Anyway, it took me 15 minutes to guide the speaker wire into the required spots.  My previous tuner had connections where the wire went into a hole in the facing side just like sticking an electrical plug into a wall socket.  Who designs these things?  But I got that done.

Then came the cable connection fun.  The internet helped.  At one site, I found a reference to "unlabeled audio ports" being "out", and the cable box was unlabeled.  So I plugged in the red/white/yellow cable there.  Looking at the Pioneer tuner ports was like looking at a final exam for The Geek Squad hiring test.  The entire back of the thing is nothing but ports of all shapes and labels!

There are 6 different HDMI ports, several pairs of regular round red/white/yellow ports, several "optical", some "component" ports, and "some other stuff".

I finally chose to connect the cables from the cable TV box labeled "AV" to the Pioneer ports labelled "sat/cable" (satellite or cable TV I assume)  I crawled out, set the Pioneer to "sat/cable" and counted to 5 (set to "radio", the sound comes on instantaneously).  No sound.  Discouraged, I crawled back behind the equipment and tried some other connections.  When I had the cable box audio cables connected to DVD and nothing happened I just sat there discouraged.

And then, after about 30 seconds, I suddenly heard the TV through the stereo speakers!  HAL-aluhiah!!!  30 seconds in FOREVER in electronics time.  But I was never going to remember that the TV was controlled on the Pioneer tuner set to"DVD".  So I cautiously switched the cables back to the sat/cable ports and waited.  Damn, the TV sound came on after only 15 seconds.

And that's why I'm saying that sometimes doing nothing is good!  If I hadn't just sat there behind the electronics and glared balefully at the ports for a while, I never would never have known that I had the right connections!  Doing nothing for 30 seconds (a really long time to sit sometimes) worked.  Just sitting there solved my problem.

After that success, I sat down in my TV chair to listen to the speakers.  It was sightly fuzzy and minutely out of synch.  So I studied the Samsung manual.  I had already set it to "external speakers" so that I would know if the cable connection were working.  But I found that I had both the TV internal speakers AND the external stereo speakers on.  I shut off the TV speakers.  Much better.

But the speakers weren't balanced, so I went to the Pioneer tuner to adjust the balance between the 2 speakers.  The left speaker is a little further away from my chair than the right speaker.  Guess what?  There is no speaker balance on the Pioneer tuner.  WHAT?  Well, apparently you can download an app to do that.  Great, I don't have a smartphone...

There ARE ways though to adjust balance.  I moved the left speaker forward a couple feet and angled the right speaker away slightly.  I tested it by closing my eyes and aiming my head at the balanced sound point (try it, it works).  When I was off the center of the TV, I adjusted them again and again.  I have it balanced pretty good now, but it looks a little odd.  I'd rather have a speaker balancer.

The Pioneer manual says I could balance the speakers and have other controls I would like using the remote control.  I wish I had it.  I searched the house for 2 hours looking for it.  I know where I would normally keep it.  It wasn't there.  Nor in any other spot I could thing of.  I may have to buy a replacement.  Mainly because I change the volume a lot as I move from the TV room to the kitchen (where I can still see the TV as I prepare food), and back.  Adjusting the volume manually on the stereo is a bit annoying.

Want to bet that the day I receive a replacement remote control for the Pioneer tumner, I find the ols one within a week?  LOL!

BUT, the point is that I figured out all the connections, they work, and I understand the system right now. 

This is a MAJOR SUCCESS in a lifelong battle with electronics.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reality TV


All the "reality" shows on TV are utterly fake in my opinion.

But I have a particular dislike for Survivorman (a TV series).   *I* personally consider it all fake.  The first episode (years ago), Survivorman made a big deal out of how he was completely alone.  Then, in that episode, he walked down a path through the woods AND THE CAMERA FOLLOWED HIM!  Think about that... 

I was in a human prehistory discussion group at the time.   Another early episode had him "desperate" to make a hole in 6" ice (to catch a fish for food) but unsuccessful.  We immediately came up with 6 different ways to do that.  And then suddenly a new person joined the discussion, defending Survivorman against every example of apparent falseness.  After a couple days, the site administrator posted that he had tracked the new member's IP address and (wait for it), it was Survivorman's address!!!  

I only mention that to say this...  After some (14?) years of Survivorman, the reality there is no greater.  I saw the teaser ad for the new season and I laughed my ass off.  I actually had to pay attention to it several times to be sure.

The teaser ad shows Survivorman cutting a sapling trunk into a sharp spear point.  Then you see him standing in the water (with a VERY FIERCE expression) waiting to stab a fish for his dinner.  That's OK so far as it goes.  If you spear a fish with a good upwards movement, the fish will stay on the spear.

Except...  The point of his wooden spear looks bent over!  Seriously, it looks like he pounded the point on the ground a few times OR it was deliberately bent to look like a barb.  But it won't work either way.  Essentially, Survivorman is standing in the water threatening to jab a fish with the eraser end of a pencil, LOL!  The fishes scales will block THAT everytime.  

If you want to see actual sensible survivor skills without hyped drama, try http://aloneinthewilderness.com/.  It's about a guy who simply lived in remote Alaska for some time and succeded in the daily tasks required to get by.

THAT guy was real.

Its available in several versions at Amazon.  Just don't accidentally order the Survivorman title of a similar name.  Its not the one I'm recommending.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Miscellaneous

1.  I read a cat joke today that I wanted to post on the cat blog, but I was worried too many people wouldn't understand and I avoid insulting people.  One never knows sometimes.  But I'll take a chance here (because this is MY blog): 

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar, and doesn't.

OK, I'm a bit odd sometimes.  Science humor isn't always the easiest to follow.  I suppose English majors find puns in Dante's Inferno and Music majors in Mozart.

2.  Just had an interesting idea of a way for cats to open doors, but it might be patentable, so I can't tell you about it.

3.  The President's State Of The Union speech is on now, but I'm not listening to it.  I like President Obama, but I don't pay any attention to speeches.  It's what politicians DO that counts, not what they say.  And if he says anything really interesting, it will be on the TV tomorrow ALL day.

4.  I need some new science/nature/history DVDs.  I'm beginning to memorize the narrative on all the ones I have.

5.  I spent an hour today trying to make the various remotes all work the various TV devices.  Moderate success, but will post in detail some other day.

6.  You know those thin magnetic ads (designed to be stuck on the refrigerator) that come on phone books and some few other sources?  Did you know that if you stick them on your car they don't blow off?  I'm going to use them to make removable "bumper" stickers by glue-sticking messages on a group of them.  LOL!

7.  I bought new calenders several weeks ago.  One was a Wizard Of Oz calendar.  It is about 2' high by 14" wide.  The actual monthly calendar part is only 5"by 7".  That's a calendar?  I need my reading glasses to see the dates! 

8.  I have learned with the new smart HDTV that I am far behind the tech curve.  I am debating whether to TRY to catch up or just let it go.  I don't even have a smart phone...  How old do I have to be before it's aceptable to not even try anymore?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why I hate Microsoft

I play Civilization 2 on the old PC.  Its not connected to anything but it does run.  After playing a game scenario twice, I discovered that I couldn't overwrite the previous games of the same dates and was slipping into the previous game versions on the same months (the game progresses by months). I was playing the exact same game as previously.  The third trip around the game. I caught on.

That kind of thing pisses my off royally.   And I really wasn't calm about it. 

So I just spent 4 HOURS  digging into the PC and deleting most of its functions until it finally stopped fighting me.  You wouldn't believe what it was doing.  I found where it saved all the previous games.  But that wasn't enough.  Microsoft insists on protecting you from losing old games. 

It kept COPIES of all the previous games!  Every *&#$*@g time I tried to replay the designed scenario (designed to be replayed you understand),  good old Microsoft insisted on reloading the original version of the first game I played by month of the scenario.  It took me a few tries to figure THAT out.  Sort of a "Wait, I didn't do THAT this time".   But the computer did.  Everytime I hit a month file, it loaded the old one.  I was going crazy trying to change my strategy and it wouldn't let me.

I had to dig into the actual files and drag them to the death realm.  And I'm angry because I spent 5 hours playing a WWII game scenario only to have Microsoft overlay OLD games of the same WWII months over the new one AND I had to spend 4 hours killing the old files it hid very carefully. 

I'm going to repeat this so that it is clear.  Microsoft not only kept, say,"March 1942" so that it loaded that old file when I started again in Feb 1941 and gradually played to March 1942.  It kept a COPY of the old file (really copy.filename) so just finding and deleting the original version on the scenario wasn't ENOUGH to clear the game for a new start. 

They are either evil or abominably stupid,  I don't know which and I don't care...   And this is on a computer I deliberately disconnected from the internet for safety's sake.

There are times when I can barely express my "despicification" of Microsoft's controls.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snow

Well, we are getting our 1st meaningful snowfall in the Washington DC area since 2011 (or maybe 2010 - winters get confusing because they cross over the New Year).  Anyway, after that seriously bad winter a few years ago when we had several snow storms over a foot deep, I bought a snowblower.  I haven't had an excuse to use it since, so last Spring I moved it into the storage shed in the back yard. 

I was caught by surprise by this snow.  I had stayed up all night Sunday so I only got up after dark Monday evening.  I live alone, I'm retired, and I've never done well with a 24 hour day.  So eventually it shifts around the dial so much that every couple of weeks I just stay up all night and all day to get back on schedule.

So I only found out about the snow forecast at 9 pm yesterday.  I sure didn't feel like going out to the storage shed in the cold and dark and getting the snowblower running to bring it to the garage.  And snow forecasts are often wildly wrong around here.  We are in a transition zone between Caribbean Highs and Canadian Lows.  A 6" snow forecast is just as likely to be 1" or 12" but seldom what is forecast.  Washington DC and all the local schools were shut down in December for what resulted in 2" of snow and then a 1/4" of freezing rain (but the roads stayed clear).  I saw a Weather Channel report once that said Washington DC was one of the trickiest places to forecast snowfall.  Its a combination of Jet Stream variability, the Appalachian Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay.  Baltimore to the north is snow country, Richmond to the south is rain country, and we are right in the middle!

I decided to wait til this afternoon to see how much snow we were really getting.  If I needed the snowblower, at least it would be daylight!  By 3 pm, we had about 3" of snow, and (unusual for this area) it was dry and powdery.  If it gets worse (not likely as it is supposed to stop about now), I can still drag out the snowblower.  But for 4" of dry powdery snow (we DO usually get heavy wet snow), I'm not going to bother.  Two neighbors who I know keep their snowblowers in their garages simply shoveled their driveways just before dark.

I think I will just use a shovel tomorrow.  But I also think that as soon as the weather improves a bit over the weekend, I will make sure the snowblower is working and move it into the garage for the rest of the winter...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Favorite Movies

Everyone has some favorite movies.  But I mean the ones you can just watch over and over again.  I suspect they are not ones with a surprise ending.  Who would watch a surprise ending more then once?

My first is "The Incredibles".  Yeah, I know, its animated.  But it's non-stop action.  And I love the idea that superheros get married and have superhero children.  As someone who bought Fantastic Four #1 (and stupidly had no idea it would be worth a lot someday), I like the idea of some real life in comic book heroes.  I love all the characters in "The Incredibles", but a real enjoyment of Dash.

The 2nd is 'Independence Day".  There is no way I cannot cheer for the human race surviving.  Yet we also did in "World of The Worlds" and I find that movie generally boring.  So there is something else about "Independence Day'.  The characters. 

The 3rd is more recent.  "Battleship".  I read the description of it and went "ho hum" (aliens vs a battleship, right). But I was bored one evening and watched it.   Blew my socks off!  I've watched it 4 more times in the past month and have thoroughly enjoyed it each time.  Twice tonight!

The aliens made some sense.  I loved the idea of a hand with only 4 opposable  "thumbs" (all thumbs, LOL).   They seemed pretty good with machinery.  I also liked the chin bristles.  No apparent purpose and no consequence to the movie but it probably has some meaning on their world.  Maybe they were ancient quills that pevented them being eaten.  A little evolution thought in there.  I liked the idea that they came from a dark world (or were nocturnal).  And I liked that those differences weren't explained.  It wasn't related to the outcome of the movie, but it was a nice touch. 

There are also some interesting differences with the aliens.  They move in sudden jumps with their weapons ships on the sea (just imagine their railroad system).  And they were bipeds but had some problems with light.  I'm thinking intelligent cave frogs here. 

I also liked the way the aliens disregarded perceived non-threats.  Anything not aimed directly at them was simply ignored.  I could surmise they were once (and recently) a prey species. 

But they are all great nonstop action movies of a type *I* can watch repeatedly

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The New TV

I'll admit it, I made a serious mistake buying a Sharp 80" LCD/LED TV.  I don't want to insult anyone who likes LCD TVs or large ones.  I'll just say the appearance and color didn't satisfy MY eyes in MY TV room.  People have different things they value in TV viewing.  But I'm not used to making decisions I regret. 

So it was some humility I went back to the store  and asked what it would cost to get a different TV.  Their answer was that they would take back the TV at no cost other than a new deliver fee BUT it had to be an exchange. 

That sure seemed fair!  It was a slight dilemma that I wanted a Panasonic Viera 65" plasma (like the old one but slightly larger).  Panasonic (I was told in two places) was getting out of the plasma business.  Maintenence might get tricky.  But they DID have the 2nd highest rated (and highest rated Plasma set) by Consumer Reports).     Sort of.  Not the exact model,  but a newer one (5500 series old and 8500 series newer).  And it was a 60" vs a 64" 8500.  Well how different can the be? 

I looked at it for a long time.  Actually, I looked at some "4K" sets too.  The picture was astonishing.  But I don't like being the first user of a technology.  That got me a Beta Max once and I learned a lesson there. 

So today, they delivered a Samung" 60" plasma in exchange for the Sharp 80" LCD/LED set. 

In came the new.
Out went the (sort of) old.
I was thrilled the instant the Samung plasma was turned on.  I had to adjust the colors a bit, but it was PERFECT real fast.  And it was the right size for the room too. 

Here's the 80".  That is REALLY too big!  I couldn't even see the whole screen from my chair.  Bigger is not always better.
And here is the 60".  
Never mind the scarcity of stuff around the TV., I pulled stuff away for installation safety.  I will move the stereo cabinet with the multimedia controls and the great DCM speakers to the left and right to connect it to the TV for better sound, but not tonight.  One thing one day at a time.  Do one useful thing every day and you're never unhappy.

Tonight, I'm just enjoying the outrageously "OMG" great  picture...

Not accepting my initial poor decision was the best choice in the past year.  Sometimes, you just have to admit mistakes and pay what it costs to correct them.  In this case. it was an extra $200 delivery fee.  And it could have been worse.  I was prepared for "worse".

I think I will write a nice "thank you" email to HHGREGG.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Twitter Vs Blogging

TWITTER:  "Got haircut.  Then went fud shping. Traffic!  Rainy today.  Took mins to put all fud away.  Fed cats.  Ltr, store calld about new TV dlvry tomrw!  Cnt waIT. 

BLOG:  Well I got up early today (early for ME anyway) and went off on errands.  First on the list was a haircut.  I wait too long sometimes.  The side hair was over my ears and the "back of the neck" hair was as long as my sideburns.  I was fortunate to catch the barber at the perfect time.  The only customer was getting out of the chair as I walked in.  No wait, and I HATE waiting.

I don't much like talking to barbers while they work because they usually have weird political or social ideas (like "The trucking industry is about to go on strike and we are only 3 days from starvation!").  But this one was a woman, so she asked about holidays, family, and pets.  I can deal with that.  She likes cats so I described mine and she described hers.   We had a wonderful short professional relationship just as we were done discussing our cats. 

The food shopping errand WAS fairly routine.  I go to a major grocery chain for most most stuff and then stop at a specialty market (Nick's of Clinton" for meats, deli, and some produce I know they always sell cheaper.  And I am loyal to them because they special order cases of an inexpensive wine for me that I really like ("Twisted Zin - made specifically from old Zinfandel grape vines - the large bottle [1.5 l] is only $10).  Find one somewhere and try it.

They also had filet mignon at only $9/lb, and they trim it carefully and cut it to any thickness you like.  I like 1.5".  It freezes well and I have one about once a week, so a whole filet lasts 2 months.  I also bought a pork butt.  It's a good cut to smoke or to roast at 250F all day to use in pork stews.

They also sell bags of large deheaded and deveined frozen shrimp at $8/lb and I love shrimp!  I make a GREAT cocktail sauce.  I haven't learned to make a great tartar sauce yet, but I am slowly getting better at it.  And they sell a very good basic cooked ham  sliced at the deli counter for only $3/lb.  It's better than anything I can find elsewhere for less than $6/lb.

At home, I unloaded the car.  Meat and milk bags first to get them refrigerated as fast as possible.  And into the refrigerator fast to keep the cats away from the meat.  Well, Marley and Iza actually.  Iza will explore interesting smells, but Marley is becoming more aggressive in searching for food.

In that regard, I give Marley all the food he will eat.  But as good the food as I give (and we are talking the quality cubed and minced Wellness canned) he seems to want more.  Not more in quantity; I think he misses live mice.  So he wants to steal food as a hunting response.  Winter is really keeping his outdoor time and mousie-catching time down. 

And by the way, those "experts" who say that kittens who aren't taught to hunt early never lear are full of "hooey".  Skeeter, Ayla, Iza and Marley were raised as indoor cats with no opportunity to hunt and each one of them gained the skills almost at once.   I can't claim that for LC (as good a mosuser as she became) because maybe she learned from Skeeter.  But the others really learned on their own and instinctively.

The food times today were unusually "according to expectations".  Ayla refused to eat until I put her bowl up on the top shoe rack AND closed the door so she could eat in peace.  Iza and Marley traded bowls in the kitchen several times ( gave then each a slightly different canned food and they couldn't decide whose was best.

I went to the HHGREGG store about the 80" Sharp LCD/LED HDTV and bought Friday to see what it would cost to return it. It looked great in the store (perhaps because they are careful to show pictures that make all the TVs look their best).  But when I watched it for a day, I was very unhappy.

Still pictures had blurs, talking people's lips had wavy lines around them, the colors washed out at the least angle of viewing, and there was little sense of depth to the picture.  I went to Best Buy first to see the Panasonic Plasmas sets they had (HHGREGG didn't carry Panasonic Plasma except one sowroom model that had been there over a year).

I was devastated to learn that Panasonic is leaving the Plasma TV business.  They say they just can't make money from them.  I also saw something called 4K imaging.  It IS impressive.  Instead of 1080 by 840 (just guessing) it has like 3600x1800 pixels (guessing), but the resoluton difference is great.  The picture is super-real.  But I'm not a first adaptor of new technologies.  I'll bet that in 5 years there is something else better than this particular version of 4k.  I remember Beta-Max that was better quality but failed to VCR.

Anyway HHGREGG wouldn't just take back the 80" Sharp LCD.  I could only exchange it for another HDTV or store credit they said.  Well, I can't imagine buying anything from them for $3300...  I looked at the top rated Consumer Reports models and thought the best picture I saw was on a Samsung PN64F8500 (which they didn't have) but they had a PN60F8500 rating 2nd and I doubt a 60" is very different from a 64" in the same 8500 series.

So it will be delivered here tomorrow.  I know I am going to like the plasma better than the LCD/LED!

 ***********************************

OK, now how did that BLOG post compare to the Twitter post at the start? 

BLOG beats TWITTER every time.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New HDTV

Well, the new 80" Sharp HDTV was delivered and set up today.  After watching both cable TV and a DVD for several hours, I realize that I've made a MISTAKE.

First, while I know that 80" is 30" bigger (diagonally) than the previous 50" set, I did not realize HOW much bigger that would be in the room.  The TVs were all gradually bigger in the showroom, so there wasn't THAT much difference from one to the next.  Surrounded by other slightly smaller TVs, it just didn't look so huge.  Sitting on a TV table in the room (and being only about 8' from the back of my easy chair), I actually can't see the entire screen at once, which is really rather disturbing.

Second, I shouldn't have chosen an LCD TV.  My Panasonic Viera Plasma set had black screen technology (as did my older CRT Zenith before that).  Even after fiddling with the color adjustments for a half hour, I just couldn't get the colors looking rich enough without them looking oversaturated.  I don't know enough about it to explain why, but putting colors over a black background instead of a white background seems to make a difference.  I'll hazard a guess and say that somehow you detect the background color between the color pixels on plasma.  But everything just looks a bit "thin" on LCD.

Third, there is noticable "motion blur" on the new set.  As I walked the 100' from the Plasma sets and back to the LCD sets several times, I couldn't tell the difference.  But I sure could tell at home.  I knew from reading Consumer Reports magazine that "motion blur" was an issue with LCD sets, I just couldn't see it well enough in the store.  Maybe they are clever about choosing what cable broadcast to show on all the sets.  Whatever, its a problem.

Fourth, the viewing angle DOES make a difference with LCD TVs.  I walk around the house a lot and at 45 degrees, the LCD really DOES look washed out.

Fifth, the sound quality is thin.  I could get an enhancement system, or attach my stereo system (I assume), but the old set had better sound with fewer speakers built-in.  And that's a brand problem, not a Plasma/LCD issue.

I also made another mistake.  I started my TV selection with highly-rated choices from Consumer Reports magazine.  Then when I looked at the store's website, I sidetracked myself by paying attention to the store's own '"customer ratings" because the sets I wanted weren't available.  I should know better than to do that!  But I now see that the list of 4 TVs (2 Plasma and 2 LCD) I walked into the store with had none of the highest rated ones from Consumer Reports.  I had become seduced by size...  Serious Mistake.  Well, I did have a reason.  One of the most common complaints people made were "wishing they had gotten a larger TV".  That really got on my mind in the store.  That might make sense if you are watching the TV from 15' away, but (as I now realize) not in my 10'x10' TV room.

So I made a poor choice.  And I'm going to have to pay to exchange the TV.  Probably another $200 return/delivery fee.  The delivery guys left the box and packing material saying I need to keep it for 12 days in case of a return in order to avoid restocking fees (which I have read can be up to 20%).  But which makes more sense?  Pay a couple hundred dollars to correct a mistake, or be happier with a different TV for years to come?

I'll get a smaller one (50-60") for the right size for my room, Plasma (for trust in picture quality), and Panasonic (because of familiarity and the lowest repair rate among plasma TVs).  I liked their 50" model, I think a slightly larger one would fit nicely and please me for years to come.

It will be a bit embarrassing to go into the HHGREGG store to arrange for a return.  Especially since they don't carry the models I want to select from (they don't carry Panasonic).  But I have to do it.  Monday morning, I think.  Sundays get busy around stores here.

But the Panasonic Viera TC-P60ST60 looks likes the right one for me. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Minor But Annoying Problems

I am fortunate to not have any major health or financial problems.  But minor ones add up and can be really annoying. 

The tire pressure light is on in the car even though I made sure they were properly inflated and checked to make sure they are staying inflated.  That means a couple hours sitting around the dealership.

A tooth has gone bad and I had going to the dentist.  Its not the dental work that bothers me.  It's the bite block.  I have a small jaw AND I can't hold it open voluntarily.  As soon as that bite block goes in, I start swallowing.  Just try to swallow with your jaw wedged open!

It's January, so all the cats have to go to the vet.  There goes $800...  And I'll have to isolate each one to get identifiable stool samples.  It's amazing how long they can go without pooping when they are enclosed alone in a room!

I had an older Mac Desktop cleaned because of fan noise a few months ago.  Last week, I learned that my router is wireless-capable, so I decided to set up the desktop and move my Mac Mini to the TV room so I could visit cat blogs while watching TV.  After 5 minutes the "repaired" desktop was buzzing loudly again!

But the intolerable annoyance is that my HDTV died!  It had been turning itself off randomly for several days.  Sometimes it came back on by itself, sometimes I had to turn it on manually.  But tonight it just stopped completely.

Anyway, the Panasonic support (phone and website) is a joke!  I called the number on the manual and was informed the service department was closed.  Hours are 9 am to 9 pm Eastern Time.  The time was 8:50 ET.  WHAT?  They were supposed to be open.  So I went to their website find a local authorized service center.  They wanted the model number and my zipcode to find  service centers within 100 miles.  My model number was not on the list.  I manually entered the model number (checked it on both the TV and the manual).  I got a message saying "no such model number".  Hey, its only 6 years old!  But then the message was to choose the closest model number on the list.  OK.  But when I entered my zipcode, it deleted the selected "close" model number!  AARGGHH...

After several tries, I found a model number on the list that stayed listed when I entered my zipcode, and got a list of "servicers".  One is right here in town.  Good thing, too, because the next nearest is 30 miles away!  Naturally, the local "servicer" has no answering service, so I will call tomorrow.

The TV is 6 years old (I was shocked when I found the receipt and discovered that - my guess was 2-3 years).  If these HDTVs are anything like computers (and I suspect they are), I might just be better off buying a new one.

I LIVE with the TV.  I'm home all day and it's too damn quiet.  So when I get up, I turn on the TV before I even make my morning mug of green tea.  I always look for science or nature shows first, then switch to MSNBC for political talk (sometimes I put on science/nature DVDs and I have a 5' shelf of them).  But I have to hear some voices!  Fortunately, tomorrow is Friday and I can listen to rational talk from 10 am to 2 pm, and then science discussion from 2 pm to 4 pm on PBS radio.  That's almost as good since I mostly listen to the TV most of the time.   In fact, if I could simply listen to cable TV channels through radios throughout the house, that would be fine with me.  There used to be radios that received the sound from TV stations.  Are there any that do that with cable TV?

I'm looking at Consumer Reports reviews of HDTVs, talking myself into buying a new bigger HDTV, aren't I?

Then I'll tackle the other issues.  Like, if I am going to have a tooth pulled (which is likely), I will damn well have a working TV to watch through the several days of pain.  And if I have to ignore the cats scratching and meowing at the room doors while waiting for them to poop, I will have a TV to watch cuz its too darn cold to sit outside to ignore their pleas to be let out. 

UPDATE!  Bought a new HDTV.  80" Sharp LCD/LED.  Sharp and LCD isn't my favorite brand or type, but I really couldn't  see the difference from the better plasmas and the plasmas don't come that large.  If I'm buying a new one, it ought to at least knock my socks off.  The only step up from 80" has to be a whole wall (probably 5 years from now).  

I may go back for the sound enhancement.  They showed me the sound on a regular HDTV playing a tiger roaring (from The Life of Pi).  It was good.  Then they showed me the same scene with the sound enhancement speakers.  I JUMPED BACK and I bet every cat tail within a mile was POOFED!!!  It was astonishing.  But I want to see if hooking my stereo to the new TV is nearly as good.  I bet it is close. 

BTW, there is something called "4K" now that is way better than HDTV,  I wanted to reach in and touch the person in the screen.  It was "that real".  But maybe next time.  For what I watch, I don't need that.  And it was "super-tech", which I also am not.  But when this HDTV wears out, there may be even better stuff.  I can wait.

Should have delivery Saturday afternoon.  I can't wait. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow Memories

I was posting about the Mews reacting to a 4" snowfal, and it brought back memories of snows of year past.  Maryland had unusually cold and snowy weather in the late 60s. 

I was a Boy Scout in the 60's.  And every winter there was a camping expedition of multiple Boy Scout Troops, called "Operation Icicle" because it was held on the last weekend on January each year.  In 1965, it was the hardest ever.  There was 2 feet of snow on the ground and the actual temperature (F degree) got into negative territory.  Looking back, I can see it was a struggle for the Dads to make sure none of us froze to death.  At the time, it was the hardest few days of my young life.  But we sure learned a LOT about the importance of keeping dry. 

It wasn't like you could get your boots filled with snow, run into the house and Mom would take them off and give you hot cocoa...  You got cold THERE and you had to work through it.  Get into the tent and get into dry clothes.  Take the cold clothes to the fire that you had to attend constantly (at least we didn't have to chop down trees to do it (though we DID have to cut the trees into fire-sized logs). 

And we had to cook all our meals outside; on fires hot enough to keep a dozen people warm.  That's no way to cook.  But it was almost all seared meat.  I bet we kids were burning up 4,000 calories a day.  It was amazing.

We also had a horrible snowstorm in late January 1966.  Mom was pregnant and ready to give birth.  The snowstorm last 5 days!  The snow was 2 feet deep, but the winds had whipped banks of snow covering the first floor windows.  You couldn't see out.  But the baby decided it was time to see the outside world.  There was no way out through the street in front, but the "main road" behind us was plowed slightly.  200' away from the garage.  Dad tossed me the warmest coat and handed me one of the 2 snow shovels.  "We're digging to the main road: he said, "and we aren't stopping until we're there".

I understood why.  It took 3 hours of rather desperate digging, but we had enough of a path for Dad to drive Mom off to the nearest hospital.  I collapsed inside; Dad was still working on adrenalin.  I took care of the younger kids.  There were 7 babies born in Harford county that day.  The other 6 mothers were flown to hospitals by helicopter.

And then, in March 1966, we got another major snowstorm of near 2'.  This one was loose wind-driven snow and it filled in every spot as levelly as could be.  Dad and I shoveled our driveway.  I was exhausted.  Then he handed back a snowshovel and said "the Johnstons (elderly couple 3 houses away) needed their driveway cleared and don't ask to be paid, it's a Boy Scout Good Deed thing".

So I went and looked.  They had a sunken driveway with cinder block walls from the street to the garage.  5 feet deep at the street, 2 feet deep at the top.   It took all day.  And I could barely move near the top end.  Throwing the snow to the top of the driveway wall wasn't enough, because it simply got too high to toss the driveway snow on.  I had to shovel it off the top of the wall too just to make room for more driveway snow.

I think I came close to a heart attack at 16 .  My heart was pounding like I couldn't believe.  But I couldn't go home and say "I gave up".  So I finished it.  Mrs. Johnston gave me a cup of cocoa.  I wish it had been something stronger, but I was only 16 AND a Boy Scout. 

But their driveway was clear of snow.  And I gad done my Good Deed for the day.  I slept deeply that night.  And hoping no more Good Deeds came my way for several days.

I survived all those snowy events (obviously)...  But I don't mind saying that, to this day, I cringe when there is a lot of snow in the forecast.  I learned to hate the stuff.  But old habits die hard.  When I moved to my house 27 years ago, and elderly lady moved next door.  The first heavy snowfall, I shoveled my driveway and then I looked at hers and I just had to go shovel hers too.  Once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout;  I got a quart of homemade chicken soup in return.  It was the worst chicken soup I ever ate in my life.

But I sure thanked her for it...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Trying To Quit Smoking

Well, as the joke goes, "quitting smoking is easy, I've done it 100 times"!  It isn't of course.  I have quit for months on occasion only to fall back into it.  The saddest time was in the 1980s while on a camping trip to Canada with my former friend.   On our last day of camping, he was down to his last 2 cigarettes and said he was quitting and did I want to share 1 of the last 2.  I know now it was astonishingly stupid, but I felt immune immune.  It tasted GREAT! 

You know, I've actually wondered since then if my "friend" did that deliberately.  At the time, such a thought would never have occurred to me.  But these days, I consider the possibility.  He DID frequently mention how envious he was that I had quit when he couldn't...

When we got back to the Park convenience shop, he immediately bought a carton of cigarettes.  I stole several and smoked them stealthily.  We drove back to NY City where he lived at the time (and yes, I had done all the driving in my car).  But I had to drive back to MD from NY and I suddenly couldn't face the long boring New Jersey Turnpike without  smoking.  And there I was smoking again. 

I've stopped a few times since then for a few weeks at a time.  But then I face a long drive, a stressful event, or a long night at the computer and I give in again.  I wish the damn things were illegal.  It's just too hard to stop smoking when they are available 24/7 on every street corner.

I'm convinced I'm habituated to the "process" of smoking and not the nicotine.  I think that because sometimes I don't light a cigarette for several days at a time and it doesn't bother me.  And because I've been "vaping" an e-cigarette for 2 days which provides nicotine but is not in any way psychologically satisfactory. 

The e-cigarette is completely unsatisfactory.  It's a ceramic rod that is way too heavy, unwieldy, and (in spite of best efforts of designers) just doesn't work like a real cigarette.  I admire that it provides nicotine (in gradually reducible amounts), the appearence of smoke (its water vapor), and none of the carcinigens of actual cigarette smoke. 

But they just don't quite work yet.  They need to be as light as a regular cigarette, have a paperlike feel to the "filter" end,  and provide a better fake smoke.

And don't wish me good luck for stopping.  Between the 5th and 6th paragraphs, I drove to the nearest convenience store and bought a new carton of real cigarettes...  ARGH!!!  I just CAN'T be on the computer and not smoke... I need a better fake cigarette.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

Well, I've always thought the new year should begin on the Winter Solstice because the days start lengthening again.  Or perhaps the Vernal Equinox because the weather starts getting better.  But sometimes I bow to convention.

Happy New Year!

May 2014 be a better year, because quite frankly, sometimes 2013 sucked...