Monday, August 31, 2015

SciTech Daily

SciTech Daily has been serving up Science and Technology News since 1998, and doing it quite well. Its blend of content just might keep you looking around the site when you really should be doing other things. 
Site logo. The words Sci Tech Daily in gray and blue on darker blue background,
I particularly enjoy the Biology and Space sections, though the Technology, Earth, Science, Chemistry, Health and Physics sections are all worth a look. The Breaking Science and Technology News and Resources sections have terrific links to outstanding sources on the web. You can also subscribe to the newsletter to receive an email digest of new articles posted to the site.

Link to SciTech Daily Website

Leisurely Travel

If you have the time, and want to see the world, or just some places in between, and don't want to fly economy class or take an ocean liner cruise, consider a cargo ship. Not kidding. They can be exceedingly comfortable with outstanding food and plenty of amenities. You avoid the crowds. Dress is always casual. And the prices are just wonderful. Just put "freighter cruises" (without quotation marks) in The Google and start exploring. Here is one informative site: Link to Maris Freighter Cruises

PS: My roommate in college took a small freighter from Tokyo to New York that went around Cape Good Hope. The trip took about 40 days. He had never played bridge before he embarked. He was a master when he disembarked. And he loved every minute of it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fast Way to Find Out What Many Places Sold For and More

Just go to The Google, and type "trulia" (without the quotes) followed by the street address, city, state, zip, and it will take you to a webpage chock full of details about the place, including crimes within a mile, the price it has sold for, and much more (some places do not show photos or selling prices).

American Pie by Don McLean Redux

The point of American Pie is not lost on anyone. But the many allusions are illusive. This rendition with pictures and clips might be a stretch at times or even a bit askew, but, if you have a few minutes, it is illuminating and moving and wonderful to watch and listen to, and it is much better to listen to than Donald Trump: Link to American Pie in Music and Pictorial


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Show Me the Hero

Okay, now I've seen Episode 1, and I can't wait to binge watch the rest. It is a fabulous show in every way. The story (which is true) is compelling. The cast is totally first rate. The characters are so real it's scary. The theme music and the music throughout are even better than The Wire. The only thing you might complain about is Peter Reigert's beard ... what's that about? Best of all, unlike The Wire, you don't need to put on sub-titles, although it doesn't hurt to do so. In short, this is one of the all-time great drama series ... it's just too bad it's a mini-series and not a day-time, 40-year-running, soap opera.

How to Watch Season 1 of Show Me a Hero for $10

Show Me a Hero, brought to you by David Simon who was the creator of The Wire, is a total smash hit, and just a fabulous show. Do not miss it. It's available now only on HBO. If you do not subscribe to HBO, at least for Cox customers, until 9/28/2015, you can subscribe for $10/month (a $6/month saving over the regular price), watch the full season (6 episodes) as quickly as you want (although only 4 episodes have been released so far) using the On Demand feature. To use the On Demand feature, push the On Demand button on your remote, scroll down to Premium, scroll down to the Ss, and highlight the episode(s) you want to watch. When the season is over, if you no longer want HBO, just call Cox and cancel your subscription.

Winner of the Most "Imaginative" (Albeit Delusional) Property Description


In case you can't read it, here is the sentence for this downtown Phoenix listing that led to landslide victory for this realtor: "This unit has 2 ... yes 2 spacious balconies so you can enjoy those cool summer nights!"

Friday, August 28, 2015

Caution re Tenting for Termites

Termites are a big problem in Phoenix. As big, or even bigger, problem in Phoenix is unscrupulous termite and other bug companies. In fact, most of them are. If you read the supposed warranties with any care, they essentially cover nothing.

More troubling, here is a true story: The owner of a 1932 house in Willo saw a termite, and called his termite company of many years (Terminix). They said the house had to be tented at a cost of several thousand dollars, and he signed a contract to have it done, which by law (at least at the time) had to have and did have a 3-day period of reflection and right of cancellation. He called his realtor of many years (who still is his realtor after 10+ buys and sells by him and by others he has recommended to the realtor) for a recommendation for a termite firm to give a second opinion. The realtor recommended a particular person from Arizona Exterminating, who came out promptly and explained the following: Even though Terminix was who signed the contract, there were only two firms in Phoenix that did tenting, and Terminix was not one of them, so the job would be "assigned" to one of those firms, which in that instance would have been Arizona Exterminating. As the guy then explained, the owner needed one slat on the back deck repaired, which would cost about $20, and there was absolutely NO need for a tenting, and so the owner cancelled the tenting contract. In effect, then, this guy gave up the thousands of dollars in revenues for his company. Unfortunately, he no longer works for Arizona Exterminating and no longer is in Phoenix.

Name That Tune

If a song starts running through your head and you can't remember the name, just sit down at computer that has a microphone or a webcam with a microphone, go to the Midoni website linked below, and sing just a few words or notes or hum just a few bars, and it will tell you the name of that tune. The website has been banned from participating in any television show that gives out prizes for naming that tune.

Link to Midoni

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Advantage of Olive Oil

One big advantage of olive oil (of which family extra virgin is the highest quality) is its shelf life, even opened, which is 2-3 years. None of the other oils come close: See Explanatory Link

How Long Does Oil Last?

Oil Expiration Date

(Unopened)PantryFridge
Avocado Oil lasts for9-12 Months1 Year
Blended Oil lasts for2 Years--
Canola Oil lasts for2 Years--
Coconut Oil lasts forMonths-Years--
Corn Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
Chili Oil lasts for9-12 Months1 Year
EVOO(Extra Virgin Olive) lasts for2-3 Years--
Grape Seed Oil lasts for3 Months6 Months
Hazelnut Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
Macadamia Nut Oil lasts for2 Years2-3 Years
Olive Oil lasts for2-3 Years--
Peanut Oil lasts for3 Years3 Years
Sesame Oil lasts for1 Years2 Years
Safflower Oil lasts for2 Years2 Years
Sunflower Oil lasts for2 Years2 Years
Truffle Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
Vegetable Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
Walnut Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
(Opened)PantryFridge
Avocado Oil lasts for6-8 Months9-12 Months
Blended Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
Canola Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
Coconut Oil lasts forMonth-Years--
Corn Oil lasts for1 Year1 Year
Chili Oil lasts for6 Months1 Year
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) lasts for2-3 Years--
Grape Seed Oil lasts for3 Months6 Months
Hazelnut Oil lasts for3 Months9-12 Months
Macadamia Nut Oil lasts for2 Years2-3 Years
Olive Oil lasts for2-3 Years--
Peanut Oil lasts for2 Years2 Years
Sesame Oil lasts for6-8 Months2 Years
Safflower Oil lasts for1 Year1-2 Years
Sunflower Oil lasts for1 Year1-2 Years
Truffle Oil lasts for4-6 Months6-8 Months
Vegetable Oil lasts for1 Year--
Walnut Oil lasts for3-4 Months6-8 Months
Spray Oil Can lasts for2 Years--

Sneak Preview Of Winning Caption in This Week's New Yorker Cartoon Contest

Each week, the New Yorker has a contest where it supplies the cartoon and you, the reader, submit a caption to it. The New Yorker chooses three finalists and readers vote for the winner. Here is this week's cartoon, with the winning caption filled in although the finalists will not be announced until the September 14th issue . The winner receives a signed print of the cartoon. 



"And you thought a man walking into a bar was funny."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Selling Tip

If you're trying to sell someone on something, you will face questions from the person you are trying to persuade. Undoubtedly, the person will pose one or more questions to which you don't know the answer. The first rule of good selling is don't bluff the answer. The second rule of good selling is assure the person you will find the answer. But, perhaps the most overlooked rule, the third rule of good selling is to immediately respond with the following: "That's a great question." In that way, you will engender the desirable effect of complimenting the person you are trying to persuade, which will tend to fill the person with self-satisfaction and tend to obviate the person's disappointment in your not knowing and the person's not getting an immediate answer. This works in every kind of "selling" environment, including selling condo units at the Edison, a new project in central Phoenix, that looks really good and reasonable.

Link to the Edison Promotional Website

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Changing the Alarm Tone on Stock Android Phones

Often, the default alarm tone on the stock clock of Android phones is like a melody of a babbling creek in a tranquil forest, which you might find annoying or it might just put you back to sleep instead of waking you up. It is not obvious how to change the alarm sound. Going to The Google will take you down many complicated or otherwise unnecessary paths, including downloading mp3 alarm sounds or adding a new clock app. It turns out, it's very simple: Open the clock, hit the + to set a new alarm, and choose the alarm sound you want. For alarms you have previously set (e.g., an alarm to go off daily), just open it, hit +, and change the alarm sound.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Checking on Whether Your Email Address(es) Has/Have Been Hacked

The past couple of years have seen a number of high-profile attacks by hackers on some of the world's best-known web sites. Whether you've been a customer of Ashley Madison, Adobe, Sony, Snapchat, Gawker, or any other affected system, there's a web site that maintains a searchable database of hacked (also known as "owned", or "pwned" in hacker-speak) email addresses. So if you want to check that your email address isn't one of 220 million in the database, just click on the link below to find out.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Must-Haves in Your Smartphone

One of the most vital functions and benefits of a smartphone is the ability to "carry" with you all your important documents. At a minimum, these would include: driver's license; car registration; car insurance card; passport; certification of trust; and medical directive. In that way, for example, if you are picking up a rental car in a hotel parking lot in Sant Pol de Mar, Spain, and you left your passport locked in the safe of your rental home, you just bring it up on your phone; or, if you are at a car dealer buying a new car and want to title it in the name of your trust, and you left your trust documents at home, you just bring them up on your phone. You can store these document directly in your phone or in a storage app such as Drop Box or Evernote. But a really neat way is to have a network storage device on your home computer system (cost about $100), and you put all those documents on to it, and then you can "retrieve" them from anywhere in the world, even from a parking lot in Sant Pol de Mar or a car dealership.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Car Buying Tip

Usually, if you can pay cash for a new car, it would seem to make sense to do so because you avoid any finance charges. Even if zero-percent financing is available, it too would seem to make sense because you avoid any finance charges. BUT, depending on the dealer-incentives available, neither of these options may be the way to go even if you have a strong preference to pay cash. Here's one kicker: If you choose the 2% financing option, you may get a substantial discount (e.g., a couple of thousand dollars or even more) which would beat the total cost of the 0% financing option. Here's an even bigger kicker: If you choose the 2% option, you may get that same substantial discount that would not get if you paid cash, and then, if you want to be a cash payer, you can pay off the car the day after you buy it, for no penalty, and keep the discount. So, you cash buyers, keep your cash in your wallet for a day, and you might end up with more cash.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Family Reunions and Other Large Group Events

If you are planning a family reunion or other large group event, do not omit to consider what you might find on VRBO, Airbnb, HomeAway, and other such sites. Using the appropriate filters, you are likely to find very large, even huge, homes, that are beautiful, perfectly located, and very cost effective. You might then go to Thumbtack or other such site to find a personal cook to do all the in-home cooking.

Link to Thumbtack

Free and Easy iPhone Photo Backup

[Courtesy of cnet]
How many photos do you have in your phone? Hundreds? Thousands, even? I bet you'd hate to lose them. And yet phones get lost, stolen and broken every day. Are you playing it safe?
Apple's iCloud affords a backup of sorts, but doesn't really give you a way to access your photos via anything except other iDevices. (You can't sign into iCloud.com, for example, to view and manage your photos.) What's more, if you delete some photos from your iPhone in order to free up storage, those photos get deleted from your iCloud account as well. (That's because your "backup" is really just synchronization.)
Wait, so iCloud doesn't technically back up your photo library? According to Apple's overview page: "If you turn on iCloud Photo Library, your photos and videos are already stored in iCloud, so they aren't included in your iCloud backup." I'm pretty adept at all things iPhone, but the vagaries of iCloud? Umm...
Update:I goofed. Apple recently added Photo Library to iCloud.com, so you can indeed manage your photos that way. But your free storage is capped at 5GB, and I still find it unclear whether this is straight-up synchronization -- meaning anything deleted from your device is deleted from iCloud as well -- or a more traditional backup.

Plan B (for 'Better')

Fortunately, there's a far less vague way to back up your iPhone photos: Use a different cloud service. This not only helps you free up storage, but also gives you better tools for managing the photos you've backed up.
For purposes of this tutorial, I'm going to focus on Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. Both services offer 15GB of free storage, cheap upgrade options and, most important of all, iOS apps that can automatically archive your photo library.
Other services, including Box, Dropbox, IDrive and SugarSync, can do likewise, and if you're already using one of them, there's every reason to enlist them for photo-backup duty. But these guys offer less free storage up front and costlier plans if you need more. So if you're just getting started down this road, I recommend Google Drive or OneDrive.
I'll wager you already have an account with one or both (and if you have an Office 365 subscription, you actually have a lot more than just 15GB at your disposal), so all that's left is to install the corresponding app. Here's Google Photos for iOS (the Google Drive app pales in comparison when it comes to photo backups) and Microsoft OneDrive for iOS.

Enabling backups

The first time you run either app, you'll need to sign into your account. In the case of Google Photos, you should then see a pop-up offering to back up all your photos and videos. As shown in the screenshot below, you can also choose whether this happens over Wi-Fi only (recommended) or, if you have a generous data plan, Wi-Fi and cellular. (Choose the latter only after your initial backup -- which is likely to be sizable -- is complete. It might be worthwhile if you're traveling and want your vacation photos backed up on the go.)
Next, the app will ask if you want "high-quality" backups and free, unlimited storage for them, or full-resolution originals that count against your available storage. Not sure which option to choose? Here's a tip: Because your iPhone's camera snaps photos that are under 16 megapixels, the "high-quality" option will "essentially look the same" as your originals, according to Google.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Best Chinese Cell Phones

Although Donald Trump might yell and hurl insults at you for doing so, although he more likely will blame it on those incompetent idiots in Washington who have run this country into the ground, if you want an unlocked Android cell phone with the latest technology for hundreds of dollars less than you pay for a Samsung, HTC, LG, and the like, shop online for a Xiaomi, Huawei, or any of the others noted in the below review. The Wall Street Journal today made the same point. Amazon has many of these as does Oppomart. In fact, if you pick the top Chinese brands available on Amazon (Huawei, OnePlus, Meizu, ZTE), specify a 5" screen or larger, new, unlocked, and highest rated (all 4 stars or higher), you will find 7 for under $150. Two cautions: (i) check with your carrier that the phone will work on its system; and (ii) check the return policy with the e-tailer.

LInk to Review of Chinese Smartphones

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Hour

If you liked The Wire (and if you didn't there is something wrong with you even if it takes you several starts and close captioning to get into it) and Dominic West, and like the idea of a 2-word title, that does not mean you will like The Hour. It won tons of awards, and Dominic West puts on a wonderful British accent and slicks his hair and is a similar rogue. But, the plot, set in the Cold War Era, is impossible to follow, and one of the lead characters, Freddy, is so annoying that you might just stop watching altogether. The problem is you end up, or actually start off and never change, not caring about any of the characters or what happens in the show at all. The photography is beautiful though.

IMDb Link to The Hour

Caution re Future Hotel Reservations

You can reserve some hotel rooms more than a year in advance. Others, however, will not allow reservations that far out because they have not determined their rates yet. That makes sense and is reasonable. Unfortunately, what you might encounter on the website is a message that simply says: "No rooms available," when what they really mean is, "we don't allow booking that far in advance." This is true of many hotels and B&Bs in Big Sur, Santa Barbara, Joshua Tree, and even Ogunquit, and even excellent hotels like the Kimptons. Some hotels give an informative notice explaining that reservations are not taken yet, and the really smart ones say, "Give us your email address and we will let you know as soon as we open the reservations." So, do not believe the calendar you are seeing on the website or the message saying "no rooms available." Instead, you might send them an email asking if it is really true that no rooms are available, and, when you get a response saying they just haven't opened reservations yet that far in advance, you might send them a "helpful email suggestion" and get a comped room in exchange for doing so. Here is such a "helpful email":

"Thank you for the response. Permit me to make a suggestion:  I love Kimpton Hotels and am a Karma member. As soon as I saw there was a Kimpton in Santa Barbara, I jumped at the opportunity to reserve a room for our trip out there in September 2016. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to get the “we are sorry to say this, but there’s nothing available” message. I then, willing to consider a different city, checked for any Kimpton in Southern California, and again received “there’s nothing available” message. I had no way of knowing that this meant, rather than nothing being available, that Kimpton didn’t make reservations that far out, which I totally understand. In that context, so that you might not lose business from people who, like me, did not understand the matter, the message instead should read, “We have not set rates yet for the dates you wish to stay at our hotel. We expect to do so about 8 months before your expected arrival. We would love to have you check back then and make a reservation.” Even better, as some hotels do, instead of making the future guest keep checking back, here is how the message should read and it would be easy to implement: “We have not set rates yet for the dates you wish to stay at our hotel. We expect to do so about 8 months before your expected arrival. We would love to have you stay at this hotel. If you put your email address in this box, we will alert you by email as soon as the rates are posted.” Given all the marketing emails and specials you do, especially to Karma members, this would be easy to implement and likely would be a win for your business and a win for your guests.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Some Letters You Might Have Missed

The Arizona Republic indicated to the author that it would be publishing this letter, and maybe it still will. But just in case not, here is the text of it:

Today was the day blue barrel (recycle barrels) are picked up and emptied by garbage trucks on my block. It was very windy this morning. So windy that many blue barrels on my block were blown over and trash strewn all over the place. And blue barrels that were not blown over had their lids ripped off by the wind. This need not have happened. Specifically, rather than have a blue barrel for each home, there should be large blue barrels for recyclables placed in the alleys next to the large black barrels for garbage (which were unaffected by the wind today).

Going to large blue barrels in alleys instead of small blue barrels to be rolled out to the street has an additional aesthetic advantage and two substantial economic advantages. As to aesthetics, in addition to avoiding the unsightliness of what happened this morning, we no longer would have to see streets “decorated” with blue barrels because people often take days to roll them back, and many people leave them out just for supposed convenience. As to the economics: First, the cost of providing and replacing large alley blue barrels would be less expensive for the city than providing and replacing damaged individual blue barrels for each home, both because there would be far fewer barrels and the large barrels would be less prone to damage; and second, the trucks would make about 3 stops per block instead of 20 stops per block which would translate into a substantial fuel savings and time savings.


In short, going to large alley blue barrels would be a win for residents and a win for the city. It works in other cities and even in Spain.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The author also wrote two letters on a sporting issue covered in virtually the same way in two columns, one by the NYT and one by the WSJ. The NYT has not responded in any way, but the author of the WSJ column (Brian Costa, an excellent writer and true gentleman) did. Here is the email interchange that ensued:

First Email to Brian Costa:

It was a glorious win and a tremendous Day at the PGA Championship. But to headline it as a “Record-Setting Day” (Aug. 17, B7) because it was “the lowest score to par in major history” is silly. Taking nothing away from Day’s magnificent wire-to-wire performance, the actual “record” belongs to Whistling Straits as the course that played easiest in major history. Putting aside all the commentary rhetoric about the deviousness of Pete Dye, and how a major course is to be set up to expose the weakness of every player, 54 of the 77 finishers shot par or better, 48 shot under par, and 12 shot double-digits under par including several players no one ever heard of. If all one knew were the scores, and not the name or date of the tournament, one would have guessed that this was The Bob Hope Chrysler Desert Classic.

Brian's Response:

That is a great point, [name omitted]. Thanks for reading.

Brian

Response to Brian:

Thank you for responding!!! And my point notwithstanding, I enjoyed the column and very much enjoy your writing.

Brian's Response:

thanks!

Response to Brian:

Brian ...

I’ve been giving the issue some thought, and there is a “compare-to-par record” for majors that might make some sense, which would be this: The difference between the winner’s score and the average score of the finishers. My guess is, putting aside the era of the Tom Morrises, the record holder would be Tiger Woods in the 2000 US Open where he shot 12 under and no one else even broke par—Jimenez and Els who tied for second shot 3 over.  [See http://golf.about.com/od/majorchampionships/fl/2000-US-Open.htm] A non-weighted straight average of the highest (313) and lowest (272) scores (which is not the most accurate way to do it but for this purpose let’s say it is) would be 292 ((313 + 272)/2), which would put Tiger 20 shots below the average. In sharp contrast, looking at yesterday’s result, the average of the highest (297) and the lowest (268) scores would be 282, which would put Jason 14 strokes below the average. So, in a major where Tiger was “just” 12 under par and hence nowhere near yesterday’s score relative to par, I would think everyone would agree that Tiger’s performance in 2000 was far more dominant by any measure.

I promise now to let you get back to your job and not to bug you anymore.

                                                  *     *     *


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Zback: A Tiny Free Backup and Sync Program

There are many ways to back up your PC in order to keep your data safe, and hundreds of programs that offer to help you do it. One recent discovery of mine is Zback, which is a simple backup program from a talented programmer in Croatia.
Zback is tiny, and the download is less than 1 MB. The program runs on Windows 7 and above. It's also portable, with no installation required. Just download, unzip, and double-click on the .EXE file to run the application.
You can then choose a source and destination folder, and opt to either sync or back up. There's a handy preview feature so you can understand precisely which files will be copied or deleted, before you push the button to begin the actual operation.
In my tests, Zback proved both simple and fast, so give it a try if you want something that can copy files in a flexible way and which is easy to use.

Link to Download Site

[Courtesy of Gizmo Freeware]

Travel Insurance

Talk about complexity and fine print, travel insurance is really tricky. Here are some things to consider before buying it. Make sure you understand the "pre-existing medical condition exclusion" and, if you so opt for it, the waiver of that exclusion, neither of which is written in terms even a lawyer can understand. If you play with the coverage amount, you will see that lowering the total cost by $50 can save you $50 in premium cost, so that looks like a no-brainer to do. Not so fast. Many claims will be deemed not covered unless the total coverage you put down to insure is the actual total non-refundable cost of the trip and not some lower amount. And then it gets even more complicated because, while a given cost (say a room charge or plane ticket) is non-refundable, the tax you were charged would be considered refundable. It also gets tricky if you rent a place a year ahead but have to wait several months to buy a plane ticket because the airline you will be using has not yet set its schedule that far out. Given that you had to buy the insurance within a short time of your first non-refundable deposit, if you have to make a claim, some doubt remains whether the insurer will consider you to have understated the cost of your trip.

All is not lost, however. Take a look at your credit card benefits. As it turns out, putting your travel expenses on your credit card, such as a Chase Sapphire card, might give you, for nothing extra, just as good or even better travel insurance than buying a separate policy. In fact, the card's coverage seems to be more straight-forward and less tricky than the separate underwritings.

Also, if you are renting through a site such as HomeAway, that might be a great way to go. When you are confirming and paying for your reservation, you will get an option to insure the trip through a travel insurance company, at a good rate, and you won't have the problem of figuring out the appropriate total coverage you want. The rate quote will be based on the non-refundable portion of your rental.

Lowering Your AC Bill

If you are on a time-of-use plan, and you don't have much in-an-out house traffic, when it's really really hot outside, here is a cool way to lower your AC bill: Super-cool your house during off-peak hours. Specifically, during off-peak hours, set your temperature as low as you can stand it (certainly below 74 and better down to 68 or lower), even if it means wearing a sweater or parka. This will cool not only the air, but everything in the house, including the floors, walls, furniture, and even the clothes in your closet. Then, when on-peak hours resume, raise the temperature to the warmest you can stand it. In the meantime, your AC unit will be off for hours, which could end up saving you 25%-33% on your summer electric bills.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

TV Sharpness Control

[Courtesy of cnet]

If you turn up the sharpness control on your TV, you'll get a sharper picture, right? Nope. In fact, it's the opposite.
Sharpness is found among the basic picture settings on every TV, and its very name seems to encourage you to turn it all the way up. After all, who doesn't want to see the sharpest, clearest most detailed picture possible?
The problem is that the sharpness control itself doesn't really do anything to increase detail, and can often obscure that detail behind a mask of artificial-looking enhancement.
You should almost always turn it all the way down, especially with high-quality sources like HD streams from Netflix and others, HDTV broadcasts, video games and Blu-ray discs. And here's why.
Au naturale versionGeoffrey Morrison
The "sharper" versionGeoffrey Morrison

Sharpness is edge enhancement.

On nearly all TVs, the sharpness control adds something called "edge enhancement." That's exactly what it sounds like. The edges in the image are enhanced, essentially by adding a thin outline or halo to them. This makes them more visible.
Take a look at the two images above. The first image is the au naturale version. The second has significant amounts of edge enhancement. Note the outline around the buildings.
The picture below is a closeup of the sharpened image.
Geoffrey Morrison
As you can see, a sort of white halo appears around distinct edges. This is exactly what the sharpness controls on most TVs do.
The problem is, that halo shouldn't be there and it's replacing what should be. In this image it may not seem like a big deal, but with most content that halo is covering the actual detail in the image. In addition it often brings out grainy noise in other parts of the image. See how much cleaner the top image looks, compared to the enhanced image.
Edge enhancement definitely gives the image a certain look. It can even provide the appearance of more detail. Most TVs have their sharpness controls turned up by default, so we're used to this enhanced faux-detail look.
In fact, un-enhanced images can look soft by comparison. In reality however, the softer-looking image is actually more detailed, because it shows fine textures in walls, pores on faces, even tiny hairs -- all of which can be hidden by too much edge enhancement.

Other controls

Depending on the brand and model of your TV or projector, there could be detail enhancements that go beyond just the sharpness control. These could just be variations of edge enhancement or it could be something more.
There are ways to improve apparent detail, without resorting to ham-fisted edge enhancement. For example, Darbee does an impressive job making the image seem sharper without any noticeable artifacts and Epson's Super-Resolution does this as well; Sony's labyrinthine Reality Creation does, but you'll need some time to work out what's adding apparent sharpness and what's just edge enhancement.
Generally, we advise turning any of these features off. Professional TV calibrators usually try to eliminate any such enhancements in an effort to present the image as close as possible to the source. We do the same thing when we calibrate TVs for CNET reviews.
If you're curious about the effects of these enhancements, feel free to try out each in turn to see what it does, and if you like the look of the image better. Purists will keep these enhancements off, but if you like the look of it better, hey, it's your TV.

Consider the source

Occasionally, the edge enhancement is in the source. This was common on early DVDs. If it's in the source, there's nothing you can do about it. It's just something to keep in mind if you're trying out different settings, don't use just one source or program.
TV manufacturers love edge enhancement, largely because it makes their TVs seem super detailed when viewed in a store.
There are also some sources, generally low-quality video like standard-def TV channels or even VHS tapes, that can benefit from a TV's detail enhancement circuits. These sources are so soft and low-resolution to begin with, that when blown up to the size of today's large televisions they may look better enhanced.

What if you can't turn it off?

Some TVs, especially older ones, have edge enhancement that's permanently enabled. Even turning the sharpness control to zero and going through every setting (and picture preset) in your TV, you still may see edge enhancement or other processing. Last year's Vizio P series showed undefeatable edge-enhancement, for example, until Vizio issued a software update to address the issue.
Conversely, some TVs, such as some recent models from Sony, actively soften the image when you turn the sharpness control to zero (below 50 on some LG models). I have no idea why this is the case, or in what universe it makes sense. On these TVs, the proper setting could be one or two ticks up from zero, or even as high as the halfway point on the sharpness control.
The best way to be sure your sharpness control is set properly is to use a calibration Blu-ray, such as Disney WOW: World of Wonder. Specialized test patterns can quickly reveal extra processing and allow you to minimize it.

Bottom line

If you go to your TV right now and turn the sharpness control all the way down the picture is absolutely going to look soft. Much like high color temperatures, anyone who isn't used to making fine adjustments to their TV controls has gotten used to a certain "look" to their TV's picture.
If you experiment with this and find you don't like the look of the un-enhanced image, that's fine. It's your TV. Just know that as TVs and content move to higher 4K resolutions, edge enhancement is going to block more and more of the actual detail possible in these TVs.
My advice? Give it a few days at or near "0," then try watching a show with the sharpness control back where it was. I bet you hate it; I did.

It Does Not Hurt to Complain to Corporate Headquarters

True Story From a Loyal Subscriber:

8/12 Email to Toyota: "I own a Camry Hybrid and love it. I use my dealer (Camelback Toyota in Phoenix AZ) for all its service, and my dealer is fabulous in every way. I used to own Lexuses and have found my Toyota dealer to be as professional and classy as was the Lexus dealer. Yesterday, I received a "promotion" from Right Toyota in Phoenix AZ. As you can see from the first attachment, it makes it appear that I've won a $1,000 Visa card, but I doubt that's the case. As you can see from the second attachment, I emailed the general manager but received no response. In short, I think this kind of misleading "promotion/advertisement" borders on the fraudulent and at the very least is cheezy and classless and greatly diminishes the Toyota brand and reputation. I have been thinking of trading in my Camry and my wife's Honda and buying two Priuses. I know I would not do so at Right Toyota, and if Toyota endorses this kind of "promotional advertising," it gives me pause whether even to stay with Toyota. I am not complaining. Rather, I am bringing this to your attention because of my fondness for Toyota."

8/15 Excerpt of Toyota's Email Response: "While monthly incentives are offered on a regional level, dealers may also do their own advertising and offer their own incentives as well to be more competitive. We apologize that as the manufacturer of the vehicle, we are unable to control the independent incentives they offer.However, each dealer has a customer relations manager, whose job is to address all sales and service issues that may arise. In the interest of customer satisfaction, we would like to contact Matthew Winter, the Customer Relations Manager of record at Right Toyota, so that your concerns can be fully addressed. If you would like us to take this action, please reply to this email with your permission. Once contacted the dealer's management will contact you in two business days, and will report back to Toyota once the follow-up is completed so we have a record of both your experience and the outcome.  By alerting the dealer to this experience we can open the lines of communication and attempt to resolve it in a mutually beneficial way."

8/15: Email Response to Toyota: "I appreciate your response and totally understand the position your taking. That said, I have no interest in having any contact or dealings with Right Toyota, so please, do NOT have anyone from Right Toyota contact me. Any dealership that sends out the kind of “promotion” they did, where the only way a customer can understand that it is not at all what it appears to be (and the dealership can avoid a claim of fraud) is to use a magnifying glass to read explanatory print that is so tiny that it cannot be read without a magnifying glass, is not a dealership I want to have anything to do with. I have gotten Toyota promotions from my dealer (Camelback Toyota) for 7 years and have seen nothing like this, nor did I see anything like this for the 20 years I was dealing with Scottsdale Lexus. If I had, I would have ceased dealing with them. What Right Toyota is doing is just the kind of thing that makes people so distrustful of car dealerships. Again, thank you for your time and consideration of the matter."

8/15: Excerpt of Email Response from Toyota: "Per your request, we have not forwarded your concern to Right Toyota's management team. We have documented your comments at our National Headquarters, where they remain available for review from the appropriate departments. Based on your past ownership history, and in the interest of maintaining your patronage with Toyota in the future, we would like to extend a one-time $500.00 loyalty reimbursement toward the purchase of a new Toyota lease, new Toyota purchase or a new Scion purchase, from any authorized Toyota and/or Scion dealer.This offer is separate from negotiations with the dealer, as well as any available incentives or rebates in place at the time of purchase, and would be processed as a retroactive reimbursement upon receipt within our offices of documentation of the transaction.  We will maintain this offer for twelve months from the date of this email, 8/13/2015." 

                                                             *     *     *

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Network Storage Devices

If you've never used a network storage device or are still using one that's 5 years old, it's time to get with the times. For slightly over $100, you can get one with 2TB of storage, that is a snap to set up, you can access your stuff from anywhere in the world, you can use it for and access it from your tablet or phone, you can have piece of mind because you will have everything backed up on a real-time basis, and much much more. And for a few dollars more, if you have a gazillion photos or videos, you can store and access them as well. An excellent basic unit is the WD MyCloud,

Abode Rentals

Airbnb, VRBO, and Flip-Key have their respective advantages and disadvantages. Affiliated with VRBO, HomeAway is an excellent site with excellent features. It lets you search without putting in dates and it does not sneak in houses far away from where you want to be. It also insures rapid responses from owners and has a terrific app that keeps track of your reservation and then lets you know all kinds of things in the area, from shopping to entertainment. The only glitch I've discovered so far is that it will say "now that your trip is just around corner," even you're not to go around the corner until mid-September 2016. One other resource to always consider is just put "house rentals" or "lodging" or any such search term into The Google and you will likely find localized rental sources, even in far away places like Sant Pol de Mar, which do not appear on any of the major portals.

PS: If someone wants to make a dot.com fortune, just create an "amalgamator" website for abode rentals such as Orbitz or Google Flights does for flights and hotels. As the world now exists, there is no escaping the pain to search site after site, and it would be wonderful if we could put this world behind us.

Extending Your Home Wi-Fi Network's Reach

[Courtesy of cnet]

Power line adapters are a cheap and easy way to create a wired network throughout your home, and some models include Wi-Fi capability. I recently installed the latter variety in the form of the TP-Link TL-WPA4220KIT and now have a strong Wi-Fi reception in every corner and both floors of my home.
Like most power line kits, my TP-Link kit includes two adapters: one that plugs into the wall and connects via Ethernet cable to my Wi-Fi router and another that I plugged in upstairs that broadcasts a wireless signal. The two adapters were paired out of the box as their own secure Wi-Fi network, but I didn't want a second Wi-Fi network that I would need to switch to when I was upstairs. Instead, I wanted to give my existing Wi-Fi network greater range.
tp-link-powerline-adapter.jpg
Matt Elliott/CNET
According to TP-Link's instructions, I could hit the WPS button on my router and the Wi-Fi Clone button on the second adapter to set the adapter's settings to my router's network name and password. Like my experience with most networking matters, this feature did not work. No matter, I found a way to do it manually. I am using the TP-Link as an example here, but I would wager that a similar approach will work with power line adapters from other manufacturers.
After failing to clone my Wi-Fi network using the Wi-Fi Clone button, I went to TP-Link's Download Center and downloaded the utility for my adapter that let me customize its settings, including the wireless network name and password. And all I needed to do was connect my laptop to the adapter's Wi-Fi network, set the network name and password as the same as my existing Wi-Fi network, and reboot the adapter.
In the Wireless section, I went to Wireless Settings and changed the name of SSID, which just network jargon for network name. Then in the Wireless Security section, I changed the password. After each of these steps, I scrolled down and click the Save button. Lastly, I went to the System Tools section and clicked the Reboot button, which reset the adapters with my customized settings.
tp-link-settings.jpg
Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET
Now, instead of having a second Wi-Fi network that I need to switch to when I am upstairs with a weak Wi-Fi signal, I have a single Wi-Fi network that I stay connected to with a strong signal no matter when I my home I may roam.