Copyright

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Friday, January 24, 2014

TV Woes, Part 2

An additional issue we were having with our entertainment center was that our Series 2 Dual-Tuner TiVo was not receiving the remote signal consistently. Sometimes it would work okay, but most of the time it was taking multiple presses to get the signal to the TiVo and, sometimes, it would go through long stretches where it wouldn't accept the signal at all.

This came to a head recently as well. It got to the point where we could barely control our TiVo at all. Once again, I turned to the Interwebs for information to see if others were having this issue.

It turns out that modern LCD/LED TVs have a function called "backlighting." This feature can send out a strong enough signal that it can override your remote's IR signal, effectively blocking it from reaching the IR sensor on the TiVo (or, perhaps, other devices). The backlighting feature is used to make the screen brighter and the colors sharper. It has different settings depending on the way you are using it (for example, on our TV, the "Sports" selection has high backlighting, the "Movie" one has low backlighting, and the "Standard" is a medium amount of backlighting).

I played around with this feature and discovered if we turned it all the way off, our TiVo remote started functioning again. But even one tick up on the scale for backlighting and the TiVo remote stopped working reliably.

I then starting thinking about when this trouble started, because we have owned that TV for a few years and the issue only cropped up in the last few months. I then realized that when we had some work done in the front room, we had changed the setup of the devices within the cabinet, placing the TiVo closer to the TV than it had been before, and I suspected that the problems started about that same time.

After dealing with the issues in TV Woes, Part 1, my wife and I decided to act on my hunch and move the TiVo down in the cabinet, farther away from the TV. This only shifted its position by about 3.5", but I recalled not having the remote issues prior to moving it up and we were definitely having them after moving it up. So, it was worth a shot and didn't cost us anything.

Low and behold, since moving the TiVo down under the other (used much less often) device, the TiVo is working like a champ again.

The moral of the story is, if you find your remotes are not working as well or consistently as they were or you think they should, try finding and turning off the "Backlight" feature on your LCD/LED TV (the feature is also on some plasma TVs). If your remote suddenly seems to work much better and more consistently, then you need to get your device farther away from your TV so the backlight feature doesn't cause interference with the IR reception from the remote. Or, of course, if you don't mind the much duller look of your picture, you can simply turn off the Backlight feature and leave it off.

TV Woes, Part 1

A few years ago we bought a Samsung LN46C630 TV. We love it. It is a nice size (although my wife now admits we could go bigger), a quality-name product, and has a very nice, clear picture. Recently, however, the picture started suffering from a problem: it flickered. By "flicker" I mean that the entire picture would start strobing brighter and darker rapidly while never actually losing the picture. This strobe effect would sometimes turn off when a new signal was received, like the station going into or out of a commercial break, or when a DVD would move to a new chapter, etc., and would occasionally fade or stop on its own.

It was getting worse, though. When it first started, it was only our main (Component 1) input that was affected. If we switched to any other input, the flickering would stop and we would be left in peace. However, over the last few months, switching inputs stopped working to resolve the issue. We were at the mercy of some sort of signal change. Then the signal change stopped working. At that point, once the TV started flashing, it would keep flashing. Needless to say, it made our really nice TV virtually unwatchable when it happened.

We were to the point where we considered buying a new TV. Our TV was out of warranty and, actually, the problem started very shortly after the warranty expired. I decided to check online to see if others were having this issue. Searching on "Samsung TV flickering" and "Samsung TV strobing" I found that there were many who were having the same issue with their Samsung TVs. Reading through the many hits, I found a trend: it seemed to be all the "LN##C###" in particular were having this issue, and the C600 models specifically. It also seemed strangely common and convenient that it happened just about the time the warranty expired in almost every case.

Reading further, someone had called for servicing and his service person was told by Samsung that it is a common problem with a particular run of TVs and that cutting a jumper on one of the two electronics boards inside the TV can resolve the issue. Depending on the exact model of your TV, the exact jumper number may be slightly different, but they are located in the same spot on the board and perform the same function.

Everyone who tried the solution presented had excellent results and their flickering problem went away.

I've been laid up again with back pain after falling down the stairs. So, I've been sitting in the front room in my recliner watching a lot of TV. Having the flickering happening nearly all the time was driving me nuts. I confirmed with my wife that the TV was out of warranty and that we had enough in our account to buy a new TV if needed. I then tackled the issue following the advice/instructions I found online.

Instructions

They are pretty simple and straightforward. The one piece of advice I would add is that the sensor that reads the remote signal is in an awkward place and you can easily pull it out while taking off or putting on the TV's back cover. If you find that you follow these instructions and the remote "stops working," crack open the case and find the little daughter board and make sure the cable that connects that board (and the sensor) to the main motherboard inside is still connected, or reconnect it if needed.

Since performing that little bit of surgery, we have had no flickering/strobing on our TV. It is back to working 100% and looking great.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Taxes

Through some of the biggest growth and success of America, the wealthiest were taxed at what would be considered Draconian amounts today. Shortly after World War 2, the government taxed the wealthy around 90% of their income. Yes, 90%. This lasted through the 1960s. In the 1970s, we lowered the tax rates to around 70% and in the 1980s, Reagan lowered them to 50% and then down to about 30%. In the 1990s, during the last economic crisis, the tax rates were raised to around 40%. Now they are back to round 35% or so.

The problem, as always, is where is the money? By that I mean, who has the money? The federal government can only get taxes from people who can pay taxes. During the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government taxed the hell out of the upper classes because they were the ones with the money. This allowed the government to afford all the for-work projects it created to get the huge influx of people injected into the workforce as the men came home from war and the women did not want to give up their own careers and go back to being exclusively homemakers.

As the workforce expanded, even more jobs were created, which allowed poorer individuals to move up, and allowed the middle class to both spring into existence and grow in size (millions of people) and wealth (percentage of wealth in their collective hands). The bulk of the wealth of America shifted from a few people having a lot of money and the majority not having it, to the majority of the wealth being spread over a lot of people, with only a few on the extreme ends. In this way, the federal government was able to ease the tax burden on everybody and lower the tax rates on the rich while easing the tax rates on the huge middle class. As the middle-classes' amount of the wealth slowly increased, the federal government steadily lowered the tax rates on the rich, as they didn't need to shoulder the bulk of the burden any more, and the much lower rates on the steadily increasing middle-class continued to cover the needs of the government.

However, the government did not change this philosophy as the wealth started to move back into the hands of a minority of people again during the 1990s. The tax rates were changed for a brief time and America was able to "right the ship" on the false belief that the economic crisis was over. However, Bush lowered the taxes again on the wealthy during the 2000s, and the money continued flowing faster toward a minority of people again. Middle-class wages were no longer keeping up with or exceeding inflation, people's dollars were not buying what they once could (like housing and cars), and the middle-class had to borrow increasing amounts of credit to do what they wanted, while the rich got wealthier and inject less of that money back into the economy as either purchases or taxes.

I guess a simple way to put it is like this:

The federal government needs $1000 to run. You have 10 people from which to gather the $1000.
  • 1 person makes $1000 (top 10 %)
  • 2 people make $500 each (wealthy)
  • 5 people make $100 each (middle class)
  • 1 person makes $50 (minimum wage)
  • 1 person makes $10 or less (poor or out of work)
If you only tax the 5 middle class people any amount, including 100% of their income, you cannot reach the $1000 you need to run the government. If, however, you tax the top 30% a tax rate of 45%, you net $900 of the dollars needed ($450 from the top and $225 each from the next two). Now the 5 people making $100 only needs to make up the remaining $100, or be taxed at about 20% each ($20 each). Notice that those in the lowest brackets don't even need to pay taxes, even though they may be the people who benefit the most out of the government's use of its funds.

Now, here's the thing: the middle class is taking home $80 (or 80%) of their income, which they can use to buy a lot of goods and services, assuming that their buying power is strong. As a whole entity, the middle class has a collective buying power of $400. The next wealthiest group, even though they are being taxed more than double what the middle class makes, takes home 3.5 TIMES the middle class amount ($275/ea), so are still considered very wealthy. The top 10% take home almost 7 TIMES the middle class amount ($550), and nearly double what even the next wealthiest 20% do, so are still considered extremely wealthy and have huge buying power and ability to create jobs and more income!

This is why high tax rates on the wealthy work. You can tax them using extremely high tax rates and they still take home more money than the middle class workers do, by a large amount.

You can find many graphs online that show the money discrepancy in America. Using the same example data, above, we are taxing all but the lowest class approximately 30%, which is why we have a deficit. If you tax everyone 30%, you only take in $765 of the $1000 you need to run the government. Either you have to cut government programs to work under the new figure, or you have to raise taxes.

The other problem is that the buying line has shifted. In my first example, I'm assuming a buying power of $50. The minimum wage people are, therefore, living paycheck-to-paycheck and just scraping by, the middle class (after taxes) has room for some savings and extra purchases, and the wealthy have huge buying power. Today, however, that is not true. They buying power is at about $80. So the poor are at a huge disadvantage, with nearly no upward mobility. The minimum wage people get farther behind with few chances to move up. The middle class is slowly getting farther behind and cannot put much away for savings, with fewer chances to move up. But the wealthiest 30% are not touched at all and see nothing wrong or problematic with the system.

Here's a great video that illustrates the income discrepancy in America.


Notice that the respondents know and understand that the distribution of wealth should be unequal. People understand that there should be stratuses of wealth, as it gives them something to work and strive for. What people do not understand is how much wealth the top 20% (and the top 1%) actually has. Once you realize how much of the actual dollars are with the wealthy, you understand that they MUST be taxed higher because THEY HAVE THE MONEY. You cannot get blood from a stone, and the middle class simply no longer has the bulk of the money. Its buying power isn't the equivalent to the wealthiest people any more... not by a long shot.

Is that video the end-all, be-all? No, of course not. It has well-documented flaws. But it shows the vast disparity of where the wealth is actually located. When you take into account that Congress keeps pushing for yet more tax breaks for the wealthiest, even though that is where the money is located, that means the non-wealthiest have to pay more in taxes, even though they don't have the money to do so. The more they pay in taxes, the lower their buying power to purchase items that keep the economy running and the fewer dollars they can save for retirement or emergencies. So,either the wealthiest 20% (and 1% in particular) need to be taxed at much higher rates OR they need to spend the equivalent of what the 100 million or so "middle class" people would be spending on items, goods, and services to keep the economy flowing. So, either way, the wealthiest few need to inject more money into the system because they are the ones with the money.

And, frankly, as my simplistic example above showed, you can tax the wealthiest at significantly higher rates and it doesn't affect their buying power or their status. It won't affect people trying to strive to be in that stratum of the country, either. But, regardless, that money HAS TO flow into the country either via purchases (and, simply put, the wealthiest few simply cannot purchase enough "stuff" to keep the economy going-- there are only so many houses, cars, refrigerators, and toys that a million people need) OR via taxes.

Addendum

Read this post, written over two years after I made this post. Interesting that some of the rich are coming to similar conclusions.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Give the Devil His Due

Sometimes, something just strikes you. I don't claim this is original thought, it is just original to me and one that came to me a few days ago like the proverbial light bulb turning on.
If you follow the Christian mythology, God created all things. However, He only gave free will to Man. The Devil is a fallen Angel, who "rebelled" against God and his favoring of Man above all His other creations. But Angels do not have free will and cannot do anything other than God's will. Therefore, Lucifer, the Morningstar and first among Angels, must have been commanded by God to rebel. It is part of God's plan that the Devil exists. It also means that the strife and discord that the fallen Angel brings is on purpose and according to God's plan.
What does this mean for Christians today? Well, knowing that it is part of God's will that there be a Devil, and all the discord that he sows, might change how Christians view the bad things that happen in life. It means that the Devil is God's way of testing Christians, making them use their free will, and hopefully choosing good over evil.
Also, obviously, Christians have a list of ten rules that must be followed (the 10 Commandments). It is in these areas that mankind is most likely to be tested and where the Devil will tempt Christians. These also seem to be the areas where Man's emotions and free will are the weakest.
Lastly, it also means that the image of the Devil as a horned, tailed, pitchfork-wielding creature who revels in torment is likely wrong. It is much more likely, if following God's plan, that Lucifer is as beautiful as any other Angel. His job is to tempt, after all. And, as the old axiom goes, it is easier to catch flies with honey. How often does the, say, attractive politician or celebrity in the nice suit lead someone astray?
What does this mean for Christians? I'm not sure. At the least, you know that your temptations are part of God's plan (which you should already know), and that you are more likely to be tempted by the fair face. You should realize that those temptations are part of God's plan for you and part of your quest to salvation. And that God loved you enough to give you something against which to be tested, to prove your mettle, and to overcome.

As I said, I'm sure that none of this is original thought. But, I think, it is interesting to ponder.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Helix

Normally, it takes a TV show multiple episodes before it completely goes off the rails and re-interprets or ignores characterizations of its own characters. Not Helix, the new SyFy channel TV show about a potential plague and the CDC's attempts to halt it.

The show had a stellar pilot episode. The sets were well-made and interesting, the characters were broadly written but well-defined, the story was interesting and engaging, and the actors were adept. My only quibble was the small amount of melodrama inserted from the beginning -- the fact that Julia had slept with Peter while married to Alan. I loved how the show used very little music, outside of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?". The direction was competent. I was thinking that this might be a nice, new addition to my TV watching.

And then I watched episode two.

The premise of Helix is that a secret base full of scientists working on groundbreaking and cutting-edge research in the Arctic concoct a deadly pathogen that gets loose within the base and could start an outbreak of epic proportions. The CDC is called in to help analyze and resolve the situation. Once there, the CDC starts to discover things are worse than they imagined, and the pathogen actually mutates people.

By episode two, you already have people acting like idiots... er, I mean, "typical" horror-movie walking fatalities waiting to happen. These supposedly smart scientists who have worked on these types of issues before, are suddenly:
  • Working alone, many levels away from support and other people, with her back to the only door in/out of the lab she is in, even though she knows there are loose, pathogen-plagued individuals wandering around who cannot be found (and at least one of which has proven quite dangerous). You cannot be surprised when an infected gains access and threatens her.
  • Putting three possibly infected people together in one room even while she sees clear evidence of infection and the three are all physically larger and stronger than she is and they are exhibiting paranoid behaviors. You cannot be surprised when the three gang up and threaten her trying to secure their release.
  • Acting in such a lackadaisical fashion about the people they think may be infected in general. You cannot be surprised when the three women are overwhelmed by the infected and they all get loose.
  • Ignoring the team leader.
    • Alan asks his ex-wife repeatedly to work on one aspect of the pathogen and she constantly ignores him, does her own thing, and confronts (or tries to confront) him about his decisions. When she finally actually does what he asks, she finds out revelatory information about the pathogen that may have changed their protocols and analysis had she actually done it much sooner (for example, when first asked).
    • Alan tells everyone that they must go everywhere with a buddy. Everyone ignores this rule whenever it is convenient to the story to do so, and people are killed, infected, and harassed because of doing so.
    • Julia goes off to take a shower on her own, and is apparently infected by Peter in a pseudo-rape/aggressive sexualized encounter (his "kiss" spreads the infection and he attacks her when she rebuffs him and forces his kiss on her in a very aggressive, powerful context) scene in the shower (while he is fully clothed and she is completely naked, of course).
  • Lying to each other. Alan tries to convince the obviously evil and "in on it" head of the research group that they must be straight with each other in order to resolve this problem and save everyone's lives, yet then turns around and doesn't share everything he's learned with his teammates.
  • Being obtuse to the obvious and strange behavior of the head of the research group as he is obviously and verifiably lying to them over and over.
Now, looking at the list of idiotic behavior, you note that vast majority of them were performed by the female cast members. That's strike one. You notice that each is a behavior that people with intimate knowledge of viruses, pathogens, behavior, and disease control simply would not do, and is certainly against the characters and their backgrounds as presented in episode one. That's strike two. You notice they put the "hot chick" into a situation where she is naked and assaulted, fulfilling the standard "rape fantasy" aspects of any horror movie. That's strike three.
What looked to be an interesting and challenging TV show has turned into a typical, and badly written, horror archetype by the second episode. After watching them both, I am unsure whether I will even go back for a third helping, let alone finish out the season.

ADDENDUM (1/19/2014)


After watching the third episode, where the characters, in particular the female characters, continued to act in ways that are, at best, hard to fathom for trained professionals in their capacity, I had to delete the season pass and write off this series. It's too bad, as it has a lot of promise and the first episode was so good.