Wednesday, May 14, 2008

High Definition TV Screens vs Conventional TV Screens

I have not seen anything written about this anywhere. So, I thought I'd take a crack at it. There are all sorts of places offering help in choosing the size of TV (both High Def and Conventional) that you ought to buy given how far you sit from the screen. There are also a number of sites offering help in figuring out all the abbreviations and buzz words that surround the changes due to TV technology improving in the digital and high definition realms. But one thing hasn't been covered and it is going to lead to a lot of disappointment to people moving to a new high definition TV from their old conventional TV.

I noticed the problem when I got a new computer at work. It was one of the new wide screen monitors that has the same proportions as the new high definition TVs. You can see in the diagram at the right that conventional TVs have a width to height ration of 4 to 3. That means if you divide the width by the height, you get the same value as if you divide 4 by 3: 1.333 but the manufacturers sell them by measuring from the upper left corner to the lower right corner. But no matter what size TV you buy, the proportions are always the same. So, if you buy a 27 inch set, the width will be about 21.6 inches and the height will be about 16.2 inches. Divide 21.6 by 16.2 and you get - 1.333 ! No matter what size TV you buy, the width and height will have the same ratio.

Now, for high definition TVs, the ration is 16 to 9 (similar to the proportions for a movie screen). With these proportions, the screen is a little wider compared to the height. This all fine but you have to realize that the manufacturers still tell you the size of the screen as measured from the upper left corner to the lower right corner. So, if you buy a 27 inch high definition TV, you might think you're getting the same area of screen as you would get with a conventional TV. But instead, you get a TV that is about 13.23 inches high and 23.49 inches wide.

Compare the areas. The conventional TV area (width multiplied by height) is 349.92 square inches. The high definition TV area would be about 310.77 square inches! The conventional TV is about 12% bigger for a given diagonal measurement. The thing I especially noticed, with my new computer monitor, was the missing height.

Next time I'll write a bit more about how to get the same height in your new high definition TV as you now have with your conventional TV.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The King's Stilts

Well, perhaps I shouldn't have started making entries in this blog again. Each of the recent ones has been about bad news or disaster. And I'm at it again today. I'm sorry to be depressing. I will try to make my next entry a happier one.

A terrible storm, Cyclone Nargis, hit Myanmar (Burma) on April 27 and it looks like the worst is yet to come. While the storm has gone, the ruin it left is not being cleaned up and help is not getting to the people who need it. A lot of the trouble comes about because of the repressive government in that country. Government officials worry about outsiders coming into the country to "stir things up" (my quotes for emphasis, not to quote a person). Those leaders are willing to trade the death and misery of their people for holding on to power and keeping outside influences at bay. But my entry today is more about the past and about how current events sometimes mirror fiction.

I read a report today from the International Herald Tribune. The report, titled "Before cyclone hit, Burmese delta was stripped of defenses" by Michael Casey of The Associated Press, says that one of the reasons the storm was so devastating was that the mangrove forests along the coast have been stripped away. They haven't just been destroyed all at once but over the years since 1924. These massive forests, with their twined and entangled roots that can grow in salt water, could have impeded the water and lessened the damage.

The idea of these trees with their entwined roots holding back the water to save the country reminded me of a story I read to my kids (over and over again:-) - The King's Stilts by Dr. Seuss. In the story, the low lying Kingdom of Binn is protected from the sea by a row of Dike Trees whose roots are thick and entwined and can grow right at the edge of the sea. Sound familiar? In this case, though, the threat to the Dike Trees was not pollution or humans chopping them down to build condos. The threat comes from Nizzards - birds that look like a cross between vultures (or buzzards) and crows. They like eating the roots of the trees. To guard against the Nizzards, the Kingdom has its Patrol Cats. One thousand trained cats work twelve hour shifts (five hundred to each shift) chasing away the Nizzards. The King, Bertram, is in charge of all this and is responsible for organizing the Kingdom's defenses against the sea and the Nizzards and it takes most of his day to get everything done. The title of the story comes from the fact that after Bertram has worked so hard in the defense of his kingdom, he takes some time every day to get out his stilts and enjoy himself. When he works, he works hard and when he plays, he plays with abandon. One of his ministers doesn't like the spectacle of the King acting like a child and gets rid of the stilts. Bertram is so overworked and depressed that he can't do his job right. The Patrol Cats get lazy and don't do their job and the Nizzards start eating away the Dike Trees. Everything is made right when the King's page boy gets the stilts back for the King which lifts his spirits and gives him the will to get the Patrol Cats back into shape who drive off the Nizzards and save the Kingdom. This story has a happy ending.

In real life, it's too late to grow back the mangrove forests - for this storm anyway. There are many groups from all over the world trying to save the mangrove forests we have and help the ones that are destroyed to make a come back. We can't just count this up to some poor countries having to make choices between saving their natural resources or surviving. We're doing the same with our salt marshes and our own mangrove forests (they're often called mangrove swamps here - it lessens the outrage when they are destroyed). We humans have a very hard time seeing trends and acting on problems before disaster strikes. Think about bridges collapsing; fuel in short supply and prices rising, food prices rising, rain forests disappearing. And those are the obvious things. Dr. Seuss wrote this story in 1939. The mangrove forests in the Irrawaddy Delta were probably still in pretty good shape then.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Words can inspire - part 2

As it happens, it was around this time last year that the town of Greensburg, Kansas was completely destroyed by tornadoes. The photo at the right shows part of the town from the air. The credits for this photo are for Jaime Oppenheimer of the The Wichita Eagle newspaper. You can see other pictures of this type here. I've never seen a tornado nor seen the devastation first-hand but this photo just shocks me. I've always heard how capricious tornadoes seem to be where a path of destruction can be seen through a town. Here, the whole town (with minor exceptions) was destroyed. Of course, tornadoes aren't really "capricious". We just assign that behavior to their actions.

There have been many news stories recently about how the town is rebuilding but, as usual, my favorite report came from Nation Public Radio. The Friday, May 2 report on its evening news show, All Things Considered, had this to say, quoting Mayor-elect Bob Dixson, "It's sad that the tragedy of the storm came through and wiped us out, but that presented us with a golden opportunity." The report went on to say, "Amazingly, many people here speak with gratitude about the storm that crushed the town. Greensburg had dwindled for decades, and the storm offered a fresh start." This is the same attitude found in the essay by Dr. Donald Rosenstein I quoted in my last entry. The people who are staying and rebuilding in Greensburg are adapting to the new situation. Of course they are sad at the destruction and loss of life but they realize you cannot turn back the clock. They haven't become inured to disaster and are obviously not condoning destruction. They are taking what God has wrought and making something new of it. I admire them for moving on.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Words can inspire

On the way into work today, I heard one of the essays from the new This I Believe series from National Public Radio. I've enjoyed most of the entries from this series I've heard and the one this morning (I think it was repeated from an earlier time) was especially moving. It was titled, "Adapting to the Possibilities of Life." It was written and narrated by Donald Rosenstein: a doctor who is the clinical director of the National Institute of Mental Health. He specializes in psychiatric care of the medically ill. He relates how, on seeing his young son's reaction to an exciting event, he realized that his son was autistic. This, of course, changed everything. It not only meant that he, his wife, his daughter and his son would now be forced into new ways of doing everything, it also meant that certain dreams they had about the future were never going to happen. As the title said, they were going to have to adapt to their new life.

But, some good things came out of this, too. New ways of looking at life. New ways to help other people with similar problems. Realizing strengths in themselves they might not have known about. So, that now, given the same stimulus, they have a different response. They no longer panic when their son acts a certain way. Their daughter is no longer embarrassed by her brother's behavior. The line in the essay that reached out and grabbed was this:

"I believe that "reframing a problem" can help to overcome it. But adaptation is not the same as becoming tolerant of or inured to something. Adaptation allows for creative possibilities." Our society is so obsessed with changing everything or controlling everything that we can't seem to acknowledge the usefulness of adapting. If the price of gasoline gets too high, we insist the only thing that will return our lives to normal is for the price to drop again. The other option is to adapt and change our driving habits. When someone acts in a way we don't approve of, instead of adapting to it (and thus "condoning" it), we insist on changing that person into our model of how they should act. Just because we learn to live with the situation doesn't mean we approve of it. If I break my leg, I would be foolish to refuse to walk with crutches and take it easy until the leg has healed. Do I wish I hadn't broken my leg? Yes, if I could magically change things, I wouldn't have broken my leg but I can't change the situation. So, in making the best of it, I sit around, with my leg up, and read some books I haven't had time to read before.

There is a real power in knowing when you should try to change a situation and when you should adapt and accept the situation.