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I’m in Detroit

I’m posting from a motel room in Detroit, where I’ve been in town for my Aunt Shirley’s 85th birthday bash. They didn’t have room for me to stay with the family, since so many other relatives came in for the event. It was good I was able to make it, because it makes up for missing Thanksgiving last year. I was finally able to give out some of my complimentary copies of Only Superhuman to the clan. And one of Shirley’s friends works for the local library, and I donated a copy which she will put in their collection. I also gave Shirley a copy of the audiobook, since her eyes aren’t what they were; I was hoping I’d have more to give out, but the copies I was expecting this week didn’t arrive in time.

Anyway, the motel (officially a hotel, but let’s face it, it’s a motel with a slightly fancier lobby) hasn’t been all that pleasant. The bed’s too hard, the room’s too noisy, and the soap literally stinks. For once, I won’t be taking any motel soap or shampoo home with me — it just smells too bad. I always tend to have a sleepless night on the first night of a trip, due to adrenaline and the new setting and whatnot, but my second (and fortunately last) night wasn’t much better — I think I got 5 hours sleep at most. But the continental breakfast is okay and the wi-fi works. This morning I finally decided to try one of those waffle makers they have at motel continental breakfast buffets — there are individual cups of pre-measured quantities of batter, and you follow the instructions and pour one in the preheated griddle, close the lid, use the handle to flip it over around the axle, wait until it beeps, then flip back and extract with the tongs, resulting in a largish Belgian waffle. It wasn’t bad, but not easy to cut with the flimsy plastic knife and fork they supplied. And I wish there’d been a better topping available, like fresh blueberries. The syrup was fine, but I wanted more fruit. And I wasn’t in the mood for an apple or an unripe banana.

One other annoyance about the room is that the TV is stuck on the wrong aspect ratio and there’s no way to adjust it. The TV in the breakfast room has the same problem. I continue to be bewildered by all these widescreen TVs that default to stretching out conventional 4:3 images to fit the frame so that everything’s flattened out. It looks ridiculous. I don’t understand why TVs are even made to be capable of doing that. It seems like it should be a given that correct aspect ratio is more important than fitting a certain frame width. One reason I still haven’t upgraded to a widescreen TV at home is because I’m worried about whether I can find one that defaults to the correct aspect ratio every time. My computer monitor does that automatically when I watch videos online, so why wouldn’t TVs do the same? It’s the natural way to do it, and I’m bewildered and annoyed that TV designers seem to think otherwise.

(Oh, by the way, yesterday morning, they had a local newscast on the breakfast-room TV, and a reporter mentioned something about “secretarian conflict” in Iran. So there’s violence between the receptionists and the filing clerks? Oy. People hired to be newsreaders should be better readers.)

Anyhoo, I’ll be checking out in an hour or so, stopping by to see the family one more time after that, then heading home, which should be about a 6-hour trip, or less if I’m lucky. There’s some snow in the forecast along my route, though not as bad as I hear it is further west. Hopefully I’ll avoid any substantial snowfall.

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  1. March 29, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    “Secretarian violence”?


  2. Mike S.
    April 17, 2013 at 11:21 am

    This is a bit late. (Though coincidentally, I was in Detroit that same week.) But just to reassure you about widescreen TVs: yes, they can be set not to mess with the aspect ratio. All widescreen sets I’ve encountered have multiple modes, which basically amount to “don’t mess” (often called “Panel”), stretch-to-fit (not accurately labeled “Distortovision”, for some reason), Zoom (maintains the aspect ratio but stretches in both directions to only show the center of the image– useful if a widescreen show is being shown letterboxed on an SD station).

    There are also occasionally other modes that try to split the difference, e.g. not stretching the center but stretching the sides more– as a right-thinking individual you can ignore these.

    As to why the manufactures do it, it’s because as far as I can tell most people are clinically insane– hi, mom and dad!– and would rather people on TV look like willowy elves or squashed gnomes than waste precious screen real estate on those horrible black bars. My wife can attest to my loud grumblings at hotels adding insult to injury by locking out the controls to fix it.

    • April 17, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Thanks, that’s good to know. So what I need to look for is one that I can set to use “Panel” as the default or permanent setting.

      But what you say about Zoom suggests that a letterboxed show wouldn’t automatically be enlarged to the maximum feasible image size without distortion or image cutoff. My computer does that automatically when I set it to fullscreen mode, so it’s strange that TV sets — which are actually designed for watching TV on as their primary function — don’t seem to do the same.

      • Mike S.
        April 17, 2013 at 12:14 pm

        In my experience, at least, sets just stay on the mode you last left them on, so you can choose Panel and then mostly forget it.

        I think the problem re Zoom is that a letterboxed SD antenna or cable signal just looks like a 4:3 480p image to the TV– it has no way of knowing that the top and bottom bits are letterbox and the middle part is the actual picture. (Whereas a computer is usually sending an image of a known resolution, without extraneous data. )

        In principle, it would presumably be possible for a TV to guess based on the unchanging dark areas. But since letterboxed SD is a legacy format, I doubt there’s much impetus to handle it in a sophisticated way.

        (I think they’re smarter when it comes to all-digital SD sources– for example, I believe that when I play a 16:9 DVD on a player connected via HDMI, it plays correctly by default.)

        BTW, one thing to know if you plan on hooking up a computer to the TV. (Which can be really useful if you have an available computer nearby, for any sort of streaming. Lots of TV network sites play better with computers than with set-top boxes or portable devices) TV VGA connections are often limited in terms of the resolutions they can display, in a way that doesn’t necessarily match up with the computer’s available resolutions. (So trying to stream Netflix or YouTube from a computer via VGA can look horrible.)

        If at all possible, you’re much better off hooking up the computer via HDMI, which will generally let you set the computer’s output resolution to match the TV’s. (If the computer doesn’t have HDMI out but has DVI, DVI->HDMI connectors are cheap and work well.)

      • April 17, 2013 at 12:34 pm

        I have a few HDMI cables handed down from my father in case I ever need them, but I’m not sure what kind of video connections my computer has beyond VGA.

        The flatscreen TVs I have experience with in hotels and motels reset to default aspect ratio options when I turn them off, and the default is the wrong setting (stretch, I think).

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