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  • The Golding Rule

    Posted on August 2nd, 2015 jameslynch No comments

    fliesThis is another guest posting by Jim Lynch, our favorite English teacher from Bishop O’Reilly. I still remember reading this book in 1974 as one of our class assignments. I just purchased the Kindle version and I’m planning to re-read it on an upcoming vacation.

    The Golding Rule

    One of the standard assignments in my high school British Literature curriculum was William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Written in 1954, the novel concerns a group of pre-adolescent English boys stranded on a tropical island without adults, after an abortive attempt to evacuate them to safety during a nuclear war. Within a brief period of time, these children of a sophisticated Western European nation with a proud tradition of culture and civilization turn to bloodlust, savagery and murder.

    After the classes finished an exhaustive discussion of the novel, I always called for a personal and secret written response to a few pointed questions. On scraps of paper they’d respond to the following: 1. If you and your entire class were stranded on a similar uncharted island for the rest of your lives, without hope of rescue, name the person in the class for whom you would vote to be chief. 2. Excluding identification, is there any potential Jack Merridew (the antagonist who become a bloody dictator) in the class? 3. Without rescue, would the eventual outcome your stay on the island be positive or negative?

    Invariably, their responses led me to wonder if we had read the same book. In their eighteen-year-old naive camaraderie, an overwhelming majority of my students: 1. Named a popular athlete or student council president as chief, 2. Refused to allow for the possibility that any of their peers could become ruthless savages, and 3. Thought that their acquired wisdom would allow them to overcome and solve any difficulties that arose. “Gilligan’s Island” anyone?

    After each and every such class response, I’d attempt to bring my students’ utopian vision more in line with Golding’s theme. In the summer of 1972, I reminded them, Tropical Storm Agnes wrought devastation to the town surrounding the very school in which they now sat. Many of my students were evacuated from the flood zone. After the Susquehanna’s raging waters finally subsided, I rode through the town in a panel truck, picking up flat tires from huge pay-loaders and delivering repaired ones, as an employee of a local tire company.

    On every street corner, I’d continue to point out, were members of the National Guard carrying locked and loaded M-16’s, with orders to shoot looters on sight. Pennsylvania’s governor had declared a state of emergency, and the local police force was temporarily out of commission. Why would such an action be necessary in such an area filled with friendly family neighborhoods and small businesses? What could have been the governor’s reasons for such a move? After moments of silence, the only response ever offered was a variation of, “That was different.”

    I then would offer a theoretical proposition. Suppose, I said, representatives of the police in their municipality had gone on the local news and indicated that protracted and unsuccessful negotiations for a new contract had broken down. Consequently, all members of the police department would go on strike as of midnight next Friday. Would the crime rate in their town, I asked, go up, go down or remain the same on that weekend? Once again I encountered initial silence, followed by, “That’s different.”

    Reminding them that Golding crafted his story as a microcosm of larger society, I then asked why their parents paid hefty taxes to support a criminal justice system. Beyond police protection, I said, why do we need courthouses, magistrates, judges, lawyers, and prison facilities? Because there are bad people in society, they would respond, and we have to protect ourselves from them. And all those bad people, I’d remind them, once sat in classes just like this one and had every opportunity to work hard, play by the rules, and choose happy and productive lives.

    Ultimately, I would conclude class discussions of the book with my hope that my students would reopen the discussion at their 25th class reunion, and my belief that, by that time, the seeds planted in their consciousness by Golding would have germinated in the soil of their maturity. While I appreciated their idealism, I found their naivete unsettling. I only attended one such class reunion, but the alumni were having such a memorable evening catching up and sharing family photos that I was loath to raise the issue with anyone.

    I seriously doubt, however, that the needle would have moved to a great degree in the direction of a pessimistic view of the human condition. While the signs are abundant, most prefer to avert their eyes and focus on family and friends, rather than the larger world. Despite media websites, and twenty-four-hour cable news, people tend to push unpleasant intrusions into the background.

    Iran’s hell-bent quest for atomic weapons; Russia’s incursions into the Ukraine; ISIS’s mass beheading, burning and drowning, and its goal of a world-wide caliphate; domestic terrorism; a $19 trillion national debt with 93 million American adults unemployed; massive illegal immigration; race riots in St. Louis and Baltimore; soaring homicide rates in urban areas – let the people we elected deal with such things, while we are busy attending to our own problems. When it appears that crime is a little too close for comfort, we’ll simply have an ADT sign planted in our front yard and a deadbolt installed on our front door.

    Most people believe that if we live by the golden rule, we’ll all get along. And for those few in society who don’t abide by that principle, we have police departments and a criminal justice system. The ugly reality that we don’t want to face, however, is that only a larger framework of laws makes it possible for anyone to abide by such an idealistic rule. For those who choose to live by a more primitive code of behavior, the golden rule is a fairy tale.

    People likely to ignore criminal law are only restrained by the penalties involved in breaking the law. When the laws cannot be enforced due to natural or man-made disasters, all bets are off, and the ranks of those few begin to swell. According to historian Will Durant, “Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence.” Those “relics” of our emergence as a species, he cautions, are still firmly embedded in our DNA. The systems of laws that have evolved over millennia were put in place to protect us from ourselves.

    While most us are focused on mortgages, soccer practice for the kids and paying the bills, however, those laws are beginning to fray around the edges, along with many commonly held social mores and practices. As the federal government looks the other way in the face of millions of illegal immigrants streaming across our southern border, and of mayors establishing sanctuary cities in defiance of federal law, society has also changed its views on acceptable behavior. The melting pot has been replaced by separate, “multi-cultural” groups with individual agendas.

    Even when people do venture outside their home and work bubbles to offer an opinion on larger issues, they are subject to censure for being politically incorrect. They aren’t successful because they have invested time and energy in education and career, but because of their “white privilege” (African-American success is often attributed to being an “Uncle Tom”). In the absurdity of political correctness, domestic Islamist terrorism has been transformed into workplace violence, illegal immigrants have become undocumented immigrants, drug addicts are dubbed chemically-challenged, prostitutes are renamed sex workers, and an illegitimate baby becomes a love child.

    On many university campuses, students are warned about “micro-aggressions” for using “trigger words” which remind the hearer of past traumatic events: “Selling someone down the river” is a racist reference to slavery; acting like a “hooligan” and being put into a “Paddy Wagon” are slur terms for those of Irish ethnicity; calling a rioter and looter a “thug” is code terminology for the “N word.” If you have doubts about man’s role in climate change, you are branded a “global warming denier” (with the added insinuation echoing a holocaust denier). Charlton Heston aptly referred to political correctness as “tyranny with manners.”

    Durant’s comment on this phenomenon is instructive: “Civilization gives way to confrontation; law yields to minority force; marriage becomes a short-term investment in diversified insecurities; reproduction is left to mishaps and misfits; and the fertility of incompetence breeds from the bottom while the sterility of intelligence lets the race wither at the top.”

    What too many fail to recognize or acknowledge in the sophisticated, technologically-advanced 21st century is that civilization is a razor-thin veneer. Despite our scientific discoveries and breakthroughs, we remain captives of our primitive ancestors in our essential nature. Man is only an evolutionary link between primitive apes and truly civilized human beings.

    Having served in the Royal Navy during World War II, Golding witnessed the worst of human behavior, with the cost of more than 60 million dead – six million of whom were cruelly obliterated in the concentration camps of a cultured and Christian European state. The trauma he witnessed occurred a mere twenty years after the seemingly minor and avoidable events leading to the outbreak of World War I, which claimed 37 million military and civilian casualties.

    Golding knew that those civilized British children in his novel represent the distressing reality about where humankind actually stands in its slow development as a species. Through his work, he speaks to the necessary, if unpleasant, fact that the golden rule is only possible within the context of the Golding rule: we must never fail to recognize and remember that civilization is built on the rule of law. Treating one another with generosity, kindness and decency is contingent upon our willingness to subordinate ourselves to the hard-won lessons of history. Without that commitment, we run the horrific risk of setting, not an island, but the world on fire.

    Jim Lynch
    Fleetwood, PA
    August 2, 2015
    If you’d like to provide any feedback to Mr. Lynch, he can be reached at jimadalynch(at)gmail.com. You’ll need to fix that email to use it, by substituting the @ symbol for the (at) characters.

  • How to Convert Video Tapes to DVD Format

    Posted on February 15th, 2014 Lee Devlin 9 comments

    About 10 years ago I helped to develop a product that converted videotapes to DVDs. It was called the HP DVD Movie Writer. It was sold for several years under the HP model numbers dc3000, dc4000, and dc5000. Those products are obsolete now, and the software drivers and application software haven’t been updated to work on the more modern operating systems like Windows 7 and 8. I still maintain the FAQ webpage for it and so I periodically get questions about what to use these days to convert analog video tapes to digital formats when customers find their Movie Writers are no longer supported. I’ll attempt to answer that question in this article. The HP DVD Movie Writer was introduced at a time when few computers had a DVD writer included, so it made sense to bundle a DVD writer with a video capture device along with the necessary software and offer it as a solution.

    Converting videos from tape to DVD can be very laborious, and most people are primarily interested in preserving the video in a format that is likely to outlast video tape and be playable on devices that people are still using years from now. The VCR player has been relegated to the closet in many homes years ago and videotapes are gradually degrading, so it’s important to get them copied to a digital format if you want to preserve these videos for your children and grandchildren. You may also want to convert them so that you can upload them to a video sharing service like YouTube.

    Most video capture products available today come with software that will help you edit the videos, and that can be fun and produce amazing results, but it requires some effort and a bit of learning to edit a video. The way most home videos are shot make them hard to watch because they have no story line along with little or no narration and so they tend to sit on a shelf forever after being watched once or twice. After watching a few home videos, it really gives one an appreciation for all that goes into making up a video that is entertaining to watch. But it’s still nice to know your old videos are still there ‘just in case’ one day you get ambitious and want to create a nice video for your family to have and share with their children. As time goes by, it will get harder to find a player you can connect up to a TV to play them. Capturing analog video tapes to digital files is essential if you ever want to watch the videos again at some point in the future.

    Now that many computers include DVD writers, when people ask me what I recommend for converting video, I generally tell them to use a USB video capture device from a reputable company. Very inexpensive video capture devices are available now, some for less than $10 from no-name Chinese companies that you can buy on Amazon.com or Ebay. I’d stay away from them as they usually come with very poor documentation, no support, and minimal software included. I’d stick with a device from a well-known company that has been in the business for a while like Diamond Multimedia. The Diamond VC500 is one of their more popular products that has been around for a while and in general gets good reviews.

    vc500 box contents

    The box contains the capture device, a setup guide, an install CD and a video cable.

    The VC500 costs around $35 and has software included with it that lets you capture and edit the video as well as produce the DVD. Capturing simply converts the video on your analog tapes into digital files, known as MPEG files, which typically end with the extension MPG. For preservation purposes, this is the most important step, that is, getting the videos into a digital format. Editing involves cutting up the mpg files and add things like title blocks, transitions between segments, dubbing in music or narration, and in general, making your videos more watchable. It’s what we take for granted when we watch a commercially produced video. A well-edited video is a joy to watch.

    DVD authoring is what allows you to set up a navigation menu and chapters so that when you put the DVD in the player, you can more easily select which part of it you want to watch. You don’t have to split up the video on the DVD in chapters, of course, it just makes it more convenient to watch, especially if you have multiple events stored on the same DVD or if you want to be able to watch it in segments.

    The software included with the Diamond VC500 is compatible with all modern version of Windows from XP to Windows 8. One of the programs the VC500 includes is Showbiz from Arcsoft, and that’s the same software HP shipped with the HP DVD Movie Writer. I found it easy to learn and use and it can do everything you will need from capturing and editing the video to authoring the DVD. Showbiz has been around for a long time and has all the features you’d need if you want to edit the video as well.

    vc500 software splash screen

    The install CD has an easy-to-use menu to help install the software on your computer.

    The items included with the VC500 include the software installation CD, the video capture device which attaches to a USB port, an AV cable that connects to your VCR or analog video source, and a Quick Start Guide. When you insert the installation CD into your computer, you will be prompted to install up to 3 programs. I first installed the driver, then the software called EZ-Grabber, and then Showbiz. There was also a program called Dyyno Broadcaster that was installed, but I don’t think that I will use it. It appears to be an on-line video sharing site like YouTube, but with a program to make it easier to share your videos with others on the Dyyno website. You need to set up a login on that site if you want to use it. In reality, I believe you could get by with just installing the driver and Showbiz, since Showbiz has the ability to capture video like EZ-Grabber as well as editing and DVD authoring. But EZ-Grabber may be easier to use if all you want to do is get the files in digital format for playback on a computer.

    Arcsoft's Showbiz 3

    Arcsoft’s Showbiz 3 is an easy-to-use video capture-edit-DVD authoring package.

    If you have a lot of videos, make sure to have plenty of hard drive space available since capturing video consumes about 3 to 4 GB per hour of video. You can capture in lower resolution to save space, of course, but for the best quality capture, I’d recommend MPEG2 720×480 quality since that is the native format of DVDs. There’s not much point in trying to capture analog sources at HD quality since they are not high resolution sources and so it won’t help make the image look any better. And I wouldn’t worry so much about editing the videos or making DVDs right away, just get them all captured to MPG files, rename them to something that will let you know what’s in the file possibly with the year they were shot such as “1992-hawaii-vacation.mpg” and that will help you to organize them into easy-to-find files for when you do want to create your DVD masterpieces. And I’d recommend you keep the original mpg files even after you’ve made DVDs, since that way you can always cut and splice segments of video together to create new DVDs should the need arise.

    When you burn a DVD, make sure to use the write-once media, not the re-writable media, even though re-writable media sounds like it’s more flexible. The name for write-once media is DVD+R or DVD-R. Rewritable media is called DVD+RW or DVD-RW and it’s really better for storing computer data like a backup that you may need to overwrite in the future than it is for making playable DVDs. The rewritable DVDs are not as compatible with DVD players as are the write-once DVDs because their reflectivity is lower. Also, make sure to get a known brand of media like Verbatim, Maxell, or Sony because name brand media is supported by most DVD writers. Store and no-name media brands of media may be cheaper but do not always record or play back reliably.

    I wrote up this entry because I got a lot of questions over the past few months about video preservation so I wanted to give people a link I could point them to so that I’d have an up-to-date recommendations for a product that I know works and provides an economical solution for analog-to-digital video conversion. Some people use a service for converting video tapes to DVD, but you’ll probably spend as much per tape you have converted as you will for the VC500. So if you get a capture device you may learn a valuable skill and have some fun in the process. Who knows, that next viral video may be on your shelf, just waiting for you to capture it and upload it to YouTube for audience to appreciate it. ;-)

  • Fixing Dodge Durango Transmission Problems by Replacing Sensors

    Posted on October 10th, 2013 Lee Devlin 34 comments

    I recently encountered a problem with my 1999 Dodge Durango’s transmission that was repaired by replacing some sensors. Whenever I discover the solution to a problem I’m having and figure that there are a number of others who may be having the same issue, I like to post the discovery on my blog.

    I purchased my Durango new and it has been the most reliable and useful vehicle I’ve ever owned. I love it. So when the transmission started acting funny after about 130,000 miles, I began to think my luck had finally run out. I was impressed lately when I took it to a Grease Monkey and learned that one of their other customers owns 2 Dodge Durangos of the same vintage as mine and each was approaching 300,000 miles with no major issues.

    The transmission problems were especially worrisome because I’ve recently acquired a light weight camper (a 16′ Scamp) and have begun taking it on camping trips. I expect to be using it a lot in the future and that will include towing it up some pretty steep grades in the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado. So I need a vehicle I can rely on to handle the task.

    Dodge Durango and Scamp 16

    The issue I was having was most noticeable when I was starting out from a dead stop. The vehicle seemed to surge back and forth shifting up and down, with the RPM climbing and falling. It would do this for as long as I held the accelerator in the same place. It was almost like a positive feedback loop. But if I stepped down harder on the gas, the problem seemed to go away, instead of getting worse, which wouldn’t generally happen if something inside the transmission was at fault. When your transmission is sick and you ask more from it, it usually demonstrates the problem with even more enthusiasm. But that wasn’t happening in my case. It seemed like it couldn’t decide whether it needed to upshift or downshift at a particular speed which was in the 10-15 mph range.

    I started searching for Dodge Durango transmission problems on Google and came across a YouTube video that showed a similar issue, except this guy was having his problem at 70 mph where the vehicle kept dropping into and out of overdrive. He said in his research he had read about transmission problems that could be related to both the throttle position sensor and the transmission speed sensor which are both relatively inexpensive and easy to change yourself. His video goes into detail on how to change the throttle position sensor and it looked quite easy.

    I also found a website that talked about how to test the TPS using a volt meter. However, I found that the voltages were impossible to measure because the plug that connected to the TPS is all sealed up. So I reasoned, based on the description of the test, that the throttle position sensor was a simple potentiometer and the way to find a problem with it was to rotate it while watching the resistance level. By removing the plug, I was able to get alligator clips on the potentiometer’s left and center conductors and I carefully rotated the potentiometer from idle to maximum throttle by rotating the linkage on the throttle body. Ideally, it should read from about 800 ohms to 5 K-ohms and increase consistently while rotated in one direction.

    Durango Throttle Position Sensor

    Image of a 1999 Durango Throttle Position Sensor

    The Sensor is easy to access on the side of the throttle body.

    The sensor is easy to access on the side of the throttle body just under the air box.

    Instead of smoothly increasing in resistance, I noticed a point around 1200 ohms where the resistance would increase, but then go DOWN about 200-300 ohms for a while, and then come back up even though I continued rotating in one direction. This defect would cause the voltage to do something similar, so I reasoned that the TPS was a likely candidate to be changed first.

    These sensors are easy to find in local auto stores like O’Reilly, Autozone, NAPA, etc.. where they keep them in stock. My web search on the Autozone site assured me that the TPS333 (the model my 1999 Durango 5.9L used) was in stock at my local Autozone store. I picked it up for $34 including tax. It came with extra mounting screws, an O-ring, and a gasket. Although my existing sensor had no gasket, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to install it. It was very simple to remove the old one and replace it with the new one using a Torx T-25 driver. The only ‘tricks’ were that I needed to press in on a latching mechanism to remove the plug and that you have to rotate the part slightly as you install it to get the shafts to mate.

    I rotated the linkage by hand to make sure it moved correctly and then I took it out for a test drive. At first, I thought that this had completely fixed the issue. However, it came back after a while so then I tried replacing the transmission speed sensor, a part that costs around $20 and requires a bit more effort to replace. It’s on the driver’s side of the transmission housing and I found it necessary to remove the plate that protects the transmission in order to get a wrench in closer to it. After I replaced that item, I noticed no difference.

    I continued to drive the vehicle for a few more weeks and noticed that a new problem had emerged. Sometimes while accelerating, the transmission wouldn’t want to shift into a higher gear. It was frustrating while attempting to achieve highway speeds only to see the tachometer approach the red line. Usually, I could get it to shift by dropping it into 2nd gear with the shift lever, then back into drive and it would usually shift properly after that. This was an intermittent problem too, one that I feared would be hard to diagnose and fix.

    The only other candidates that I could think of based on my research were the governor solenoid and governor pressure sensor. Unfortunately, these parts are inside the transmission and are a bit more expensive (about $80 for the sensor and $120 for the governor solenoid). Of course, that meant dropping the pan which is a messy job. I knew that the transmission was due for an oil change, and that I hadn’t ever had a proper oil change where they could access and change the filter (most shops today rely on a ‘transmission flush’, which means they suck out the old fluid and don’t actually change the filter). So I figured that I could combine a transmission fluid and filter change at the same time the governor solenoid and its sensor could be changed so I could more easily rationalize paying nearly $200 in labor to a shop instead of doing it myself.

    I took the vehicle to the local AAMCO shop and explained what was happening and they agreed to test drive it with a scanner so they could monitor transmission oil pressure. What they found was that the pressure never got above 30 psi and this was causing erratic shifting, indicating that there was something wrong with the governor solenoid or its pressure sensor. These parts are nearly always changed at the same time since if one is bad, the other is probably also worn and you need to drop the pan to get to either one so it just makes sense to do them both at the same time.

    I am happy to report that after spending another $450, the transmission is back to normal, shifting precisely when it should and hopefully ready for another 135,000 miles before needing any repairs. In the 15 years that I’ve owned this vehicle this is the only repair I’ve other than routine maintenance and since the vehicle was paid for long ago, I don’t feel too bad because people who replace vehicles every few years can end up spending that much monthly on a loan or lease payment.

    In reading through several forums, I read a horror story where a Dodge dealership wanted to replace the entire transmission for a similar problem for around $4000 but the person declined and found fixed it by replacing the throttle position sensor. So I think it makes sense to try with the easy/inexpensive fixes first and then work up to the more difficult and expensive parts. At the least, you’ll have the peace of mind that all your sensors are good as new.

    So if you have a Dodge Durango or Dodge truck based on the same chassis and you’re having transmission issues like I described, you may want to change these sensors to see if the fix works for you too. There’s too high a temptation for a dealership or transmission shop to want to ‘over repair’ and hence over charge for a simple issue like this.

  • Should I Buy a Smart TV?

    Posted on July 17th, 2013 Lee Devlin 3 comments
    image of an LG Smart TV

    Smart TVs can stream video directly from the Internet

    Should I buy a Smart TV? That’s a question that I got recently from a reader of one of my articles about fixing a Sony Wega TV. I think that even though she had gotten her HD TV back up and running, the thought of replacing it when it wasn’t working was overwhelming since there are so many TV choices available these days. You can choose from Plasma, LCD, and LED display technology and features like SmartTV, 3D, etc. And now it seems every company is offering flat screen so-called “Smart” TVs. But there is no real standard definition of what a ‘Smart TV’ is. My understanding is that it’s a TV that has a networking connection that can stream content from computers in the home or from Internet services. Streaming content from home computers is not that new, and it is still problematic since the standards don’t seem to be working all that well together, but services that stream video over the Internet like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and other sources are starting to catch on in a big way.

    I have been experimenting with devices that connect to the TV that do some of the same things as Smart TVs for many years. These devices can all play content directly from services on the Internet or from PCs on the home network. Some even have USB ports where you can insert a thumb drive and play the music, pictures, or videos from the thumb drive. I have 5 devices under my TV that fit into this category: An Xbox 360, a Wii, a D-link DSM 520, a Sony Blu-Ray player, a Roku, and an Apple TV box.

    I used to work in this area at HP, having helped to introduce one of the company’s first digital entertainment products back in 2001, and that’s one of the reasons I have so many of these ‘smart’ devices. At the time, I recognized that they would eventually find their way into every living room, it’s just taking much longer than I expected. I am not a gamer, so I rarely use the Wii or Xbox for games, but I do use them for their media streaming capabilities. These game consoles have their firmware updated automatically on a regular basis and thus they were able to add this functionality after I had purchased them. When I first got them, many of the Internet streaming services didn’t exist but they have been added with new firmware updates. There are a number of Internet video streaming services, the most well-known being Netflix. But Netflix doesn’t carry all of their available content in streaming mode. Most of the really good movies on Netflix are on their DVD rental side, which costs extra. It approximately doubles the $8 monthly cost of the Internet-only fee. But I figure it is just a matter of time before they move all of their content to the Internet streaming side, possibly charging extra for movies you’d actually want to watch like Amazon Prime does with Amazon Instant Video.

    A smart device can access Internet content from a number of content providers but be aware most of these have monthly subscription fees. Some of the smart devices can access content on your PC, such as your music and photos and videos stored there. But it requires some effort to get that set up and working properly. It’s not always as easy as it sounds due to incompatible streaming protocols, digital rights issues, and media formats.

    But do you really need smart capability built directly into a TV? It depends on your situation, because you can get this capability in any of a number of $100 devices such as most BluRay players. This capability is also available in the $99 AppleTV box which can stream from local and internet sources. Roku boxes cost less than $99 but are limited to internet sources, no local content can be streamed. And if you have a gaming console like a Wii or Xbox 360, you’re already likely to have the capability, even if you didn’t know it. So I wouldn’t pay more than $100 extra for a TV that has ‘smart’ capability. Granted, it may make managing the remote controls easier if the menu for accessing Internet content is built into the TV but dealing with multiple remotes is pretty typical these days. We have so many remotes on our coffee table that it takes a lot of effort to keep them all straight. :-)

    There is often a strong desire for products in this category to be WiFi enabled. However, I’ve found that having these devices connected to a wired Ethernet cable to be essential unless your Router/WiFi access point is in the same room. Streaming video requires a lot of bandwidth and is not tolerant of any delays or interference. Having a few devices in close proximity accessing a WiFi connection can be problematic because they can interfere with each other. And the last thing you want while watching a video is to see some interruption telling you it’s downloading more of the show or that you need to start over. A wired Ethernet connection can help prevent that from happening. You will need to run a cable, but once that is done, it’s a simple matter to add an Ethernet switch that can serve up to 8 devices. In addition to the 5 boxes under my TV, I also have a Comcast HD DVR which also requires an Internet connection. That’s 6 Internet connections in a very small space, so wired Ethernet connection and switch is essential to prevent interference and maximize networking performance. I do like the convenience of WiFi, but it’s really only a necessity for mobile battery-powered devices. Anything that sits stationary and is plugged into an outlet should have an Ethernet cable if it needs permanent Internet connectivity.

    Another good reason to use wired Ethernet is due to the encryption key needed for wireless networks. I just had to replace my router and had to reprogram every device with a new wireless password. That’s not easy to do on devices that have no keyboard and very limited display capabilities. So far, no one has figured out a foolproof way to input WiFi passwords without a keyboard and display.

    I noticed that the ‘Smart TV’ capability is often used as a way to help segregate a brand’s high end TVs and charge more for them. I am more than a bit reluctant to depend on a TV manufacturer to keep the firmware up-to-date to add new services as they come along. Game console manufacturers and companies that are making TV-streaming devices like Roku and AppleTV know that they need to keep those devices up-to-date to be competitive, but I would think that TV manufacturers may ignore that duty, just using that Internet connection as a way to reel in customers who are afraid they might miss out on something if they don’t get the most expensive TV model. Once they have you, they have little incentive to keep the Smart TV functionality up-to-date. That’s another reason I’d be concerned with having that function built into the TV. If some cool new ‘must have’ service comes along and you’re at the mercy of waiting for the TV’s manufacturer to update the TV’s firmware, you may be out of luck.

    So I’m holding out on paying extra for a SmartTV. The numerous devices that I already have work fine, even though some are missing services that the others have. I have the same feelings about paying extra for a 3D TV, but that’s best left to another article.