Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don’t believe it

It’s a recession! It’s a recession! It’s a recession!

Remember the Big Lie?

Here it is again.

The news media have been going on and on about the recession. Every day, there’s a new report about the direness of the worldwide economy, progressively worse every time. [image courtesy]

Watch the news: stores are going out of business. They’re offering discounts on top of sales on top of specials. You can get stuff for next to nothing.

Except — I haven’t seen it.

In Canada at least, the malls are still so crowded you can’t find a parking spot. And the sales? Even CBC news couldn’t find bigger sales than 10 percent off at Birk’s Jewellers—the most overpriced purveyor of useless baubles in the country—or $75 for a plain white shirt at Harry Rosen, the most overpriced seller of boring men’s clothing in the country.

What’s the crisis? The owners of the toniest stores in Canada won’t be able to get that upgrade to their yacht?

Yes, auto workers are facing significant layoffs. But the financial sector isn’t hurting here, as it is in the States.

Yet, the media continues to stoke the fears of recession, even depression. Here’s a smattering of headlines:

‘Problem’ banks stoke fears over FDIC fund
More failures likely, warns chairman (Financial Times, November 25, 2008)

GM: Death of an American dream (Fortune, November, 2008)
15,000 auto jobs gone by the end of 2009: Economist (Toronto Star, November 26)

And yet, look at these more factually-based reports:
Bank of Montreal's fourth-quarter earnings rise to $560 million (, November 26)
Royal Bank says credit crunch will hit quarter's bottom line, still forecasts $1.1 billion profit (, November 26)

Retail sales soar past expectations (Report on, November 25)

The bandwagon effect, again
It’s the bandwagon effect. It’s happened repeatedly, and seems to be increasingly frequent. We saw it in the US election, when the media favoured Barack Obama over all his rivals.

And now the talking heads are competing to say “recession” more than anyone else, along with “economic crisis” and “credit crunch.”

The next question is, are these doomsayers contributing to the decline in the stock market and the credit crunch?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stop the XMas Music!


Stop with the phoney, cheesy Christmas music, already!

It's barely November, not even Remembrance Day/Memorial Day yet, and already the stores are playing awful, tinny "XMas" tunes in an effort to make me buy junk.

I can understand that retailers are trying to encourage people to buy early. From what I understand, the average retailer that starts its fiscal year on January 1 doesn't see any profit before the Christmas shopping season starts, and in the current economic climate, I'd be anxious to start that season early, too.

But please, have mercy on my ears and sanity! There is a limited list of tunes played on the PA systems, and I can only tolerate so many renditions of "Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland" and "Sleigh Ride" and "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" before I lose it.

Don't get me wrong, I like Christmas and I like real Christmas carols. But political correctness demands that no one play religious music in a mall or store. So that limits the playlist even more. Don't forget, repeating the same sound or word over and over is sometimes used as a form of torture.

So please, retailers, have mercy and wait until December before piping the XMas tunes in all your stores - or I just may not buy anything!

Agree? Don't? Let me know.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monitor review: ViewSonic N2060W

Communicator’s toolbox:
ViewSonic N2060W NextVision
20-inch widescreen LCD TV

A combined TV and computer monitor—a simple, brilliant concept!
It makes so much sense, especially given the increasing popularity of sites like YouTube and TV through iTunes, and the “convergence” of media that’s been threatened so much over the years. But how well does the idea of one unit doing double duty as a wide-screen computer monitor and wide-screen TV set work?

To find out, I’ve been using the 20-inch widescreen N2060W NextVision 20-inch monitor from ViewSonic, for a number of months. ViewSonic took a widescreen LCD monitor with built-in stereo speakers and added a cable, S-video and component video inputs and an NTSC TV tuner to enable it to function as a television. While it performs both tasks reasonably well, it doesn’t seem to mix the two tasks very well: the PC causes interference on the screen and the speakers if it’s running while the monitor is in television mode.

Basic data

Type of monitor: 20.1" color TFT active matrix, wide LCD (liquid-crystal display)
Display Area: 17.5" horizontal x 9.8" vertical; 20.1" diagonal
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Optimum Resolution: 1366 x 768 pixels
Contrast Ratio: 700:1 (typ)
Viewing Angles: 160° horizontal, 140° vertical
Response Time: 8ms gray-to-gray (avg)
Light Source: long-life, 50,000 hours (typ)
Brightness: 450 cd/m2 (typ)
Glass Surface: anti-reflective coating
Dimensions (WxDxH) / Weight : 60.8 cm x 21.5 cm x 44.3 cm / 9 kg
Warranty : 1 year manufacturer’s warranty
Price: $ 419-425 street


Installing and setting up the NextVision widescreen monitor is partly easy, and partly frustrating.

Getting the TV part of it to work was the easy part. ViewSonic has equipped the unit with standard coaxial cable connector and an integrated NTSC TV tuner. It also has stereo speakers and 3.5 mm mini stereo audio input/output and RCA audio jacks. Sound from the TV is good, and the image is sharp.

Connecting the unit to a Macintosh computer, however, was not so easy. Macs don’t use the standard DVI connectors for video, which ViewSonic could not provide. They’re not expensive—about $35 CDN—but you have to go out of your way. I had to get the right DVI to VGA connector from my favourite local Macintosh store.

The next challenge was resetting the display preferences. My iMac was set to a resolution of 1440 x 900; when I plugged in the NextVision as a second monitor, it initially showed an “Input out of range” message on a blank blue screen. Luckily, the Mac’s operating system eventually loads up the ViewSonic drivers and preferences screen automatically. Using the original monitor, I had to reset for a “refresh rate” of 60 Hz from 75—even though LCD screens don’t refresh like CRTs do. That brought life to the ViewSonic monitor, and I was able to set the resolution to the maximum of 1360 x 768.

Finally, I tried to connect the sound using a standard RCA jack to the Audio input jacks, but was unable to get any sound out of the built-in speakers. Yes, the speakers work in TV mode, but not in monitor mode, whether the monitor was connected to a Macintosh or an IBM Thinkpad. I contacted ViewSonic’s online support chat, who were very helpful, but ultimately unable to get any sound.

Using it
As a monitor, the NextVision is bright and clear. You can download Apple ColorSync profiles, and the results are quite pleasing and fairly consistent.
It’s nice to have lots of screen “real estate,” as they used to say in this business. With a monitor that’s 17 inches wide, I have lots of room for two word processing pages side by side, even zoomed to 125 percent, and there’s room left over for the dock on the side and a few other shortcuts from the desktop. Or I can have windows visible from several programs. This makes it easier to cut, drag, drop and paste between windows or applications.

Photos and videos look great: bright, sharp and clear.

There is a fairly wide viewing angle: 160 degrees, according to the manufacturer. I didn’t really notice that the images looked worse from almost any angle, and when you don’t notice design, it’s usually very, very good. So, kudos to ViewSonic for the wide viewing angle on its wide-screen LCDs.

As a monitor, the video part is great. As a TV, it offers a wide screen, so unless you have an HD signal, the picture is stretched sideways—everyone looks fat. (This can be disturbing if you’re watching the season of King of Queens reruns when Leah Remini is fat.)

And as mentioned, the PC interferes with the TV signal if both are plugged in and running at the same time.

Summing up

If you’re a resourceful computer user, good at connecting peripherals and working your way through all the settings, the ViewSonic offers a nice wide monitor that gives the communications professional a lot of screen real estate at a reasonable price.

Or if you want a smallish widescreen TV, the NextView N2060W is a reasonably-priced LCD alternative.

But putting the two functions together is questionable. First, I wonder about the setup—who wants to watch TV on their computer monitor? If I were running an office, I wouldn’t want people to be switching back to TV at will — unless their jobs involved monitoring TV coverage.

But mostly, the interference in the TV signal from the PC is annoying and reduces the unit’s usefulness.

Viewsonic also needs to buff up on its Macintosh support to earn top marks from this reviewer.