June 2018 Archives

So, I'm kind of a sucker for Best Buy's Deal of the Day. It's not so much that the prices are that low -- although sometimes, for some items, they really are -- but they often draw my attention to products that I might not ever consider buying, or even know about. I've been known to pull the trigger on a "deal" simply to see if the hype is warranted.

Halo packagingA couple of weeks ago, one of the DOTD was a half-price sale for something called a Halo Ambient Bias Lighting kit for TVs. I had never heard of this but I did some research (aka "clicked on a couple of google results") and was persuaded that it was a legitimate technology for improving the picture on a typical flatscreen television. This is a good overview of the technology and why it works.

The theory is that when a TV screen is subjected to ambient light of the proper color temperature (for modern HDTVs, it's 6500K), your eyes will perceive the picture to have greater contrast, and they will also be less susceptible to strain due to the increased brightness of the typical LED TV. The ambient light tricks the brain into thinking the TV isn't as bright as it really is, and this makes a difference in viewing comfort, especially if you're watching in a darkened room.

I figured that for seventeen bucks, it was worth checking out, so I ordered two of them, one for the living room TV and one for the screen in our bedroom. The kits arrived last week, and I finally got around to installing them.

The units are elegantly packaged, rivaling some of Apple's packaging, and the installation instructions are easy to follow. I think they could be improved by explaining exactly how Halo improves the viewing experience, but I suppose they assume that you wouldn't be using the product if you didn't know what it did.

Halo installed on a TVInstallation is simple, taking less than five minutes, although it requires access to the back of the TV. The Halo is simply a ribbon of LED lights that are affixed to the back of the TV via peel-and-stick. The unit is USB-powered (USB 3.0, to be precise). Ideally, it's plugged into the USB port on your TV so that it turns on and off along with your TV. If that's not an option, you'll need an USB adapter to plug into a regular electrical outlet; the Halo comes with a remote control so you can operate it independently of the TV. The photo at right shows the installation on one of our TVs; the white strip contains the LED lights, and it's plugged into the TV's USB port.

I mounted the Halo on three sides of our TVs, starting and ending about two-thirds of the way down the sides. If you have a TV mounted flush to the wall, you may need to run the strip all the way around it to get an effective ambient light effect. It's important that the light from the LEDs is reflected around the TV to get the desired effect.

Even if you use your TV's USB port and thus don't need the remote to activate the Halo, the remote still has some useful features, as well as a few inexplicably weird ones. The useful ones are the controls that allow you to adjust the brightness of the LEDs to suit your viewing taste. The weird ones let you turn the Halo's lights into a variety of flashing sequences. I can't imagine a scenario where you want to send a continuous SOS signal from behind your TV, but perhaps I'm living in the wrong neighborhood.

I must admit to thus far being underwhelmed by the difference Halo seems to make on our TVs. For one thing, both units are mounted in cabinets, and the lights illuminate the back and sides of the cabinets, as well as any cabling or A/V components that might normally be hidden in the dark recesses. And in one case, the TV almost completely fills the cabinet from edge-to-edge, meaning that there is negligible ambient light spilling over from the two sides of the TV. 

That's not to say that the Halo doesn't work; we just haven't noticed much difference when watching TV at night in a dark room (which we rarely do). At the same time, the ambient light is not a distraction, and we may find that we like it more as we get accustomed to it. For now, we're operating it at the lowest brightness level.

In the end, at $17, the Halo is not a bad investment; it's a little more iffy at twice that price. But if you normally watch TV in a darkened room and if you experience eyestrain, it's worth checking out.
WoodpeckerEarlier this spring, an oak tree across the street from our house attracted the attention of a pair of golden-fronted woodpeckers*. The tree's trunk has a hollowed-out place about twenty feet off the ground and the opening faces our front windows; I can see it from my usual seat in the living room.

Since April, MLB and I have watched as the woodpeckers made a home in the hollow trunk. They diligently climbed in and out of the hole in the tree, bringing out mouthfuls of dust and debris to clean out the space, presumably in preparation for a nest and young. They were constantly flying in and out and around the tree and we grew accustomed to them as neighbors.

Then, a week or so ago, I noticed an exceptionally busy flurry of activity. The birds were even more active in flying up to the hole in the trunk, stopping for a moment, then flying away. I noticed movement in the hole, and theorized that the adults were feeding a batch of newly hatched progeny in the nest.

I set up a video camera on a tripod behind a tree in our front yard, zoomed in on the hole, and started recording at around 6:00 p.m. I left it running while I went in for supper. The battery on the camera was good for only about an hour or so of recording, but I hoped that it would pick up something interesting in that short time.

Boy, did it ever!

Instead of piling several thousand words on you to describe what we viewed, here's a semi-short video (~13 minutes) distilling a couple of months' worth of action, leading to a completely unexpected climax.There are really three different storylines in the video; I hope you find it enlightening, if not entertaining.



So, if you're in the TL:DW mode, here's a quick summary:

  • Woodpeckers occupy hollow tree
  • They create a happy home
  • Said home is invaded by a rat snake
  • Outcome is negative for occupants of bird home
  • Turns out, there are actually TWO snakes in that tree
As I note in the video, we think the snakes are Texas rat snakes; their behavior and appearance are consistent with what we've been able to glean online. These snakes are non-venomous and non-aggressive. They are excellent climbers (duh) and seek out birds' nests for food. They will also eat rodents, including squirrels. As serpent neighbors go, we could do a lot worse.

The woodpeckers have relocated somewhere else in the neighborhood. I still hear their calls, but haven't seen them again. We enjoyed watching them, but also recognize that they are somewhat destructive birds so their absence is not personally devastating. We do hope, however, that what the snake dined on was eggs and not live young.

The snakes remained in the tree for a couple of days after the final video. We have additional footage of them climbing up and down the tree in search of more prey, much to the chagrin of a small bevy of tiny birds who were obviously disturbed by one of the snake's presence. However, we never spotted their nest(s) so we have no idea of the outcome of that confrontation.

For our timid neighbor's information -- that would be you, Kristi -- the snakes are now gone as well.

*For the longest time, I thought they were ladder-backed woodpeckers. But while researching the species for this article, I realized that the coloring and especially the call were wrong. So much for my career as an ornithologist.

A little blog housekeeping...
June 4, 2018 9:15 PM | Posted in:

I've been meaning to do this for about a year and I finally made time for it. But first, here's a yawning possum:

Animated GIF of a trapped, yawning possum

My blog post categories were in great need of reorganizing. What are "categories," you ask? They're those links that following the words "Posted in:" underneath the title of each article I put on the blog. They're just a way of grouping posts that deal with similar subjects, in case anyone is so ridiculously bored that they want to read more than one at a time. Similarly, if you want to be sure to avoid my unenlightened views on, say, Fashion -- and, seriously, you probably should -- then you can easily do so by selecting all the categories that don't have the word "Fashion" in them, which is pretty much all of them except one. (You can find a list of all the categories via the cleverly named Archives Index link in the right-hand column of each page.)

For many years, I've used the following categories as catch-alls for semi-related posts: Nature and Pets & Wildlife. I was less than rigorous in using these categories, so an article about, say, avocets might end up in Nature, while another post about killdeer landed in Pets & Wildlife. Also, the latter category was getting way too big, especially with our move to the Hill Country, aka Wild Kingdom. Ants and western cottonmouths and ringtail cats might all be technically wildlife, but that grouping is really too generic for serious research, and here at the Gazette we're all about serious research.

So, what I've done is created a whole slew of new categories for Wildlife (e.g. Wildlife - Birds; Wildlife - Mammals; Wildlife - Trapping; etc.), and changed the "Pets & Wildlife" category to simply "Pets" (the contents of which deal primarily with, well, you know, animals of the domesticated persuasion [not including married men]). Also, I cleaned up "Nature" (you can thank me later, Greenpeace) by removing all the animal-related posts. Nature is now where you'll find stuff about plants, weather, and phenomena or activities that don't fit neatly anywhere else.

Sure, this may be the equivalent of rearranging the silverware drawer, but the next time you need an asparagus server, you'll be relieved not to have to rifle through the knives and cucumber juicers to get satisfaction.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2018 listed from newest to oldest.

May 2018 is the previous archive.

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