Fiddling With The Murk

The most recent episode of Game of Thrones featured an epic battle, but the presentation was so dark and murky that I felt like I was missing a lot of what was happening.  Hey, is that dragons tussling in a dim, inky cloud of ashes, or . . . what?  How in the devil is Arya running through a pitch-black tunnel?  I think that’s Sam screeching under the onslaught of the undead, but everything is so muddled maybe it’s not.  And am I supposed to be able to see the expression on Jon Snow’s face as he stands in the darkness, backlit by some feeble flames?

game-of-thrones-s08e03-759I couldn’t believe that HBO would air an episode of its top-rated show that was so difficult to see, so I decided the fault had to lie with the specific settings on my TV.  The TV is years old, I’ve long since misplaced the owner’s manual, and I haven’t tried to adjust the settings in as long as I can remember.  That meant just looking at the buttons on the TV remote — as opposed to the cable remote — to try to figure out which ones might change the video quality so I could rewatch the episode and hope to actually see what was happening.

There was a tiny button at the bottom of the remote marked “pict” that I figured probably referred to “picture” and not to Scotland’s first people, so I pushed that and saw that the options were things like “sports,” “custom,” “theater,” and “vivid.”  I have no idea what the different settings meant, but “vivid” at least sounded like it could help me decipher what was happening in the HBO murk, so I chose that.  But it seemed like there had to be a way to address the brightness of the picture, specifically, so I kept searching.  Another button labeled “menu” seemed promising, and I found that it included “brightness” and “contrast” and other options, so I cranked the brightness up to 100 and adjusted the contrast up to about 85, and then settled back to rewatch the GOT episode.

Alas, it didn’t really help — I was just seeing some lighter murkiness and was still struggling to determine exactly what was happening in all that blurry blackness.  And when I switched over to regular TV, I saw that my adjustments had really messed with the screen so that, for example, I had somehow cut off the bottom of the picture in sports broadcasts where the score is displayed.  How did that happen?  So I found another button that allowed me to shift everything back to the original factory settings, and found that that fixed everything — except the picture quality on the GOT episode.

Oh, well . . . I guess the Battle of Winterfell was just meant to be an exploration of darkness in the world.

Moving Into A Dim Future

I don’t like the new light bulbs.  There, I said it, and I feel better.

I know the new bulbs are supposed to be far more energy efficient, but I’m not convinced that will be the case.  People like me don’t care for the new bulbs’ milky dimness, and I think many people will try to compensate by clustering lamps around, looking to make up through quantity what the bulbs lack in quality.  If you are using many bulbs where before you were happy with the sharp light cast from one 100-watt bulb, are you really saving much energy?

And what about their costs?  I’m confident the lack of 100-watt light is affecting my eyesight; reading a book for too long in the twilight glow of a 60-watt bulb gives me a headache.  Could this be part of  an elaborate governmental plan, borrowed from a cheap sci-fi thriller, to make Americans toss aside their books, turn on their TVs, and turn their brains into more malleable, disinterested mush?

Speaking of costs, we know that the new bulbs are more expensive — a lot more expensive.  The next generation of energy-conserving bulbs, an LED bulb produced by Philips, will go to market costing $60$60!  It’s supposed to last 20 years, but does anyone really believe that — and if they did, would they pay $60 for one measly light bulb?  If Americans are irked by $4-a-gallon gas, how are they going to react when buying one light bulb costs as much as a fill-up of a 15-gallon gas tank?

In America, production of 100-watt bulbs has ceased, production of 60-watt bulbs (which I think are too dim) is being phased out, and soon production of 40-watt incandescent bulbs will be banned.  In short, our government is causing us to spend more and more for less and less light.  It’s something to ponder while we enjoy the romance of candlelight.

What does this mean for our society and culture?  I’m not sure, but I think it’s hard to move boldly into the future when you’re stumbling in the darkness.

When Darkness Season Falls

Some people celebrate the extra hour of sleep we gain when we “fall back” every autumn.  Other people dread that day, because the simple act of turning back the clocks ushers in a season of seemingly constant darkness.

It’s dark when we get up in the morning, dark when we drive to work, and dark when we sit at our desks and turn to our work.  It’s dark when we we leave at night, dark as we drive home, and dark when we walk into our front doors.  When you couple the shroud of darkness with the unrelentingly overcast, wet, and cold weather that characterizes a Midwestern winter, you have concocted a powerfully grim brew that many people find difficult to handle.  There’s a reason why seasonal affective disorder has been defined by health care professionals.

I think there are two keys to successfully handling the darkness season.  First, maximize your exposure to daylight.  Get out of the building and into the open air for lunch and on weekend days, and if the skies are clear turn your face sunward.  Even the shriveled intensity of the winter sun is better than no sun at all.

Second, during the dark hours at home, always have a project to work on.  It might be reading a collection by a favorite author, or baking Christmas cookies, or updating your iPod.  One winter Kish and I decided to watch The Sopranos from beginning to end, and it was a very enjoyable exercise that helped to make the days go faster.  The projects will help to occupy the idle hours and leave you with a feeling of accomplishment — and perhaps even an appreciation for the darkness season and the opportunities it offers.