Basket handle protocol

There is no hope, and here’s the proof: shoppers often stack empty store baskets with one handle positioned as shown.

It’s widely agreed that if we’re going to save the world, we have to plan beyond the next quarterly statement, stop being so selfish, reduce our footprint, eat less beef, burn less oil, invest in infrastructure, conserve resources for future generations. But how can we keep future generations in mind when we can’t even keep in mind the next shopper who has to stack an empty basket?

Please, let the future begin. Keep the next shopper in mind and move your empty basket handles to the sides.

Be the envy of your peers

A few days ago, my friend and former colleague, the funny and talented Greg Bulmash, visited my blog after a prolonged absence. There he saw my latest What brings you here post and grew curious about vampire lesbian girl scouts.

If I say so myself, the phrase “vampire lesbian girl scouts” all but demands further exploration.

Anyway, he wrote about it on his own blog in what he claimed, in e-mail to me, was an innocent shout-out. But I know what was really going on: he wanted to muscle in on some of that “vampire lesbian girl scout” search traffic. Indeed, as of this moment his post has taken over the top spot from mine in a Google search for that phrase.

The war is on. And this post is my escalation. Presenting the geebobg Vampire Lesbian Girl Scouts t-shirt!

Available in men’s and women’s styles and a variety of colors in the geebobg CafePress store.

While you’re there, pick up a Mucoshave coffee mug for that special someone!


Survival of the “Fit”test

A lower price wasn’t the Fit’s only advantage over the Prius. While car shopping I rented a Prius for a one-day extended test drive, ending up with three specific complaints:

  1. Visibility through the rear window is poor;
  2. The console’s large, animated engine-performance display is dangerously distracting;
  3. The keyless engine-start button is (a) unsafe with small children around but (b) too cool to disable with the child-safety lock.

More than a year ago I replaced my 1998 Honda Civic hatchback with a new Honda Fit. Fuel efficiency was a key decision criterion for me, and naturally I considered the Toyota Prius; but the Prius gets its best gas mileage in city driving, and at the time of my purchase most of my driving was on the highway, where the Fit’s efficiency was close to that of the Prius, at a much lower price.

I’ve been tracking my Fit’s fuel consumption on a spreadsheet for several months now and the trend is clear: its efficiency is consistently in the 35 MPG range. Nothing to sneeze at, especially given the dismal fuel economy of almost all other cars on the market; but disappointingly it falls short of the mileage I was getting with my Civic at the end, which occasionally exceeded 40 MPG — with the previous decade’s engine technology!

You can see the mileage I’m getting, fill-up-by-fill-up, in my Google Docs spreadsheet.

Son of Superpest

As I’ve written before, my mom once adopted the nickname Superpest for her ability to wheedle conciliatory goods and services from large corporations that had failed or wronged her in one way or another. Her secret weapon: dogged reasonableness.

Early last year I took the plunge and got a big plasma Philips TV for the living room. Between that and my DTS sound system I was in home-cinema heaven! But after a few months I noticed an intermittent problem: when turning on the TV, sometimes the display was distorted in one of a couple different ways.

Wrong Right
Wrong Right

Sometimes there was no picture at all. Turning the screen off, waiting a few seconds, and turning it on again usually fixed the problem. Sometimes a second power-cycle was necessary.

The problem only happened a few times per month and so was extremely hard to diagnose. A succession of authorized repair centers variously (a) tried and failed, (b) pretended, and (c) refused to fix it. Over and over again, I directed appeals to Philips, only to be referred to another local service center, who would eventually send me back to Philips, which would assign me a new case number and the cycle would repeat. Add in several unanswered phone calls and letters and you can see how this stretched into more than a year.

Finally I sent them this letter:

To whom it may concern,

Eighteen months ago I purchased a Philips plasma TV. For the past twelve months I have been trying to get a defect in that TV repaired. The lengthy saga of those attempts involves incompetence, unresponsiveness, and evasiveness among a variety of authorized service centers, along with miscommunication, misunderstandings, and other less outlandish obstacles. A detailed chronology is enclosed.

A few weeks ago a technician from C—-‘s TV visited my house to inspect the unit. His opinion was that it could not be repaired. For one thing, the problem is very hard to reproduce. It happens only two or three times a month. For another thing, if he went with his guess and replaced the circuit board that he suspected was the culprit, any replacement he might try would come refurbished from Philips, not new, and would be likely to have its own quirks. He didn’t want to see me trade one minor problem for another possibly worse one.

He had a point. The problem I’m dealing with is minor: occasionally when I turn on the TV, the display is garbled or blank, but I can fix it by turning the TV off and on once or twice. He said that, if I’m lucky, the problem isn’t a circuit board at all but is due to bad grounding. His parting suggestion was that if I observe the problem again, I should try fiddling with the wires and the connections and rapping on the components in the path between the TV and ground.

Since his visit I have observed the problem two more times, and I followed his advice, but to no avail. The problem persisted until I power-cycled the TV. I despaired of launching yet another go-round with Philips customer service seeking some sort of resolution to this problem, certain that I’d end up chasing my tail once again. But then I had an idea:

I can live with having to power-cycle my TV two or three times a month. My main concern is that the problem will worsen somehow, to the point where my ability to enjoy the TV is substantially degraded. Maybe one day I won’t be able to fix the problem by turning the TV off and on. Maybe one day the screen will remain persistently a little garbled.

So here is my proposal to you. As long as the problem remains an occasional minor annoyance, I will live with it and leave you guys alone; however, if it should significantly worsen, then even if it is out of warranty you will replace the TV with a new, comparable unit and a new warranty at no cost to me, since the problem has existed since the TV was under warranty and remains unaddressed despite my own best efforts.

If this proposal is acceptable to you, I would appreciate a written acknowledgment, however I will also consider a lack of response (within two weeks of your receipt of this letter) to be an acceptance of this proposal. On the other hand, if this proposal is not acceptable to you, I must unhappily resume my efforts to get this problem resolved and insist that you take new steps to remedy it.

Sincerely, etc.

Two weeks passed and I heard nothing. Another couple of weeks later I got a call from Philips: “Your replacement TV is on its way.” Yesterday it was delivered and installed.

Yay! Chalk one up for dogged reasonableness (and for maintaining a detailed chronology of phone calls, repair visits, and so on). The moral of this story is that customer service costs money, and eventually it’ll impact their bottom line less just to give in to your reasonable demands. Or kill you, but for big-screen-TV-peace-of-mind that was a risk I was willing to take.

Credit where it’s due

Several weeks ago, I made plans to travel to Pittsburgh with my family on Southwest Airlines. For various reasons we ended up having to cancel that trip. Even though we got Southwest’s lowest, web-only, nonrefundable fares, we were able to bank the entire value of the canceled tickets in a Southwest “Ticketless Travel Funds” account for later use, with no cancellation fee at all. Thanks, Southwest!

On Saturday night I went back to Southwest to apply those funds toward a family trip to Seattle that we’re now planning. When I got to the payment step on their website and tried to apply the funds, I got the message that the Ticketless Travel servers were down for routine maintenance and I should try back at such-and-such a time. When I retried, the servers were working — but the airfare had gone up!

So I called their customer service number and spoke to a friendly, helpful person who listened to the story, appeared to pull some strings — and was able to get me the lower fare even though it had nominally expired, and was nominally web-only. Thanks, Southwest!

However, for some technical reason she could not apply the Ticketless Travel funds, so I had to use my credit card to make a new airfare purchase. She suggested I try escalating to a special customer relations department during normal business hours. (This was the middle of the night on Saturday.)

Today I called the special customer relations department and spoke to another friendly, helpful person who said, “I’m sorry, I just have no way to retroactively apply Ticketless Travel funds to an already-purchased itinerary… hang on a second…” I listened to a lot of keyboard tapping and then the woman announced, “OK, I have a new reservation for you that uses your Ticketless Travel funds and I can cancel the reservation that used your credit card. Even though that wasn’t refundable I’ve arrange for a refund to your credit card anyway. Shall I proceed?”

Shall I kiss you first? In this age of persistent impotent rage at every aspect of air travel, Southwest stepped up to the customer-service plate big-time. I told them I thought so and promised to give them a shout-out on my blog, so here we are. Thanks, Southwest!

Ready to rumble

My coworker Kerry is a cofounder of The RumbleBox Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to supplying emergency kits to Bay Area residents for surviving the first 72 hours after a major earthquake (or other disaster). “RumbleBoxes” contain first aid supplies, food, water, a hand-cranked flashlight and radio, and more. The coolest part, and the thing that places me in awe of Kerry, is that RumbleBoxes are distributed free of charge to needy families; funding comes from donations and the sale of RumbleBoxes to the not-so-needy.

I bought mine yesterday and now instead of fearing the next big earthquake I’m almost looking forward to it! If you’re in a disaster-prone area (e.g., Earth) where there’s a chance you’ll be cut off from infrastructure or emergency services for a while, you should get one too.

What brings you here, 2007 edition

Here are some of the top queries from various search engines that resulted in hits on my blog during the past year or so, reproduced verbatim from my server logs. (Last year’s results are here.) Each related family of queries is listed with a main variant in bold and selected other variants, plus the percentage of query-hits represented by that family.

I was at first surprised to see that hits for “James Bond villains” outnumbers hits for “vampire lesbian girl scouts” (etc.) and “sex” (etc.) combined, but then realized: the percentages are a function both of the popularity of that search and of the ranking of my site in the search results. In other words, if you’re looking for anything about vampires or lesbians or sex I regret to say there are a lot of likelier websites for you to visit before mine.

James Bond villains; The Villains of bond; deformed bond villains; “james bond” +villains +clothes 10.2%
William H. Macy; william h macy photos; face de William H. Macy 5.0%
Vampire lesbian girl scouts; lesbian vampires; naked lesbians; lesbian girl scouts; naked girl scouts; kissing lesbian girls; zombie girl scouts; evil girlscouts; girl scout decorated cake 4.5%
Sex etc.; horsey style sex; lesbian masturbation; “sex positions illustrated”; vampire sex; lesbians having hot lesbian sex; lesbian sex soundeffect; “San Francisco Masturbate-a-thon”; squat girl masturbate -cock -man -boy -blow; dildo attached to wall; sex positions kitty style; attach dildo to floor; How to convince my lady staf for sex?; sex positions in alphanumeric; “park and ride” “sex positions illustrated” 3.2%
Jaws ride; Jaws ride construction; jaws hitchcock 3.1%
e to the i pi plus one; pi relation to e; mathematical constant e Euler comic; relating pi, e, 1 and 0; “amazing relationship” e pi 2.3%
Don Fanucci; vito corleone fanucci 2.3%
Honeybee/Bees in chimney; humming sound when close glass fireplace doors; honeybees in chimney; bees in fireplace; bees chimney flying down 2.2%
Star Wars; 5th august 1977; star wars remake; hoth rebel base; “your tauntaun will freeze”; exegesis “empire strikes back”; star wars ben kenobi ghost; was obi wan strong enough to defeat palpatine; In Episode 5 what is the insult of Leia to Han Solo which Chewie laughed that Han called him “fuzzball” ?; lego star wars millennium falcon; star wars cassette tape 1977; “bob glickstein” “star wars”; mark hamill car crash empire strikes back monster; han solo slices open tauntaun quote; HOW DID THE FREAKIN EMPIRE BEGIN?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!; August+5th+1977; star wars novelization 1977; What does yoda say when luke comments that he is not afraid; why didn’t Luke kill the Wampa; “asteroid field”+”star wars”; star wars allegories; star wars 1970 nerd; “time magazine” 1977 “star wars” 2.1%
Pirates of the Caribbean; pirate medallion; does elizabeth swann love jack sparrow; elizabeth swann’s red dress; jack sparrow character motivation 2.1%
Widescreen viewing area; “what size tv to buy”; “square inches” diagonal widescreen chart; determine tv width given diagonal; 42″ 16:9 square inches; 16:9 4:3 screen equivalence OR correspondance; DIAGONAL ASPECT RATIO FORMULA; pythagoras 16:9 screen size 32″ 1.8%
Godfather; Godfather part II poster; Godfather Part 4: Fredo’s Revenge 1.8%
Susan Oliver/Orion Slave Girl; vina star trek; star trek green orion slave; nude Orion slave girl; orion slave girls makeup; orion slave girls color correction 1.7%
Cathy Lee Crosby/Wonder Woman; cathy lee crosby wonderwoman film download; cathy+lee+crosby+as+wonder+woman; wonder woman drag; WONDERWOMAN TV MOVIE 1.7%
Rogaine; scalp conditions; itchy scalp; rogaine results; scalp exercise; rogaine effectiveness 1.7%
Ursula sex; ursula undress; ursula dildo; ursula sex disney 1.6%
Comcast; comcast removes channels; comcast turn off service; comcast losing west coast feeds; complaints over comcast hbo; disable speed reduction comcast cable; compression artifacts comcast; how do i delete channels i do not watch in comcast; comcast crappy broadcast; comcast reduction in service; do i get a rate reduction when comcast removes channels; I want both west coast and east coast feeds 1.6%
Bob Glickstein; gee bobg; “bob glickstein” +yoga; bob glickstein andrea; bob glickstein imdb; growing up Glickstein 1.4%
Trophy; ugly trophy; dna trophy; bezos trophy 1.3%
Dog; how to draw dogs; “remington dog park”; dog pee drives away evil spirits; veterinary dogs and chocolate 1.3%
Lulav; lulav and etrog; big picture of a lulav and etrog; lulav by its self; lulav etrog chabad; sukkot lulav without etrog 1.3%
Star Trek/Enterprise/Kirk/etc.; spock uhura; Uhura uniform; 60 star trek uniform; bonk bonk on the head star trek; Captain Kirk’s Insignia; enterprise blueprints; happy birthday star trek; Klingons-Star Trek; Atheist Star Trek; 1.2%
Amy Linker; what happened to amy linker; amy linker and tv land awards 1.1%
Jodie Foster; jodie foster bugsy malone; YOUNG JODIE FOSTER; +”give a little love and it all comes back to you” +foster 1.1%
Joseph Costanzo; joe costanzo restaurant; Joseph costanzo primadonna 1.1%
The end of Superman; superman reverse time; superman in the end; superman earth spinning; can superman go the speed of light; how many times can superman fly around earth in 1 second; +”it is forbidden for you to interfere in human history”; superman rewind time; how many times does superman fly around the earth in order to reverse its rotation 1.0%
Frank Pentangeli; frank pentangeli hit; roth corleone Frank Pentangeli assassination; frank pentangeli johnny ola 1.0%
Thai gem scam; thailand scam; majestic export jewelry thailand scam; gems profit thailand; thai sapphire scam; thailand conman; buying gemstones, thailand, blog; thai Export Center scam; selling thai gems; what to do if conned in thailand; david maurer thailand 1.0%
Evil cats 0.8%
Food photography; food stylist; food styling “pasta”; food stylists cereal; food stylist burger; tricks of a food stylist 0.8%
Each daughter has the same number…; In a certain family each daughter has the same number of brothers and sisters. Each son has twice as many sisters as brothers. How many sons and daughters are there in the family? Now there are two ways to do this obviously, you can do it the hard way or the easy way. 0.8%
Fizzies; what ever happened to fizzies drink tablets; how do fizzies work; fizzies that are new; Fizzie tablet sex aid; truckload of fizzies; FIZZIES FOUNTAIN 0.7%
James Bond; vintage james bond girls; james bond toys; the bond men; Live and Let Die Band James Bond 0.7%
Pez museum; pez incredibles violet; batman pez dispensers; pez guns; why didnt violet parr become a pez machine; headless PEZ dispensers 0.7%
Vincent Price; old photos of Vincent Price; Vincent Price gay; “the saint” vincent price; 0.5%
Candy; old time candy; “dylan’s candy bar”; Candy of yesteryear 0.5%
Entenmann’s; golden cake; entenmanns’ chocolate chip filled crumb cake recipe; entenmann fudge golden cake 0.5%
Adam Stoller; why i owe adam stoller an apology; fish adam stoller 0.5%
MoveOn; bad; founder; move away from; moveon endorsements nov 2007 election 0.5%
Vertical speed indicator/Altimeter; static port; instrument dial Concorde speed; how does an altimeter work; pitot static instruments; ram air pressure pitot; how does the vsi work? flying 0.5%
Cigarettes/Camels/Still Life With Woodpecker; Joe Camel; tom robbins woodpecker; camel tom robbins 0.5%
Baron Munchausen; was baron munchausen an atheist 0.5%
Sharon Stone; sharon stone naked; sharon stone’ pictures, 1970; sharon stone en lingerie fine 0.5%
Computer; computers internet blog; “apple II home computer” 0.4%
xkcd; xkcd complex numbers; calculus xkcd; math xkcd 0.4%
Bob Falfa/Martin Stett; big bob falfa; purchase a bob falfa hat; falfa and milner 0.4%
Adrift/Open Water 2; “open water 2” true story tried everything; understand explain open water 2:adrift ending?; FORGOT TO LOWER LADDER ON YACHT 0.4%
Honda Fit; finding a honda fit; pre order “honda fit” bay area; vw rabbit or honda fit? 0.4%
Carl Sagan; “carl sagan” +billions; cosmos carl sagan vangelis heaven hell; “circumference of the earth” carl sagan; eratosthenes carl sagan; Carl Sagan and Star Trek 0.4%
Splashdown; splashdown lyrics meaning; i feel so elated would you please bring me joy lyrics; free splashdown downloads karma slave; lyrics so if your past approaches you pulled into a war you’ll lose; karma slave splashdown video; i feel so elated i do i do splashdown 0.4%
The Incredibles; Life Lessons The Incredibles; incredibles analogy of family togetherness 0.3%
Legobiggest lego city ever made; Cool lego creations; LEGO WORLD RECORD FOR MILLENIUM FALCON 0.3%
Birthday invitation; neverland invitation 0.3%
Mill Valley Pediatrics; what new rule causes pediatrician to close office; dr. Harris pediatrics mill valley 0.3%
BDSM; BDSM and rodent; hellium balloons bdsm; bdsm “trembling with fear”; professional bdsm pittsburgh; bdsm vanity plates 0.3%
Richard S. Castellano 0.3%
Bugsy Malone/Scott Baio; coca cola jingle+you give a little love and all comes back to you 0.3%
Games magazine/Calculatrivia marathon; ken jennings calculatrivia; “games magazine” contest t-shirt 0.3%
Penis; Jonah Falcon penis; christmas penis drawing; penis peeing pictures; penis doodles; “draw a penis” 0.3%
Drawing/scribbling/doodling; kids scribbles 0.3%
Raiders of the Lost Ark; indiana jones medallion + raiders of the lost ark; indiana jones finds millenium falcon; indiana jones harrison ford sean connery 0.3%
I know it was you Fredo.; Johnny Ola Fredo; HOW DOES MICHAEL KNOW ABOUT FREDO; +”why” +michael +kill +fredo 0.3%
Federation Trading Post 0.2%
Funny epitaph; headstone humor; headstone for mom 0.2%
Batman; shark repellent spray; batman and the shark; batman robin “more toyetic” 0.2%
Handshadow; Hand-Shadow play 0.2%
Peter and the Starcatchers 0.2%
Watch neighbor undress; neighbor undress photo 0.2%
Lemon Ice King of Corona; queens ices 0.2%
Weight; weight graph; college freshman weight graph; jewish weight loss 0.2%
Marty Goldstein/Black Book; ‘marty goldstein’ ‘creative black book’; i remember going to the black book office zanetti 0.2%
Kinds of meat; meatballs three kinds of meat 0.2%
Fligth to Mars 0.2%
Supertanker; how much does a supertanker cost?; how many barrels of oil does a supertanker carry; how much money does a supertanker captain make; running costs for a supertanker; becoming a supertanker captain; supertankers are curved 0.2%
Jewish; jew obnoxious; jewish products; mormon jew; mountain jew; val kilmer sephardic jewish 0.2%
Cartelligent; Leigh Taylor, Cartelligent; cartelligent price for honda fit 0.2%
Sweetener; hooray sweetener; cyclamates popularity sodas; Is Cyclamates good for you; sodium bicarbonate sweetener cancer 0.2%
Captain Morgan rum 0.2%
Gerald Zanetti 0.2%
Bush smile 0.2%
Salt Lake flats; nevada open salt lake 0.2%
Disney; disney+AND+fingerprint; disney park hopper fingerprint; thumper disney 0.2%
Koyaanisqatsi 0.2%
Katharine Hepburn 0.2%
Incremental backup; jungledisk incremental backups; s3 backup incremental mirror linux; simple linux incremental backups; infinite backup 0.2%
Rhymes with Bethany; bethany accident utah; something that rhymes with bethany; poem for bethany 0.1%
Sci-fi spaceships; cool Scifi Spaceships; most beautiful spaceships 0.1%
I Dream of Jeannie; healey irresistible to when i dream of jeannie episode; i dream of jeanie colorization 0.1%
Laundry; how to get quarters laundry; cold undissolved laundry soap; monopolize laundry machines; laundry pile 0.1%
Anakin/Padme; How much do Anakin’s talent, pride and ambitions affect his decisions to turn to ‘the dark side’? 0.1%
Making Mr. Right; malkovich “making mr right” 0.1%
Pop-culture grid; “the pop culture grid”+last concert you saw 0.1%
Adventurer’s Inn; toboggan adventurer’s inn 0.1%
Clemenza; young clemenza; who killed clemenza 0.1%
Glenne Headley 0.1%
1776/“Yours Yours Yours” 0.1%
Nature of reality; 10 dimensions of reality; how to understand ten dimensional reality; three-dimensional pants 0.1%
Dunk tank; “spring carnival” dunk 0.1%
Misconstruction 0.1%
Sarah Jessica Parker; sarah jessica parker in square pegs 0.1%
Mr. Arrigo; Robert arrigo teacher 0.1%
Eli Attie 0.1%
Hog-calling time in Nebraska; What tune is hog calling time in nebraska sung to?; ORIGINS OF HOG CALLING; hog calling songs 0.1%
Eulogy for a friend 0.1%
Indiana University; indiana university hofstadter 0.1%
Cynthia Nixon; Cynthia Nixon manhattan project 0.1%
Pine Knoll Bungalow Colony; bungalow colonies in monticello 0.1%
Prison Break; prisoner 94941; michael scofield myer briggs; “prisoner number” scofield 0.1%
Winnemucca, NV; Winnemucca weekly pet friendly motels; reasons to love Winnemucca, NV 0.1%
Steve Volan 0.1%
P.S. 196; all teachers from p.s.196 0.1%
Knish Nosh; knish nosh health department 0.1%
Mucoshave 0.1%
Laser/Theodore Maiman; 1966 national geographic “the laser’s bright magic”; what kind of food does theodore maiman likes; did theodore maiman get alot of money for making the laser 0.1%
Universal Hall Pass 0.1%

The Out on a Whim

I finally got my Honda Fit, the Out on a Whim.

It wasn’t easy to find one; in the end, I needed the help of Cartelligent, whose superior service I recommend very highly. At the time I engaged them, my Cartelligent agent, the wonderful Leigh Taylor, informed me (credibly) that there were a total of four Honda Fits in the state of California matching my modest criteria (trim level “Sport,” manual transmission). I picked one and they negotiated a price for me, handled most of the paperwork, and transported it to their office in nearby Sausalito, where I took delivery from Leigh a few weeks ago. To top it all off, they found a buyer for the Nimble Imp, my nine-year-old Honda Civic, at about three times the price I expected it to command.

The Nimble Imp, a red 1998 Honda Civic DX hatchback, was the first purchase I made with money after they bought the Internet Movie Database.

It replaced the Compelling Notion, a red 1994 Saturn SC2, which was my first new car.

That came after the Uffish Thought, the gold 1984 Toyota Corolla hatchback in which Alex and I crossed America.

Before that was the Fine Young Chap, a blue 1984 Toyota Corolla sedan. It was named for a comment made about me by the father of my friend Drue, and it was totaled in a four-car collision on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn (about which more in a future blog post).

That followed the storied Plate-O-Shrimp, a yellow 1977 VW Rabbit, my first college car, memorialized here.

During the few months before college I had the Beta Epsilon, a white 1974 Pontiac Le Mans, a gift from my dad’s fiancée, now my stepmother. It was named in loving memory of…

…the Brief Encounter, my first car, a green 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, given to me on extended loan by my friend Joelle, who bought it for herself without knowing how to drive, on the condition that I place myself at her disposal for transportation errands, which I was only too glad to do. It was smelly, it was rusty, it was moldy, and it was missing its gas pedal (you had to press your foot on the bare push-rod), but as Jack Sparrow points out, “It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs, but what a ship is… is freedom.”

World widescreen web

Thinking of upgrading your conventional picture-tube TV to a fancy new flat-panel widescreen? But you’re on a budget and don’t want to go overboard? Confused about what size TV to buy? You’ve come to the right place.

The main criterion for choosing a screen size is one that I have not seen described in other TV buying guides: viewing area. The viewing area of a 32″ conventional TV is 492 square inches, whereas the viewing area of a 32″ widescreen TV is a mere 438 square inches! If you’re upgrading from a 32″ conventional TV you’ll want at least a 34″ widescreen to get the same viewing area.

Here’s how I arrived at those figures.

The advertised size of a TV display is the length of the diagonal. If from the diagonal we can determine the height of the display, h, and the width, w, then the viewing area is h×w. Thanks to Pythagoras we know that h2+w2 = 322. But this isn’t enough information to determine the viewing area: we also need the fact that the aspect ratio of most conventional TV displays is 4:3, which means the width of the display is four-thirds the height.

Substituting 4h/3 for w and then simplifying gives us:

h2+(4h/3)2 = 322
h2+16h2/9 = 322
25h2/9 = 322
h = √(9×322/25)
h = 3×32/5 = 19.2

Plugging that into the formula for viewing area (h×w) and recalling that w = 4h/3,

h×4h/3 = 19.2×4×19.2/3 = 491.52 square inches

Knowing that the aspect ratio of widescreen displays is 16:9 and using similar arithmetic gives a result of 438 square inches for a 32″ diagonal.

In fact, the math shows that for a given diagonal, the viewing area of a 16:9 display will always be about 11% less than the viewing area of a 4:3 display.

But wait! It’s not as simple as finding the widescreen TV that has at least the same viewing area as your conventional TV. You should also take into account the kinds of programming you watch.

Do you watch a lot of wide-format movies on your 4:3 TV? If so, you’ve certainly noticed the “letterboxing” needed to fit the wide aspect ratio of the film into the narrow one of the display. You’re not using the entire viewing area; some of it is wasted, as much as 32% of it for very wide format formats such as “CinemaScope.” With a 16:9 TV the need for letterboxing wide-format movies is decreased or eliminated.

Similarly, if you watch a lot of conventional TV programming (sitcoms, newscasts, etc.) on a widescreen TV, you’ll get “reverse letterboxing,” also called pillar boxing, where the black bars appear not on the top and bottom but on the left and right of the image to make the taller aspect ratio fit into a shorter one. Here again you’re wasting some of your viewing area.

So think about the kinds of programming you watch and consult this handy table that shows the true image size (in square inches) for various combinations of TV diagonal size, TV aspect ratio, and programming aspect ratio. Choose a TV that gives you the best image size you can afford for the types of programming you typically watch.

Program aspect ratio
very common
some movies
20″ 192 154 144 138 109
27″ 350 280 262 252 199
32″ 492 393 369 354 279
36″ 622 498 467 448 353
42″ 847 677 635 610 480
46″ 1016 813 762 732 576
50″ 1200 960 900 865 681
20″ 128 160 171 164 129
27″ 234 292 312 299 236
32″ 328 410 438 420 331
36″ 415 519 554 532 419
42″ 565 707 754 724 570
46″ 678 848 904 869 684
50″ 801 1001 1068 1027 808