Rich Warren: Reader's email response was a cut above the norm

While this column ranges far and wide, this response to a recent column took me by surprise:

"Glad to see you have expanded your column to cover chain saw information. I have a plug-in chain saw, and it is too weak. I have a two-cycle gasoline chain saw and I spend my time trying to get it started. How did you like your lithium ion chain saw, and what brand was it, and where did you buy it?"

My expertise does not extend to chain saws, although my neighbor Chuck could probably write an illuminating column about them. No battery-operated chain saw offers the torque of either a plug-in or a gas-powered model. Further, even a lithium battery limits run-time. To specifically answer the reader's question, I got my wimpy Ryobi at Lowe's.

Now we return to electronics.

A number of years ago I mentioned power supply failures disabling TVs, but this reader sent a reminder:

"You were unable to give the cause of a reader's TV's total failure. However, among the specific possibilities for the failure you did not mention the power supply. Our TV was probably among the last off the RCA assembly line at Indianapolis, being a 1986-87 floor model with a swivel base. It failed a little over a year ago and had been 'in the family' so long that I dug in over my wife's objection and decided to find out the cause.

"Yes, it's big and it's heavy but it's a major piece of living room furniture, too. Naturally, I called Bill at Glenn Poor in Urbana to check it out since that is where we had bought it all those years ago. There's no way it was worth the haul and the diagnosis to fix it; except that it was.

"Bill has told me that he stays very busy saving these older appliances. He has kept both of our old RCA VCRs up and running, too. We simply have way too much family stuff and good entertainment on VHS (and super 8 film!) and it's way too expensive to convert it to DVD or to lose it just yet."

On a picture tube TV, a failing power supply causes the picture to distort or shrink when the picture on the screen is mostly or all white. Turning down the contrast often temporarily will solve this. Current LCD TVs don't exhibit such an obvious symptom. Power supplies usually are the one part of the TV easily replaced, or even repaired, since they are modular.

Another reader took issue with my statement that being able to order cable channels a la carte would cost less for many viewers:

"One thing to remember is that cable channels don't share equal value for the industry either. For instance, cable companies are charged over $5 a month per subscriber to provide ESPN, while other channels bundled with the service or other popular channels may cost only pennies a month to carry.

"Here's an article from Bloomberg on ESPN's business: http://buswk.co/X8CHWt. In any case, cable is unlikely to adopt an a la carte pricing model without government intervention/regulation — meaning that it won't happen. But if the industry did, while there would be less channel clutter to contend with, most people's cable bills would be about the same."

I read that Business Week article before writing my column. The reader is correct that a la carte pricing won't save you much money if you want to subscribe to very popular channels such as ESPN (although even $1-$2 a month adds up).

In contrast, if you prefer obscure and less popular channels you'll save a considerable amount because you won't be paying for expensive ESPN. Thus, if all you want to view is the apiary channel and the chain saw channel, you might buzz cut your bill.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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