Put your TV set in its place

A few simple steps can ensure that the television set doesn’t take over family life.

FLAT screen televisions, PC monitors, wireless networks, TV reception boxes, DVD players, mobiles, tablets, routers and readers. The bleating demands of entrenched information technology are bullying life as we knew it out of many homes. Worldwide communication may be growing, but it’s increasingly at the price of personal communication as friends are placed in virtual relationships and commonplace texts flit room to room in many family homes.

Most chilling is the recent trend (indicating luxury it seems) towards enshrining a television as a devotional point in every space in the house. Wandering slack jawed thumbs a-twitch through the house, bumping into furniture, the relationship of a bewildered teenager with their phone now transcends all understanding. Even as adults, we seem unable to breathe without an electronic umbilical link to perpetual, pre-packaged entertainment. When it comes to laying down the law and laying out your floorplan you can make a determined effort to contain the excesses of modern media littering up the house and turn the family back to each other.

DINE TOGETHER

Dine together. Sitting down and eating together is a great way to real connectedness, cutting through the many competing demands of family life, and, let’s face it, we all have to eat. Phones, tablets and MP3 players are simply not invited. Even breakfasting together is better than nothing. Put away the grazing trays and distract the technophile junky by indicating the charging point passed by for phone free gatherings. If you don’t have a dedicated dining room - a rare luxury and questionable as an extra room can do so much more - a table can be set up anywhere, from one end of a living room to a suitable corner in the kitchen. Invest in a robust table to tempt youngsters to use it for other activities, and ensure the chairs are truly comfortable. A table more than 42”/100cm wide will make cross table conversation difficult.

DIGITAL FOCUS

The TV and the fireplace are quietly waging war as the focus of most living rooms. To add to the confusion the wire-free tablet is ramping up multi-task viewing our eyes shifting from a tablet in our hands to the TV in front of us. To be fair, a flat screen panel-style television is an aesthetic joy compared to the elder CRT styles. Hung up on the wall, a small screen can be subsumed into a group of pictures or can nestle in a bookcase or drift with floating shelving. Still, it remains a large, black, shiny void of nothing when off. The American solution to this interloper is to hang it directly over the fireplace, which is not only too high but destroys the presence of a character surround stone-dead. Try to give the television secondary importance by playing up architectural detail and allowing groups of furniture to face each other not just the set.

If you are struggling to assimilate the Dark Lord into your décor, consider an alcove painted a rich chocolate brown or black to deftly play it up rather than down.

Ground the TV if it’s on a wall with a long cabinet beneath, a great way to hide that hideous Spaghetti Junction of wires, plugs and ancillary boxes.

PUT TV IN ITS PLACE

As a general rule you should be at eye level while seated and a minimum distance from the screen of 1.5 to 2 times its diagonal length. For example, and let’s use inches as everyone still does, if you have a 50 inch screen, you should in theory be 75’’ to 100’’ (6’3-8’4’’) from it. With the rich saturated colours and high definition of an LCD or plasma screen, some people will find this too close for comfort and 3D TVs demand a set distance and angle for perfect enjoyment. LCD TVs have improved considerably and can be seen perfectly from up to 160°, although plasma screens remain more forgiving at 180°.

Consider the human flow when you site the television. Pedestrians wandering in front of the set to regularly access other key areas of the room will strain tempers. In a kitchen where you’re listening as much as watching, consider lifting a small TV up onto the wall or onto moveable arm where you can see it easily as you glide around your workspace and interact with companions.

SOLO SURFING

It’s not unusual for families to split off into different rooms to watch TV, surf the internet and game. Rather than being swallowed by the tide of popular entertainment, set up your own rules to reduce the hours spent apart and to ensure you are completely informed about where your children are on the eb. They will squawk, protest and pout, but a family computer for under 16s is best placed in an open communal area where frankly they will be disturbed and monitored for most of the time. For an excellent primer on exactly how to place that monitor for maximum comfort for work or play try HP at www.hp.com/ergo/workarea.html.

PROTECTING CHILDREN

If you’re having trouble being tough on limiting use and privacy, keep in mind that according to a study by the University of Bristol in 2010, children who spend more than two hours a day at a computer or watching television are more likely than others to lack even basic social skills. Presuming the young children have no online access through the highly questionable practice of giving them a net-ready ‘super-phone’, the family PC can be heavily detailed for safe internet browsing and sane hours of usage.

One of many free tools, k9 Web Protection not only manages what they do online but can schedule when kids are online (NightGuard keeps little fingers from wandering off after hours) putting you back in the driver’s seat. www.k9webprotection.com. Lead by example and play fair. Coral your home office away from e from eating and gathering areas and if possible keep PCs out of bedrooms, including your own.

DIYTIPS

How to organise computer and electronics cables

Wherever the multi-media devices go, heaps of knotted wiring will follow. Even when your pieces are wireless those docks and charging lines have a way of growing out like vines, and when you have to troubleshoot something, finding the wire can be an infuriating, head-bashing trial. Put some tidy logic to it all.

1. Power down everything. PCs and peripherals, the lot.

2. Unplug from both ends.

3. Trace back each individual wire to ascertain what it belongs to. Don’t yank the cables out. The ends can be remarkably fragile and sometimes hard to replace.

4. Give each cable a quick dry rub down with a microfiber cloth to remove dust and check for any damage.

5. Attack a zip tie style cable label to each cable, identifying what it goes to (about €6 for a pack of 100, try Ebay). Use a twist of masking tape if you prefer.

6. Plan how you can tidy the cables into bundles when you put them back, keeping in mind where they go. Use simple twist ties used for food bags, cable covers (€1-€2 per metre) or commercial cable zips every few inches.

7. Where the cables meet a desktop, the Kensington Cable Organiser will clip them into neat groups. €6.82 for a pack of 2. www.dabs.ie.

Q&A

Q: I love my iPhone but at home I would love to use it like a standard phone. Are there devices to do this?

A: Yes. You can either just pick up a handset, such as the Moshi-Moshi handset in a range of zingy colours that will plug into the phone. www.stayhometoshop.com, €50, or adapt your phone completely to a business quality desk phone with an Altigen iFusion SmartStation for iPhones. €160. www.applestore.com.

Q: The wires hanging down from my plasma screen look dreadful, but I can’t find a way to hide them and don’t want to start chasing things through the wall.

A: There is dedicated ‘plasma trunking’ to carry cables on the wall. It’s simply a matter of finding the colour that blends in best with your décor. If you want to make a feature out of it, what about a brushed aluminium? Try B&Q for D-line. Around €20 for 2m depending on finish.

Q: Can you recommend an anti-virus product for a PC that’s not too pricey?

A: What about completely free software? AVG offer Essential Antivirus Protection for both smart phones and PCs. Go straight to www.avg.com. You can also download a trial of their paid for service AVG Essential Security 2013, to give the more sophisticated products a go before purchase.

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