Consumer Tech: tips for giving


I give to lots of non-profits and realized there are some common elements and that perhaps others could learn from what I have observed. I also give to some political organizations.

Define terms

By non-profit I mean a 501(c)(3) as per IRS regulations. These can have a local focus or a national focus. They will be chartered in a particular state which will have its own rules for incorporation. For my purposes that doesn’t matter too much. I believe they all will have a board of directors. They all have to abide by certain rules such as spending most of what they take in (I think).

Common to all

Engage, engage, engage

They want to send you frequent correspondences, sometimes under various pretenses, to keep you engaged. You will receive correspondence under the following pretenses: the “annual renewal”, the “quarterly report”, the xmas update, the thankyou for contributing letter, the “for tax purposes” letter, the emergency appeal or rapid reaction to something in the news, the special donor multiplying your gift by 3x or even 10x, the estate giving solicitation, and, worst of all, the fake survey. I’m talking about you, ACLU. I have never once seen a published result of these fake surveys, which have zero scientific value and consist of one-sided questions. I used to fill them out the opposite way they expected out of spite, but to no avail as they kept coming with self-addressed stamped envelopes no less. All these correspondences have in common that they will always solicit you to give even more money as though what you’ve already given isn’t good enough.

But by all means read the newsletters on occasion to make sure they are doing the things you expect of them based on their mission. And ignore the extra pleas for money unless you are truly sympathetic. Emergencies do occur, after all.

Snail mail? No problem

You would naively think that by creating a known, non-trivial cost to these non-profits, namely forcing them to contact you by postal mail that they would send you fewer requests for money. Not so! I only contribute online when it seems to be the only practical way to do so (I’m thinking of you, Wikimedia), yet still, I get, no exaggeration, about a letter every two weeks from my organizations.

Phone etiquette

First off, you don’t need to give out your phone number even though they ask for it. It’s asked for in a purposefully ambiguous way, near the billing, as though it is needed to process your credit card. It isn’t. I happily omit my phone number. I figure if they really need it they can just wrote me a letter asking for it – and that’s never happened.

But if you’ve made the mistake of having given out your number, perhaps in the past, you may get called periodically. They do have the right to call you. But you can ask them to put you on a do not call list. What I do once I learn what organization is calling, is to sometime during their long opening sentence – which may come after you confirmed your identity – is to hold the phone away from my ear a little and just calmly say I’m not going to give any more money and hang up.

Universities have a special way of asking for money. I knew classmates who did this for their campus job. They call alumni, especially recent alumni who are more naive, and engage them with a scripted conversation that starts innocently enough, :I’m from your college and I wanted to update you update recent happenings on campus.” pretty soon they’re being asked to donate at the $250 level, then after an uncomfortable No, they’re relieve to learn they can still contribute at the $125 level, and so on down until the hapless alumnus/alumna is guilted into contributing something, anything at all.

Local giving

Fortunately, local giving where they haven’t signed on to use professional fund-raising organizations is more pleasant because you are normally not solicited very often, often just once a year.

Track it

I keep a spreadsheet with my gifts and a summed column at the bottom. I create a new worksheet named with the year for each new year. I have a separate section at the bottom with my non-deductible contributions.

I try to give all my gifts in the first one or two months of the year.

Come tax time, I print out the non-profit giving and include it with my paperwork for my accountant, but more on that below.

Deductions – forget about it

I pat a lot of taxes and still these days (from about 2018 onwards) I don’t get any tax credit for my contributions. Why? The reason is that the standard deduction is so high that it applies instead. This is the case ever since the tax changes of 2017. So if that’s true for me I imagine that’s true for most people. But each year I try…

Non-deductible organizations

Some organziations you would think are non-profits, but they are actually structured differently and so they are not. I’m thinking of you, The Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is using much of your donation to lobby politicians to their point of view about environmental issues and therefore by the rules cannot be a non-profit in the sense of a 501(c)(3).


I’m not sure what privacy rules apply around your giving. In my personal experience, there are few constraints. This means expect your name to be sold as part of a giant list of donors. You are data and worth $$ to the organization selling your name to, usually, like-minded organizations who will hope to extract more money out of you. To be concrete, let’s say you donated one time to a senator in a tight senate race. Before six months is up every senator in a competitive race from that party will be soliciting you for funds. And not just one time but often on that bi-weekly basis! Once again using snail mail seems to be no obstacle. maybe it is even worse because with email you can in theory unsubscribe. I haven’t tried it but perhaps I should. I just hate to have my inbox flooded with solicitations. I’m really afraid to contribute to a congressional race for this reason. Or a governor’s race.

But this privacy issue is not just restricted to PACs sharing your data. Let’s say a relative had congenital heart failure so you decide to contribute to a heart association. Eventually you will be solicited by other major organizations with focus on other organs or health in general: lungs, kidneys, cancer, even the same organ but from a different organization, etc. Your data has been sold…

Amazon Smile – Giving while shopping

When I first learned of Amazon Smile from a friend at work I thought there was no way this could be true. Margins are said to be razor thin in retail, yet here was Amazon giving away one half percent of your order to the charity of your choice?? Yet it was true. And Amazon gave away hundreds of millions of dollars. Even my local church got into the program. My original recipient was Habitat for Humanity, which raised well over ten thousand dollars from Amazon Smile.

But Amazon killed this too-good-to-be-true program in March 2023 for reasons unknown. I’m not sure if other merchants have something which can replace it and will update this if I ever find out.

The efficiency of your charity

You want to know if a large portion of your gift to a particular charity is going towards the cause that is its mission, or, to administrative costs such as fund-raising itself. I’ve noticed good charities actually show you a pie chart which breaks down the amount taken by administrative overhead – usually 5 – 10 percent. But another way to learn something about efficiency is to use a third party web site such as Charity Navigator. But don’t get crazy about worrying about their ratings. I have read criticisms of their methods. Still, it’s better than nothing. 5 – 10 % administrative costs is fine. Hey, I used to know people who worked in such administrative positions and they are good people who deserve decent pay. Another drawback of Charity Navigator is that it won’t have ratings for your local charities.

For PACs as far as I know, there is no easy way to get comparable information. You just have to hope your money is well spent. I guess they have quarterly disclosure forms they fill out, but I don’t know how to hunt that down.


The national organizations know everything you have ever given and will suggest you give at slightly higher amounts than you have in the past. 25 years ago the American Cancer Society asked if I would solicit my neighbors for contributions, which I did. I pooled all the money and gave them something like $300. I swear for the next 15 years they solicited me suggesting I contribute at that level even though I never gave more than $40 in the following 15 years. So annoying…

Death – an opportunity – for them

Many charities will encourage you to remember them in your estate planning. I suppose this may be a reasonable option if you feel really identified with their cause. I suppose The Nature Conservancy evokes these kinds of emotions, for example, because who doesn’t love nature? So think about your legacy, what you’re leaving behind.

National, with local chapters

Some national charities have local chapters. I’m thinking of you, Red Cross. I’m not really sure how this works out. But I know I have received solicitations from both the local chapter as well as the national chapter. So just be mindful of this. I suppose when you give to the local chapter it has more discretion on spending your donation locally and I guess giving a fraction of it to the national chapter.

Charitable Annuities

I don’t know all the details but if you have for instance appreciated equities instead of paying capital gains taxes you could gift them to a charity and receive a deduction for the gift. They in turn, if they’re a big outfit, usually a university, can set up a charitable annuity which provides you further tax benefits. I will flesh this out if I ever come across it again.


As a reliable contributor I am annoyed by the methods employed to shake even more out of my pockets. But I guess those methods work in bulk and so they continue to be used. As far as I can tell all national non-profits use professional fund-raising methods which closely follow the same patterns.

Although the tenor of this post is terribly cynical, obviously, I think non-profits are doing invaluable work and filling some of the gaping holes left by government. If I didn’t think so I wouldn’t be contributing. Most non-profits do good work and are run efficiently, but the occasional scam happens.

References and related

I mentioned, but do not endorse too heartily, Charity Navigator.

Consumer Interest Consumer Tech Uncategorized

Screen Mirroring to Your Smart TV

With the advancements in technology, there are now many features that allow for seamless connection between devices using wireless connections. One of the things that allow this is smart TVs. Currently, the market for them is dominated by South Korean company Samsung. 39% of all sales come from them, which is a huge number in comparison to the 19% from LG and 9.3% from Sony.

There are also devices you can attach to your traditional TV to give it the functions of a smart one, so you won’t have to spend too much to upgrade. With this kind of TV, you can do many different things like stream from platforms like Netflix or Hulu, or even mirror the screen of a mobile device.

What is screen mirroring?

Screen mirroring is basically the ability to project what is on one device to a TV display. This is normally done through the internet and is comparable to connecting a laptop to a monitor using an HDMI cable. As mentioned earlier, there are different ways you can do this. Some TVs have built-in software that allows you to do this, while some use different hardware attachments.

Examples of these accessories are the Amazon Firestick, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast. The last two are some of the most popular ones on the market right now and they both have their own pros and cons. For those already in the Apple ecosystem, using the attachment from the same company will make connecting them easier. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative that can work on almost any device, the Chromecast is your best bet.

These accessories work because of their internet connection. The circuitry is specially designed to deliver signal integrity which ensures that digital and analog signals do not become distorted during propagation. Moreover, this guarantees that the signal can be recovered if temporarily lost, and that screen mirroring is smooth and won’t experience delays.

How to mirror your screen

Make sure your devices are connected to the same internet source

As the feature heavily relies on connection, the only way you can display what is on your other device is by being on the same internet source. Go to the settings of both of your gadgets and connect them to the same wi-fi line. This will make them identifiable to each other and make mirroring possible.

Read the instructions

If you are using a TV box or tool like the Apple TV or Chromecast, make sure to read the connection instructions on the manual. For example, the former requires you to use AirPlay and the manual should teach you which buttons to press on your phone or laptop. For the latter device, you might need a third-party app like the Google Home One to be able to get the accessory to mirror. Be sure to check the instructions given so you can make it a more seamless experience.

Check your Wi-Fi’s integrity

Because mirroring heavily relies on your internet, if the integrity (or speed) that your Wi-Fi is giving out is not enough or lacks bandwidth, you will have a lagging experience. Before you start, try to check the speed of your internet to be sure that it is strong enough. You can simply go on speed test sites on your browser. A good speed would be at least 25mbps, so if it is lower than that, you might not be able to connect or mirror easily.

Screen mirroring is just one-way technology has made life more connected. Gone are the days when other wires and connections were needed. The internet now enables you to perform tasks like projecting from a smaller device to a bigger one, hassle-free.

References and related

Some Firestick problems I’ve encountered are discussed in this post.

TCP/IP Uncategorized Web Site Technologies

The IT Detective Agency: web site not accessible

In this spellbinding segment we examine what happened when a user found an inaccessible web site.

Some details
The user in a corporate environment reports not being able to access She has the latest version of Windows 10.

On the trail
I sense something is wrong with SSL because of the type of errors reported by the browser. Something to the effect that it can’t make a secure connection.

But I decided to doggedly pursue it because I have a decent background in understanding SSL-related problems, and I was wondering if this was the first of what might be a systemic problem. I’m always interested to find little problem and resolve them in a way that addresses bigger issues.

So the first thing I try to lean more about the SSL versions and ciphers supported is to use my Go-To site,, Test your Server: Well, this test failed miserably, and in a way I’ve never seen before. SSLlabs just quickly gave up without any analysis! So we pushed ahead, undaunted.

So I hit the site with curl from my CentOS 8 server (Upgrading WordPress brings a thicket of problems). Curl works fine. But I see it prefers to use TLS 1.3. So I finally buckle down and learn how to properly cnotrol the SSL/TLS version in curl. The output from curl -help is misleading, shall we say?

You think using curl –tlsv1.2 is going to use TLS v 1.2? Think again. Maybe it will, or maybe it won’t. In fact it tells curl to use TLS version 1.2 or higher. I totally missed understanding that for all these years.
What I’m looking for is to determine if the web site is willing to use TLS v 1.2 in addition to TLS v 1.3.

The ticket is … –tls-max 1.2 . This sets the maximum TLS version curl will use to access the URL.

So we have
curl -v –tls-max 1.3

<!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:1; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-469750017 -1073732485 9 0 511 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0in; margin-right:0in; margin-bottom:8.0pt; margin-left:0in; line-height:107%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoPapDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; margin-bottom:8.0pt; line-height:107%;} @page WordSection1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;} -->
*   Trying
* Connected to ( port 443 (#0)
* ALPN, offering h2
* ALPN, offering http/1.1
* successfully set certificate verify locations:
*   CAfile: /etc/pki/tls/certs/ca-bundle.crt
  CApath: none
* TLSv1.3 (OUT), TLS handshake, Client hello (1):
* TLSv1.3 (IN), TLS handshake, Server hello (2):
html head


curl -v –tls-max 1.2

<!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:1; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-469750017 -1073732485 9 0 511 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0in; margin-right:0in; margin-bottom:8.0pt; margin-left:0in; line-height:107%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoPapDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; margin-bottom:8.0pt; line-height:107%;} @page WordSection1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;} -->
*   Trying
* Connected to ( port 443 (#0)
* ALPN, offering h2
* ALPN, offering http/1.1
* successfully set certificate verify locations:
*   CAfile: /etc/pki/tls/certs/ca-bundle.crt
  CApath: none
* TLSv1.2 (OUT), TLS handshake, Client hello (1):
* TLSv1.2 (IN), TLS alert, protocol version (582):
* error:1409442E:SSL routines:ssl3_read_bytes:tlsv1 alert protocol version
* Closing connection 0
curl: (35) error:1409442E:SSL routines:ssl3_read_bytes:tlsv1 alert protocol version

So now we know, this web site requires the latest and greatest TLS v 1.3.
Even TLS 1.2 won’t do.

Well, this old corporate environment still offered users a choice of old
browsers, including IE 11 and the old Edge browser. These two browsers simply do not support TLS 1.3. But I fuond even Firefox wasn’t working, although the Chrome browser was.

How to explain all that? How to fix it?

It comes down to a good knowledge of the particular environment. As I think I stated, the this corporate environment uses proxies, which in turn, most
likely, tried to SSL intercept the traffic. The proxies are old so they in turn
don’t actually support SSL interception of TLS v 1.3! They had separate
problems with Chrome browser so they weren’t intercepting its traffic. This explains why FF was broken yet Chrome worked.

So the fix, such as it was, was to disable SSL interception for this request
URL so that Firefox would work, and tell the user to use either FF or Chrome.

Just being thorough, when i tested from home with Edge Chromium – the newer Edge browser – it worked and SSLlabs showed (correctly) that it supports TLS 1.3. Edge in the corporate environment is the older, non-Chromium one. It seems to max out at TLS 1.2. No good.

For good measure I explained the situation to the desktop support people.

Case: closed.


How did I decide the proxies didn’t support TLS 1,3? What if this site had some other issue after all? I looked on the web for another web site which only supports TLS 1.3. I thought hopefully would have one. But they don’t! Undaunted yet again, I determined to change my own web site,, into one that only supports TLS 1.3! This is easy to do with apache web server. You basically need a line that looks like this:

SSLProtocol all -SSLv3 -TLSv1 -TLSv1.1 -TLSv1.2


Solution to NPR puzzle using Raspberry Pi

Take a common five-letter word. If you add an “e” to the end you’ll get a common six-letter word. or add an ‘e” after the second letter to get a different six-letter word, or an “e” after the fourth letter. what word is it?

The technique
I used the strange dictionary built in to my Raspbery Pi, in /usr/share/dict/american-english.

Key command
$ egrep ‘^[a‐z]{5,6}$’ jhwords > /tmp/five‐six

That leaves us with 11897 words (use wc command to learn this).

Now just look at the six-letter words containing an “e” at the end:

$ egrep ‘^[a‐z]{5}e$’ five‐six > e‐at‐end

Down to 784 words.

Now strip off the terminal “e”.

(steps skipped)

And then…

Candidate word list


You can scan by hand – the answer jumps out at you.

Another NPR Weekend Edition puzzle is solved by use of some simple linux commands.

References and related
Another NPR puzzle similarly solved.

If you don’t have that dictionary on your RPi, you can install it: sudo apt-get install wamerican .


NJ homeowners: how to sell your SRECs from your solar panels

I was an enthusiast and got solar panels on my roof while there was still a tax credit for doing so. But then i became lazy and didn’t want to bother selling the SRECs I was awarded. Here is what I did.

The details
I got a recommendation from a friend who found a legitimate company who will buy my SRECs with a process so simple no registration is required! And, their prices seem competitive.

Here are the CEPS I’ve accumulated on the PJM-EIS web site. And no, I don’t really know how to use the site other than to report my generation. I just wasn’t that interested.

CEPS from Dr John’s home solar system

CEPS is a synonym for SRECs. SREC is a solar renewable energy credit. It’s a unit of measure = 1 Kilowatt Hour of generation by your system.

Here is the web site of the company I will sell them to:

And their instructions – clearly written for someone not overly familiar with using a computer as everything is spelled out:

NJSREC.COM instructions

I haven’t sold them yet because I will have another one by tomorrow so I’ll wait for that one and bundle them all together. They get credited to your account on the last day of the month. My friend uses them however so I know they are to be trusted. They will simple send you a check in the mail for your CEPS after you follow those simple instructions!

We recommend NJSREC.COM as the simplest way to sell your SRECs and know you are not being taken advantage of. As of this writing July 2018 a quantity of 4 – 10 CEPS is worth $201 per CEPS. The prices have been going down (mostly) and will continue to go down. So don’t hold on too long, i.e., years.

References and related

The GATS web site is
The buyer’s web site:


A few thoughts on Universal Basic Income

I think the time has come to do some large-scale experimentation with this idea for guaranteeing a basic income for all. We’ll need something as our jobs begin to get eliminated by robots, automation and AI!

Some experiments both government-funded and private are ongoing now. Out of Silican Valley’s idealism emerged, which is providing a modest UBI to all residents of some undisclosed villages in Kenya for 12 years. They are then going to apply metrics to see what difference the UBI has made for these very poor residents.

References and related
Out of this year’s World Economic Forum came this paper which gives a good and cogent argument in favor of Universal Basic Income (UBI).

This ConsenSys paper combines two favorite topics: universal basic income and Blockchain. It also introduced me to Ethereum, an alternative blockchain to bitcoin. My only insight here is based on pragmatic observation. If the ideas proposed are so compelling, why aren’t they already in adoption in failed states with no effective currency, namely Venezuela? I think the idea is that each and everyone should generate their own currency units, say 1000 units per month, and arrange an equivalent exchange rate so that my unit has the same value as yours, and circles of trust so that my village’s exchange rate is equal to your village’s, etc. But I would love to see a long-form critical review from a subject matter expert.

I looked a tiny bit at ethereum, but it looks pretty Windows-based and I’m not too keen on anything I can’t run on my AWS CentOS server so I gave up for the time being. Ethereum is interesting because it’s open source and it’s specifically mentioned as the basis for the ideas in the ConsenSys paper. I would like to know its capabilities better.

To contribute to one of these efforts which are in the experimentation phase, you can go to, which was recently featured in a New York Times Magazine article. They are applying some science to these efforts in attempting to measure their effects.


How to change Fitbit account from one user to another

I’ve had a lot of trouble with my Fitbit HR, or more to the point, with the auxiliary programs. Two different Dell computers can’t find it – Bluetooth driver problems perhaps? My Windows phone can’t sync to it 99% of the time. Then I used an old Android phone, but I realized it was set up with my spouse’s account. And there’s no way to change it from the app itself. What to do?

The details for Android devices
Short of a full Fitbit app uninstall, I found what works is to go to the same place where you would uninstall an app, namely, Settings|Application Manager. Scroll to Fitbit. Touch Clear Data.

Then next time you launch the Fitbit app it will walk you through an account setup so you can associate it to your account.

This is the only practical way to do it, and the Fitbit site itself is useless for advice on this topic.

I’ve shown how to change the associated account from one user to another on an Android device. You cannot do it from within the app itself so you could waste a lot of time aimlessly looking around. Hopefully this post will help some people like me who are confounded as to why something so simple should be made so hard.


Move phone number from one Verizon phone to another

I happened to have an old, deactivated Samsung Galaxy S3 lying around and an active one whose screen just went dark. Searches on how to transfer the phone number led to a lot of dead ends and frustration. So i winged it based on common sense.

The details
I suppose this trick will work on any set of closely related phones that use SIM cards, but the best chance of success is to have identical phones.

After trying to call *228, taking out the battery and finding and noting my IMEI number in the end I just decided to swap the SIM and SD cards. And that worked!

So that makes the hardest part of this just getting the SIM cards out, and that’s not too hard at all. I used this video as a guide, though I think this guy must have had contact glue on his fingers to get that thing out so easily!

I doubt that the apps came over, but the phone number immediately worked, which is my primary focus right now.

Swapping SIM and SD cards permitted me to move a Verizon phone number from a malfunctioning Samsung Galaxy S3 to one that had been deactivated. I did not need to note ESID numbers, call Verizon support or do anything else whatsoever. I don’t think it was even necessary to move the SD card, but perhaps by doing so some of the pictures and application data will be available on the new phone.

References and related
Helpful Youtube video.

Consumer Tech Uncategorized

Amazon Fire Stick/Sony BRAVIA TV compatibility problem – one solution

There is a very long discussion of this topic on Sony BRAVIA models more than five years old may not work perfectly with Amazon’s Fire TV stick. I have this problem and I’ll mention my workaround.

The details
My Sony TV model is BRAVIA XBR 32XBR6. I suppose it’s about five years old. I also have it connected to a Sony Blueray player, which can also play Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. But it isn’t nearly as well designed as the Fire Stick and so I bought the Fire Stick, which has better WiFi support and a faster user interface.

Initially the Fire Stick appears to work with the TV and all is good.

Second day: same thing. All is good.

About the third usage, however, and when playing on-demand content I hear what I’m trying to play but I only see a blue screen with the letters HDCP. I think that indicates a digital copy protection mechanism has kicked in.

Powering down the Fire Stick doesn’t seem to work. Turning the TV off and on doesn’t seem to help.

In my case I had the option to switch to watch the same content through my Blueray player (which never displays this problem). Then next time I went back to the Fire Stick (usually days later) all was good.

So I became suspicious about cause and effect and I shortened the cycle.

Get the HDCP problem. Switch HDMI ports to the Blueray player (using the remote). Initiate the Amazon video service connection on the Player (but don’t bother to actually play anything). Switch back to the Fire Stick’s HDMI port. HDCP problem gone!

This solution was not too painful. I also have a Raspberry Pi connected to yet another HDMI TV port. I’ll see if switching to that will do the trick as well – that would be a cheap option that’s not too painful.

2017 update
I never get this HDCP problem any more. The main difference is that I never use my Sony Blueray player for on-demand programming. The Firestick is superior so I always use it. I only use the Blueray player for DVD playback.

October, 2017 update
I got my birthday present – the updated Fire TV stick with Alexa voice remote, but on the same Sony TV. It does seem to work better. The old one was button press, nothing happens, button press, nothing happens, button press, finally it gets the idea. The new one does seem to be better about that.

July 2019 update
Just go the latest and greatest: fire tv stick 4K on Prime Day a few days ago. On this same, now rather old Sony TV model mentioned above, it works really and surprisingly well! I thought surely this older model will not support newer features such as volume control – but it does. And surely it will not support power control of the TV – but it does! And since volume control works (and you can see it is controlling TV volume, not some kind of HDMI or other volume) of course the mute button also works. All these features had required me, up until now, to schlep around two remote controls: the one for the TV plus the Firestick. Now I’ll just need the one. I could probably use Alexa voice commands but I don’t think I’ll want to.

And, it’s just plain more responsive. Previous models were often a bit slow to react to key presses. This does much better on that front. One last thing, it comes pre-configured with your account already set up so you can be up and running much quicker.

I have no idea about the 4k-ness of the picture quality, but the other features alone make me glad I got it.

Fire TV stick 4K

I wish I could answer all the questions raised in the comments but I just don’t have access to any of those models. I would think it ought to work with any Sony TV made in the last 10 years, but maybe it’s not so simple.

Upgrading to a newer Firestick – what to do with your old one
Now you’ve got a Firestick on all your TVs and you want that latest model, and your relatives don’t want your old one either even though it worked just fine. Around here we’d be tempted to send it to a second-hand store, or worse case, to an electronics recycling program. But remember it has all your logins to Amazon (for sure), maybe Hulu, HBO Now, AT&T Now, Netflix, etc. So you better take an extra few minutes to factory reset it. This is a terrific article that gives five different ways to reset your Firestick to factory defaults: Five ways to reset your Firestick. I just wanted to repeat one. You have to have it connected, unfortunately. Hold the right and back buttons of your remote simultaneously for at least 10 seconds. Then follow the prompts. I have tried it and it works. The reset itself takes about 15 minutes on an older Firestick.

Tip for infrequent users

If like me you only watch a few hours a week because you are that busy, and yuo’ve subscribed to a variety of services (Netflix, Youtube Red, Amazon, …), I have this tip to save little of your precious time. You could see pop-ups suggesting to update to the latest version. I suggest to ignore those and wait until you have a bigger block of time. If you only have an hour you don’t want to waste the first five minutes upgrading an app you may have only used once (happens to me a lot). Let’s face it, these things don’t boot up quickly as it is.

2021 tip for US users wanting HBO Max

HBO Max is now available for Firestick. In 2020 it wasn’t for a long stretch.

2021 Tip: Changing Firestick from one TV set to another

I moved my Firestick from a Sony TV to an Insignia brand TV. I thought no big deal, it’s already set up – should just work. Wrong! Yes, the display worked. I could move between apps like usual, but the TV control functions – power on/off, volume, and mute – did absolutely nothing. What gives?

I always assumed that the infrared signal from the Firestick remote only communicates with the Firestick, and that the HDMI protocol included a side channel for power and volume commands. Apparently that assumption is totally wrong. In order to effectuate those things, the Firestick actually acts as a simple remote for your TV set and interacts directly with the TV’s infrared receiver. Who knew? Hence, if your set is a different brand than before, you may have to revive the infrared signal the Firestick puts out. It’s a bit obscure but not difficult. Go to

Settings > Equipment Control > Manage Equipment > TV > Change TV

Then follow the prompts. It actually knows about Insignia TVs and gets it right, by the way.

Related to the above, I recently bought a new Firestick and tried to do the initial setup on that same Insignia TV. I managed to see “Fire” on the screen, and that was it! Nothing else was possible. So I set it up on that Sony Bravia TV, then moved it over to the Insignia. Worked great, except for that On/Off/volume kind of TV controls. And that was simply fixed by the above recipe.

Android and Windows 10 screen mirroring

What I’ve decided to go with is to put the HBO Max app on my Android phone and cast the screen to my Firestick (screen mirroring). There’s a little more setup than you’re used to each time, but it’s not terrible compared with sideloading. In Firestick’s setup Screen you can enable casting. On a Samsung Galaxy pone you have the Smartview app in Settings: pull down from the top twice rapidly to get to Smart View. The Firestick screen should show up as an option. Choose it, then go back to your HBO Max app and play whatever content you like – it should be casting to your TV. I think you can also do screen mirroring from a Windows 10 laptop. Click on Notifications in the far right of the taskbar, you get all those little squares, click expand if needed, until you see Project. In Project look at the bottom and click on Connect to a wireless display.

A solution is offered to the dreaded HDCP problem for Amazon Fire Stick/Sony BRAVIA TV. More research needs to be done to reduce the solution to its essence.

References and related
Here’s the link to that lengthy discussion:

Fire TV Stick (2019 model). This is the regular model. You probably don’t need the 4K model unless you have a super TV…

How to reset your (old) Firestick because you’ve upgraded:

Out-of-sync video and audio? Check this suggestion.


Keyboard macro programming

I had the perfect motivation to learn a new tool. I had hundreds of repetitive keyboard clicks in my future. So my strong motivation was to save time.

The details

I needed to cancel about 300 changes in the Helpdesk system AHD (Advanced Helpdesk) from CA. First I turned to the team with the power tools and showed them what I needed. It looked readily doable. Move the mouse over here. Click. New Window pops up, in focus. Click on this drop-down menu item. Chance status to Cancel and Save. But for whatever reason they couldn’t do more than two, and then they lost their motivation.

Meanwhile my friend Nix told me about alternatives I could try on my own.

Workstation Macro Recorder from Automation Anywhere
First I tried this one. You only get a 30-day free trial. It was supposed to record my clicks and other keystrokes and then play them back. It didn’t work. Running it seemed to interfere with the browser window and the Javascript, which normally displays a menu during a mouse-over event was not behaving that way: no menu was popping up as long as this program was running.

So Nix suggested AutoHotkey. He warned it was a little buggy and cantankerous, but probably suitable for the task at hand.

There’s learning a language theoretically and learning a language to accomplish a very specific task. I’m not too good at the former, just doesn’t interest me and motivate me. But as I was saying I had great motivation for the latter. It wasn’t obvious at first how to proceed. But I started with a test script, which of course initially didn’t do anything at all. And then I slowly built up in complexity for the task at hand. It probably took several hours in total time spent over a few days.

The actual, working script, tested and used on my Windows 7 laptop, test.ahk

; launch by holding down Windows key, then pressing z key.
; loop five times
loop, 5 {
; Rt-arrow key
send {Right}
sleep, 100
; cancel out my AHD changes. u is for update
send u
sleep, 6000 ; 6 seconds
; now we need 3 tabs
loop, 3 {
send {tab}
sleep, 300
send Change is being cancelled.
loop, 6 {
sleep, 100
send {tab}
sleep 200
; c is for cancel
send c
; save it
send !s
sleep, 5000
; make next change the active one
send {tab}
sleep, 100
send {tab}
sleep, 100

Can you use AHD without mouse movement?

The problem I was solving is two-fold. AutoHotkey is not really great at mouse movement. So I needed to understand how to interact with AHD without using the mouse at all. It tuns out to be possible, at least mostly and sufficiently for my purposes. And I think it is important to mention because most users never get to this level: most programs do offer you a keyboard alternative to mouse movements and in fact it’s probably worth the time to find out what those are as it will almost always be faster than dragging that mouse pointer around to the precise locale of your next click.

I never did get the script to perfection, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to save my mind and my time. And it did work for that! There were always special conditions, etc which I did not code for and wasn’t motivated to code for. So I plowed through cancelling five changes at a time.

AutoHotkey proved to be quite helpful. Did I mention it is free? I recommend to use it to save on keystrokes for repetitive things.

Auto HotKey web site.