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How to setup a black / blank screensaver on a Mac or Windows computer

Posted in Apple, Mac OS X by commorancy on February 18, 2017

Updated for 2018. This technique should work on any desktop operating system and this technique is quite easy to set up. I also realize that Windows offers a Blank screen saver that kind of negates this technique, but here it is anyway. And yes, it does work on Notebooks, too. Let’s explore.

Mac Computers

I’m starting with the Mac because it seems so much less obvious considering how ‘easy’ it should be for a Mac. One of the things you’ll notice in the screensaver area is that there is no blank or black screen saver. What people have suggested instead of a black screensaver is to enable the energy saver. While this works to turn off the backlight and save it, power savings does other unfortunate things to a MacOS computer at the same time.

Energy Saver Problems

“What problems”, you ask? Well, Apple has taken it upon themselves to also shut down a number of other critical components when the power saver is activated. Windows may be doing this as well. Yes, it does turn off the backlight. Unfortunately, with that it also turns the WiFi and networking off.  This means that if you have a VPN running, your VPN will disconnect. If your company invests in VPN software which does not self-connect on WiFi reactivation, you’re stuck reentering your passwords and setting up your terminals all over again. Unfortunately, I have no control over the software that’s used by my company and I have to live with it. So, I avoid the energy saver system like the plague to avoid random VPN disconnection. I use a screen saver instead. No, it doesn’t turn off the backlight, but that’s a small problem.

A Screen Saver?

A little history, a screen saver was used primarily to prevent burn-in on CRT tubes. It’s also distinctly different from power saver mode. Since the days of CRT tubes have long since passed, we are now using LCD screens with LED back or side lights. Some screens are made of OLED technology, which means that each pixel is a self-illuminated RGB LED light. With either of the LCD or OLED technologies, the chance for burn-in is almost non-existent. However, some LCD screens can show latent imagery under certain specific conditions if left sitting with the same static image for too long. So, a screen saver is still useful. However, a screen saver is most useful as a screen lock indicator.

Black Screen Saver on Mac

The problem is, the Mac doesn’t offer a black screensaver. It expects you to use images to cycle or other screen savers like a bouncing clock or a bouncing apple or similar.

However, I just want a simple black screen with no movement at all. You’re not going to burn-in your screen with a simple black surface, even though LCDs don’t really do that. To wit, you’ll notice no settings for that ..

screensaver-l

There is no screen saver above that provides a blank or black only screen. So, how do you do it?

Here are the steps:

  1. Find your current Mac’s screen resolution in Finder using applelogoascii => About This Mac. Then click on Display and look for your resolution. In the below example, you see 1440 x 900. It’ll be whatever your Mac offers.display
  2. Make note of the resolution above and jump to Creating a blank image using The Gimp section.

Blank Screensaver on other operating systems

If you find that your Windows system doesn’t offer a blank screen saver, you can follow these instructions:

Windows 7

  1. Windows Button => Control Panel => Display
  2. In Display, click Adjust Resolution
  3. Make note of screen resolution

Windows 10

  1. Windows Button => Control Panel => Appearance and Personalization => Display
  2. In Display, click Change display settings
  3. When the Settings window opens, make sure it’s still on Display. Then, scroll to the bottom of the right side panel and click Advanced display settings
  4. Make note of the screen resolution

Linux

  • Refer to your Preferences and Display settings to find the current screen resolution

Create a blank image using The Gimp

From here, what you’re going to do next is create a blank image in the resolution of your screen. It’s best to cover the entire screen’s pixels with black rather than, say some lower res image like 1024 x 768. This is the reason for discovering the resolution above. Using the full screen resolution prevents unexpected issues with the screen saver’s stretching (or not stretching) the pixels properly. This process can be used on all operating systems that have The Gimp installed.

To create a blank image in The Gimp, use the following:

  1. Open the Gimp (download it here — it’s free)
  2. Make sure your foreground and background colors look like so, with black on left top and white on right bottom:gimpcolors
  3. In the Gimp, File => New…
  4. Then, type in the resolution you found from from your operating system into the Width and Height fields (making sure to put the correct values in each field).
  5. Click Advanced Options and change Fill with: to Foreground Color
  6. Click, OK
  7. You should now see an image filled with black.
  8. Save the image using File => Export As… and type in a filename and change the file type from .png to .jpg to make the image smaller. Be sure to remember the folder where you are about to save your file.
  9. In the Export image as JPEG window, click the Export button
  10. You now have a new black image in the resolution of your screen.
  11. From the GIMP menu => Quit GIMP

Now that you have a saved black image, you need to add it to a list of images where your screen saver looks.

Adding this image to the Mac screen saver

This is a fairly simple concept. You will now use this newly created black image as your only screen saver image. So, no matter what the cycle rate is, it will always cycle back to this same blank image all of the time.

Here’s what I did on the Mac. I created a folder called black-image under my Pictures directory. I’ve placed my newly created image into /Users/myuser/Pictures/black-image/black-image.jpg. I’ve put it in a separate folder because that’s how Mac finds images… by folder. Now, select the folder under the ‘Classic’ screen saver using settings like so:

choosefolder

Where the arrow points, click that selection area, it will open a file requester and then choose the folder where your new black-image.jpg file is. Once you set it here, your screen will turn black when the screen saver activates (as in my case, in 30 minutes).

Windows or Linux

While I know that Windows has a Blank screen saver built-in, you can also use this technique by choosing the screen saver as Photos, then choose the folder where your blank-image is located. For Linux, simply perform the same setup using your preferences to select the photo folder where your save black-image.jpg exists. Once you do this, the screen saver will only show that single black image once the screen saver has activated.

This is actually the safest technique rather than relying on plugins or programs to provide a black screen. It will also continue to work should Microsoft decide, in their infinite wisdom, to be like Mac and remove the Blank screen saver in the next version of Windows.

I prefer this technique to using the power saver because of the issues mentioned above. This allows me to set up a black screen with the backlight still on which also keeps my VPN active. Of course, if you don’t deal with VPNs, then by all means use the power saver.

ScreenSaver Selection

Note that Mac and Windows (and probably Linux) offer a various number of image transition effects. You’ll want to be sure to choose the simplest effect choice for your black image. On the Mac, the fade-to-black or fade-between-images effect choices include the ‘Classic’ or ‘Ken Burns’ effects. These offer simple fades between each image.

You won’t want to choose an effect that adds white (or any other color borders) around the black image. Choose a screensaver effect that offers a simple fade and no borders. Otherwise, it will defeat the purpose of setting this up.

The screensaver effects offer previews of how the images will transition when the screensaver is running. Be sure to watch the preview of the screensaver plugin to ensure it will provide you with a solid black screen. You may have to use a few real images in the screensaver to find the effect that offers a simple fade transition.

[UPDATE: 9/13/2019]

Screen Aura

A recent reader pointed out that the black image seemed to still have an aura of illumination and wasn’t 100% inky black. As I’ve stated above, the backlight remains on when using the above black image screensaver technique. This means that the backlight light will show through the image and may make your black screen appear faintly dark gray. It may also be more pronounced if your backlight is at 100% brightness or when you’re sitting to the side of your display as LCD displays don’t always offer full 180º viewing angles. At very sharp angles to the screen, the backlight illumination may appear brighter.

The only way to really fix this is to reduce the brightness of your backlight. Most external monitors allow for this. Notebook attached screens usually have a brightness setting built into the keyboard. You can then reduce the brightness of the backlight by pressing the screen brightness down button on a notebook keyboard.

If you have an external monitor attached to your computer, turning down the backlight brightness involves using the external monitor’s menu system. The only way to turn off the backlight on an external monitor is to put the computer into a power saving mode… not in any way the same as using a black screensaver.

OLED Monitors and Contrast Ratio

If you truly want inky blackness when using a black screensaver image, you’ll need to invest in an OLED monitor. This technology uses very small LEDs for each pixel. When you use a black image as a screensaver, each pixel image will turn off each individual LED on the OLED panel making the screen 100% as black as it can get… or, in other words, it will look like the screen is turned off. Replacing a backlit LCD monitor with an OLED monitor is the only way to get true inky blackness using a black image screensaver. Otherwise, you have to manually turn down the backlight brightness.

Looking at contrast ratios is important when buying any display. The higher the contrast ratio, the deeper the blacks will be. OLED screens have some of the highest contrast ratios of any displays on the market, for obvious reasons.

OLED Monitor Scams

Be careful when shopping for OLED monitors. Searching on Amazon for ‘OLED Monitor’ actually brought up many listings for LCD backlit monitors. Even clicking the ‘OLED Monitor’ filter checkbox on the left side of Amazon’s listings still brought up many incorrectly labeled LCD backlit monitors. Don’t be tricked into buying an LCD backlit monitor thinking you’ve bought an OLED monitor.

Make sure that you’ve read the technical specifications of that model monitor carefully. You may need to visit the manufacturer’s web site to find this technical information for that model number. The manufacturer will list the panel type included in its display. However, Amazon’s listing may be entirely wrong. This same caveat can be had if you visit Best Buy or a local retailer. Additionally, I can almost guarantee none of the monitors sold at Target or Walmart will have this technology. OLED technology is much more expensive to produce than LCD backlit displays. For this reason, discount retailers aren’t likely to carry many (or any) OLED monitors… and if they do, they’ll usually cost twice the price of an LCD backlit monitor.

Variable Backlight Contrast (aka The Poor Man’s OLED)

Some LCD backlit monitors contain variable backlight contrast. These are usually in the form of TV monitors versus computer monitors. While this technology does not provide as nearly an inky black blackness as an OLED monitor, it can come very close. Hence, it being known as the poor man’s OLED.  This technology offers backlights that automatically vary their brightness based on the image currently being shown. This means that when a black image is shown, the backlights are almost 100% off. This technology hasn’t made it into many, if any, computer monitors, but it is in HDMI based TV monitors. If you can find a TV that contains this variable backlight contrast, it can perform a similar inky black function as an OLED monitor, but costing less money to purchase. However, again, you’ll need to read the tech specs of the monitor to determine if it contains this variable contrast backlight system. Many monitors don’t offer this variable system and instead offer only static brightness that must be manually adjusted.

What about QLED?

QLED is another backlit LCD technology and follows all of the same rules as LCD backlit screens. If the QLED monitor ships with variable backlight contrast, then it may be a good candidate for inky blacks. If it doesn’t have variable contrast backlights, then it won’t provide this.

As an FYI, I personally bought my 4K Vizio monitor because it had variable contrast backlight technology. When portions of the screen go black, these sections of the screens have their backlights nearly turn off. It’s a smart design technology used to mimic the contrast levels you can find in a more expensive OLED panels. So, now you know.

If this tutorial was helpful to you, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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How not to run a business (Part 10.3) — Case Study: Sears Holdings

Posted in bailout, bankruptcy, best practices, business by commorancy on February 10, 2017

Back in late 2004 when Kmart and Sears merged to create Sears Holdings, I had to wonder what one failing retail chain could do to help another failing chain. However since 2004, the one thing this new company has proven is that these brands die hard. In 2017, however, I think the answer has come back to conclusively nothing has been gained. Let’s explore.

Back in 2004, I didn’t really dig deep into the $11B dollar merger deal to get the nitty gritty details mostly because I had no interest in two failing retail chains (where I personally never shopped). Though, I already knew the handwriting was on the wall for both of these chains. It was just a matter of time before both chains closed their doors. That they’ve managed to hang on another nearly 17 years is a testament to the cash infusions from a billionaire. I digress.

After deciding to finally dig into this merger deal, however, I have come to find that this deal was instrumented by a former Wall Street darling Eddie Lampert. A wiz bang former Goldman Sachs employee who started his own hedge fund and apparently made mad cash. Though, I’d have questioned why a Wall Street darling would have any interest in the failing retail space. It’s clear, though, Lampert still has no knowledge of retail even after 17 years of floundering with Sears Holdings. Lampert pretends he wants to be the next Jeff Bezos with this investment, but is failing at this for two really big reasons: 1) Lack of innovation and 2) Lack of involvement.

According to his executive staff, Eddie spends most of his time at his home on a private island community in Florida. A community of apparently 86 residents and a staff of private police to ‘protect’ the island. Based on his executive meetings, he literally phones in his CEO job day in and out. He rarely, if ever, makes an appearance in the office.

Running a company by remote control

It’s one thing to be an individual contributor who works remote. Typically, these are task oriented jobs which can be easily monitored for task completion. However, as CEO, there is no possible way you can run a company from behind Skype. However, if Lampert had had substantial previous retail management experience, he might be able to get away with this. Because Lampert has no knowledge of retail after merging Kmart and Sears, he’s effectively flying blind. Even nearly 17 years later doesn’t automatically impart knowledge of retail. It’s clear, Lampert has no business operating this company. Unfortunately, whatever is left of the Sears Holding company is entirely dependent on Lampert for his continual cash infusions (up to $1B) which have kept this listing barge from sinking. However, some boats are best left to sink.

It’s crystal clear, when you buy into a business you know nothing about, you have two choices. One, sit on your arse and assume you’ll figure it out eventually (which usually doesn’t work). Two, dive in head first and learn everything you can about running a retail business. I think it’s a relatively safe bet that Lampert is in the former camp rather than the latter. Instead of being available and actively engaging in the day to day affairs of the business, he sits comfortably at his private island home and dictates policy from a Skype conference call. It’s no wonder this business is being slowly driven into the ground.

For any would-be business owner

As an owner / CEO, you need to be actively engaged in and have passion to drive your business forward, whatever that business is. You can’t sit behind a computer screen at home literally phoning in your CEO day job. That may work for a short period of time, but it won’t work forever. It’s clear, Kmart and Sears are both on the brink of collapse. Why? Because the merger of two ailing turned failing companies was a foregone conclusion without an engaged leader. A CEO / owner is there to drive and guide the business forward. To make the tough choices and ensure the business remains viable and becomes / remains profitable. Your underlings won’t do this on your behalf. They’ll do whatever it is to take their paycheck home, but they won’t go out of their way to run your business. That’s your job.

The takeaway from this case study is that you cannot sit on your arse and expect others to do your work for you. You need to be available in the office often to drive your business. If you don’t take your business seriously, no one around you will either. You need to understand your sales numbers, what’s selling and what isn’t. You need to make strategic partnerships to bring exclusive merchandise (as in the case of a retailer) onto your shelves at a low price as a way to drive customers into your store. You also need to be shrewd to get costs down and profits up. You need to hire a kick-ass marketing team who can bring the demographics into your store. In short, learn your business, understand it, live it, breath it and make it your passion. Own your business’s problems and own its solutions. Also, you need to think outside the box to continue driving all demographics into your establishment(s).

Yes, it would be nice to sit on the beach sipping margaritas all day or behind a gated community in a big mansion and also be a successful CEO of a profitable corporation. That’s a pipe dream that doesn’t happen. You only get that beach time after you’ve done your in-office time and made your money. Retail doesn’t just automatically make money for you. It requires active involvement. You need to actively drive new business into your business. It’s not like your hedge fund where you crunch numbers at a desk and move out bad performers. You need to be in the office driving your staff. You will need to reinvent your business, brand and ideas every so often to remain ‘the place to go for cool new stuff’. Once your retail business is thought of as a mom and dad store, your store is considered antiquated. The mom and dad demographic does make some money, but it isn’t the only demographic spending money and that single demographic will not convert your company from a million dollar company into a multi-billion dollar company.

Why phoning in as CEO doesn’t work

If you aren’t showing up to the office day in and out, you are missing critical verbal queues, having meaningful conversation with your staff and learning the problems that face your business. Keep in mind that some problems are outside problems. Like, for example, the threat to Kmart and Sears has been the internet retailers like Amazon. This means you need to spend quality in office time hammering through new plans to counter growing trends, like Amazon’s quick ship, quick deliver model… like Amazon’s Kindle services. If you don’t keep-up-with-the-joneses, your business is lost. Sometimes the problems are internal problems, like horribly outdated decor and fixtures. Sometimes they are supply chain related.

Since the merger in 2004, Kmart and Sears have both failed to change anything substantial with their store merchandising or, indeed, updating their store look and feel to accommodate new growing trends. Instead, they left their stores looking like something out of the 80s. Who wants to shop in a place with horribly dirty floors, drab coffee stain colored walls and fixtures with chipped paint and rust? Not to mention, that horrid glaring 80s fluorescent lighting job. You want to make your stores inviting and modern, not be a turn off. This is where it takes regularly entering and visiting stores to see how they look, how they feel to a shopper and how the merchandise is being faced. Then draw up plans to remodel your stores.

Being a Billionaire

Not everyone has this luxury. As with Lampert, he’s apparently got lots of money to spend. But, that doesn’t make it spending money smart. The saying, “throwing good money after bad” actually applies here. Why would you want to continue to invest more and more money into a chain not producing returns on your investment? That’s not a good investment strategy. For a Wall Street darling, it really makes no sense at all. Use your gift of understanding good investments and then apply that knowledge to Sears and Kmart. You’ll quickly see your error. It just takes an outside party looking in from the outside to see what someone so close to the matter can’t.

Can Kmart and Sears be turned around? While anything is possible, I’d personally say, “not at this point”. If Lampert had started the turn around back in 2004, he might have been able to pull this listing ship up right. However, because he has become a complacent mostly home bound recluse for many of the last 17 years, a turnaround for this venture is likely impossible with this leadership team. It’s too bad, too. Sometimes we just need to say goodbye to some beloved old brands to let newer brands take us to the next level.

Using time (and lighting) wisely

As a business owner, don’t let your business become a victim of complacency. Expect to reinvent your business every few years to not only keep your business fresh, but also to keep people coming in to see what’s new. Customers value companies that invest in making their stores better. Having a refreshed store means you care about your business. It also means you care about how your merchandise looks on the shelves. If your stores look old and trashy, so will your merchandise. If your store looks new, fresh and well lit, so will the merchandise. It’s literally all about creating the proper mood and perspective in your stores. Lighting has a huge amount to do with this. So, expect to replace old outdated fluorescent lighting with updated LED lighting concepts.

It just comes down to investing money in the right things for your business. It’s clear, Eddie has no clue where to have Sears and Kmart use the money he’s investing. Instead of just throwing good money after bad, ensure that that money is being used to remodel stores, being used to draw consumers in and being used to buy merchandise that fits with the store’s branding.

Unfortunately, both Kmart and Sears haven’t been ‘goto’ places in a very long time. That’s primarily because these chains have not focused on any one area to be proficient at any. For example, Target has revamped its 80s retail-only stance into becoming a neighborhood grocery as well. So, not only can you go to Target to get the latest blu-ray movie, you can also pick up some hamburger and fixings to go with it. It’s a well rounded shopping experience. However, heading into Kmart, for example, yields many deficiencies. For example, the electronics area doesn’t even carry video games any longer. How can you possibly operate a general merchandise store and not carry any video games?

Takeaway

Drive your business smart. Invest money into your business wisely. Remain focused on your goals. Most of all, remain engaged and passionate in everything you do. If you don’t do all of the things that continue to make your business a success, you may end up with a failure. Unlike Eddie Lampert with seemingly endless funds, you may find your doors shut. Though, I believe at some point soon, even Eddie’s pet project of Sears Holding will close. However, if you find yourself as wealthy as Eddie, spend your money however you feel. It’s your money. For the rest of us, driving your business smart is the obvious answer to eventual success. Though, I will say that even as passionate as you may be about your business and as much work as you may put in, there’s still the possibility that your business may fail. Predicting success or failure in any new business venture is tricky as there are so many unpredictable market forces outside of your control. For the things that you can control, you most can certainly guide your business success in the right direction and reduce your chances for failure.

Sears Bankruptcy

I would be remiss at not updating this article in 2018 to add in the recent bankruptcy and closure of the 146 Sears stores. On October 15, 2018, Sears announced it has entered chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while it attempts a reorganization. It will close these 146 stores in this reorganization process to help reduce its massive debt load.

Whether this signifies the last few breaths of a dying chain or whether this chain can actually reorg in some meaningful way and survive is yet to be determined. In my view, this is the last dying gasp of an organization that is about to close. I would highly suggest that you plan to visit a Sears near you for one last nostalgic view before this chain becomes a mere memory. If there are any Sears specific brands that you like and buy, I highly recommend that you stock up now as they are likely to forever become a memory.

Part 10 | Chapter Index | Part 11

If you like what you’ve read here or disagree, please leave a comment below.

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