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HD-TV goes smart; Keep tree hydrated; Tips from a butler

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

HD-TV goes smart

Favi Entertainment's SmartStick turns any high-definition TV into a smart TV.

The plug-in device lets you browse the Internet, use applications and get access to streaming media services such as Netflix, Hulu and Pandora. You can also use it to stream media files wirelessly from a computer to the TV.

The device is a dongle that plugs into a TV's HDMI input. Power is supplied via a cable that connects the device to a USB port on the television.

A mini wireless keyboard will be available.

The SmartStick is expected to be available this month at retailers including Walmart, Radio Shack and Best Buy, and online at Newegg.com, Amazon.com and Favientertainment.com.

The 4-gigabyte version is $49.99 on the Favi site, and the 8-GB version is $79.99. Shipping is extra.

Keep the tree hydrated

Research shows it's not necessary to add a tree preservative to the water in your Christmas tree stand, says Eric McConnell, forest-product specialist with the Ohio State University Extension. It won't keep the tree fresh longer than plain water.

What is important is to never let the cut end get dry in the stand, because then it will seal over with resin and lose its ability to take up water, McConnell says. Slice about a half-inch off the bottom of the trunk just before putting it in the stand, and use a stand that can hold plenty of water. McConnell said the stand should contain one quart of water for each inch of trunk diameter, and you should always keep at least about a gallon of water in the stand.

Because the part of the tree that takes up water is just below the bark, don't trim the outside of the trunk to fit the tree into the stand.

The butler did it — offers tips in re-released book

Few of us have the luxury of a household staff like the one on “Downton Abbey” to attend to our every need.

But we can take some pointers from someone who ran a household and use them to run our own a little more efficiently.

Longtime English butler Stanley Ager shares a wealth of tips in “The Butler's Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces,” a classic handbook he wrote in 1980 with Fiona St. Aubyn. The book has just been re-released by Clarkson Potter.

Some of the advice is outdated. (Manufacturers of front-loading washers would undoubtedly balk at Ager's pronouncement that “you need to maintain a good lather when machine washing clothes.”) And some of the advice deals with situations few of us will have to worry about. (“The cardinal rule is never to tell your staff that you're entertaining royalty until just before the event.”)

Still, we can benefit from Ager's tips for setting a table, caring for shoes and packing clothes so they won't wrinkle. And, he'll teach you how to iron a newspaper, should a journalist ever come round to tea.

“The Butler's Guide” sells for $21.99 in hardcover.

— Staff and wire reports

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