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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 9, 2003

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Stoplights, Bare Middles, Monitors, Mosquitos, and XM

Public Service Announcement #1: Stoplights during Storms.

When there's a power outage and you're driving along the road and find a stoplight that is completely dark, what do you do?

You treat it as a four-way stop sign.

That means that even if you're on the big road, you still slow down and come to a complete stop at each and every stoplight that isn't working properly.

When you think about it, this is perfectly logical. Stoplights are placed at intersections that are dangerous because of cross traffic and turning cars. When the power is out, it means there's even more danger, either because of ice and snow or because of a storm that might have left trees and branches in odd places, like the middle of your lane.

So instead of being in such a hurry and treating every light, stupidly, as green, be cautious, give the cross traffic a break, and treat every stoplight that's not working as a stop sign.


Public Service Announcement #2: Bare Midriff Fashions.

Right now it seems like the only "cute tops" the stores are selling come down to about two inches above a woman's navel.

The answer to this fashion is not to buy and wear such blouses, but rather to keep wearing last year's clothes until the designers get off this kick.

Why would a red-blooded heterosexual male like me give such advice?

Because I've seen you in those outfits, ladies, and one thing is now painfully clear. Only about one percent of the grown-up female population has a body that is flattered by that fashion -- and every single one is under 18 years old.

No exceptions.

In other words, the only people who look good in bare-midriff blouses are the people who fall into the class known as "jailbait." So it isn't appropriate for them, either. I mean, please. Aren't we trying to get grades up in high school? How can any high school boy learn anything if all the blood has drained out of his brain because of what the girls in the class are wearing?

As for you women over 18 who wear these tops: I know you work out and you look pretty darn good, but you are the person I am referring to.

Those outfits look exactly as cute on you as would little baby doll clothes.

Think of it this way: If a man of exactly your age would look stupid wearing his pants so low that they barely came up to his butt, then you're too old to wear what high school sophomore girls are wearing.

And if you aren't seriously underweight for your age, if you show even the tiniest bulge above the waistband of your pants, then ladies, get a blouse that covers up.

Not because you're fat -- you're not. In fact, you're beautiful. But beautiful women rarely look good wearing fashions designed for girls with bodies that have the fat content of 9-year-old boys.


As long as I'm telling people how to drive and dress, here's another bit of advice from my vast store of painfully-won experience.

Don't put your computer monitor up high. In fact, get it so you're looking slightly downward at it.

I learned this the hard way. Back in the early eighties, having seen those ads with PC monitors placed on top of the PC, I tried it. And immediately started getting painful styes in my eyes.

Because I'm a slow learner, it took me months of discomfort before it occurred to me that it might be the placement of my monitor.

As soon as I moved the PC off to the side and lowered the monitor, the styes went away and have never come back.

It's simple enough. The higher you have to raise your eyelids to see the screen, which you then stare at intently for hours on end, the more tired your eyes will get.

This also applies to kids playing video games. How many of you have kids who sit on the floor, looking up at the tv while they kill everything that moves on the screen? How tired are their eyes getting?

Of course, you have to decide whether it's worth the fight to get them to sit, uncoolly, on chairs while they play.


More hard-won wisdom: For years we used the same set of corn pokers -- the little plastic handles with sharp points coming out of them that you stick into the ends of hot corn on the cob so you don't get your fingers burned or covered with salty butter.

But then, a couple of Christmases ago, someone desperate for a gift idea came up with the bright one of replacing the old corn pokers with new ones. (OK, it was me.)

Only this new set, instead of having two closely-placed pins on each poker, had flat blades.

Guess what? They don't work as well. Because as you rotate the corn cob, the blades shift and cut from side to side, until the slice their way right out of the corn. Besides, it's harder to get them in in the first place.

So we tried again. This time, while we got two-pin pokers again, the pins were more widely spaced.

Now the trouble came with smaller ears of corn. The pokers only work if both pins are pushed into the hardest part of the cob. And there were plenty of cobs where one of the pokers wasn't holding anything.

And when it came to trying to drive a corn poker into the pointy tip of the ear of corn, where the best, sweetest, smallest niblets are found, the wider-spaced pins were hopeless.

So guess what? Having discarded the original set, we ended up going out and buying a whole nother set exactly like the first ones. They work great.


I don't know about your yard, but right now my yard is swarming with mosquitos whenever I walk outdoors.

I suppose it might be the fact that we are reliving Noah's flood right now, so the mosquitos have thousands and thousands of places in every neighborhood to lay their little teeny eggs and spawn their vile bloodsucking babies.

Mosquito bites are merely annoying most of the time, but these days there's also West Nile Virus to worry about. It is mosquito-borne, and it's probably about as virulent as SARS, though it gets less publicity. It has also been found in North Carolina this year.

The odds are still low of getting this dread disease -- please don't all move to Alaska (they have mosquitos there, too) -- but heck, mosquito bites aren't fun even when they don't spread a plague.

So we're making sure that we have a can of Off! by every door we use to go out and frolic in the yard. We make sure that our nine-year-old never plays outside without repellent on, and we're trying not to be careless about our own adult selves.

There are other repellents that work, but keep in mind that a few of them don't work at all, like citrus candles.

We have also, for years, had one of those zappers in our yard. Oh, what a thrilling sound, every time it zaps something.

But usually what it's zapping is a moth. Unless you have mosquito pheremones to attract the little biters, zappers are only a little better than hunting them down and swatting them yourself.

I'm sorely tempted by one of those propane-heated machines that put out carbon dioxide like human breath, which draws the biters in and traps them in a filter. These things are the only wide-area mosquito catchers that really work.

They're also ridiculously expensive. If you don't go outside much, stick to the Off!. But if you intend to use your yard a lot, and you figure you're amortizing the cost over many years of mosquito-free yard use, you might want to check out the Mosquito Magnet machines offered at www.FrontGate.com.

You can spend a thousand dollars or more on a big machine that keeps a whole acre mosquito-free. But if your needs are more modest, they have a three-hundred-dollar half-acre machine.

It takes a few weeks of continuous use (and you have to replace the propane tank and the filter every couple of weeks) before you've broken up the life cycle of the local mosquito population. But then your yard belongs to you again.


If you've been toying with the idea of getting XM satellite radio, there's a new option.

I've had it in my car now for more than a year, and I love it. Especially on long trips -- no searching the dial for some listenable station in the middle of nowhere. There's always a satellite overhead, and you get a great selection of music, loud and clear.

But in recent weeks they've been promoting a new computer-based model, called XM PCR.

I got one for my laptop, and it's great!

The software puts way more information at your fingertips than you could ever get on the tiny LCD display in the car receiver. Now you can set up a dozen or so favorite channels and switch around easily -- just one click.

Even better is the "favorite artists" feature. Gradually, as you hear artists you want to listen to more, or happen to see their names on other channels, you can add them to your favorites list. Then, when they come up on any channel XM offers, a tiny window pops up and asks if you want to go listen to that artist performing a particular piece of music.

If you don't want to go, ignore the window -- it'll go away. But if you're more interested in hearing that artist than the one you're listening to right now, a single click makes the switch.

When have we ever had radios that told us what was playing on other stations?

The tuner and antenna are light and small enough to take with me when I travel, so I can get my favorite music wherever I am -- in North America, anyway. On the road I often lose track of news, but now I'll have the Weather Channel, Fox News, and CNN wherever I go.

Of course, while traveling I'll have to use headphones to get good sound, since I don't carry nice computer speakers on the road. But that's not a terrible price to pay.

Speaking of prices, it's nice how cheap it is to add a second receiver to your XM account on their "family plan." Of course, if you're grimly determined that radio should always be free, then the price won't be low enough to convince you.

But if you think quality of signal and breadth of choice are worth paying for -- i.e., if you already pay for cable TV -- then you might want to try out XM on your computer ... and soon you'll realize your car is incomplete without it.

Check it out at www.xmradio.com.

And, just in case you are pathologically curious, here's the list of "favorite artists" that my computer-based XM radio is watching for right now:

Alabama, Billy Joel, Bruce Cockburn, C S N & Y, Carly Simon, Carole King, Counting Crows, Crosby Stills & Nash, Dan Fogelberg, the Eagles, Edvard Grieg, Emmylou Harris, George Gershwin, George Thorogood, Gordon Lightfoot, J.S. Bach, James Taylor, Janis Joplin, John Mayer.

John Rutter, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Manhattan Transfer, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Maurice Ravel, Mel Torme, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Pete Yorn, Pointer Sisters, Rachmaninov, ROCHES, Rosemary Clooney, Simon & Garfunkel, Tom Waits, Tony Bennett, and Vic Damone.

These are not necessarily my favorite artists -- some of them are brand new to me (well, two of them -- ROCHES and Pete Yorn). They're just the ones I'm interested in being interrupted for.

Some of those names will drop off the list after a while, when I realize that I never switch to them when their name pops up. Others will be added. But not Peaches and Herb. You gotta draw the line somewhere.

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