Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 1, 2007
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
eGo, Cottonelle, Print Works Bistro, MagnaTunes, Weekly Standard
Nowadays you can get laptops with reasonable-sized hard drives -- sixty to
eighty gigabytes. But when I bought my little Fujitsu Lifebook a couple of
years ago, forty gigs was the maximum.
I might replace the Fujitsu, except that everything comes with Vista on it. Plus
I can't find any laptops as perfect for traveling as that model was -- even the
new models from Fujitsu are either larger or not as nice.
So to be able to keep using my traveling laptop until it keels over and dies, I
need to have a portable hard drive to take with me so I can have my music, as
well as a good solid backup for all my working files.
For a long time I used a couple of 60-gig drives, but they were getting too small.
So I recently sprang for the new Iomego eGo portable drive, the 250-gig
I bought this model because it has a special "DropGuard" feature. I have been
known to drop things. This sounded like a good idea.
What I wasn't prepared for was how insanely fast the drive is. It's the fastest
drive on my system. In fact, it's faster than any of the drives on my other
computer, which is far newer than the Fujitsu.
I haven't actually tested the DropGuard feature. That would be like crashing
my car into a wall to test the airbags. There are things I won't do just to write
about them in this column.
The Iomega eGo sells for two hundred bucks. Online at Iomega.com, till
December 9th, you can get it for $180. But I bet you can get it even cheaper at
CompUSA, which is where I bought mine, or at other online sites.
And if all you need is 160 gigs, eGo drives, with DropGuard, also come in that
size -- and in four razzle-dazzle colors. OK, two razzle-dazzle colors, plus blue
and black, for $133.
Maybe that sounds like a lot of money. But I remember paying $4,000 for an
Altos MP/M machine with a ten megabyte hard drive; the hard drive accounted
for half the cost. And then another $3,000 each for the monitor (with built-in
keyboard) and the Spinwriter printer (this was pre-laser).
Ten megabytes. My Iomega eGo is 25,000 times more capacious, and it cost a
tenth as much.
So I still look at today's computer stuff and think of it as costing about as
much as toilet paper.
Speaking of toilet paper, some of you may remember my massive column on all
aspects of every brand of toilet paper a couple of years ago. You may even
remember that for me, at least, Northern double rolls won the prize.
Well, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I was visiting at a friend's house
and was astonished to find a toilet paper that is (a) softer and more
comfortable, (b) more effective, and © so much stronger that I need only half as
What is this miraculous bathroom tissue? Kleenex's Cottonelle Ultra double
This is not the Cottonelle I used years ago, which seemed to me about at the
level of the toilet paper the put in cheap motel bathrooms. This is great stuff.
No, don't give it to anyone for Christmas. Really. They won't thank you.
Well, they will thank you. But not right away. Not till they've used it a while.
And they'll still think you're incredibly cheap and weird.
It didn't have to be a great restaurant. Some friends were taking us out in
celebration of my wife's birthday, and their company was what we cared about.
So in a way, it was actually distracting that the food at Print Works Bistro was
Print Works Bistro is located in the new Proximity Hotel on Green Valley Road
at the first light north of Benjamin Parkway. Hotel and restaurant are both
creations of the same team that gave us the O. Henry Hotel and Green Valley
Grill, so right away there's a lot of trust: These people know how to deliver
Right now they're in what they call a "soft opening" phase, like previews before
the show actually opens. That means they offer a fairly limited menu.
Right. With limits like these, who needs variety?
There were ten entree choices and nine salads or appetizers. For the timid,
there's a cheeseburger. For vegetarians, a vegetable casserole. For beef eaters,
steak and fries.
The rest of the menu was for us. The grilled salmon was perfectly cooked for
each of the two very different people who ordered it, with strongly seasoned
lentils that didn't overpower the fish. The lamb was too rich to finish, but it got
taken home for later.
And I had, quite simply, the best duck I've ever tasted. This is partly because
many chefs seem to have the odd idea that duck must be cooked with sweet
fruit. This chef, however, understands that what is needed is a lush blend of
herbs that brings out the flavor of the meat. I ordered mine well done, because
I don't like underdone fowl; the chef produced a thoroughly cooked bird with
juicy meat and skin that you just couldn't ignore.
The decor is memorable, from the floor to the airy drapes to the extravagantly
high ceiling and the huge windows looking out over Green Valley. You won't
forget this place! And the service was impeccable.
If you order only the cheeseburger, you can be in and out of the restaurant for
ten bucks plus tip. But most diners will probably spend closer to thirty dollars
per person, not counting drinks or dessert.
For convenience, don't pull up at the hotel entrance, go farther around and
down to the lower parking lot on the south side, where the restaurant is.
Unless, of course, you want to walk through the lobby of the beautiful new
Don't wait for the grand opening. Even during its trial run, Print Works Bistro
is not to be missed.
I thought I hated iTunes software before, but after trying to load my Christmas
music onto my iPod Nano, I discovered a whole new depth of loathing.
I admit, I was spoiled by MusicMatch, which was far and away the best
software for handling computer music. You'll recall that MusicMatch was
bought and killed by Yahoo. And it wouldn't matter -- music has to go onto
iPod products in their stupid proprietary format, loaded by their stupid
Why? Because it's Apple, fool. They do what they want. And you do what they
want. Because, like Microsoft, they think they own your computer.
I selected all my holiday music. I told iTunes to put all the tracks into the
I got an error message. There was too much music to fit.
Well, duh. But I didn't want an error message. I just wanted the software to
put on as much of it as would fit.
But no. I had to first guess how many tracks would fit. So I did. But I
Finally I created another playlist and then started deleting albums and tracks
until finally I could load it onto the Nano.
But then, as I was playing it, it kept playing music that was not Christmas
music. Why? I don't know. Either it didn't completely delete the previous
tracks I had on it (though it showed that I had blanked it out), or it transferred
stuff that hadn't been in the playlist.
Maddening. So do you know what I did? I got out my old, decrepit Creative
Zen 40-gig mp3 player. I installed its ancient software without a problem. I
copied my entire Christmas music collection. It took five minutes. Now it's
Do you know why iPods sell better than any other mp3 players?
Hype, folks. The actual products are fine. The software you have to use to
control it is poisonously bad. In fact, it's so bad it could only be deliberate.
Because Apple can't possibly find programmers so stupid they don't know how
to create a useful product that anticipates what you're going to want to do and
makes it easy. No, the programmers knew how to create good software. They
just weren't given time and freedom to do it.
Last time I railed about this problem, people referred me to many different
mp3-playing programs. I bought two of them -- Media Monkey and WinAmp.
At first they looked promising. Then I found that Media Monkey couldn't rip
two whole albums in a row without leaving out tracks or locking up completely.
And WinAmp didn't even try.
Whoever programmed MusicMatch Jukebox software: Where are you? Please
can't you create something good for us?
Or maybe ... Yahoo! Could you take a lesson from Cingular? Remember, they
acquired AT&T's cellular phone business and then killed it. But a year or so
later (after I had happily moved over to Verizon), they realized their stupidity
and restored at least the name.
So Yahoo! -- please kill your stupid replacement software and give us back
MusicMatch. And while you're at it, make it so it can handle iPods.
Except Apple would probably sue you. Because if there's one thing Apple and
Microsoft hate, it's a customer who finds a way to get decent software in spite
of their best efforts.
Meanwhile, I'm still using MusicMatch. Even though, having been killed, it no
longer can access an online site to get the track information automatically. I
have to enter every track myself. But it's worth it to have good software.
Besides, I type more accurately than the people who create those online
Speaking of music, let me remind you that if you have tastes that vary from the
run-of-the-mill offerings on iTunes and the other top-hits downloading sites,
give MagnaTunes a try. I know, I've reviewed it before, but it's a great concept
and they deliver excellent quality.
Individual artists and groups contract with MagnaTunes to offer their albums.
The customer gets to listen to all the tracks in advance. Then, when it's time to
pay (MasterCard, Visa, or Paypal), the customer can decide how much to pay.
Are you poor? You can pay as little as $5.
But if you want to, you can pay more, rewarding artists for excellence or for
providing you with something unusual. It's like giving a tip for a fine
performance. I usually pay $12, and sometimes as much as $15.
Magnatunes and the performer split the income, whatever it is. Magnatunes'
slogan is "We're not evil." As someone who lives from royalties, I can tell you:
They are fair to the artists they publish. And they're fair to the customer.
Not only that, you can download whatever format your heart desires -- even
the loathsome iTunes AAC files. The best format is the hard-drive-swallowing
WAV format, which consist of actual CD files.
I download mp3 VBR files, slightly better in quality (and slightly larger) than
standard 128kb mp3s. They come in a zipfile, which, when you unzip it into
your music directory with the "include original path" instruction, will have it all
laid out in standard music library format.
What kind of music can you get? At this moment I'm previewing --
prehearing? -- Jami Sieber's New Age album Hidden Sky. It's hauntingly
beautiful -- at least the first track is. I imagine I'll probably buy it.
I just bought and downloaded Sonnerie's performance of six organ concertos by
In addition, starting with my download almost two years ago of Renaissance
music for my production of Romeo and Juliet, I've been a fan of MagnaTunes'
extraordinarily good selection of medieval and renaissance music.
But their classical music selection is also eclectic and excellent. Small
ensembles perform gorgeous chamber music, sometimes with strange and
Browsing the site is free. The worst that can happen is you'll find out that
none of the music is to your taste. Heck, I find that on FM radio stations all
OK, I'm two tracks in now, and I'm buying Hidden Sky. Pardon me while I
About a year ago, my brother gave us a subscription to The Week magazine. It
consists mostly of quotes from other news sources in the U.S. and around the
world, giving you a broad spectrum of views and opinions. Pretty good idea,
and I enjoyed it.
Not many weeks later, though, my brother wrote and said he was cancelling his
own subscription and he wouldn't be offended if I did the same. Because now
he realized that even though The Week purports to be unbiased, it is still part
of the left-wing media establishment -- it just has a better disguise.
He was absolutely right. While conservative and moderate voices get a hearing,
they are invariably answered by the preferred left-wing quote. This is standard
biased-media methodology. Give a quote (usually inadequate or inept) from the
side you oppose, then finish the piece with an eloquent quote from the team
Still, The Week is more useful than the down-the-line leftist establishment
zines like Time and Newsweek and infinitely better than the outright insanity
that has become Harper's Bizarre (not to be confused with Harper's Bazaar). At
least the other viewpoints are there.
Let me tell you about another magazine, though. The Weekly Standard
admits that it's a conservative zine right from the start. But, unlike
"mainstream" liberal publications, it actually takes the other side seriously and
presents their ideas fairly.
This is an old-fashioned idea that seems to have disappeared from American
discourse lately. Most of the major media today act like bad high school
debaters, refusing even to admit that someone on the other side might have a
While the Left goes off on ad hominem attacks or simply plugs their ears and
goes "La la la," The Weekly Standard (founded by the inimitable William
Kristol), like Commentary magazine, will actually present the Left's viewpoint
better and more rationally than the Leftist publications do.
Then it takes those arguments apart with little things like (get this, you won't
believe it) evidence and logic.
Since I'm not actually as conservative as The Weekly Standard on many issues,
I then reply (in my mind; I don't talk out loud to magazines -- not yet, anyway)
in the same logical, evidence based way. It's an interesting conversation, even
if nobody else can hear it.
Regardless of your political views, you should be reading The Weekly Standard.
Even if you're a down-the-line PC liberal, you owe it to yourself, if you have any
intellectual integrity, to know what the other side is saying -- in their own
words, and not just in sound bites selected by their enemies.
I already told you about M.C. Beaton's Haimish Macbeth mysteries. But that
was before I had bought and read them all.
This took some doing, because not all of them are available. Barnes & Noble in
Greensboro had an excellent selection -- better than I've seen at any bookstore
in about six different cities since I started looking for them. But I still had to
go online and buy the rest. There were five of them that Amazon didn't have,
so I ended up buying them used from other sources.
Every one of them was a joy to read. They aren't dark and edgy, but they aren't
exactly cozy, either. Ugly things happen, but so do good things, and people are
presented in their full range of decency and crabbiness, generosity and
There are running gags, but Beaton doesn't dwell on them, they're just little
waves in passing; there's an overall story arc, but it doesn't consume the
series. Each book stands completely alone.
But from the first, reading these books feels like going home to the small town
you never lived in. Haimish Macbeth is an unambitious policeman in a small
town in the highlands of Scotland; he doesn't want to be promoted because
he'd have to leave the town he loves.
It's a town -- and a mystery series -- full of tiny charms that made me feel
good. The towns are real; the characters' lives feel complete.
Best of all, you can pick up any of the books and get, more or less, the same
effect. Some are better than others, of course, but you can start at any point in
Still, in case you want to try to read them in order, you won't get any help from
the listing of Haimish Macbeth mysteries inside the books themselves -- they
are never presented in any kind of order I could discern except, occasionally,
alphabetical. All but one have titles that start with "Death of a ..." or "Death of
an ..." so I'll just list the final word or words of each title:
Gossip, Cad, Outsider, Perfect Wife, Hussy, Snob, Prankster, Glutton, Charming
Man, Nag, Macho Man, Travelling Man, Dentist, Scriptwriter, Addict, A Highland
Christmas, Dustman, Celebrity, Village, Poison Pen, Bore, Dreamer, Maid, Gentle
Lady (not yet released).
I got most of this list from one created by an Amazon customer who tags
herself "AnimaMeMeMe!" The one I read first was Poison Pen; the last one I laid
hands on was Glutton.
Beaton also writes another series about a sleuth named Agatha Raisin. For
whatever reason, I found it impossible to be interested in the one I picked up to
read. But that's OK. Beaton writes both series because they appeal to her. It
happens that one of them also appeals to me. It's not a crime or even a
misfortune that I don't happen to love both series equally.
Give yourself a few hours with Haimish Macbeth for Christmas. Maybe you'll
enjoy his company as much as I have.