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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 03, 2002

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


Yepp, E-Wear, and Software Woes

Why don't more people go out and get the sustained aerobic exercise they need?

Because it's so incredibly, mind-numbingly dull.

Running along the same roads, feet pounding the pavement, your eyes on the asphalt, you start to shed IQ points faster than pounds.

And when you're doing a treadmill or a stationary bike, forget it. At health clubs they usually set a twenty-minute limit. They say it's so that other people can have a turn, but the truth is it's because if they let you go twenty-five minutes, you'll start screaming and gibbering and they'll have to take you out of the place in a strait jacket.

That's why women join aerobics classes. It's not because they like getting into leotards that show every roll of flab and every stretch mark and every bony place on their bodies and then standing around with women who look like they just stepped off the cover of Cosmo.

It's because aerobic dancing changes from moment to moment. Somebody is calling the moves and changes. It's not just the same thing, minute after minute, mile after mile.

In my case, of course, I simply accepted the mental damage and kept on running the same route, day after day.

Actually, though, the way I kept my rhythm going was to sing songs inside my head. I found the optimum rhythm was to breathe in three-step units. Exhale hard on step one, then inhale deeply on steps two and three.

That meant the song in my head had to be in three-four time. There aren't many choices that go in the right tempo for the speed I could run. (No, I can't run to "The Minute Waltz.")

"Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from Oklahoma! is in three-four time. So is "I Am I, Don Quixote" from Man of La Mancha.

So when people saw me plodding my way around the roads of my neighborhood, little did they know that inside my head, Richard Kiley was singing, "Hear me now, O thou bleak and unbearable world," or Gordon MacRae was singing, "The breeze is so busy it don't miss a tree."

But after two and a half years of that, I came to truly hate those songs.

I wanted to carry music with me, but CD players are too bulky to carry along.

For a while I'd carry a cassette tape player with a book on tape, but then I found I got caught up in what I was listening to and slowed down so much that the exercise wasn't really aerobic anymore.

Radio doesn't work because no matter what they say, radio stations always have commercials and irritating disk jockeys (the only kind) and whenever I'm listening, they only play songs that I hate.

And every time I tried to run while listening to WFDD or WUNC, it was pledge month. Or pledge year, or however long it lasts.

Then I bought the Rio Riot to replace my old CD jukebox, and learned how convenient it is to transfer music from CD to MP3s.

And then I saw how tiny some of the little MP3 players are, and I knew my problem was solved. I could have good music that I liked, programmed by me, played by a machine light enough to carry without even noticing it.

The first one I tried was the Samsung Yepp. It's a lovely design, light as a feather, good sound quality, and you can get it with 128 megs of memory so it can hold a couple of CDs' worth of songs.

Everything about it is wonderful. Except ...

The software stinks. Like a skunk you run over with your own car, that's how bad it stinks.

Because, of course, MP3 players can only play music you have already loaded onto your computer. The Yepp software would first of all scan your whole hard drive, not just a selected directory, for every kind of sound file there.

Never mind that it could only transfer MP3s to the player. It found and catalogued every .WAV file that makes stupid noises like "You've Got Mail" and every sound effect from every game.

And then, if there was some defect with any of these files -- including the ones you didn't want it to catalogue in the first place -- it simply stopped scanning.

It didn't tell you which file had the problem, so you could delete it. It just stopped.

So ... what use is a great little player like the Yepp if you can't get your music into it?

My next attempt, though, was a success. Panasonic makes a little player they call "E-Wear" (the SV-SD80) which is the smallest and lightest player, period. It uses SD cards, which are the size of a postage stamp, to hold the MP3 files. (The largest it comes with is 64 megs, which is only about an hour of music, but you can buy a 128-meg card separately and use it instead.)

And the software it uses is RealMedia's Real Jukebox, which is adequate.

The headache came when I realized that both my Rio Riot and my E-Wear used their own special version of Real Jukebox -- and each one uninstalled the other. Still, I was eventually able to link to both devices.

However, both versions of the program try to insist (because RealMedia has genuinely stupid public relations) that you immediately upgrade to a newer version.

Don't do it! Because the newer version won't let you have both machines connected. What a great improvement!

Real Jukebox also tries to link to the web all the time, and it takes some real searching to find out how to turn off features whose only purpose is to try to get you to pay RealMedia for online radio programs you don't want.

On the other hand, their telephone helpers get an A for really trying to make things work.

The best jukebox software for managing your music tracks is from MusicMatch. Alas, you can't use it to transfer music to either the E-Wear or the Rio Riot.

The annoyances of RealMedia were all worth it, because now when I run ... I don't get bored! I can easily program the music I want to listen to on each day's run, with a playlist that no radio station on earth would offer.

You know ... Kiri Te Kanawa, Judy Kuhn, Rubén Blades, Suzy Bogguss, Tony Bennett, Maria Bethania, Janis Joplin, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Bruce Cockburn, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Ian, Billy Joel, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Julee Cruise, K.D. Lang, Shawn Colvin, Mel Torme, Shirley Eikhard, Cesaria Evora, David Gray, Neil Young, Lyle Lovett, Michael Feinstein ... aren't they all on your playlist, too?

*

A really good thriller is Harlan Coben's Tell No One, newly out in paperback. The situation: Dave Beck, a pediatrician, is with his wife at a lake in the woods, and somebody hits him in the head with a bat and then abducts ... and murders ... his wife.

Eight years later, though, something astonishing happens. He starts to get email messages that use in-jokes that only he and his dead wife knew. He begins to realize that it's quite possible that she's alive.

The trouble is that whoever tried to kill her before would dearly love to do it again, if they ever came to believe that she was still around. And they wouldn't mind killing Dave Beck in the process -- especially if they ever realize it was Beck who actually did the thing they killed (or tried to kill) his wife for.

Very tense, with lots of twists and intriguing characters, and a satisfying conclusion.


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