Monday, March 28, 2011

A brief hiatus...

I will be in our nation's capital this entire week, so the posting might be slow (or nonexistent). Fear not, though. I'll be sure to eat a lot of good food and read some good books while I'm here, so keep an eye out next week!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lunch Review! Terry's Turf Club (finally...)

When we moved to Cincinnati last spring and started scouting out dining options on Urbanspoon, Yelp, and the numerous food blogs focusing on the city, one of the places we first set our sights on was Terry's Turf Club. Boasting #1 rated restaurant fame on Urbanspoon, 'best burger in Cincinnati' status from almost everyone under the sun, and even a visit from Guy Fieri, we knew that it had to happen.

Somehow, though, it just never did. We weren't hungry for burgers, we were concerned the wait would be too long, the weather was too cold (or too hot); our excuses were legion and, at the same time, the usual suspects. This is how it came to be that last Sunday, approximately ten months after we moved here, we still had not eaten at Terry's Turf Club. After a nice afternoon at the Barnum & Bailey Circus (yes, it was awesome and yes, I am eight years old more times than not) we put our collective foot down and decided that 'today is the day'.

The drive through the east side along the river is, lets's say, interesting. I felt like I was in in Appalachia. Call me insensitive or crude, but I was concerned that at any moment the Deliverance banjo tune would float through the air to my ears. Annnnyyywaaaaaays.... we got to Terry's and grabbed a street parking spot.

View from across the street

Terry's is decked out in neon lights. I would love to see this place at night, but we would suffice to the dim glow in the daylight. We walked in the door, put in our name with the doorman and sat outside. We thought it might be a long wait, but we were inside and seated at a four top with another couple within five or so minutes. Certainly not the epic wait stories that swirl around in Cincinnati lore.

 View from the front door

We settled in and went to town on the complimentary peanuts set out. For the second time that day, I got to feel like a child as it is perfectly acceptable to throw your shells on the floor. I wasn't really feeling a beer for lunch, as I had consumed my alotted volume (and then some) the night before. They do have a respectable list, though, with both microbrews and imports represented. After enjoying the signs and lights for a few minutes, our waitress came over and we put in our orders. We both kept it classic, despite the presence of crab, fancy cheeses, sauces, and various other toppings available. American cheese, lettuce, onions, banana peppers, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, and mayo; cooked medium (with a side of fries to split).

More views...

The bar

Our burgers and the moment of truth arrived simultaneously. Would the burger from Terry's Turf Club live up to the hype? The answer is an overwhelming, unqualified yes. Coarse-ground, and perfectly cooked to temperature, it is everything you could ever want in a burger. I feel like I made the right choice in going simple on toppings, because this was one of the rare experiences where I could actually taste the beef. I don't know the specifics of its formation (fat percentage, ground in/out of house, etc) but it was definitely high quality. It was perfectly sized: not big enough to stop me from eating my fries, but big enough to fill me up almost to that point.

The fries should have been an afterthought in the shadow of this burger, but they were actually really good. Skin-on and very crispy and brown, which might not be everyone's preference, but I'm of the persuasion that most fries probably need a few more minutes in the fryer.

After we paid and headed out, I got a snap of the griddle top where the burgers are cooked.

Where the magic happens

Terry's Turf Club, in a city with a great selection of burger joints, is now the tops on my list for the best burger in the city. It's followed closely by Cafe de Wheels and Rookwood, but Terry's is by itself on the throne. When I can get a burger that is presented without all sorts of fancy pants toppings and it still stacks up to the best in terms of flavor and texture, I count this as a winner. One day I'll put together a list of my favorites, but as of right now those three are topping the charts.

Mission Accomplished!

Terry's Turf Club on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lunch review: Wicked-wich

Last Friday I was hungry and feeling cheap, so I decided to use a Groupon for Wicked-wich that I had purchased a while back. I've been putting it off for awhile because it's on the other side of Downtown from my office and the place always seems crazy packed.

Located on the 400 block of Sycamore, Wicked-wich is perfectly situated to take advantage of the mass of P&G lunchers and soon the mass of Great American Tower lunchers. It is, as the name would imply, a witch-themed sandwich place, which is one of the odder themes I can can think of for a restaurant. Clearly they are fans of puns.

Wicked-wich's claim to fame in the CBD lunch scene is that they make and slice all of their lunch meat in house. I don't know any other lunch place that does this downtown on the scale that WW does, so they clearly fit a niche. They also claim to make their soups and salad dressings in-house. WW offers breakfast, too, if you are so inclined. The menu lists omelettes, quiche, and other goodies.

WW is your typical sandwich place, ordering-wise. You walk in, get in the usually long line, place your order, pay, and they'll call your name when your food is done. There is a decent amount of space for dining in, but it was completely full when I went, plus about 80 degrees. I opted for take out.

I got up to the front of the line, placed an order the Southwestern Chicken with a side of curried egg salad (one side included with sandwiches). Just because I was feeling particularly gluttonous that day, I also got a bag of kettle chips. I paid and snapped a few pictures.

Hard at work

Odd witch-themed mural and dining space

Sandwich station

Five minutes later my name was called and I escaped the body heat-fest back to the office, sat down, unpacked my lunch and got to work on it.

As usual, my pictures don't do the food justice. The Southwestern Chicken, per the menu description, is "spice-rubbed chicken, roasted peppers and red onions, sharp cheddar, chipotle mayo ... (on a) butter toasted sourdough baguette". It was as good as it sounds. There was a lot, flavor and texture-wise, going on, but it never got ridiculous. The star of the show, as would be expected, was the meat. It was extremely flavorful and, since it was just sliced, juicy. This is real meat, not any of that reconstituted, sodium and whatnot pumped stuff you see on sale at the grocery store (and at Subway).

This sandwich was MESSY. Between the onions and peppers, mayo, and juice from the fresh-sliced meat, it was easily one of the messier sandwiches I've ever eaten. It certainly requires more than one napkin. At first I questioned the choice of a baguette as a bread choice, but in hindsight it's probably the only kind of bread that wouldn't completely disintegrate under the stress of the ingredients.

The curried egg salad was good, but didn't blow me away. It was pretty much your typical egg salad with a bit of curry powder mixed in. The curry flavor wasn't overwhelming, but it's a nice departure from plain 'ol egg salad. The chips and Diet Coke were chips and Diet Coke. Nothing to report there.

Verdict? Wicked-wich serves great sandwiches with some of the best meat in the city. The prices, at around $10.00, are about as high as I'd pay for a sandwich combo at a casual restaurant in Cincinnati. I will certainly be back due to the number of sandwiches on the menu that I had difficulty choosing between. If they can make boring chicken breast a star, I'd love to try their roast or corned beef. It won't be a regular place for me due to the location and crowdedness, but if I want a sandwich a step above most, I know where to go.

Wicked-wich on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien

This is going to be a broadly-based, comprehensive review of The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy. If you are interested in shorter reviews of the individual books, they can be found here, here, and here.

When I drew Lord of the Rings as the next books to read and review, I wasn't entirely won over about how enjoyable of an experience it would be. I have liked using the random number generator to choose my books so far because it allows me to get a good mix into what I'm reading. The idea of reading the 1000+ pages of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a row seemed like it would get boring. Plus I had seen the movies a handful of times so I knew everything that would happen in the books, right?

I was completely wrong on all counts. In crafting this trilogy, Tolkien has created one of the most compelling, lasting works of fiction (note: not just fantasy, but fiction in general) written in the last century. There reasons why the LOTR movies both made money hand over fist and were critically acclaimed and only a small part of that is the crazy awesome use of CGI. The rest of it is the amazing story being told remarkably faithfully to the book trilogy.

I'm not going to go into extreme detail regarding the plot of the book. LOTR is enough of a cultural phenomenon today that almost everyone should have some vague idea of the storyline. Essentially, evil has fallen over Middle Earth and to stop it Frodo, a Hobbit, has to toss a ring forged by the dude responsible for the evil (Sauron) into a volcano. Doesn't sound so hard, right? The kicker is that the volcano is really, really far away and within the kingdom of Sauron. Not to mention, Sauron really, really wants that ring back for himself. Luckily Frodo is accompanied by his trusty friend and servant Sam (also a Hobbit), and is supported by the Fellowship, a small collection of hobbits, men, a dwarf, an elf, and a wizard. Over three books, all of these characters and many other peripheral ones travel, fight, and, in some cases, die all in order to destroy the Ring and save Middle Earth.

That very cursory glance at the plot obviously does not come near doing the book justice. Aside from that amazingly deep main plot line, side plots branch off which are equally (if not more) engrossing and essential to the story. Throughout the trilogy, the Fellowship splits and reunites numerous times as their paths diverge and cross.

The most amazing part of this trilogy is the depth of the history and lore of Middle Earth. Tolkien has invested so much time and effort into the back story of LOTR and the land and "peoples" in it that sometimes it almost reads like historical fiction. This is particularly true when you consider that the copy of the trilogy that I was reading had no less than five appendices totaling over one hundred pages concerning the history of Middle Earth. Tolkien didn't just create a story; he created a world which incorporates not just these three books, but almost everything he has ever written.

In fact, doing an Amazon search for "History of Middle Earth" comes up with numerous results, including a five-volume work titled The Histories of Middle Earth, which was written by Tolkien himself. A deeper look into the subject will find that this work is only a smaller part of a twelve-volume collection of the history of Middle Earth. I challenge you to find another author who has put so much effort into making what he or she created seem real to the reader. In some ways Tolkien has elevated himself beyond "author" into the peculiar status of historian or archivist of something which isn't actually real. Think about that for a minute to consider how crazy that is. I've read nonfiction books concerning World War II and other very, very important times in human history that are less meticulously documented than this work of FICTION.

Despite this, LOTR doesn't read dry or dense. Sure, the geography and lore might have been a bit over my head at times, but this hardly distracted from the story. Sure, the number of songs (yep, songs) in the trilogy struck me as odd, but that is more of a complaint based in my tastes than a deficiency of the trilogy itself. The prose is beautiful, yet not overly flowery. Every notable character, even those periphery, are developed to the greatest extent possible. It is almost impossible to find a flaw in these books.

Sure, not everyone is going to want to read through the trilogy. It takes serious will power to work through any 1000+ page work, but it might take even more to first pick up a book that is lumped into genre that is denigrated by many readers as childish and lightweight: fantasy. Mention 'fantasy' (and to a lessen extent, science fiction) to many avid readers and they might scoff and immediately envision dudes in their parents' basements or the back room of comic book stores rolling a more than six sided dice, opening a pack of Magic cards, or racking up XP on the newest Final Fantasy game.

Before I state how incorrect that notion is, I want to first state that there is nothing wrong with the things in the last sentence. It's just not my cup of tea and sometimes myself and other readers lump fantasy books that we would otherwise enjoy in with those things as an excuse not to read them. And you know what? That's our fault and it's our loss. Sure there are garbage fantasy novels, but let me points you towards Patterson, James; Evanovich, Janet; etc. There is garbage in every genre of every art, but that should not spoil the genre or the great works within any of them.

As one of those scoffers, let me say this: LOTR is a masterpiece. It has everything anyone could ever want in a great piece of literature. Do I recommend this trilogy to other readers out there? Of course I do; if you you haven't read it, get off your behind and go do so. I know I waited way too long. Because of everything listed above, I give The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien five out of five stars.

With this knocked off the list, the RNG chose my next book for me: Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. Many of you probably just yawned and maybe started to snore, but as a poli sci undergrad and public affairs grad student, I'm really looking forward to this one.  As always, thanks for reading and look for a review soon!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Quick Review: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

(I'm going to keep this review extremely brief since I will be writing a more detailed review for the entire trilogy as one this weekend. The review for the Fellowship of the Ring can be found here and for The Two Towers here.)

Five-second summary: Good guys army mustered, army of the dead summoned, Gondor defended, good guy army distracts Sauron eith suicide attack, (while at the same time), Sam saves Frodo, the two go on arduous journey through Mordor, Gollum chomps, ring falls in volcano, Sauron's kingdom defeated, huge celebration, King crowned, Hobbits return to and battle for Shire, Frodo and others depart from Middle Earth .

Pros: By this point, almost all the main characters have been introduced and built up. More large battles in this piece of the trilogy. Wrapped up the story beautifully.
Cons: Geography in Mordor was tough to follow, but didn't really take away from the story. Just picking nits here.

I have changed my mind. I thought that The Two Towers would be my favorite part of the trilogy (as it was in the movie trilogy), but I was mistaken. The Return of the King is the full package; it has action, love stories, and everything else you could want in a good story. I thought the story would be pretty much over after the ring was tossed into the volcano, but my favorite part of the novel was actually after that. The celebration, return trip to the Shire, battle for the Shire, and Frodo's departure from Middle Earth were more compelling than almost any other part of the trilogy. Two thumbs up to this one.

I'll have a lengthier review of the entire trilogy up sometime this weekend and the results of the selection of the next book. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Will travel for Beer: Indianapolis (Sun King Brewing & Tomlinson Tap Room)

Last weekend my fiancee and I headed to Indianapolis to visit and stay with some grad school friends. Accidentally (but fortunately) it ended up being a weekend of Indiana beer. I took a bunch of pictures so I thought I would share them here.

After visiting their Winter Farmer's Market on Saturday morning (which, by the way, was really cool) and having brunch at Mesh (which was delicious), we decided to stop at Sun King Brewing. Sun King is a local Indianapolis brewery which had opened a tasting room just around when I was moving to Cincinnati. I really had been wanting to go since then and finally got my chance.

Sun King has a really cool business business model. They only can and keg their beers (no bottles) because of environmental and personal preference reasons. They very, very strongly push growler refill sales. In fact, on Fridays you can refill your growlers for $5.00. You can't beat that deal. They are also very active in the community and work with my friend's bike advocacy organization, INDYCOG. They often provide the beer for the organization's events.

When you walk in to the place, you're handed tickets to taste samples of any of the beers they are distributing for growler refills. Because of state/local (?) law, they are not allowed to sell beer to drink there and you can not open your growlers in the brewer, but you can try the free samples. The space is largely open, with the production space roped off from the tasting/milling around space.

Growler refill stations

Back end of the growler refill station

I got to taste four of their regularly distributed brews (Osiris Pale Ale, Sunlight Cream Ale, Bitter Druid ESB, and Wee Mac Scottish Ale) and a seasonal dry stout which name I can't remember at the moment. My favorite was the Osiris, but I'm a pale ale / IPA kind of guy.

Sunlight Cream Ale and Osiris Pale Ale

We were also luck enough to be able to do a tour of the brewery with one of their employees. They said that the first twenty could go, so we hustled on over so we weren't left out.

He first explained how beer was made and passed around the grains so we could taste the difference between the different levels of roasting. He then showed us where the grains were measured and milled.

They had just recently acquired some new brewing tanks. These bad boys were BIG and there were a number of them. I believe the above was one of the fermentation tanks.

As I noted earlier, Sun King does not use bottles. This is their canning machine. He explained how it worked and what the benefits of canning versus bottling are. What really stuck out to me was how expensive this piece of machinery is. If I remember correctly, it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Lots and lots of cans waiting for be filled

Storage containers in the refrigeration room

Unfortunately my camera died right before the coolest part of the tour, the bourbon barrel room. They have invested a good amount of money on various types of barrels which previously held bourbon. They were aging beer in these barrels. None of these beers are for sale yet, but when they are, I will definitely be purchasing some. If you enjoy bourbon, you would have thought the smell of the room was heaven. They were also aging one of their beers (I can't remember which) in a port barrel. Very cool.

We were very lucky to be able to get to go on the tour and would recommend it to anyone in the area. It was very neat to see the inner workings of a local brewery. The staff was friendly and was happy to answer any question about their beer or brewing in general.

Sun King Brewing on Urbanspoon

Afterwards, we stopped at the Upland Brewing Tasting Room (they're out of Bloomington, IN) and had a flight of six of their beers. Then we headed home for a recharge (in my case, an hour nap).

To cap off the night, we headed to the Tomlinson Tap room, a bar in the City Market which serves only Indiana-brewed beers. I got a chance to try beers from several smaller breweries which I likely wouldn't be able to otherwise. My favorite was definitely the New Albanian Hoptimus, an aptly named super-hoppy imperial IPA. Very, very good. The bartender, who happened to be a friend of a friend, allowed me to snap some pictures behind the bar.

What's on tap

Indianapolis has a newly emerging, rapidly growing local craft beer scene that was only barely present even a year ago when I moved away. Since I moved Sun King has really come into their own and another brewery (Flat 12) has recently opened. Seeing this happen in Indianapolis really gives me hope for what can happen here in Cincinnati. We certainly have the demand for good tasting, locally brewed beer. Just ask Greg Hardman.

What an absolutely wonderful weekend. The only thing better than being able to spend time with good friends is being able to do it while drinking good beer. I was able to do both this weekend, so I would certainly say mission accomplished.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Publishers and Libraries Battle over Ebook Expiration Terms

It looks like publishing companies continue the historical practice of alienating their customers, both retail and wholesale. With the rise of the ebook, publishers are now realizing that they aren't extracting nearly as much profit from readers and libraries as is possible. The New York Times yesterday had an article highlighting the current issues with the system. In particular, it seems that HarperCollins isn't satisfied with the current model of how ebook lending works between libraries and their patrons.
"For years, public libraries building their e-book collections have typically done so with the agreement from publishers that once a library buys an e-book, it can lend it out, one reader at a time, an unlimited number of times.
Last week, that agreement was upended by HarperCollins Publishers when it began enforcing new restrictions on its e-books, requiring that books be checked out only 26 times before they expire. Assuming a two-week checkout period, that is long enough for a book to last at least one year."
I can see the problems from both points of view. The publishers are obviously going to have a great deal of concern over a sales model where a library can purchase a book that will literally last forever. When a publisher sells a library a physical copy of a book, they know there is a good chance of repeat sales of the same book as it circulates and wears out physically. Obviously this will never happen to an electronic copy of the book.

At the same time, it is not a tenable model for libraries to have to repay for copies of the exact same book roughly every year for popular titles. For very popular books, this could mean repurchasing multiple copies of the same title numerous times over the years. I have a feeling that even heavily circulated physical copies of books have a useful life of over one year.

Obviously (and in my opinion, rightfully) the publishers are going to look like the bad guys in this fight. Almost every time you have profit-driven organization versus a service-driven organization in a PR fight, the latter is going to come out the victor. Libraries and their patrons are going to be the victims of the short-sighted sales model that publishers adopted with the quiet entry of ebooks into the readership market. With the growth of portable electronic devices that can display ebooks (Ipad, Kindle, etc.) this quiet entry has become a booming industry. It reminds me a lot of the newspaper industry today. They entered the field of online journalism back in the day with no sales model and now they are all struggling to determine how to make some revenue from their websites.

The lack of planning from both industries is rather galling. I don't see things getting any better, either. With the sales growth of e-readers and ubiquitousness of smart phones, ebooks are here to stay. Publishers and libraries need to agree on a sustainable model for ebook sales that in some ways reflects circulation and purchasing patterns of physical books, yet at the same time capitalizes on the low-cost creation and delivery methods of the electronic format. I'll just say this: good luck libraries. You're up against a ruthless industry who is big, bad, and wants all of your money.

What do all you readers and library patrons out there think is a reasonable compromise between the current situation and the new restrictions put forth by HarperCollins?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lunch Review: Mayberry Foodstuffs

Usually I leave my verdict until the end, but for Mayberry Foodstuffs I will say this: it is a godsend. The tiny store packs a truckload of variety and convenience into a space smaller than most houses' master bedrooms.

(This is what the store's sign looks like through a dirty lens. Whoops.)

Mayberry Foodstuffs, the brainchild of Chef Josh of Mayberry and World Food Bar fame, opened late 2010 to provide downtowners an option for groceries and other goodies. This place is reeeeaaaalllly small, but what little square footage they have, they utilize masterfully. They somehow manage to pack fresh produce, bread goods basked by the staff, cheeses, spices, household items, meats, dry bulk goods, and my most purchased category of items: wine and really good craft beer. This list is not exhaustive by any means.

(Bulk olive oil and vinegar)
Mayberry Foodstuffs is convenient for my not because I live downtown, but because my bus stop from work to home happens to sit about 20 fee from their door. I can't even count the numbe rof times I've missed my bus because I went to grab a bottle of wine from a store that is the opposite direction from work as my bus stop. No longer!


(Dry bulk goods)

A number of the products they sell are locally produced, which is an added bonus. When I was there last, the had just started selling spices from Colonel De, which is housed in Findlay Market. It's always good to see local businesses playing nice with each other.

(More produce, dairy, meat, eggs, etc)

(Meats and cheeses)

(And my favorite part: an ample yet varied selection of good beer)

And that's not all. If you're looking for a meal without all the effort, they also have made to order sandwiches. They offer chicken, ham, and roast beef. I've had the ham before and wasn't in a turkey mood, so I tried one of the roast beef sandwiches today. The sandwich (plus obligatory pickle spear), a Diet Coke, and a decent sized bag of Grippo's set my back about eight bucks. Not shabby at all.

The sandwich was roastbeef on sourdough with a swipe of horseradish and was topped with lettuce, onions, and bleu cheese. Very good stuff. I'm sure I'll be back before long to grab one of the turkey sandwiches.

Mayberry Foodstuffs is undoubtedly one of the best additions to the CBD in a long, long time. Sure, you're probably never going to be able to do 100% of your grocery shopping there, but that's not why they exist. If you live downtown, though, and are short a cup of sugar, I know of a neighbor who would be much obliged to help you out.

Mayberry Foodstuffs on Urbanspoon

Quick Review: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

(I'm going to keep this review extremely brief since I will be writing a more detailed review for the entire trilogy as one. The review for the Fellowship of the Ring can be found here.)

Five-second summary: Hobbits escapes orcs, strange treefolk, Isengard falls, Rohan to the rescue, Helm's Deep defended, part of the Fellowship reunited and split up again, Gollum, Sam and Frodo climb dark mountains, big spider attacks!, Frodo captured.

Pros: Great character development, excellent prose, attention to detail is almost unsurpassed (same as Fellowship) plus some good battles. By this time, I've about got all the names of people and places figured out. I guess it was just a matter of time.
Cons: Almost none. I wish that instead of placing the three separate parties' stories one after another, Tolkien would have instead mixed them together, chapter-wise, to keep the time elements straight between the them.

In the movie trilogy, this was my favorite. I'm thinking it will be in novel form, too. It takes everything that was great about the first part of the trilogy and gets rid of almost all of my complaints. You can tell Tolkien really was hitting his stride in The Two Towers. He essentially tells three stories in this one novel, which is very impressive. I'll hopefully be wrapping up The Return of the King this weekend and will have a quick review for it and then a more lengthy review for the entire trilogy next week.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quick Review: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

(I'm going to keep this review extremely brief since I will be writing a more detailed review for the entire trilogy as one.)

Five-second summary: Frodo given Ring, Fellowship joins together to aid him on his journey, mountains crossed, alot of walking, elves, orcs, and the Fellowship splits.

Pros: Great character development, excellent prose, attention to detail is almost unsurpassed
Cons: Sometimes difficult to follow places/characters being referred too, a bit too much walking/not enough fighting

Overall: While it drags a bit in parts, The Fellowship of the Ring sets the table perfectly for the following two novels. I give it four and a half stars out of five.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NYT Best Seller List (3/13/2011)

This list will appear in the March 13, 2011 print edition of the New York Times Book Review. The full list can be found here.


  1. TREACHERY IN DEATH, by J. D. Robb
  2. PALE DEMON, by Kim Harrison
  3. GIDEON’S SWORD, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  4. A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, by Deborah Harkness
  5. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge


  1. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
  2. KNOWN AND UNKNOWN, by Donald Rumsfeld
  3. DECISION POINTS, by George W. Bush
  4. AGAINST ALL ODDS, by Scott Brown
  5. CLEOPATRA, by Stacy Schiff


  1. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen
  2. CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese
  4. THE POSTMISTRESS, by Sarah Blake
  5. PRIVATE, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Paperback Mass-Market Fiction

  1. A CREED IN STONE CREEK, by Linda Lael Miller
  2. THIS SIDE OF THE GRAVE, by Jeaniene Frost
  3. HARVEST MOON, by Robyn Carr
  4. DREAMS OF A DARK WARRIOR, by Kresley Cole
  5. THE SILENT SEA, by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul

Paperback Nonfiction

  1. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
  2. INSIDE OF A DOG, by Alexandra Horowitz
  3. THE BIG SHORT, by Michael Lewis
  4. COMMITTED, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  5. THE GLASS CASTLE, by Jeannette Walls

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cutting the Cord: Time Warner Cable be damned!

When I moved to Cincinnati last summer, I was scouting the internet/cable provider scene. Not particularly surprisingly, the providers were no less weaselly than those I have dealt with in the past with other cities. Also not surprisingly, a behemoth of a company (Time Warner Cable) held a monopoly over the cable market over much of the city (including where I would be moving). As we've all learned in Econ 101, monopolies do not make for good service, price, or quality of goods in most cases. This is certainly the case with cable/internet providers. They are going to give you a little content you like, a lot you couldn't possibly care about, and they're going to bend you over the barrel monetarily for it.

I got one of those new customer deals with an introductory offer of $80.00 or so for the highest level internet, the basic HD cable package, and a DVR. Not terrible, but also not the best deal in the world. There certainly are other things I'd rather spend my money on. All was good in the world until six months later, when the introductory offer expired and the normal price commenced. $130.00! This was clearly unacceptable. Rather than call and threaten to cancel my service to get my prices lowered (monopolies will call your bluff), I decided on a different, more "extreme" option. I would cancel cable, chopping my bill in more than half.

Not only would I save money, but hopefully time, too. In retrospect, the amount of time I spend in front of a television watching some terrible show that I wouldn't possibly miss if it wasn't put in front of my lazy face is galling. Just terrible. Of course, there are movies and television shows I love. How would I get to watch these? Enter Netflix and Hulu Plus. I've had Netflix for ages and with the slow growth of their streaming collection, they present a reasonable alternative to cable. Ditto with Hulu. While the basic Hulu collection is a bit more limited, Hulu Plus contains back episodes and entire seasons for show. They have a mix of new and older shows (randomly: Alf).

To watch these, I have a slimline desktop PC hooked up to my television in the living room via HDMI and in the bedroom I have a neat, little Roku Player. The Roku Player is really cool. The size of a small paperback book, this little guy allows you to stream Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon VOD, and various other sources on content wirelessly. You can also hook it up with a wired connection if your wireless connection is too week for streaming HD video.

The question that must be asked: how is it going so far? Actually, not that bad. I miss some cable channels like the Food Network, but it's only a minor inconvenience. The other thing, which is much larger of an inconvenience, is the lack of live sport options. For this, I'll probably drop some money for an over the air cable antenna since most of the sports I watch will be on the local major networks. I'm certainly still early in and it still feels a little weird to not be able to flip on the boob tube and decompress, but I think it's going to take. It's not terrible and things will only get better as current streaming service improve and new ones emerge. Obviously I'll never be able to cut my bill completely as I need internet for most of these services, it is a decent start

If anyone else is interested in getting rid of their cable service and need pointers or tips, just let me know. I'd be happy to share my experiences with all the services I've dealt with so far.