Hello, and welcome to the first of a new series of columns from me called Wine Gear. In this space we’ll be reviewing wine accessories – those things that go along with sharing and enjoying wine.
I’ve tried a lot of them, and I intend on trying a lot more. So you might wonder what makes me qualified to test wine products? Well for six years I ran product testing at PC Week magazine, and I hosted the popular Fresh Gear product review show on cable network TechTV for five years – and most recently I was editor in chief of PC Magazine. I know how to test products, and I don’t pull any punches. I hope you’ll enjoy these columns, and make sure you comment, and let me know what you think!
With that let’s get into it.
Although I’m a big fan of wine, I often only want a glass or two with dinner, which leaves a half bottle or more left over. I’ve got a modest cellar, but many of my wines are both ready to drink, and too expensive to throw half away. And there’s the rub – how do I save a half bottle of wine for a day or two without it going flat?
I’ve tried a wide variety of pumps, gizmos, corks and gadgets, but none seemed to work. Finally, a few years ago I settled on Private Preserve - spray cans of inert argon gas that create a neutral layer on top of any remaining liquid.
It worked well, but it wasn’t perfect. Even after one night that really great bottle would often be flat and uninspiring. But it was better than nothing, and at least it worked a good portion of the time. Still, I was loathe to open up any really good bottles of wine, unless I was in a mood to down the whole thing, or friends were over to share it. And so the bulk of my cellar kept aging and aging.
Recently I discovered a new product designed to preserve wine – this time from Australia. The Wine Shield is an odd product, and at first blush it really shouldn’t work. The shield is basically a plastic disc, about the diameter of a wine bottle, with the outer radius sliced diametrically in a radial pattern to allow it to fit different sized bottles. To insert it into a bottle, you wrap it around an included plastic fork, slip it in, and then let it tumble. The disk ends up floating on top of any left-over wine, creating a seal that promises to stop oxidization and preserve the rest of the bottle.
Why would a simple plastic shield work where pumps, sprays and others failed? I was skeptical, but I figured I’d try it – at least I’d be able to check another wine gizmo off the list.
Surprisingly, it worked. Not all the time, but the success rate was about similar to Private Preserve. Great, though now I have two things that work reasonably well, but are still prone to failure. I still wasn’t willing to take a chance on those 2000 Bordeauxs, or that 1995 Merryvale Vineyards Profile I was waiting to drink.
But then I had a flash of inspiration. What about COMBINING the two? Maybe working together they might provide a shield that would reliably work for 24 hours, and perhaps even for a few days or longer.
So like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I put two great tastes together and gave it a shot. And it worked better than I’d even hoped. Every single bottle I used with my combo stayed virtually intact for 24 hours. I started stretching it to two days, and the combo held up nicely as well. After that it was hit or miss, but I’ve kept bottles of Tempranillo, for example, for up to four days without losing any body, taste or smell.
So I put it to the test. I grabbed three bottles of Beronia Reserve 2005 and put them to the test. I opened all three simultaneously and tasted them. All good. I poured a glass off from each, and then stoppered one with PrivatePreserve, the next with a WineShield, and the third with my combination. After an hour or so I tasted each of the glasses, and they were in fine shape!
A day later I came back and poured off a glass from each of the three bottles. I detected some fading in both the PrivatePreserve and the WineShield bottles, but both were very drinkable. My combo was still going strong.
By the second day, both the PP and WS bottles were noticeably fading - Drinkable, but only barely. I poured them out. The combo bottle was vibrant and alive, and still tasted like it had when I opened it. By day three it was still pretty good, but I could easily detect it fading. By day four I tasted the last glass, but there was very little left. I poured it down the sink.
So there you have it. If you’re like me and are looking for a good way to save a half-opened bottle for a day or two, my combo route offers the best alternative I’ve found to date. Sure it’s more expensive than either alone, but unless you’re drinking Two-Buck Chuck, the price is well worth it!
When it comes to wine gear, there are probably more variants of wine bottle openers than any other product on the market – aside from glasses. There are rabbit-shaped openers, winged openers, T-shaped models, jack-knife corkscrews blades and even those (to me) impossibly inscrutable two-pronged jobbers that are typically wielded by snooty waiters looking for an outsized tip.
This article, however, is not about any of those. Instead, it’s focused on the lazy-man’s corkscrew, those that promise to suck up a cork – like an elephant inhales peanuts – with just the touch of a button.
I put two of the more popular models to the test, the chic and sleek Waring Pro WO 50 (usually $90 at Amazon, but on sale while I was writing this for just over $30), and the stubby Ozeri Nuveau Electric Corkscrew (also listing at $90, but on sale for $26 when I checked).
Let’s talk about looks first. If you’re considering an electric corkscrew, chances are you’re looking to both ease the cork extraction process and impress your friends. Since they’re cordless, you’ll probably be wielding the tool like a mason wields his trowel, and looks definitely count. In that category, the Waring wins hands down. The long, sleek shaft of the opener sits in an attractive base that also charges the built-in battery and includes a tuck-in foil cutter. The black base and stainless steel and black opener are attractive, and would look at home in even the highest-end kitchen or wine cellar.
Compared to the Waring, the Ozeri is just plain ugly - like comparing an F16 fighter to the A-10 Thunderbolt – aka the Warthog. But like that plane, it’s deadly effective, and fun to use to boot. The Ozeri comes in three different colors – silver, red and black. But where the Waring is an enclosed cylinder, half of the Ozeri is made of clear plastic, which lets you actually watch your cork being extracted and then expelled from the opener. The Ozeri, too, runs on built-in rechargeable batteries, although it lacks an elegant charging base. But in a clever twist, the top of the charger itself is also a detachable foil cutter – pretty slick.
So that’s form. Let’s talk function. I ran each through a case or so of bottles over the course of a summer party, and both openers did a good job in my tests of separating cork from bottle. Although their opening skills were similar, I give the nod to the Ozeri, primarily because it let me actually watch the cork as it was pulled, and bathed the cork in a neat blue LED light to boot.
But getting the cork out is only half the battle. The openers both include a reverse switch, which is designed to expel the cork in one piece. And here, alas, the Waring collapsed. On more than one occasion the cork got caught up in the machinery, and crumbled while being extracted. And that left pieces of cork firmly wedged inside the opener, which required an extraction process not dissimilar to that performed by an oral surgeon. The corks that got caught up did not seem overly dry, so in the end I blame it on the tool, not the user or the substrate.
The Ozeri, by contrast, did a great job expelling corks – all were released in good enough condition to reuse, recycle, or turn into twee cork-art, depending on your inclination.
Although I didn’t open enough wines to drain the batteries, suffice it to say that either would last for nearly any party – apart from a graduation, Kennedy wedding, or other similarly massive and sodden affairs. Waring claims its opener will extract up to 80 corks on a single charge, while the Ozeri says it’s good for 40. Either way, that’s probably more than you’ll regularly need in a single night – even if your in-laws are visiting.
Unfortunately, though, the Waring seems to have a battery defect. I couldn’t confirm this, but more than one purchaser on Amazon claims that when they drained the Waring’s battery completely without dropping it back into its charger, the opener failed to recharge, turning it into a useless piece of cylindrical plastic.
The Ozeri is not without its detractors online either – but only for the springiness of its snap off foil cutter, which for some lost its gripping ability over time. Again, after considerable, but irregular use of both over the last few months I have not encountered either of these problems, but you should know that those experiences are out there.
So which to buy? I have to recommend the Ozeri. Although I love the looks of the Waring, and the charging base is a nice touch, the functionality of the Ozeri – especially when it comes to expelling the cork – makes it a winner. And frankly, those reported battery problems with the Waring scare me. Even better, the Ozeri can be found online for a few bucks less.
OK, first let me state that I’m a sucker for gaming mice - even though I’m not much of a PC gamer any more. I love the sleek feel, crazy lights and multi-buttons, and have used a wide range of them.
But my current favorite has to be the new NAOS 5000. It’s got all kinds of crazy weights (which I have no idea why I need, but I love the tweakability), awesome DPI - which means it works on most all surfaces, and crazy lights galore. Plus it feels good in my hand. So if you’re looking for some sweet rodentia, and Microsoft and Logitech aren’t doing it for you, consider the NAOS. It’s a great mouse, and you can spend countless hours making it just right for you!
Yes, $80 is a lot for a mouse, but it sure is a great one! From Mionix!
The annual Consumer Electronics Show has come to an end, and along with all the cool new products, surprisingly there were even more wacked products on the show floor than usual.
We’ve wrapped up the wackiest, weirdest, most bizarre and biggest FAIL products from the show floor this year, guaranteed to surprise, delight and keep you LOLing and ROFLing with glee.
Here’s a partial list of our dubious winners:
Angry Birds - the board game: That’s right, soon you’ll be able to play an IRL version of Rovio’s Angry Birds. The pigs are running scared already. From Mattel
Nanda Home Tocky & Clocky: Having trouble getting up in the morning? Did your iPhone alarm clock fail at the worst possible time? Well these wacky alarm clocks just don’t take no for an answer. They bounce around, roll crazily on the floor, and basically offer more annoyance per square inch than a teething toddler.
Be A Head Case: Speaking of the iPhone - and just in time for the Verizon iPhone, this here’s an iPhone case designed for all you Bubbas out there. It includes a built in beer bottle opener - and a belt clip to disguise it!
iGrill: And what goes with beer better than charred meat? But not too charred (and not too rare either). This wireless meat probe from iDevices connects to your iPhone and lets you know just how hot your meat really is.
There’s tons more, including a couple of exercise toys that flog the dolphin even better than the Shake Weight, balls that you control with your iPhone, and even USB jewelry (so pimp).
WATCH the 19 Dumbest Products From CES 2011
So far 3D has been a failure. The bulky glasses and expensive sets - not to mention the lack of content - have made it less than a savior for the CE industry.
But that all changed today at CES, as Sony released it’s new camcorder - a Handycam that lets just about anyone shoot 3D video.
This amazing Sony 3D camera lets you monitor your video in 3D without glasses. It’s the first ever camera to include 2 lenses, two image sensors and two complete processing paths! And it also makes it drop dead easy to create in 3D - now anyone can do it.
But what about editing? Our exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Sony’s HDR-TD10 also includes a look at a new 3D editing device coming soon from Sony too. It’ll be available in April for $2,000!
Watch Exclusive Video of Sony’s 3D Camcorder, and See How It Works!
We’ll have much more from CES as the show progresses. For all the updates, bookmark our CES 2011 special report!
There are a wide range of ways to stream audio from your iPhone to your car stereo, from the mini-jack to bluetooth and more. But they all involve fumbling with a separate unit, which can be downright dangerous on the road.
Now there’s a better way! The new O’car actually makes your iPhone or iPod Touch an integral part of the stereo. You hop into the car, plug the iPhone into your head unit, and it turns into an automotive device - letting you listen to music, see GPS and use heads up navigation and much more.
A downloadable app integrates the phone’s OS and software into the head unit - and the iPhone actually swivels horizontally and vertically - this has to be seen to be believed! It also includes a 4×55 watt amp with a subwoofer control, and even supports multitasking (although we’re not sure how).
The unit will be available in the first quarter of 2011 for around $300
See the Amazing iPhone Car Stereo In Action!
2009 saw a land grab the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of the railroads. Greedy software companies and websites tried to cash in on the cellphone app store hype, and released tens of thousands of new programs for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
Many of them were quite good, but some of them were atrocious. And the dreck wasn’t solely the province of no-name companies either. Our five worst applications for 2010 come from some household names. So here’s the list, and don’t miss the video from our expert team of reviewers at App Judgment, they saw thousands of programs this year, and spent hours fighting over who would make the worst of the year!
Photoshop.com Mobile for the IPhone: About the best thing you can say about this application was that it was free. Everything else was disappointing, from the interface to the functionality. There are far better photo apps for your phone, from a variety of lesser known companies. Photoshop may lead the world on the PC and the Mac, but it sucks on the iPhone.
Worst 5 list continues below
SEE WHY THESE FIVE APPS ARE SO DREADFUL!
Hold On! : Sure, many 2009 apps provided mindless entertainment. And that’s what this iPhone app aspired to do as well. But it failed utterly, completely and spectacularly - unless you’re prone to repeating stupifying tasks for days on-end to make the Guiness Book of World Records. The point of the program? Hold down an on-screen red dot for as long as you can. What a waste of .99.
Will You (Marry Me)? : Love was decidedly *not* in the air when we looked at this program The premise? Rather than buying a real ring, the iphone app simply displayed a jewel box opening up to reveal a digital diamond inside. One of our one reviewers even called it the anti-Viagra, and she was being too kind.
QIK: Let’s say you build up a fantastically successful company that lets anyone stream video from their cellphones to the internet, and through it to anyone in the world. Your first program runs on Nokia phones - nice to look at, but hardly world-beaters when it comes to apps and users. So you port it to the iPhone. You would expect it to, well, allow iPhone users to stream video to the world from wherever they are, wouldn’t you? We did. But it didn’t. Another “win” for AT&T’s ticky-tack 3G network. What a waste of pixels.
Shead Spreet: The name wasn’t the only mixed up part of this Android application. As smart phones became both business tools and entertainment devices, a wide variety of business-oriented programs launched. This one claimed to put a full-featured spreadsheet in your pocket, but failed miserably. With bad import features, poor data entry, and lame customization, it brought to mind the worst of Visicalc, Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro and early Excel. Heck, even Windows Mobile worked better than this crapplet. Sometimes free really is too expensive.
It wasn’t all bad. There were tons of great apps released this year too. Tomorrow we’ll put up our list of the five best apps of the year, including a surprising number one!
Unlike many of my co-workers, I’m not ready to give up cable – or in this case DirecTV. First, my wife would divorce me - although my son and I could definitely make it work. But even if we’re not ready to join the “rip-cord” generation, I thought I was ready to replace some of those premium services that are also available on the ‘net.
First on my list: the $200 I spend every year on DirecTV’s Extra Innings Baseball package. For the last 8 years it’s been a godsend for this California-based Mets fan – but it’s gotten more expensive each year. I do love seeing 4 or 5 games each week in HD, but I’ve gotten more and more rankled both by the price, and the lack of Saturday games (Fox owns those contests, and they rarely feature east coast teams out here).
MLB.TV has offered live streaming of every baseball game for a few years. I tried it for a month in 2007 when I was in London, and it was passable – small window, jerky action, but better than nothing. Last year they moved to Silverlight and it was useless, so I didn’t even try.
But this year I was intrigued: MLB.TV reverted back to flash, and added in a new HD feature, along with DVR functionality. The DVR and on-demand features are essential to me, as most games start at 4pm while I’m still at work. Unlike many sports fans, I have no problem TiVo-ing a game and watching it a few hours later – I just avoid twitter and the other Mets fans in the office (Hey Ron Richards and Ryan Daume – it’s really nothing personal) when the games are on.
Every game in HD, on-demand, for $110. Could this be the year that I ditched DirecTV’s baseball package, saved $90, and saw EVERY game I wanted, wherever I happened to be? Gosh I sure hoped so.
Two days into the season I had the perfect opportunity to compare one to the other. My DirecTV DVR mysteriously cancelled its scheduled recording of the second game of the season – one I really wanted to watch. So after calling DirecTV and threatening to bolt, I subscribed to a month of the MLB package, with high hopes.
Alas, they were quickly dashed. Four days later I cancelled the MLB service and made up with DirecTV. Although the MLB.TV package is much improved from last year, it’s still not good enough. Here are the four reasons why:
- Quality: I love HD. I have a 42” and 52” flat screen and HD baseball is simply stunning. Although MLB.TV promises true HD, and I more than the 3 megabits of downstream bandwidth to support it, the quality pales. My Dell 1330 has an HDMI out port, so I was able to compare MLB.TV and HD DirecTV baseball side by side. Even at 12 feet, the MLB.TV picture was noticeably inferior, with blotchy pixilation and poor motion. It was better than an SD stream, but just barely.
- Consistency: When you’re watching DirecTV, either live or via DVR, it just works. Dropped video and audio glitches happen, but rarely more than once a game, and many (if not most) games are glitch free. Not MLB.TV. Even after I adjusted the quality level way down, I still suffered regular dropped frames, stalled video, and other glitches. At least three times while watching a weekend worth of MLB.TV games – both live and on-demand – the signal just stopped for no good reason. With one game, I was unable to progress past the opening frames of the 8th inning, no matter what I did. For no apparent reason the signal just stopped. I even waited until the next morning to see if I’d be able to see that inning on-demand, but it simply wouldn’t play – a heartbreak, because the Mets scored five runs in that inning, as I later found out, and put the game out of reach.
- DVR functionality: I don’t think anyone at MLB.TV has ever used a DVR to watch a baseball game. Last year’s Silverlight implementation was dreadful, this year’s is simply bad. With my DirecTV DVR I can fast forward or reverse at four different speeds, and do a 30 second skip or slip forward, along with a 7 second instant-replay style skip backwards. The MLB player has none of these. Instead, you can drag the slider forward towards an approximation of where you want to be, or use the fast forward/rewind button. Those buttons are impossible to accurately control, which is compounded by the fact that MLB replaces the ad breaks between innings with a hideous promotion for the MLB.TV service that its customers have already subscribed to – made painfully worse because it touts features that have yet to be delivered. It’s an instant “buyer’s remorse” reminder, replayed over and over at least 16 times per game. There’s no 30 second forward skip, no instant-replay, and worst of all, the controls that are implemented can’t be controlled by the standard Windows player buttons found on many notebooks and remote controls. My Dell IR remote was useless, meaning that I had to get up every half inning to fiddle with the controls to try to bypass the inane intermission ads – ultimately unsuccessfully
- Video On Demand: MLB.TV has one nice feature – if you watch after the game has ended, you can jump directly to any half inning. Alas, MLB even botched that one up. They promise that the on-demand version will be available “soon” after the live stream disappears (which happens immediately after the game is actually over). Their definition of “soon” and mine, apparently, are far different. Midnight on the west coast – five hours after the game ended – is way too long for “soon” to apply.
There’s a lot to like in the MLB.TV package, including access to every game, video and audio from both home and away announcers, and the ability to watch on any PC or notebook. But for this fan, at least, it’s not ready for prime time. It’s close though – I could overlook one of the previous glitches, but all four just make it not worth the money. But since MLB.TV keeps getting better each year, I have high hopes.
Next on my hit list – DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket. $200 for 100 games works out to about $2 a game, or less than a dollar an hour of enjoyment. With Sunday Ticket, I end up spending about $25 a Patriots game, as many of them are on free TV. That’s nearly $10 an hour, so I’m a bit more motivated to find an alternate solution. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.
There’s a conceit practiced by modern-day game developers that I think is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s that gamers will start playing, and then just keep playing, day in and day out, until they either finish the game or stomp away in frustration.
But that’s not how it works in real life, at least for gamers who actually have a real life.
Photo: Shadow Viking
I love epic video games. But I don’t always have the time to play them straight through until completion. Occasionally I have to go to work, play with my family, pay bills, coach basketball, or some other RW task. Sometimes those things can conspire to keep me from a great game for days, even weeks at a time.
Then when I come back, there’s that sense of fog. Of questioning. Of "WTF do I do now?"
It’s the same feeling I get when I read a great Sci-fi/Fantasy book that’s part of a longer series - but the sequel has yet to be published. Good multi-book authors always include a plot summary at the top of subsequent installments, whether it’s explicit, or implied in the first chapter(s).
But the vast majority of games don’t do that at all. And it’s frustrating as all heck.
Take the latest Zelda game from Nintendo, Twilight Princess. I stopped playing a few months ago, can’t remember why. But I’m on vacation this week, and thought I’d pick it up again. But I’m clueless as to what to do next. Sure, there’s always Thelma’s Bar, but it’s useless. And yeah, I could look up a walkthrough, and try to compare what I have (three mirror shards, ball and chain, etc) and compare them to where I need to be. But even those are imperfect - I’ve tried.
So here I am, wanting to finish a great game, but stymied by the game’s inability to tell me what I need to do next.
Some games get it. Paper Mario, for example, has a wizard who can tell you what to do next - for a few coins.
Why doesn’t every game do that? It should. Because if gaming wants to move beyond the hard-core it needs to embrace a changing gaming rythm and flow. Because not everyone who *could* enjoy that game will have an uninterrupted flow of hours and hours across days and days to play your game. And with complicated plot twists, a multitude of quests and wide-open worlds, more and more of us are going to need that "FAIL" function that will help us get back into the game. Broaden your audience game developers, and realize that not everyone games like you do.