Targus Compact Lap Desk Review

December 2, 2009

One of the aggravations of business travel is the sheer inconvenience of having to place your laptop computer on, um, your lap.  Laptops really don’t lend themselves to being propped up on your thighs while you simultaneously attempt to balance the laptop, type coherently, and avoid knocking over that Starbuck’s cup that’s sitting on the floor between your feet. 

Solutions to this problem abound.  Not good ones, but solutions nonetheless:  laptop stands with telescoping legs that fold up to fit inside your briefcase (barely leaving room for your computer);   hunks of masonite with padding on the bottom that are so bulky they can barely fit into your carry-on luggage; books (too small); clipboards (slippery and too small to boot); and all sorts of other nonsensical and nonfunctional ideas that you can find on any day at any airport in the country.  In addition to being impractical, most of these things have no place to put a mouse, and I’m not that fond of touchpads, even after years of using them.  My little wireless Microsoft mouse needs a place to run!

This little annoyance reared its ugly head again when I began to write this blog.  I generally try to write in the evenings, when I’m comfortably ensconced in my recliner in front of the TV.  I definitely need a lap desk, and it has to be easy to set aside when I leap up during commercials for a quick trip to the loo.   Well, when we returned from our Thanksgiving travels, there was a package sitting in front of the door.   It was from Targus, a company that specializes in bags, computer gadgets and other gear for road warriors.  I’d hate to think how many dollars I’ve spent on their stuff over the years, and with good reason, because it’s useful, sturdy, and worth the price.  The last time I filled out a registration card for a product of theirs, I checked the box to indicate an interest in evaluating future products.  In response, they sent me a Targus Compact Lap Desk for review.  For the last several days, I’ve been using it regularly, so here are my impressions.  The photos below were swiped from the Targus website:

Fig. 1 - Targus Compact Lap Desk

Fig. 2 - The Lap Desk folded for use as a stand


I was admittedly skeptical when I removed the lap desk from its package.  It is extremely light, so light that you might be concerned about its ability to support the weight of a laptop.  The card in the package says, “Fits laptops up to 17”, which would seem to be a tall order given that this thing is folded in the middle.  In fact, it’s quite sturdy and flexes very little in use.  My laptop weighs 5-1/2 pounds, and when centered on the lap desk, is perfectly supported.  It also stays nicely in place, thanks to the eight non-skid rubber pads around the periphery of the desk.  These pads also serve another important purpose: when your mouse is on one of the mouse pad areas to the left or right of the laptop, the rubber pads “trap” the mouse at the top and bottom to keep it from sliding off of the lap desk.  Everything stays in place with little effort.  The corner pads also serve as protection, to keep the rigid platform edges from digging into your wrist as you use the mouse. 

The mouse pad areas are a bit small, but I’ve found them generally adequate for my needs.  One small complaint:  the mouse pad itself is nicely matte finished, but it’s bounded by glossy black, so if you slip past the boundaries of the matte area, your mouse may go haywire as it passes over the glossy surface.  My cursor shot all over the screen when this happened.  But after a couple of occurrences, I became accustomed to staying inside the lines, and it ceased to be a problem.

Folding the lap desk in half allows you to use it as a stand to support your laptop at an angle on a desk or table (Fig. 2).  There is a brace with adjustable stops to set the keyboard angle, and the vent slots improve cooling by promoting air circulation around the computer.  These slots are also helpful when the unit is on your lap in unfolded mode.    When folded flat, the lap desk is less than 5/8” thick, and weighs about nineteen ounces.  It fits easily in a computer bag, and the weight, though not inconsequential, is worth carrying.

All in all, the engineering of this simple device has to be experienced to be appreciated.  I’ve found it to be very useful, with very few quirks.  But one question still comes to mind: is this chunk of plastic worth thirty bucks?   In my opinion, it is.  One issue that has always been raised about Targus products is that they are expensive, and I can’t argue with that.  But as a long-time road warrior myself, I can only say that their products typically don’t break, and that makes them worth more than the flimsy junk with which they compete in the marketplace.  Targus understands that a travel product has to stand up to hard use without failing in service, so they invest extra engineering time and put premium materials in their products.   They earn the extra bucks that they charge, and their success is a result of that effort.

The Targus Compact Lap Desk sells for $29.95.  Check it out at http://www.targus.com/us/product_details.aspx?sku=AWE56US


Deep-Fried Turkey – It’s a “Guy Thing”

November 23, 2009

What activity provides the opportunity to buy dangerous new gear, play with fire, drink beer out-of-doors, and potentially burn down your house?  You guessed it, we’re deep-frying a turkey!

 Actually, I deep-fried my turkey a couple of years ago, and I’ll be doing it again this year, though not for Thanksgiving – we’ll be out of town with family.  When I last had Thanksgiving dinner at my house, I decided to go the deep-fried route.  After all, the method has quite a few advantages over roasting.  The bird takes an hour to cook instead of four or more, the resulting product is very tender and much moister than a comparable roast turkey, and the skin is crispy and tasty beyond belief.  On the other hand, there’s that issue with potentially burning down your house and, worse yet, risking the possibility of third degree burns over your entire body!  Yep, that’s what makes it attractive to guys.  There’s nothing more exciting than risking your life to deliver dinner to the family. 

All levity aside, this is actually an activity you should NOT ENTER INTO LIGHTLY.  I highly recommend that you read up on the safety issues associated with outdoor fryers well before you try this.  Get a good turkey fryer, not a cheap one.  This means sturdy, heavy, and with regard to the burner, powerful but controllable.  Read all instructions.  Then read the accounts of others who’ve done it successfully, i.e., without burning down the house or ending the day in the emergency room. 

The propane hose is wrapped in foil for protection. Note the fire extinguisher under the table.

I strongly suggest that you look at Alton Brown’s recipe at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/deep-fried-turkey-recipe/index.html.  Alton actually goes overboard on the safety aspects, but I must agree with most of his recommendations, especially the part about having a fire extinguisher handy! 

I followed most of Alton’s instructions, starting with brining the turkey for 16 hours before frying.  This is accomplished by icing down the turkey in a large cooler and immersing it in brine containing ice water, kosher salt, and brown sugar.  This process will keep the turkey moist, improve the browning of the skin, and dramatically enhance the flavor. 

I did NOT build a turkey derrick, as Alton suggests in his video, but otherwise I followed his safety recommendations.  He suggests that you place the turkey into the oil at 250 degrees, then bring the temperature up to 350.  Removing the turkey at an internal temperature of 151 degrees will result in a final internal temperature of 160 or so.  I prefer to go a bit higher than that, so I removed the turkey at 160 and it drifted up to about 172.

The result is shown below.  I think everyone should try this at least once.  Once you do, you may never go back to roasting.  One final suggestion: don’t drink too much beer until the turkey is safely on the platter!

The final product - yum!

The Leaf-Bagging Workout

November 16, 2009

I love my Billy Goat blower - it rocks!

When we returned from Myrtle Beach, we were greeted by the sight of a lawn completely covered in leaves.  Having already removed 14 bags of leaves from the lawn prior to our departure, I was not looking forward to tackling the newly fallen layer.   You see, I live in Mentor, Ohio, an otherwise fairly progressive municipality which nevertheless has an incredibly primitive and backward trait; namely, the total lack of any kind of curbside leaf pick-up.  Warning: ranting & raving begins here: Virtually every other city for miles around has trucks circulating throughout the neighborhood, sucking up vast piles of leaves from treelawns and carrying them off for disposal.  The denizens of these other cities have merely to blow or rake their leaves to the curb, and a day or two later – POOF – they disappear!  Not those of us in Mentor, Ohio (are you reading this, Councilman Micchia?).  We are required to place our leaves in 30 gallon paper bags of a type and size approved by the city, and to transport them to curbside on trash day.  We are limited to setting out no more than 25 bags per week.  HA!!!  I put out 56 bags last week, followed by 69 bags this week, and if the trash guys don’t pick this week’s bags up, they’ll be lookin’ at a stack of a hundred or so by next Thursday!  Fortunately, the guys who pick up the trash are smarter than the guys who wrote the city ordinance in the first place.  End of rant.

Anyway, in an effort to control my blood pressure, I decided to concentrate on the positive aspects of this leaf-removal experience.  I now think of this chore as a customized workout, designed to build up my abs and biceps, improve my stamina, and provide aerobic exercise that I’d otherwise have to pay for by joining a gym.  So here are the components of the Leaf-bagging Workout – give it a try, it’ll help you burn off a few calories!

Blower-pushing Boogie: this exercise is a real workout for the legs.  Build up those glutes and hamstrings as you push that blower around, and around, and around, and around………

Doin' the Boogie!

The Stoop & Scoop: Build up your lats, delts, biceps, and triceps while stretching your back and abs.  Scoop up those leaves!

Stre-e-e-etch those back muscles!

The Power Ram: A great ab and back exercise that also works your shoulders, forearms and wrists.  Packing those leaves down makes room for the next rep of the Stoop & Scoop!


The Funnel Jerk & Flip:  Another arm and shoulder workout – and you’re ready to repeat the whole set!

Oh yeah, I'm really getting too old for this s#%$ !

Ain’t it fun?

Baggin’ Update:   As of 11/16/2009, we have now filled 172 bags, and the leaves are still falling…….

Myrtle Beach Notes, Vol. 2 – Carolina Barbecue

November 3, 2009
Myrtle Beach 102509 087

Paapa's Barbecue has a thin, vinegar-based sauce with smoke and cayenne

A Brief Exploration of Carolina Barbecue

In my previous post, I described Mama Jean’s Home Cooking, which features Paapa’s Hickory Smoked Barbecue. Paapa’s is a typical Carolina barbecue – pork shoulder, smoked in a hickory-rich environment, the temperature low enough to take a long time to cook the meat. The final product is pulled from the bone, mixed with a vinegar, tomato, and pepper-based marinade (which is also the basting sauce used in the smoking process), and chopped. The resulting barbecue may be doused with more sauce, eaten as-is, or piled on a sandwich and covered in coleslaw for consumption. It is delectable, tender, juicy, smoky, and just plain good. But it’s not the only barbecue to be found in the Carolinas.

There’s also a barbecue referred to as East Carolina barbecue, available either pulled, sliced or chopped. This is also a smoked pork shoulder, but it is not typically marinated or basted with a vinegar-based mop sauce. It is often rubbed with a dry mixture of spices, usually secret in nature, smoked slowly at a temperature of 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit, then removed from the smoker and prepared for plating as above, either by pulling the meat from the bone, chopping it coarsely, or slicing as desired. The big difference is in the sauce, which is sweeter than the vinegar-based sauces, and very smoky in its own right, usually containing liquid smoke, molasses, tomato sauce, and a significant dash of chili pepper, either cayenne, chipotle, or similar.

Either of the two barbecues described above is equally applied to pork. However, the East Carolina version is often applied to beef brisket as well as pork, and the sauce is often applied to smoked chicken also.

I had the opportunity to experience East Carolina barbecue at its best on the way out of North Carolina at the aptly named Carolina Barbecue, in Statesville, NC. This restaurant was visited by Charles Kurault a few years back, and he was, to say the least, impressed with their product. A very unassuming little place, Carolina Barbecue has an attentive staff and a well-deserved pride in their primary offering. I should mention that we decided to get take-out and enjoy our meals at the hotel. I decided to try the brisket, while Sally opted for the chopped pork. The side dishes included coleslaw, baked beans, and hushpuppies. I opted for the barbecue slaw, another exclusive of the Carolina region – the slaw dressing contains a significant amount of barbecue sauce, providing a nice segue to the main course. The baked beans were spicy and smoky at the same time, and the hushpuppies were classic in nature – no added corn, jalapenos, or other inclusions, just straight fried cornmeal batter with a delectable brown outer crust giving way to a tender center.


Barbecued brisket, with the sweet East Carolina sauce, baked beans, and barbecue slaw - and boy, were those hushpuppies good!


Sally's pork plate had the same sauce, same sides except for the regular slaw - equally good!

Sally gave the pork five stars – it was tender, sweet, juicy, and very flavorful. As to the brisket, I must say this is the best barbecued brisket I’ve ever had outside of Texas, quite a compliment, given that Carolina cuisine really focuses on pork. Carolina Barbecue is famous for their cobbler, offering apple, cherry, blackberry, and other flavors as well. Several in our party enjoyed the cobbler and rated it very highly. I, however, had little choice but to follow the brisket plate with pecan pie, and I was not disappointed here, either. All in all, a better meal is not to be found in the neighborhood of Statesville, NC, and I recommend that if you are anywhere nearby, you should definitely make a side trip to Carolina Barbecue. Enjoy!


Sally said the peach cobbler was excellent - I wolfed down the pecan pie before I remembered to take a photo. Sorry about that....

Carolina Barbecue is located at 213 Salisbury Road, Statesville, NC 28677

Myrtle Beach Notes, Vol.1

October 26, 2009

 In the course of my job search, I decided to contact a few former business acquaintances and explore the employment opportunities elsewhere.  For various reasons, we elected to visit South Carolina.  A very good friend offered us the use of his condominium in Myrtle Beach, and that made the trip feasible.  So Sally, Andy, Sally’s parents, and I packed up the van and headed south.

 The first day we travelled through Ohio, West Virginia, and into North Carolina, stopping in Winston-Salem.  It rained incessantly throughout the entire journey.  Southern hospitality prevailed at the Holiday Inn Express, where we spent our first night out.  Although the Winston-Salem property is not of the newest design, the staff was courteous and friendly, and their service more than made up for any deficiencies in the facility.

We stopped at the Huddle House for a quick lunch, consisting of a chopped pork barbecue sandwich and onion rings.  I wasn’t expecting much from the BBQ, since Huddle House is a chain, albeit a small regional one. However, I was amazed to find that the chopped pork here is the real thing.  The sauce was sweeter than one would get further south, but very smoky, with a strong hint of spiciness.  The meat was slow-cooked, and the crusty burnt ends were chopped up along with everything else, resulting in a product that most Northerners wouldn’t even recognize as what they call barbecue. 

 We finally got a chance to walk on the beach and pick up a few shells the following morning.  Haven’t found any shark teeth yet, but we did get a chance to photograph some of the plant life, etc.

We had lunch north of Myrtle Beach, at Mama Jean’s Home Cooking, where we got some more barbecue, this time with the more familiar South Carolina vinegar-based sauce.  Again, the meat was sumptuous, and the coleslaw and hushpuppies completed the feast.  Magnificent!

After lunch, we checked out an antique mall and did some shopping. We decided to look for pizza near the condo, and luckily, found the Mellow Mushroom a stone’s throw away. Their pizza is incredible, loaded with toppings on a garlic-parmesan crust I can’t begin to describe. As Yogi Berra used to say, “Don’t miss it if you can.” Or something like that.

Gotta do some business tomorrow, but I’ll be posting more pics as the week progresses!


Sharing My Camera Collection on the Web

October 19, 2009
Kodak Bantam 4.5 c.1938-48

Kodak Bantam 4.5 c.1938-48

Since film cameras are becoming increasingly rare these days, I thought it might be interesting to start posting photos of the cameras in my collection. I’ve been collecting old cameras since I was about 12 years old, so the collection is pretty sizable. It isn’t, however, very valuable, since most of my collection consists of American made cameras. I’m particularly fond of folding cameras and non-folders made of bakelite. Some of these have Art Deco designs that are particularly nice.

Starting today, I’m beginning another blog titled “Old Cameras From My Collection” (link opens in a new window).  I’ll be working my way through the collection, photographing and writing about them, either individually or in groups. I’ll also be adding a brief bit of history on some of them, since the story of camera manufacturing in this country is both fascinating and unsung. Please check out this new blog as I construct it, and PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS. I’d really like to hear from you.

This blog, of course will continue to be about travel, family, local events, and photos of wherever I happen to be at any given time – so don’t stop coming here!

Summer’s Over, Winter’s Rolling in, What Happened to Fall?

October 14, 2009
View to the East from Lakefront Lodge
View to the East from Lakefront Lodge

Sunday, Sally and I stopped at Lakefront Lodge and walked down to the lakeshore to get a look at Lake Erie.  The wind was high, and the air coming off the lake was really cold.  One distinctive thing about Lake Erie’s beaches is their wild look when summer is over and the weather starts to get cold.   The beauty of the scenery is probably an acquired taste, since the sky is sometimes leaden and so is the water.  Nevertheless, I like to get out and walk around at this time of year.  I will, however, be praying for warmer weather – today it never got above 46 degrees!

Looking West toward Willoughby

Looking West toward Willoughby

Yes, the water looks grayer than the sky!

Yes, the water looks grayer than the sky!

A little blue sky really helps, even when it's cold

A little blue sky really helps, even when it's cold

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