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Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: Vision - The Complete Series - Director's Cut

I never really paid much attention to Vision as a character until I saw the Age of Ultron. Paul Bettany's performance as Vision was great, and so when marvel had a $1 sale for the Eisner award winning graphic novel I picked it up.

The pace of the book is great, with plenty of foreshadowing, and reveals galore. I enjoyed the Vision's attempt to construct a fully synthesized family, and how well integrated his backstory was (including his former relationship with the Scarlet Witch). The book attempts to juxtapose the Vision's role as white house adviser and superhero with his attempt to lead a normal life with his family.

There are a few false notes, the worst of which is the book's attempt to explain P vs NP. If you don't want your kids to grow up with an incorrect understanding of what an NP problem is, keep this book out of their hands! On the other hand, the Marvel universe has always treated Physics, Chemistry, and the various hard sciences as being optional rules, so maybe it was time for Computer Science to get its turn at getting bent.

As a superhero book, it's superior: the characterization is great, and the plot has many elements of classic tragedy: one bad decision leads to another, over and over until things fall apart. Recommended. Just try not to wince too hard when the discussion of CS theory comes up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A case of too much privacy

The current brouhaha about the Cambridge Analytica use of Facebook data has gotten lots of people to talk about privacy and the use of Facebook. My take on the situation is that now I know why in recent years there's been a spate of "Quizes on the internet" spreading on Facebook: it's information gathering.

I, personally, think that our "big bad overlords" like Google and Facebook aren't actually making good use of their data. For instance, even after you've already bought a product from Amazon, ads for that product continue following all around the internet. Don't sell me the product, sell me accessories for the product. Or show me competitive products in the hopes that I might return the first one and buy the second one instead!

One particular use case bothers me: when touring, I'll use Google maps to derive a cycling route to a location. After deciding between a few alternatives, I'll fire up my Wahoo ELEMNT app and then try to get it to route me to that location. Wahoo ELEMNT proudly tells me that it's "powered by Google Maps", indicating that they use the Google API to derive their routing directions and then pass that along to myWahoo Bolt. But 9 times out of 10, the route shown to me on the Wahoo ELEMNT isn't even close to what the Google maps app shows me! ON THE SAME PHONE! I want Google to derive from my phone's IP (or other identification) and give me the exact same route I just found on Google Maps. But no. Where's my evil overlord when I need one?!!

One of Garmin's best recently introduced features is Garmin's Heat Maps routing. Unfortunately, they only use it to suggest loop rides. That's silly. When I'm touring, I don't want to ride a loop! I want to get to a certain destination. And since I'm cycling, I want to use routes favored by other cyclists. Heck, I'd love it if Garmin profiled me and gave me the perfect route for when I'm riding on my single bike vs riding on the tandem with my son. But again, despite having all that data (which Google probably also has), they refuse to do anything useful with it.

In any case, I don't want to argue against privacy (or that Facebook shouldn't be punished for not revealing about how that data was used until 2 years after the fact). I just think that when it comes to using customer data, the big tech companies both go too far while simultaneously do not go far enough.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: The Tangled Lands

The Tangled Lands belongs to Paolo Bacigullpi's peculiar brand of ecological fiction: the environmental allegory. This time, he teams up with Tobias Bucknell to bring us the world of the Tangled Lands, a fantasy world where magic exists, but the use of magic makes bramble grow, but not necessarily in the immediate vicinity. This bramble is a particularly evil plant: anyone pricked by it falls asleep (think Cinderella), but unlike in Cinderella, this doesn't put the person into suspended animation: the flesh can still be preyed upon by various creepy-crawlies, etc. In any case, since the fantasy world doesn't have advanced technology, healing, etc has to be done by magic, and this puts the inhabitants of the world in a dilemma. Use magic, and cause bramble to grow (and it's very difficult to cut back), or live without the conveniences and (occasionally) life-saving magic and watch your neighbors do it.

The 4 short stories (2 contributed by each author) in the book explore the implications of this world: the wealthy and powerful use their privilege to crush the less well endowed, and even suppress technologies that could resolve the dilemma. Disappointingly, there's no overall arc in the stories: they're all unrelated to one another, and the result is that while each story is individually in and of itself relatively well-written with good characters, by the end of the second story you feel that the authors of exhausted the implications of the world they've created and are just committed to showing you how desperate the folks who live in it are.

While this in itself isn't a bad thing, I feel like the world has much more potential, and the authors could have made better use of the reader's time and theirs in crafting stories set in it. Perhaps a follow up novel would be much more worth your time.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: Columbia Outdry Ex Gold Pants

My old pair of rain pants are so old that I've forgotten when I bought it. I want to say I bought it in Switzerland during one of the more rainy tours of the Alps (hence it must have been outrageously expensive), but it could easily have been in Austria. In any case, this winter, I discovered that it wasn't waterproof any more. (It might never have been waterproof, but the plasticky surface fooled me into thinking that it was)

Having had a great experience with the Columbia Mens Titanium Outdry Ex jacket, I bought the Gold Titanium Outdry Pants, which strangely enough are not actually gold, but are the same color as the jacket I bought. Whoever names these clothing items at Columbia must be even more color-blind than I am. (And before you tell me that it's obvious that "Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Titanium" must be obviously grade levels for gear quality, I have searched in vain on Columbia's website to see if there's any rhyme or reason to the metal-type they use in their branding and have found nothing)

The pants are relatively light at 286g for my size (size small, in both jacket and pants). They come with belt loops in addition to the elastic. That's good, because the elastic is insufficient to keep the pants up on my svelte waist, so I had to add a belt. It's also not good, because that means I have to carry a belt on tour! The pants also fold neatly into a pocket that's labeled "packable," a neat feature with no counterpart in the jacket! (Again, no rhyme or consistency in their product-line) The packed size is quite big, but the packing protects the shiny material so it won't wear out prematurely in  your pannier or saddlebag.

In practice the pants are big enough that I can wear normal (non-cycling) pants under it and ride comfortably. The pants flare out a bit too much at the bottom, so if you're a cyclist you MUST use ankle ties or the pants will get caught in the chain/chainrings eventually. Yet another thing to carry on tour. Clearly, it's designed more for hikers than for cyclists. Some complain that the pants are noisy, but they must be hikers: on my bike I can't tell, mainly because the rain drowns out any noise from the pants.

The pants do stay dry (which included time not just cycling, but also fixing a flat tire in the rain). They're also nice and warm (though how much of it was that I was wearing a whole layer of hiking pants underneath, I don't know), maybe a bit too warm. Not a problem on tour: just don't wear leg warmers under these pants. I wish the color was something bright (like the jacket), but again, these seem designed for hiking and not cycling, but I'd say that they're very good for what they do, and well worth the price. (Around $90 or so on sale) I'm discovering that I must be a Columbia fan, because my favorite pair of hiking pants (bought so long ago that I don't remember when) also say Columbia Titanium on them.

Recommended.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Why I'm not a Strava Premium Customer

Those who know me probably know that I'm a big Garmin and Strava user. Since the day Strava became free for all users to upload their rides, I've connected my Garmin devices to Strava and uploaded nearly every ride to Strava. (I don't make every ride public, since there's no point cluttering up my friends' feeds with every run to the grocery store, drug store, etc) When I write my tour reports, every day has a Strava route map front and center.

I was wondering why I was so opposed to paying for Strava, despite using it so much. Then one day, I got yet another ad on my feed remind me to pay up for Strava so that I could get my Suffer score. That triggered an "aha" insight. I don't ride my bike for suffering. I don't even ride my bike for exercise. One of my favorite jokes (that's occasionally attributed to me on the internet) came in the form of the Zen Koan:
A Zen Teacher saw five of his students return from the market, riding their bicycles. When they had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, "Why are you riding your bicycles?"
The first student replied, "The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!" The teacher praised the student, saying, "You are a smart boy. When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over, as I do." 
The second student replied, "I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path." The teacher commended the student, "Your eyes are open and you see the world." 
The third student replied, "When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant, nam myoho renge kyo." The teacher gave praise to the third student, "Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel." 
The fourth student answered, "Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all beings." The teacher was pleased and said, "You are riding on the golden path of non-harming." 
The fifth student replied, "I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle." The teacher went and sat at the feet of the fifth student, and said, "I am your disciple."
 Strangely enough, the only time when I felt like I was willing to pay for an internet cycling service was with RideWithGPS, where I once found an interesting route, downloaded it to my Bolt, and then rode it with great happiness. (The web-site, unfortunately, was barely usable on a smartphone, which made it mostly useless when touring) Maybe RideWithGPS will provide a "pleasure score", or a "scenery score", or a "singing with children score."

As I get older, I realize that the best things in life aren't easily quantifiable or captured in a single (or multiple) number(s). My best rides have always been the ones so good that I felt like stopping every few minutes to take pictures because it was just too pretty to pass by.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Long Term Review: Cressi Galileo

It's been about 18 months since I last reviewed the Cressi Galileo, (original review) so now it's time to revisit the product and provide a recommendation. One big change is that Amazon has started carrying the goggles in their USA store. The price, at $60 is incredibly high, so I recommend getting one from Amazon UK, where it is just 24 pounds. Shipping from the UK to the US doesn't exceed $5 (though it does take the better part of a week), but cheap-skate that I am, last year while doing Bowen's bike tour I ordered an extra pair to bring home in case my first pair wore out.

I swim twice a week for about half an hour each time. The goggles are still holding up fine, though the crevices in the goggles have gotten moldy. That doesn't bother me very much, but if it bothers you you can get rid of the mold by soaking them in white vinegar. Unlike previous pairs of goggles that I've owned, the tempered glass in these goggles absolutely do not fade or turn milky white with UV exposure. These truly are goggles for life.

A few caveats: they're heavy: so much so that when I travel I don't bring them, but instead buy a pair of cheap goggles that will get discarded after the trip. The weight savings might not be a big deal if you're car touring or sailing,  but for bicycle touring or back-country camping these definitely get left at home. Secondly, as mentioned before, they seem designed to fit really big heads.

If they fit, these are the longest lasting goggles you'll ever have. (They're basically like diving masks without the nose coverage). Recommended.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Accubattery

I will admit to not usually reviewing apps, but I'll make an exception for Accubattery, which was good enough that I paid to remove ads from it. The idea behind Accubattery is that if you want to prolong the life of a lithium ion battery, what you want to do is to (a) keep it cool, (b) don't deep discharge it, and (c) don't charge it to the maximum charge level.

Accubattery is an app that helps you do (c). Obviously, (b) is already well within your control, and (a) is not usually within your control. The app lets you set a charge alarm to remind you to unplug your phone from the charger once it hits about 80%. If you can do so consistently, the number of discharge cycles you get out of the battery goes from 300-500 cycles to about 850-1500 cycles, basically tripling your battery life. This is not so  big a deal if you tend to buy cheap phones like I do, but if you're the kind of person who spends big money on phones, this app would let you hang on to your fancy phone for longer.

If I run cheap phones, why do I care? The main reason is that most of the time, I don't really tax my phone. Which means if I start the day partially discharged, I don't care. But when I'm bicycle touring, I'll start the day with a full battery every time, since the phone becomes a crucial information tool. (I've had days when a weather forecast at lunch completely changed my route and gave me a much better experience than I would have had otherwise) So to some extent I do want to preserve battery life on my phones, despite it being no big deal if I had to replace my phone prematurely.

The other use of Accubattery, of course, is that the app will tell you what the current charge capacity of your phone is, so you know when you either need a new battery, or need to recycle your phone and replace it altogether. The information provided is detailed, though 2 of the screens provide conflicting information. I sent a query about this to their support e-mail address (which wasn't easy to find), and got back a satisfying answer on how to use the "battery health" info.

It's a good app. Recommended.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Review: Eufy Genie Smart Speaker

The Eufy was on sale for $20, which made it even cheaper than the cheapest Echo Dot. For some reason I thought it was made my Anker, and bought it for the master bedroom. It's missing a few features that the Dot has, such as being able to use it as a bluetooth speaker, but in practice, I didn't use that feature very much. It does have an audio out, unlike a Google Home, which means that you can use it to drive the nice speaker system that's attached to your TV.

The far field microphone isn't as well implemented as Amazon's, and it seems to misunderstand me more than an echo, but works just fine for setting times, listening to audible books (which is a big deal in my opinion), and listening to music. (I have it positioned so that it's easy to move it into the bathroom for showers, etc)

Is it as good as an Echo Dot? No. But if you can get it for $20, it's a bargain. As a result we now have an Echo in the dining room, an Echo Dot in Bowen's bedroom (for the nightly audio book), and this Eufy in the master bedroom. Recommended.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Not A Review: Rivendell Cheviot

About a year ago, we ordered and picked up a Rivendell Cheviot for Xiaoqin from Rivendell Bicycle Works. The process by which we ended up with the bike was long and dragged out: Xiaoqin test rode many bikes at many bike shops big and small before finally I took her to Rivendell and she tried the Cheviot and immediately said, "This is the bike I've been riding all my wife." (Incidentally, Arturo said the same of his Rivendell Roadeo clone) By the way, if Rivendell hadn't worked out I was going to take her to Calfee next,  but I was starting to feel desperate.

I've always pegged the bike as being my wife's bike. To be honest, I was initially  unimpressed. Every time I've had to lift it to put it on the bike rack on the back of the car, I've been annoyed by how unwieldy it was: compared to my Ti frame, it was heavy. It even looked heavy: Grant had put on the lightest tire he had in his inventory, but the big fat tires with 650B wheels and the triple-tubed rear triangle just combine to make it look like a tank.

The assembly also wasn't perfect. Since we bought the bike, I'd fixed the shifter and brakes a few times, and had to completely replace the chain when it completely fell apart. Not all of this could be attributed to "break-in", either. In one case, the derailleur clamp just wasn't tightened properly! But Xiaoqin was happy with the bike, so I figured it's just the kind of bicycle that you rode if you grew up with "Flying Pigeon" bikes and couldn't get used to the nice lightweight bikes that everyone else rode. When I had to remove the front wheel to stick the bike into a car, I was severely disappointed to discover very prominent lawyer lips, much worse than any of the other bikes in the garage, let alone the much earlier Rivendell or Bridgestone models. "How could you do this, Grant?" I thought. Upon reflection, maybe the kind of person who bought a Cheviot wouldn't be expected to know how to properly use a quick release skewer.

I did notice that whenever I rode it for short distances, that the Cheviot didn't exactly ride like a Flying Pigeon. The steering was light and the bike could accelerate. It didn't feel heavy, even if it was heavy.

Then this past Sunday, we rode from La Honda to Pescadero and once in Pescadero, the wife and kids decided to kick back and enjoy the afternoon. Which left me a choice of riding back to fetch the car with the Cheviot or the triplet. There was no question that I'd take the Cheviot. Fortunately, I'd equipped the Cheviot with A530 pedals, which meant that all I had to do was raise the seat and then ride.

The bike felt floppy and flexy: some of it is because of the traditional square taper crank, which don't feel nearly as stiff as the new style external BB cranks. There's also the missing top tube. But once I started cranking hard, the flexiness didn't get worse, and I quickly caught up to the Western Wheelers C+ group and hung in the draft on the flat. (Those bullhorn bars are NOT aero, no matter what) To my surprise, when the climb started, I could hang out in front with the faster cyclists, setting PRs for Stage Road and the connection from Stage to La Honda. Now this isn't a fair test: when I'm normally out here on the coast, I'd have already climbed both Page Mill Road and Haskins Hill, which means that Stage Road is an afternoon waddle and my edge has long been taken off. But what this showed me was that the Cheviot, while heavier than my normal bike, just wasn't holding me back. When it came to braking, the side-pull brakes were sure and effective. They're still the best brakes available for any except the dedicated off-road machines.

Now, I still wouldn't want to ride the Cheviot for 30 miles (my jaunt on it was 15 miles at maximum speed), and my position on it wasn't ideal for pushing hard (and it probably isn't the right size for me anyway), but that'll teach me to turn up my nose at anything Grant designed. For the right person, it's not a bad bike, and its performance is more limited by your strength and aerobic capacity than the inherent weight of the bike. What can I say: the man's a great bike designer. The Cheviot is a lot like a Mercedes Benz. It's going to eliminate a lot of the road chatter and feedback that I like to have, but when push comes to shove, it's going to perform just as well as that BMW that feeds every road bump back into your hand (and butt). It's still going to come down to how good a cyclist you are, and no matter how much it resembles a beach cruiser in looks, get beyond that and it's a bike that will make the club riders with their fancy carbon fiber frames and aero wheels stare at you as you pass them at speed and do a double-take. And there's gotta be some fun in that! And with the 6" difference in height between my wife and I, it's remarkable that any bike that she can ride would even come close to fitting me, so this makes a great family layabout bike.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Review: Batman Arkham VR

I was really hesitating the pay the $12 sale price for Arkham VR, but then I read people complaining that the game was too short, so I paid the price and tried it. A short game means that I'll actually finish it and experience it to completion, and I'm discovering that VR goggles aren't really suitable for extended use anyway.

The story is simple and just a frame upon which for Rocksteady to show-off a few set-pieces. In fact, it's barely coherent even in those circumstances. What is exciting is the investigative bent of the game: in one sequence you use your controllers to examine a crime scene and can roll the events back and forth and view it from multiple angles. This is cool stuff that really cannot be done in any other medium. (For instance, if you tried to replicate this using live-action actors, you'd have no way to hide the camera --- 3D modeling and animation is really the only way to show this off in 3D)

The downsides: some of the gadgets are a little too finicky. There were places where I tried to use the Bat-analyzer tool and it would snap the tool back into my utility belt instead of activating the tool. Some of it might have been that I'm too close to the PS4 camera, but my guess is that they didn't really test it well enough in all possible VR configurations and separate the UI gestures correctly.

I was very excited when I got the choice between the Batwing and the Batmobile, but it turned out that I never got to experience sitting in either: the game basically blanks out when shifting between scenes with no transitions. This avoids VR nausea, but really takes away from the experiences they could have provided.

For a couple of hours, it was really fun pretending to be Batman. Many of the scenes are very well rendered, and unlike other 3D experiences where artists would slave over the details of the environment that you'd only glance at for a few seconds, the VR environment is such that you would experience each scene in detail and all that effort isn't wasted.

If you own a VR set, I'd consider $20 a bit too much to ask for this "game", but $12 (or in my case $8 since I'd gotten my Playstation Wallet monies at a discount) is a good price and unlike many other games, you'd actually get to experience all of it. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Review: The Hobbit (Audible Book)

After reading Watership Down to Bowen, I needed a break from reading long narratives to Bowen. I decided to cheat. Instead of reading to him, we'd listen to an audio book together. But which one? I settled on The Hobbit.

The Hobbit is a long book for a 6 year old kid, with a running time of 11 hours and 8 minutes for the unabridged version. (There was zero chance I'd go for the dramatized abridged version) I was worried that Bowen would listen for about 10 minutes and then decide that it was not for him. I shouldn't have.

First of all, Rob Inglis is a great narrator, not only using very different voices for each character, but when it came to the songs and poems (which I tended to skip over as a kid reading the book) he would actually sing! I don't think I could have sang the songs as well as he did, so paying for the book didn't seem like a bad idea. So after just one session of listening, Bowen was hooked. The listening took many many days, and Bowen didn't always have the attention span to listen carefully. But the nice thing about The Hobbit is that not only is it a book and audio book, there are also movies, so we would check out each movie from the library as he finished the section of the book, and as an added bonus we would do comparisons: how was the movie different from the book? Why was it different? Did Gollum look like how you imagined him to look?

The narration is not perfect: the riddles section for instance, was difficult for Bowen to comprehend because of the voice Inglis used for Gollum. But that's OK. We could get out the book and read the riddles, which Bowen loved. I need a good book of riddles.

Needless to say, I can recommend The Hobbit as an audio book for young listeners. I myself can't listen to fiction in audio book format, but I made an exception for this one. I guess I'll make an exception for Rob Inglis' Lord of The Rings next.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Review: Life is Strange (PS4)

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game that falls into the faux-choice genre. In other words, while you're given choices and approaches to dialog, the plot doesn't actually change, and in key places in the story you're just driven on rails along the major plotline. In effect, the game has only one real choice, the last one you make in episode 5. Everything else is fluff or flavor.

The plot revolves around Max Caulfield, who's won a scholarship to a prestigious arts-oriented high school in the fictional town of Acadia Bay, Oregon. One day, while using the bathroom, she overhears a conversation between a friend she hasn't seen for years (Chloe), and a boy in the school. The encounter turns nasty, a gun is pulled, and Max discovers that she can rewind time.

The rewind mechanic is very well done, and the game provides several puzzles which can only be solved through Max's powers. Interestingly enough, dialog trees can also be rewound, so you can redo encounters and conversations until you get the response you're happy with. The game even helps you out by providing a "fast-forward" button so you can skip parts of the conversation that you've already heard.

The art direction is superb, though there are several technical glitches here and there on the PS4, where voices don't line up with character animation. This could be because the dialog has to be localized into multiple languages, but I think could simply be a limitation of the facial capture and animation technology. The music and sound direction is also excellent, providing a multi-media experience that's enticing, and in many moments lyrical. The music soundtrack is actually worth listening to, independent of the game.

In terms of story, the writing is actually better than many critically acclaimed movies. For instance, I think the story in Life is Strange is much better than Your NameThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time or even The Time Traveler's Wife. In any case, throughout the 5-Episode series the game winds and rewinds time continually. You get more exposition about the limits of Max's powers, and insight into the people who fill the world she lives in. By the end of the story, you've learned to care about them. Even the reveal is a surprise, though fair. The game's also not afraid to spend time on character development, rather than dumping puzzle after puzzle on you

Here's the best thing about the game: Max Caulfield is actually a really nice person and a great protagonist. The game portrays her as an introvert and her voice actress is great at showing her hesitancy in expressing herself. It's rare to see well-written introverts in the movies, but in video games? Max stands alone. At every point in time, you see her always trying to do the right thing. She's full of empathy and you're always rooting for her. She's a great heroine and when she faces agonizing choices you feel for her, even though you know most of those choices are false.

My biggest issue with this game is that the story isn't improved by it being an interactive game. Some of the puzzles are tedious and just break the flow and narrative. I think doing the plot/storyline as an actual TV series with great actors might actually be better than the medium of interactive media, especially given that many of the choices provided turned out to be false and fake.

Nevertheless, compelling story, great art direction, many interesting puzzles, and good music make this a complete package. It's worth your time and deserves its awards. Recommended. And play it with a good sound system. The game deserves that effort.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Review: Kissral Bluetooth Earbud Headphone

My refurbished Moto Hint+ has started to have battery deterioration, to the point where a fresh charge wouldn't last 20 minutes of talk time. If you've ever been on hold and had to wait 20 minutes, you know that having the headset cut out at the worst possible time is a major pain. Not wanting to buy new old stock (which probably has been sitting around for along time), I decided to see what Amazon had to offer.

It turns out that $16 buys you a Kissral Bluetooth earphone that looks very similar to the Moto Hint+. The device is tiny, as small as the Moto Hint+ was, but without a battery case. The battery case is very nice, not just because it recharged the Moto Hint+, but also because it was big enough for me not to lose. This tiny thing is very easy to lose. On the other hand, at $16, it's not a disaster if you lose it. The annoyance is that it charges using an old-style Nokia-phone type barrel tip rather than micro USB, which is one more wire to carry and lose while touring.

The advertising touts 8 hours of phone calls and 6 hours of music. In practice, I think I got about 3-4 hours of phone calls and 2 hours of music (really using it for Google navigation audio while renting a car) before it started complaining about low battery. The problem with the device is that it wouldn't just complain about low battery and stop. It would continuously nag you about the low battery, rendering the headset unusable. So there might have been more talk time left, but it was too annoying to use with low battery.

Is it as premium a device as the Moto Hint+? No. But it seems to get the job done, and the price can't be beat. I find that a device like this is great for cycling or touring, where sometimes you just NEED voice directions but can't be looking at the screen all the time, or need to be on the phone talking to the host while searching for the AirBnB in a foreign locale. At 13g including the charging cable it's well worth putting this into your touring kit. Recommended.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Review: Timbuk2 Command TSA Messenger Bag

I really like my Quora-Top-Writer issued Half-Mass messenger bag. It's light, roomy (I can carry Bowen's blanket, lunch box, and accouterments to school for him, so he can ride his single bike unloaded). However, it has one fatal flaw, which is that it's not waterproof.

I found an older model of the Timbuk2 Command Laptop TSA messenger bag on eBay for a decent price, and figured, why not. It's supposedly waterproof, and I got a small, having complained that the Quora bag was too big. The biggest difference between the old and the new as far as I can tell is that the buckles have been replaced by a hook/loop (not velcro) system.

When it arrived, I was dismayed to find that it was heavy: much heavier than the Half-Mass, which isn't surprising, since it actually is waterproof, and that doesn't come for free. I'm sure the TSA exterior zip-pocket for a laptop doesn't come light, either. The main (non-laptop) compartment is also messily subdivided into lots of little pockets with zippers, velcro pockets, etc. It's nice for organization, but I don't think I need to be that organized. The extra pockets also make it hard to use, and I'd prefer one big compartment so I can just dump Bowen's blankets, lunchbox, etc. It also didn't come with a side-stabilizer strap. An e-mail to Timbuk2, however, solved that problem: they asked me for a few pictures and sent me a side stabilizer strap almost immediately.

I recently got caught in the rain and verified that yes, the inside of the bag stayed dry even though I'd gotten soaked. It's heavy, however, so I'm not sure I'd use it unless it's raining. I don't know how bike messengers use this bag all day.  I think I'd recommend the Patagonia Half-mass over this except for the waterproofing, and of course, any of the Carradice saddlebags for day to day use.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Review: Batman - City of Owls

City of Owls follows on the lackluster successful Court of Owls. The story is still a bit incoherent: the Court of Owls comes after Bruce Wayne, and discovers that he is Batman, infiltrating the Batcave. We get a nice glimpse of the safeguards and extra weaponry that Batman has to defend the Batcave, but nothing you wouldn't expect.

Then we get the reveal of who the mastermind behind the Court of Owls is, but it's not even all that exciting. To end the book, we get a flashback to Alfred's father, as well as an introduction to Mr. Freeze. At least the main story from the previous book js completed and there's no cliffhanger.

The like the Court of Owls storyline, but I feel like it got dragged out way too long for no particular reason. Not recommended.