Tuesday, May 31, 2011

EDC Gaming

This is not a post for those of you that have your Range Rover stocked with spare water tanks, shotgun shells, and a generator.

ASIDE

Three years ago there was a terrible winter storm where I lived that knocked out power for about 5 days, in some places, two weeks. One of the days I was driving around looking for fire wood and I saw a guy with his family in a Land Rover Range Rover with a generator in the back, a rack for his shotgun (with the shot gun in it), tanks of water and/or gas on the roof rack, and a chain saw in its case mounted to the rear of his SUV. His family was inside and looking comfortable. All I could do was marvel. That guy was PREPARED. He also had a look on his face that said "See, honey, this is why I bought all of this stuff." She had a look on her face that said "Really, the shotgun, we need the shotgun?" I do live in Massachusetts, after all.

END ASIDE

If you are that guy and like gear purely for the preparedness aspect, then this post is not for you. I like to be prepared too, but since I always carry my phone with me and it happens to play games, I thought I'd go down a quick list of games that are worth a peek if you carry your phone with you.

It is a glorious day if you are a gamer. Games have never been so accessible, so good, or so cheap. If you are a console gamer, you may be a little peeved what with all of the casual games and family games and the domination of mobile games, but if you like games and aren't wedded to your couch wearing a One Man Wolfpack T-Shirt, you'll realize that the explosion of gaming brought about by the iPhone and the Android OS have ushered in an era of not only great games for cheap, but games that you take with you and play anywhere without being embarassed when you bring out your massive, kiddie looking, portable console. For all that guy across the way knows your checking email.

I am going to skip the best known games. If you have a smartphone that plays games you already know about Angry Birds (all links to iTunes).

Gun Bros

This is a "twin stick" shooter game, in which the left thumb controls your character's movement direction and speed, and the right hand thumb controls the character's trigger and direction of fire. It is really intuitive when you finally see the controls and it plays like Geometry Wars on XBox 360. The big deal with Gun Bros is that it is totally free to download and play, but it is supported by in game purchases, such as weapons, armor, and power up upgrades. I have played this game for two weeks now and have yet to spend a dime. The upgrade system is really deep, with dozens of guns, suits of armor, and power ups. It also constantly rewards you for doing new things.

Field Runners

If there is any game out there on any system that I can honestly claim I played for more than 100 hours it is this game. It is a Tower Defense game. Basically enemy troops of various sorts start from one side of the screen and march to the other. Your job is to put non moving units in their way to slow them down and kill them. This game's simple, intuitive interface and incredible challenge makes it a great game to sink time into. It also plays well in bites as well as over longer stretches, making it a great waiting in line game.

Reckless Racing

One thing that I had to get used to on the iPhone, having grown up with a physical controller in my hand is the touch pad. I still don't think there is a great First Person Shooter (like Doom) on the iPhone, though Dead Space is great. This is because of the controls. I also think that driving games haven't been well represented because of the controls. This game nails them and it is beautiful as well with great particle effects for the tiny screen.

Infinity Blade

Speaking of beautiful, this game was developed using a console/PC graphics engine called Unreal 3. The result is a game that blows away graphics on even the best dedicated portable consoles. It is a "Punch Out" style fighting game, meaning you are standing in front of an opponent and have to dodge and land punches. Every time I boot it up I am shocked at how nice it looks. It is half off right now, and totally worth the $3.00.

There are just too many games out there to list. It is the best time ever, in my opinion to be a gamer or to be a regular person that wants a distraction on your phone. For a few bucks (or none at all) you can get an immersive experience that works well in bites. If you have an iPhone or an Android phone any of these above would make a good distraction for those down times or when you have to drop the Browns off at the Super Bowl.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Zebra F-701: How I love Thee, Let me Count the Ways

I have been and still am in the process of looking for the perfect EDC pen. As a lawyer I use my pen EVERY SINGLE DAY for hours. I have had dozens of pens, ranging from the classic, cheap pen, the Bic Cristal, to a few Retro 51 pens (which are junk and I refused to link to them), to a few different low to mid priced pens. I can't really justify a very expensive pen as the rigors of lots of travel and lots of court destroy just about everything (well, except for my Tumi bag which is just bombproof). A while ago I strolled into a local Staples and picked up a Zebra F-701. There is a lot of love for the F-701. A search on EDCF turns up dozens of pages of threads. Here is a typical one. The pen is a well made, simple design. Here is mine:

IMG_0046

The body tube appears to be made of stainless steel with knurling where it rests in your fingers. The clip is super simple and though not too tough, it can be removed and repositioned, a huge plus in my book (the two previous Retro 51s that I EDCed broke at the clip, as did my Parker Urban XL Twist). It is simply a matter of unscrewing the retention piece, pull it and the clip out over the clicky, and then bending the clip back into shape and reversing the process. It can be done with no tools, which is great for on the go repairs. The clip is also smooth on the pockets.

The body tube is quite beefy, probably three or four millimeters thick. It can withstand a lot of abuse (having accidentally run over one, it was fine). Additionally because there is no lacquer or resin or wood to worry about I can wipe it down with a sanitizing wipe and it is nice and clean again.

The one problem I had with the pen was the CRAPPY refills. I hate black ink and after using a Fisher refill I can't go back (here is the refill I use, a Fisher Parker compatible refill, blue ink, of course, to distinguish copies from originals):

IMG_0047

So I decided to mod the pen to take Fisher refills. It can take them without any modification, provided that you remove the tip guide in the nib of the pen. If you take the refill out and push it in the opposite way it usually goes that should dislodge the tip guide. Fisher refills will fit in now, but they will be sloppy at the tip and move a little when you press firmly to write.

To mod it, I followed this set of instructions. Instead of using an awl I used my drill press, using progressively larger bits to hollow out the plastic tip guide until the Fisher insert fit through with minimal clearance. I also had to cut of the end of the tip guide to make it fit. A quick pass on 600 grit sand paper and the tip guide looked factory finished. I stuck it back in the nib and reassembled the pen. Click, out comes Fisher refill, click again, in it goes. I could have hollowed it out more, but I chose a tight fit to prevent accidental activation of the pen while it is in my pocket. Now it requires a firm press, something that would be difficult to do by accident.

So for $12 ($7 for the F-701 and $5 for the Fisher refill) I have what is undoubtedly my favorite EDC pen. I am sure there are nicer pens out there, but this is a pretty hot combination and has stood up to about two years of abuse now without looking worse for wear.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Its the Little Things

When I first started REALLY paying attention to designing things, I noticed details that I missed before. There is nothing like building a coffee table, not once, not twice, but three times to teach you the importance of little details (like staggering the joined planks on the table top in u n u formation so that the natural cupping of the boards counteracts each other). This focus on details in design has led my search for good gear. In my opinion there are no two better examples of superior design through attention to details than my two favorite pocket knives: the Small Sebenza and the new Dragonfly 2 (I have one with ZDP-189 steel, but the design details are shared by the entire DF2 family). Both have small flourishes and insightful ideas that make them not only better to use, but more interesting. Even cooler--the Dragonfly 2 does this all for well under $100, even with the high end steels (ZDP-189 or H1).

Let's take a look at the top of each blade. Here is the Sebenza:

IMG_0025

and the DF2 ZDP-189:

IMG_0014

The round over on the Sebenza is a bit of luxury. It makes the blade easier to handle and easier on your hands when the Sebenza is in your pocket. It is also a little easier on your hands when using the blade, though it does make traction a thing of the past. Finally, it adds a nice aesthetic touch to an already quietly beautiful knife. The DF2's chamfer was carried over from the original and it is not as pleasant on your hands as the full round over on the Sebenza, but it does make the blade nice. Both profile changes also take a bit of weight away, reducing unnecessary material on the blade.

Then there are the clips. Again, the Sebenza and then the DF2:

IMG_0019

and

IMG_0006

The Sebenza clip is actual laid into a mortised out recess. This does two things: 1) it allows the clip to be held in place with a single screw, braced by the edges of the recess; and 2) it allows the clip's mounting to be flush with the handle. Both are really nice, clever touches. But those are just window dressing for the real story. The Sebenza's clip has TWO pinch points--one at the end where all pocket clips pinch and another about two thirds of the way up from the bottom of the clip. I didn't understand why it was like this a first, and then I started using the Sebenza and carrying it. The clip is PERFECT. It locks in without being a pocket shredder. The second pinch point makes all of the difference, gripping just a LITTLE bit more to give you that extra bit of confidence (and with a price of $330 you certainly can't have too much confidence in your knife staying put).

The wire clip on the DF2 is, similarly, a masterstroke of design. It seems a bit less springy than the clip on the Caly3. It too is attached via a single screw and held in place by two grooves in the FRN handle. Unlike the Sebenza's clip, the DF2's clip is left or right hand carry positionable.

Both knives offer an impressive, responsive feel when cutting, in part, because of the well placed finger choils. The Sebenza's serves double or even triple duty. First, it puts space between the handle slab and the thumb stud to give you some leverage. Second, it allows you to access the lock bar when the blade is engaged. And third, it acts as a choil for your index finger in a standard grip. The DF2's choil is in front of the handle, actually part of the blade itself, and allow for virtually unparalleled control of the thin, slicing cutting edge.

The Sebenza has one thing that no other production knife I have ever seen has: a BEEFY blade that takes up ALL of the space between the handle slabs. Take a peek:

IMG_0023

There is hardly ANY room between the handle and the blade, but because of the supernal fit and finish of a Chris Reeve knife there is no rubbing or touching. This goes back to the point of posting blade:handle numbers. The more FREE blade you get, generally speaking (with exceptions like the Spyderco Yojimbo), the better. The DF2 crams a lot of blade into the handle, but not as much as the Sebenza.

When you add up all of these little touches, touches that you come to appreciate over time you realize just how good the Sebenza truly is. It is a benchmark, a reference standard for folding knives and it has been for 20 years. $330 is a lot to spend on a knife, but if you are going to pay that much, the Sebenza gives you as much or more than any other knife for even close to that much money. And then there is the Dragonfly. In my opinion the DF2 with ZDP-189 steel is as close to the perfect small EDC as I have ever seen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The End of Cheatin' Them

This is more a bit of news from the world of flashaholics than anything else.

Lummi flashlights are really beautiful works of art. They are incredibly small, bright on high, and run for a long time on low. They are made of some of the finest materials available. They are reasonably priced. And you have no realistic chance of ever purchasing one from the maker. Lummi is, at least for me and the others that voiced their opinions on the Internet, a scam.

Here is my Jeer from EDCF:

I have always wanted a Lummi Raw. I saw the reviews on the old FlashlightReviews.com and since then I had pined for this tiny light. I watched CPF and the site for months as production problems dogged the owner, Rob. There was some seriously bad feedback on CPF. There is further bad feedback elsewhere on the Internet. But the threads at CPF and Rob's responses led me to believe that this was a one time thing and that he had turned things around. Always a fan of a comeback story, I decided to send my funds his way. I am willing to pay for innovation, and his lights are nothing if not innovative.

I saw that the site showed that the Raw NS and SS were ready for shipment, so I emailed Rob to make sure that was true. He said yes and told me that if I bought one it would ship out immediately. That was July 22, 2010. I sent my PayPal payment in the very next day. Rob promised via email that he would send it out on July 23, 2010. He didn't.

He then promised that the order would go out the following Monday, July 26, 2010. It didn't. I emailed him multiple times. On the 26th he told me the light would go out Wednesday, the 28th. It didn't. I emailed him on Wednesday a few times without a response. I was worried because I had never purchased something like this from overseas. After a few unresponded emails I was told the light was sent out on Thursday July 29, 2010. Then I waited.

It didn't arrive the next week, the week after, or the week after that. I contacted Rob and he told me his policy was to wait a month, to make sure it wasn't just slow in transit, before he sent a replacement. I told him okay and waited some more. On the 30th day the light still did not arrive. I sent Rob an email. In the email I asked him to send the light to me with tracking and that I would pay for the upgraded shipping. I also told him that because of the dispute process at PayPal (see here), I would submit a claim for non-receipt on the 40th day. He sent me a long email telling me not to do that. I sent him an email back saying that I wouldn't so long as I either had the light or proof of its shipment before the 40th day. That was on August 17th. Rob did not respond the entire weekend, regarding the shipping or the Paypal. As soon as I agreed not to go to Paypal he did not respond.

That Monday, August 23, 2010 I got an email responding to my weekend emails. Rob told me he could not ship the light because he did not have the batteries or charger. I told him I could buy those from other sources and to just ship the order. He said okay. He then promised that the light would go out on August 24. It didn't. Not on the 24th or the 25th. I then sent him another email, actually three quick ones over the period of two days, none of which he responded to.

Fed up, I filed the PayPal claim. I received an email from Rob 30 minutes later (the time stamp on the email from PayPal is 12:00, on his response: 12:30). He then told me that he would not send my light unless I withdrew the claim. I told him to send the light and then I would withdraw the claim. Paypal's policy will not let you reopen a claim, so if I closed it I would have not option to get my money back. He then told me that if I wanted the light I would have to both close the claim and wait until August 31st (even though he said he could send the replacement immediately on the 23rd). He claimed this time that there was a delay at the machine shop (though on the 23rd his claim was that he didn't have the batteries and chargers). He then offered to send me a refund, which I accepted, wanting to end the games of "hold my money" and email tag. One day later he refunded the money.

Here is the other thing while this whole thing was going on, while he claimed to have a shortage of products, he was selling ones and twos on the BST thread at CPF. Check the time stamp on that sale thread, August 24, 2010, exactly when he was claiming he was out of supplies.

I am not sure he sent or didn't send the light the first time [EDIT: I am SURE he never sent the light]. I have proof I paid. Because he does not use tracking on the first package, he has no proof he sent it. I can tell you this: I have never lost post (that I was expecting) since moving to my current location. Around the same time I ordered an end table from Italy and it came well before one month. Even if you suppose he did, the responses after that were ridiculous. The delays were unacceptable not because they were long, they weren't really, but because he told me the exact opposite of what actually happened every time I emailed him. Also, this light that was allegedly sent has never arrived (I would send it back to him, on my dime, if it did) [EDIT: Still true].

I am sure Rob is nice guy [EDIT: No I am not, I was being nice]. His lights look beautiful and are an amazing technical feat. Mine is just one experience, but the jeers and other bad stuff out there on the internet leads me to believe that this something of a trend. Buying a flashlight should not be this difficult. Don McLeish (McGizmo) manages to send his stuff out with incredible speed. Mac's Customs also has a good reputation. But the endless string of broken promises and hostile reactions to legitimate complaints makes dealing with Lummi impossible in my circumstance. I have no doubt that these are not part of some scheme to steal people's money [EDIT: Again, being nice; it was a scam the entire time]. He wouldn't bother emailing back if it was. But the bungling of order after order (as evidenced by the jeers thread) says something.

Bottom line: AVOID LUMMI


Now the boom came down on Rob Cheetham and Lummi. CPF closed his subforum and posted a warning about his practices there. There have been so many people swindled by this guy. He was a sharp-elbowed jerk when I dealt with him, trying to force me to back off a PayPal dispute with back room dealings instead of going through the procedure. And now I realize it was all a ploy to prevent his PayPal account from being shut down. He had no intention of ever sending me a light. Given my results with PayPal's dispute procedure it may be the only way to get your money back from Mr. Cheetham.

This, I hope, doesn't come off as me kicking a guy while he's down. I am sure, at one time, people were getting great stuff from him. I posted this as a warning to those out there who have yet to get sucked into the never ending delays and withholding of products. Think of it as a public service announcement as well as a bit of news coverage from the custom flashlight community. There are so many great makers out there. My McGizmo came from HAWAII in less time than it took for Rob to respond to my EMAILS.

It is a shame, really. His lights, on paper, look amazing. If you can find one on the secondary market, they seem to be worth the effort, though I would not count on manufacturer support in anyway. Or you could just go to Enrique and get a no-nonsense, no-BS, bad ass light.

Benchmade Sequel 707 Review

The Benchmade Sequel 707 is the sequel to 705. That knife was a smaller version of the McHenry designed 710, which is a very good, slim carry large EDC blade. The Sequel is an upscale, highfalutin version of the nice, slim, useful 705.

Here is the Sequel's product page. Here is a good street price for the blade. Here is a video review of the Sequel from the always entertaining CajunBlaze (one of my very favorite reviewers on YouTube). Here is a written review of the Sequel. The knife comes in a bunch of options: plain edge, combo edge, black out, and regular.



Design: 1

So what is it? Is it an upscale version of the Mini Griptillian? Or is it a more rugged, price conscious version of the Shoki? The handle is okay. The blade size is great. It has a very respectable blade:handle of .78. Then there is the weird fish scale "inlay" made of G10. Why the hell do you make an inlay of a material as UNATTRACTIVE as G10. I can understand a mammoth ivory inlay or a beautiful ironwood inlay (I can understand them, but I don't really like them). But G10? Seriously, that is dumb. And it is also adds nothing to the knife in terms of grip. Finally, there are liners. Why? This is a metal handled blade, why add liners? Its like a pillow with an airbag.

Fit and Finish: 2

If SOG does perfect grinds, Benchmade does perfect fit and finish. I love everything about the knife's fit and finish. Everything was snug, tight, and well made.

Grip: 0

The aluminum handles are not matte finished enough and the fish scale makes things worse. The jimping, for whatever reason, is INSIDE the handle, cut into the liners instead of the handle slab itself. The blade is a great size and shape so that is okay, but there is not much traction at all. I know because when working the yard I pulled it out and cut open a bag of bug repellant. I was sweaty (as an Italian, I am pretty much always sweaty in the summer time) and the aluminum became slick. I went to close the knife and it fell, landing tip first on a paver. Boo. I will accept the blame for the drop, but it is the first and only time I have dropped a knife in that situation like that and I have carried a knife for 20 years. It has no traction. AND an ugly fish scale.

Carry: 2

Slim, slim, slim and with no functional jimping it slides in and out of your pocket with ease. It slides out of your hand as well, but that is another point.

Steel: 0

Okay, this is inelegant and inarticulate but: FUCK THIS SHIT. I hate this steel. I have other knives with 154CM and they are okay, they get sharp and hold an edge, but even in better formulations, they rust. This knife, however, was insane. I literally could not keep it rust free. I live in Massachusetts not the friggin Amazon, and even with our moderate humidity this was a freckle fest. Little pocks of rust were on the blade at the end of everyday. I don't know if I got a lemon or what, but this steel did not hold up at all. There is a D2 version, but it is a limited edition Sequel. It might be worth tracking down if you really like this blade.

Blade Shape: 2

The Sequel has a nice, clip point blade and it really suits the size of the knife well. Plenty of belly. The tip isn't the sturdiest thing in the world, but that is par for the course on a clip point blade.

Grind: 1

Grind is good. It is a little more complicated than needed with a few extra facets, but nothing that affected the performance all that much. I would always prefer a high hollow grind or a full flat grind, but this was okay.

Deployment Method: 2

The pivot is smooth and the thumb stud easy to use. It was placed well, far enough away from the handle for your thumb to sneak in there and build up grip and tension for the flick open. Without a lock back mechanism pressuring the blade it flew out. Not lightning fast, like my Leafstorm, but plenty fast.

Retention Method: 2

I like the Benchmade clip. It is not GREAT, not like the Spyderco Wire Clip or the Vantage clip, but still it works very, very well.

Lock: 1

Okay, I know the Axis lock has many fans. I am sure it is a STRONG lock, but disengaging it is a bit fiddly. The spring on another Axis lock knife I had failed or jammed so I was always aware of this and used two fingers to pull the lock bar back. It does allow for smooth opening and good lock up, but I prefer a liner lock and a frame lock, even a well done back lock, in an EDC blade. In a tactical blade I would imagine you'd need something beefier and maybe this is where the Axis lock shines. For a pure utility blade it is a little too fiddly for me. The spring failure issue seems to have been addressed, as it never failed on this knife.

Overall Score: 13 out of 20

To me, the Benchmade Sequel 707 is a missed opportunity. It is not classy enough to be a dress knife and not utilitarian enough to be a true EDC blade. In a way I see it as a knife that represents Benchmade as a whole--lots of potential, great fit and finish, but lacking in design and materials. It is also a woefully ignored blade, because for all of its problems, it is still a decent carry option.

1YL: 14 out of 20

My experience with 154CM is much greater now than what it was when I did this review.  I am willing to admit that this particular Sequel had a lemon batch of 154CM.  I really love the steel and I have it on a few different knives, none of which behaved like the steel on this knife did.  Still, this is a classic tweener knife and an ugly one at that.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bradley Alias II Review

In 2004, for whatever reason, Sebenzas were in short supply. Perhaps it was a skip in Chris Reeves's production as he transitioned from custom maker to a full-fledged production cutler. Perhaps it was caused by a boom in interest in knives. Perhaps it was a shortage of materials. Whatever the reason, by 2004 Sebenezas were hard to find and waiting lists were long. That problem has been alleviated for the most part now, as they are readily available everywhere, but when market demand is high and supply is short, alternatives are bound to come into existence. The Bradley Alias was designed to fill that market gap and capture some of the unmet demand.

In trying to fill that niche, the Bradley Alias was designed with emulation (some might say replication) in mind. They used the exact same materials: S30V steel, 6Al4V Titanium. They copied the most famous part of the Sebenza: the frame lock. And then Bradley asked Benchmade to build the knife on spec for them (much like how AG Russel had Kershaw build the Acies for him). The knife was not cheap--$269.95 MSRP at the time, but it was less expensive than the Sebenza. With the formula of quality materials and borrowed design highlights, the Bradley Alias was something of a success.

Here is a picture of my Bradley Alias (an Alias II) with its light&saber buddy, the disastrous Arc 6:

IMG_0002

Here is an open and closed size comparison with the Delica 4:

IMG_0013

and

IMG_0005

I bought the Alias in 2009 and carried until I sold it in early 2011, having received a Sebenza as a Christmas present.

There are two Aliases, like the Large and Small Sebenzas. The Alias I is the larger of the two and here is its product page. Here is the product page for the smaller Alias II. Here is a good street price for the smaller of the two. There are auto versions and Damascus versions available. Sometimes there are small runs of TiNi blackened versions and blue anodized versions as well.

The Alias has been reviewed in a few places, often as in a comparison review with the Sebenza or the Sage II. Here are my impressions of the knife right after I got it on EDCF. Here is Nutnfancy's review of the Alias I. Here is a good comparison video. Here is a review on a GREAT blog run by a fellow EDCFer. Note his vastly superior photography skills when compared to my poor pictures.

Design: 1

The knife is a great size, I really, really like the length of the blade a lot. The blade:handle is .76 and it feels like every bit of the handle is full of blade. The pillar construction is nice. I also like the thumb stud itself, perhaps better than the Sebenza's pointy nubs. The knife is WICKED fast. Very, very fast.

I do not like the handle shape all that much. It seems like it would be comfy, but it bulges in the wrong places for me. It also lacks anything like a good choil. Unlike with the Sebenza, the clip hinders, as opposed to helps, grip. Also, even though the handle is tapped and threaded for two way positioning, tip up tends to bind the blade too much, so really this is tip down only. When compared to the Sebenza, this knife is a little thicker with more space between the blade and the handle slabs. Thicker knife with thinner blade...that is why the Sebenza is so expensive.

I'll admit that I docked the knife a little for being such a blatant emulation...er...ripoff.

Fit and Finish: 1

Everything was fine, until about two months into owning the Alias II I noticed that the blade was off centered. Nothing crazy, but just a bit off. It was not like this when I got it. That is, as I am sure it is with most knife people, one of the first things I check when I open the box. I could tighten the pivot screw to get rid of the off centering, but it would make the knife more difficult to open AND it would eventually creep back. That should not happen and it seems to be a regular thing on Aliases, as the forums seemed to indicate. Even though this knife is cheaper than the Sebenza, at $180-200 street price, there is a lot of competition and stuff like this should not happen.

Grip: 2

The titanium handle is not as matte finished as the Sebenza, but it does provide more than ample grip. It wore down after a while to a smoother finish was still plenty grippy. I also like the thumb cutout to access the thumb stud. It served as a nice guide to open the knife AND as a good rest for your index finger when cutting.

Carry: 2

The slim rounded shape carried very well in the pocket, vanishing quite nicely. The lack of a thumb hole and a minimal ramp for the thumb stud kept the knife trim and neat in your pocket.

Steel: 2

S30V is not the high end anymore, but it is still VERY, VERY good. Like VG-10 with better edge retention. Speaking of edge retention, I am using a ZDP-189 blade right now and BOY....That, in my mind, is the new high end, but S30V still awesome.

Blade Shape: 2

I loved the drop point shape, it was so nice and easy to use. Plenty of belly. I prefer the Sebenza blade shape, but this works well too.

Grind: 1

Wha? Why the funky grind? I think it was to keep the tip as robust as possible until the very end, but still all of the extra grind facets make the blade seem messy and did bunch up in material, but usually only in cardboard or tape, which, come to think of it, is the majority of everyday cutting tasks. A nice full flat grind would be much better. That said, the tip was sturdy and it worked, just not perfectly. The grind reminds me a lot of the grind on the Spyderco Native, so if you liked that, you'll like this.

Deployment Method: 2

The thumb stud worked well, especially with the thumb guide cut out. The knife, when tightened properly, snapped open with speed approaching an automatic. It wasn't as fast as my Leafstorm, but significantly faster than the Sebenza. It also very really failed to deploy.

Retention Method: 2

The classic Benchmade split arrow clip works very well. I slightly prefer the Spyderco spoon clip which is a bit less pointy on the end, but this is quibbling. It is not, however, even in the same LEAGUE as the double dip Sebenza clip, which is, in my mind the best on the market and one of the most underrated features of the Sebenza.

Lock: 2

The lock worked flawlessly. It snapped into place and there was no wiggle in the lockbar at all, which can happen even on the most expensive frame locks (see DarkChild's review of the Acies). Great job.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

This is a very, very good knife. It is something worth tracking down, though I am fairly sure they are back in production. At MSRP this is not a special blade, but at street price, closer to $170 it is a very, very good option. I typically use the Spyderco Sage II as the benchmark for value in folders and this is not too far behind it. It is a bit more, maybe $30-40 in street pricing, but it is a much slimmer, easier carrying knife.

It is not, of course, a Sebenza. Nothing is, in my opinion, in the same league for close to the same price. Having the Sebenza as the standard though, is silly. It is like having Willie Mays as the standard for the Hall of Fame. If he were the standard there would be 8 or 10 guys in the Hall. If the Sebenza is the Willie Mays of folding knives, then the Alias II is the Harmon Killebrew (RIP Killer...).

There are quite a few Ti Frame Locks now and this is one of the better ones out there. If you can get it for $170, it is worth the price.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gear Evo, Part 1

This is the first in a series of commentaries on improving existing gear.

Here is the premise of these commentaries. Imagine this--the designers and engineers at your favorite gear company come to you and say: what would you improve or change about this?

Spyderco Jester

This is one of my favorite designs for a a knife and probably my favorite keychain knife of all time. It is a bit too small for everyday/utility use (plus, as good as it is, it is not better than the Dragonfly), but dangled on a keychain it is a sweet little blade.

Here is what I would do:

1. CF scales. Lots of folks like Titanium and I do too, but it scratches too easily to be nice after keychain dwelling, even for a month. CF, on the other hand, holds up quite well to pocket assault and battery. My Skeletool is three and half years old and it still looks sweet.

2. ZDP-189 blade. Having a Dragonfly with ZDP-189 has convinced me--this is the best steel out there. I was hesitant, worried that it would be brittle or would stain easily, but thus far, nothing. Goodbye S30V, you have been unseated.

3. Stonewashed finish: If your going to have a sweet blade, give it a stonewashed finish to hide scratches, especially if it is a keychain blade.

Novatac 120 series

Somewhere in all of the different models and options and programmability there is an all star light here. The form factor is really nice. The beam is beautiful, bested only by the highest of high end. And this is the light that started the low low trend. But there are some problems. So really this is an addition by subtraction thing.

1. Drop the spring. A flashlight is essentially a circuit with the battery supplying power to the bulb via some kind of connection. Some lights use the body tube. Others, like PD designs use an internal sleeve. The Novatac uses a crappy, breakable and easily lost spring. GET RID OF IT. It is cheap and junky.

2. Better pocket clip. First, don't clip it bezel up. That is a no no. Also, make it sturdy. I like bolted on clips, but having the Leatherman Serac S3 has shown me that is not the only way to go. Make it a washer and stick design so that you can unscrew the clicky from the body tube and take it off and then unscrew the bezel and swap it in. Tool-less swapability is a HUGE in the power tool world. I think it is coming to gear and this would be an EASY, CHEAP, and AWESOME fix.

3. Cerakote. Seriously, I know it is expensive and I know that it is not easy, but as a high end option offer cerakoting. It is amazing looking and will set you apart from the Fenix, 4seven, and Jet Beams of the world. Now HDS did it first, but that was such a limited run. Go for it.

4. Haiku UI with hidden programming. This is something I would recommend for ALL flashlights. Have programming be a "hidden feature" like the special modes on the Preon, but for the regular UI: last level memory with three simple steps in the Low-->Medium-->High order. I like 1%, 30%, and 100% as the output levels, where 30% is about 30-60 lumens. High at 200 lumens would be nice.

Spyderco Leafstorm

This was a originally a custom design. And people loved it. They begged Spyderco to make it and they did and it is a pretty good little knife. Then the original EDC photo blog made it famous. Brainsploded's mod took a sweet knife and made it better. And with the natural color G10, why not let everyone have fun? And while your at it, fix the GODDAM clip. Seriously.

1. Spare scale and dye. Include a spare scale in the package allowing users to dye it the color of their choice. I'd opt for a nice royal blue, but the murdered out option has a classic appeal.

2. Straighten up the clip. I hate the clip. It works but it looks SO messy AND it is a missed opportunity. It could be a guard against over extending the lock bar, like the clip on the Sebenza (another sign that it is a masterpiece of design).

4Sevens MiNi 123

Probably one of the best, if not THE best light for the money out there. But even then there are a few things you could do to make the light better. How about a new emitter? Just kidding. Enough with the freaking emitter updates. How about these instead:

1. Three stage twisty. I hate strobe mode. Hate it. Get rid of it and go to a three stage, low, medium, high twisty. Like the Aeon, but with a super low low.

2. Allow for rechargeables. All serious lights allow for these and we know the MiNi's work with rechargeables, but not perfectly. Change that.

3. Add a bolt on clip. This is a small light, but the Ti Bitz proved, at least to me, that you can use a clip on a tiny light. Plus there is precedent in the 4sevens line. The 2AA MiNi has a bolt on clip.

Kershaw Leek


So this is one of those knives that is always on my "buy list" that I never seem to get around to actually purchasing. One of the reasons is that I think that with a little tweaking this could be an all time great blade (though I think there is a good case that it already is).

1. Sleek Leek. I love the lines on this blade. I also like the flipper opening. With those two things it seems to me that there is an OVERWHELMING design pressure to make the blade's lines even simpler. Get rid of the thumb stud/blade stop. Put an internal blade stop in the handle and make the blade even cleaner. It might even look as stunning as Philipe De Coene's knives (a new custom European maker). Take a peek at one of his blades:



The Leek, minus the stop bar, could be a production version of these design gems.

ASIDE

BTW, Philipe is working a new blade and it looks to be both awesome and affordable. I have dealt with him personally and he is great. Like all true artists, production schedules are not perfect, but still, you get a work of art.

END ASIDE

2. Simple Clip. I'd like a version of the Vantage clip with even straighter lines and no cut out. A simple, understated bead blasted clip would be perfect.

3. Full Flat Grind. If we are removing lines to improve the clean look of the knife, let's get rid of the hollow saber grind and go full flat grind. Oh and it is will make this slim knife an even better slicer.

I am sure there are a ton of other improvements. Drop me an email or a comment and I'll publish the best suggestions. Nutnfancy got EVERYONE to add jimping. Maybe we can get one company to do just one thing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spyderco Tenacious Review

Here it comes. I have put on my asbestos suit.

The Spyderco Tenacious is one of the best selling knives of the past two years. Amazon and other major online retailers sell out of this knife every once in a while, which says a lot, given their massive buying power. And just a quick look at the knife will tell you why: good size, G10 handle, smooth opening, nice blade shape, and oh my god...that price.

It seems like a refrain of the innumerable YouTube reviews that this knife should cost more money or that it is worth more than what it costs. This, of course, is silly, as Spyderco, as a business, is not about to sell things for any more or less than the market will tolerate, and they are certainly not going to sell things for less than what they cost. But the knife is a good value, there is no taking that away. I am just not sure if it is the best value out there (or if it ever was). Here is mine:

IMG_0203

Here is the product page. Here is a good street price. Here is Nutnfancy's review. There are, of course, smaller and larger versions of the Tenacious, what Spyderco calls its Value Line of folders. The largest is a Cold Steel-sized knife called the Resilience. The knife just slightly smaller than the Tenacious is the Persistence. And finally, the runt of the litter is the Ambitious.

I bought my Tenacious when the knife first came out. I got it from yourcornerstore.com for around $28.00 shipped. Its a little more now. I carried the knife for around 2 or 3 months. Ultimately it was unseated from my pocket by a Delica 4, a superior blade in all respects, in my opinion. It would occasionally shuffle into my carry rotation every once in a while and then eventually I just stopped carrying it. I sold it about six months ago, having owned the knife for about a year.

Design: 1

If there are any failings of this knife it is first an issue of design and second the steel. For me, these are two most important parts of a knife. If the design stinks the rest of the knife will stink, no matter how good the fit and finish or materials. And if the blade stinks, well then, the knife fails at its most essential task--cutting. Here the Tenacious doesn't stink. It has many good features--the jimping, the thumb hole opener, the clip, and the full flat grind. My big issue is that the design is really quite bland. It is like the knife equivalent of the Pontiac Solstice: at first glance you think "Wow this is a sweet looking car (or knife)" but upon closer inspection you realize that it just makes a good first impression.

The blade to handle ratio is a very respectable .76. But the handle is a bit beefy. The place where your index finger and thumb are positioned, the most important part of a knife handle, seems wide and flabby. It lacks the thin, responsiveness of the Delica's handle and the choil of a more refined design, like the Caly 3 or Dragonfly. This is, in other words, a Spyderco knife as if it were designed by CRKT. It lacks the ergonomics that are the hallmark of a Spyderco.

It is not a bad design, its just not up to par with the normal Spyderco lineup.

Fit and Finish: 2

Surprisingly, given the knife's price tag, everything on my particular model was fine. The blade is centered (which is rare on budget liner locks, as the lock bar can push the blade out of alignment). The jumping is cut well, the G10 had a nice, even grippy, pattern.

Grip: 1

Without a choil or a "pinch point" for your thumb and index finger, this knife lacks the precision and control I associate with Spyderco designs. It is wide and flat, nothing at all to aid in detail work. The G10 is grippy without being jagged, but over all the handle felt more like a bar of soap than a scalpel's grip.

Carry: 0

Again, the wide handle does not do anyone any favors. The thumb hole makes Spyderco's wide to begin with, but the slabby handle here made the knife even wider. Also the unnecessary steel liners made the knife heavy. There is absolutely no reason this knife should weigh 4 ounces. Even long Spydercos, like the Delica, still melt in to your pocket. This knife does not.

Steel: 0

Okay, usually you can trade of edge holding ability for rust resistance, but this steel, 8CR13MOV, provides you with very little of either. It did come sharp out of the box, but it does not hold an edge well. Additionally, this steel seems to rust almost immediately. I do not like this steel at all. It ranks about with 420HC in my book. And since this is a knife and the blade is the entire reason you own a knife, crappy steel is a big deal. I know why they used it--to save costs--but still, this is well below the average steel on the market and I am willing to pay for something better.

Blade Shape: 1

In general I like the blade shape. It has a bit of a belly and is sort of a drop point, but not really. More important than the name--it could cut and cut well. The only complaint I had was that the blade was a little bulky. It was just wide, for no real reason.

Grind: 1

One of the things that I have noticed is that the grind is the first thing to go when prices get low. Grinds are usually done by hand, which means that a person, like a real, live, and actual person has to do it. The longer it takes the more expensive the blade is to make. Thus the more expensive blades tend to have nicer grinds and the cheaper ones, lesser grinds. This knife is no exception. The main grind, a full flat grind, is nice, but the secondary bevel was not crisp or terribly straight. It did not effect performance too much, but it was noticeably crooked.

Deployment Method: 2

Thumb hole opener + smooth pivot (because of bronze bushings, I think)=great opening. As a liner lock there is no pressure on the blade when opening (like in a lock back and to a lesser degree, the Axis/Arc/Bolt lock designs) so the blade swings open quickly.

Retention Method: 2

The one place that the parts seem to be identical between the Tenacious and more expensive Spydercos is the Spyderco "spoon-style" clip. It is a great clip design.

Lock: 1

Okay, so the liner lock itself is okay. It works, there is little if any blade play, and it is easy to engage. The problem is that behind the lock bar is a small space between bar and the G10 handle slab. This space is there to allow for flex outward of the lock bar and that is okay. The problem here is that the G10 is thin and the space is open to dirt and debris. If stuff got in there, like a pebble or dirt, it could very easily mess up the lock bar. I have never seen this space on any other liner lock and it leads me to believe that it, like the rest of the design, was a cost saving measure allowing for less strict tolerances on the lock bar itself. The reason why is speculation, but the fact remains this gap is a potential weak spot on the knife.

Total Score: 11 out of 20

This is a knife design and built by the dollar (or in this case the yuan, as the knife is made in China). They hit a list of bullet points for features, but in doing so I believe that Spyderco lost a bit of its design magic. The knife is perfectly adequate, but nothing more. I don't think it is the great value that everyone else does because for a little more you get a lot better. The Delica 4, it seems to me, is the sweet spot of value (price v features/performance). I know that a lot of people like this knife and I know that this opinion is a bit controversial, but I think anyone that would want this knife is better off saving up for something a little better.

I have thought about this review a lot and I recognize that it is a departure from some of the collected wisdom out there, but I honestly believe that people will eventually realize that this is merely an okay knife. It may take a while, as it did for me, but the bland design and the crappy steel just leave me with a case of the "mehs".

It is not a question--this is a great $28 dollar knife. But that is sort of like saying something is the best $1000 new car. The right question is: how good can a $28 knife be? And the answer, for me, especially when compared to only marginally more expensive knives is: not very good. If it cost $100 to get a good knife, I would see a purpose in getting a Tenacious. It does a lot decently. But for just a bit more you can step up to truly great performance. The Delica 4 can be had for $49 just about everywhere on the 'net. The S30V Buck Vantage is in the same boat. So for $22 bucks more you get two different, amazing knives. If you don't need the size, a Dragonfly 2 will run you $40. So will a Kershaw Leek which has better steel (actually all of the knives I have listed have better steel) and an elegant design.

Flamethrowing begin.

1YL (actually like 18 months later): 12 out of 20

 With more experience comes more insight.  8Cr13MoV in a satin finish, like here, is actually an adequate blade steel.  It is nothing to right home about, but it is fairly similar to AUS 8 performance-wise.  I am not sure why I had such a bad experience here, but I either was spoiled by other knives I had at the time or was wrong.  Two AG Russell knives with the same steel in the same finish have proved to me that 8Cr13MoV is good enough for most tasks. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In case you missed it--Spyderco Michael Walker CF with ZDP-189

Michael Walker may not have invented the liner lock, but he certainly perfected. His innovations, I believe, were to add the ball detent (keeping the blade closed) and refining the interface between the lock and the blade. Either way, most give him credit for the modern liner lock. Quite frankly, the liner lock is highly underrated--overlooked in favor of the frame lock or supposedly flimsier than the lock back or other mechanisms. In reality, a well designed liner lock is a great way to stop a blade from closing. It allows for very smooth opening and closing (unlike a lock back) and it is very size and space efficient. Spyderco gave tribute to this fantastic lock by designing its first Sage knife around it.

The Spyderco Michael Walker CF in ZDP-189 shares a lot of traits with the Sage I, but has a few upgrades.



A bit of history, first. The first Michael Walker Spyderco, the C22, was originally released about in 1994 and again in 1999 ago without carbon fiber scales and it had an ATS-34 blade as opposed to a ZDP-189 blade. Those two C22 models were produced in Switzerland by Klotzli (link is to a Google Translate version of their page which is in German), a high end European maker. Retail on the original C22 was $299.95 and on the 1999 version $455.95, staggeringly high prices for a Spyderco blade. But the design, the steel, and the manufacturing were all among the best in the world at the time, especially for a production knife. Today, these versions of the C22 regularly fetch more than $600 on the secondary market (places like cuttingedge.com and eBay). They are both well-made and highly sought after.

And it is easy to see why from a design perspective. The liner lock in the knife is, obviously, well designed, coming from the master himself. The blade is a nice utilitarian shape and a great size (around 2 1/2 inches, the perfect EDC size, in my opinion). Add in all the touches that come with a Klotzli made blade and there is ample reason why this knife was a home run from the outset.

The sprint run recently released by Spyderco was not made by Klotzli. It was, instead, made in Seki City Japan. It has carbon fiber scales, a premium handle material, and a ZDP-189 blade. The heritage from the first knife is still there and it still has among the best materials available making this knife another potential collector's item. I don't think it will rise to the prices of its predecessors, because of where it was made and its initial retail price, but it seems likely to appreciate in value.

Right now, thefind, has them available at a few online retailers for around $100. If I were in the market for a knife, I'd snap one up, based on size and materials alone. At that price, this is a great USER knife. But it has more potential than that. Given the past history with C22 models, this knife just might double its value in ten years.

So in case you missed it, it might be worth tracking one of these down before they disappear only to re-emerge with a much higher price tag in the future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Multichargers

As vacation season approaches, I thought it might be handy to survey "multichargers", devices that can charge multiple gadgets, sometimes at once. Unless your a travel person, you might not have even HEARD of these devices, though the ubiquity of the induction chargers in the Target battery aisle is hard to ignore. If you EDC a phone and a camera, one of these devices is worth it. If you carry more, they are even more valuable. Some multichargers even help cut the clutter at home, again, serving as a power station for all your things.

NB: There will be no pictures in this post because all of the stuff discussed here is really ugly. AC Adapters and mouse pad looking devices aren't worth the effort of getting a picture.

There are four major ways to go about charging different gadgets with a single device. First, you can get the traditional AC adapter that comes with multiple "tips". Second you can use a "station" that can charge multiple devices at one time using the same tips. And finally you can use an inductive current charge pad. See here for more on how they work. Finally, you can try some of the weird looking green options out there.

Single Device Multicharger

I have a very simple multicharger, the iGo Wall Charger (I have an older model than the version here). It works well enough. I like it quite a bit. It is a nice AC adapter (with collapsible prongs for easy storage) with a generic terminal at the end of the wire. The generic terminal takes tons of little plastic and metal pieces that fit the power ports of thousands of different devices. Right now I have a tip for my iPhone and a tip for my Kodak Zi8 camcorder. For a small, throw in your bag, take on vacation set up it works very nicely. During non-vacation, travel time I have it as a spare iPhone charger next to my bed on the nightstand. This is a super simple, super cheap set up with the charger costing about $15 and tips running from $5-10. Mine can't charge two devices using an available splitter, but the new version can.

I am sure there are bunch of different one at a time multichargers out there, but the iGo stuff works so well, is quite a good vale, is well-supported, and (this is the clincher for me) is available at Radio Shack. I am not a huge fan of the high pressure, low brain salesmen there (sorry if you are a Shack employee, I understand the issue...), but they are everywhere. If you lose a tip or need a tip, you can find them in just about any city in the US, because just about any city in the US has a Radio Shack. Be sure to check the iGo website for device compatibility. Not all devices, usually high powered things like laptops, can be charged using the wall charger I have.

Here is a unique approach to the single device multicharger: the Callpod Fuel Tank. You charge the Fuel Tank, which has a high capacity and long lasting lithium power cell in it, and then you use that to charge your devices. It is billed as not needing an outlet, but obviously that is not true for long. Still, it is a neat idea.

There are a lot of "emergency" mutlichargers, like this one from Duracell. It is limited in that it can power a device, but not necessarily charge it. It also limited in the devices it can power. They have to have some kind of USB or mini-USB connection to work. There are also versions of this that use AA batteries. They seem like a good last ditch form of gadget power, but they cost about as much as the iGo and you have to buy new batteries. Additionally they cannot power as many different devices as the iGo can.

Multi Device Multicharger

The Callpod ChargePod is perhaps the most emblematic of these devices. It uses a single power cord and a central hub to connect to a myriad of devices using small corded tips, much like those found on the iGo. There are literally dozens of these type devices, and they all work basically the same way--one cord, bunch of devices, swappable connectors. The ChargePod seems to be the best supported of these devices, but I am sure many of them work just as well.

They have a few drawbacks. First, these devices are very messy--they look messy, they have lots of cords, and they sprawl out. This limits their utility on vacation, in my opinion--lots and lots of spare parts to lose or forget. I also think they look messy for use at home. All of my desktop space is at a premium and using up 2 square feet like this is stupid.

But if you and your partner both need to charge your phones, a camera, and a camcorder, this is the device for you. And unlike the iGo stuff, some of the callpod devices can charge laptops and smaller devices at the same time on the same device.

Inductive Pad Chargers

The original design, so far as I can tell, is the Powermat (Powerjohn, already taken as a trademark in the portable toilet industry, apparently). Energizer makes one, as does Duracell. There are probably a hundred different inductive charger devices. They all work the same way--the device is fitted with a sleeve or a little cover that fits into the power port and has an inductive connector on the back. The device, in the sleeve, is laid on the pad and the connector in the sleeve uses a magnetic impulse to connect to the power cells in the pad and power is transferred WIRELESSLY from the pad, through the sleeve, into the device.

These chargers have a lot of promise, but they have some drawbacks too. Again there is the real estate issue. They take up a good deal of space. They are also quite expensive (a quick search found the pad and a sleeve for the Duracell device costs about $90). Then there is the "inductive connector" sleeve. It can operate as a case for the device, but that adds weight and size to a portable device which you chose, at least in part, because it was small. And the cases are fat looking. They are like installing pleats on your phone (as one of my friends put it, pleated pants are for people who say to themselves "I'm not fat, but I would like to look fat today. Pleated pants it is.").

Still wireless charging sounds so awesome in theory. It has potential and when devices are built with these chargers in mind, I think the technology will take off. As for now, it seems like an awkward retrofit.

Green Options

Technically, these devices aren't necessarily multichargers (though I know Solio makes one that is), but these chargers use solar power and swappable cables to power devices. I am not sure how durable or reliable these are, but if your in the Gobi, I bet there is enough sun to get these to work. Tons of companies make them, they cab be ridiculously expensive, but they can do something nothing else can--let you play an Angry Birds marathon on the top of Mt. Everest (because like the view gets old after a while, right?).

Get out there this summer and do stuff. If one of these multichargers helps you do that, it is totally worth a few bucks. Plus, really, if your phone dies is that the worst thing in the world? You are, after all, on vacation.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

LiteFlux LF3XT Review

LiteFlux is a Chinese brand of flashlights that stand out from the horde of aluminum tubes sent across the Pacific Ocean to these shores. They make (or made, they are sold out everywhere right now) three lights: a single AA, a single CR123a, and a single AAA light. All of them have the same basic design and the same two tier UI. They are, by in large, among the nicer production lights out there and if they are truly no longer being made, it might be worth it to track them down.

The only issue is that these lights are for high end users only. These are not lights that you can hand to a friend and expect them to get anything out of them, not even light, sometimes. So it goes back to an age old question: performance or useability. A racecar undoubtedly outperforms your Jeep Wrangler, but the Wrangler's simple design and simple, widely available parts makes it possible to keep one running well after the original owner has retired from a job and maybe even driving. The question is, which do you want: the flashlight equivalent of the racecar or the flashlight equivalent of the Wrangler?

Here is the closest thing to a product page for LF3XT. A good street price for the light is around $55-65. Here is a review of the LF3XT. Here is a CPF review. Here is a photo of my LF3XT:

IMG_0002

This is not a looker. It is no Spy 007 or Haiku. But it really works. It does a lot of things well and allows a degree of customization that matches anything on the market without a USB port.

There is an alternate body tube, an 2xAA body tube. The light comes in probably the nicest presentation box I have ever seen for a flashlight. It is like something that you'd find in a package from Bridge City Toolworks. It comes with some lube, a few o-rings, and a lanyard. Not sure how much that is worth, but I still have the box even though I sold the light a while ago.

Design: 2

The light does a lot of things really well. It tailstands nicely. It has a discrete and highly functional wire clip. It has a gently scalloped bezel. It is a nice diameter and plenty small. The clicky is an electronic clicky so it does sip battery power when off, but it provides good feedback when activated. The grip is decent and the materials are not too bad at all. For a $60 it does a lot right.

Fit and Finish: 2

The threads were well cut as was (was being the key, here, see below) the knurling. The lens was clean and the LED well-centered. The light does whine at a very high frequency on the highest settings. Some people can hear it, others can't...it is very subtle. They have fixed this problem in newer lights, but still it is there. It does not affect the performance in any way. The finish, BTW, was tough, tougher than the average HAIII I have had on my lights, but not as tough as Surefire's HAIII or Cerakoted lights.

Grip: 1

The light is a little portly, but that is okay. It is the SHAVED knurling that kills the grip. Some lights are so heavily knurled you can use them as a file. Others have slightly shaved knurling where the pointy peaks are removed. This light took the shaving a bit too far. There was really no meaningful texture whatsoever.

Carry: 2

I liked the wire pocket clip a lot. Some people won't, they'll think it is flimsy. Its not, but they'll think that (just like some folks think that liner locks stink). The light was just the right size to sleep in a jeans coin pocket and when none was available the clip worked on both thick and thin material. It is a little portly in diameter, but that is because of the body tube walls are thicker than normal.

Output: 1

This is not a screamer. Your not going to blind your neighbor. It is adequately bright, nothing more or less.

Runtime: 1

Runtime is pretty much standard for this kind of light, circa 2009. Around an hour on high, 20 hours on super low. We have enough lights now, built and designed since the Liteflux came out, that these runtimes are average.

Beam Type: 2

Surprisingly, the reflector is quite deep. It makes the beam much "throwier" than you'd expect for a light this size. I am not suggesting that it is a throw light, but for a single cell light less than 4 inches long (and not made by Don McLeish), it can hit stuff a ways away.

Beam Quality: 1

The beam is a bit cool. I am not too pleased with the tint, either. It is not as bad as the Preon's dance club purple, but it is noticeably colored. The big issue is that the beam, while spot free, is a pronounced egg shape.

UI: 2 or 0

Okay, so here is where the rubber meets the road with this light. It has two ENTIRELY different UIs. The basic (labeled: "compact") UI is a pretty standard, click, double click UI. It is okay. I prefer even simpler UIs like that on the Haiku or Surefire G2X Pro. The other UI is a fully programmable UI (FUI). It is dauntingly complex. Here is the programming tree:



It looks like a diagram from a safety manual for a nuclear reactor. Seriously, my grandmother borrowed the light and accidentally dropped into the FUI. She couldn't even get it to turn on (it was on, just very, very low). This happened a few more times and while I was able to get it back on track, it was a pain in the ass. If you want to control EVERYTHING, this IS the UI for you. If you want to turn on the light and get...um...light, this IS NOT the UI for you.

Hands Free: 2

With a great little tailcap design, this light tailstands well. The clip also prevents it from rolling.

Total Score: 14/20

At the time, this was a great light. Now, its output and runtime are starting to look a little old. It still is more than adequate, but not great. HOWEVER, and this is a big issue, if you want precise control over the light's output, this is your light (and the score raises to a 16/20). It can do things that no other light can do without being hooked up to a computer. I don't want (nor do I think many people NEED) that much control, so this is a good, but not great light. If you disagree then I think, even if the light is out of production, it is well worth tracking down. No UI is more customizable than the one this light uses, other than that of the Indium Smart (good luck finding one of those) and the hideously janky Nextorch.

Buying Used in BSTs

Let's be honest: our obsession with gear and gadgets can be expensive. One of the best ways to mitigate costs is to go to the secondary or used market. This post is designed to help you out by giving you an introduction to Buy Sell Trade sections of forums. These places are full of great sellers with great, sometimes hard to find gear, usually in really good shape. Knowing the ins and outs can save you money and help find that item you can't seem to locate anywhere else.

The Lingo

Most forums have a used goods section. These sections are generally accessible only to members with some track record in the forum. I know that EDCF's used section requires a certain number of posts (15), for example, before you can buy and sell stuff. These boards have developed there own lingo. Generally they are listed as B/S/T for Buy, Sell, and Trade. The topics are introduced using a standard format: "WTS: Small Sebenza," for example. There are a few permutations of this format:

WTS: Willing to Sell
WTT: Willing to Trade (Away)
WTB: Willing to Buy
WTTF: Willing to Trade For

In some places, like the Marketplace for CPF, the formats are very specific, such as "WTT Novatac Storm For Lumapower Incendio". This allows people to quickly see what you have and what you want. Some posts are labeled or denote CONUS, which stands for Continental US sales only (usually to save on shipping costs). Some posts mark items as "$15 shipped" while others indicate that shipping is separate. Shipping can be expensive and it is also a place where folks can hide the price of an item, turning a profit based on large shipping costs, so be very aware of this prior to a purchase. Some posts want people to reply in the thread to mark who has sales priority, while others rely on PMs. I like the more open threads--with clear shipping costs (or better yet, items marked with a flat rate for both the item and its shipping) and with replies to the thread establishing priority. Most people take PayPal and only PayPal, which is great because it is easy to use and has a very effective protection policy (in the first stage of its dispute resolution essentially PayPal deactivates the both party's accounts, freezing incoming and outgoing cash, until the dispute is resolved favorably to both sides).

Benefits

There are some huge positives getting gear through forums. First, you can get custom stuff that is just not available anywhere else. Where else are you going to get a Mr. Bulk Lion Cub in Aluminum? Candlepower Forum's Custom and Modified BST is an excellent place to find and check out amazing, rare, completely unusual lights and most, if not all, will never, ever see the light of day on eBay.

Second, even if the gear is publicly available, you can find stuff on forums that gets snapped up very quickly. Atwoods last about as long as vapor on his website, but you can find them quite readily on EDCF's BST (with a significant price increase). Similarly, Busse's latest death dealers can be nearly impossible to get from their creator, but BladeForums and KnifeForums BST regularly have them on sale.

Third, you can make sure that you are getting what you want and communicate readily with the seller. Lots of really good people post stuff on forum BSTs and with the forum format you can ask questions and get answers quickly. The public nature of the process gives the seller two incentives to respond: 1) your question gets his or her post back to the top of the "new threads" and get the seller's attention; and 2) your question may spur others to ask the same thing and thus pushing the seller even more to respond.

While you can find stuff cheaper than retail, the cost is only really a secondary motive to go to BST. These are places populated by folks that spend a lot of time and energy on their hobby and so they not only know which item is gold and which is garbage, generally speaking they take care of their things very, very well. A knife on Bladeforums that passes for Mint in the eyes of a novice or an eBay seller, is probably not truly Mint to someone in the know. With that better knowledge and better condition, you also get a slightly higher cost. The people in BSTs generally know what stuff is worth and price it accordingly.

In some cases there is really no other way to get something than to turn to the BST board of a forum. It is virtually impossible now, outside the random, overpriced eBay auction to find one of my favorite Spyderco designs, the Chad Los Banos Lava A better bet is to head to a BST, like the one on Bladeforums and look around.

Drawbacks

There are, of course, pitfalls in going the forum BST route. First, a lot of the forums are VERY specialized, so unless you know what your doing you might buy the wrong thing. Here are some samples from CPF's Custom or Modified BST:

"McGizmo Ti Mule, no LE, host only"
"Quad XP-G 5.6A 3-mode P60"
"Milky Project-M x813 M3"

That is a lot of jargon for so few words. Parsing all of this takes time and experience. Sometimes even reading the original post leaves you confused. A PM to the poster may help, but before you lay out $200 on a QuadXP-G 5.6A 3-mode P60, you need to know: a) what it is; and b) how you use it. In reality, this post is advertising a "drop-in" light engine for the Surefire 6P host that uses four XP-G LEDs that use up to 5.6 amps and have three output modes. It is not a flashlight at all, but a part for a flashlight (a very nice part).

Second issue--no warranty. If this stuff breaks or doesn't work you are out of luck. There is not a whole lot you can do as recourse. I am sure you can talk to folks about what happened, but generally speaking this is all "as is" stuff. Even if it is not, it is very difficult, absent the PayPal dispute system, to track them down and force them to compensate you.

Potential for fraud is huge on BSTs. Unlike eBay which has a formalized grading system for sellers, most BSTs have a feedback forum at best, or nothing at worst. What's the worst that happens to a fraudulent seller on a BST? They can get ostracized from the community. Oh that's terrible. If someone really wanted to screw people over, they could get an account on the forum, set up a alternative PayPal account, and fraud away.

What to Look For

There are a few hallmarks of legit sellers. First, if it is someone that has a high post count, they are likely to be more legit than others. Very few scam artists would set up a fake account and make a 1000 posts only to pull off a fraudulent BST transaction. Second, good sellers will post lots and lots of pictures. Here is an EXCELLENT BST thread on EDCF:

Polygeist's EDC Knife Sale

I can't vouch for this person from my own experience, but he or she has a high post count, a supporter badge, and a lot of photos and organization in the thread. This much time and effort is unlikely to happen in a fake BST thread. Third, look at the stuff they are selling and the price. If Polygeist had the Boker Subcom Titan on sale for $5 then you'd have a good idea that it is fake. At $25 you know he or she has a real item and is selling it aggressively. Also look for detailed accounts of the flaws on an item. I personally post pictures of the flaws and point them out when I do a BST thread. If there is a description of the flaws along with photographic evidence there is a good chance that thread is legit. It also means you know what your getting.

There are also ways to get really good deals, but it is all based on timing. Be on the look out for stuff when a new or upgraded model comes out. If you checked the BST boards on CPF after the HDS Rotary was announced you saw a flood of regular HDS lights being offered at insane prices. People needed to get some cash quick to get the new light. The same is true for knives when the maker offers them in new and upgraded steels. If you can tolerate the previous generation of a piece of gear you can get them at huge discounts.

Also, be willing and able to pounce. Sometimes a fellow forum member needs some quick cash so they will part with a cherished piece of gear, knowing that it will convert into cash quicker than a less vaunted item. So when these jewels come up, rarely as that is, you need to be able to jump on the opportunity. If your in the market for one of these items, a special edition Sebenza or Strider, a classic McGizmo, or a Spy 007, set aside some money and prowl the BSTs for a while. You just might get lucky and find it on a BST. A Small Sebenza or PT Strider come up on the EDCF BST probably once every six months and they are usually sold within a day or two. The same thing happens with classic lights. A Lunasol 20 typically lasts about two days on the CPF BST. Having a reserve of cash for that grail item you have been looking for really helps when you, during a weekly scan of relevant BST threads, see: "WTS: Lunasol 20".

I hope this helped a little. BSTs can be one of the best, if not THE BEST, source for gear. If you play your cards right you just might be able to score the deal of the century for cheap.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Novatac Liquidation and new Dragonflies

So if you are like me you get pounded every day with emails from this or that reseller advertising gear. Apparently, Novatac's off shores line up didn't sell well, as they are being liquidated by a bunch of places. The Novatac Storm is selling for $40. So is this a good deal?

In a word: no.

Here are some reviews of the Novatac Storm: Light-Reviews review, Bright Side review, and a YouTube review (embed is disabled on this review, but it is worth watching if your in the market, though some of the facts are wrong, it is not a USA made light).

I owned a Novatac Wichita, another product in the off shore line (i.e. any Novatac light other than the 120E, 120P, 120T, and 120M) and it was okay. As is par for the course with a Novatac, the beam was gorgeous. But the finish was flakier than dandruff. It seemed to be shedding from the moment it came out of the package. The form factor on the light is nice, really nice in fact, and it can tail stand well, but I strongly disliked the pocket clip. The light's modes and outputs are not well chosen or easy to get to. This was the light, along with the Lite Flux I had, that made me yearn for a simpler UI. The Storm can be hacked, as described here, to make it programmable. Also, there is a spring inside that makes the connection for the power, and it is flimsy and entirely unnecessary (but a cheap way to make the light work). If the Wichita is representative of the line, and I have no reason to think it is not, this is not a good buy, even at $40. At $30, that is a different question with a different answer. If I was in the market for a $40 light I'd look at the 4sevens MiNi CR123a or the very nice Leatherman Serac S3 (which I just got and will review).

Now on to news about my favorite animal and pocket knife--the dragonfly. If you watch these things, you'll have noticed that the Spyderco's H1 Dragonfly came out this week (even without a product page on the Spyderco website). Here is the knife, image courtesy of Spydercollector (though I think you could imagine what it looks like):



If you've been reading for a while, I think your already aware of how much I like the Dragonfly design. So adding the v2 upgrades AND the H1 steel make this knife a potential all time great. The only real problem is what super steel do you get: ZDP-189 or H1? I opted for the ZDP-189 version and a review is coming, but there is a very good argument for H1 (and even better argument for both, if you can afford it). I would love to know more, but Eric Glesser in an interview said that H1 cannot work in a FFG blade as small as the Dragonfly's, hence the saber grind. The upgrades to the body in the v2 design are worth the purchase alone, even if you owned a v1 Dragonfly. With the improved steels, I can't see how anyone could resist.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chawly Changer

I very rarely carry cash and thus I am even less likely to have change. However, after a week where I got TWO parking tickets due to a lack of change, I decided it was necessary for me to carry SOME change. For a while I stored it in a small, flat PCMCIA card case that came with a laptop modem I had some time ago (the case outlasted the modem by a long shot and was twice as useful). That worked well, as it sat nicely in the business card slot in my Tumi Alpha T-Pass Expandable Laptop Briefcase (whew that is an awkward name). The only problem was getting change out proved to be difficult. Plus, you can't really store a ton of change this way.

Some poking around on the Internet led me to the Chawly Changer. CutleryLover did a review of his changer:



It is not an expensive item--about $8.10 for the changer plus shipping. I have had one for about three months now, and it works very, very well. You can drop it into larger jeans coin pockets or into your main pocket. You can also put it in your car to have quick and easy access to a good deal of change without it slopping around in a utility compartment or cup holder. It is completely rattle free and I have never had coins sneak out.

It works like those built in change holders in cars, which seem to have vanished in favor of about three dozen cup holders scattered around the front of a car. There is a spring under a plastic platform and the spring and platform are set into a tube. Here the tubes are relatively shallow, allow you to carry only $1.70 (with dimes in the penny slots). Larger tubes might make the changer too heavy. Here the design prevents the platform of wobbling out of the tube ensuring even pressure on the coins (helping to keep them in place). The entire unit is made of nice plastic. It is chamfered all over the place. There is a hump on one side and a depression on the other, aligned with each other in the center of the changer, to allow you to pinch it between your index finger and thumb and spin the changer around to access various coins. The coin tubes are very well made, there are tight tolerances on all of the tubes both in diameter and in depth (the dime tube being the worst and even then the spring keeps it in place quite well). You can easily retrieve coins with one hand. Adding coins can be done with one hand, but it is a little bit of finger yoga.

For less than $9 it is totally worth it to try it out, plus it is produced by the inventor here in the USA. It only works with US coins. I like mine a lot. And it has made me hunt for and keep change, something I didn't really do before.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My secret love--the Benchmade Infidel

I have not been kind to Benchmade in the two months I have been writing this blog. I have really been disappointed by all of the Benchmade knives I have owned and many of their designs are dumb for one reason or another. I also do not like their business practices (forced uniform pricing, unauthorized use of the thumb hole opener, and hiding "offshore" knives in their alternative brand lines while claiming all products are made in the USA). That said there are, of course, some really great knives in their line up. Lots and lots of folks love the Benchmade Griptillan and the Mini Grip, and the higher end Ritter Mini Grip. I really liked the Benchmade Benchmite, the Aphid, and the Monochrome as well. All look like good tools from a company that sometimes goes a little too Rambo for my tastes. After all, I am a tool guy first.

But even the tool guy in me can appreciate the beauty of a good purely offensive design like the Benchmade Infidel.



Auto knives have their own vocabulary and the Infidel is a great lesson in what to look for in these kinds of knives. First, it is an OTF (out the front) knife, which means that the knife shoots straight out of the handle. In addition to allowing for a better grip, OTF knives are awfully menacing even when you do something as innocuous as opening it up. The quick appearance of the blade coupled with the stiff pop of the spring gives an opponent enough information to know that maybe this isn't the person to screw around with. Second, the blade is a double action, which means that the activator button both deploys and retracts the knife. This bit of engineering is actually quite handy as you don't have to find some way to put the blade back in the handle, which, given the dagger style, double edged blade, isn't as easy as it sounds. Some single action autos have a tab you pull back (see upper right picture on linked page), like the Microtech Halo 5, and others just require a quick stab, usually to the heel of your shoe, to put the blade in the handle.

For a double action, out the front with good materials and tight tolerances, the Infidel is really quite a steal, even at the $330-$350 street price. The complexity of making a well-designed, well-built OTF auto means that all of them are about that price. Microtech, which makes perhaps the finest autos anywhere, makes very few, if any OTFs that are cheaper than the Infidel.

A friend of mine has an Infidel and there is really nothing like it, especially when its curvy frame is sitting in your hand. The actuator is perfect--not too easy, not too hard. The blade comes out with frightening authority, and once out, it stays in place, displaying very, very little blade play at all (which is inherent in the OTF design, you can't get rid of all of it, otherwise the blade wouldn't be able to move in and out of the handle). The aluminum handle is really quite grippy, probably the perfect level of matte finish. Grippy but not powdery. The grind on his copy is immaculate--symmetrical and clean. Even the clip is nice.

I don't have a lot of use for an auto, especially a dagger shaped blade (though the Infidel does come in a single edge design and a smaller version), but the Infidel is really a smoking good blade for a decent price, something out of the norm from most Benchmade offerings. I wish I knew more about its use as a weapon, because that is all it is. I can't recommend it because I don't know about how it performs in its intended role, but I can say it is a well-made knife. If you do have experience with it as a weapon, chime in in the comments.