One of the big problems I've had with taking long drives, anywhere, has been that I'm forced into unproductive time when I should be working. This isn't a problem when I'm going on vacation. But here's the thing: I seldom take a vacation. As I'm self-employed, there's no such thing as vacation pay in my world. When I stop writing, the money stops coming in. Working on the road is possible--all I have to do is tether my laptop to my iPhone and I'm in business.
So long as I can keep my laptop, you know, in my lap.
Maintaining a stable platform to work on while my wife wheels us across the continent has proven difficult. I've tried lap desks, balancing my computer on a backpack, you name it. My computer always slides around, making it damn near impossible to type. What's more, a neck injury that I sustained eons ago makes it painful for me to tilt my head down for any length of time. This combination of poor conditions has forced me, up until now, to twiddle my thumbs for hours at a time, working only once we've come to a stop for the day.
However, I think that I may finally have figured it out.
RAM Mounts makes a wide variety of mobile work solutions to keep nerd stuff in one place while you're driving along. Cops use RAM Mount gear in their cruisers to keep their laptop secure. Their in-vehicle smartphone and tablet stands are, arguably, among the best out there. Read the rest
Blizzard games have staying power. They're incredibly well crafted and designed to run on a wide spectrum of Windows PCs and Macs, both low powered and high. New content? They're all over it. I can't think of a single one of their titles that hasn't received multiple updates, oft-times for free, in the past decade.
I played Diablo III on my Mac. When it came out for PS3, I played it there, too. It's a game that I return to time and time again, not because it is particularly challenging, but because of the grind: there's always something new to find--a new piece of gear that'll give the character that you're playing a slightly different way to play. So, when I tell you that Diablo III Eternal Collection for Nintendo Switch is pretty much the same deal as Diablo III played on any platform, you'll understand that what I actually mean is that it's great.
I've always preferred playing Diablo III with a game controller over a mouse and keyboard. I like that a wee flick of the right thumbstick will send my hero rolling out of the way of danger. This was one of the first things I tested when I loaded up the copy of the game that Blizzard sent to me last week. The thumb-flick works with the Switch. The rest of the game's controls are similar to what I remember from my PS3 as well. You can't remap your controller's buttons, but your powers and attacks are laid out well enough in the game that it's not a hassle to use them, arbitrary or not. Read the rest
I pay for a monthly subscription to Adobe's suite of photo editing apps. They streamline my workflow on my Mac, iPad and iPhone. What's more, they allow me to make my mediocre photos almost look like they were taken by someone who knows what they're doing. I'll be the first to admit, however, that subscription-based software is bullshit. Yes, you'll always have access to the latest updates that the application developers have to offer, but for all of the money you're paying over the course of months, or even years, you never end up with a product that you can say you own. Stop paying that monthly fee and you're left with bupkis. I don't much care for how that feels. I'm also not crazy about how much horsepower Adobe's software needs to perform well. Photoshop and Lightroom work great on my 2015 MacBook Pro. The same goes for Adobe's mobile apps on my iOS devices and Android smartphones. Unfortunately, the pixels flow like mud if I attempt to do any image editing in Lightroom on my Microsoft Surface Go. It's just not powerful enough. Happily, I discovered Affinty Photo a few years ago. It's a low cost Photoshop alternative for iOS, Mac OS and Windows that, for many image editing tasks, is just powerful enough to get shit done.
On my low-powered Surface Go, Affinty loads in half the time that Photoshop does, allowing me to get in and out of working on a photo quickly before uploading it to go along with a story. Read the rest
Every year, I wait for Apple to announce mouse support for the iPad. Every year, I am left unfulfilled. Apple's nailed the apps that I need to do my job on the go, but the lack of a mouse for interacting with text slows my workflow way the hell down. Tapping on my tablet's display and dragging words around is a poor substitute. As such, I'm constantly searching for a tablet that can give me what I need. Read the rest
In the decade that I've been using iPhones, iPods and iPads, I've never broken a cable, but holy shit am I ever good at losing them. Hotel guests around North America, China, Japan and a good chunk of Europe have all benefited from my slovenly cable tracking. I've lost at least 20 of the things on my travels. When you check into a hotel and have to ask the front desk for a loaner Lightning cable, there's a very good chance that it belonged to me. I don't however, typically lose track of batteries: they're bulky enough that if one's missing from the stuff sack I keep them in when I'm on the road, I'll notice. That's why this Battery Cable from Nomad has quickly become one of my favorite accessories.
As its name suggests, the Nomad Battery Cable is an all-in-one battery and – are you ready for this – MFi-certified charging cable for iOS devices equipped with a Lightning port. Sporting a braided nylon sheath, the cable baked into the battery is tough and should stand up to all kinds of abuse. So too the battery itself: its aluminum body will stand up to the sort of casual abuse that mobile accessories often suffer while they're living their lives inside of a purse or backpack.
Because cables come out of both ends of the battery – one to plug into your iPhone and the other to plug into a USB-A port to charge the battery and provide pass-through power to your phone or tablet – its footprint is a little larger than many of the other battery packs I've used in the past. Read the rest
In Japan when I see the name Blendy, I imagine coffee. Usually I think instant coffee, or some kind of stick thats contents can be stirred into hot water to make a cup of joe in various flavors. Normal flavors like latte, espresso, or farm latte (there really is a farm latte.)
Farm latte aside, when I think Blendy, I usually don’t think about anything too outside the box.
That changed when the other day a new product caught my eye. Black Lemon Coffee. The catch copy reads: “Ice coffee with a new sensation”. Indeed.
Before trying it, I read around the hashtags on Twitter, and it looks like the new bottled beverage has a lot of converts, with some fans saying it’s a cross between coffee and herbal tea, others exclaiming it’s their new summer obsession.
Then I tried it. Me? I’m afraid I’m a nope. The taste of Blendy’s Black Limone coffee was exactly how I’d imagined a cup of cold sweet coffee would taste if someone snuck up and squirted lemon in it. Give me coffee or give me tea. Please, don’t give me lemon in my coffee.
Photo: Rich Pav Read the rest
Back in 2011, I bought a 27” Thunderbolt Display to use with my MacBook when I was at home, working at my desk. It was huge, heavy as hell and, with a full suite of ports baked into its butt, wicked useful. This year, after being shipped across the country four times and riding around North America in a motorhome for the past three years, it finally gave up the ghost. It sucked taking it to be recycled. But, in all honesty, I’ve been feeling it was out of place for the tiny amount of space in our RV that we’ve allocated to be my work space.
After a few days of working in front of my laptop at my desk, I found that, from an ergonomic standpoint, life sucked without having a massive display to stare into while I typed. I have a neck injury that is very easily tweaked. Looking down for too long? That tweaks it. I decided that I needed to invest in a laptop stand.
I chose Twelve South’s HiRise for MacBook, for a number of reasons. First, I’ve used their gear in the past. It’s rock solid. The Compass iPad stand that I bought from them back in 2012 still gets a lot of regular use around the house and when I travel. Their BackPack shelf for my Thunderbolt Display was great too… although it’s not really all that useful since I trashed the monitor. Second, the stand is adjustable. I don’t like buying accessories that will only serve me in one situation. Read the rest
I upgraded to a 13” 2015 MacBook Pro with Retina display after a two-week working vacation in Costa Rica. The extreme heat laid on me during my time there was enough to fry the 11” MacBook Air that I’d brought with me in a way that made it all but impossible to use. There was just one problem: All of the accessories I had for my old MacBook Air were too small to use with my new MacBook. I had to invest in something new. The first item on my list: a classy-looking case for my stupid expensive new laptop. It would need to be able to protect my computer while I was out doing inadvisable things. It would also need to look good for the times when I pretend I'm a professional, attending meetings or press junkets.
After shopping around online, I discovered Picaso Lab’s Classic Brown Leather MacBook sleeve. Three years in, I feel like it's one of the smartest investments that I’ve ever made.
The sleeve is made from lined Napa leather which, on the outside, has a bit of a texture to it. This makes it easy to grip the sleeve. The texture is slight enough that the pebbling doesn't screw with the sleeve's clean lines. The leather is tough, but supple. When my laptop’s not in the sleeve, the leather can be bent, this way and that, despite being pretty thick. I’m betting that this is one of the reasons that the sleeve still looks so good after riding around in my backpack or the back of our Jeep for the past three years. Read the rest
If you spend your life in cities or on the interstates that connect them to one another, it’s easy to forget that there are parts of the world where cellular connectivity simply doesn’t exist. Right now, I’m 45 minutes from the nearest town, sitting in a motorhome, surrounded by nothing but trees. Out here, a busy day consists of seeing a few logging trucks or maybe some elk wander by. It’s remote, but I’m still able to connect to the Internet and do my job over my cellphone’s cellular connection. I can amplify my connection to cell towers using a cellular booster that I installed on our rig, earlier this year. But there have been instances where we’ve found ourselves far enough out in the sticks that I couldn’t find a cell signal to save my life. That’s why a device like Garmin’s InReach Mini is so cool. It’s a tiny satellite-connected communications device that lets me stay in touch with the outside world even when the outside world is too far away to connect to.
At 2.04” x 3.90” x 1.03” in size and weighing less than four ounces, this thing is designed for the backpacking crowd. It has an IPX7 rating, so it’s OK to clip it to your belt or a backpack without fear of it being fried in a downpour while you’re out and about. That’s good news, as the Mini needs a clear view of the sky for it to connect to Iridium satellite network in order to do its thing. Read the rest
Even with the drugs I take for my PTSD, I'm still hyper alert than the average person--the car is always kept running, just in case I need it. This makes it hard for me to get to sleep, most nights. Small noises, like our home contracting as the night draws colder, animals outside and passing cars, all conspire to keep me awake. To get around this, I've been using a noise app called Rain Rain on my Android handset and iPhone, for years. But there's nights where even that doesn't work to drown out the aural stimulation keeping me awake. Things like my wife's snoring or my dog getting up for a drink of water are present enough that they cut through the noise. Next thing you know, I'm up until dawn, reading a book or playing video games.
Enter Bose's noise-masking Sleepbuds.
A few months back, Bose brought me to New York to check them out. During their PR team's presentation, it was explained to me that they had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to make an appliance that'd help people to get a good night's sleep. The Sleepbuds use a combination of passive noise cancellation (the block up your ear canals) and a selection of noise loops to block out sounds that might keep someone like me, awake. It was explained to me that the Sleepbuds can't be used for listening to music--they're not designed for that. Sending music to a set of cans, via Bluetooth, uses up a lot of battery power. Read the rest
For years, I’ve kept a tomahawk on hand. It accompanies me into the bush, lives next to my side of the bed when we’re staying in sketchy areas for protection, and has traveled with me to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Spain, across Canada and the United States. As I live in a 40-foot RV, I consider it to be as vital a piece of safety gear as the fire extinguishers we keep in the front and rear of the vehicle.
A good tomahawk can be used to quickly breach walls, doors or windows – an important ability to have, if we ever find ourselves trapped in our rig in a way that keeps us from its only door and two escape windows. I tell anyone who asks me about it to keep one in their emergency preparedness kit or bugout bag: during Hurricane Harvey, some folks were only able to avoid flood waters by getting to their roof through a hole cut in it with an axe. Others weren’t so lucky. What I’m getting at is while a tomahawk or axe is often seen as a weapon – some are, by design – they can also be used as a safety tool which, once you have one, you’ll find countless uses for.
So, today for show and tell, I want to talk about my new tomahawk.
Last month, Daniel Winkler of Winkler Knives gifted me a Medic Axe—one of the new designs that he’s recently churned out. It’s a simple piece of cutlery, but damned if it isn’t a piece of art. Read the rest
I spent a lot of time away from home over the past few weeks, visiting With friends in Edmonton in between business trips to New York City and Boston. As a freshly-minted Nintendo Switch owner, I wanted to take my console with me to spruce up my downtime while I was on the road. As I can be kind of hard on my gear, one of the first things I do, especially if it’s a piece of kit that I plan on traveling with, is invest in a good case to protect it. As I’d had success with their bags and cases in the past, I opted to take Waterfield Designs’ Cityslicker case for Nintendo Switch for a spin.
For the most part, it was a good decision.
Heavily padded and well-stitched to within an inch of its life, the Cityslicker Case looks and feels great. When I ordered the case, there were a few different color options to choose from. I opted for Grizzly Leather: a light brown that gets better looking the more you beat it up. Aside from its leather lid, most of the case is made from ballistic nylon. It feels good the touch and should (although I wouldn’t recommend trying it) offer your Switch a bit of protection from liquids, too. Most importantly, the CItyslicker comes with enough padding that I don’t think much would happen to my Switch were it dropped from, say, the height of a dining room table while it was in the case. Read the rest
I was recently asked by USA Today's technology site, Reviewed.com, to sort out a feature on the best rechargeable batteries. I called in a ton of the things, in a number of sizes, and got down to testing. One of the tests that I decided to run was to pop the various AA cells I had on hand, by brand, into a battery-powered fan to see how long they could run the thing for. I opted to order the least expensive fans I could find that I felt, based on my past experience testing fans (if you work as a hardware journalist for long enough, sooner or later, you'll have tested damn near everything), wouldn't crap out on me after running for a few hours: the Honeywell HTF090B Turbo on the Go Personal Fan. In order to cut down on the amount of time it'd take me to run the tests I needed to conduct, I ordered four of them.
To my surprise, I fell in love with an $11 piece of hardware.
This little Honeywell fan can be run off of a USB connection, making it a great choice for using at your desk, or four AA batteries. When running the fan on rechargeable battery power, I was able to get a maximum run time of close to 10 hours. Not bad! It's light and compact enough that you could stick it in a carry-on bag to take with you traveling or toss it in the back of a car to keep you cool during a bit of tent camping on a weekend. Read the rest
On Strange Horizons, Rachel Cordasco reviews the latest Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, the third such volume, and makes a compelling case for exploring the amazing world of Tamil pulp, expertly translated into English.
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I love Jonathan Carroll's stories. Teaching the Dog to Read is a fantastic tale of magical realism!
Tony Areal is living a pretty mundane life, when suddenly his greatest wishes start to come true. Offered the chance to live out his dreams, Tony switches places with his dream-land alternate self and then things get really surreal.
Carroll writes relationships and change like no one else. I really enjoyed this short and fast read, and hope to read more in this world, where dreams and life interchange.
Teaching the Dog to Read by Jonathan Carroll via Amazon Read the rest
I read pretty much every Disneyland history and fact book I find. Chris Strodder's The Disneyland Encyclopedia: The Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented History of Every Land, Attraction, Restaurant, Shop, and Major Event in the Original Magic Kingdom lives up to its massive title.
A simple alphabetical listing of just about every First through Fifth order-of-interest item in the park. Everything from the amazing history of the Golden Horseshoe Review to fun facts about a tobacco shop that disappeared 27 years ago lies between the covers of this book. These are truly encyclopedia style entries and are chock full of facts with less emphasis on story telling. I think it'd be a great book to have at the park.
I did a cover-to-cover read through of this at home. I'd prefer to have it electronically on my phone via Kindle to look at while in the park. Go e-version if you can.
The Disneyland Encyclopedia: The Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented History of Every Land, Attraction, Restaurant, Shop, and Major Event in the Original Magic Kingdom via Amazon Read the rest
On the infrequent occasion I am asked for life advice I refer folks to Mr. T: The Man with the Gold: An Autobiography. It has all the answers. Read the rest