This is the best laptop sleeve I've ever owned

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

The Garmin InReach Mini is this digital nomad's new best friend

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

Review: Bose's Noise-Masking Sleepbuds would be great if my brain would let me enjoy them

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

Review: The Winkler Knives Medic Axe is as beautiful as it is expensive

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

This Waterfield Designs Nintendo Switch case is pretty sweet

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'm a big fan of this inexpensive little fan

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

Tamil pulp fiction is basically totally amazing

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. Read the rest

Jonathan Carroll's novella "Teaching the Dog to Read"

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

The Disneyland Encyclopedia covers pretty much everything

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

There is only one man with the gold, and that man is Mr. T

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

The 'Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillian' series

"Your first doomsday machine is a malevolent, inscrutable wristwatch.”

The Please Don't Tell My Parents series, by Richard Roberts, is a wonderful young adult series of novels about Penelope Akk and her two friends Claire and Ray. They are normal middle school kids just hoping their superpowers will kick in soon. Read the rest

Gregor's Run by Saxon Andrew

In Gregor's Run a young man with a mysterious past is on the run from two of the universe's most powerful organizations. Generally broke, and with no idea of who he is or what the bad guys want, the titular Gregor just wants to get drunk.

This was a fun, fast and poorly edited Kindle Unlimited recommendation! Packed with the requisite action and adventure, Gregor's Run tells a witty and entertaining version of a familiar story. The backstory and world building are well done, and the characters interesting, Gregor is certainly a different hero.

Not-safe-for-the-grammatically-nitpicky, this remains a fine example of Kindle Unlimited fare.

Gregor's Run: The Universe is too Small to Hide via Amazon Read the rest

Down and Out in Purgatory by Tim Powers

Tim Powers has mastered mingling our present with elements of the fantastic, creating stories so immersive and believable I'm always disappointed when they end. Down and Out in Purgatory is a new, incredible example.

Shasta DiMaio fell for the wrong guy, and it killed her. Her rejected lover Tom Holbrook still carries a torch, however. If Tom can't have Shasta he'll kill the man who took her heart, and her life, even if he's already dead.

Powers has focused on ghosts, and had them as major characters in other works, but this novella gives us a glimpse into their world! His purgatory is a spinning, wild place where we learn a bit more about what death really means. While the characters are fun, the real joy of this was the mechanics, and lore Powers shares about the afterlife. If you loved his Fault Lines trilogy, you won't be disappointed.

Down and Out In Purgatory by Tim Powers Read the rest

Jon Hunter is still at it in 'Hero at the Gates'

Timothy Ellis' galaxy spanning space opera continues in Hero at the Gates! We're 9 damn books in and the central plot is finally about to get past its prelude!

I've really enjoyed this massive story. 9 novels ago Jon Hunter was a wet behind the ears kid on board his uncle's space trader. Now he's the Admiral of his own massive space flotilla, and ruler of several sections of space. The massive reveal about what the hell is going on, and what part Team Slinky Red Jumpsuits is going to play in it is near unavoidable, when our heroes set off in the exact opposite direction in this sometimes 2D universe.

The prize is tempting, but Jon can not miss the short window of time he's allowed to land on his home planet and consult the spiritual guys there who know all. How will it all work out? Gee... I'll have to start book 10.

Hero at the Gates (The Hunter Legacy Book 9) via Amazon Read the rest

Headfonia reviews the classic Sennheiser HD650s

Sennheiser's HD650 headphones are legendary. It should be no surprise Headfonia has offered a new review of the old classics.

I finally held them in my hand. I shook with anticipation. As I set up my system, I did notice that the build quality, although certainly a step up from the HD202, wasn’t quite at the level of the K550. It felt slightly more flimsy. As a paranoid measure, I gave the HD650 its own bed of feathers on which it still spends its nights.

As always with Sennheiser, the first time I put these headphones on, the death grip was in full effect, but after a few hours, the clamping force lightened up, and I found them to be very comfortable. My set-up here consisted of a HP laptop running jRiver media Center, a Dacport LX (which I had gotten as a Christmas gift) and a JDSlabs cMoy. I immediately recognized an upgraded HD202 sound signature. The sound has the same dark tonality, but with much more detail (I’ll take it), a more three dimensional sound (I love it), and a much stronger bass impact (YES!!!).

I bought a pair of HD650s worried my HD580s (a similarly revered, earlier version) might some day wear out. I still listen with both, regularly. I've had the HD580s since the 1990s, and have replaced the cable once, and the headband padding, once. The HD650s have never needed a thing. I pair them with a Schiit Lyr/BiFrost set, or a Peachtree Audio Nova. Read the rest

Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors: A Duck & Cover Adventure

Modern civilization has all but disappeared. It falls to a fearless, dedicated and slap-stick bunch known as Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors to help humanity recover. With help like this, you might be better off on your own!

Benjamin Wallace's first installment in the Duck and Cover series is a quick and witty read. We find America highly mutated and extremely dangerous. Small enclaves of folks are trying to rebuild society, and boy do they need help! Enter the post-apocalyptic nomadic warriors: experts in a little bit of everything, and a whole lot of nothing. Two such warriors arrive at the town of New Hope, each offering to lend his aid. New Hope sends one away and accepts the aid of the other. Did they choose wisely? Did they even need to choose? How did humanity survive at all?

This read was a good time! The characters are a lot of fun, and standout for this style of novel. The contrasting styles of the two titular characters, and the passing of focus back and forth, really makes this tale roll along. The story is predictable, but Wallace's wildly mutated landscape, and slowly emerging backstory, made it hard to put this book down.

Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors: A Duck & Cover Adventure Read the rest

$25 bluetooth headphones that sound good

I've wanted a set of bluetooth headphones for a while. The cord free-ish operation, and no need to actually be tethered to my phone seemed too good to be true. This $25 pair does it all.

The earliest generations of bluetooth headphones seemed that this technology would never take to quality listening. It may still not be for the audiophile, but for active folks, who enough spending time moving around a bit more, these AYL QY8 Bluetooth headphones do the trick.

The earbuds fit easily into your ear, come complete with several varied size tips for a more custom fit, and have a simple pressure latch that holds them in your ear. Controls, from activation, to volume adjustment, are made via button press on the right side earbud. Pairing was easy, and charging was quick.

It is very nice having no extra cord dangling from my head, into my jacket or back pocket, when I'm walking the dogs. I'm frequently working two leashes, and I hate it when the phone gets tangled in the mess. The other place I'd hope to use them is on the motorcycle, but inside a helmet, with no ability to control the unit, its kinda limited to just playing music. Also, when I did manage to get the button jammed up against the foam, it just held it in and powered the unit off.

The sound quality on these phones is certainly good enough for an afternoon out walking the dogs. fishing, or paddling. When compared to other $19-50 bluetooth headsets, as well as my in-helmet Sena bluetooth communications system, sound better. Read the rest

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