Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wrap A King Cobra Around Your Wrist

Regardless of how many different opportunities my father has seized to gift me a wristwatch or how many times I have tried to adopt one as part of my daily wardrobe, I have never been comfortable having something attached to my wrist. About a year and a half ago, that changed when the same friend who gave me the Benchmade knife of which I recently wrote took it upon himself to make me a survival bracelet. As I definitely never made any sort of display of enthusiasm for the exploration of the great outdoors, I have never been able to completely grasp what warranted such a gift. Maybe it was my unconscious dedication to self injury that brought him to it. I think he plays off my inability to avoid completely embracing anything given to me if it might have even the slightest bit of usefulness or style, but, since it only results in gifts, I think I can forgive him that trespass. Whatever it was, it landed that bracelet (whose black and tan fibers have appeared in previous posts), or some variant thereof, on my wrist every day since.

The concept of a survival bracelet is not original to him, nor is it anything new, but, as I said before, being classic and simple can be a good thing, and this is just one of those times. Now, it being a gift definitely might have shot any form of objectivity out the window, but the countless compliments definitely haven't hurt its case. Regardless, I think it's an interesting piece of kit with some practical, real world, applications. Of course, some people adorn their wrists with one for purely cosmetic reasons, and that might be regarded as a positive use, in and of itself, but I'm speaking of more utilitarian implementations. Basically, I want to talk about why its popularity has become more apparent amongst both outdoor enthusiasts and military personnel.

Whether referring to it as parachute cord (paracord), a hail to its airborne history, or using its strictly structural nickname, 550 cord, the material that makes up this bracelet has been in common use since before the second world war. It's incredibly versatile and incredibly strong material. The 550, itself, indicates that a single, but complete, strand can support a minimum 550 pounds of tension without failing. In other words, two gentlemen of considerable mass could suspend themselves on a single cord. That's probably why they used it in the parachutes of the second world war, but, once on the ground, those soldiers were able to break it down for other uses. Without altering it, it could be used to secure all kinds of gear and equipment to vehicles and trees, but modifications begin, it's utility grows exponentially. If beads are added incrementally, it can be used to estimate distance. If gutted, the internal strands (anywhere from seven to nine in each cord) can be used as fishing line or sewing material. After that, the sheath can be used for its elasticity. With all those uses, its popularity with the outdoor, or survival-oriented, community was inevitable. 

Many people simply carry a bundle of it in their pack while adventuring, but people started to wonder if there was a way to carry around a considerable amount in a practical and compact manner. I'm guessing that an ingenious person happened to have a lot of spare time on their hands to ponder such a concept, but, eventually, the idea of a bracelet came about. By bundling it up in such a manner, even someone with a somewhat compact wrist is able to carry fifteen to twenty feet of rope on them at all times. Should an emergency come up, they would simply need to unravel it and put it to use. So, though I appreciate the bracelet given to me, the desire to have one of different style and color was growing. Today, after months of emotional rejection of replacing it, I took it upon myself to make my own. While there are a lot of options out there, I decided on the simple King Cobra Weave with a Mathew Walker knot, and should anyone choose to make their own, there are plenty of guides online, including videos on YouTube.  It might be partially due to a background of sailing, but I found the knot work to be both simple and relaxing, and, after a day like yesterday, the experience was greatly needed. In the end, I wanted to share a couple pictures, and I recommend it for both its practicality and for the calming experience of making it. Once it's complete, it's surprisingly comfortable to wrap a king cobra around your wrist.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Is My Knife

In appreciation of the influx of viewers brought over by my recent post about TAD Gear, I thought it might be appropriate to start throwing in a few reviews of gear and gadgets. I don't intend to present myself as having any measurable level of expertise, but it couldn't hurt to share my opinion as a user. So, let me start off by sharing my thoughts on a simple folding blade that has earned a reserved parking space in my left front pocket. I will, however, start by saying that I think the most important knife choice anyone will make is not necessarily the one which drains their wallet the most. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with such upper end, collector level, knife purchases, far from it. I just don't feel I'm alone in believing that the most important knives, the ones we use most often, are the ones we have on us if and when we should need them. That's where this specimen fits in. The Benchmade 527 Mini Presidio Ultra proves itself as an excellent choice for everyday carry applications, and remains the one in my pocket. 

Now, before anyone gets upset, I'm not claiming that such a tool should be carried for defense reasons. Such a necessity could present itself, but I've come to learn that carrying a knife as often as possible proves worthwhile for more docile reasons. I never really felt the need to carry any kind of sharp object until I started working with an avid knife collector. Though he spent over a year trying to convince me I should, I never felt the need. Finally, he took it upon himself to buy me one as a gift. Well, anyone who knows me knows I can't help but feel both obliged and pleased to carry or use something given to me as a gift by someone who cares about me. So, from then on, I have carried it almost everywhere where I found it to be responsible and appropriate. It's been over a year, but I can't count how many times I've snapped it out. It's helped me open boxes in a pinch, cut a thread off some clothing that has started to come unraveled, cut some bandaging to size, and various other random actions. Plus, I actually think its a pretty attractive looking accessory. To start breaking it down, let me talk about the non-performance related aspects, or the positives of this blade while closed.

First of all, at 3.2 ounces, it has a respectable but manageable weight. That number may not mean much, but, to give a comparison, an iPhone weighs 4.8 ounces without a case. So, it's two thirds the weight of the trusty iPhone, and that's thanks, partially, to the metal liner being ingeniously milled out. Next, with a closed length of 4.15 inches, it's also quite compact and just a touch shorter than that same iPhone. If you are one to believe this knife's small blade size makes it unsuitable, I would just recommend carrying a larger knife in your pack, but, as far as general in-pocket applications, I think it's perfectly acceptable and doesn't fall short. Then, there is the handle material, which Benchmade refers to as Noryl GTX. I'm not going to go into specifics as to what it's made of, nor am I going to compare it to a bunch of other handles due to lack of exposure. I will, however, summarize and say that it must stand for some variant on the term "great traction" because this plastic provides a great amount of grip without being rough to the touch.

Still talking about the in-pocket benefits, let me touch on the clip itself, the little item that keeps it securely in your pocket. A typical complaint with more compact blades is that they have a tendency to jump out of th pocket, but the handle is cleverly secured to the handle using three screws near the very end, and that allows the blade to sit very low in the pocket. Working in unison with the handle on the other side, it fastens itself gently and securely to that same pocket without tearing it to pieces. Moreover, I don't know how intentional it may have been, but I find the indent at the end very practical to index with my thumb when removing it from my pocket. As far as other ingenious design accents, Mel Pardue smoothly introduced a lanyard hole near the clip which would allow the user to secure it to an even higher degree or just modify it for their own needs. I think that's enough about the closed benefits for now. So, though there was a teaser of a picture at the beginning of this post, let's open it up and take a look at some performance aspects. That is where a true knife shows its metal, no pun intended.

Where else could you start when talking about actuating a folding knife than by talking about the locking mechanism itself, and that is something Benchmade has truly turned into a work of mechanical art. I'm not going to go into the specifics, but what their work has resulted in is an ergonomic actuation and retraction that is easy with either hand. They have also managed to create a balance between being easily able to fold the blade with a single hand but creating a very secure lock once that motion is completed. To top it all off, it's lightning quick. It flips open quickly and effortlessly. Add it all together, and you can see what I mean about it truly being a small wonder.

Once opened, the knife is extremely balanced. I've never been extremely comfortable with any kind of blade, and I've definitely had my share of slips. Somehow, even though I find myself with a well-earned reputation of accidentally injuring myself, I have yet to let this blade split my skin. It's not the least bit on the clumsy side. It feels like the metaphorical extension of the hand to which people so commonly refer.

Now that we have it open, it's time to talk about the true heart of the knife, the blade, and, like always, its an aspect where Benchmade doesn't disappoint. As far as shape, it's a classic hollow-ground drop point, and, though that's a simple way to go, it's classic for a reason. It's practical, it's elegant, and it suits this three-inch blade perfectly. Material and production-wise, it's made of 440C steel, with an outstanding heat treatment, and it's hardened up to 5860, but those numbers might not mean much to most people. What does matter is that it's extremely durable and very resistant to rust. If you're worried about it rusting, let me just say that, even with as little as I care for it, such concerns have yet to present themselves. As far as cutting power, this blade is true to Benchmade's reputation. It's razor sharp out of the box, slices through boxes and such with no need to hack away, and it keeps an edge. Though I would recommend owning a sharpener, I have yet to need one. Add to that that Benchmade offers a lifetime sharpening service, and I can't imaging why anyone would worry about it.

The only complaint I could see is that this knife is a touch on the thick side in comparison to other ultra compact knife models, but I have never found that to be an issue. It's still absolutely manageable and feels good both in the hand and in the pocket.  So, I guess that covers the cool factor of the knife with regards to it being closed. If your just looking for simple practicality and a touch of clean design styling, Mel Pardue doesn't disappoint, and neither does Benchmade as a brand.

As far as value, with Benchmade setting a suggested retail of $90, I wouldn't say this is expensive, but it is a premium knife. You pay a little extra, but you aren't paying anywhere near the price of a Strider, and I don't think anyone is getting shorted. This is a knife that could last a lifetime if proper attention were paid, and, in my opinion, all of those beautifully engineered components, even just those to actuate the blade, would warrant the price tag. Of course it could be damaged through mistreatment, but, if one were to take care of it, it could easily be passed on to their offspring. In my opinion, that's a good value and a great reason to adopt it as a daily carry option.

Some would say that receiving it as a gift has tainted any form of objectivity, and though there may be some foundation to such a statement, I don't think I've ever done something I did not desire. Carrying this knife is something I do out of choice, and it's a choice I make proudly. If you look at the wear on the clip, you can easily tell I don't carry it lightly, but it puts up with the abuse. So, from a materialistic standpoint, it may not stand apart from the competition, but it's perfect for me. If you add to it that very fact, that a great friend bought it to introduce me to the everyday carry (EDC) scene, I would think replacing it would manifest itself a strenuous situation. Luckily, I really don't think that is much of a concern. Though I may bring it home some friends, I don't think I could ever replace it. I guess what I'm saying is that there are many like it, but this is my knife.

Calm Before The Storm

Since the mid 1800s, it seems people have been calling for "a little peace and quiet" (link below), and right now, thanks to Pandora (link below), I'm getting to experience just that. As that proposal might come off as somewhat of an oxymoron, let me clarify. Though I've always been aware of its existence and partaken in its service from time to time, lately, my dependence thereon has grown exponentially. About half the time that I find myself near my computer in the least, I open up a new browser tab, create a station to suit my mood, and wait as Pandora's internet radio service fires up the tunes. This afternoon, after a mere two tracks, the music stopped, and I had to investigate. I thought it may have merely frozen or been stuck on one of its prompts to ensure that I was still listening, but I was mistaken.

The rest of the screen seemed to disappear as my eyes focused on the sad sentence Pandora had cast me. Apparently, I had reached the limit of air time Pandora allows for its non-paying users, forty hours per month, and I had three options. Though not listed, the first option would be to stop listening until next month, but they also presented me with two other options, a reduced sentence if you will. I could either pay ninety nine cents to listen for free for the rest of the month or I could drop thirty six dollars and enjoy a years worth of their service with unlimited access and a desktop application. After sitting there, confused, for a couple minutes, I realized this was something I had to ponder, and closed the window.

Of course, there is always the option of using the application on my phone or creating another account, but I'm not a fan of abusing a privilege through such circumvention. Realizing that, I had to explore the reasoning behind the limit, and the explanation proved pretty simple. Apparently, Pandora pays royalties for each of the songs it plays. Though they insert advertising every now and then, after forty hours, at which point they lessen the amount of ads displayed, they have found it isn't economically responsible. Now that I realize Pandora is paying royalties on top of providing users with the amazing benefits of their music genome project, I can't help but feel requesting payment would be justified. That did, however, lead me to ponder something else.

Though I may have touched on it before, the internet has encouraged society to place a lower value on goods and services, and it's getting somewhat out of hand. We expect more and more, and we want to pay less and less. It's that simple. Now, with the amount of things we expect for free, I feel it has reached rock bottom with respect to responsibility. The only way I think that bottom could drop out is for people to expect to be paid for using quality goods and services, and I really hope we never stoop so far as to expect that. There are ads and such out there that balance the amount of content we can receive for free, but I feel there should be somewhat of a financial obligation and commitment to what we use. On the production end, money is being put in, and we are reaping the rewards. If we choose to continually partake therein, after some interpretation of a trial period, it's only fair that we pop open our wallet and show our appreciation.

I guess I should consider the forty hours of free music as a trial period to determine if I should continue enjoying the service, and reaching the limit revealed two things to me. First, reaching the limit puts me in the top ten percent of users in terms of usage time, and that's something with regards to which I feel a touch of pride. It feels like I completed an endurance race, and, honestly, I still feel fresh. The second thing it caused me to realize was that the choice of whether to continue or not has practically been made for me. The cost is pretty low, and, if I enjoyed it for forty hours, I think it's proved its worth. It would also make me feel less guilt about being a freeloader.

So, It only took a few minutes of that supposedly glorious silence to realize that it wasn't all its cracked up to be. It may be nice from time to time, but, after a while, it feels like it could stop a clock. In those few minutes between when it stopped and I fired up my iTunes, everything felt so slow and boring. Since I'm sure I want to continue with Pandora, all I have to do is decide which route to take, but that might take a few minutes. Soon, Pandora will, once again, pummel my computer's speakers. Just think of my iTunes collection as the calm before the storm.

Peace And Quiet: Idiom
Pandora Internet Radio: Website

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hope To Come Out On Top

That's what my desk looked like earlier this afternoon, with the addition of a few post it notes, a pen and a cell phone piled on after the picture was taken. Though it may resemble the desk of someone preparing for the SATs, I can assure you those days are far behind me. Those are actually course catalogs, schedules and notes, and that might lead you to the true goal of this endeavor. At two o'clock this afternoon, my online registration appointment came up, and I started punching in call numbers like a mad man. After some forty five minutes, I had made my attempts at any course which might interest or benefit me in the least, and that is no exaggeration. The only classes that escaped my net were those closed to registration and duplicates of others on my list. Now, why would I take things to such an extreme?

Well, those who frequent this blog with some regularity might remember my post from the end of October entitled "The Class Is Full," but I'll summarize it in saying that my last enrollment experience was anything but successful. In an attempt to remedy the situation, I determined to attack the next opportunity in a much more proactive manner. So, in the weeks leading up to my registration time, I actively educated myself on the subject matter and scheduling of all courses to be offered, and I made a list of those that were of interest. I prioritized the list from most desired to least desired, and I filled a couple more pages with classes that held little in terms of scholastic gain but that would, in their own way, benefit me even a bit. Fast forward to a couple days ago, and I checked in on the lists of open courses, watching their virtual doors close one by one, but still keeping track of the trends of those still plausible. Not that I needed the digital reminder of my registration, but when my phone's alarm rang this afternoon, it was go time. I entered a series of numbers which has started to become all too familiar, complete a couple online prerequisite quizzes that had slipped my mind, and submitted my proposed schedule.

In the end, I was only able to successfully enroll in 3.0 units, but I didn't stop there and added myself to the waitlist sections of another 38.0 units. That may seem a little excessive, especially considering this is merely an intersession, but leaving sensibility to hinder my possible success did not seem reasonable or even logical. These are merely waiting lists, and they don't imply that I truly intend to find myself in that many hours of class. That would be absurd. They are merely attempts and reflections of my hope that at least a portion might stick and that I might find myself enrolled in enough classes to categorize as a full-time student's course load. That is what I intend to call myself, even if it takes until spring term classes begin in February. That would, however, present itself as a worst case scenario, and definitely a scenario I would prefer to avoid. I hope stacking the odds in my favor will have some positive impact in preventing such a drastic circumstance. I see it as a numbers game, and, much like the darker pages in the picture above, I hope to come out on top.

Friday, December 17, 2010

From The Sublime To The Ridiculous

Living in California, classifying the finding of any reference to Spanish language or culture as a any degree of a challenge would be ludicrous, but change the pretense to similar allusions to those exact aspects of French culture, and logic is rendered to the contest. Really, that's just an elaborate way of saying that it's easier to find something with a Hispanic touch than it is to find one with a French twist, no pun intended. Considering the purchase of a notably vast territory, the Louisiana Purchase (link below), once allowed us to double the physical size of our country, that puzzles me a bit. Though such references definitely prove themselves more common amidst the streets of those states within its confines, especially that which keeps its namesake, finding them out west remains more of a rarity. Attribute it to the extent of my French exposure, but I feel I have a particular knack for noticing any such public display or reflection, especially if I regard them as a misrepresentation. Last Friday materialized as just such an occasion, or event.

While driving down Market Street in downtown Riverside, I spotted an adult-centered boutique, and I just had to pull over to snap a picture. It may sound immature, but I found myself literally chuckling, and I felt an absolute compulsion to share the experience with a few key people in my life. Though I don't feel much concern of reproducing an image of a public display of this sort, since one of the employees seemed to be standing outside smoking, I made sure to obtain her consent, and I snapped a couple quick pictures for "a project". Due to the visible age of the lettering, I can only hypothesize that the owners of this establishment decided to give its name a French connotation. I don't know if it was an allusion to the 1972 Claude Berri flick, but, if it was, the spelling is incorrect. Either way, I think it's a failed attempt, but an attempt at what?

Through this French connection, I think they were attempting to accomplish two things, attach themselves to the perceived romanticism of the French language as well as the perceived distinction people grant it. Whether I believe the first aspect is a result of a misinterpretation of the Roman base of its dialects or not, I cannot deny its acceptance. Americans, in particular, tend to regard French as a beautiful language whose smooth words and pronunciations can melt the hearts of the fairer sex, and I can't deny that I have abused this knowledge at one or more instance, but they also attach a sense of a more exploratory sexual culture. Strangely, this fact puts it in direct conflict with the second part of my argument. Franco-centric culture remains regarded, worldwide, as a highly refined civilization with an appreciation of the finer things in life, and this is where I think they truly missed the boat.

Somehow, I just can't allow myself to associate any such level of distinction to an industry that lives in the shadows of my views of society. Whether they hail from true French roots or not, there are numerous ways in which such an attachment proves positive, from fine dining establishments like Le Cirque (link below) to retailers of finer goods like Le Petit Vendome in Los Angeles (link below) and Le Chateau in New York (link below). However, in this case, it just doesn't help. I am aware of the existence of such things as the Moulin Rouge, but those are aspects of every culture, and I don't think it should lend credibility to this. Adding the French masculine article, le, or any other form of French notation. doesn't remove any of the societal subversion which I attach to such a practice. Whether or not this store has a French-sounding name, those who walk through those doors will still be shopping for goods of a sexual nature. Though I don't have anything against such goods, I can't comfortably link the terms "discretion" and "distinction". Even though, generally, as the blog of the same name (link below) suggests, everything sounds better in French, I still don't think this can push all the way into the grounds of positive. Better than disreputable doesn't necessarily mean prestigious.

In the end, though the effectiveness of such application is somewhat based on the root and clarity of the words chosen, the largest portion of that possible success can be attributed to the subject matter. Since, in essence, this post refers to the use and misuse of French culture, I believe it might be appropriate to close with a mention of one of its most notable figures, Napoleon Bonaparte. Some 200 years ago, he explained that "du sublime au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas," which translates to meaning that, much like my views on these misappropriations of the French tongue, it's just one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.

National Park Service: Louisiana Purchase
Le Cirque: Website
Le Petit Vendome: Website
Le Chateau: Website
Better In French: Blog

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Working On A Piece Of History

As much as I admire Howard Hughes, I would never dare classify myself as an aviator, or even a connoisseur of the aviation industry. Such aspirations seem to fall beyond my reach or ambitions, but I don't think it would be much of a stretch to stay I find myself drawn to the mechanical world. It doesn't feel like there was any way around it either. Not only did I spend a couple years studying Mechanical Engineering, but I am, after all, a guy. That's not to sound sexist in the least, but I've grown into a belief that I share my passion for machinery with almost everyone carrying a Y-chromosome. If you add in a felt responsibility to prove ones worth and valor, boom, there you have it. What do you have? You have every little boy looking up at the sky, watching the trails of the planes zipping around, even if they are so distant we can't even tell if they are moving, much less make out any fine detailing. When we are young, we play with little metal replicas of the jets flown by the Blue Angels, but, as we grow older, those little toys just can't cut the mustard. So, we go bigger, and we only let ourselves be limited by the degree to which we choose to forgo other financial responsibilities. In other words, we're only held back by the size of our wallet, or how much we can let ourselves spend without starving to death. Most everyone takes a plane from time to time, but we want something we can call our own. Some guys build model planes while some travel the skies in their own private jets. That seems like quite a jump. So, what about those in between?

That's where MotoArt (link below) and their sculptures come in. Born from the breeding of their passion for scrap metal and their childhood passion for aviation, Donovan Fell III and his business partner Dave Hall turn salvaged metal into functional art. I may be mistaken, but the entire opportunity seems to have come about purely by accident. In 1998, while the gentleman in charge of collecting their scrap metal was making his usual stop, Donovan noticed some abused parts that appeared to be remnants of planes much like those of his younger years in Southern California, and he was quick to work out a deal. After spending a few weekends restoring those chunks of metal, Donovan needed to find a use for them, and mounting them to a wall didn't seem reasonably feasible. That's when he was struck with the idea of sculptures based on single blades, and he quickly found his passion was shared and, of course, that he had a market. Though the company has branched out into creating pieces based on other aviation components, I can't help but think most people, like me, are still primarily drawn to the desks.

Each piece is unique, and each piece tells its own story. The orange desk at the beginning of this post is crafted from the flaps of a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, a military transport aircraft used by the Navy, Marines and Air Force in the early 1950s (link below). The green desk is carved from the wing of a North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber, a medium bomber flown by military groups across the world for nearly forty years, from the early 1940s until the end of the 1970s (link below). The red desk is labeled as a stabilizer wing desk and cuts itself from the body of a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jetliner, a primarily commercial airliner whose variants flew for forty one years, starting in 1965 (link below). Though this represents only a portion of their line, the last desk I chose to display is made from the flap of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, a four-engine propeller-driven transport aircraft whose versatility leaves its variants still in both production and service today, some 56 years after its first flight in 1954.

In my opinion, their perfected craft has brought together the beauties of more passions than I can currently summarize. In the spirit of the restoration community, they manage to bring new life to something that was destined to be destroyed. As those obsessed with the collection of antiques, they give a few more years to items that were destined to be discarded. They even manage to bring in the sector of society that finds pleasure in the repurposing of common, but ignored, pieces. They have combined form and function, and they allow people to not only bring a piece of aviation and art into their home, but leave their kids with a piece of history. Since it turns out they have a showroom in Los Angeles, I might find myself getting some hands-on exposure. However, though I find them beautiful and would love to call one of them my own, their pricing, which can go anywhere from $5,000 to $60,000, puts it in the category of things of which I might just have to dream. Well, I guess that's still more affordable than an actual functioning jet, and I might aspire to procure one as the centerpiece of my workplace. I can't help but attach some perceived pleasure to such a purchase, if only to be able to tell people that I'm working on a piece of history.

MotoArt: Website
Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar: History and Description
North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber: History and Description
McDonnell Douglas DC-9: History and Description
Lockheed C-130 Hercules: History and Description

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Look Forward To Winter

Clothing, fashion and photography may not be a big part of my life, but they are the topic of this entry. I shot the picture above as part of a collaboration with R.R. and his blog (Indigo Navy, link below). R.R. and I have been friends for over eight years, and he asked for my input and assistance. His blog centers around those three subject matters, and he wanted to do a collaboration piece, part of his "Favorite Things" series. The idea is to capture an image of an item of clothing, or other style accessory, in one's possession that captures the essence of your identity. It doesn't have to be your favorite article of clothing, but it should be something that speaks to your personality. Then, of course, an explanation must be rendered. There were a few concerns. Basically, I don't have much of a clothing arsenal, I don't consider myself an expert on fashion, I consider my photography as sub par, I don't have much of a camera, the weather is atrocious, I prefer not to share images of myself, and I don't have a mannequin torso. As I count them, that's at least seven conflicts. So, the process seemed like it might stretch my comfort and abilities a touch, but I liked direction and the opportunity to work with a friend. So, I was on board. I attempted to capture not only the jacket itself but the essence of the jacket (outdoors), and I returned the material within a day's time. The image above is the result, and the material below is what I shared.

Founded in San Francisco in 1997 by Patrick Ma, Triple Aught Design (TAD Gear, link below) has planted its feet as a staple of gear in the niche market of upper-end outdoor equipment. They set out on a simple mission, a mission which they will openly and proudly discuss. They wanted to make the best gear possible and encourage them to explore the world. In my opinion, they not only succeeded, but they manage to surpass and reinvent themselves every year. I may sound like somewhat of a fan boy, but they've earned my business and support in an honest manner. 

As most others, I found them, and their original retail store (image above), through the channels of word-of-mouth, and there is a little joy in being part of a select, underground group that shares a common passion for a somewhat hidden commodity. I'm not going to lie and deny the presence of any semblance of elitist mentality, but I do believe that taints the action. There is no sense of exclusivity with regards to those unaware of the product. Those who wear this gear feel the compliments and are quick to invite others in, and that applies to the staff as well. Their personality and fantastic customer service, especially in their retail location, is beyond approachable. They don't consider people customers. They consider them fellow enthusiasts. After a few visits, I was quickly able to count the manager, and poster child, of their retail store as an actual friend, and I don't mean that in a strictly business sense. 

Thanks to a new marketing team, their gear has been picked up by a few style blogs, and that part about having to explain and introduce their gear to the uninformed has become less necessary. The did open a second retail location (image above).They didn't, however, sellout and cut costs to keep up with a growing customer base. They stepped up their production, but the quality is still the same, and if it sells out, it's gone, end of story. They don't bring gear back because that would go against the mentality of improving it at the next cycle. They move on. Of course, they make a few packs and accessories, but their pride and joy is their clothing line, or more precisely, their jackets.

I might own a lot of TAD Gear jackets, but there's something about the Explorer jacket (link below) I picked up at the end of the summer that has me wearing it more than the rest. It definitely isn't the priciest or the highest performance of the bunch, but it's different. Unlike the others, this one sports a semi-rigid collar (as opposed to a hood) and forgoes any patch panels. Add to that that it's made of a somewhat more textured Rhino-Hide material, and I find it a lot more suitable for school and for just general about-town adventures. That seems to be about the most exploring I have asked of it, but, true to its namesake, I don't think it would let me down in the least should I decide to do some light outdoor adventuring. I know I made the decision to buy it more of stylistic reasons than of performance necessities, but trusting it wouldn't let me down if I should choose to test it is reassuring to say the least.

For the same prices, many would have bought gear from Arc'Teryx (link below), but, though I respect the quality of their product, I wouldn't. I feel a sense of loyalty to a store that has gone out of its way to provide me with the best customer experience possible, and the gear definitely doesn't fall short of expectations. It exceeds them at every turn. Add to that my personal connection to one of its employees, and there is no way I would shop anywhere else. I didn't settle on their gear. I chose it, and the only regret I have is not making that choice sooner. Thanks to them, I look forward to winter.

Indigo Navy: Blog
Triple Aught Design: Website Explorer Jacket
Arc'Teryx: Website

All reader comments and my replies are found in the comments section below.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Return To Decency

Every so often, someone in possession of my contact information finds it appropriate to drop an atom bomb into my little bubble. I'm not saying that it's always the same person, and I'm not saying that it's always the same contact method, but I can guarantee that it has yet to be positively received. Though I wouldn't expect it to be their intention, such actions rub me in the most uncomfortable manner. I'm not talking about sexting. My views on that matter are formulated on a case-by-case basis. I'm talking about the openly disseminated pornographic images that keep finding their way onto my screen. I might be considered by some as old-fashioned, but that's one thing of which I am not ashamed.

As the years pass us by, it feels this is becoming more and more common practice. I guess that, given the tools, there are people who will choose to misuse them. Since the acceptance of smartphones as a staple of our society, these messages have increased exponentially, especially in relation to the number of your contacts. Not only have these devices made it easier for people to commit such invasions of my privacy, but they have boosted the amount of channels by which such attacks might occur. I could blame the technology, but that would blame would be improperly dispensed. I would much prefer to blame a disturbing trend which I have noticed in our society.

For some reason, pornography has become socially acceptable. I would like to attribute this to the simple facts of life as a civilization progresses, but that would imply a positive turn. As civilizations proceed, one would expect moral standards to shift, and it's something which has been apparent for centuries, but I believe it has gone too far. It used to be highly frowned upon for anyone to be caught enticing their senses with some pornography, but, in this technology-centered world, it seems the entire concept has been openly embraced. People seem to have no discomfort discussing the act of looking at pornography. It seems the stigma is gone and that people feel no shame in comparing notes on different works much like a movie. Its normalcy has become classified in as almost equivalent to that of drinking coffee.

Some people may have issues with the exploitation of pornography, but, though I understand their position, I don't have any problem with the existence of pornography.  I do, however, have a problem with the deterioration of the moral standards of our culture. I don't believe it should be considered civilly responsible to partake in such an open acceptance and distribution of such images and videos. It materializes the decay of the moral fabric to which I believe we should cling. In my eyes, pornography is a dark area. If you are a Christian, it falls in the area of sin. Now, I'm not a preacher, nor do I intend to be, but I do find myself thinking such crude actions should come with the attachment of shame. It's not a graceful display, and ones explorations should be kept within the confines of their mind. Sending it about cyberspace and talking about it openly is putting it into the mainstream, far from where it should dwell.

Now, I know I may be starting to sound quite Amish, but such messages stretch the comfort level of any friendship and they cause me to judge the person responsible for sending it my way. I shouldn't be in the position to judge someone, nor do I wish to be. However, we all spend some time sizing up those around us, and, in this case, it allows me to put that person's moral character more in line my personal perception of that person. To put it simply, those that forgo such actions are placed in higher standing in my book. I'm not saying that my opinion is that relevant, but I don't believe I am alone, and everyone wants approval from those for whom they care, their friends and family.

So, let me wrap things up. I don't care if it's a text message, a multimedia message, or an email. I don't care if I am simply part of the flow of a highly circulated message. I don't care if they find it so breathtaking that they have to share it. I don't care if they couldn't stop laughing and thought I might enjoy it. I wouldn't, I don't, and I would prefer they kept it to themselves. I already don't like the messages, and I really don't like having to feel a need to explain why I might be blushing when I publicly check my phone. If you must know, it's because I'm embarrassed, and it's because of having such messages sent to me. If they could keep it to themselves, I would be greatly pleased. No, I don't want a warning added to prepend these message. I just want them gone all together. As I choose not to send any such messages out, I wish people would realize I would prefer not to receive them. I guess I'm calling for a return to decency.

That's Up To You

Dear AT&T,

     Our relationship was born of a surplus of excitement. We paired up amidst the confusion of the summer months between my high school and college years. Finding out that Sprint would not provide adequate coverage in Davis left me heartbroken, but you were there to pick up the pieces. You put a Motorola Slvr into my hands, and seeing those four solid bars in my dorm room made me feel I hadn't lost touch with the family I left in San Jose. The Slvr was loyal and reliable, but you introduced me to Apple and its iPhone. I was anxious, but I was excited. Since then, our little love triangle has been amazing, and I don't regret a minute of it.

     Many people may have complained about you deserting them, leaving them high and dry with no reception, stranded. I was a little worried, but I trusted you, and I always advocated your power and support. Some complained of being able to shield their phone in such a way that no calls could be made, but I wouldn't hear it. I couldn't blame Apple or AT&T. You two have always been fair to me, and I dismissed the entire plausibility as a result of their own malpractice. Though I have yet to bring a new iPhone 4 into my life, I have never had any such conflict with my ability to stay connected. Even at the peak of Whistler Blackcomb (Whistler, BC), I was able to keep in touch with my loved ones.

     I wouldn't say we had many, but we did have our fights. There were those times I wanted to upgrade my hardware prematurely, but you wouldn't let me. There were those times I reconsidered my commitment level and wanted to cut down the time for which I was paying you. No, I'm not trying to make you sound cheap. I just felt I was putting in too much and not getting anything in return, but you wouldn't have it, and you told me how much I would suffer for such a choice. Our biggest fight had to be on that very same trip to Whistler. You made sure I wouldn't be left alone, but you hit me with the biggest bill I have ever seen. It may have been jealousy or simply anxiety about my distance, but I wasn't shopping around for another carrier. I was surfing the internet, but you should have known I would come back to you. As I look back on everything, it seems most fights were born of my foolishness, and you were always there to calm me down. We stuck together, and I'm glad we did.

     Yesterday, I made the poor choice of posting some poorly chosen words to my Twitter page (which I have attached as "evidence"). It was a simple tweet, but maybe I shouldn't have expressed my intent to upgrade my iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 4. I'm sorry. I know it may seem cruel, but, though a supportive companion, my iPhone 3GS is starting to show its age. I have abused her, but she stuck by me. Lately, she's a little sluggish, barely responding to my requests, and even then at her own leisure. I know it's conceited, but I feel people are judging me for not moving on. I will not forget her, but I feel I must let her go. I thought I was merely telling my friends, or the few people that choose to follow my tweets, but that was a peace you quickly stole from me.

     This morning, I received an email telling me that you had heard my words (once again, below), and you were now following my musings. I felt trapped. I felt as if my privacy had been invaded. In my eyes, you were showing your spiteful side again. I felt even more hurt when you brought your friend, RCE Tracking, into the ranks of my Twitter followers (again, below). In your e-stalking attempt, which you may have felt would go unnoticed, you announced yourself as the metaphorical Cheetah chasing me through these plains. Though TheGeorgeF reassures me my mountain scaling abilities are similar to that of the Gazelle, I wish it hadn't come to this. I don't like feeling such distrust. I was not trying to hide from you (I am even showing you now), and I didn't want to leave you. You say you want to send me some fabulous and enticing offers, but you didn't need to take it here. You are only cheapening our relationship and causing tension where none need be.

    I know this may come across as somewhat of a rant, and I did draw some inspiration from Jeramey Kraatz and his Google Documents breakup letter, but I think we can work things out. I just wanted to let you know how I feel, and I hope you will take it with some civility. At this point, I still plan to get an iPhone 4, but I'm going to meet in the middle and listen to your request to wait until April. That seems fair, and I can abide. This may appear as a feeble attempt to cover my tracks, masking my missteps, and, to a degree, it may be, but it's more than that. We have come too far to throw it all away. From now on, I'll watch what I say. Even better, I'll hope not to think it.  In the end, I'll say it again. I just wanted to get it out there, and I hope you understand. Twitter asked me at the bottom of those emails, "What's Next?" I really don't know. That's up to you.



E-Mail and Tweet: Evidence

Monday, December 13, 2010

Paths of Hate

Four years ago, Platige Image (link below) teased the world with a brief, but cleverly composed, trailer of an upcoming animated feature. I don't consider myself any degree of an animation fanatic, but this was not a work I could ignore. Though its title is an allusion to the trails left by fighter planes as they streak through their airborne battleground, a quick look at the trailer yields the inevitable conclusion that the film is more of an exploration of the human soul. Charting a course on an endeavor of creating a war-based feature, it's far too easy to stray into the common path of portraying the brutality of its blood-filled battles, but Damian Nenow managed to take a different direction. 

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with captured the possibility for beauty that lies within such brutal acts. I am truly a huge fan of such dramas, even those that border on the realm of documentaries. Now that I think about it, I am actually a huge supporter of the documentary-style productions and the ability of those in the motion picture industry to reenact a true story while adding a touch of their own artistic styling. However, there is something about the power of a feature that chooses to focus on the complexity and demons of the human soul itself. They manage to dive into the human psyche in ways that truly can captivate an audience. They allow us an opportunity to attempt to understand the state of mind of individuals and characters we have never met. They allow us to step inside their mind and walk the metaphorical mile in their shoes. There is no greater puzzle that the human mind, and we jump at the opportunity to understand and possibly relate to that of others, especially the characters to whom we attach some level of mystique. 

This is just one of those cases, and, being an animated feature, I feel it can emphasize and exaggerate emotions and actions in ways most movies couldn't dream. Filming the scene doesn't have to be physically feasible or even economically logical. It doesn't matter if there is no way to get that position for the camera or to make that event occur. It doesn't even matter if the action or emotion would be tough to force even the best actor to duplicate. All it takes is a dedicated artist with a pen (or a graphics tablet) and a vision, and I can't help but admire their work. This self-proclaimed "dynamic tale about [sic] hatred" which draws the audience "into the middle of the fight, of [sic] unknown origins" as an absolutely beautiful exploration of human nature.The movie allows us to feel what such fighter pilots might have felt without having to strap on those goggles and trade shots with silhouettes in the distance. We don't have to feel the pressure of having bullets whistle past our ears, and we get to go home safely after the credits roll.

Well, though almost four years have passed from its originally intended release date (spring 2007), the Polish design studio has finally thrown its name out there again and hit the world with two trailers. The first was a thirty second teaser (link below), but the second was a full-length version (video above). After seeing these previews, I think the wait will prove itself as having been worthwhile, and I can guarantee that I will make every effort to watch it on the big screen, even if that involves a drive to Los Angeles. Though I recommend watching the trailer to make an informed decision, I recommend it to anyone reading, especially anyone who likes war movies, dramas or animation. You may notice this is the first post with an embedded video, and I thought it justified to dedicate such an experiment to "Paths of Hate".

Platige Image: Website
Paths of Hate: Short Trailer