it’s not an ipad, but it’s not bad at all.

So Tamara brought her Kindle Fire along when she came up to Upper Cryogenica to house-sit. I got to play with it for a while (and watch an episode of Archer on it), and I was fairly impressed with the little thing. It’s handier than the iPad, and it does most of what I do with the iPad on a regular basis—browse the web, read e-books, do Facebook and Twitter, listen to music, and watch movies.

(My main bookreader isn’t the iPad, but the basic Kindle with the e-ink display. I prefer the look of e-ink to text on an LCD, and the readability in sunlight is kind of a big deal when you often take your e-reader along to the playground.)

The iPad is more capable, and the interface feels faster and more responsive, but I’d seriously consider a Kindle Fire if we didn’t already have an iPad. It’s definitely more portable, and covers 80% of the iPad’s functionality for most users. If there’s anything I dislike about it, it’s the shiny plastic bezel that picks up fingerprints like mad (and makes the device feel a bit cheap), and the limited storage space. Cloud or not, I want to have the option of putting a bit more than a few playlists of music and two or three movies onto my portable media tablet, especially when I travel to locations where Wi-Fi coverage may be spotty or expensive. Also, the 8-hour charge is a bit on the short side. On the whole, though, it’s a neat device and a perfectly cromulent budget tablet at less than half the price tag of an iPad. Only our ownership of an iPad is keeping me from buying one to supplement the e-ink Kindle.

a good knife.

Like many other civilized tool-using ape-descendants, I carry a knife in my pocket wherever I go.

For the last seven or eight years, the constant resident of my right-hand pants pocket has been a red Kershaw Blur. I may have mentioned it on the blog before. It fits the hand well, the blade is fast to deploy, and the red aluminum and black “skateboard tape” inserts kind of set it off from the average pocket knife and thereby satisfy my love of neat shiny things.

Late last year, the Kershaw snapped its torsion spring, the part that makes the blade open by itself once it’s push-started with the thumb. I used it as a regular folder for a while and then got around to asking Kershaw for a replacement torsion spring, which they promptly sent free of charge. I put the spring back in, and the knife was an assisted opener again. It was, however, showing its age. Daily use and pocket carry over eight years or so had taken a bit of a toll—the play in the lockup had gotten a little more loose, the anodized finish had worn off in several places, and the Blur was clearly getting a bit long in the tooth. So I started shopping around for a replacement. For my birthday last October, I decided to splurge and get a slightly more upscale replacement for the Kershaw.

Here’s what I found: the Spyderco Sage 2.

spyderbenza

Robin has been toting a Spyderco Native for years, so I was familiar with the excellent Spyderco ergonomics, but this thing makes every other knife I own feel like a chunky pack of gum in the hand.

Prior to the Sage 2, the best (and most expensive) knife I’ve ever owned was a large Chris Reeve Sebenza. Anyone who knows how much those things go for will flinch when I tell you that I lost that one in the move from Tennessee somehow. While the ergonomics of the Sebenza are good but not stellar (sort of like the Kershaw Blur), I’ve always loved the construction: no springs or liners or other flim-flam, just two massive titanium slabs with a blade in between, and a lock that’s so secure that the knife is basically a fixed blade when it’s open.

Well, the Spyderco Sage 2 combines the best features of the Sebenza (the materials and lock design) with the best features of a Spyderco (the fantastic ergonomics). I call it my “Spyderbenza”. The result is a top-shelf working knife that fits the hand like nothing else, and it’s built like a bank vault. The blade is short enough to be legal for everyday carry in most jurisdictions, the blade shape and overall appearance of the knife are sedate enough to not raise eyebrows even in an office environment, and the whole thing just oozes class. The pocket clip is a high-mounted wire clip that makes the knife ride in the pocket in a very unobtrusive fashion. The knife can be completely and easily taken apart with a little torx screwdriver for cleaning and maintenance. The blade steel is S30V, which is one of those new super-steels. I don’t know the exact voodoo behind that steel, but I can tell you that it’s easy to sharpen, and that it really keeps an edge. The scale lock is just as massive as the one on the Sebenza. When you swing the blade out with your thumb, it locks into place with the most reassuring, solid clunk this side of a Mercedes S-class car door.

If it has any weakness at all, it’s the clip. The rounded wire doesn’t wear out the pocket fabric, and it blends in with most clothing very well, but brushing it against a countertop hard enough can make the wire snap. It happened to me a week or so into owning the Sage 2, and I ordered two replacement clips from Spyderco, just to have handy if it ever happens again.

This knife is so good that I wish I could afford two more just like it just to have around…but the way this thing is built, chances are I’d never need the spares. The best part is the price—while it’s not a cheap knife (around $160), it’s a third of the current price tag for a Sebenza, and it offers the same construction and materials in a much more ergonomic package. I’ve retired the Kershaw Blur and all my other pocket knives, although I still use a Victorinox GAK for beater use and odd jobs around the house. The Spyderco Sage 2 is hands-down the best knife I’ve ever owned, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re in the market for an upscale and high-quality daily carry knife.

(The Sage also comes with carbon fiber scales or blue G10 scales, but those come with different lock mechanisms. I much prefer the solid scale lock of the Sage 2 that’s a bitwise copy of the Sebenza’s lock. I’m also a big fan of titanium. The other versions are quite a bit less expensive, though.)

frickin’ illegal immigrants.

Turns out we picked up some stowaways in Virginia. When we were at our friend’s place in SoVA, I took all the bags out of the car to restack the cargo space. The van was parked on the grass, and…well, you can imagine the rest. I’ve been pulling ticks out of kids and grown-ups since yesterday.

Today I’m bringing our housesitter to the aerodrome for her return flight in the big metal sky bus. Because the aerodrome is in Manchester, I’ll use the opportunity to meet a friend for lunch at Chez Vachon. A nice big plate of poutine won’t fix the tick infestation, but it’ll dull the edges a bit.

 

back from vacation. now i need a vacation.

We’re back from our trip to the South. Pictures and details later, but here’s a quick list of observations and such.

 

  • When you drive up the Eastern Seaboard, you have to just about take a mortgage out these days for tolls. Between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the NJ turnpike, and the George Washingtom bridge alone, I paid out enough in cash tolls to put about 300 extra miles worth of gas into the minivan.
  • I don’t know what goes on at 4am on a Sunday morning in and around NYC, but there must be some sort of local cop holiday or amnesty at that time. I got Fast & Furioused by dozens of cars, some of which were pretty high-dollar rides, and at least eight motorcycles. Three of those bikes passed me in the breakdown lane at triple-digit speeds. It appears that I-95 and the NJ turnpike are an informal racetrack in the wee hours of the Sunday morning.
  • New York City: your roads suck.
  • New Hampshire kids will physically start to melt when you take them on an hour-long walk of a Southern college campus in Southern spring weather.
  • Chik-Fil-A chicken biscuits are still pure crack.
  • A Dodge Grand Caravan is the best possible vehicle for 2,800-mile family trips short of a fully equipped rock star tour bus or RV. Three rows of seating, separated captain’s chairs for the kids with space to walk between, multiple outlets for recharging gadgets and plugging in coolers etc., lots of cargo space, seating for seven passengers…all in a stable ride that gets 26MPG on the highway.
  • iPods and iPads are lifesavers when traveling with kids.
  • Smartphones with 3G data access make trips vastly more survivable. You can look up real-time directions, phone numbers, and hotel information, email and message friends with updates from the road, post cutesy stuff on your TwitBooks, and generally stay connected to the world as you’re chugging down the road.
  • Delaware only seems small when you pass through its narrowest part on I-95. When you traverse it at its maximum north-south extension, it seems a lot bigger, especially when you’re going through half the state on state routes where the speed limit fluctuates between 55 and 40.
  • You don’t have to wonder whether you’ve crossed the Mason-Dixon line. Within a mile or so, you will see the first 100-foot vinyl cross by the side of the highway to let you know you’ve arrived in the South.
  • There are at least two dozen better names for the Mason-Dixon line. I suggest as alternatives “Sweet Tea Line”, “Waffle House Line”, and “Leave On Your Air Conditioning Or You Will Die Line”.
  • Don’t eat the country-fried chicken when you’re already feeling ooky from that GI bug the kids caught from their cousins a day into the trip.
  • When visiting relatives with kids, call ahead to make sure they don’t have GI bugs going around in the house.
  • When you pack clothes for the kids, don’t pack long-sleeved NH spring clothes for a southern spring climate unless you want to have to make a stop at a southern Wally World and spend $200 on shorts and t-shirts.

Other than the GI bug, which everyone but Robin was afflicted with for a day or so, the trip went fairly well. We got back half a day early because I elected to drive the return leg from southern VA to NH during the night in one go, so we had almost a whole extra day to decompress at the house yesterday. The kids are still asleep, doubtlessly happy to be back in their own beds. Or maybe they’re just tired from playing on the new playset that was installed in their absence as a surprise:

playset

Today I have to pick up a new chicken condo at Home Despot, and then assemble the same. While I’m out, I’ll catch a matinee of that Avengionators flick everyone’s raving about. I’m fit and well-rested today–sleeping in one’s own bed after a week away is a pleasure that simply cannot be overrated.

wagons ho!

Team Munchkin Wrangler will be rolling in a few minutes. Today we’re going as far south as I can flog the Grand Marnier. We’ll do an overnight pit stop somewhere in southern PA, and hit my brother-in-law’s place in East TN tomorrow, for the first proper stop of our Southern Madness 2012 tour. Knoxville on Monday, North Carolina on Wednesday, Virginia on Friday, and back at Castle Frostbite by Sunday or Monday.

If we’ve been in touch about getting together in K-town, monitor your Intermail and Twitbooks for more precise data as we get closer.

2,000 miles, seven days, two small kids, and only one iPad. Wish me luck…

free fiction for IPSTPD: “scent work.”

Thanks to my first pro fiction sale, I’m an associate SFWA member now. As such, I feel like I ought to participate in the International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day. In that spirit, here’s an Urban Fantasy short story I wrote a while ago. It has werewolves and mobsters in it, and also candy bars. Click past the split to read if those things are your bag, baby.

Continue reading

castle frostbite: (perennially) under renovation.

The Castle’s portcullis area is temporarily equipped with convection-style air conditioning:

IMG_0299

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The previous Lord of the Manor didn’t have the coin or inclination to fix the place up (or indeed have his laborers perform essential maintenance), so we’ve had to improve and fix the Castle piecemeal. We held off on the covered porch and entry area until this spring, at which time the corner of the porch had developed a visible list due to the log framework rotting away underneath.

Now the porch is gutted, the entryway had its floor removed, and the rotten logs at the bottom have been stripped. The log walls have been raised up with a bunch of ten-ton jacks. Castle Frostbite’s maintenance wizard will complete the gutting early next week and then start pouring concrete foundations so the remaining logs have something other to sit on than soil.

Oh, the joys of castle ownership! You know how they say a boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into? Well, a house is a lot like that, only it sits on the ground, and you use the bundles of cash to cover the roof and hold up the walls.