Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Snow Lizard - SLXtreme 5 iPhone case

Attentive readers may recall the Kickstarter for the rugged, batter and solar powered phone case, the SLXtreme that I covered a while ago. You may also recall how I took it on the Tough Mudder twice last year but it didn't survive the second attempt.

The hinge cracked and I had some water leakage into the unit, temporarily shorting out my phone, and killing the unit. I was sad, because it was otherwise a great piece of kit, but I also realised that I had put it through a pretty arduous test for a phone case.
However, undaunted, when I saw that Snow Lizard had gone on to make a case for the iPhone 5 (which I had subsequently upgraded to) I got in touch with them to let them know that I was keen to put it through its paces, and they kindly sent me a replacement, in the form of the new and improved SLXtreme 5. In safety orange no less.

It features all the same aspects as the previous model: latch-locking top opening, press-button battery-check and solar power switch, 2,550 mAh battery, membrane speaker

and mic covers, rugged buttons for volume and "home" buttons, a lanyard loop, capacitive touch-screen membrane.  It also sports a thumb-screw bottom sealing latch, and an access port for both USB charging and for the headphone jack. Forward and read-facing camera ports allows for photo and video capture and selfies.

There had been significant improvements as well.The in-built battery is 550 mAh larger in capacity over the "4" version.
 The bottom access port is now tool-free access (even though previously all you needed was a coin), the main latch is now a two-part metal, rather than polycarbonate.

The most exciting new feature however was the headphone jack socket and adapter. With an o-ring sealed plug, and matching sealed adapter, it is possible to have the phone safely cocooned and waterproof, as well as having access to headphone and mic jacks, a feature I've missed since my yellow Walkman days

As with the previous model, the SLXtreme 5 is rated at IP-68 with an operational depth of two meters, so in theory you can take SLXtreme anytime you are in or around water. It doesn't float, however, so I kept mine well attached to myself with a lanyard of paracord. This "open" shot gives you an idea of the engineering used in this cases creation, and it certainly paid off.

having access to the USB port (not the Lightning port of the phone, mind) allows you to charge the phone and its built in battery, but not synch, as far as I can tell.
The main port includes optically clear and easy to clean lenses, padding and improved closing latches, as well as hinges, substantially stronger in design than the previous model, I was pleased to see.

The solar panel was also improved, with a more matte finish to the surface, and what looked to be improved collector crystals internally.

The finish and the feel of the case as a whole was a lot more refined, and with the extra metal hardware, and the changes to the bottom panel, I was really impressed with the design improvements the Snow Lizard team had put into the next model.

When I took the plunge, (so to speak), and took my phone in its new case into the warm waters of Fiji, I knew I was going to give it a good test. With its "2m" depth rating, I was trepidatious  about how it would survive the trip, but as you can see, it worked wonderfully.
I had to remind myself a few times to use the buttons to control photo operation, as the main screen doesn't work under water, but I was able to switch between still and video controls on the surface easily enough, with just a flick of the wrist to clear water from the surface.

I found that the edges were a little tight, when dealing with water droplets, for dexterous screen manipulation, but the macro-control I needed worked just fine. The phone was bone-dry after almost an hour in the water (and subsequent jet-ski back to the resort), and the footage turned out really well.

All in all, I am thoroughly pleased with my replacement SLXtreme 5 case, and would highly recommend them to anyone who wanted to do some wet and wild filming, mapping, long distance phone calls and catching up on your favorite Apocalypse Equippedness blog from a beach-side or mountain-top retreat with their trusty iPhone.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: Mad Millie - Italian cheese kit

 For Giftmas I was lucky enough to receive this very spiffy DIY cheese kit, good for over 10 batches of cheese (approx 6kg in total), as produced by "Mad Millie". This is the Mad Millie Beginners Italian Kit

With recipes and all the ingredients you need (apart from the milk) to make some of the following:

Fresh Italian Mozzarella and Bocconcini (approx 600g/batch),
Ricotta (approx 400g/batch),
Ricotta Salata (approx 100g/batch),
Burrata Mascarpone (approx 700g/batch).

I recently rediscovered the kit on top of the refrigerator and I had wanted to make mozzarella as my first attempt. We sourced some UN-homoginized milk (as some reading indicated that would work better) I got ready to make some delicious cheeze!

Included in the kit are the  vegetarian rennet tablets (the enzymatic agent that causes the milk to coagulate), cheese salt (which is iodine-free, so as not to inhibit bacterial maturation),  citric acid (to acidify the mixture, allowing the rennet to act more effectively), calcium chloride (to re-introduce calcium often lost in milk-processing)  as well as the cheese cloth  measuring pipette, and thermometer needed.

With my 2L of fancy un-homoginized milk, and the added backup of my fancy new digital Range iPhone thermometer I made my attempt, and ended up with ... ricotta. 

After the process, which may have been less delicate than it should have been, I balled my finished product, and let it hang to drain off the last of the whey.

I ended up with a mass of cheese that yielded 450g, and I let it sit for  a few days to settle, before breaking open my ball, and seeing what I had wrought.

It had been obvious in my preparation that the coagulation step didn't ever really happen. I had curds, but never the solid custard-like phase that needed cutting.

My mozzarella failed, but I ended up with a pretty decent, if crumbly, fetta type of cheese.  

At this stage I am putting it down to poor technique on my part, and not the kit. Whist I am fairly confident that the temperatures and times were right, as I had the digitally controlled and timed Range to fall back on, I have a feeling that the initial combination of ingredients, and stirring may have been heavy handed on my part.
So whilst this first attempt certainly didn't result in the delicious creamy and plain ball of mozzarella that I had anticipate, I did manage to turn a volume of milk into a storable bulk of cheese.

I felt that it had sufficiently dehydrated to retard bacterial spoilage in the short term, and over the space of a few days, I broke it apart and sprinkled the product over a variety of dishes, like these patties.

I have successfully made cheese with this kit. Now to work out how to make the cheese I want to make.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: 5.11 Tactical - Tarani CUB Master 2.0 Karambit

I am always pleased to be able to provide my loved ones with some cherished pieces of kit. My partner Omega was delighted to add a NukoTool Skully keyring to her keys, and last giftmas I was able to procure this beauty for her purse. She has a penchant for back-swept blades, and I wanted to get her something she would enjoy.

This is the 5.11 Tactical CUB Master 2.0 (Combat Utility Blade) which is part of their Tarani line. There is really something to be said for the claw like lines of the Philipino karambit and its simple functionality, even for something of an exotic design to Western sensibilities.

I was impressed with both the slight weight, at about 150g (0.35lbs) and easy size in the hand. The blade itself is only 7cm (2.87") long, which opens with an ambidextrous skeltonized opening in the back of the blade. An interesting feature of this knife is that the deployment is fully adjustable, by adjusting the tension in a spring-bar which is accessible by removing the scales. This is facilitated by the included TORX wrench, which was a nice touch.

The same wrench can also be used to flip the pocket clip from side to side.

The scales are made of FRN (Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon) which is a more flexible yet durable alternative to the more common G10. The grip is textured with the 5.11 logo, as well as three circular finger tip dips.Crenelations on both the inside of the handle and back  of the blade allow further positive grip.

Equipped to enable both a blade up and blade down grip, the large reinforced retention ring typical of this type of blade, giving both pinkie or index finger grips. That ring allows both a retention, and lanyard attachment point as well as being a blunt impact tool.

The linear lock set into the back handle allows the return the S30V Crucible steel curved, scythe blade into its recess, and the clasp tension is directly related to the adjustable tensioner used for release of the blade. The short blade is not an issue given the particular style of use this kind of blade allows, and for the particular uses Omega uses it for.

The glare and corrosion eliminating Teflon finish of the blade only adds to its overall slick production. That evil claw of a blade makes up for lack of length with style and stealth.

As you can see, it works nicely as the backbone of an EDC tool-chain, with a WTF and Eat'n Tool on a baby carabiner on Omega's one.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Events: exoskeletons in the news and on screens

Ever since seeing the Power Loader in Aliens, and reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers accounts of the MI Cap Troopers powered suits, I've been fascinated by the idea of powered exo-skeletons and wondered when they would become a reality. The time is now.
I was shown this link recently, of Eythor Bender of Berkeley Bionics bringing two amazing exoskeletons onstage, the HULC and eLEGS. The HULC is a military power-loader type affair, made by Lockheed-Martin and is human wearable, assisting and enhancing a ground soldiers ability to haul gear and kit. The eLEGS from EKSO Bionics are designed to give paraplegic people assisted walking. Both suits have the same lineage and show how the technology we have currently available is moving.

Just this week the symbolic kickoff of the World Cup was performed by a paralyzed, previously wheelchair borne person wearing a similar suit. What makes this so significant is that unlike the HULC suit, and other motor-muscle actuated feedback systems, it was controlled by readings from an EEG cap that sends readable nerve of impulses to systems which then drive the hydraulics strapped to their legs. The system "reads the mind" of the wearer and allows them to, at this stage, stand from sitting, walk forwards and return to sitting.
I lost a friend to motor-neuron disease a number of years ago, and it was tragic to see this pillar of a man gradually loose every function but his wits. Something like this might well have helped him for a time. There are plenty of people with acquired paralysis, be it road-accident injury or combat related, who could benefit from this kind of suit.
We even have an example of this kind of thinking in the movies, in Elysium, where the protagonist is fitted with (albeit in a very visceral, literally bolted on medical way) an exoskeleton. Part prosthetic, part combat-accessory, the suits in Elysium offer a very realistic representation of how this kind of technology might develop, not unlike the visions offered by Cyberpunk roleplayings Linear Frames and more recently the powered combat suits that feature in Edge of Tomorrow.

How might these fall into more common usage? Well, apart from medical recovery, and military operations, you could also expect to see this kind of technology in heavy industry, rescue and emergency services, any place that you might want either more power or stamina than a regular person might be able to muster, but less space or more maneuverable than a forklift, or with more autonomy than a wheelchair offers.

Imagine if the rescue workers at an earthquake downed building wore something like these? Firefighters at the scene of a 3-car collision? A trooper who took a piece in the back?
The real ticket will be how light they can make them, how long they will remain powered for and in the end, how much they will cost. There was a time when owning a car was outside the scope of most households, or even a wheelchair. The ReWalk is already a consumer item. Can't be long until Caterpillar bring out a bright yellow Xenomorph squisher...

We have the technology, we can improve it!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Review: Gearward - 24HSD glow tag

I saw these come up in one of my reader feeds, and saw that there was controversy about them, but felt I should check them out myself rather than just take a knee-jerk response.

I'm a big fan of both glow-in-the-dark kit, and signalling in general, and thought it would be worth your time and mine to cover an item such as this.

This is the 24 Hour Signal Device by Gearward, and it's a no frills day/night signalling tool.

You may recall the  SAR Eclipse Signal System I covered ages ago, and also the SAR MoonGlow disk. This product is in some ways like a combination of those two systems.

Combining a slab of the same moonglow plastic as in the SAR disks, and the terminatorized NukoTool ACDT and a mirror finished chrome tag which acts as a signalling mirror. It came bundled with a strip of ranger-band and a braided, waxed cord.

Both tags are in standard dog-tag size and shape and are drilled with a hole to use as a helioscope for signalling, much like the inner segment of the SESS-c.

Still, whilst it has many similar features, these are quite different products, and I have added this to my collection of EDC alongside the SAR systems and the similar, glowy UVPaqLiteUVP products.

I have added my 24HSD as a fob for my phone, seen here in its Strike Industries SHOX case.

More glow is good glow, as far as I am concerned. The big solid block of glowing plastic gave me many hours of illumination, both enough to find my phone, but also to navigate my keys and wallet contents in a dark room. I found it too bulky for me to add to my already prolific neck decoration collection, where as the SAR disk fits nicely there, but if just adding to an existing dog-tag, for example, it might well be just the ticket.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wish Lust: KickStarters - RECON 6 Watch & KLAX

From time to time I either get forwarded, or read about some great ideas going on via Kickstarter, or other crowd-sourcing sites, and I want to boost their signal to help them out, as well as getting some gear ideas out to you folks ....

check these two out...

From the creator of the Crovel Extreme comes this jam-packed survival watch.

In his words:
RUGGED AS IT IS USEFUL:Recon 6 Watch is the Baddest watch around: Compass, Signal, Can Opener, Fire Starter, Whistle, Cutting Tool!
The most multifaceted utility watch you'll ever own.  Life in the great outdoors is no fashion show, but there is a tough and rugged accessory I am getting ready to launch that not only lets outdoorsmen make like Grylls, but could also save your life.  I created the Recon 6 Watch to tackle the unexpected and perform multiple tasks. Inspired by the desire to always be prepared, a cross between the Swiss Army Knife and MacGyver will take this multi-featured watch to a whole new level.  After months of hard work, my idea is almost ready to become a reality.
As well as a bezel equipped, phosphorescent handed and anti-chip and glare faced watch, it also features the following survival components
- Multi-Tool
- Blade with sheep hook design for dressing out small game
- Bottle opener
- Can opener
- Fire striker
- Signaling mirror
- Fire starter good up to 5000 fire starts
- Aluminum rescue wistle
- 25 ft. of braided fishing line with 2 small fish hooks
- Magnifying glass
- EMP proof, liquid fill compass
- LED flashlight
Hefty, and with a price tag to match, but packed with content....

Then there is the father-son team behind the quite innovative multi-tool, survival axe, which I have my eyes on.

In their words:
The KLAX is a multi-tool built into the head of an ax.  It allows you to attach the ax head to a handle quickly in the field.  It uses the nested clamping system shown here.   The clamps rotate out from the handle for use.

The KLAX is designed to be a short term solution to many of the problems that you could face either planned or unexpected. It will help you to get through situations where carrying a full set of dedicated tools is just not possible or realistic. Here are a few examples...
- stuck on the roadside in the backwoods and need to build a lean-to for shelter
- injured hiker needs an impromptu travois (stretcher) to be carried to safety
- hiking and need enough wood for a small cooking fire
- hunting and want to make small game traps
- forgot the hammer and need to pound in the tent pegs
- starting the split on a small log without many knots
- need to dig a hole (let's see your multi-tool do that)
Bottom Line: If you think it is trying to replace your full-sized dedicated tools for everyday use, you won't be happy with the KLAX.

KLAX-Lumberjack  Our high-end stainless steel model with the most features.  The first three models are all made from heat treated SUS420J2  stainless steel which is perfectly balanced for keeping an edge and maintaining strength.

KLAX - Woodsman   Our mid-level stainless steel model with just the more useful features.

KLAX - Feller  This is our more rustic model with just the basic features you need in the outdoors.

Ti-KLAX is a Titanium version of the KLAX – Lumberjack and comes with all the same features, but because it is made from more expensive Titanium, it weighs only half as much as the Feller and is stronger than steel.  The Ti-4452813 titanium is also anodized to provide some eye catching highlights.

So, some pretty cool concepts there ....

I wish I could back them all, but we'll see, and perhaps I'll get to show them off in good time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: Tactical KeyChain - TKMB

Here is another addition to my EDC out of my pal Brad's workshop. I have a couple of other fancy pens in my collection, with the S&W Tactical Pen, and the Cybernetic Research Labs Tactical Pen. (I also have one of the very fine EDCPen's reviewed, pending release on another site .. .watch this space...). This is a great addition to my collection of titanium tools from Tactial KeyChains, such as the indespensible WTF tool, the very nifty TiPiK lockpicks and the eminently practical TiKey key holder.

This is the TKMB: Precision Machined, which is a small, comfortable, well-balanced, lightweight, strong milled titanium pen.

The TKMB is just 12.5cm (4.9") long and is milled from titanium rod. The tip is milled as well, and press-fitted into the barrel. I tried for ages to dislodge mine, and could not. Brad finally smacked me up-side-the-head and reminded me that the back-cap unscrews to gain access to the insides to refill the pen.
Empty, the pen weighs a slight 12g (2.14 US Quarters in weight), and with a refill a mere 17.5grams (3.12 US Quarters in weight).

The working end and tail are machined with threads to take a similarly highly engineered cap, (with or without a magnet, guess which I chose?).

Interestingly, Brad designed these pens to be as slim as possible (thanks to the tremendous machining available to us in the modern equipped world) and to be able to take the "Fineliner" and "Rollerball" refills perfectly, along with Parker, Fisher, Schmidt, Monteverde, Mont Blanc, Caran D'Ache, Cross. I bought and fitted a Parker "Space Pen" refill to mine,along with the included rubber tubing spacer, and the additional 8 mini-magnets.

What's with all the magnets, you might ask?

Between the magnet in the end cap, and the internal magnets, which can be placed in a couple of different configurations, you have the ability to both pick up ferrous materials (dropped screws anyone?) and also being able to place stow and store the pen. I also found that I could retain the clip on the side with the magnet.

Magnets are awesome, and I love it when I can add some to my kit. Another great element of these pens are the groves milled into the sides of both the working end and along the caps. Using the included o-rings, you can customise the grip and balance of the pen. Brilliant for those of us with big hands, and giving you a better fit, in case you are stowing yours in PALS/MOLLE like I do.

I have been really pleased with this as both an easily carryable pen, and also the added utility of the magnets, both for picking up items and as a means of placement.

As with all of Brad's work, its highly engineered, thoroughly tested and fir for purpose, and in this case, came with a killer custom anodizing job, (thanks for that!). I even got a second one to give to my partner, because having a reliable pen, is essential, and the titanium body, Parker Space Pen combination was too good not to share!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review: Exoskel shin guards

I love armour. I love scrambling and climbing. I love not bashing my body to pieces or exhausting myself.

So when I saw these awesome pieces on SoldierSystems I knew I had to see if I could get some too. Stephen Guiney of ExoSkel was kind enough to get back in touch with me and as it happened was traveling on my side of the planet, and hooked me up with a pair. I've worn a variety of shin-guards in the past, through both my LRP days, roller-blading and when I've been doing a variety of adventurous things I'd rather not crack a shin whilst doing. I've worn several different kinds of knee-pads in the past, but these are something entirely different.

These are the Exoskel X1's (X2 being the production model on sale now).

Constructed from an advanced polymer, with closed cell foam backing and heavy duty stirrup strap, buckles and webbing and Fastex-type calf straps, these are some very rugged and rigid shin pads, which come in at only 500g (1.1lbs) apiece. They come with Self Extinguishing Fire Resistance, which is UL94 VO rating.

The most striking aspect of the guards is of course the five rows of teeth that make up the face of the guards. These are sculpted directly into the face of the guard, each with a downwards facing slope and butted tip, these are designed to grab and hold any surface that you happen to be scrambling over.

Where in regular climbing situations the usual rule is "3 points of contact; feet and hands only" in practice, and in stressful situations this goes right out the window. When going through a window, up a ravine, over a wreck or refuse, knees, shins and elbows all come into play. That is when something like the Exoskel's come into their own.

The guards (teeth, buckle, stirrups) hold in excess of 450 kg (1000lbs) when vertically loaded, which is equivalent to a drop of 150kg (330lbs) from 50cm (19"). The good folks at Exoskel went as far as to explain these figures as the following: "The measured strength of the dynamically loaded Exoskel products tested was higher than the maximum dynamic load estimated for an assumed in-field loading scenario with a 330 lb (150 kg) user and a 19 in (50 cm) drop onto a hard object."

A 50cm drop is a long way to expect any wearable piece of retention gear to take when that laden. My 215Gear Retention Lanyard is 17" long and stretches to 26" meaning you are limited to a maximum of a 26" drop, and that is a dedicated safety line. These are not designed for that kind of thing.This is a climbing aid, not a safety tool.

In fact, Exoskel stress their product is to be used for stabilization assistance and lower limb protection only. It is not a climbing safety device or harness.

That said, I was quite happy with dangling myself off a packing crate with a shin on each rung, no problems. I have tried them on a variety of surfaces and materials now, and have been really pleased with both the bite and stability of those teeth. Where normally I've felt the need to kneel up onto a surface, committing that much of a lunge to my ascent, being able to go "half-way" with a shin gave me a lot more scope to choose how I ascend, and potentially limit my exposure in doing so.

I took this shot to show the tooth-marks the Exoskel's put into the hardwood packing crate I posed these pictures on. You can clearly see the three splintered spots where I moved up and down, and also the two divots in the corner where I dangled.

Very impressive, I must say.

Some of the excellent additional features they come with, such as the emergency stirrup replacement and calf-strap holes, which enable the user to use up to 12mm (½") rope / cord to tie the guards back on in the case of breakage. There are also guide-holes divoted into the perimeter of the guard to enable drilling and sewing of the guard directly to pants.

The channeled foam lining not only helped with the breathability issues often found with form-fitting guards, but the design, and thickness as well as the exterior shell itself added considerable impact protection. I'm no kick-boxer, nor did I take a sledge-hammer to my legs, but I kicked a few trees, and clubbed myself a few times to gauge the kinds of impacts I might expect to take and resist, and didn't come close to bothering myself. I'm pretty sure I'd have lost footing before the guard broke. You can even wear them over existing knee-guards, depending on the fits.

As a Close Quarter Battle tool, or restrain device, I can only imagine how unpleasant it would be to be on the receiving end of a kick with one of these, or to be knelt on, but I have little doubt as to their effectiveness as a compliance tool, if needed.

They were quick to fit and remove, whilst being comfortable and stable for day-to-day wear, and low profile enough that I didn't find myself snagging on anything. This is a really great innovation and I'll be adding them to my adventuring kit, for sure!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: Vesterguard - LifeStraw

I picked up a LifeStraw when I purchased a box of the Mainstay Emergency Food Rations,and for a long while, it stayed in the bottom of my bear box, untried, untested. Eventually I found it, dug it out and got ready to test it. Then the dog found it. Talk about Disaster Preparation! I heard the chewing sound and rushed into action, rescued the unit, and decided it was salvageable.

The LifeStraw is a plastic tube 31cm long and 3cm in diameter. It has a Sieve end, and a mouthpiece end, both originally with a cap. The straw, as you might imagine is operated by placing the sieve end in your water source, and through some rather strong and vigorous sucking is needed to get water flowing, but when it does, you get a steady flow of water.

The way the LifeStraw works is that water that is drawn up through the straw and passes through hollow fibers that fill the tube. This bundled mesh of fibers filter particulates down to 0.2┬Ám across, using only physical filtration methods and no chemical components to either run out, or leach into the drinkable water. The entire process is powered by the suction of the operator, and is reported to be able to filter up to 1000L (264gal) of water safely before clogging up.

Initial models of the filter did not remove Giardia lamblia, but this model is purported to remove a minimum of 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites including giardia and cryptosporidium. It is also touted as Removes up to 99.99999% of waterborne bacteria. It as previously stated also reduces turbidity by filtering particles of approx 0.2 microns which significantly improves the quality of water,

You can see the sieve end here, which keeps macro-particles from entering the straw, and for better or worse, after some dog-chewing, this end cap had popped off, exposing the internal fibers in their mesh packing sleeve.

The LifeStraw
did take some practice and perseverance to get going, but when it did, I managed to get some interesting results. I didn't want to take too many risks with my dog-chewed example, (giardia infection will ruin your whole day) so I opted for a more pedestrian testing regime. I chose to filter my fruit-concentrate cordial instead. I found that whilst still coloured, and sweet, the water I drew off certainly did cut the pulp and particles that were suspended, and I managed to drink the whole glass, with some effort. I expect that from a free floating and particulate light source, like a free flowing stream, you'd get swifter hydration. You can de-crud the filter by blowing back through it, expelling the contained water, and self-washing to some extent.

To recover and reseal the unit post-dog gnawing, I wrapped it in a cris-cross of tape, to ensure the seals and tube are air-tight. I think i will try to secure myself a new one, (which due to their awesome business model, then benefits kids in impoverished places) just because having a fully-working one is better preparation than relying on my already weathered and dinged one.

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