Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: PowerPractical - Luminoodle

As first seen on Breach Bang & Clear ...

It might sound like a silly name, but the Power Practical Luminoodle is a serious product. At its heart, it's pretty simple. Take a 5-foot length of flexible circuit, string it with 26 LED's, give it a dual sided USB power plug, and sheath it in a waterproof case. Unlike a hand held flashlight, or a dangling lantern, having a flexible string of LED's means you can put a band of light where you want it, just where you want it and keep it there. That's what the folks at Power Practical have done. More than that, they put a fair bit of thought into how you'd actually use the thing.

I have a couple of other innovative pieces of kit from Power Practical; their power generating thermoelectric cook pot, the Power Pot XL, and a USB power regulator, the Practical Meter.

It's quite a nifty piece ...

Read the rest of my review on Breach Bang & Clear, here:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Review: Para TPS Pulley systems

I love paracord. I love titanium, I love pulleys, I love Kickstarter so when a titanium paracord pulley came up on Kickstarter, I knew I had to get on board. I've covered a titanium paracord pulley system before, in the Ti2 PB-9 Parabener systems which live on my daypack, just in case. However, they are pretty chunky, being loaded with other features, and might be overkill when all you need is some lifting and shifting.

That's where there the TPS system comes in. A bare bones pulley system, it's a Universal Pulley System made from grade 5 titanium and ready to be used for making work easier and putting no matter what you're doing. Designed for paracord, or any other 4mm line of your choosing.

The TPS pulley systems are available in four formats, the TPS-2, TPS-3, TPS-4 and TPS-5. the number value corresponds to the number of "sheaves" which are the wheels inside the pulleys, designed and produced by Andrew of Root Designs R&D .

Root Designs spent a lot of time determining the design and materials they wanted to use in these pulleys. The side plates and pins are made of Grade 5 titanium (Ti-6Al-4V) because of its strength and corrosion resistance. The sheaves are made of a homopolymer acetal (which is a very strong plastic that is used for bearings because of its low friction coefficient, perfect as sheaves). The clip-in retaining rings are made of stainless (304SS made by Smalley).

Some serious design and research went into the development of these. Based on using paracord with a minimum breaking strength between 250-340 kg (650-750lbs) for Type III to IV paracords, a FOS of 3 puts the maximum breaking strength (MBS) of the pulleys around 2250lbs. These values were tested on a computer using failure-and-finite-element-analysis software. Bearing in mind that most civilian paracord is type II to III, with minimum breaking strengths of 180-250kg, (550-650lbs). Doing these studies are part of why Root Designs needed support from crowdfunding.

Having gone through rounds of testing and prototyping, they have pulley systems now rated for a Working Load Limit (WLL) of 68kg (150lbs) and a Tested Breaking Strength of over 900kg (2,000lbs). What does that mean? it means the TPS is recommended for loads of around 68kg, and is known to catastrophically fail at 900kg. Given type III paracord will take at least 250kg, my money is on the TPS working long after the paracord snaps, if you're looking at points of failure.

What's the big deal with pulley's in the first place? Mechanical advantage! Anything you need to move or lift, these pulleys can offer up to a 5:1 mechanical advantage with paired TPS-5's. By setting them up in sequence, and threading paracord through the sheaves correctly, the power of simple machines can reduce the effort needed by up to 1/5th of the force needed by a single loop alone. A single pair of pulleys halves the effort, three, a third and so on.

I backed for and received a twin set of TPS-5's and also got a TPS-2 as well. They can be used in a variety of combinations, or singly depending on your situation and need. One thing to remember that with all pulley systems, your ability to lift is only as good as your weakest component. Any attachment accessories (I've used two steel S-hooks from Ikea, so useful) as well as Type 3 paracord. However you also need to take into account the features of the load, and it's ability to haul itself, as well as whatever you are mounting your load too.

The other aspect to be aware of is the length of cord used. For every sheave used, the length of "fall" between the sheaves increases. This needs to be taken into account when reeving (lacing) the pulleys.

Pulley systems mean that someone with little hands and arms, like Tactical baby, can lift this 2.5L kettle full of water, and hold it, in her non-dominant hand, and nonchalantly pose for photos before bedtime.

Here's a tidbit of information from the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets Seamanship manual,
Parts of the Tackle:
a. Standing Block: The block that is anchored and is not moving. This block changes the direction of the running part.
b. Moving Block: The moving block is attached to the moving end of the rope (the end the cargo is on).
c. Fall: The fall is the rope that is rove through the block.
d. Standing Part: The standing part does not move. It needs to be secured to either the standing block or some other fixed position.
e. Hauling Part: The hauling part is the part that is pulled.

But acting as mechanical advantage gaining simple machines aren't all the TPS can be used for, you can combine these little workhorses to get other tasks done too. If you need to send some gear across a ravine, creek or river, or between abandoned buildings in a desolate wasteland, each pulley was designed so it could be used as a zip line shuttle. Setting up a static line and fitting one of the TPS's on it, with either one, two or three sheaves to spread the load over the line means you have a very stable and secure system for shuttling loads back and forth.

You could even use the spare sheaves to run pilot lines to haul back and forth, as well as for suspending your load. In other applications, you could even make a dog run, or other off-ground tethering system for pets or small people whilst out and about.

I even found that by setting the TPS-5 up in a cross-woven pattern, I could make a friction belaying zip-line, in the style of the mechanical decent RACK devices offered by Petzl

Being made from titanium, acetal polymer and stainless steel, they work great in harsh environments such as the ocean, or gritty, hot environments. They could just as easily be used on a fishing boat as in the bush. The limits to their application is really up to your imagination, and material strengths you have to work around.

One of the really nice design features is their small profiles. By using clipping retaining rings, the side profile of the pulleys stay small. The TPS-2 is5/8" x 1-1/2" x 9/16". The TPS-5 is 2-1/2" x 1-1/2" x 9/16".

Basically pocket sized, no matter how you put it. The pins do not stick out from the side plate as much as a nut or the head of a bolt would, which means they are far less likely to snag or catch, as well as reducing weight The TPS-5 weighs 45g (1.6oz) and the TPS-2 a mere 18g (0.6oz). Each pulley can be user-serviced if needed using common tools, and spare parts are available from Root Designs on their website. They also offer a snap-bolt which can be fitted in place of the machined pin, around the existing sheave, to offer a built-in attachment point in the place of any of the existing pins. This is an awesome addition to have designed in, and I'm kicking myself that I didn't put in for some with my pledge. However, there's nothing magic in the bolts, and it is just a matter of finding a bolt which fits, and somewhere to shackle your pulley!

 This is the kind of gadget that you probably wouldn't think to pack in your bug-out-bag on first pass, but to kit out a minimalistic problem solving swag, you could do a lot worse than including a set of TPS's to give you an advantage over your environment!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: MetalDreamer - PINCH multitool

Always on the lookout for new and exciting titanium pocket tools, when the Pinch tool came up on Kickstarter, I could hardly restrain myself. Given the very affordable pledge levels I didn't feel bad about chipping in, and was pleased to see an envelope arrive in the mail not too long after. Created and designed by Jeff Morin the Pinch is the smallest tool in the MetalDreamer lineup it is billed as the go-to tool when you're in a Pinch! Cute.

Packing 11 functions into its 1.5" x .5" design, the Pinch has a surprising amount of home-fixit application in mind in one little package.

With a mini pry bar, bottle cap opener, 6-mm hex wrench, wire stripper, nail puller, keychain eyelet, 1” mini scraper, hex driver bit holder, and two flathead screwdrivers. I ordered mine in metric, so it also features a 3cm ruler etched into the scraper side as well.

I opened a few bottles, pried open some tightly sealed tins, and scraped some stickers with it, and it seems to live up to its intent, but the small size makes it quite difficult to apply much torque, but you'd expect that from a tiny keychain tool like this. If you wanted a big prybar, you'd go the County Comm Breacher Bar, or the like. This is a keychain fixit tool, not a dedicated tool-box replacement.

The Pinch was on Kickstarter, and is still only available to backers it seems, but keep an eye out, and look over the other offerings from Metal Dreamer, they have some very pretty, and functional looking designs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Review: Helinox Tactical Umbrella

My friends at HORNEST in Singapore sent me this Helinox product, and I've really enjoyed the Helinox Tactical chairs, which have accompanied me into snowfields and jungles, beaches and backyard cookoffs. So I was only too pleased to add some more Helinox products to my loadout. They are light, rugged, and portable.

The Helinox Tactical Umbrella is an ultra lightweight, yet highly durable take on the ubiquitous umbrella. Featuring a lightweight DAC aluminium pole at its center, which reminded me of one of my Easton Redline arrows and strutted with carbon fiber rods.

The canopy is teflon-coated polyester for superior water repellency and I put that to the test with some fairly heavy Melbourne summer rain, on several occasions. It worked really well, which was at first surprising given how small the umbrella is when stowed, being only 63.5 cm (25") long. The canopy boasts an UPF 25 rating (it blocks 96% of UV radiation)

It only weighs 210g (7.5 oz) but when opened up, it spreads to a broad full 100 cm (39.4") canopy.
At that size, and weight the Tactical Umbrella is light enough to bring anywhere, and keep ready to deploy when the skies open. Never go without protection from the elements again, with the Helinox Tactical Umbrella.

What makes it 'Tactical"? I suppose that's mostly advertising wank by the marketing team at Helinox, but then again, with its coyote brown finish, metal free design, and lightweight, compact design, you can forgive them their stretch. It also goes by "Trekking" and that name is more than fitting. I strapped this to the side of my backpack and whip it out when the skies open, it's out of the way until needed.

Being one piece and not folding like other "trekking" umbrellas, the design is both metal and mechanism free. There is no latch to break, no springs to jam or break, the tension of the canopy and the carbon fibre struts is perfectly designed and opens which a gentle slide of the strut-ring. It's held in place by a hook-and-loop closing strap, which even features a small loop field on the back side, to affix a 1" sized patch, perfect for a ranger-eye!

The closed cell foam grip and strap give you pretty good retention, especially important given the very breeze catching canopy, which is one of the things I've never liked about umbrellas. This handle however, along with its cord retention strap, is solid enough and robust enough that even Tactical baby can manage it in a breeze. The balance is really good, and whilst it's not long enough for me to use as walking pole, a shorter person could easily. It has a tip of the same closed cell foam as the handle, which makes it unsuitable for use as a walking stick over the long term, but does avoid the eye-poking risk that regular umbrellas may offer. This is a two edged sword however.

Having a soft tip makes it less able to be used as a damaging tool, in he way a hard spike ended umbrella might be able to, such as with the Unbreakable Umbrella. I found that by gripping the handle and choking up to the bottom of the canopy spars, it was possible to hold the closed umbrella like a baton.

A soft tipped baton, perhaps, but a baton. With the carbon fibre struts and the aluminium shaft at its centre, it's pretty rigid, and could be quite effective as a last-ditch defensive tool. I think it would stand up against a knife for long enough to make a break for it, or for a skilled user to use some hanbo or singlestick techniques as a defensive or even offensive tool.

Another aspect of the umbrella that I really likes comes from it's short handle, but broad canopy. It was possible for me at 193cm (6'4") on a tall day to scootch down and be almost entirely covered by the umbrella as I squatted. Consider this for both conceilability, by obscuring yourself under it directly, which could be supplemented by local foliage to form a hide of sorts. This also equates for use in its primary capacity as a shelter from the rain, it is entirely big enough to shelter under in a serious downpour you could drop down and almost entirely cover yourself.

For raingear, I usually opt for a boonie hat, poncho and maybe waterproof pants . However, I've been wearing the Helinox Umbrella slotted into my Mystery Ranch 1Day Assault Pack and have found it was easy to store and then deploy when needed. It worked really well, and I've had no regrets looking that extra bit like a Kingsman ... from a certain point of view, anyway.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: Gerber - GDC hook knife

I love keychain tools, I have quite a bundle in my pocket, so much so that I don't even keep my KEYS on my keychain. One thing I like is to carry a blade to add to my utility, so having a safe, secure and stealthy cutter like the Gerber Daily Carry Hook Knife really adds to my lifesaving potential, in the form of a reliable, easily stowed in my pocket. I added this to my keychain of mini tools, and it's been a very useful addition.

Gerber's idea behind the stainless steel hook blade is simple; it's an ultra-stealthy cutting tool that lives stealthily on a keychain and can be quickly deployed to quickly cut yourself out of a piece of clothing, seatbelt or other safety strap, or do the same for a loved one, or a battle buddy, if you should you ever find yourself in a rough spot. I've also found a number of day to day uses for the little knife. There are plenty of other ways to use a safety knife on a ring.

Using the ring at home, I put it to use opening boxes of goodies and dreaded utility bills. I cut ribbon, opened snack-packs and trimmed tags out of clothes. Out bush I've used it for cutting costs and fishing line, and opened up vacuum sealed food. I even used it to cut long grass for some little weaving craft jobs I was showing off to Tactical Baby and Triceratops Girl with.

At just over 2" long, it's innocuous and barely stands out on my keychain, the cutting edge is secured neatly in the hook, which in turn is stowed away in a small hard nylon friction lock scabbard, with a keychain loop to secure it. I gave one to each of my partners for Giftmas, and they went directly into handbags. One reported that they often found the blade loose in the bag, having come unstuck from its scabbard. A little alarming, but more from a loss perspective rather than risk of accidentally cutting things.

The ring is copper lined, which is a nice accent, and go feels good around the finger, and there are rounded crenellations on the back to give a good thumb lock on it when you are getting ready to do the cutting. The angles all work nicely to allow you to put some real power into the cut. My favourite test materials of paracord and cable-ties, neither of which offered much trouble, singly but due to the small size of the ring and its hook, you wouldn't want to load it up as heavily as you might with a full size rescue hook like the Gerber Crisis Hook. It's easily comparable in cutting power with the Benchmade Figure 5 Cutter

Since it's a pocket sized tool, I don't expect it to be for heavy use, rather for "I just need to cut this little thing, but right now" moments, especially if they are in delicate situations.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Review: First Tactical - Diamondback Tanto Knife

I had a package arrive from First Tactical with two items, their very fancy and vicious looking Medium Duty Light, and this very substantial folding blade, the Diamondback Knife in tanto tip.

I have a few folders in my collection, though I must say I prefer fixed blades, I keep a CRKT Folding K.I.S.S. in my EDC, and the very snappy Boker folding scalpel which lives secreted away in my every-day pack. I also have a bunch of the hefty and brutally built Boker Plus AK assisted folders, for the bug-out-jars I've been putting together for Tactical Coyote. So I was quite impressed when I got the Diamondback in hand.

Read the full review on Breach Bang & Clear ....

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Home Front: Modscape house

I came across this interesting house design, by which piqued my interest, as I always look out for good fall-back positions, or even first-front positions. I've covered walled security for homes in the past, and walled storage facilities I've also covered my own home and why it's not all that well suited to sticking out a disaster, so it's interesting to see a purpose built place, and not all that far from myself.

The design brief of this home was to "create an airy pavilion that takes advantage of the views while providing a private haven from the busy road below". Rendered brick walls frame the home to create a protective compound which not only the provides the homeowner privacy, but ensures the home is secure. The home’s long, linear form takes advantage of the northern sun and visually connects to the bush and mountain landscape beyond.

Here is the link to the house design brief.

This modular home, in Berry, NSW,  creates a private home behind security walls for the clients who were based in my own home town of Melbourne.

All of the services are concealed from view behind the high walls, with visitors entering via a large pivoting door that penetrates the wall. They then move through a timber battened walkway where dappled light from the surrounding bushland filters through before entering into the double height entrance space. The main living zone opens out to the north-facing courtyard.

Meeting all the functional requirements of modern, sustainable design, the home has a total floor area of 465 sqm and consists of 11 modular sections with a large, open plan kitchen/living/dining area at its heart. A timber joinery core conceals services such as butler’s pantry, laundry and bathroom and houses a staircase leading to an upstairs area. It should be noted that that upstairs area is exposed and visible from the outside of the walls.

The finished palette is minimal and modest with timber, concrete and zinc used in an uncomplicated manner create a design that is humble and nondescript. All landscaping, including the pool, was also coordinated by Modscape.

Open plan kitchen/living/dining
2 bedrooms with joint ensuite
Guest bedroom
Upstairs "music" room
Butler’s pantry + laundry
2 car garage + workshop
Ribbon strip timber cladding
Landscaping including pool
Hydronic heating
Grid connect solar
Built to Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) 29

Looking at the plans, and the layout, including both the property selected, but also the way it sets in to the surrounding areas, offering security through obscurity, I can see the real value in having a property such as this. Putting in extra rain collection reservoirs, solar and/or wind power generation and a fuel reservoir, vegetable beds and perhaps chicken runs to set up a more self-sustainable setup, you have quite a secure (from mundane risks) and off-grid home to fall back on.
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