Mountain Hardware delight

OK, for a long time this was one of my favorite brands, but then they bulked out and got less athletic, so I don’t normally buy their stuff anymore, but if you are lucky enough to have a discount on them, here are the best things in their line:

  • Mens’ Stretch Ozonic. The best thing is they come in S/M/L as well as Short/Regular/Long which is 30/32/34. Really convenient.
  • Hyperlamina Spark 35. In the old days, the down bags were small and light but couldn’t handle the water. Now with the Spark that tradeoff is gone, super light at sub kilo yet it handles water no problem. Miracle.
  • Monkey Man 200. Who wouldn’t love a fleece named Monkey Man, this is just below the very best made, so get it if you get a good discount.

Mavic Pro works!

Well it is nice to have an actual working controller. First a hat tip to B&H Photo Video, they have a 30 day return policy and it is really just a phone call and you get an RMA.

As I said before for things like this, you really want to use a local store because of the possible need for returns. So a local bike shop and a local drone shop are both on the list.

Bathroom updating (aka everything you didn’t want to know about toilets)

OK, feel free to skip past this post, but it took an evening, but right now I feel like the worlds expert on toilets and all things modern (and no there will be no yucky talk here). But here’s the scoop:


We’ve been using the Toto Drake II 1.28GPF which is a “flagship” model at $350 (right hand lever is the CST454CEFRG which you can decode as model 454 which is elongated, ADA height and the CE means the coating, R means right hand or at Home Depot). Toto is reliable and this hits the middle of the road. It is pretty expensive, but on the other hand it is going to last a lifetime. While you can get these on Amazon, using a local place like Home Depot might make more sense. It is easier to return there! [Note that these are all right hand levers, subtract the “R” from the model number to get the left side]

The difference between the Drake and the Drake II is the double cyclone because let’s face it you want a lot of cyclone when dealing with toilets 🙂

If you are smaller and do not want ADA approved and need a round bowl for a tighter space, then a good choice is the Eco Drake 1.28GPF Round with traditional. The market for non-ADA is much smaller, so you can’t get the regular drake style in non-ADA round. Also it is the older Drake so less flush 🙂

None of these come with a seat, so you need either the elongated SS114 at Amazon.

The details

  1. Twenty years ago, the government mandated 1.6 gallons per flush toilets. This is a huge reduction from the 3 gallons before. Might now seem like much, but it does add up and toilet flushes are one of the highest uses of water in most homes.
  2. Today, the new push is to get to 1.28 gallons per flush. In drought areas like LA (not this year!), this is actually required. Amazingly, computer modeling and various techniques allow reliability at this level. This is called Ecosense by the way EPA. The best ones are really very good now.
  3. There are also more complicated two button systems that have a 1.6 and a 0.9 gallon flush pattern. This is designed so the arithmetically 1.28 🙂 Maintenance of course is more complicated and it’s harder to deal with than a lever.
  4. Coatings. The higher end toilets have these special coatings that are easier to clean, they cost more, but what the heck.

Well people are also getting taller and older, so there are some new ADA requirements that most modern toilets fulfill:

  1. Height. The old standard was 15 inches, now ADA is 17-19 inches. While not a big deal, it probably is a good thing to get an ADA one for home resale.
  2. Shape. The so called elongated bowl is also ADA.
  3. Level side. ADA requires that you put the lever on the “entry” side. The standard is on the left, but many times, you need it on the right, so you need the “R” models.
  4. Seat. These guys are tricky, they don’t include a $40 seat with the toilet, so beware

Losing your points

Man, I can’t count how many $$$s I’ve lost with expiring rewards points, but with a disciplined use of 1Password, so at least I know what accounts I have, plus a subscription to Awardwallet, hopefully this will be a thing of the past. Some notes, (by the way I was dumb, the old price as of February was $10/year, now it is $30/year, so it does cost something to keep track, otoh, you can lost $400 a year, so it probably does pay back).

  1. It is a complete pain, but you can painstakingly go through Awardwallet and give it the codes to all your accounts. If you are paranoid, they have a client-side only option, so that all the passwords are kept on your local machine. This is like 1Password’s system and is great.
  2. For most of the hotel, airline and other rewards systems, it will periodically logon and tell you the expiration date and then you search the web to figure out how to prevent expiration.
  3. It also has a “family” feature so you can keep the accounts of the family and each can access their own.

Last year, we lost a free ticket on Virgin, and who knows what else. Hopefully not this year.

As an example:

  1. Alaska Airlines has a 18 month expiration policy. You just have to use their portal and you are OK.
  2. Marriott has a similar rule and you can donate to charity 2500 points and keep it going.

Argh Mavic Pro is cool but beware

Well there isn’t any doubt that DJI has the best drone on paper with the Mavic Pro, but here’s what to watch out for:

  1. Hardware issues. Out of the box, the brand new Mavic controller would not pair with the drone. I’m sure they are selling like hot cakes, but this is the first time a $$$$s is completely broken out of the box. Fortunately there is a DJI Authorized Repair center there and they verified the controller is dead (it stays on connecting and it does beep when you press buttons). More frightening is that they tried 3 other controllers and one was dead. The manager said, yes this was a common problem, so unscientific, but a 50% failure rate doesn’t exactly breed a lot of confidence. I’m going to return the Mavic and rebuy from the local dealer.
  2. Net, net, make sure that if you are buying a drone, to get one from a local dealer because it is pretty likely you are going to have to get it replaced.
  3. DJI Repair plan. That is not what it is called, but for an extra $99, you can get a destroyed bird fixed for $99 or so and then another in the first year. However, be aware that you have to activate the plan within 48 hours of using your drone. The guys I bought from were good, they activated the plan with the now dead bird. I’m unsure, but hopefully I can return this thing and still get the $99 back.
  4. Customer Service. Well, I sent them email and after a week, still no reply. This is a common complaint on the forums.
  5. Acres of firmware updates and deep user interface. Man, for a consumer product, they sure ship lots of firmware updates, you have to update the battery, the drone, the controller and of course the iPhone itself. Make sure that when you get one, you leave half a day to get all this done. Many complaints on forums where you go out and try to fly but you need to do an update first, so make sure to update before you fly.
  6. Flight modes galore. This thing has so many different modes it is hard to keep track and the forums are filled with experts talking to noobs, the user base is not yet large enough to have every question answered

Net, net, the drone thing is moving rapidly and hopefully customer service and product quality catch up. In the mean time, if you have to have one, make sure to get one from a local dealer who also does repairs (e.g. not Best Buy). You need someone who is willing to fix the thing.

Bike gadgets and apparel

Well if you are getting back into cycling, it’s a great time to instrument up and DC Rainmaker has the best reviews and for apparel the most important thing is a good big with a good pad

  1. Bike computer. I have an old Garmin Edge 800, but many folks are loving the new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. This is also the computer that Brad likes 🙂
  2. Bib. There are many, but I’ve used Castelli for years. The Aero is a decent value at $150 or so and the Mondiale is a splurge at $300, but I’m sure you feel fast!

But the coolest thing to figure out are the sensors and mounts. The main thing to decide is if you want just ANT+ or want Bluetooth LE as well for maximum compatibility. I like the idea of BLE so:

  1. Scoshe Rhythm+. An optical wrist band, so no more chest straps and it is dual ANT+/BLE. This thing works really well if you don’t have an Apple watch 🙂
  2. Speed/Cadence. The Wahoo BlueSC2+ is both but is bulky. If you want small, then the Garmin is tiny and uses accelerometers and no magnets but is ANT+ only. Or, you can if you have a Shimano Di2 system, you can get an ANT+ and BLE transmitter so you get both gearing (with Garmin 810 or later) as well as cadence, so you only need speed.

Then there are the expensive items, Power Meters. The main issues are reasonable cost (that’s relative, these are $600-$2K items), but then there is portability and battery life not to mention accuracy. The big issue is left/right differences and weather it is measuring just one side. And it is literally raining crank arms, so a complex market:

  1. PowerTap hub. The grand daddy of them all, but you need to change your hubs, which is you have a fancy wheel set (Topolino, ENVE) could be. a problem. Also you have to swap wheels if you have have lots of bikes. If you want these, you need to build a wheel set, so for instance, the ENVE 3.4 Disk for just the rears are $1K.
  2. PowerTap P1 pedals. The easiest to move, just move the pedals, but you had better like Look style pedals. it is however DC Rainmakers favorite. At $1.1K, they are expensive, but reliable and of course dual feet. These are about a 250 gram penalty over basic pedals, but work super well. Main thing is easy to assemble and works seamlessly with a Garmin 800.
  3. Chainring systems. PowerTap C1, Power2Max and Quarq units all in the same boat according to him, the main issue is compatibility with the rings you have and of course, it is way harder to move them to different bikes.
  4. Stages. Obviously cheaper at $600 since it is left only (but you can also get the Powertap P1S for the same price). But you also get to use your own pedals for those of us who like something else (like Shimano) or Speedplay (for float).
  5. 4IIII Precision. The new kid on the block and just $400 for a single side, so a value leader, but new.

Battery packs for laptops and things

Well you do run out of power all the time, then here are some good choices:

  1. MacBook Magsafe and special tip. This is the only system that I found where you have a plug in and it works directly to charge a MacBook Pro MagSafe (pre 2016). Also this system uses a five pin adapter, so it also works at lower power for USB C (but the one below is better).
  2. USB C 30 watt power delivery. This is perfect to rapidly charge or keep charged a MacBook Pro 2016. Most USB C chargers are limited to 10-15 watts, but this one does 15 volts at 2 amps. Way faster
  3. 12V and 19V for Windows laptops. It is expensive at $200, but comes with a whole host of tips and is great for the oddball Dell and other machines with their custom tips.

Best SD Cards

Time once again to look at SD cards as on a shoot you don’t want to run out or have ones that are too slow. The main news here is the increase in performance to U.3 UHS II which is 250MBps way above the previous 80-100MBps on U:1 UHS I.

In looking at the reviews, the main thing is pay for a lifetime warranty and don’t buy a counterfeit card:

  • Wirecutter recommends the Sandisk Extreme Pro XDSC is a reasonable choice. Make sure you do not a counterfeit card, so try to buy directly from Amazon and run Crystalmark when you get it to make sure you have the speeds you want. It’s a very reasonable $32 for 100MBps 64GB cards.
  • EPhotozine recommends the Lexar Professional 2000x SDXC as the best UHS II card with sustained 250MBps read and write. This is enough to keep up with the very fast UHS II cameras that are out now. It does cost you though with $95 for a 64GB card.
  • Finally if you need a micro SD card for your drone then Lifewire recommends the Sandisk Extreme PLUS microSDXC U:3 UHS-1 card which is 90MBps in that tiny form factor

Wow cool Thunderbolt 3 accessories

Well now that I’m settling down on USB C connectors, time once again to look at various peripherals:

  • Mantiz Venus. Ok this is expensive at $400, but it a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure with room for an nVidia 1080Ti graphics card for instance. It also include full 87 watt power delivery on the USB C cable. And it acts like a docking station as well with 4 USB 3.0 USB A ports as well as Ethernet. So you just need one cable to connect your MacBook Pro to your powerful graphics card and monitor.
  • JXU01. This is a 1 meter cable that supports the full 100 watts power delivery as well as 20Mbps Thunderbolt 3 speeds. Very solidly built.
  • Apple 2m cable. This looks one of the few that supports the full 100 watts.
  • Cable Matters USB C to Displayport. This $24 cable really does work and gives you full 4K at 60 hertz

As an aside, if you are curious how much power is supported, then go to the Apple menu and choose About Mac and click on System Report. There is an item called Power that tells you the AC Charger Information and how much it can provide and you will the full 87 watts.

Then there are some conditional recommendations. Good quality, but performance is one notch below:

  • Satechi HDMI/Ethernet/Three USB C ports. This is a well made system that is lightweight and looks good. but the HDMI is only 30 hertz.

Stupid Dropbox tricks

OK, so this is a dumb one, I was looking for a shared folder that someone had sent me, a couple of notes:

  1. When you get a share, you want to make sure you choose Share and do *not* create a link and share that. The former semantics are that this is a synchronized copy. But the later is that it is a one time snapshot.
  2. When you get it, the shared folder does *not* appear in the Dropbox files that are synchronized down. Like Google Drive, you have to manually choose “Add” from the web interface. When you do that, the folder becomes part of your disk quota. So only Add things that you really want to change.
  3. When you add it, if you accidentally move the file down, it will seem to disappear, but in Dropbox land, moving a folder somewhere in your hierarchy doesn’t change anything. I “lost” some folders that I accidentally copied down and they seemed gone, but you can move them anyway, they don’t need to live in the root.
  4. Finally, there are some strange semantics where you can share a folder to yourself. If you then choose Add, you get this bizarre case where you have two folders names the same (actually one has a “(1)”) suffix.