Sunday, April 26, 2020

Miscellany: Bike Friday New World Tourist review

The lockdown's got everyone running and biking more, as they're some of the only physical activities you can do when gyms, parks, and beaches are closed. Almost tailor-made for this occasion is my New World Tourist bicycle, built by small Oregon folding-bike manufacturer Bike Friday.

The NWT is Bike Friday's entry-level touring bike, although "entry-level" for a handmade, "Cream Soda Blue" custom-built-in-the-USA bike is about $1,350. After ordering online and getting some unexpectedly personal service (a sales rep called and refreshingly talked me out of buying a more expensive model, given my likely use for the bike), you get the bike in the mail semi-assembled. It didn't take long for me to get on the road:

The main trick that the NWT has over a normal bike is a hinge on the seatpost which allows it to be folded down and the rear wheel to fold forward. If you also fold down or detach the front handlebars, you have a compact (though somewhat unwieldy) package that easily fits inside a car trunk, without having to fold down the seats. The folding process takes about a minute for me, and I usually have to get my hands dirty adjusting the chain - a belt drive is cleaner.

The ride itself is only a bit more skittish than a normal bike, and just a little slower thanks to the smaller wheels (about 80% to 90% as fast as a normal mountain bike). That being said, this is the only folding bike I'd feel comfortable with taking on a long voyage - as the company's slogan says, they wanted to make a great bike that happens to fold, not just a folding bike.

Miscellany: ESEE Knives ESEE-4

Prepping is getting popular during this pandemic, and it got me nostalgic for my survival class with Byron Kerns. The tool I used most in that class was a fixed blade knife - specifically, an ESEE-4. It's one of ESEE's most popular models, because it strikes a good balance between size and portability. While you're not going to chop down a redwood with it (it's only 9" long, with a 4" blade), you can use the ESEE-4 to baton and process most firewood, and also around camp for more relaxed chores like whittling.

The handle is pretty ergonomic; I didn't notice any hot spots on my hand after working with the knife for three days in the field, but some may opt for the "3D Handle" versions with more contoured G10/Micarta scales. The ESEE-4's handle has a good size finger guard for safety and merges into a choil large enough to choke up on the blade.

Out of the box, the ESEE-4 comes with a decent sheath with multiple methods of attaching it to your gear. I opted to simply lash it to my belt with some paracord:

The ESEE-4 is optimized for toughness and durability, not pure cutting performance. The 1095 steel doesn't hold the sharpest edge, but at least it won't break on you. The thick stock means that the knife has a hard time cleanly slicing through material, but again, it also makes the blade tough to destroy.

I've taken to keeping an ESEE-4 in my car and get-home-bags. I know what it can do, and perhaps more importantly, I know what I can do with it. For about a hundred bucks, it's cheap insurance in an uncertain world.

Food: 4 Rivers Smokehouse

Except for this coronavirus pandemic, my job takes me to all parts of Florida for hearings, depositions, and the like. One of my favorite pit stops while travelling is 4 Rivers Smokehouse. It's a little more expensive than Sonny's, the 800 pound gorilla of the Florida 'Q industry, but the counter service works a lot better for grabbing a quick lunch before hitting the road after a morning at the courthouse.

I usually get the burnt ends, pulled pork, collard greens, and green beans, all served up on a no frills tray and polystyrene containers. Some locations are better than others (Mom swears by the original one in Winter Park, and a friend of ours was underwhelmed by the new Coral Springs location), but by and large, 4 Rivers serves up tasty barbecue, served fast.

Rating: 2/4 or 3/4 stars, depending on location

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Miscellany: 2019 Nissan Versa review - Uber Alles

When acrid white smoke started billowing out of my BMW 328i's hood and A/C vents, it didn't take much searching to figure out exactly what was happening - a valve cover gasket leak. Thankfully, I still had 800 miles left on my CarMax extended warranty, so I took that sucker into the shop and got a rental car to ferry me around for 3 days.

CarMax and Enterprise set me up with what was once the cheapest new car in America - the 2019 Nissan Versa. The Versa's low cost (under $13,000 for a very lightly used example) and high fuel economy (31 city/39 highway) have made it a darling of Uber drivers across the country. But is it anything more than a nondescript econobox?

Well, not really, at least performance-wise. While the zero-to-sixty time is okay for this class (I measured it at about 9.8 seconds), the 1.6L 4-pot barely breaks 100 in both horsepower and pound-feet of torque, meaning that the car struggles in the 60-to-80 mph range. Overall handling isn't much better; the Versa wallows in corners and gets unstable in highways crosswinds or uneven pavement.

No, the virtues of this car are all practical. The interior may be limned in cheesy hard plastic, but the gauges and controls are all sensibly placed and easy to use. Visibility is good because the vehicle is taller than average and the seating position is high, almost like a mini-crossover. The infotainment system read my iPhone easily and controlled well via a touchscreen, which was necessary to drown out the chainsaw buzz of the engine at high speed.

Practicality continues into the rear, with a surprisingly capacious back seat. The upholstery isn't the most comfortable material, but who cares? You're going to be using a seat cover anyway if you're ferrying passengers for hire, lest you want to be cleaning vomit and mud out of seat crevices every week. The same goes for the trunk: while it makes the car's rear overhang aesthetically bulbous, 15 cubic feet of space means you can carry a full load of luggage, even with a spare tire underneath.

At the end of my time with the Nissan Versa, I found myself respecting what the car stood for - inexpensive, reliable (the Bimmer was in the shop, after all), and usable transportation. If you're a rideshare driver, you could do a whole lot worse.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

A Pandemic Playlist, Part 4: Games

If you're staying inside to stop the spread of COVID-19, you'll need entertainment, so I've put together a "pandemic playlist" of disease-related media for your consumption (of course, while this list is lighthearted, do please heed the health and safety recommendations of the WHO and CDC).  For the final installment of the series, we'll dive headfirst into some plague-related games...

Pandemic (mobile, Xbox, Switch, PC)

My friends weren't too hot on "Pandemic" in its original board game form, mostly because it felt like a spreadsheet of data to optimize rather than a tense battle against deadly viruses.  Some of that tedium is alleviated by the digital version, which speeds up card draws, automates virus spawns, and keeps tabs on the ever-advancing "Outbreak" track.  If you ever wanted to step into the shoes of exhausted CDC workers mapping out a quarantine strategy, this is your chance.

A Plague Tale: Innocence (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

As scary as the coronavirus is, at least we have modern medical technology to combat it. The characters in "A Plague Tale: Innocence" are not so lucky; they're stuck fighting the Black Death in medieval France. In this narrative-driven single-player adventure game, you play as a young noblewoman fighting to keep her kid brother safe. The stealth mechanics borrow an awful lot from the classic "Thief" games, but they are buoyed by high production values and a surprisingly emotional story.

Plague, Inc. (mobile)

This game puts you in the peplomers of an infectious disease bent on wiping out humanity. You don't directly control your virus; instead, you pick a starting location and evolve its characteristics as the game goes by, reacting to world events and the best efforts of public health officials to eradicate it. The premise would obviously be morbid on its own, but coupled with our current crisis, it's positively chilling.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2

Ubisoft's open-world third-person looter-shooter "The Division 2" imagines Washington, D.C. brought to its knees by a genetically engineered smallpox strain. You'll shoot it out with Mad Max rejects in a number of famous tourist locations, like the White House and the National Air and Space Museum.  The game fixes most of the problems with the first title (enemies are only rarely bullet sponges, and player progression and matchmaking have been smoothed out), but there are some niggles remaining, like game-breaking bugs and braindead AI.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Music: Adam Schlesinger, 1967-2020

Nettwerk co-founder Mark Jowett on the passing of Adam Schlesinger.

I've listened to Ivy's classic track "Undertow" many times when feeling down, but it seems particularly appropriate here:

Standing by yourself
High on the hills above the ocean
This is where you'd come to walk with your friends
Strange how it leaves you with no emotion

You can't fight the undertow
Not when you're all alone
You can't fight the undertow
How long 'til you let go?