Thursday, December 31, 2020

Miscellany: SureFire Stiletto Pro review

Running in the evening has become my primary form of exercise during lockdown, so I've taken to carrying a rechargeable flashlight with me to cut down on disposable battery use. The best tool I've found for this job is the SureFire Stiletto Pro:

The Stiletto Pro is a (relatively) slim, (relatively) lightweight light that puts out up to 1000 lumens for an hour in a flood pattern (SureFire's "MaxVision" beam - peak intensity is only 5,100 candela).  At $200, it's expensive, but I like the Stiletto Pro over the Chinese-produced flashlights on the market for its build quality, reliability, and honest output numbers (larger torches from Fenix and Nitecore list big lumen numbers, but in real life they step down to about the Stiletto Pro's output anyway - Olights just plain burn things). 

The Stiletto Pro's user interface is also perfect for an EDC light that can double as a tactical light. Max output is available via a momentary-only tailswitch, so in a stressful situation there's no fumbling with side switches and no way to inadvertently trigger the constant-on function. For more mundane tasks, you can switch between the three output levels (25, 300, and 1,000 lumens) using the side switch, with user-programmable sequencing of those modes.

Things I don't like? For the price, the Stiletto Pro's non-replaceable battery and micro-USB charging port are chintzy, and the pocket clip, while sturdy, juts out more from the flashlight body than is necessary, spoiling the otherwise-thin form factor. The beam pattern is also not ideal if you need throw over long distances; a Modlite would be much better for that. Despite all that, the Stiletto Pro has taken its place as my primary EDC flashlight.

Food: Batch New Southern Kitchen & Tap

I've seen dozens of restaurants come and go in downtown West Palm Beach, but one that appears to be doing well even with COVID-19 is Batch New Southern Kitchen & Tap. 

The name says it all - Batch is a modern take on Southern cooking, with familiar favorites like chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and eggs benedict jazzed up with a bevy of overwrought hyphenated hipster flavors. To take one example, the tea-brined chicken is served with cheddar-cornbread waffles, chili-thyme honey, and bourbon-maple butter.

I liked Batch's food and service, though the portions aren't huge and the prices are just as high as everywhere else on Clematis. I do think this is a solid choice and I hope they stick around for awhile.

2/4 stars

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Tech: Celeste review

Continuing my tradition of arriving late to the party, I recently finished the critically acclaimed indie platformer Celeste, a video game first released almost three years ago:

Celeste is one of those sadistic trial-and-error platformers in the vein of Super Meat Boy or N++, where one false move leads you to instant death and a quick reload. Your character Madeline has only three actions - jump, dash, and climb - to get through levels filled to the brim with deadly hazards. Some sections amp up the challenge to eye-watering, "You have got to be kidding me" levels, making it all the more satisfying when you finally beat them. The game is also pretty fair, with levels that eschew cruel Kaizo tricks in favor of honest (but high) difficulty.

Still, 'tis a thin line between difficult and annoying, and Celeste crosses it a few times. I always knew what to do to pass through a stage, but sometimes I simply lacked the physical dexterity to pull off the pixel and frame-perfect sequence of moves required. Despite the great retro graphics and awesome chiptunes soundtrack, after completing the game and seeing the (surprisingly poignant) story, I wussed out of tackling the ultra-hard "B-side" and "C-side" versions of the levels, much less finding all the hidden collectibles in all the stages to get to the final secret chapter. What can I say? I'm a long way from my 102% Diddy's Kong Quest days.

Rating: 87/100

Music: "Only a fully trained [lawyer], with the [law] as his ally, will conquer [redacted]."

Working on some oral argument in the office today, with John Williams in Vienna (Deutsche Grammophon) running in the background:

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Miscellany: Mazda CX-5 review - Okay Zoom-Zoomer

After its split with Ford, Mazda shed its youthful, fun-loving "Zoom-Zoom" image and started positioning itself as a premium brand, sitting somewhere above rivals Toyota and Honda but below their Lexus and Acura luxury divisions. I recently tooled around in a 2020 Mazda CX-5 - does this compact crossover punch above its weight like Mazda hopes?

The CX-5 was the first Mazda vehicle to use its "KODO design language," all swoopy curves and simplified character lines. That works great when your car is painted "Soul Red Crystal," but it left my white CX-5 looking a little plain. This is an SUV that, while pleasant-looking, will quickly blend in with the rest of your suburban carpool.

Performance in my particular "Touring" trim was also a little vanilla. Under the hood was a 2.5L SkyActiv naturally aspirated inline four, making only 187 horsepower. It's not slow by any means, but it's not quick, either; if you care at all about acceleration, splurge for the turbo (250 horses with premium gas). Gas mileage is okay at about 25/31 mpg, though the tiny 15-gallon tank means you'll have to fill up frequently on road trips.

I liked how the CX-5 handled, but others in my party were less enthusiastic. In my hands, the steering felt accurate and heavier than you might expect for this class of car, and the CX-5 seemed agile on the road. However, I thought close quarters maneuvering in parking lots remained a chore, and people complained about the brakes lacking oomph.

The interior is where you see the most refinement from Mazda. The materials and craftsmanship are pretty much on par with my BMW 328i, which is quite an achievement for a vehicle that stickers at $26 grand in 2020. It's got nothing on the current crop of German luxury vehicles, mind you (test drive a Mercedes GLA if you don't believe me), but it's still pretty good.

The CX-5's rear seats were comfy, but not quite as spacious as the competition, and amenities back there are a little sparse. The cargo area was a bit cramped, too - enough space for four roller bags, but not much else. This is still a compact crossover, after all.

Overall, I thought the Mazda CX-5 was a very good, but not incredible SUV. I certainly wouldn't give it the fawning praise the C&D editors lavish on it. I think the question for buyers is whether the CX-5's nicer interior and sharper road manners are enough to pick this over the behemoths in this class, the RAV4 and CR-V. Those both have well-deserved reputations for reliability and practicality, but do they have soul like the Mazda? You'll need to test drive the CX-5 to find out.

Miscellany: COVID-19 Holiday Travel EDC


Like everyone, I've been limiting my travel in 2020, but I did hazard a flight to my extended family over Thanksgiving. From left to right, here's what I carried during the trip:

Hand sanitizer: Even before the pandemic, air travel was notorious for spreading disease. For those times when there's a line for the bathroom in the airplane cabin, a small bottle of hand sanitizer makes a lot of sense.

Uniqlo AIRism face mask: Like nearly all the masks and face coverings out there, this mask doesn't do much more than act as a portable sneeze guard, but it's comfy and easy to pack. I wore a real-deal surgical N95 for the flight, which does offer at least some protection from infection.

ChapStick Medicated lip balm: As I learned during a recent trial, wearing a facemask all day can be hard on your lips. A small tube of lip balm helps with that, and also comes in handy for winter weather in general.

Apple iPhone 7: My family generally gives me a hand-me-down iPhone every so often, and they pawned this off on me during the trip. Four years ago, this phone was state of the art, and even today, the battery holds up so long as you don't do too much web-surfing or movie-watching.

SureFire Stiletto Pro: I'm testing this USB-rechargeable flashlight, and I'm liking it so far. I'll post a review eventually.

CRKT Williams Pen: A writing instrument first, but also useful as an emergency self-defense device. Note that I'm not a fan of the other "tactical" pens CRKT puts out (including the sequel to this pen, the Williams Defense Pen II).

SlimFold MICRO softshell wallet: This slim, lightweight wallet is still holding up fine, though I'll probably switch out to something with more card sleeves once this pandemic ends and everyone carries business cards again.