Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Screwpop Review

Before I begin today's regularly scheduled blog post, I must make an announcement. I am hereby declaring a regular schedule for my blog posts. From this day forward, I will be posting a blog every other Tuesday. I am committing to this publicly, in hopes that the risk of public embarrassment and shame will prevent me from reneging on this commitment. Wish me luck.

And now for something disappointing.

One of the things I have always wanted to carry with me is a Phillips screwdriver. Most pocket knives have good flat blade screwdrivers, but I find myself needing a Phillips version rather often.

I was rather excited to find this at thinkgeek.com:

It is called a Screwpop. It has several features that made me think it would be a perfect addition to my key chain.

  • It has a full-sized #2 Phillips screwdriver bit! If you pull it out and flip it over, there is a flat blade on the other side. 
  • It has a bottle opener!
Sadly, I cannot recommend this little guy. There are several drawbacks that I feel overwhelm the positive features of this tool. 

Complaint #1:  The bottle opener works poorly. It is even worse if there is a key ring going through the end of it. The opening on the Screwpop is not the right shape to easily fit over the edge of a bottle cap. I found that it took me several tries to open a bottle. This is disappointing, especially after being spoiled by another bottle opener that is such a joy to use, although it is not quite portable.

Complaint #2:  It is bulky. It takes up an excessive amount of space. I don't like carrying bulky items in my pockets. This is why I minimize the number of keys I carry. It is not worth dragging something around with me unless it functions especially well. 

Complaint #3:  The fit and finish was not as good as I would have expected. There were bits of the flash left at the seams from when the handle was cast. Not excessive, and nothing that a quick moment with a file couldn't fix, but still disappointing. 

Potential complaint #4:  It never happened to me while I carried it, but there is the potential to lose the screwdriver bit. It could fall out and be lost forever. The bit has spring-loaded detent to hold it in place, which makes it difficult to replace. A plain bit would just fall out. 

The one positive, was that the Phillips bit worked very well. However, I am convinced there must be a better option. It also makes me glad that thinkgeek.com is no longer selling this item. I do not know if it was because it didn't meet their normal standards, but I hope that is the reason. I like that site, and it made me sad that they carried something that didn't live up to its potential. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Radio Update

In December of last year, I wrote about my new radio. There was a minor, purely cosmetic issue with the display when listening to podcasts. I had promised to provide updates as I learned more. Better late than never...

The radio was purchased through Crutchfield. A site which has good name recognition, prides itself on customer support, and has slightly higher prices than can be found elsewhere.

I posted on their support forum, so that there would be a record if other people had the same problem. They were quick to reply, but the replies were not that helpful.

If I had been willing to return the radio over such a minor issue, I am sure they would have paid more attention to coming up with a solution. However, to me it wasn't worth the shipping costs, hassle, and time without a working radio to send it back. Especially if they didn't have a fix for the problem.

Based on my experience, I don't think I would purchase from them again unless they were the lowest price. It was not a negative experience overall, but it definitely wasn't worth paying a premium.

Now for some feedback on the radio itself after about a year of use.

  • The display is very difficult to see in bright daylight. The screen just isn't bright enough. 
  • There is terrible glare on the screen that makes it even harder to see. The angle of the display makes the glare worse from the driver's seat. The older version of this unit didn't have this issue. Alpine created the problem with the newer version.
  • There are also a couple quirks to the user interface that are annoying. Mainly, once you choose the shuffle all option, everything is shuffled until you tell it to stop. Including podcasts and audiobook chapters. 
  • There is no good way to mute the unit when listening to radio stations. 

The iPod interface is still one of the best I've encountered. It is fast, responsive and easy to use. I'm not going to buy a new radio any time soon, but I'm not sure if I would buy it again if I had the choice. I'm a little disappointed in Alpine on this one. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Best Highlighter

My triumphant return to blogging is brought to you by...  a highlighter.

Well, not just a highlighter. Some portion of the credit has to go to the constant admonishment from my best friend for failing to post for six months. This one is for you, Mike.

Allow me to introduce you to the Sharpie Gel Highlighter.

Now, these are not your normal, run-of-the-mill highlighters. These are crayons for adults. Magnificant crayons. (You remember how much fun coloring with crayons was, right?)

There are four reasons why I love these things.
  1. They do not bleed through the paper. At all. 
  2. They are less likely to smudge what you are highlighting. (Not perfect, but pretty good. Keep reading for more on this.)
  3. They do not dry out. At all. 
  4. It is obvious when the highlighter is low or empty. There is no gradual fading away or annoying period of reduced performance before you eventually get fed up and throw it away.  

Here is an illustration of the smudging.

These are not before and after shots. The picture on the left was scanned; the picture on the right was taken with my cell phone. It turns out that my scanner cannot see the highlighter. I find this fascinating... Anyway, I went to town highlighting these different inks immediately after writing. You can see the amount of smudging. The pencil and Sharpie marker were not affected. Ball point and gel inks were, to some extent. Unlike a normal highlighter, the tip of the gel highlighter was not fouled by the smeared ink. It continued to write in the correct color, without spreading the smudged ink to the next place it was used. 

The next thing I did was try to write over the highlighter. These are the horizontal lines beneath the words written in each ink. Pencil seemed largely unaffected. It wrote ok on the layer of highlighter. The normal ball point pen wrote almost as well. Gel ink had more difficulty and the Sharpie marker didn't like it at all. I had to scribble in the bottom left corner for a while before my Sharpie marker would write again. 

I also like the vibrant yellow color of this highlighter. I have only tried the yellow so far; the others are on their way from Amazon. I couldn't find the five-color set of these locally.

The only other drawback is that these are less precise than a chisel tip highlighter. The changing shape of the tip as it is used makes it more difficult to write exactly where you intend. This has never bothered me, but if you are more of a perfectionist, you should keep that in mind.