Monday, September 30, 2019

Osprey Syncro 5 Hydration Pack Review

This is what happens when you let hikers design a pack for mountain bikers.  The result is generally good with some new and interesting features, but some things don't really translate, and some things are just weird.

Let's start with the basics: 5 liters total volume, 2.5 liters water bladder.  The remaining space is enough to haul around whatever you need to take on a regular bike ride, or even a race.  The point here is that this is a hydration pack to support your biking, not a small backpack for hauling gear.

On to the features, things that did and didn't work.  Here's the one thing that stands out with this pack, and the main reason it is worth considering:

See the breathable, tensioned, suspended mesh?  Oh man, does that ever make a difference here in the coastal Mississippi heat and humidity.  I've been using the thing all spring and summer, and it's a joy to have a little airflow between me an the pack.  Cooler, dryer, the pack doesn't get waterlogged with sweat; it's a revolution in hydration pack design.  Beautiful!

Of course, this comes at a price: a wire internal frame to keep the mesh under tension.  Yeah, a frame.  Unusual in a simple hydration pack, right?  At least it's lightweight, and it certainly works.  On the down side, the rectangular frame could be a couple of inches narrower toward the bottom.  Instead, it actually flares outward an inch on each side.  This tends to rest on and even dig slightly into my hips while riding.  Not bad, I've gotten used to it, but still.  Also, this necessitates using the waist belt to control the motion of this back-mounted box girder.  The net result is that you can almost hear some pedantic hiker lecturing about "You need to let your hips support your pack's weight."  No, not on a bike you don't.

Which brings me to the next head-scratcher: load lifters.  On a simple hydration pack?  Really?  Those belong on a 35+ liter backpacking pack, not here.  Just yank'em tight and forget about 'em.  

The sternum strap is worthless while riding.  Too narrow to allow proper breathing when riding hard, and when in a crouched riding position the shoulder straps stay in place without it.  Yanked that off.  Worse than useless is the magnetic hose-keeper.  Who has time to carefully find the matching magnet on the strap when you're dodging pine trees?  Stuff the hose in mouth, gulp some water, let it drop when done.  Anything more than that is asking for a crash.  Oh, and even when I stuck the magnets together, they bounced apart within a hundred yards.  Worthless, and now mercifully gone.

Speaking of hoses, the drinking nipple's rate is about half what it should be.  Also, it's a fiddly beast: bite too soft, no water; bite too hard and the water stops.  Maybe that works on a gentle backpacking stroll.  Not good when you're bouncing down a trail.  Replaced it with one salvaged off an old Camelbak, which has an adequate flow rate – though I'd still like something faster.

The bladder is OK.  It has internal baffles which cut down on sloshing.  The fold-over top with a slide-across keeper clip is unusual, but it works well.  The hose routing is awkward, but with a couple of tries you can make it work.  You'll want to sort all this out at home, at least before the first trip out.

Pockets, lots of extra pockets, some in the main pouch, some elsewhere.  They're all pretty useful.  I really appreciate the key-clip pocket inside the main pouch.  The external glasses pocket is nice.  It serves its intended function on the way to the trails, and once there makes a good phone pocket.  A phone pouch on a shoulder strap would be better, mostly for quick camera access, but the glasses pocket is safe and out of the way.  On the bottom there's a pocket for the included rain cover.  Rain cover?  Who'd use a thing like that when out mountain biking?  Makes no sense.  Having said that, the bottom pocket is perfect for a lightweight first aid kit and a space blanket: seldom used, out of the way, and easily accessed.  Still don't know what to do with the rain cover.  I can't bring myself to throw it away, but can't ever imagine actually using it.

Key keeper, behind TWO zippers: Good Stuff!

Color's good.  Blaze orange would've been better around the edges of deer season, but this'll do.  One more do-dad worth mention is the helmet holder.  More handy than a pocket on a t-shirt.
Glasses pocket and helmet holder toggle gizmo.  They both work well.

Finally, there's a front stretch mesh pocket for holding a bandanna, gloves, etc.  It will hold some extra layers, but not very much.  Maybe a pair of tights, but certainly not a fleece pull-over.  A zig-zag bungee would've been a much better choice.

So let's sum this all up.  It's a good start.  It's a C as it came, then modified with a decent nipple it's a B-.  It's 3 stars out of 5.  The air-moving mesh back makes the other weirdness worthwhile, the internal frame makes the mesh back work, and the waist strap keeps it all under control.  The suspended mesh is the biggest innovation in hydration packs since somebody sewed a pocket onto an an original Camelbak circa 1994.  Osprey needs to keep developing this idea for the mountain bike market, because they're really onto something.  They're just not quite there yet with this particular pack.

The whole thing.  You can see the stretch mesh front pocket from this view.  Helmet, gloves, mountain bike, and F-150 sold separately.

Bonus links:
To this pack at the Osprey site.
To last spring's review of the Osprey Talon 22.  If you're in the mood to haul more stuff, this is the one.  Still useful on a bike, as well as good for dayhiking, but a bit much for general trail riding.  Wish this one had come with a rain cover, it might be useful here, unlike the one on the Syncro 5.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sort of Like This...

Except in my office, the observer's thought bubble usually has something more along the lines of "It would be so much easier to reach the whiteboard if he'd just get that road bike out from in front of it."

from xkcd.  <permalink>

Another big difference: not so much a symphony of numbers as an early Ramones tune.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Another Day on the Bethel Trails

This time with a gang of friends.  Not an excess of mileage, but enough.  The weather's still hot, looking forward to a real cool-down within the next few weeks.  Saw two banana spiders!  They've been pretty rare this year, it was good to see some out.  Anyway, here's a trailhead pic:

A Funny Thing....

This blog keeps getting a steady trickle of traffic to the Yaesu FT-857d and FT-817nd ham radio reviews.  Looking over at some of the search engines, these pop up on the second and occasionally first pages.  That's a surprise.  It's not like they're great reviews or anything, they're more of one user's impressions and comments under real-world conditions (for some limited values of real-world).  But evidently they're getting read, and getting some traffic, and I'm glad to think maybe somebody's getting useful information here.  Maybe the biggest take-aways from both reviews are (a) the menus are deep, but not as bad as some people claim, (b) the receivers are not great by today's standards but are perfectly good for most uses, especially in the field, and (c) they're both a lot of fun to operate, again, especially in the field.  Is there anything more to want from a relatively inexpensive portable radio?

Friday, September 27, 2019

Coffeeneuring 2019 Kick-Off

I could just feel this was coming around again this year.  The shorter days, the slightly dryer air, the sense of nature awaking from summer's estivation (we see that sort of thing here on the southernmost fringe of the deep south).  Once again, it's time for Coffeeneuring.

While this year's rules are not up yet, here's the announcement post.  Dates run from October 11th thru November 25th.  In past years the event has consisted of seven bike rides to seven different coffee shops, no more than one per day and two per week, scattered over seven or so weeks.  Minor trophy swag (TBD, but usually a patch) is awarded to the finishers, but the real point is to just go ride and drink coffee.  Already the calendar's shaping up, and plans are coming together.

Last year's coffeeneuring was a rousing success with all seven stages completed, and even 2017's all-too-brief attempt was a lot of fun too.  Things are looking good for this year's challenge as well.

Side note: What am I doing up at 3 a.m.?  Didn't get a bike ride in yesterday and didn't have my after-supper coffee, was crashed out by 9:30 p.m.  That'll do it.  Ugh, it's going to be a long day.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Spidey Sense Confirmed

Last weekend I almost peeled myself away from a nap to drive 35 miles to see Ad Astra.  But there was something in the back of my brain saying "don't bother."  A few hints from some of the more jaded reviewers, a bad taste left by schlocky pseudo-sci-fi movies that the reviewers all loved (yeah, Avatar and The Signal, I'm looking at both of you), and that feeling of oh, just, not again.  It all added up.

Glad I didn't bother.
at NBC's analysis site.

Tired of giving my money to these baboons, and wow was that a good nap.  Don't think I'll even bother Netflixing this one.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Definite Maybe

Just popped up: Sugar Magnolia Fest 2019

Will be thinking and planning around this weekend.  Keep your eyes peeled for a gently aged Eureka 2XT in the tent camping area.

Monday, September 23, 2019


Today's the Fall Equinox.  No wonder I felt momentarily balanced but ultimately in danger of tipping over.  Summer's officially ended; I guess so, the outside thermometer read 68F this morning.

As usual, article and pic at NASA's APOD.

Happy Fall, folks.  Backpacking season is just around the corner.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

55 Years Ago

The XB-70 first took to the air 55 years ago yesterday.  Article at This Day in Aviation.  I don't think such a beautiful airplane has flown before or since.

The last of the "fly high, fly fast" bombers, it was made obsolete in that role by surface-to-air missiles well before it even left the ground.  Two prototypes were finished and used for high-speed research.  You can read more about it at wikipedia.

A Quiet Weekend

Barely did anything this weekend but sleep.  Made it to the farmer's market, checked the mail, re-watched 2013's Oblivion (original review here; three-plus stars out of four), read a little.  Got a short bike ride in, but not all that much of one.  Stopped mid-ride to talk with a friend who was running his ham radio in a beachfront park.  Cleaned the grill, then grilled burgers.  Maybe the biggest item (apart from napping) was getting blinds ordered for the new place.  Many thanks to The Big Sis for prodding and helping on that one.

Some weekends are like that.  Back to the towering intellectual insights and spectacular mountain bike crashes next week.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Smart TVs Scarfing Up User Data

Article at NBC: Smart TVs, smart-home devices found to be leaking sensitive user data

Oh, it's not a leak.  This is entirely by design.  Of course, manufacturers are all feigning shock that such a thing could happen.

A similar – though maybe even more creepy – story about an IoT crack was posted here back in February.  Keep those things out of your home.  Nothing good can come of it, at least not for you.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Small Reminder: Tomorrow is Talk Like a Pirate Day

You can read up on it here.  Personally... well, it'll be situation dependent.

Anyway, glad to have noticed this a little early this year.  Usually it slides by unnoticed, to be closed out sometime after 10 p.m. by the sound of a smack on the forehead.

Return of The Far Side?

Seems likely.  Look at Larson's web site.  (Hurry.  Things may change soon.)

Things may be looking up.  Come back, Gary.  Science needs you.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Baytles Play The 'Bird

Another Second Saturday in Bay St. Louis, and local band The Baytles played at The Mockingbird.  Warm night, cold beer, lots of friends and friendly folks around.  Kinda the usual fun here on the Gulf.  Not a lot else to say, so here, have a pic:

The it was off to the Bethel Road MTB trails for another day of dirty fun, but that's another blog post.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Forecast: Lasso

I mean, it's one thing for a model prediction to say "it's gonna smack Coastal MS," it's another thing for the prediction to specify "Lasso."  Just hoping we don't get branded next.

Interstellar Comet Headed Into the Solar System

Article at Sky & Telescope.

I know it's moving too fast to knock together a sample return mission, but oh man, it would be the science event of the decade if we could.  Anyway, at least it was spotted incoming rather than outgoing like that last rock.

Read the article.

Turning the Cold of Night Into Electricity

This story's all over today, but in case you missed it, here's a decent article at Vice:

This $30 Device Turns the Cold of Outer Space Into Renewable Energy

It's flea-power, but still it's pretty neat.  I wonder if it'll run a QRP radio?  Correction, I wonder how long until Peter "not Spiderman" Parker uses one to power a home-brew radio and talk half-way around the world?

Seriously though, I wonder how many milliwatts this puts out, and how it will scale, what are its limitations, and a bunch of other engineering questions.  Still, even if it goes no farther than lighting a single dim LED, it's a cool (heh) demo.

ps: Here's the original paper.  Current power output is approximately 25 mW/m^2.  For comparison, this is about 1/10,000 the output per unit area as a modern production solar panel.  Or, flipping this around, it'd take a about football field sized device to run one conventional 100 Watt incandescent lightbulb.  Interesting, but of specialized, limited use at best.

Around the Neighborhood

Oyster City Brewing expands.
Good, they're gonna need the capacity when I hit town.

Scallop Season Closes Monday
Or more of Sunday.  It's open on Sunday, closed on Monday.  Dunno when the dividing line is.  Thirty minutes after sundown?  Midnight?  Would you want to be snorkeling around St. Joe Bay after dark?  No, not me either.  Anyway, this weekend's the last hurrah until next year.  BTW: We had a good catch of them last weekend.  Didn't limit out, but still, it was good.

You can click through and see pictures.  Just text blogging here today; I'm too lazy/got no pictures.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Roomba Refurb

After seven years, the battery on the Roomba didn't batt too well anymore, and the power supply on the charger was making that "eeeee-gonna-burn-your-house-down-eeee" squeal.  Genuine replacement parts totaled about 2/3 the price of a new similar model, which had me thinking about just tossing and buying new.  However, on an old robot like this one, perhaps non-genuine would be good enough.  So off to Amazon, which yielded off-brand but suitable parts for about 1/4 the price.  Tenergy is decent battery company I've dealt with before and at $25 vs. $75 for the name-brand, it was an easy bet.  Similarly, the charging station was fine with only the plug-in power supply needing replacement, so that was half-off there.

In a dozen or so cleaning cycles, everything's working to spec.  Plus, I'm still a little peeved at iRobot for selling maps of customers' houses a few years ago.  For that reason alone, I'm glad not to give that company any more of my money.  (BTW, their base model doesn't connect to the internet, so that's the only model to consider.  What's more, there are other companies with similar offerings these days.)

Anyway, the seven year old Roomba is running great again.  Here's an action shot:

That Roomba is out there.  It can't be bargained with.  It can't be reasoned with.  It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear.  And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until that floor is clean.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Human Speech: 39 BPS

Article at Science:

Hence the utility of radio modes like PSK31.  It runs at (you guessed it) 31 bits per second, leaving a little bit of processing headroom for other tasks such as trimming filters, tweaking gains, sipping coffee, etc.  There are many other digital modes: RTTY, Olivia, etc. (looking these up on Wikipedia is left as an exercise for the interested reader), and they all have different bit rate variants.  However, almost universally, the most commonly used rate is something in this slightly-less-than-40 BPS range.  Probably not a coincidence.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Car Guy: "Yay Bikes!"

Article over at Eric Peters Auto: Cycling vs. Driving and the Death of Car Culture

Look, Eric Peters is about as car-crazy as me in the Mustang on my second triple macchiato, but he gets it.  Bottom line quote:
Beleaguered drivers ought to cheer cyclists onward – happy in the knowledge that freedom still exists here and there.  Instead, those who've lost theirs seem determined to make sure no one else has any, either.
Hell yeah.  It's short, go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Charbroiled Oysters

Weirdly enough, for all the oysters I've eaten in all the ways I've tried, I'd never had them cooked in the shell from underneath.  Broiled from above, sure, lots of times.  Anyway, we fixed that in high style at Mr. Ed's on St. Charles Avenue on Sunday evening (web site here, menu here).  And they were good.
So, what's the basic charbroiled (or chargrilled) oyster?  Some mix of garlic, butter, maybe a few herbs, with parmesan cheese sprinkled, onto a bunch of oysters on the half-shell.  Grill it from below until it seems ready and voila.  If you want something more formal, here's a list of recipes:
As with espresso drinks, there are many, many variations, and nearly all of them are very good.

Monday, September 2, 2019

A "Gas Gauge" for the Yaesu FT-60

Back to what I was looking for in the first place...

When you first switch on an FT-60, it displays its battery voltage briefly.  A quick conversion from this value to (for the stock battery) some percentage of remaining juice would be helpful!  And here it is, lifted from the document

And there we are.  It's a pretty flat discharge curve, and no doubt things will vary with age and temperature, but it is good to know that setting off for the woods with the battery reading 7.0 V probably isn't the best move.

Why can't Yaesu put this in their manual?  No, it's not perfect, but it's better than "good, good, good, oh crap down to 3.6% remaining, now 1.2%,  dead" indication that the battery bar gives.

A Yaesu FT-60 Manual for Humans

Just stumbled over this today: A Beginner's Guide to the Yaesu FT-60R/E Handy-Talkie, v3.4

I've had mine for 5+ years now, and feel like I've barely scratched its capabilities.  Oh yes, I've managed to get chirp working with it (link) and with notes can manage to program a few repeaters manually (link to notes).  With time and practice, I've even gotten a little bit of a feel for the thing, but I can't say I've ever really understood the thing, let alone clicked with it.

Well, maybe this will help.  Looks promising after just a short skim.  Here's a useful tidbit that's turned up already: how to disable that wretched WIRES "feature" so that a careless bump can't switch it back on.  Gonna go do that one right now...

I don't get it.  All of ham radio seems afflicted with this too, not just Yaesu: good radios, crummy but somewhat functional UIs, unbelievably frustrating manuals.

Hurricanes Well Explained at Tropical Tidbits

If you want to dig a little deeper than what the NOAA/NHC and Weather Underground sites give (both are excellent, BTW, but they are just summaries), sink your browser into Tropical Tidbits.  Lately he's been posting a daily 10 minute video summary of what Hurricane Dorian is up to, what's steering this thing, and why the good hurricane models are giving slightly different answers.  Good stuff, highly recommended.  

Kind of important this week.

Looking mighty colorful out there in the tropics this morning.