Frisk Mints

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: There's no cinnamon.

The Long Version: Almost twenty years ago I was introduced to Frisk mini-mints by a mutual friend. It was the Eucalyptus flavour. He got me to try them by recounting his own first time: "I thought they were like Tic-Tacs, popped five of them, and nearly passed out." They're that strong.

Frisk mints come in these little containers that are reminiscent of getting pills from a Pez dispenser. The mints are very small - more like the cross-section of a tic-tac than anything else - so the container is also nice and petite. It fits easily in a pocket, meaning that they're easy to carry and easy to pop. At 40 mints and about $3 (with tax) per pack it's not a cheap habit, but it beats smoking in just about every way. 

Eucalyptus (top in photo) was my first introduction to these mints, and it's strong enough to water the eyes of the uninitiated. Take them one at a time. The more typical mint flavour that I've tried (either Spear or Winter, I can't tell the difference) is much more mild and doesn't have the sinus-clearing power of the koala-bait. There's also the extra-strong 'Black' (second in photo), which is close to Eucalyptus in potency but not as striking. But the real hidden gem of the line is the Orange flavour, which is exactly what I remember Children's Chewable Aspirin tasting like. Since I'm in a perpetual quest to recapture the happiest parts of my childhood, this is a real win for me.


TTC Token Holder

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's actually a pill container.

The Long Version: This is a handy little thing that solves a pretty major problem: carrying and keeping track of TTC tokens. They're about the size of dimes, cost $2.25, but are worth $2.75 - the current cash fare - each. So having them handy and secure is not a trivial task.

Enter the Life Brand Pill Tote Key Ring. It has a 20mm inner diameter, which is just a touch larger than the size of the tokens, so it holds them without a lot of extra rattling. Twenty will fit in a nice neat stack, but even when the container is almost empty the plastic is quiet. It opens with three-quarters of a turn, and has an O-ring that will keep the contents dry. The jump ring is solid and it's not about to separate from the key ring and get lost. My only complaint is that the threads are fairly fine, and the container can be hard to close. A coarser thread would be easier to handle even if it needed another half-turn.

I'm still surprised that there's no product specifically designed to hold TTC tokens, and don't know what other people do. But the keychain pill fob costs less than three dollars, and it's easy to find in any Shopper's Drug Mart, which means anywhere in Toronto. It's hard to imagine anything working better than this already does, and it certainly wouldn't cost less.

(Updated March 2010: thanks to the tip from the comments section, I've been able to find the elusive purpose-built token holder. You can click to read my review of it.)


Regina's Pizza

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Great pizza. They deliver.

The Long Version: Pizza is usually fast food, but it doesn't have to be. Sometimes it can take half an hour, or maybe a little more, and sometimes it isn't $4 for a dinner-sized slice. In short, not all pizza needs to come from Cora's. There's also Regina's.

I've never actually been inside of their restaurant on College street, but it looks very nice, with real tablecloths. Instead, I was introduced to the food years ago by a very Italian co-worker who would get a pizza delivered every month or two. It's not cheap, but it's worth it and a large can feed three or four, or be stretched to a second meal. The sauce is awesome, there's plenty of cheese, and it's cooked perfectly. Penny and I get it with roasted red peppers and grilled chicken - maybe not traditional, but very nice.


Domke F1X "Little Bit Bigger" Camera Bag

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Watch your back.

The Long Version: I've already reviewed the Domke F6, which I really like, so I'll assume that people reading this one will already know that Domke bags are very well-built out of heavy canvas with no padding, except for the bottom of the bag, and use a movable lightly-padded insert to hold lenses.

Domke's canvas bags come in four different colours, and since I already have the 'Sand' colour, this time I went with the 'Olive'. Judging by the photos I've seen online, this colour is one that many people can't photograph accurately. I'm generally pretty good at getting colour right, but every monitor looks a little different, so keep in mind that this bag is more green than brown. You can use the the photo above as a colour and grey reference, and the calibration targets also give a handy sense of scale. This is a big bag.

There's a lot said about camera bags that don't look like camera bags, and usually it's not true. A boxy bag carried by a guy doesn't not look like a camera bag just because it's brown instead of black. But the Domke F1X is so far outside the norm that maybe it really can pass for something else: even a photographer that I was out shooting with had assumed I was carrying a pseudo- or surplus-military duffle bag that just happened to have camera gear in it. If I hadn't been stuffing the 35-100 'mackerel' lens into it he might never have figured it out.

Deep breath: 600-page textbook, Stylus 770SW, Olympus E-510, Panasonic FZ18, Oly 11-22mm, 1.4 teleconverter, E-300 with 35mm macro attached, FL-36 and FL-50 flashes, E-3, 50/f2 macro, 7-14mm f/4, 14-54, 14-42, 50-200mm and Sigma 150/2.8 Macro, with their tripod mounts detached, 35-100 f/2, tripod mount and hood attached, ezybalance (folded), small 'pod' beanbag, manfrotto tabletop tripod with extension, two Gepe cardsafes, and a novel. That's more than the average Olympus garage sale - it's almost my entire collection. I shot these photos with my E-1 with the 14-45, a lens that I've never actually used before.

The lens compartment has been filled. Clockwise from top left, the Olympus 14-54 is on top of the 14-42, the 1.4TC is under the 50-200, the Sigma 150 is standing alone and face-up, and the 50/f2 macro is on top of the 7-14. Quite frankly, this is a bit of a stretch, as the individual pockets aren't really large enough for the hoods on the 50-200 or 150 macro. That's why the 150 is reversed. There's also a 'wide-angle' insert available that has an asymmetrical pocket arrangement, and I plan on adding it to my collection eventually.

Now the rest of the bag is filled. The 35-100 is the big lens on the right, with its hood and foot still attached. On the left the E-3 and 11-22 are sitting on top of the FL-50. It's a pretty full bag - but wait, there's more!

It's hard to tell, but the E-510 body is in the right-front pocket, and the pod, tripod, and FL-36 are in the other one. The left side pocket already has the 770SW in it, and the FZ18 is about to join it, even with its hood attached. The E-300 and 35 Macro fits in the right side pocket. The card holders fit in two of the three mesh pockets in the lid, and the other odds and ends fit in the third. The Lightroom textbook and novel fit in the zippered pocket along the back.

And this is what a fully-stuffed 32-pound camera bag looks like. I'd be an idiot to actually try to work out of it, but the way it's arranged actually does make it possible. No important lens is buried unless an alternative is on top, there's a camera with a lens attached ready to shoot. The back pocket holds enough books to get through a week in an airport, or an executive portrait session, and I'm still not using the larger zippered pocket that takes up the entire underside of the lid. This bag can transport enough gear for an unsupported week-long shoot, or for a couple of photographers to be based out of when they cover an event, and can be carried by one person. Carried short distances, at least, and preferably by an assistant.

For what it's worth, here's the Domke F6 stuffed to its gills, with the remaining contents of the F1X left over. It's a great little bag, and a joy to work from, but the 35-100 is bigger than the bag, and it can't carry both the 7-14 and Sigma 150 Macro without choking. Since those are my three favourite lenses, that's a bit of a limitation. When I don't want to carry the heavies, the F6 is still the bag I choose. The Olympus E-3, 11-22, 50/2, and 1.4TC is a light and flexible combination: if I didn't like the 35-100 so much, I'd save myself a whack of money.

I didn't actually buy the Domke 'Kong' (my nickname for it, but its too obvious to be original) so that I can carry my entire inventory. All I really want is the ability to carry my E-3, 7-14, 35-100 f/2, and 150/2.8 Macro all at once, along with my sunglasses, wallet, iPod, gloves, hat, and any of the other non-photographic stuff that I like to carry when I'm also going to take photos. I'm tired of having bags that are just a little bit smaller than what I want to bring with me, so I went to the opposite extreme. There's no longer a need to leave anything home, so the F1X suits me very nicely. My only actual complaint is that the bag moves and conforms to its contents so well that once a lens has been taken out, it can be very hard to fit it back in. Sometimes I'll have to take the bag off and set it down to be able to re-pack the 35-100, which I don't need to do with my Crumpler 6M$H. But considering that the softness is what I love about the Domkes, and what I dislike about the Crumpler, it's not that big a trade-off.

Naturally, there are other bags that I could have bought, but I chose a Domke because of my experience with the F6, and the F1X because it's just so absurdly big and it has the four-point carrying handle. This might just be the last camera bag I buy.


510 Spadina Streetcar

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's supposed to be better than this.

The Long Version:The Spadina streetcar has a long history on my favourite street, even though the modern incarnation is less than twelve years old. It runs from Spadina Station (reviewed) to Queen's Quay (pr. 'Key'), and then across and up to Union Station. The schedule and map for the 510 can be found here.

The streetcar runs along its own private right-of-way, keeping it mostly out of the way of cars, and it uses tunnels for access to both Spadina and Union stations. These were the most expensive parts of the line to build, but gets the multi-million dollar vehicles past some pretty slow interchanges. And after all, isn't reliable and quick mass-transit the whole point of investing money in infrastructure?

Unfortunately it isn't that easy, because traffic is a political issue. The city apparently installed 'transit-priority signals', allowing streetcars to control the traffic lights and reduce the amount of time they spend waiting. Unfortunately they were never activated, and cars get to turn left across the intersections before the streetcars are allowed to move.

Like St. Clair, the other line that runs on a private right-of-way, Spadina only uses the standard 'Canadian Light Rail Vehicle' (CLRV) streetcars. I still remember Spadina before the private right-of-way was built, and it both streamlines traffic and gives the streetcar an advantage in bad conditions. It's not stopped by traffic congestion, or cars breaking down or getting bent in front of it, and the TTC swears that they can't provide reliable streetcar service on any route without one. But even though it theoretically provides an extra measure of reliability to the service, the scheduled speed of the neighbouring 511 Bathurst streetcar is actually faster than the 510 Spadina car. On the other hand, it does give emergency vehicles a great way to cut through traffic.

Most of the streetcars turn back at King street, allowing more cars to serve the more popular Chinatown - U of T portion of the route. But the choice of King as the turn-back point leads to some difficulty at that intersection, which is busy to begin with even before the 510 streetcars start turning on and off of it. Streetcars bunching up and creating gaps in the service is the big problem on the route, so this isn't a great start.

The limitation on streetcars is that they're on rails, and can't pass each other. When one gets full, it slows down. It takes longer to load and unload at each stop, and as the gap in front of it widens, more and more people are waiting at each stop. The design of the platforms, with narrow walkways and protruding shelter supports, makes loading and unloading even worse as two directions of passengers try to get past each other. Eventually three or four streetcars will be running close together, and the service goes down the tubes.

This is a problem that isn't likely to go away until the TTC gets higher-capacity cars, because the route routinely overloads the current vehicles, and there's a practical limit to how many can be added. The photo at the very start of this review says it all: shot an hour after the evening rush, these CLRVs are only one stop south of Spadina station, and they're both packed. Of course, a cynic might point out that the TTC already has larger vehicles, the extended ALRV ('articulated light rail vehicle') streetcars that serve many other routes. They're not used on Spadina because they're too long to safely run through the Union loop. Deducing how that problem will be resolved by a new generation of longer streetcars is an exercise for you, dear reader, because I can't figure it out.

Most of the stops are 'farside stops' which means that they're on the far side of the intersection. In some ways this is good, because it makes streetcar movements more predictable to drivers. It also slows down the route by making many streetcars stop twice.

If I was in charge of the street design, there are two things that I would like to see. One is real transit-priority signals, and they're needed throughout the downtown core. There's no reason why a streetcar that's loading or unloading should be facing a green light, and no reason why one that's ready to move should be stopped by a red one. It would improve speed and safety for everyone, including private cars. The other thing that I would change is adding near-side platforms to key Spadina streetcar stops to be used only for unloading at the driver's discretion.

The first streetcar in a chain could unload passengers while facing a red light, and then load passengers more efficiently at the far-side stop. The streetcars following could do the same instead of waiting for the first car to clear the platform. But here's the key bit: the first car could skip the loading platform altogether and continue up the line. This puts a less-crowded car in front, closes some of the service gap, and the passengers left waiting at the skipped stop will be quickly picked up by the following car. It's not fun to be skipped when waiting forever for a streetcar, but it's a routine fact of life on the Spadina route already. This would just let it be predicable and apply to the stops that need it most.

Of course this will never happen, because the unloading platform would take away the left-turn lane at Dundas and College streets, and possibly at other key stops as well. I'm not convinced that private automobiles have the inalienable right to turn left, especially when it blocks city-owned streetcars that cost millions of dollars each and can take a hundred cars off of the road, but that's just me. Most people wouldn't agree.

For a really brilliant selection of articles and comments on the Spadina streetcar, and Toronto transit in general, Steve Munro's Web Site is a must-read.


Pantone Huey monitor calibration system

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It does the basics, but without much more.

The (not very) Long Version: The Huey is a basic tool for calibrating a colour display, which is very important for photographers, and of varying importance for everyone else. But while the Huey is good, it doesn't really offer any control or features that make it anything more than a very basic product. It works. It's cheap. At the time it was introduced, it was the lowest price to hit the market, and I'm happy to have it. But if I was buying another one, I wouldn't buy this one - the Huey Pro includes some options for changing monitor gamma, and I'd look at it instead.

updated three years later: I've replaced the Huey with the X-rite ColorMunki Display with absolutely no regrets.


Spaceward Ho! by Delta Tao Software

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Spaceward Ho! is a fantastic use of productive computer time.

The Long Version: It's hard to find a place to start describing a cowboy-themed space exploration game. First of all, it's by Delta Tao Software, which has versions for Mac OSX, Windows, and Palm OS. My only experience is with the Mac version, but I imagine that the version for Palm is also pretty good - they're more powerful than the computers the game was originally designed for. I started playing Spaceward Ho on a Mac SE and a Mac Classic, and whether those names ring a bell or not you'll have a pretty good idea how long ago that was. The game is now up to version 5, and it's matured very well.

Spaceward Ho's main attribute is that it's a complex game that isn't complicated to play. All resources are represented by two items, Metal and Money. Metal is the non-renewable resource, and it's primarily gained by mining it during the initial colonization of planets. Money can be earned from profitable planets or as interest from savings. When a planet is initially colonized, it requires money to support it, and a certain additional amount to mine the available metal and change the temperature into something more pleasant. Planets must have a suitable temperature and gravity to be profitable.

Money can be spent to transform planets, invested in technology, or saved up to build ships. Ships are used to explore the universe, colonize new planets, and expand the empire. I've tried playing with only one or two planets, but it's not nearly as interesting as taking a more expansionist approach.

But naturally there are others - Varlese - who are trying to build their own empires as well. It can be a multiplayer game, but the computer actually provides some stiff competition, especially when the resources are more limited. There can be as many as eight opponents, and they can either play in a free-for-all or as allies united against the human player(s). One neat idea behind the game is that everyone likes different temperatures and gravities, so it's possible that a planet that one player has rejected can be a profitable base for another.

If the computer players aren't arrayed against you, it's possible to form alliances with them. As with everything in Spaceward Ho, it's simple to do and free of any complication that will distract from playing the game. But don't get too comfortable, because sooner or later they'll probably break your heart.

And the only way to win is to be the last player standing. To get to that point you need to have made good use of our resources, chosen the right amounts to spend on technologies and ship savings, and made good strategic and tactical decisions. There's no winning formula, although there are certain techniques that work better than others, and there's also a bit of luck involved. It has a charming sense of humour, entertaining little quirks, and can be set up as a quick ten-minute diversion or an epic afternoon-long struggle.

At its very core Spaceward Ho is a mix of complex economics and strategy that's simple to play. It deserves to rank among the very best computer games.


Thinking With Type, by Ellen Lupton

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's a great introduction for people who look at letters.

The Long Version: Ellen Lupton is quite an accomplished woman, and Thinking With Type isn't the only book of hers in the household. But it is the first book on typography that I've read, and I'm glad that it's the one that I found first. It's very clearly written, has excellent samples and examples, and is a very interesting book. It starts with the single line "Typography is what language looks like." on a page all its own, and it sets an excellent tone for the book.

Thinking With Type covers a broad range of subjects with ease and style. If you don't know what kerning, ligatures, or x-height is, don't be put off. There's plenty of technical information and background on significant fonts, but without bogging down in detail. The mix of very readable main text, side diversions, and illustrations makes for an interesting and varied experience. Its also a very recent book, ©2004, and has current examples and deals with web page design as well as printed material.

I've since moved on to more esoteric material, but Thinking With Type is the one I'd recommend to people who only have a casual or passing interest in type and graphic design. Its subtitle of "A critical guide for designers, writers, editors & students" is right on.

Olympus HLD-4 Battery Grip for the Olympus E-3

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's tough being the E-1's younger brother.

The Long Version: I've had a hard time getting a grip. I really like the HLD-2 grip on my E-1, and rarely use that camera without it, but I've also really liked the feel and smaller size of the al fresco E-3. So there's been a long should-I-or-shouldn't-I process, but I finally decided to get the HLD-4 for my E-3 after I noticed how many of my favourite photos were taken with the camera sideways.

"Green and Fence," Olympus E-3, 35-100mm f/2

Like the E-3 itself, the HLD-4 grip suffers a bit from the incredible toughness of the E-1. It's just not as well built or designed as its predecessor, but it's also worth noting that the HLD-2 grip for the E-1 was priced at an absolutely ridiculous amount, easily twice what the HLD-4 costs. Almost nobody actually bought the grip for the E-1 until it was cleared out by an American stores' eBay auction site. I would say that the E-3's grip is below par compared to the grips that Canon makes for the x0D and 5D cameras, except that the Olympus version is weather-sealed to match the E-3. It flexes a little and creaks, similar to the original Canon Rebel. I've come to expect more from Olympus.

Side View: Olympus E-1 with HLD-2 Grip

Side View: Olympus E-3 with HLD-4 Grip

Not to dwell on this or anything, but look at how the grip wraps around the corner of the E-1 (top photo, above). That's a work of art. The corners on the HLD-4 match the E-3 like an APS-C digital sensor behind a legacy film lens. It's feels like a manufacturing and cost-cutting compromise instead of being part of an integrated system. Hopefully this means that it will be the first Olympus grip to be compatible with more than one camera. Time will tell. (Updated 1 Jan 09: the HLD-4 grip is also a mate for the recently-announced midrange Olympus E-30.)

Rear View: Olympus E-1 with HLD-2 Grip

Rear View: Olympus E-3 with HLD-4 Grip

In the view from behind, the HLD-4 shows another couple of differences. For one thing, the battery compartment now opens at the back, removing the need for a new battery a la HLD-2. I suspect that this big opening is the source for a lot of the flex in the Oly grip. Not that there's a lot of flex, but that this is where a lot of it comes from. When handling the E-3/HLD4+35-100/2 combination, the flex can be noticeable, especially with the other main difference between the old and new style.

The HLD-2 has a grippy rubber thumb cut-out and a more rounded bottom-rear corner, while the HLD-4's thumb rest is smooth plastic and has a sharper corner at the bottom. This makes the E-1 easy to hold with a thumb and middle-finger, which is a nice and light grip that doesn't lead to fatigue, but does make it harder to hold the camera securely while using the rear control wheel or buttons. The HLD-4 is easiest to hold between the fingers and heel of the hand, which is a stronger but more fatiguing grip that leaves ones' thumb free to do whatever it needs to. There's still a decent ridge for the thumb-and-finger hold, but it's too slippery for me to really be comfortable with that as my only hold on the camera.

But in real-world use I've found the grip to feel quite natural, and I smiled the first time I handled it. Pulling the E-3/HLD-4+35-100 out of the Glass Taxi - with the hood already extended, naturally - would be accompanied by heroic music if life was an action movie. It's not perfect, it's not even exceptional, but it is a good addition to the E-3 that tries to live up to some of the best cameras Olympus has ever made. I don't think I'll take it off very often.

In an unprecedented move, here are the other photos that I shot but didn't get around to using.

Olympus HLD-4: 

Olympus E-1 with HLD-2:


Olympus E-3 DSLR

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Don't worry, be happy now.

The Long Version: The E-3 is now a year old. When it first shipped in late November 2007, it was enthusiastically greeted by people who were waiting a long time for it, and not so enthusiastically received by everyone else. Looking back at the reviews that were written the camera seems to have been criticized for not being a Canon 40D, a Nikon D300, or even an Olympus E-1. Now, one year later, I'm already reading some grumbling about Olympus lacking A Next Big Thing to respond to the "ooh, Shiny" Canon and Nikon product launches. After all, Full Frame Cameras are now almost a mere $3000 each, and fifteen megapixels and a clean iso3200 are needed for any print larger than a business card.

I hate camera review sites.

Okay, I hate overly technical camera review sites.

The point behind comparisons is to find differences between similar items, and it's a part of human nature that the less significant the difference is the more weight people give to it. (This has been shown in scientific studies, but DPreview.com provides ample evidence.) I constantly see people paralyzed by meaningless technical specificity that means absolutely nothing. There's actually no real difference between 10 and 12 megapixels. One-third of a stop of dynamic range is imperceptible. And the Auto White Balance for every camera sucks in mixed or artificial light.

When I was a kid, my friends and I would debate whether Ferrari or Lamborghini was better. We were twelve. None of us could drive. Really, what was the point? And most camera reviews are no more meaningful. So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on the E-3, based on nothing more than common sense, fifteen thousand exposures, and broad but shallow experience with almost every SLR on the market.

Image Quality:

I'll happily put the resolution and dynamic range of the E-3 up against any sub-$2K camera that's been run through a heavy rain shower. It's something that the E-3's designed to do, so why not compete on its own terms? Sure, the 40D shoots an extra frame per second, and the D300... well, it's the D300. But neither camera is as tough as the E-3, and neither are the lenses from any other maker. Weatherproofing and toughness are the reason why I bought the E-1 all those years ago, and it's still one of the best features of the E-3. It's a trait of all of the best cameras, which doesn't include anything else in the E-3's price bracket except for the Pentax SLRs. Considering the investment in bodies and lenses that (some) photographers make, buying an unsealed camera and lenses is very much like getting a car that can't drive in bad weather.

Design and Ergonomics:

The E-3 has two control wheels, and both can be configured to control different variables and do it differently in different modes. I have mine set to always control aperture or shutter speed with the rear dial and exposure compensation with the front. Auto-ISO and Auto-WB takes care of those settings, effective in-body image stabilization removes the need to think about shutter speed, and raw capture takes care of the rest of the settings. I'm not really concerned with where the rest of all the little buttons are. A faster way to change the focus points would be nice, but that's about it. I like the prominently placed Chimp button, and find the flip-out screen to be an amazing feature for shooting from the LCD. Beyond anything else, this is what other photographers notice. The E-3 is a well-designed and utterly reliable tool that is tougher than almost any other on the market and takes just as good photos.

And finally...

I could easily write a long an involved article about the E-3, but the essence is this: find the camera closest to you, make sure it has a fresh battery and an empty card, and go take some photos. When you get back to your base, pick a few of your favourites and print them. If the camera you used is an E-3, you'll probably really like your photos. If your camera isn't an E-3, you'll probably really like your photos.

Be creative and have fun.

Updated August 2009: I'm now using the E-3 alongside the Nikon D700. Don't forget to click on the other tags to read more, like the reviews of the Olympus 35-100 and 7-14, Nikon 50/1.8 and 85mm tilt-shift lenses, and others. Click on photography, cameras, lens, Olympus, or Nikon. Of course, as your best source for diverse and varied reviews of dubious consistency, there's a lot more here than photography gear.


Apple Magsafe Power Adapter

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's been fixed, both generally and specifically.

The Long Version: The MagSafe power adapter than Apple introduced with its MacBooks is a really clever piece of design. I've seen plenty of power adapters for different brands of laptops, all the way back to the IBM laptops with the 1' power cable that left the adapter dangling off of the floor. At one point that was considered a design innovation.

Apple's design added a couple of interesting features. One is the fold-out prongs that give a convenient place to wrap the power cable that runs between the adapter and the laptop. The other is the interchangeable plugs that let the proud owner switch between a simple flip-out plug and a longer AC power cord. (And probably lets Apple's contract manufacturers localize the power adapter for different markets very cheaply.) Flexible, convenient, and a very clever idea.

Apple then went one step further by switching from a ho-hum physically-plug-it-in connection to a nifty magnetic attachment that would save the laptop from plunging to the floor by disconnecting if it was given a hard tug.

The problem is always in the details. The first generation of Magnetic Safety connections - MagSafe for short - has a design flaw that eventually leads to frayed wires and lost power. First the 'charge' light stops coming on, then the connection gets intermittent, and will eventually fail altogether. The links describing the fault are here (apple) and here (critique site).

The good news is that getting a replacement for my seriously-out-of-warranty power adapter was as easy as the Apple tech article describes, without the "only if you live in the US: if you need a replacement somewhere else you'll have to pay for it (if you can find it)" FUD from the other site. The afflicted machines are: the MacBook Pro (17-inch), MacBook Pro (15-inch Glossy), MacBook Pro (original), MacBook (13-inch), MacBook (13-inch Late 2006).

The new adapter has a slightly longer and tapered strain-relief collar that looks like it will solve the problem, and the lack of new computers on the list is reassuring. On the other hand, this isn't the first time I've had an Apple product taken down by a common manufacturing defect, it's just the first time Apple's fixed it. I guess A/C adapters are cheaper than dissatisfied customers.


Omega Seamaster 'Bond' and 'Diver' Watches

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 5 out of 5
Yeah, but: Any watch that costs over $50 is jewellery.

The Long Version: This review is actually of two related items, the Omega Seamaster 300m GMT (a.k.a 'Bond GMT') reference 2535.80, and the Omega Seamaster 300m Chronometer (aka 'Diver') reference 2533.50. 

I've been an admirer of Omega watches for many years, and am particularly fond of the Seamaster line. When it came time to choose a watch, I was in an excellent position to be familiar with almost the entire current line of Omegas and enjoy them without any sales pressure. While I like the idea of the Speedmaster 'Moon watch' I could never quite bring myself to buy one, as I wanted a watch with a screw-down crown. I take my waterproofing seriously, and while the toughness of that model is literally astronomical, the idea of water being able to get under a crown that was accidentally opened wasn't comforting. I also decided that I wanted a simpler watch without the visual and mechanical complications of a chronograph. Legibility, attractiveness, and reliability were going to be the deciding factors in my choice. The watch that I picked - after considering an rejecting the rest of the Omega line for one reason or another - was a black-dialed Seamaster 300m diver. An a few years later, when I was buying my second and final watch, the lure of the Seamaster was stronger than the desire to diversify, and I bought the pinnacle of Omega styling and technology: the coaxial Seamaster 'Bond' GMT.

Omega Seamaster Professional 300m GMT, reference 2535.80

This watch - in its normal 2220.80 non-GMT configuration - has been the watch for James Bond as played by Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. (These two gentlemen will be referred to as "Remington Steele" and "The New Guy" from here on, as this makes it easier for me to keep track of them.) Steele started wearing one because both he and his character were paid to do so, so it's not exactly a personal testament, but product placement and 'brand ambassadors' have long been a part of marketing. The Bond name is very heavily identified with the blue-dial and skeleton-handed Seamasters, and it's the most recognizable watch that Omega makes. The New Guy continues to wear one of these in the more recent films, but he also wears the bigger 'Planet Ocean' models. They've been heavily promoted as a tie-in with "Quantum of Solace", so only time will tell if the 'Bond' appellation applies to those as well.

The 'Bond' model that I have is the co-axial GMT chronograph, which essentially means that it tells two time zones and keeps very good time - about as accurate as a cheap quartz watch. But mechanical watches have a certain essence to them that no electronic watch can match; it's the difference between a cheap Nikon or Kodak point-and-shoot camera versus a hand-crafted rangefinder. A mechanical watch is archaic to the point of obstinacy, but there's just something about a finely crafted machine that has hundreds of parts and is able keep track of the sun with over 99% accuracy through all conditions. If that doesn't make much sense, or the idea of a watch that costs more than a hundred dollars seems ridiculous, I can't help you. Perhaps some of our other reviews will suit you better.

Prince William's Omega Seamaster

All of the co-axial Seamasters are a little thicker than the ones with the lever escapement. (Wikipedia
is our friend.) This new style of movement is a significant improvement over the standard escapement, increasing its accuracy and decreasing the frequency of its return to the mothership for servicing and lubrication. The GMT Bond also has some additional thickness from the clear sapphire caseback that shows off the rhodium-plated 2628 self-winding movement. I like both shiny things and the insides of machines, so when I can see the shiny inside of a machine I'm very happy. Otherwise the thicker watch isn't quite as easy to wear with a dress shirt with narrow cuffs, so just like with everything else, there are compromises to be made.

Back View, Coaxial Bond GMT, reference 2535.80

The Bond GMT is a thick, heavy watch. The bracelets on Omega watches are solid, making the folded-link manufacture of Rolex feel appropriately light and cheap, and it gives the Seamaster a nice heft and balance. On the other hand, it's also possible to have too much of a good thing; the Planet Ocean watches that The New Guy wears are gorgeous, but the large size weighs about half a pound. That's a little too much for me, so the 41mm case diameter of the 300m Seamaster was a better choice. If that's still too much, there's also the 'boy size' (officially the 'medium') that has only subtly different styling and is closer to a traditionally sized watch.

Omega Seamaster Professional 300m Chronometer, America's Cup edition,
reference 2533.50, on rubber buckle strap

The other Seamaster that I own is the black-dialed steel 'Diver' model. As it's an older watch it originally came on the bracelet that now only remains on the Bond styles, instead of the newer style that was introduced on the Seamaster GMT. I suspect that Omega brought in the GMT bracelet to show Rolex how one is supposed to be made, but the general consensus is that the Bond bracelet is both better looking and more comfortable. Regardless, even before I had the GMT Bond I usually wore the Diver on a rubber strap. It's lighter and more comfortable to wear for extended periods, and I like the look of the combination. A black dialed watch on a black strap accentuates the case, while a metal bracelet accentuates the dial. The buckle-strap in this photograph is off of a 2004 Olympics edition Seamaster, and is the new design that also appears on the Planet Ocean, but I also have a black rubber deployant strap as well. It was never sold in either combination, making this configuration unique. What can I say - working for Swatch Group Canada for so many years did have some advantages.

This particular 300m Diver is from 1999/2000, and was produced as a limited edition for the America's Cup and
Sir Peter Blake. While Sir Peter isn't as famous as the various 007 Agents, he's just as interesting a person and someone more worthy of admiration. The changes for this model are the words Limited Edition on the side of the case, one word on each side of the crown, the America's Cup logo on the dial, and a numbered case back. There was also non-limited version that kept the white-gold bezel with raised markers, and also an ugly version with a yellow-gold bezel and two-tone bracelet.

Aside from the different movement and the GMT function, the main differences between the two models is the dial and hands. The Diver model has much larger hands and markers, making for a bolder face that's easier to read. It's so luminous that I can see it from across a dark room, and the non-radioactive material remains luminous for hours. The markers themselves are simply 'painted' (I have no idea how it's actually put on) onto the dial, which is standard for the basic Seamasters. The non-limited watch with the same steel+white gold bezel has applied markers, so the version that I have is a cross between the dressier aspirations and the functional simplicity of a diver's watch. 

The Bond is a more stylish watch, and may work better with a tuxedo and evil-but-sexy villainess than a wet suit. The one real advantage to the skeleton hands is that it doesn't obscure the date display, which helps those of us with no short-term memory. The other real advantage to the skeleton hands is that it doesn't obscure the date display, which helps those of us with no short-term memory. The disadvantage is that legibility is good but not exceptional, and the watch is much dimmer at night or in the inky depths of the abyss.

Choosing one of these watches is a significant decision. They're not expensive for an expensive watch, but they're far more money than a sensible person should ever spend on one. (In my case, see my above comment about how working for Swatch did have some advantages.) With luck, this is a lifetime purchase. I'm pleased with mine, but that's no reason for anyone to take my advice, so go to a decent store and have a look at your options before you buy one. Other styles to look at would certainly include the new black-dialed Bond, although I'd skip the 007 limited edition version as I'm not a fan of the smooth face. The titanium Diver 300m Chronometer is a lighter (and warmer) watch, the Planet Ocean also has some Bond appeal with beautiful orange accents. The Aqua Terra - especially the stunning two-tone rose gold - is a fine dress watch, the Seamaster Chronographs have the ability to stop and start the chronograph underwater, and even the Speedmaster is an excellent watch with real historical value.

Just skip the Rolex section - unless you really want to spend far too much money to make most people to think that you're wearing a Seiko.

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