Gerber Shortcut multi-tool

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: It doesn't do much, but folding scissors are inherently cool.

The Long Version: I bought this multi-tool for not very much money from Walmart, which isn't anything to b proud of, but at least there's a story behind it. I was traveling by plane, so I couldn't carry my big Gerber multi-tool or pocket knife with me, and I needed a little something to have on hand. So in a better than nothing way, this was better than nothing.

The scissors are decent: Gerber is part of Fiskars, and that's something that they're good at. The rest of the items (see product page) are okay in that better-than-nothing way, but aside from the scissors, none of these are what I'd reach for if I needed something matching that particular name. They're small, and they can fold back beyond their 'open' position. This means that the knife blade can't be used with any enthusiasm. A Victorinox 'swiss army knife' is better built and more useful - except that they have slightly shorter and weaker scissors. Ultimately, that's what it all comes down to, because that's about all I use them for.

If you have twenty bucks and need something else for your keychain, the Gerber Shortcut's a good pair of scissors to own. And that's about it.


Asko WCAM1812 Combination Washer/Dryer

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: -1 out of 5
Yeah, but: Others may have had a better experience. Maybe.

The Long Version: The Asko WCAM1812 is a single unit that combines a washing machine and a ventless dryer. It's a great idea: the plumbing is simple, it doesn't need a special power outlet, and it doesn't need to be vented to the outside. Mine sits in the middle of my apartment, in a place where no other washer/dryer combo can go.

There are a couple of compromises to be made with the Asko, or any combination unit, that need to be said up-front. For one thing, it's much smaller. While the drum is about the size of an ordinary front-load washing machine, its effective capacity is less than half of that because it needs the empty space to tumble the clothes when they're drying. In a household of two people, this unit probably runs five or six loads in an average week. If you're considering buying any combination washer-dryer and may have children some day, then you'll have to rethink one of those plans.

Compromise #2 is that this single washer-dryer is slower than two separate units. The dryer in particular takes longer, and because it's one machine it's not possible to start the second wash while the first one is in the dryer. On the other hand, this means that it can do its thing without supervision, so it's possible to start a load in the morning or at night and come back to it when it's done. Or at the very least, when it's almost done.

And this brings me to quirk #3. The clothes wrinkle from the small drum, and there seems to be no way to prevent it. Clothes do not come out fluffy, crisp, and warm. Instead they come out wrinkled, damp, and very hot. The best strategy is to get them close enough that they'll be dry and fairly wrinkle-free by the time they're hung up in the closet. With some experience, it's possible to tell the difference between 'wet' and 'damp'. But let them sit and they'll never recover, requiring a 40-minute 'fluffing' run through the dry cycle to get them warm again. And even then ironing is probably going to be needed for anything that can't show a little character.

Don't get clever and run the dryer long enough to force your clothes to dry. It doesn't work - I can have something come out scorched from the heat and still be damp. And don't get too complacent about the heat of the dryer, either. It can leave clothes too hot to touch, and I frequently have to wait for the steam to clear even after the dryer's safety delay has released the door. Forget about that nice feeling of pulling on something comfy straight from the dryer - it just doesn't happen that way.

But all told, it's better than having to use my buildings' communal laundry rooms, even though it astonishes me to get an entire weeks' worth of clothes cleaned in an hour and a half. And this isn't a case of me needing to try the alternative to write a well-rounded review, either. I've had ample chances to compare the two laundry options since my Asko has broken down so often.

When it was first delivered, the belt had come off of the blower that moves hot air into the drum while drying. It took a while to realize that there was something wrong - after all, it did warm up, people had warned us how much longer the drying would take, and not to expect crisp fluffy clothes. But no, it was broken, and this turned out to be a recurring problem. This unit had four or five service calls because it stopped drying, always resulting in scorched-smelling clothes that were plenty wet. Changing the belt and all of the pulleys made no difference. It was eventually resolved - I think - by an enterprising technician who spotted and fixed a misaligned shaft that was - we hope - the source of all of the trouble. (Incidentally, Kampen Appliance Service was great, and I'm happy to have them on my speed-dial.) The only other trouble that this particular unit had was a tear in the door boot that caused a small leak. It's something that never happens, which means it took forever to get a spare part, and the new one had a drain in it that the old one didn't. I don't know if that's an upgrade or a bug-fix, but it does work better now.

So overall, I have mixed feelings about this Asko washer-dryer thing. If I had an option to get a traditional front-load washer and separate dryer, I would without hesitation. However, since that's not possible, I'd rather have the combined machine than have to leave the house, even if it's just to go down the hall in my slippers. But when this one finally dies - probably right after the warranty expires - I won't be replacing it with another Asko unless the things I read get much, much better.

Updated May 2011: The Asko washer-dryer has had a host of issues since I originally wrote this. Some of the electronics went bad, meaning that the washer would occasionally wash forever (or dry forever) as it would keep resetting itself. There would be a subtle but distinctive 'click' when it did this, and the solution was to turn the power off, wait for it to actually stop – typically a matter of several minutes – turn the dial to 'off', open the door, turn the power back on, and wait for it to reset itself. Other times it would start running on cycles that it wasn't set to, such as when I wanted to run the dryer for another 40 minutes but it would start on the "rinse" cycle instead. The final in-warranty service call was to get this fixed, and after replacing a bunch of parts, nothing changed.

One of the big mistakes I made with the WCAM1812 was to paint the kitchen. I needed to move it out of its cubby to be able to paint behind it, and that just made it angry. Now it has an intermittent but LOUD rattling noise in each stage of the wash-dry process. The actual results aren't affected, but there's occasionally a warm rubber smell and it's impossible to hear the TV. Running the wash overnight is now a thing of the past – at least until it has a couple of out-of-warranty service calls behind it.

On the other hand, it is still struggling along, meaning that it has outlived its warranty period. I suppose that means it exceeded my expectations.

Updated July 2011: The loud rattling turned out to be that the impeller had come away from the drive shaft of the drain pump, a small part that only cost a couple hundred dollars' to replace. The next day – absolutely literally – the thing stopped working. The water would run straight through the washer, never stopping, never filling. Additionally, the control panel stopped lighting up, and the usual tricks to reset the machine stopped working. When the technician took the top off of the machine, the control board had small scorch marks around one component, and a huge scorch mark around another component that has partially melted.

This is the same panel that was replaced under warranty fourteen months earlier.

While the technician was checking out the machine he asked if it was having problems drying. The truth is it's hard to tell the difference between malfunctioning and normal operation, and since it had been making so much noise we'd just become used to hanging up the still-damp clothes to dry in our dining room. But the point is that the tech spotted that our blower/fan unit had seized, and would also need to be replaced. So in addition to the hundreds of dollars that the thing cost us last week, the cost of having these parts replaced will almost certainly write off the washer/dryer.

Four years and it's garbage. I have shoes older than that.

Updated September 2011: My Asko washer-dryer is back in service. Following the advice of the technician who diagnosed the problem, I called Asko North America and asked for the pending service to be covered as a warranty repair. I had to send in the work order that detailed the parts needed – thankfully I have a flat-bed scanner – and it took a little while, but I have to say that the Asko Complaints Dept seems pretty well-rehearsed. I took on the Disappointed and Long-Suffering tone with my emails, and never had to escalate beyond that. So the most recent round of repairs was covered for parts and labour, and eventually they also refunded the cost of the parts (but not labour) to replace the drain pump that disassembled itself.

The control board, which is the charred item pictured above, cost better than $500. This washing machine is now on its third one in five years. But apparently they're not common items, as it still took about a month for it to arrive and complete my service call. I'm lucky that my condo also has communal laundry machines, so spending more than a month without my Asko isn't as bad as it could be, but those machines still cost $3.75 a load. I didn't even bother to ask for that back.

But wait, there's more! My WCAM1812 also needed a new air duct cover to replace the one that had clogged with lint, which is typical for these machines. So even if a WCAM1812 doesn't have some sort of acute failure, it will gradually lose its drying effectiveness and need a service call with a $160+ part to bring it back to its original performance. The good news is that my dryer now works just as well as it did when the machine was new. That's a qualified victory, to be sure, but a noticeable improvement none the less.

I've finally dropped the "Execution" rating from "1" to "0" I'm not sure why it took me so long to do that.

Updated May 2012: Shortly after the new control electronics were installed – read: replaced for the second time – the washer went back to its infinite-run trick. We've discovered that it only happens when we adjust the cycle settings or drying time while the unit is on, which makes the situation somewhat manageable. If we forget, the reset routine is written on a post-it note on the side of the machine:

Power off. Wait for door to unlock. Open door.
Turn cycle selector to "Stop". Wait at least five minutes.
Power on:
- If "start" and cycle lights flash, power off and wait again.
- If start light is solid and control dial can select new cycles, the machine is ready.
Power off. Close door. Turn selector to desired cycle.
Power on. Press start.

Oh, and the dryer is back to being essentially useless again. There's nothing specifically "wrong" this time – no burning smell, scorched clothes, or horrendous noise – so we just live with it. When the Asko's short and troubled life finally does come to an end, it will just be replaced by a front-load washing machine, so always having a drying rack out is good practice.

Updated November 2013: Actually not much to report this time; the machine stumbles on. We still don't use the dryer, and while the control electronics are skittish enough that we always verify that it will run the program that it has been set to, it still works about as well as it ever has.

Updated September 2017: That took way longer than I expected, but it finally happened. This is all that's left of this horrible, horrible machine.

The Asko stumbled on for years, never working well, but not so badly broken that it acutely needed to be replaced. That's the worst of both worlds. The frequently-replaced control board remained a chronic problem, making it difficult to select cycles, and even when it did the cycle it was told, it would often fail partway through and just stop. Similarly, the dryer would want to run even when its time was set to zero, so we'd leave that dial pointing to twenty minutes lest it run forever. The good news is that the heat function had broken years ago, so there was no danger of scorching the entire load, which is what happened when it was "working".

Amazingly, what finally killed it was mechanical, not electronic. The drum rollers must have disintegrated, because the drum couldn't spin without sounding like it was trying to tumble cinder blocks. And it would barely spin at the same time: sound and fury, drying nothing. So it was in the back of the junk removal truck without ceremony – I didn't even take any goodbye photos of it. The photo above is the door from the detergent dispenser, which had broken off ages ago and was left behind in the excitement.

My WCAM1812's replacement is a small and relatively inexpensive front-load washer. Despite having a drum that's two-thirds the size, according to the various manufacturer data, it holds far more. It get everything cleaner, and it takes half as long to do a load of laundry, leaving it drier out of the wash than the washer-dryer Asko could. It's even happy to do it. And needless to say, it's not made by Asko.


Domke F-6 "Little Bit Smaller" Camera Bag

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's not like other bags, so know what you're buying.

The Long Version:Domke bags are different. They're not like the Think Tank or Crumpler bags that I also use on a regular basis, and they're not like the box full of Lowepro and Tamrac bags that I have in my closet. They aren't heavily padded with lots of movable dividers, and aren't made from plastics that have been woven until they act like fabric. They're soft bags made from canvas in natural colours, with simple metal clips and understated styling. They're the comfortable, broken-in jeans of the camera bag world.

Arrayed in the photo above is a good garage-sale's worth of Olympus gear. The E-1 (reviewed) with a battery grip is about as big as any sub-$10k camera on the market; the rest of the collection is the 11-22mm wide angle lens, 50mm f/2 macro, and 50-200mm telephoto, which is a kit that can accomplish just about anything. The Lensbaby 3G is fun to have, the Ezybalance (reviewed) makes the world look right, and the little Manfrotto tripod was well worth the money. But since this is a camera bag review, the next photo probably won't be a big surprise.

For a bag that really isn't very big, the Domke F-6 holds it all easily. If I got rid of the tripod mount on the 50-200, I could stack the 50 Macro on top of the lensbaby, and free up a pocket to hold a flash or another lens. My 1.4x teleconverter could be stacked under the 11-22 without any problem at all. I can fit a couple of batteries, my Pelican 7060 flashlight, small Pod beanbag, and sunglasses in the front zippered pocket without getting rid of the tripod. The pocket under the top flap holds my wireless remote, bubble level, and other odds and ends. There's also a slash pocket along the back for maps, travel documents, or a few DVDs on their way back to Queen Video.

My Domke F6 is the only bag that I've ever really liked on a personal level.

But take a good look at the construction of the bag. The canvas is all that there is. The bottom has a little padding, and there's an insert with four padded compartments that can be shifted from side-to-side within the bag, but this is essentially an unpadded bag. If you want your gear wrapped in foam rubber and body armour, look for something from Kata or Crumpler instead. If you don't mind carrying a bag that loses a lot of its capacity to padding and always feels like you have a Coleman cooler strapped across your back, they're an excellent option. Some people will want the feeling that their gear has more protection when they're working or traveling, but it was my three-week trip through Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Los Angeles that made me really appreciate the Domke's versatility. I never went anywhere without my camera bag.

The "Classic" series of Domke bags are made from canvas, and they come in a few different colours. Mine is "Sand," which is probably the most popular, but others may include blue, black, and green. There's also the Ballistic series made from nylon, but it's the natural canvas that gives this bag its charm. It's the only camera bag that I have that actually changes shape because of what's inside of it, and that makes it very comfortable to carry. It moves naturally, and is organic in a way that Crumpler cases and strawberries are not. It's just a charming little bag that holds quite a lot.

I've had my Domke F-6, which is A Little Bit Smaller, for over a year now. It's the bag that I carry when I go to the zoo, with either a tripod stuck over the shoulder strap, or my monopod tucked through it and secured with a biner clip for good measure. It's been around the world, it's been on weekend trips, and it's been through the washer/dryer several times as well. It's endured it all with a slightly rumpled charm.

But just like a comfortable pair of jeans, I don't always fit into my favourites from last year. I've decided that it's time for me to look for another Domke, because I need one that's just a little bit bigger to hold my 35-100 lens. A very wise man once wrote "nobody ever wished that they bought a camera bag that's just a little bit smaller." Notwithstanding the wisdom in that, it's amazing just how big a little bag can be.


Christopher Columbus In America

Concept: 1 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: There's something to be said for popular heroes, no matter how misplaced they may be.

The Long Version: The American fascination with the Cristoforo Colombo, an Italian, has never quite made sense to me. Doing a Google search on the word "Columbus" tells me that there are cities named after him in Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, and Nebraska, without even going past the second page of results. While Canadians do have a few things named after that particular explorer, it doesn't come close to the mythical hero-figure of American culture.

(And rumour has it that the name 'British Columbia' was chosen by Queen Victoria because 'New Caledonia' was already taken. The 'Columbia' part is after the Columbia river, which was named by Robert Gray after his boat. Incidentally, Grey was an American.)

As a Canadian, it astounds me how much energy and emotion Americans invest in this particular individual. It ranges from the background of place names and public holidays all the way out to the extreme fringe of historical revisionist nationalism. "Christopher Columbus is a carrier of Western Civilization and the very values attacked by terrorists on September 11," says the Ayn Rand Institute, which is somewhat surreally quoted on a Bahamian tourism and investment website. "Did Columbus 'discover' America? Yes--in every important respect."

There are plenty of sources that will argue that Columbus did not 'discover' America, and an abundance of others to insist that he did. The crucial difference between these views is the question of whether or not the people who were already here - sometimes still archaically called 'Indians' in Christopher Columbus's honour - matter or not. It just boggles my mind that people never notice that the fundamental premise is flawed. Apparently geography isn't an important part of discovering something.

Here are some maps: Voyage #1, Voyage #2, Voyage #3, Voyage #4. He never came within sight of Florida, Puerto Ricans don't get to choose between Obama and McCain, and if Guantanamo Bay was part of America then they wouldn't be putting their detainees-of-war there.

But a popular myth is a good myth. Searching an exact match of "columbus discovered _____" returns 132,000 results for "america," and only 710 for "cuba" or 460 for "hispaniola", even though he actually went to the last two places. 

And Americans get a day off work in his honour, which is more than us Canadians have managed. Good for them.


Lastolite 'ezybalance' folding grey card

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: They're useful, cheap, and will actually improve your photographs. What else will do all that?

The Long Version: Grey cards and colour references aren't exciting things that photographers get together and talk about. Even dedicated gearheads can be intimidated by digital colour management, and for almost everyone the camera's idea of 'close enough' will be good enough. The more trusting photographers generally capture jpeg images, which institutionalizes the cameras' settings, and raw shooters have a 'fix it in photoshop' approach that leads to bad photographic hygiene.

But the reality is that a vast improvement in colour accuracy isn't difficult, and doesn't need to be a gateway to spyders, profiles, and multi-thousand-dollar monitors. This is easy. Sure, if it's art, go ahead and make everything green. But wouldn't it be best to know for certain what the scene actually looked like first?

I fully confess to being one of those people who shoots in raw and sorts them out later. And I'm not always the most diligent, either. But when colour accuracy matters, I start shooting frames like the one above. I can then select that photo and all of the ones taken in the same light - the ones after it, until the next grey frame - and synchronize the white balance in Lightroom without ever leaving the Library module. Six clicks and each set is done. I can colour-balance an entire shoot in less time that it has taken me to write this paragraph.

For people who shoot in jpeg capture, the sequence is even easier and more important. Point the camera at the grey card, press whatever buttons you need to to set a manual white balance, and you're done. Naturally you need to change it when the lighting changes, but that's true with anything other than the camera-knows-best Auto WB setting.

The main grey reference that I use is a Lastolite ezybalance [sic] folding / collapsible grey card. I have the small standard version, but they also make a waterproof model for dive photography, which I wanted until I saw its price. Their website is unusually useful, featuring some videos on how to use the product, and any gray card will work with the same instructions. For macro and small product photography I'll use one made from cardboard, which I've cut down to fit in the frame, and other times I'll go all-out and use a colour chart. But for general use I really appreciate the easybalance, as it's proven to be durable and the white side is also very handy for acting as a small reflector. It deploys to its full size with a quick flick, and the 12" size that I use is large enough to get an easy reading from. When I'm shooting it's natural to just tuck under my arm, or if I have two hands free I'll fold it and tuck it into my back pocket or camera bag. One of the larger sizes may be better if you need one to gauge the proper exposure, but I don't worry too much about that. After all, if I pay attention to the highlights, I can always fix it in post.

Updated to answer Jigme's question:

There are a couple of ways to shoot a reference frame. The one I use is to fill the frame (with a telephoto like the 35-100/2) by holding the card out at arms-length and trusting my E-3's auto white balance to get the temperature mostly right. (The E-3, like the E-1 and some Nikons, has a separate sensor to evaluate the ambient light.) This is the way to set a custom/manual white balance, but it's not the usual way to use a grey/white reference.

Any other time, such as with a wide-angle lens or with flash, is to include the grey card within the frame without actually taking it over. So when you have the lighting right (for studio flash) just include the grey card in one of the frames, and colour-correct them all from it in post. I typically do this in the last frame of the shoot, and after each major change in the lighting. If you're shooting one of those subjects that I avoid - things that move and talk - get one of them to hold it at some point.

But if you're shooting in mixed lighting, there's not much you can do for 'correct' white balance. All you can do is try to get the look right, which is going to be subjective and personal. A tool like this can be used to get the main subject 'right', but it's one of those times when good judgement is more important.

Carl Weese has written an excellent pair of articles on the subject over at TOP. Here are the links for Part One and Part Two.


Xootr MG Kick Scooter: Six Months & Five Hundred Kilometers Later

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Your milage may vary.

The Long Version: It's been six months since I first reviewed the Xootr MG kick scooter, and it's consistently been one of the most-viewed pages on `thewsreviews. So here we are, five hundred kilometers and a full summer later, with a second look at this nifty little sport-utility vehicle.

Some of the biggest questions have been about what it's like to ride in the city, how it deals with pedestrians and other obstructions, and what sort of music is appropriate. Aiming to answer all of those and more, I MacGyvered a video rig and hit the free-with-computer editing software.

Introducing the Xootrcam: `thewsreviews with video!

My very first attempt at an edited video (above) is a bit of cruising, showing the kind of speed that's possible on the open road, and ends with a set of streetcar tracks. Personally, I love watching this one: I keep waiting for something to happen, and it just keeps not happening. It's a lot like my photography.

But How Fast Is It? I use the Xootr Mg for my daily commute, which is about 2.75km on mostly-level roads. On a good day, I can do it in about ten minutes, giving me an average speed of 16km/h-ish. I've used a GPS to get a speed reading while I was moving, and that gave me a result that fluctuated between 16-18km/h, which is especially impressive since I was riding one-handed. (I had to hold the GPS, after all, but it's a dumb thing to do.) So I'd estimate that my actual top speed is about 18km/h on flat ground without obstructions, a rough surface, or a headwind. In practical terms, I'm much faster than a skateboard or those toy Razor scooters, can usually pass enthusiasts with rollerblades without much trouble, and occasionally pass slow bikes. (Bikes are actually a bit of a nuisance when they're in the scooter lane, because even though they're faster overall they accelerate much more slowly.) Walking the same route takes about twenty-five minutes, and the subway's no faster. So even allowing for the few times I haven't used it, my xooter has saved me seventy-five hours of my life over the course of the past six months. Two things matter when you try to get a scooter to go fast: kicking speed, how fast your leg can move during the kick, and kicking power, which is the amount of strength that you can put into it. On level ground and without a great tail-wind, it's impossible to travel faster than you can kick. There are no gears or other mechanical advantage, so the faster I go, the smaller the difference will be between my fastest kicking speed and how quickly the ground is moving backward. So going fast is a bit of work, and going faster than that is basically impossible. But going less fast - but still far faster than walking pace - is very easy and takes almost no effort. Like Einstein said, everything is relative. The upright Scooting posture is pretty harsh in a headwind, and even minor grades are noticeable when moving on wheels with so little rolling resistance. This is where kicking power matters. I actually find that I don't really slow down when I hit adverse conditions, I just work a lot harder to keep up my customary speed. I can't really tell whether that's a trait of the scooter or my latently competitive personality. If you're looking for athletic training, riding a scooter is something like a cross between climbing stairs and doing lunges on a treadmill. Stairs are actually great conditioning exercise, or looking at it another way, riding a scooter is a great way to prepare for the next power failure in your office or apartment building. Done with enthusiasm scooter-riding can be a respectable workout, but unfortunately my commute is a little too short to have shown any appreciable results. Life in the City It's important not to be an idiot in life, and riding a scooter requires more consideration than usual. Take it easy on the sidewalks, don't hog the bike lanes, and remember that the smooth gliding motion of a scooter makes it very hard for drivers to see you and gauge your speed. Remember that pedestrians have the right of way, and are prone to doing odd things, so give them plenty of room. Dogs are often skittish and bark for no reason, so be careful around them too. And if you're on the road, remember to obey the rules that govern vehicles - although one benefit of my scooter is how I can simply step off to claim a pedestrian's rights at a crosswalk. Walking a few extra paces is also a more polite way to deal with crowds and a safer way to approach blind corners. I've yet to wipe out, and really don't expect to without some significant outside assistance. But when I do need to rapidly transition from riding to walking - what cyclists would call 'spontaneous de-biking' - a few quick running steps is enough to get my balance back. The only real danger comes when I have to lift the scooter at the same time, because if it swings around, 'Ankle Spanker' gets a whole new meaning. It hurts. If you choose to ride at night, watch out for potholes and anything else that might trip the front wheel, and make certain you're well lit - front and back. In the photo at the top of this article you can see my main LED front light, in white on the underside of the handlebar, and I also have another light facing right for cars in driveways and side-streets. The camera's flash is also picking up some of the reflective tape that I added. This is a great find from the automotive section at Canadian Tire, because it looks black until it needs to do its thing. Nifty and not at all dorky. For rear lights I've added a couple of red LED bike lights to the orange messenger bag that I use while riding. The scooter's narrow wheels will cut through any sort of sand, no matter how well-packed it looks, so off-roading isn't highly recommended. And when it rains, the brakes do a vanishing act, so do not ride faster than you can walk when it's wet. Despite having the rear fender installed riding in the rain is for emergencies only. I'll happily pay the fee to ride the subway instead. There is an optional rear-brake-and-fender kit available, which I bought several years ago. I've been completely unable to find a way to make the rear brake stop clanging against the fender, so I got rid of it and have just the fender installed. I rarely miss the rear brake, but it would be nice to have, so it might be worth finding out if Xootr has solved this particular issue if you're considering ordering a scooter of your own. Also, the fender is just long enough to catch my brake cable when the scooter's completely folded. One day I'll get around to cutting it down or finding a new way to secure the cable, but when the handle's left long enough for the scooter to stand upright, it's not a problem. The video above, Xootr in the City, shows an out-and-back trip over the same terrain. The first is the crowd-level perspective, followed by the return trip with the popular front-wheel view. Notice that I keep away from the wide gap that runs along the curb-side of the sidewalk, because it is wide enough to catch the front wheel, and I also weave slightly when I'm on interlocking brick. This is another way of making certain that I don't fall into a rut that can pull the scooter aside, even though the grooves in the brick really aren't deep enough to be hazardous. It's just a good habit to have. So, to make a short story long... In the past six months, I've travelled at least 500 kilometers, and frequently cross potholes, rough sidewalks, and streetcar tracks. In that time, I've noticed only two examples of wear-and-tear. The front tire is wearing unevenly as the brake pad cuts into it, but it probably has at least another season's riding in it. But when I finally have to put the scooter away for the year, I'll take the time to swap the positions of the front and back wheel and level out the front brake pad, so it'll probably be several more years until I need to buy a replacement set. The only other change that I've noticed is what sounds like a slight noise from the rear wheel's bearing, but rolling performance is unaffected. When going over an obstacle, it's quick and easy to just lift the front of the scooter while kicking, but the rear wheel takes the brunt of everything. I'm not too surprised if it's starting to show the effects of rolling through its harsh inner-city life. Overall, I'm very happy with the durability of my Xootr. I can't imagine ever wearing the magnesium scooter chassis out; the relatively large 180mm wheels and brake can be replaced for $75 in parts, shipping and taxes not included. It's not a bad deal at all considering the quality and longevity of the parts. Here's one last example of youtube's tragically inadequate bandwidth, but this time without any music. It gives a good sense of what riding in the city is really like, both at its most challenging as well as in its open-road glory. (And don't miss the cameo at the end.) But what about __________? People often find my first review when they're looking for used Xootrs. I wish them good luck. Mine looks like it will last forever, and I can't see many people who own one wanting to part with it. Rumour has it that Xootr sometimes resells ones that were returned to them under their 30-day guarantee, so try contacting them if you like, but they really are worth the list price. In six months it has saved me over $400 in subway tokens, and it's much faster and more reliable than the TTC. The other thing I see a lot is people wondering which Xootr to buy. The company says that the Mg is their best, and I believe them. But having lived with mine for a while, I might be tempted to get a Roma instead. It's slightly lighter, which doesn't matter much, but I think I'd prefer its narrower 4" deck. I rarely stand with both feet square on the deck, so the breadth of the Mg doesn't add much to it's usability, but it gets in the way when I carry the scooter on the subway.

But the fact is that I'm very happy with my Mg, and it will probably never give me an excuse to buy the Roma. Unless someone wants to offer me a good price to buy one of the most famous scooters in Toronto - I'll even autograph it - I expect to be using it to get around town for a very long time.


What the Duck #578 (Animated Strip)

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Does it really need the instrumental laugh-track?

The Long Version: Every Friday, Aaron Johnson - whom I've reviewed so frequently that I barely have to check the spelling on his name - posts an animated version of his "What The Duck" comic strip. They're usually entertaining, and the voices fit my expectations of the characters much better than in those animated Garfield shows. I'm not sure if they really add anything over the original presentation of the strip, but it's nice to see WTD turned into a multi-media empire.

This particular Friday's strip is one of the funniest that I've seen. Since I'm not really clear on how to link to a page, I'm linking to the YouTube animated version instead. Enjoy!

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