It’s been just about a year since I bought this domain (just renewed). I’d planned on spending more time updating this blog, but you know how it is. I’m still on the move, but my plan is to spend a few months in a single place soon to catch up, so who knows slimming tablets. Optimism!
I’ve been using Foursquare to keep track of my travels, and one thing I thought that might be fun is posting a chronological list of where I’ve been this year. As of today (day 229 of the year), I’ve passed through at least 123 cities:
Los Angeles, United States
Santa Monica, United States
New York, United States
Brooklyn, United States
Venice, United States
Culver City, United States
San Francisco, United States
Palo Alto, United States
Sunnyvale, United States
Menlo Park, United States
Mountain View, United States
Oakland, United States
Portland, United States
Westchester, United States
East Melbourne, Australia
Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand
Milford Sound, New Zealand
Te Anau, New Zealand
Manapouri, New Zealand
Tuatapere, New Zealand
Invercargill Central, New Zealand
Invercargill, New Zealand
Tokanui, New Zealand
Purakaunui, New Zealand
Chaslands, New Zealand
Kaka Point, New Zealand
North Dunedin, New Zealand
Dunedin, New Zealand
Frankton, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
Mount Cook Village, New Zealand
Mount Cook, New Zealand
Wanaka, New Zealand
West Coast, New Zealand
Franz Josef, New Zealand
Hokitika, New Zealand
Punakaiki, New Zealand
Cape Foulwind, New Zealand
Murchison, New Zealand
Motueka, New Zealand
Kaiteriteri, New Zealand
Marahau, New Zealand
Stepneyville, New Zealand
Nelson, New Zealand
Havelock, Marlborough Sounds,New Zealand
Picton, New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand
Te Aro, New Zealand
Karori, New Zealand
Otaki, New Zealand
Himatangi, New Zealand
Ohakune, New Zealand
Wairakei, New Zealand
Taupo, New Zealand
Waikite Valley, New Zealand
Waiotapu, New Zealand
Rotorua, New Zealand
Papamoa Beach, New Zealand
The Mount, New Zealand
Whangamata, New Zealand
Hahei, New Zealand
Haruru, New Zealand
Waitangi, New Zealand
Mangonui, New Zealand
Ahipara, New Zealand
Cape Reinga, New Zealand
Matakohe, New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand
Manukau, New Zealand
Isla Mujeres, México
El Prat de Llobregat, España
Hospitalet de Llobregat, España
Tossa de Mar, España
Shelton, United States
Stratford, United States
Queens, United States
Tokyo gets insanely dry in the winter, especially with an air-heater running. Behold, the <a href="http://www.amazon Web Site.co.jp/gp/product/B00G6EXQFK”>portable USB-powered humidifier, the best ¥1000 I’ve spent this year:
My parents are from Taiwan, and historically I made it back there once every few years, mostly staying with or visiting relatives. I speak some (very poor) Mandarin Chinese (the official language) and slightly better Taiwanese (basically Hokkien/Fujian Hua). Earlier this year I visited for about a month total in my initial leg of my Asia trip.
Taipei is pretty familiar to me so it didn’t really occur to me to write a guide, but since I’m back, I figured I might as well type up some thoughts.
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- Taipei can best be summed up as “convenient” – while Tokyo’s konbini/vending machine culture may be slightly more so, you can’t complain about the average 2 24hr convenience stores/block. ATMs are open 24/7 and everywhere, and public transit (and aptly named EasyCard system) is great.
- While Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries on earth, and Taipei is cosmopolitan and bustling, it rarely feels as cramped/crowded as say Tokyo, Shanghai, or Hong Kong. There’s a surprising amount of greenery scattered around, and less traffic than you might expect.
- Sadly, and this really is the biggest drawback for me personally, the mosquitoes are out of control here. Mosquitoes love me, so even in the “off” season I’ll attract their attention, but Taipei/Taiwan is pretty warm and wet, and doesn’t embrace the sort of extreme pest controls that say Singapore does. While I’ve never gotten anything like Dengue Fever (outbreaks are usually more common in the south), Taiwanese mosquitoes tend to give me ridiculously large/inflamed/itchy welts.
- Wintertime is the best time to travel to Taiwan – right now it’s balmy, not too humid, and ~75F. Perfect, really.
- Cost of living is generally about half of major cities in the US. Rent is a fair amount cheaper than LA (although buying property may be more expensive), and food costs are significantly less. While the economic growth has been pretty blah, especially for young people, even those working the lowliest service jobs can make a living wage.
- One exception to costs is for hard goods (electronics, etc) – these tend to be unexpectedly more expensive than in the US, even for the common Taiwanese computer brands (Asus, Acer, Gigabyte, Netgear, Kingston, etc) – the explanation I’ve heard is due to consumer market-size disparities, which maybe makes sense, but still, it’s just a bit surprising.
- The big two providers are Chunghwa and Taiwan Mobile and they’re both pretty competitive. They have service desks where you can buy SIM cards at TPE, although they serve slightly extended business hours so are likely to be closed if you arrive early or late (these are pretty much your options if you’re arriving from LAX) so you might have to buy a card once you get in town. Even so, it might be worth taking a picture/checking out the pricing at the airport kiosk as the shops in town are rarely English friendly. Have at least your passport and maybe a second form of photo ID available.
- Taiwan as fast HSPA+ that seems to have pretty universal coverage in the cities. LTE rollouts are supposedly happening (Q4/2014 and 2015) but I haven’t seen any yet wandering around Taipei so far (November 2014) w/ a Nexus 5 and an iPhone 5S.
- Chunghwa has an “unlimited” 30-day plan for NT$900 (~$30). Taiwan Mobile has some time-based unlimited plans as well, but if you’re not planning on going crazy, they have great per GB pricing – 1GB for NT$180 (~$6) or 2GB for NT$300 (~$10) with 30 day expiration, or NT$700 ($~23) for 5GB with a 90 day expiration, which is pretty damn good.
Feel free to listen to my “Audio Audition” Spotify playlist on the right while reading this. I’ve been adding to it all year. These tracks are of course songs I like and know pretty well now, but also chosen specifically to test the headphones I try out across a good spectrum of the stuff I listen to.
Those of you who know me know that I’m a big music fan. While I try to keep my worst audiophile tendencies in check (past ABX and hearing tests have done a good job on that front), I do enjoy a good pair of cans. About a decade ago, I was introduced to my first Etymotics, and I’ve been a big IEM (in-ear monitor) fan since then.
As an aside, my IEM history can be summed up with: Etymotic ER4P, ER6, Future Sonics FS1, Atrios, Westone UM3X, Audeo PFE 232, Shure SE215se, Etyomic hf3, Westone UMPro 50, RHA T10is. I’ve had some regular cans as well, included modded Grado SR60s, Sennheiser HD 580s, and Denon AH-D2000s. I’ve also auditioned the Orpheus and Stax electrostatics and some ridiculous JH and Fitear IEMs. All that’s just a way of saying I have some experience listening to a wide range of headphones.
Especially while traveling, I’m pretty hard on my gear. I lost one of my UM3X drivers (detachable cables, natch) while going through Heathrow. My Etymotic hf3s that I picked up in Singapore earlier this year are electrical taped at the mic control and the connector. Sadly, I also occassionally misplace them. Notably, I lost my Audeo PFE 232s (which I’ve had for a couple years, loved, and are discontinued) at the beginnings of my travels in Taipei. I had to go through some replacements, which prompted a rant against the Wirecutter, and eventually I couldn’t resist buying a pair of Westone UM Pro 50s while I was in Tokyo (they were just over $600 at BIC Camera in Tokyo vs $700+ in the US, although they can be had for $650 now).
The UM Pro 50s are really fantastic, although the full bass/mid hump took me a while to adjust to, and was a bit unexpected as I had assumed it’d be more similar to the UM3Xs (which were notable for insane detail/voice separation). They settled down after a bit of burn-in though, and I ended up quite liking them. Still, if I were buying them again, I’d really want to sit down and audition/compare vs the Westone W50s ($750), W60s ($1000), Shure 846s ($1000), and maybe AKG K3003s ($1150) and the FitEar 334s ($1350+) to boot.
The UM Pro 50s (and a 3rd party MMCX TRRS cable) would actually be the end of my story if I hadn’t unfortunately, lost them a few months later in Amsterdam. That meant I had gone through well over a thousand dollars of headphones in less than a year, so I put myself on headphone probation and made do with the hf3’s I had picked up in Singapore (like most Etymotics, barely any bass to speak of, but good detail/clarity).
I preordered them last month and I’ve had them for a week or so now. The summary is that I’m really digging them. They deliver fantastic sound quality for their price point, and they are pretty comfortable in ear – they feel very much like metal Westones for fit, and while a bit heavy in the hand, I’m able to wear them for long periods of time w/o physical or aural fatigue.
There are a bunch of reviews (also in the linked thread) and some video reviews as well now, but I thought it’d be worth throwing my 2 cents in. I’ll just go into bullet points since that’ll be easier:
- Build quality is great. The coated memory-metal ear wires and metal shells are really neat, especially when you put them on and they warm up. Between the materials and design, you really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth in a way that most much higher-end IEMs are missing.
- The packaging/accessories are fantastic. They include a bunch of tips – I’m actually using one of the ball-shaped silicone tips after years of preferring foam/comply tips as the supplied foam tips are actually too large/uncomfortable for my ears. I prefer “Large” sized Comply tips, so that’s a bit of a surprise. The fit/sound is good w/ the tips I’m using however. Isolation is… ok (better than earbuds), but not as much as I’d like w/ my IEMs. We’ll see how they fare on the plane next week.
- Related to that, microphonics are also… ok. Anything below the Y split is silent, but it has about average microphonics above that, although it’s not too noticeable w/ music playing under normal activity
- The cable is TRRS w/ an Apple remote and a mic (yay!). It also has a really nice metal spring for strain relief, however the cables do not appear replaceable.
- OK, enough of that, more about the main event. As I mentioned, the sound is surprisingly good. I don’t really have a dog in the balanced armature vs dynamic driver arguments, but in the past I’ve mostly preferred the sound/fit of the BA IEMs I’ve tried. These T10is have been great though – decent soundstage, good localization, and generally good clarity/detail. As good as anything else I’ve listened to in the $200-300 range.
- The bass is well controlled (rarely boomy), but very present. I spent most of the first week with the reference tips listening to my collection (mostly V0 MP3s and Spotify Extreme quality) on my iPhone 5S and my Aune T1 DAC. Even after hours, it didn’t really settle, which wasn’t a problem so much for the bassy tracks, but would just constantly surprise me when it’d pop up in a random acoustic. Luckily the T10i comes w/ a couple filter tips, and I found the treble tip much more to my liking. I listened for excess unwanted silibance but didn’t find anything too objectionable – YMMV based on source material/listening acuity and preferences, but I found the treble tips to be much preferable. Bass is still there, but not overbearing (OK, I miss it a bit sometimes). But it also noticeably cleared up some mid-range congestion, making it a great tradeoff.
- They’ll be available at Apple Stores apparently, so they should be easy to give a demo on fit (although it’s probably too loud/busy for critical listening)
After my first few months in Asia, I swung by SF when I was back in the States, and since they have a couple stores there (“Dogpatch Base” being the main location?) I swung by to try some things on (quality is high, but so is the price). Here’s how they’ve worked out:
Early on in my trip I lost one of my SmartWool Microweight T-Shirts (these won my travel t-shirt shootout from the month I spent in Africa and I’ve been wearing them almost exclusively since then) on my trip. Since I only carry 4 shirts with me, I was looking for a replacement and I ended up picking up a Patagonia Merino 1 Silkweight t-shirt at their Shibuya store. To summarize: don’t do that – it started pilling after about a month – this is from hand-washing and air-drying from someone that’s used to dealing with delicate Merino, mind you.
So, to make a long story short, I was still looking for a replacement shirt, and since I noticed TAD had a Merino shirt, the Traverse Tech T, I figured I’d give it a try. This weight is the same weight as the SmartWool Microweight (150g/m2) but it feels quite different – the TAD shirt has a looser/softer weave, whereas the SmartWool one is much more sheer/dense. I actually quite prefer the feel of the TAD gear for normal wear, although I suspect the SmartWool would do better as a base layer.
The main weakness w/ the SmartWool Microweight is that it tends to rip/wear through pretty quickly. I tend to have to either look ridiculous with tiny holes (especially near the waistline where it interacts w/ backpacks/belts) or replace them every couple months. So far, the TAD shirt has fared better. There’s one hole in the back, but it hasn’t grown or multiplied and in general feels sturdier. I’ve had it in rotation for about half-a-year at this point and there’s no pilling and nothing’s coming undone, and it’s as comfy as ever. It weighs the same (+/- 10g) as my SmartWool shirts and seems to dry as quickly as the SmartWool (that is, ridiculously quick), so I think this is will be my new go-to shirt that I’ll be cycling in as my other shirts wear through.
Both the TAD and SmartWool shirts are about $70/each, which are completely worth it if you travel – the Merino wool dries quicker than even synthetics, breathe amazingly in the heat, keep you warm in the cold, and also don’t stink up like synthetics.
I’d been previously wearing a pair of random cargo shorts that weren’t anything special, but just wouldn’t die. Since they’re probably the thing that I wear the most, I figure it’d be worth an upgrade. TAD has two types of cargo shorts, but the Recon ACs are the decidedly less “tactical” and slicker/more urban design.
They’re very lightweight (a medium thickness nylon) but sturdy and are quick drying and super well designed on the pocket front – each front side has a smaller “coin” pocket, and also an additional split in the larger pocket that’s pretty handy. Rather than flaps, the lower pockets are side zippered.
Now unfortunately, the Recon AC has two pretty huge weaknesses. First, while the site description says that the crotch is gusseted, the version I have (that I bought at their Dogpatch store) definitely is not, at least not in a way that lets me get on a bike without turning it sideways. Considering how I was biking practically every day in Berlin, this was a bit of a bummer.
The second issue is almost laughable. For whatever reason, the zipper top is not as secure as you’d like it to be, and while it hasn’t caused too much embarrassment yet, more than once I’ve noticed that my fly’s been down.
So overall, I’d give the Recon a pass, and I’ll be on the lookout for some better shorts in the future.
So, to preface, the Stealth Hoodie LT is not cheap – it’s $475, by far the most expensive piece of clothing in my bag (in fact it’s almost the cost of the rest of my entire wardrobe), so to some degree, whether this is even something you’d consider depends on how much you value your outerwear.
Over the past few years, I’ve run into my fair share of wet weather. 50mph sideway torrents in Everett WA, tropical storms w/ 20ft swells in the Caribbean, floods that washed away my camp in South Africa, typhoons in East Asia – you name it. Every time I’ve upgraded my rain gear (it’s also made me a little obsessed with waterproof gear in general).
My last upgrade was to a Patagonia Torrentshell, Patagonia’s most waterproof rain shell I could find. Sadly, it seemed to have given up the ghost after a year or so. I wasn’t sure if it was just not dealing well w/ the rain+humidity combo in Taiwan, but by the time I was in the much colder rain in Tokyo, I’d concluded it had just given up. While I’ve been a big Patagonia fan in the past, I have to admit that I haven’t had very good luck with them recently. In any case, it was time for an upgrade.
I originally wasn’t completely convinced on spending so much on a jacket, but handling and trying on the Stealth Hoodie LT, you can immediately tell that the money is being spent on the construction – it’s meticulously put together, and feels rather bombproof. TAD has a comparison of how the LT compares to the regular Stealth – if waterproofing is a concern, the LT is obviously the way to go. It’s heavier than a light shell/rain jacket, and it’ll be interesting to see how it fairs in steamier environments, but since I was planning for fall/winter, I figured it might be a fair trade-off.
A couple notes: you’ll definitely want to try it out, as the sizing may be a bit tricky – I ended up w/ an M since that was the perfect sleeve length, but it is a bit tighter around my chest than I’d like. This may improve if I ever lose that weight I’ve packed on. Hope springs eternal. The pockets are a bit unconventional – there are two chest pockets, but none at the hips. It also has some big zipper pulls that can flap around noisily/ridiculously while biking hop over to this site. The zippers are all quite tight/seam-taped, and as mentioned, everything about the construction.
After a bit of wearing it around, I decided I wanted one, but they didn’t have the grey/unpatched version in stock, (The green was a bit too “tactical” for me. Also, you might think it looks cool, but don’t get the black unless you plan on never being out in the sun.) so I spent an extra day or so thinking about it before pressing buy from the online shop. The next shipment came in that week and I had it at my doorstep in days.
Six months in, and I have to say, I’m really glad that I picked this up. It’s broken in great, has enough storage (the chest pocket will fit my Kindle Paperwhite) that I often don’t feel the need to wear my ridiculous travel vest everywhere (more on that in the future), and honestly, if I don’t lose it, I don’t feel like I need to replace this thing for years. That being said, while I’ve been through some Berlin and Portland rain, I’ve yet to encounter much serious wetness, so we’ll have to see what happens there.
OK, that’s my 6 month review of my TAD Gear stuff. They seem to be quite popular with the outdoor/tactical crowd, so if you’re really interested and can’t stop by a store, there are lots of videos and reviews and such online. In any case, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
Many of you may be like me a few months ago having never carried around a LensPen. These days, it’s hard for me to even recognize that foolish person.
Seriously though, if you shoot while traveling, this thing is amazing and by far beats any dry microfiber cloth for cleaning lenses of fingerprints and smudges. The tip is a chamois-cloth type material with carbon black, and it’s rather magical. I use it all the time for my m43 lenses and X100s. It also does a great job on my iPhone 5S which constantly picks up prints, although it will leave some carbon on the metal.
This is one of my “must have” pieces of gear when I’m traveling or walking around.
Wrapping up my summer in Berlin, I figured that I really ought to visit Prague. I only visited for 3 nights, which was a bit short for me – I definitely could have spent a couple more days wandering around and will probably have to drop by again soon.
- Prague is a super pretty city. It’s apparently one of the few European cities not heavily bombed during WW2 and the skyline and architecture feel like “Old Europe” more than any others I’ve been to so far. It also still has a distinct post-Soviet vibe in some areas. A friend commented that it looked like Half-Life 2, and you do get that feel. (City 17 was modeled after a bunch of Eastern European influences)
- While Prague has a reputation for being a bit sketchy (and I certainly avoided the taxis), overall I found it to be pretty nice/not too bad (even wandering around in the middle of the night). In fact, late nights were pretty subdued – maybe I just didn’t spot the nightlife. One bar/tavern I was in for dinner had last call at 10:30PM.
- They don’t use Euros! ATMs are easy/everywhere. By default they may give you larger bills than you want, but on some machines you can pick what denominations you receive (select the “Other” option on amounts and you might see the menu). All ATMs should do that.
- Most people speak some English and it’s the lingua franca for tourism (there’s huge mix of nationalities in the tourists, very global) and it wasn’t a problem at all getting around
- Prague is only 5 hours by rail and I paid €88 for a round-trip 2nd class ticket (online posts mentioned there was little difference for 1st class). I bought it online but used the app for the mobile-only ticket – during my trip it was checked about 3-4 times each way (although in the Czech side they don’t bother to scan the QR code). The train ran about a half-hour late each way, but otherwise was perfectly cromulent. The German and Czech scenery was pretty bucolic – I’ll probably visit Dresden and Decin next time I’m nearby.
- Public transit works great in Prague and a combination of the subway and trams will probably get you pretty much anywhere you want. Tickets are cheap (about $1/ride) and are good for 30 or 90m. Your first intuition might be to use the ticket machines (which only take change), but you can actually buy tickets from the convenience stores in the stations, which is easier. You can also get tickets via SMS, which is pretty awesome.
- O2 seems like the best deal for short term data (375MB/wk for $4, 3GB for $25) and they are very efficient, they advertise swapping out SIMs in a minute, but their stores seem mostly closed on Sunday (the one by the Museum station closes at 6PM – the Vodafone shop is open until 8PM on Sunday). Vodafone is a bit pricier (1.5GB for about $20), but also offers some ridiculously large data packages pretty cheap (10GB for $40, you can also apparently get 1GB data + a USB stick for about $33). I ended up getting one of each and both worked fine. O2 was faster/more responsive (and LTE), however they disable tethering on iPhones. Vodafone apparently has some LTE rolling out (Band 3/8) but I didn’t see any my entire time in Prague.
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