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Friday, April 17, 2015

Back From Hiatus

It's been a rough time for me lately. But things have improved a bit, and now I'm living in a cabin in the woods on my sister's property. The last couple months have been making this area livable, with power, water, internet, etc., and it's almost there. I have a GSM signal repeater waiting from Amazon, which I'm going to hook up this Monday, and finally (hopefully) have a reliable cell signal from the local AT&T tower.

As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I had the knowledge to test and evaluate my favorite gear. But now I'm basically living off the grid, and the products I'm reviewing are more a part of my daily existence.

Right now is an exciting but scary time for me losing what I lost and transitioning to self employment. I have a bunch of reviews and posts for this blog in the works, and lots of other irons in the fire like hiremarkwing.com and redcollie.com which I built for my sister but she just gave me. She makes these great survival kits, and I have a large stock of them to sell ... once I can get the mailbox installed. And just a reminder, I build web sites and any software you can think of!

Mostly I've done a bunch of reviews and random posts about the outdoors without engaging my readers much, but that's because I was working really long hours, where now I have the time to devote to the outdoor blog, especially since I'm living in the outdoors now!

So look for lots of steady posts coming from this blog, and as always, feel free to drop me an email at markwing@theoutdoornerd.com

Monday, March 30, 2015

Measuring The Watts

Recently I've downsized my empire and split with the wife. No more mansion, but no more endless bills and things to clean and fix. Sometimes my electricity and other city services would run close to a thousand dollars per month. And that was just to keep my house 55 degrees in the winter because I liked the cold.

Now here I am a bachelor living in a cabin in the woods with 4 dogs. There's a 500 foot piece of romex wire supplying power to the cabin most of the time. It's going a long distance, and there's a 10 amp breaker on the other end.

The genny is a last resort. A very loud, last resort.


And a couple times the electrical connection has just gone out, and the last time it was down almost a week.

Because I may be running a generator, an inverter or the strand of romex, I need to know what methods of power can run what devices, and to do that, I need to know how much power each device draws.

It turns out there are lots of these types of gadgets that help you measure you electricity usage. Below is a listing of some common household items that I have informally measured. Many devices, such as desktop computers can have wide swings in the amount of current they draw.

All measurements below in watts.

Above you see I'm running my desktop, a wireless router and a 65 watt light


Device Low High
Hot Plate 700 1000
60 Watt CFL Bulb 12 -
Desktop Computer With Monitor and Wireless Router 147 265
Small "Bachelor" Fridge 125 155
Laptop, 60 Watt CFL Bulb and Wireless Router 35 65
2.5 HP Canister Vacuum 700 -
Small Space Heater (Standard) 600 900
Small Space Heater (Ceramic) 300 600

As time goes on and I test more devices, I will add to this list.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cabin In The Woods Part 1

The stars just kind of aligned right to bring me to this little cabin in the woods. I have lots of options. Maybe I could hop on the first plane and take the first job offer and work in some place I don't want to live, working an uninspiring job. Or I could probably just spend the next several years couch surfing with my 4 Chihuahuas.

What I'm starting to lean towards is just taking a year or two off and rehab this property in the woods, with all its many, many projects. I'm down about 70 pounds total with probably 10 of that being just the last week at the cabin from all the walking around and hiking in the area.

But I can't be The Outdoor Nerd without some form of Internet, so next week I am going to try to run a 500 foot Cat5 cable to the neighbor's house. If it works, then I will monopolize his connection and pay his whole bill, and the funny thing is that he won't notice the difference.

Now I'm glad I did all that work on my truck
I wonder what the story behind the wheelchair in the woods is

Selfie at the top of the mountain

The bridge is a little scary!

Spot hears things in the woods

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Amber's Becker BK14

My sister the survival expert liked the Ka-Bar Becker BK14 'Eskabar' I gave her for her birthday a couple years ago. She recently bought the Tek-Lok belt clip for it and asked me to put it on. Hers has the safety orange scales on it. I liked hers so much that I got my own, although I never got around to getting the Tek-Lok for it. But I was happy to break out the tripod and snap some photos after I got it mounted.

I don't like that they nickel and dime you for all the separate parts like the scales and the clip, but I have to say that it's very nice and seems good quality. I will follow up with her to see how it holds up.




Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit

There are lots of flashlight kits on the market that come with a flashlight, lithium-ion battery and charger. These kind of budget flashlight kits are very common and with good reason. To get the most from modern LED flashlight technology, you really need higher voltage such as a lithium-ion cell provides, or optionally, several small cells like AAA. This flashlight kit provided by Hisgadget contains a 3xAAA adapter, giving the kit 3 possible battery configurations.

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Product Link

Product Description


This is a complete kit, which contains a flashlight, 18650 lithium-ion cell, 18650 sleeve, 3xAAA battery assembly and an AC wall charger for the included cell. The light can also take a 26650 cell without the sleeve.

The flashlight itself has no reflector, and uses an aspherical lens which can change the focus of the beam. These types of flashlights are called "zoomies."

Official Specs (From Amazon)


  • Uses Cree LED with a lifespan of over 50000 hours
  • Use one 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery or 3 AAA batteries
  • Zoomable to use in various scenarios - Head of the flashlight can be pulled out to focus the beam
  • Three brightness levels plus Strobe, SOS to meet different needs of lighting
  • IPX-6 waterproof--work normally in heavy rain


OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Product View
OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Unboxed

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Tail Cap Off

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Tail Cap Closeup

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Tail Boot CloseupOxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Cree XM-L LED Emitter Closeup


Initial Impressions


I've played around with a few Sipik SK68 clones, which take a AA battery or 14500 lithium-ion cell. I know people who swear by them so I kind of think of them as toys because it's usually 1 mode with an older, small die Cree LED like the XR-E. But the SK98 clones like this one have a larger capacity cell like the 18650 or massive 26650, and a larger die LED with more output, like the XM-L.

The first thing I did was put a good quality 18650 in the included sleeve and took the flashlight outside to test it. The larger die XM-L puts out much more light than its smaller cousins. The "square" you get zoomed in is bigger, but still goes farther because of the output. I've never been a fan of the zoomies as throwers to see long distances, but this light doesn't do too bad as a brute force thrower.

Flashlight


The flashlight seems well built. Some of these Chinese factories grinding out endless SK68 and SK98 clones are getting pretty good at quality control. Lights in this class are are generally well regarded by enthusiasts. I could nit pick the light by saying that the "anodizing" is probably more like some baked-on paint, or that the LED is a little bit off-center, but that would be missing the point. This flashlight is just part of a full kit that's only 20 bucks!

This seems like a well built zoomie and functions like it should with both a 18650 in conjunction with the included sleeve, and 3xAAA batteries with the included cradle. I do not own a 26650 but I have no reason to believe it wouldn't work fine. So that makes three combinations of batteries it will take, though you could run either alakaline or NiMH rechargeable AAA batteries in the 3x cradle.

Switch: This model uses a standard "reverse clicky" switch located in the tail and seems to be the same decent quality included with lights of this ilk. The glow-in-the-dark switch boot is a nice touch.

Fit and finish: Probably a little above average overall, though the LED emitter is a little off-center.

Build: It's a decent build quality and design. The cooling fins are well-placed.

Modes: 5 modes, which is really three modes plus a strobe and SOS mode. These extra modes are sometimes called "disco modes."

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Zoom Animation
Photo above showing different levels of zoom for the same scene

Battery


Included in this kit is an 18650 marked with a capacity of 1800 mAh. The battery is typical of this type of kit in that the capacity is drastically overstated. I tested the included cell on my Opus analyzing charger, and got about a little over 1000 mAh actual capacity. Almost every manufacturer does this and the sellers happily go along and everyone understands this except for a few people who don't do their homework. It's one of my pet peeves and a collective pet peeve of communities that use these batteries.

But again, let's put this in perspective by saying that a high quality Panasonic 18650 can sell for the price of this entire kit. I would not use the included battery day to day at any rate. If you charge the battery up and play with the light for a few days/weeks and find that you like it, then immediately go out and buy some real batteries from a reputable dealer, which there are lots of.

18650 Sleeve


The kit includes a small plastic sleeve so it can run an 18650 lithium-ion cell, which is included. The sleeve fits well on mine and has no rattle.

3xAAA Battery Cage


It's nice to be able to run 3 easy-to-find AAA batteries or rechargeables. I personally prefer Eneloop rechargeable batteries, but any will do. The ability to run common cells like AAA makes these types of lights really versatile.

The assembly that came with mine is above average quality, but it's a little small, which gives it a little bit of a rattle. It does have a spring-loaded positive (+) contact, which mitigates the rattle a little.

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - Battery Cradles

Charger


The included charger is typical of a cheap charger normally included in these kits. These cheap chargers do a fine job of terminating the voltage at 4.2 volts and charging the cells at a slow-as-molasses-but-safe rate of 500 mA.

Unlike the battery, the charger is perfectly fine to use over the long term. The problem is that eventually when you upgrade your cells, you won't want to wait a whole day to charge your new 3400 mAh 18650 cell. So while there's nothing wrong with the charger, it should be considered a starter charger that you'll want to eventually upgrade.

The included charger does have its upsides. The relatively low charge rate means the unit can weigh practically nothing and it'll always be safe. I have bigger chargers with fans that kick on so the batteries don't overheat. I wouldn't want to give something that could overheat for example to my elderly mother, so in some cases it's better to have a slower and safer charger.

Usability


"Zoomy" lights such as this one have huge followings because they can go from flood for short distance lighting to throw for long distance viewing. I'm one of the few people who aren't really big fans of this type of light because I don't think they do either well.

...but not everyone owns enough separate flashlights to run the whole gamut of everything they need a flashlight for. And zoomy lights like this fill a nice niche where a single flashlight can fill in for multiple tasks.

Conclusions


This is a decent flashlight with a decent charger and an awful battery. But the kit is currently at a price point where it's a decent deal even if you don't count the battery. There's a a metric bazillion of these types of lights out there at similar prices though, so always do your homework. The thing about this seller though is they're fulfilled by Amazon, so it's 2 days if you have Prime, versus 4-6 weeks on the slow boat from China. When you factor that in, their prices are competitive, just like the other items I've reviewed for them.

Kits like these make good starter kits for people who have never owned a powerful, modern LED flashlight. It's a nice way to dip your toes in without shelling out hundreds of dollars, and I think 20 dollars is a spot-on price point.

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - In Box 1

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - In Box 2

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - In Box 3

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - In Box 4

OxyLED MD50 Flashlight Kit - In Box 5





Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Nerd Off The Grid

It's been a rough year for me, from a neck injury to losing to my 6 figure job to putting the house up for sale and even losing a dog. It's been a wild ride. I've traveled the country. I've owned a mansion. I have a wonderful family and raised children to adulthood.

Now it's just me, the missus and a pack of Chihuahuas. Unable to work until probably close to the middle of the year before I get surgery, I literally have nothing to do other than a few web sites here and there with my consulting site.

My sister has a few acres in Washington state and she wanted some help setting up all her off-the-grid gear. They don't need me to physically be there to sell my house, so I volunteered to go live on the property for a month or so and make sure it's habitable, such as helping to set up the solar panels and inverter, as well as test the general living conditions.

It just so happens that I have all manner of outdoor gadgets, tools and gear. I could show up on bare land and live comfortably, so a nice little cabin in the woods with solar power sounds like heaven. I'm taking a few dogs to get them out of everyone's hair, and I hear the nearest neighbor to the property is a dog breeder, so the little cabin in the woods is very dog friendly.

The plan is to blog about my experiences living off the grid and try to come away with more practical knowledge about using green and sustainable technologies. There's also a TV company possibly interested in working with the blog, so I also plan on taking lots of video

Here's some photos of the property:

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