Born Geek
Posts Tagged "reviews"

ThruNite Archer 2A Flashlight

February 11, 2018

I have always liked a good flashlight. As a kid, I even asked for a 5-cell D Maglite for Christmas (which Santa brought!). This past December, I picked up the ThruNite Archer 2A flashlight from Amazon, based on a review from The Wirecutter. At $30 it’s not cheap, but boy is this thing great.

It uses two AA batteries and puts out an incredible amount of light. There are four brightness settings, ranging from dim (great for when your eyes are adjusted to the dark) to blindingly bright. I also like the fact that it’s compact; you could easily store this in a bag, car console, or junk drawer without taking up much space.

Since I bought it, I’ve put it to use in a number of ways (looking for dropped items in the car, using it on walks at night, and hunting under furniture for lost cat toys). I highly recommend this spectacular flashlight.

The Best of North Carolina’s State Parks

November 12, 2016

Back in March of 2010, I mentioned that I had a goal of visiting and photographing every single state park in my home state of North Carolina. In May of that same year, I narrowed my definition slightly to be those parks that have public facilities and for which attendance records are taken. At the time, there were 40 such parks (another has since joined their ranks, for a total of 41 as of this writing).

On Saturday, October 29, after over six years of park visits, I finally completed my goal!

My final state park visit was at Hammocks Beach State Park, the only park with ferry-service to its primary land parcel, Bear Island. Photos from this visit are coming in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. Photos from all of my other state park visits can be seen here.

One question I’m often asked when sharing my love of state parks with others is: which park is your favorite? This is a really difficult question to answer, as every single park in our state has something unique to offer (which, incidentally, makes visiting them all so worthwhile). That said, I thought it would be fun to rank some of the state parks from the viewpoint of my favorite park pastime: hiking. In this post, I’ll provide a breakdown of my favorite parks to hike in for all three regions of our state: mountains, Piedmont, and coast. I’ll also post a list of my least favorite parks for hiking.

Best of the Mountains

North Carolina is blessed with terrific mountain state parks. Here are my favorite mountain state parks to hike:

  1. Gorges: The westernmost park in our state, Gorges is my favorite mountains park. It has a particularly beautiful visitor’s center, and though the hikes are very challenging, they offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the state as a reward.
  2. Stone Mountain: Hiking up the giant granite dome is one of the most enjoyable things to do at this fantastic park. Views from the top are great, especially on a clear day, and several waterfalls can’t be missed!
  3. Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock: These two parks are a tie for me. Both have challenging, but rewarding, hiking trails, fantastic views, and lots to do. Regardless of the season you visit, there’s always something fascinating to see.

Best of the Piedmont

The Piedmont area of North Carolina is typically very heavily forested, which makes for some great spots to walk in the woods. Here are my favorite Piedmont parks:

  1. Eno River: Easily my favorite Piedmont state park (probably because of its proximity to where I live), Eno River has the best network of diverse hiking trails. For an area that has so many people, this park offers a terrific slice of solitude.
  2. Raven Rock: A popular park with some great trails to interesting geological features. The staircase down the namesake cliff is quite lengthy, so come prepared for a climb!
  3. Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve: This small park is a hidden gem. The hiking trails here are very easy, winding through a very unique long-leaf pine forest. Underbrush in this forest is nearly non-existent, which means you can see a long ways through the stands of trees. Definitely a park not to be missed!

Best of the Coast

Some of the most unique state parks in North Carolina are located along the coast. Here are my favorites:

  1. Jockey’s Ridge: Walking up the tallest living sand-dune on the east coast of the United States is something everyone should do. Just be sure to have your shoes on in the summertime: the sand can get quite hot!
  2. Goose Creek: Tucked along the Pamlico River, this park has an impressive boardwalk system. Strolling these boardwalks makes for some terrific sightseeing, and provides a glimpse at what natural life is like in the swamp along a river. Another hidden gem!
  3. Carolina Beach: Have you ever hiked in a forest at the beach? You can do so at this state park, where you’ll also find carnivorous plants in their native habitats. Keep your eyes peeled for Venus fly-traps and pitcher plants!

Honorable Mention

Of all the state parks I’ve visited, I had more pure fun at Merchants Millpond than any other. Canoeing in the millpond there is a delight, especially on a comfortable day. You’ll see plenty of wildlife (including alligators!) and you won’t want the experience to end. This park has good hiking opportunities too, so it’s win-win.

My Least Favorites

Three state parks truly stand out in my mind for least impressive hiking opportunities:

  1. Pettigrew: With only one hiking trail (and a poorly maintained one at that, at least when I visited), this park isn’t for hikers. If you like boating, however, you’ll love the lake at this park, which happens to be North Carolina’s second largest natural one.
  2. Lake Waccamaw: Again, this is primarily a boater’s paradise. Hiking here is difficult (the trails aren’t very well maintained), and the hike isn’t very interesting.
  3. Singletary Lake: This park is only open to large groups, so hiking here is a challenge. The trails that are offered, like many lake-centered state parks, are fairly short.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this round-up of my visits to various North Carolina state parks. I encourage everyone to visit them all, as it’s a great way to see our beautiful state!

Brown Sugar Saver

March 24, 2015
Brown Sugar Saver

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while now, because this product is as close to black magic as I’ve ever seen, even though I know the theory of how it works. My wife and I picked up a Brown Sugar Saver from Sur La Table while at our local mall a few weeks ago. We had a container of brown sugar that was literally as hard as a rock. Various metal implements were unable to pry the concrete-like material from its container, so we decided we’d give this a try.

The Brown Sugar Saver is simply a piece of terracotta pottery; nothing more. You soak the small medallion in a dish of water for 15 minutes, remove it, blot it dry with a towel, and place it directly in the container with your brown sugar. We did this, and in the morning found that our brown sugar was just as soft and pliable as it would be had you just opened a fresh bag of the stuff! Needless to say, we were really surprised. It only cost $4, and has solved an annoying problem that I’ve lived with for far too long. I highly recommend this thing (you can buy similar ones in a number of places).

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NC SECU’s Car Buying Service

September 26, 2013

Let me get the crux of this review out of the way: the car buying service offered by the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union (of which I am a member) rocks. Before I get to the details, allow me to provide a little background.

I’ve been driving a 1999 Mazda Protege since June of 2000. The Protege is an extremely reliable car, but mine was really starting to show its age: rust was visible in a few places, the pin stripes on the side were flaking off, and the car had gotten quite loud on the road (the wind and road noise were pretty unbearable). Having talked about getting a new car for a year or two, I finally decided to take action. In searching for a new car, I had a few essential criteria:

  • It should be a four-door sedan
  • It should have a quiet and smooth ride
  • It should be a step up in quality from my Protege

I ended up test driving five vehicles, all in the same size and price class: the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. All of these vehicles have their own strengths and weaknesses (e.g. the Mazda 6 was the sexiest on the outside, but had a rather loud and “active” ride), but I was able to whittle it down to two cars: the Altima and the Camry. I ended up choosing the Camry (though it was admittedly a tough choice; the Altima is a pretty nice vehicle).

Once I knew what I wanted, I started looking at local dealers’ prices. My dad reminded me that our credit union had a car buying service, so I looked into it, mostly out of curiosity. Their process typically works as follows:

  1. You select the make, model, and year of the car you’re looking for.
  2. You select the color and options you’re interested in.
  3. You provide some contact information and submit.

Once the credit union has your information, they’ll look for a car that most closely matches what you asked for. They’ll then negotiate a price for that car, and will let you know what that price is. The turnaround time for this entire process was only two days (I submitted the request on a Monday and had a quote the very next day). My primary goal was to get an anchor price that I could use when negotiating with the local dealers.

The quote I received for the car I was interested in was way less than I expected it would be; nearly $5500 off the sticker price! Not only that, but they offered me nearly double what Carmax would have given me for my Protege! Needless to say, I was stunned at how competitive the deal was. Car shopping is an intimidating process and the negotiation phase was something I wasn’t looking forward to at all. This service shortcut that headache altogether!

I decided to not even bother trying to negotiate for a better deal elsewhere. I’m sure there are people who could have gotten a better deal, but I decided that my time and efforts were worth something, and SECU’s offer was very tempting. The car was delivered to my local SECU branch (they can deliver to your house, if you so desire), and most of the paperwork was handled for me. I essentially drove to my bank and swapped cars with the driver who delivered it (after signing the requisite forms, of course).

All in all, I would definitely use this service again. I’m so impressed with how easy it all was, and it took the most frustrating aspect of car buying out of the equation completely. If you’re a member of a credit union, I highly recommend checking out this kind of service if it’s available. It just might be the way I handle car buying from now on.

Torchlight 2 Review

October 9, 2012

Back in 2009, I reviewed the original Torchlight. Now that the sequel is out, I thought I’d post a few brief thoughts on it as well. Note that I’ve only played the single-player aspect of this game so far (oddly enough, that’s the kind of gaming I prefer). In short, not only does this game blow the original out of the water, it comes close (in my opinion) to doing the same to Diablo 2, which is my favorite action-RPG of all time.

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

March 3, 2012

Last night, I finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert Pirsig. What a thought provoking book! It’s essentially an introduction to philosophy, by way of the story of a motorcycle trip that a father (the author) and his son take across the country. The narrative bounces between events of the actual trip and a series of Chautauquas on the author’s nagging question: “What is Quality?” His explorations of what Quality is and what it means for each of us is very intriguing, and has given me some new insights into what I should be striving for in my life.

That said, this book isn’t the easiest read. It’s clearly a volume that warrants a second (and perhaps, third) reading. So much food for thought is presented to the reader, that it becomes difficult to digest. Approach this work with an open mind and with an eagerness to learn. Anything less and you may find yourself bored from the start. If you’re willing to read through it, however, I can guarantee that this book will leave you pondering the same questions that have haunted philosophers all these years.

One other, similar book that I’d like to mention in passing is The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers. I read this particular title before reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and found it equally as intriguing. This title is an even more difficult work to get into, but there are such gems embedded within it that the work is worth the effort. Although Sayers’s work focuses primarily on creativity and the art of creating, it inevitably ends up treading over some of the same territory that Pirsig’s work does. Quality, it turns out, is at the root of everything; very intriguing stuff.

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Skyrim Review

November 21, 2011

For those who live under a rock, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released ten days ago. I’m already nearly 70 hours into this game, and there’s still a ton of stuff I haven’t done. That said, I figured I’d post a few quick thoughts about this game. In short, this is easily one of the best games I’ve ever played.

There is simply too much to do in this game. You could spend all day making potions, crafting items, enchanting items, or simply exploring the world, all without ever starting a single quest. I found myself completing many of the “miscellaneous” quests long before I joined any particular faction, or started along the main quest line. There are still giant chunks of the map that I have yet to visit, which is incredible given that I’m so far in.

The game’s graphics are outstanding; head and shoulders above Oblivion’s engine. I’m really impressed with the draw distance, and every dungeon, cave, and mine has a unique feel (fixing one of Oblivion’s few failings). It’s also silky smooth on my system, running on the “High” detail level. Story lines have been interesting so far (though the Thieves’ Guild seemed a little weak), and I’m loving the Dragon Shout abilities. Blasting an enemy off the top of a mountain is so incredibly fun.

I do have a few complaints. The user interface on the PC is pretty terrible, though I’m hopeful that a mod will come along soon to fix that. Voice acting is good, but some of the voices are reused way too much for my liking. Perk points (a new way of leveling your character) are too rare. Give me 2 or 3 points per level, not just 1! Finally, as is usual with this type of game, there are still quite a few bugs. Another patch is coming after Thanksgiving, which should hopefully smooth out some of the rough spots.

If you like role playing games, and you enjoyed the previous Elder Scrolls titles, you’ll like this title. It’s an instant classic in my opinion, and has taken its rightful place in my “best games of all time” list. 5 stars

Major League Gutter Cleaning Review

May 23, 2011

I like reviewing services that I feel do a good job for me, so I thought I’d post some quick thoughts on a gutter cleaning service I hired this morning. Before going to work today, I noticed that the upper rear gutter on my house was overflowing (it has been this way for quite some time). As a result, I looked around online for recommendations on who could come clean them out for me. I would typically do it myself, but (a) the gutters are higher than I have equipment to reach, and (b) the upper roof line is too steep for my liking. After a brief search, I found a number of people recommending Major League Gutter Cleaning, so I gave them a call.

For the low price of $50, they came out and cleaned out all of the gutters around my house (something I’m not sure has ever been done). The owner came out this morning (an almost immediate turnaround), and he completed the job in just 15 or 20 minutes. If you live in the Triangle area in North Carolina, and you’re looking for someone to clean your gutters, I highly recommend this outfit. They also do power washing and window washing as well, which could be useful. Here’s the contact information:

Major League Gutter Cleaning
(919) 783-4271
Owner: Pete Weist

Unfortunately, I can no longer recommend this service.

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Portal 2 Review

April 26, 2011

Having recently completed Portal 2, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the experience. As usual, I played it through on the PC, so my review comes from that vantage point. I have yet to try the co-op portion of the game, so my thoughts are limited to the single player experience.

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Two Towers and Return of the King

June 7, 2010

Yesterday, I finally finished reading the Lord of the Rings series for the first time. I can finally scratch them off my list of shame! As I did for the previous two books, I thought I would provide some brief thoughts on each.

The Two Towers

I found it interesting how this volume told two stories in separate chunks (books 3 and 4), rather than interleaving them. The first book follows the adventures of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf, from beginning to end. The second follows Sam, Frodo, and Gollum. In the movie adaptation of this book, the stories are intertwined, helping to remind the viewer that various events are happening in parallel. Telling each story in its entirety in the novel was much more rewarding from a reading perspective. I never lost track of what was going on during each story, and I found them that much more engaging. It’s interesting that Peter Jackson decided to move the scene with Shelob into the third movie, since it really happens at the end of the second novel. Again, this was a top notch novel, which I enjoyed cover to cover. Five Stars

The Return of the King

To me, this book differs more from its movie adaptation than the previous two. In the book, the army of the dead is used to gain ships for Aragorn and company: nothing more. They are released from service after helping the company obtain these ships. In the movie, the dead travel with them and fight Sauron’s army with the company. I think I prefer the novel’s version here. Likewise, I prefer the ending of the novel over the movie. How could the film’s writers have left out the scouring of the Shire? When Frodo and company return to the Shire, they find it in ruin. This was a key scene omitted from the movie, much to the movie’s detriment, in my opinion. Novel for the win! Five Stars

Now for a few final thoughts on the series as a whole:

  • It boggles my mind that Arwen is a bit character in the novels. Having seen the movies before reading the books, I guess my vision of her importance was tarnished. She barely has any speaking lines in the books, and is left out of the second story altogether.
  • While I enjoy Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of these books, the novels (as usual) far exceed them. Key elements were left out of the films: interacting with Tom Bombadil, several scenes with the Ents, and the scouring of the Shire (along with the deaths of both Saruman and Wormtongue). I guess it’s hard to beat a book.
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