2011 BMW R1200R Classic owner’s report

One of the very first blog posts I ever wrote up was going on about how many great motorcycles there were (and a lot of them were BMWs), but when I actually finally bought one, I forgot to mention it! This post is to correct that oversight.

Red_R850RI’ve been in love with BMW motorcycles since cutting class back in high school. Looking back, it seems somewhat apropos that my dad told me motorcycles were for rebels and those were the shops I most wanted to frequent as a truant. The best of them was Iron Horse Motorcycles. Around 1995-1996 I simply couldn’t stop daydreaming about owning and riding a green R850R. Sure, the 1100 had more power, but what did I know about motorcycles? I wouldn’t be able to use all that “oomph” anyway and an 850cc motor just sounded so strange and intriguing to me. And the 850 was cheaper, so easier to imagine affording someday. (Later my daydreams dropped in scope to an MuZ Skorpion 660cc single cylinder because it was only $6000 and even closer to being attainable.)

Anyone who’s read my other motorcycle posts knows that Harleys have just never done it for me (though Buells did). They’re too dime-a-dozen, or appear that way because of Japanese knock-offs, and bolting on Arlen Ness or factory parts is a cheesy way to call it “custom”. But BMW? It was just so… odd! And delightfully so, with a long heritage of building tough and reliable bikes. I was hooked, and I’ve never kicked the desire to own a BMW R-series bike since then. (I should probably go for the full effect and listen to some old Pearl Jam or Weezer’s blue album while I type this.)

So now that I own one, what’s the verdict? Is it everything I hoped for and more, or have years of dreaming about one led to the reality becoming a let-down? The truth is, it’s a little bit of both, so let’s dive in.

The bike itself is great as an all-around bike. I’m not a moto-journalist and can’t tell you how it handles or performs any better they’ve already done here, here, and here. What I can do though is talk about what it’s like to actually live with. Where I love it, but also where BMW Motorrad got it wrong.

P90065663

I bought this bike when I was living in Las Vegas, NV because I wanted a standard motorcycle and this was the best option. I don’t care for feet forward cruisers because I want better control for tight turns in mountains and canyons, but my commute was 40 minutes of straight and boring highway so a sport bike was ruled out for luggage limitations and wrist strain. With no Triumph or Ducati dealers in town (Bonneville or Monster) and all the Japanese bikes looking rather garish, the only other option that appealed to me was Haley-Davidson. I came very, very close to buying one, but the only bikes without forward controls were Sportsters with fuel tank issues; they were either too small for my commute to be practical, or plastic and had issues with warping in the XR1200.

The ergonomics and power on the R1200R made it a no-brainer.

HP2head

The HP2-derived “hex” head.

Air head, oil heads, & original hex head.

Air head, oil heads, & original hex head.

The 2011 R1200R got a revised head based off the HP2 and it makes plenty of power. BMW’s “1200” is actually 1,170 cc and slightly smaller than Harley’s 1,203 cc motor, but it makes far more horsepower and torque (which Harley always touts). But this does come at a price, as Harleys tend to get better gas mileage and I only average 42 mpg (USA). Not bad (gas mileage and tank size are why I opted against a Diavel), but for my Vegas commute I’d have appreciated even better. The power is addicting though, and the number one reason I hesitate when I start thinking about trading it for something else. I don’t feel a real need for more power though I wouldn’t call the Roadster overpowered either. I’d just hate to knowingly get with fewer ponies because twisting the throttle to escape any car I choose on the Interstate is immensely rewarding. And a big reason I bought this bike was the power and the sound of the exhaust- it was perfect just as delivered from the factory. I love that it’s not too loud and obnoxious (seriously, I hate loud, obnoxious pipes), but it’s got just the right amount of snarl. I refer to it as the Gentleman Hooligan.

Speaking of gentlemanly behavior, my bike has anti-lock brakes and traction control, both great features. BMW has now made ABS standard across all their bikes, and I applaud them for it, because despite the protestations of old know-it-alls the fact is a panic stop is exactly that: panic. Grabbing a fistful of brake and not losing control in an emergency is invaluable. Traction control can be turned off if I feel like lofting the front wheel in a “display of speed and power” (the ticket written for wheelies in Tucson), but the reality is it kept me from going ass-over-teakettle on some remarkably slick roads in Las Vegas. It may be more computer controlled complication, but they’re sure nice to have and safety features are hard to bemoan.

Another of my favorite aspects to the bike is how well designed it is. The rails for the panniers integrate almost seamlessly and the quick-release for them is great. On and locked or off the naked-looking bike in 30 seconds and it looks natural in either state. Harley made a big deal about this capability (and named yet another motorcycle, the Switchback, after one silly feature) that BMW has incorporated for years. I like being able to rest my feet out on the cylinders on the highway, but have my engine stay cool when stopped in the desert because the jugs are actually out in the wind to be cooled. I like the dash display more than many other bikes, and liking the looks of the dash is important since it’s the part of the bike you should be seeing most often!

BMW R 1200 R (11/2010)

BMW R 1200 R (11/2010)So why does trading it in for something else cross my mind every now and then? Mostly the aesthetics of the Classic trim package. It looks good at first blush, but before long it begins to feel like it doesn’t really fit with the character of the bike. Frankly, I think the bike looks more genuine in a flat, more modern color and wheels. In particular, pay attention to the hand rails of the tail section, and the taillight- there’s just no way to vintage-ify it. The angles there and on the frame are just… Well, wrong for a “classic” motif. The sharp angles cut into the tank for riders’ knees and the telelever front suspension (the part with the spring behind the forks)… In the darker shade they blend better, but the bright paint in Classic trim just shows how modern it is and conflicts with the rest of the bike’s theme. (I also think the frame should have stayed black, rather than drawing attention to itself.) Look back at the R850R picture and you can see how much softer the whole look of the bike is. It would just lend itself to the paint scheme, chrome, and spoked wheels so much easier. One of Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design states “Good design is honest”, and the classic package on this particular bike just doesn’t seem very honest at all. Such a modern design splashed with affectations of yore rings false.

R1200R_2011_064

Look at the above photo of the post-2011 all kitted out and it seems natural. But a tank bag on the Classic package would cover the only visible (to the rider) part of the racing stripe. I suppose if I add the rear top case I could repaint it and continue the racing stripe there…? I jest, of course, and I realize quite a bit of riding a motorcycle is suiting one’s vanities at the expense of practicality. The Classic just strikes me as a bit too far since touring would leave only the wheels, front fender, and exhaust to truly stand out.

There are two options to correct what I perceive as a grievance- either strip it off to resemble an un-optioned bike or take the retro theme even further. I’m opting for the latter, because it’ll look good and be less expensive than buying a new set of cast wheels and exhaust.

crashbar1Finding chrome valve covers for the post-’11 hex head is tricky and they’re $350 US each. Ouch. I’ll opt instead for this retro looking crash bar that’s half the cost of a single cover and looks like it came straight off an old R60. It’s from Wunderlich, a company with the sole focus of creating products for BMW motorcycles, and the chrome finish should compliment the exhaust and mirrors, while it’s simple line looks perfectly at home next to the broad white racing stripe.

trophyclassic1Speaking of the racing stripe, the bike simply needs more of it! Since the tail section doesn’t have a rear fender like more classically styled (or truly vintage) motorcycles for the flash of contrasting paint to display itself across, this front fender also offered by Wunderlich looks like the perfect device way to be a little more showy even when using a tank bag. With a truly clear windscreen it should display the continuing stripe much better, it gives the bike another much more pronounced retro nod to the cafe racers of yore, and should provide some more wind protection than my currently fitted “sport” shield pretty handily. Which leads to my only other real gripe…

The bike itself is fairly quiet and pleasant, but the wind noise is bizarrely LOUD. The little sport windshield does a wonderful job of keeping wind blast off my torso and making a ride comfortable, but the noise roaring in my helmet is insane. I’ve taken the shield off, and it’s better at times but then I feel battered at speed. A Triumph Bonneville is still dead silent at the same speeds, so all I can figure is it’s being caused by turbulence coming off the instrument cluster. On my long commutes to and from Vegas it wasn’t uncommon for me to actually stand up on the pegs just to get my helmet into clean and undisturbed air for some silence. Hopefully a new windshield will correct this.

The only other quibble I could muster is the hard luggage. I love the quick on-and-off and that it’s keyed to the ignition, but the shape could use some tweaking. The bags are designed to accept a full face helmet and seemingly nothing else- they’re very wide, but despite the massive volume I can’t fit a 15″ laptop into them except at bizzare angles that take up most of the usable space. They’re a very poor physical profile for city commuting.

This seems somewhat long winded for only two real gripes of aesthetics and wind noise (bags can be taken off or replaced) and not nearly enough praise for a wonderful motorcycle. In standard paint, and for a different length torso or windshield this would very likely be the perfect all-around bike. Add luggage and handlebar-mount GPS for touring, the bike comes stock with power outlets for heated clothing. Strip it all off and blast through canyons at top speeds I’ll not admit to seeing. Or simply enjoy riding a unique and good-looking European bike as you strut around town to various coffee shops.

I don’t own any of the pictures used and I’m not advertising anything, these are simply my observations. But I can teel you this: finally owning a BMW R-series bike after years of fantasizing hasn’t been a let down at all, and if anything has only strengthened my affinity for the brand.

BMW. Das schnellste Motorrad der Welt.

Holeshot Horror Story

Boarding the plane from Atlanta to Dubai was a bit like living an Oakley product placement. The average military contractor hasn’t a clue what “low profile” means, and the gate was awash in desert tan cargo pants, coyote brown backpacks, and ballcaps that were carefully selected to look as if they’d just been grabbed at the last minute. Most contractors perform support functions like janitorial, fire fighters, chow hall management, or communication but apparently we all want to look like bad-asses and Delta operators. That means wearing Oakley sunglasses. And Oakley backpacks. And Oakley ballcaps, boots, and beanies.

I was in a Land’s End green hoodie and Guess jeans hoping to look like a dude-bro that hadn’t quite been able to leave his frat behind. Oakley backpack, Oakley beanie… Okay so far. But wearing my Oakley “assault” boots gave me a sudden urge to look even more like an Oregon hiker next deployment and less like a Spec-Ops wannabe.*

Mental Note: Change up my gear next time. Also, maybe call it “stuff” instead of “gear”.

So why do contractors festoon themselves with so much Oakley product? Because Oakley makes good stuff and gives a 50% discount to military, cops, firefighters, EMTs, etc. through US Standard Issue. And they generously extend that offer to contractors with a military ID.

Which leads me (finally) to the point of my story: a review of the Oakley Holeshot watch. Spoilers: it’s not going to be a great review. But despite that, I still want to commend Oakley up front for the generous discounts they provide to men and women in uniform. Oakley makes quality products and it’s a very honorable thing for them to slice profit margins so significantly for folks willing to risk their own lives to protect ours without much pay in return.

My story begins over a year ago, back in October of 2011. I was headed out for my first deployment as a civilian field tech for satellite equipment. I hadn’t done much research about my destination and really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I didn’t want to take the Seiko Kenetic my dad bought me into anything described as “field conditions”. So I finally ponied up the cash and ordered the lust-worthy Oakley Holeshot 10th Mountain Division I mentioned last blog entry. (A quick aside: I’m pretty sure this is the first watch I ever bought for myself.) It was backordered, so I had it sent to my parents to forward on to me once I was “in country”. I was so anxious to get it! I couldn’t believe I’d spent $325 on a quartz watch, but it was a Swiss movement! Surely that carried some cachet.

Being my first “serious” watch, I was a little taken aback when it arrived and I tried to start using it. For one, the 10th Mountain Division looked like this on their website:

This is what’s advertised as the 10th Mountain Division.

But the case (actual body of the watch that houses the movement) I received was the same standard black any Joe Schmo could order through Oakley Custom on the civilian side. Disappointment #1.

Actual Holeshot

This is what you actually receive.

I’m not going to lie, that was a pretty big let-down. But then I actually had to read the manual, because the chronograph function really threw me for a loop! See in the above images how the large second hand would appear to be moving, while all the sub-dials are fixed at 12 o’clock? In reality, that’s not even a little bit close to the truth. The large second hand in the main dial stays resolutely as 12 o’clock and the small sub-dial at the 6 o’clock position is the functioning second hand for the clock. It took me twenty minutes of pushing buttons on the watch trying to make it function as I thought it should before I finally caved in and read the instructions.

Once I got this all figured out however, the watch was GREAT. It took me some getting used to the rubber strap, but I really enjoyed the weight of the watch. It felt like something of substance on my wrist. And since men’s watches had been getting larger and larger since my last new one in 1997, I liked the larger case. It looks good aside from the color misrepresentation and the 47.5 mm case isn’t so large as to be gaudy (opposed to most of Oakley’s offerings). I find tachymeter scales to be a bit silly since they require known distance points in order to function (and if I had those, I’d probably have a speedometer or GPS already), but it’s unobtrusive. And since my deployment was in the Seychelles I got to put the 10 bar water resistance to the test and took the watch scuba diving. It holds up. More than that, the hands are so wide and luminous material so effective that was extremely readable whether at night or 30 meters underwater. The sub-dials for the chronograph don’t move while it’s timing, but once you hit “stop” or “lap” they quickly spin into place for an accurate reading, and rotate back to “0” when you reset. And once reset, the main second hand and top two sub-dials point straight at their respective zeros, looking like some kind of awesome trident.

I liked this watch. I get buyer’s remorse before even buying things: I walk around with clearance priced BluRays for 10 minutes and put them back on the shelf. So to have had no regrets spending $325 on a quartz watch is really saying something for me. Sure, I was bummed enough about the case color that I’m mentioning it for a third time already, but aside from that I enjoyed the watch so much I planned on buying more from Oakley and even contemplated buying them as gifts for friends and family.

Then the start/stop button for the chronograph feature quit working. I couldn’t really understand why, since I’d carefully rinsed the watch with fresh water after every dive along with the rest of my equipment. And it didn’t quit working until six months after I’d returned to the states! For lack of a better term, there simply no action in the button press. No distinctive click. It was just dead. The lap/reset button still operated properly, but without a functioning start button, what good does that do? So I looked up the warranty information, contacted Oakley, and here’s where the story gets really bad

Edit: I am officially an idiot. I’m going to leave the original text that I wrote, but line through the parts are not applicable. Why aren’t they? Because it turns out the “issues” I was having with the watch could be set and corrected by the user. The instructions to do so are on page 10 of the user manual. But even though it was my fault, Oakley kept bringing my watch back in. Finally, they set it for me, but over the phone one of their wonderful customer service reps told me what my problem had been. They put up with me being a real jerk and moron and STILL took care of me. I’ve meant to update this entry for a while to reflect that but forgotten, so thanks to the recent comments motivating me to get these corrections made.

Oakley’s customer service people are great. I’ve harassed them at least three times now (keep reading) and they’ve been responsive each and every time. It’s wherever these things are getting “repaired” that’s inexcusable. When you contact Oakley, they send you a form to fill out describing the problem. They request you return this form, a picture of the problem, and proof of purchase. Once they have this (to determine if it’s actually a warranty issue rather than abuse, I imagine), they send you a UPS packing slip. If there is a warranty issue, Oakley pays for shipping both ways. Writing this review is almost painful in some ways, because I really do think they want to take care of their USSI customers.

Obviously, if Oakley is paying shipping as a courtesy to their customers they’re not spending extravagantly for overnight service. Between that, their backlog of work orders, and actual repair time my watch was gone for almost a month. That’s a small price to pay for a free repair, except my watch came back looking like this:

The first time my watch came back from "repair".

The first time my watch came back from repair.

The 1/10th second sub-dial now zeroed or reset to something like eight and four fifths! Aside from the hand being off by 1/10th, and aside from the hand never actually aligning with an actual digit, this is something that should have been obvious at even a cursory visual inspection! This isn’t some hidden, internal issue or a fault that only appears “when you do this”. This was careless workmanship on a watch I’d paid good money for, with the understanding it would be a working product. I was ticked. I emailed Oakley again about this issue and sent them a photo within five minutes of unpacking the watch they’d sent me. (I also mentioned the case color being wrong on my first RMA slip, but I guess that didn’t warrant correction). So they sent me a new UPS packing label, I sent my watch back to be repaired from the first repair, I waited another few weeks and they sent it back like this:

Second time back from warranty just means a third time out for a claim...

Now the sub-dials functioned correctly (remember, the one at 6 o’clock is always moving as it counts seconds for the clock), but the second hand on the main face that works for the chronograph zeroed on :59 rather than :00! Argh!!! Again, the watch had been sent back to me with an obvious flaw that would have been caught if there was even a cursory inspection before sending it back out! What gives here?!?! Maybe I heard the phrase “Attention to detail, Airman!” shouted too often when I was active duty, but this just sent me over the edge. Twice now, all it would have taken was for somebody to have looked at the face of the watch and seen the three hands weren’t zeroed before they called it good-to-go. I don’t know if I’m willing to call it shoddy workmanship (the mechanisms at least functioned like they should), but the attention to detail was appalling. This obviously isn’t a place where the jeweler is going to be signing their name to validate their work. Of course for only $325 I don’t really expect that kind of treatment. But for a company with the audacity to sell a quartz watch (Minute Machine) for $1,500 and $3,500 for a special edition?!?! A little pride in workmanship wouldn’t be out of line.

[Ed. - The following has been re-written for accuracy.]

Conclusion-

If you want to spend the money on an Oakley watch, knock yourself out. It’s your money and fashion sense, and they take care of their customers. I recommend the following three tenets, but Oakley really is okay in my book.

  • If you want a fashion watch try a Fossil or even a Swatch. Don’t exceed $500 when spending under $200 is easy.
  • If you want a tough watch buy a Casio G-Shock or similar.
  • If you want an inexpensive Swiss Mechanical, buy a Xetum.
Both hands still visible when stacked, due to hollow cut in their body.

Both hands still visible when stacked, due to hollow cut in their body.

Sorry, Oakley. I’m sorry for wrongfully slandering you in this blog post for the past few months. I’m mostly outgrowing Oakley’s design sense and want something a little more classic and tasteful, but I still love my gray knit beanie (perhaps the most tasteful one you’ve ever made) and my tan SI Assault gloves will stay next to my AR-15 because they make me look all tacticool. And as far as Oakley’s design goes, the Holeshot is pretty conservative. The hands are easy to read, and the cuts in them make the face easy to read even when they’re stacked atop each other. Brilliantly thought out. Taste is subjective, and most of Oakley’s other watches are way too garish and over the top for me, but this is one watch I’m surely glad is in my collection. I’ll be wearing it for a good, long while.

*To be fair, The North Face is the second most, if not the most spotted brand name at the Afghanistan camp I’m writing this. But it still doesn’t scream, “Guess what I do!” to the entire Arab community while in transit.

Drive

Bad movies are slow, good movies are “deliberately paced”. Drive is a great movie.

There’s very much an ’80s aesthetic going on, and being born in ’78 I dig it. From the font and color of the opening credits to the synth-pop music getting the haunting-melancholy-beautiful mix just right, I am in love with this movie before it’s even really begun. This is weird for me, because I’ve been looking forward to seeing this and I tend to suffer let-downs from raised hopes and expectations. 25 minutes in, and the movie is exceeding them. Sure, we’ve seen people drive in the Los Angeles river (Grease, Buckaroo Bonzai end titles, Gone in 60 Seconds) and a more refined critic would argue that it’s been filmed to death, but I can’t help thinking Drive is doing it right.

When there’s an obvious set-up for an action beat, it begins in a way I was completely unprepared for and actually jumped. The mood is almost similar to Street Kings or Heat (1995) in some ways, where there’s an emphasis on understating things that makes it more real. This isn’t Schwarzenegger or Stallone where you sit through it mindlessly; when there’s violence on screen you flinch.

Ryan Gosling’s character is unnamed, and everything about him is stripped down to be as essential as possible. His shoes are white, and there is no detail beyond that. His watch face is plain and uncomplicated. Everything about him is elemental and almost austere so that we’re not hung up on details. He simply is. He’s a man with no name for today, or maybe 25 years ago judging from the looks of his sunglasses and jacket.

I love movies, reading up on how they’re made, etc. I geek out over commentary tracks on DVDs. If you enjoy this stuff too, read up on Drive‘s background here. I was pretty gratified to see some of my thoughts weren’t completely off regarding some of the movie’s noir-ish elements, or even wondering if fans of other “slow” movies (like Bullitt is by today’s standards) would enjoy Drive.

The big danger zone in movies today is the car chase, with three distinct types being common:

  1. Shakily filmed and quick edits (Bourne Supremacy) that they seem to hide the inability to film a narrative flow.
  2. Reliant on CGI and over-the-top thrills (Fast & Furious, Transporter) that are more visual set pieces, and very cool, but don’t really matter that much.
  3. Boring (Shaft [2000]). This is where it’s so uninteresting you suddenly forget who’s chasing who, why they are, how you got there, or why you spent money on tickets.

Drive did something different for a change and made a car chase cool again. It was exciting, flowed like a story, gave the viewer a clear idea of what was going on… I haven’t seen a car chase this good since Gone in 60 Seconds (2000). I wish there was more action driving instead of mood driving to the ethereal synth soundtrack, but maybe having only two relatively short scenes is what punctuated the car chases and made them actually good. Despite the film’s title, it becomes much more of a man-on-man heist gone wrong story in the latter half.

It is very R-rated for language, nudity, and violence. It’s not pervasive but there are a few scenes where a character will string together a conjugation of the f-word that belies their intellect, or action scenes that go beyond action into being truly violent. It makes it difficult to know who to recommend this movie to, because it has elements of a blockbuster you might think would be in Bad Boys, but with such an indie movie feel. Who will tolerate both the gruesome moments and the long, slow character reflections?

Apparently I will, because I’d give Drive a solid A- and am even considering buying it. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while.

Food, Inc. – Missing the Mark

I’m watching the documentary Food, Inc. and for the most part I think it’s something more people need to be aware of. It’s just frustrating at times.

Around 40 minutes into the movie a Hispanic family is featured that buys most of their meals (we’re led to believe) from fast food drive thru dollar menus. This whole sequence is incredibly maddening, but not for the reasons I think the film producers intended. The matriarch of the family says something incredibly stupid when she claims she used to think all the food was healthy. What kind of moron ever truly believed fast food was healthy?!?! Then they’re shown shopping in the produce section of a grocery store and the father says, “Look at the price of the broccoli. It’s too ‘spensive, mang.” And the film goes on to talk about the statistic of low income levels being linked to obesity, claiming it’s because these foods are cheaper due to being heavily subsidized.

I don’t doubt obesity and low income levels share a link, but I’ll argue that the cases/rates where the correlation is greatest, you’ll also find these people aren’t very intelligent.

Sounds harsh, I know, but you have to be an idiot to really believe eating from a dollar menu will save you any money, and here’s why:

  • Do the math. I spend an average of $40 a week on grocery shopping if I don’t buy any treats like the occasional beer, etc. Now let’s factor the dollar menu diet being $3 each meal (sandwich, fries and drink), three times a day ($9), and for argument’s sake seven days a week. That’s $63 a week, or 1.5 times more expensive to eat garbage than I spend on fresh produce, eggs, etc.
  • They have no concept of food quantity. The father complains about broccoli being priced at $1.29 per pound. The daughters weigh a pound of produce and complain they’ll only get three of the item…. How much does a small, $0.99 hamburger weigh? How much does a Hungry Man frozen dinner that proudly advertises itself as being a whopping “1 pound of food!” cost? These idiots are being exploited by the filmmakers because they have no clue how much food they’re really getting.

I believe in the point of the film, that we should be eating healthier and more “real” foods. But when it’s so blatantly exploitive with ominous music in meat packing plants and making a family look like victims of anything other than their own lack of critical thought…? I wish the movie hadn’t taken that turn, because it becomes harder to take seriously. I resent the obvious attempt at manipulation.

From time to time the movie comes back to making valid points about the consequences of manufactured food. The parts on the over-production of corn and how it’s synthesized was fascinating. This is the stuff that the movie really should have focused on a little bit more, because the synthetic and manufactured foods are what really affects, and I believe eventually afflicts, the population at large. Complaining about “corporations” and other liberal hippie scare words that hate business and capitalism only drives off the very audience they should be trying to reach. Real, nutritious food is an issue that should transcend the “Occupy” liberal’s frame of mind.

However, there’s a section of film roughly between the 45-50 minute marks with a chicken farmer. Heck, maybe he’s just a farmer, period. I think every American should see more stuff like this, because he begins to do a much better job at outlining the problems and falsehoods in mass produced foods.

Unfortunately, around 55 minutes in the movie just takes another political swing to show illegal aliens as being the victims of the evil corporate fat cats. This is where they lose me again and why I’m typing this up. Because I’m a bad person and I don’t care about these people. I really don’t. Altruism is for suckers, and I’m a big fan of capitalism. I don’t agree with unchecked profit-at-all-costs and harming people to turn a buck, but the movie (and Occupy zombies) don’t ever really clarify and just blast “big business” at any chance. They come off as saying mega-corporations are inherently evil and harmful to people, and I simply disagree and would like to be making that kind of money. I’m a mercenary. I am reward-driven. And Starbucks is a major corporation that treats employees well. This movie needs to get off the “corporate = evil” bandwagon if they want me to listen, and focus on telling the audience about the harm “enriched flour” can do to our bodies. Make it matter to me.

I will say, some people might cringe at the sounds of the animals in the meat processing plants. There’s some kind of gross stuff shown that would make PETA members cry but grateful the public can be exposed to it. I think it’s good, too, but for other reasons. I want to learn to hunt, because I think it’s both healthier and more natural food, and that meat-eaters should take accountability for ending a creature’s life. We’ve become too far removed from the process and live in an unnatural age where meat comes in plastic wrap from the store. I won’t go vegetarian and PETA, the Humane Society, and any other anti-hunting group of vegan whackos can get stuffed. I like meat. I simply believe taking accountability for the unpleasant task of ending an animal’s life is the moral thing to do.

Right at the 1 hour, 30 second mark, Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farm CEO) outright states “We’re not going to get rid of capitalism. Certainly we’re not going to get rid of it in the time that we need to arrest global warming and reverse the toxification of our air and our food and our water.” THAT is what angers me about this movie. Sell me on the health benefits of organic food or the negative health aspects of the mass-produced stuff. SELL me. He talks about the growth of the organic food industry. He is in business, making money serving a market demand. That’s capitalism, you idiot! I freaking hate liberal hypocrites!!!

Capitalism is an economic system, determining the flow of money. Production methods are physical labor with measurable effects on the environment. And either can drive the other due to the moral/ethical demands of producer or consumer. Blaming capitalism for environmental problems betrays liberal bias toward being a retard, because 20% annual growth in the organic food industry is being driven by consumer demand, met by marketplace response and it capitalism at work. Socialism and/or gov’t mandate plays no part in it.

This movie verges on being dishonest. -Eric R. Shelton

Eventually Gary Hirshberg starts to talk some sense about producing good food and still being profitable, and Wal-Mart purchasing agents are shown to not be evil bastards out to poison the world but simply in the business of providing what the customer demands. If these stupid hippies would get off their anti-corporate, “damn the man” high horse and simply put forth a societal message for people’s health, it would go so much further. Attack my aspirations to make lots of money, and you’re a villain. Provide natural food for me to live a long and healthy life, and you’re a hero.

And of course, old harvesting equipment drawn by horse is shown romantically, while modern tractors are portrayed as belching gasses into the air.

Finally, well over an hour into the movie they start talking about Monsanto. THIS is where the movie finally gets good and talks about real issues and threats to the U.S. food supply and system. If this movie would have cut-out the blanket “corporate = evil” hippie crap and focused on Monsanto, the ownership of GMO food, and how Monsanto has used patent infringement law to cripple traditional farming methods, I would recommend this movie to everyone I know.

By the end, it finally gets on point and is worth watching. The end sequence, where they appeal to the consumer and tell us about the power we have with our spending choices is really great. I am absolutely a believer in locally grown, organic foods. Where the movie makes its greatest missteps is simply saying “Oh, bulk food and corporations are bad! Evil!” without spending enough time explaining how or why a can of Green Giant green beans is virtually nutrient depleted. They say “corporations are bad, but organic food is healthy” without realizing the converse statement is “this food lacks nutrients, and that farmer is a nice guy”. The food’s nutritional value is a separate and distinct quality from the size of a business, but the hippie environmentalist wackos confuse the topics.

Ultimately, the point of the movie is valid and I recommend it. Just realize you’ll be wading through knee-deep propaganda, just like the cows featured in manure, before you get to the good stuff.

If this article strikes a chord with you, and you are interested in healthy and organic food, I would encourage you to plant a food garden for yourself, listen to Jack Spirko’s podcast, and learn about permaculture. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.

Buyer’s Remorse

Edited to add: this post was written before I’d had enough time with the bike. Riding it more I’ve come to understand it better, and have posted here and here on my increased appreciation for it. Please read those posts before getting angry about this post, which I’ll be leaving up to document my discovery process. -Eric

I’m just going to get this out of the way right now: The Kawasaki KLR650 sucks.

Now, as with any critique, this is strictly from my point of view. I’m sure the dozens and dozens of satisfied KLR riders would argue until they’re blue in the face that it’s a great bike and I just don’t get it. Maybe they’re correct and it’s just a bad bike for me and my needs at the moment. That doesn’t change the fact that the KLR650 is the motorcycle equivalent of a Kindle Fire- the only good thing about it is a cheap purchase price and beyond that it doesn’t do anything terribly well.

My 1995 “Barbie Bike” KLR650.

I’ve written about all the great bikes available before. I didn’t follow my own advice and buy one on that list. Noooo…. Instead, I bought something I could pay for with that cash I had on-hand. And why wouldn’t a person? Watch this YouTube video, or this one, and read how many guys love their KLRs on ADVrider or KLR650.net… Well, eventually it becomes a very convincing argument in favor of the bike. But did you catch that last sentence in the first YouTube vid? He didn’t say “it can do anything your bike can do and do better”. No. He said “do it cheaper”. And it only took me one commute to work to realize that it’s not a great bike- it’s a bike that’s loved because it’s inexpensive. That’s all.

I need to be very clear now before I “blast” the Kawasaki unfairly: I fully believe the Kawasaki KLR fully delivers on what it promises and it doesn’t promise to be anything it’s not. No, the problem here is I listened to KLR owners rather than Kawasaki. See, KLR guys are a little bit like Hi-Point firearm buyers and seem to have this bizarre need to validate their purchase by decrying any other nicer competitor as being “overpriced”, rather than just say/admit that they’re cheapskates. Kawasaki never promotes the KLR as being a competitor to KTM, BMW, or the new (ish) Yamaha Super Tenere. They simply say it is what it is. It’s the KLR owners who insist it’s just as good and everyone else paid too much.

KLR owners are lying to themselves.

The KLR is just fine for what it is: a street legal bike with off-road capability. If you want to ride around an off-road playground, and not have to trailer your bike there, this is a fantastic choice. What this bike is not is decent for touring, and the instant highway or Interstate is a factor I would say you need to forget about the Kawi, despite the capacious fuel tank. There’s a reason it’s categorized as a dual-sport and the big BMW GS is an adventure tourer. The KLR just doesn’t have the horsepower to travel at speed, and is a little too tall and light in my opinion and easily pushed around by cross winds.

The torque is fine, but now we’re getting into the same arguments Harley guys make to defend their bikes- torque vs. horsepower. Torque is important, as that’s the real measure of power. This is what Harley guys cling to. But horsepower is just as important when you’re trying to maintain speed effectively, and is the measure of power over time. You can’t have horsepower without torque, but you can have lots of torque without much effective horsepower. This is the problem with Harleys and the KLR and why they’re just… slow. They can accelerate wonderfully at the low end, but trying to maintain speed on the highway is just an exercise in frustration. (Here’s a detailed description of torque vs. horsepower, and here’s a simpler explanation.)

Which brings us to the real problem I have with the KLR- it just isn’t any good for my needs. I have a 35 mile commute to work each way, and it’s on ridiculously straight, boring highway. It is absolutely mind-numbing. The speed limit is 70mph on the highway, but everybody travels closer to 80. Except me, now. I got up to 80 and could practically hear the bike begging for mercy and asking what it had done to deserve such treatment. Since the motorcycle really hadn’t wronged me in any way or done anything to deserve my wrath, I relented and eased back down to 65-70 mph. That, and lower speeds made the ride more stable as I had more traction to fight the cross winds.

The only part of the commute that enjoyed at all was riding over the speed bumps when I finally got to base. It’s really depressing to realize the best part of the ride home will be in the first 4 minutes and the 30-40 minutes that follow will be me daydreaming about a vehicle more capable and comfortable. This will be the only day I ride the KLR to work, and it will be going on Craigslist to be resold by the end of the week. Of course, then I’m going to extoll it’s virtues…

My biggest problem is that a few years ago I used to own a Ducati Multistrada, and even though it was only a 620 it was light years better than the KLR for what I need. I need to reiterate, if a dual-sport is really the goal then the KLR a really cool choice and a lot of fun- I could feel that just from the speed bumps that I didn’t slow down for (and may accelerate for just a little on my way off base). But that’s not what I need. I need something that can handle being on a highway. I need the touring capability of an “adventure touring” bike like BMW’s big GS; the “adventure” part of it would just be for fun. Maybe the BMW K1600GT someday. Even an old Multistrada (meaning “many roads”) would be a better choice and worth the cost and more frequent maintenance. I miss that bike…

I still miss this bike…

The KLR is just not a touring worthy bike, no matter what it’s fans say. They can farkle it up with new wind screens or home-fabricated luggage all they want; it’s still a cheap bike rather than a good one for the purposes they claim. Without an engine and transmission swap, it’s a gutless wonder and I should have known better. After all, “if something seems too good to be true”, right? I have a few hours yet before I need to get back on it and ride home, and I’m trying not to think about it. The underpowered engine close to redline just be at highway speeds. The crappy fairing and noise/wind protection. The cheap build quality. Ugh… Never trust a cheapskate. Ever. I wouldn’t buy a Hi-Point and I shouldn’t have bought this. I’d rather drive an old beat-up Ford Focus to work than this thing. I’ll be selling the KLR and glad to get rid of it.

Bose QC15 vs. Bowers & Wilkins P5

I debated between these two headphones for ages, before finally settling on the Bose. But then I had the opportunity to buy the P5s as well. I don’t dare call myself an audiophile; I’m just a guy that appreciates good design buying the best tool for the job. So here’s my view on the two of these, and the loser gets sold on Craigslist. Fight!

Intended purpose- It’s pretty clear when you look at the accessories that these two headphones both have Apple devices in mind for use, but approach their intended use environments differently. Both come with two interchangeable cables: one straight through and one with Apple’s 3-button in-line microphone for use with iPhones and other devices. But the Bose come with a 90-degree two prong adapter for use on airline in-flight entertainment, where Bowers & Wilkins include a 1/4″ adaptor suited for plugging into a high end home stereo. Oddly, B&W’s cord from the headset doesn’t seem long enough for this purpose. Advantage: draw. Different intents makes this dependent on the owner’s intended use.

Fit, finish and design- There’s nothing wrong with the Bose. Objectively, they’re easily an 8 or more likely 9 on a 10 point scale. They’ve got a modern, high-tech vibe to the look of them, the door to battery compartment for the required AAA is well designed (my electronic ear-pro for shooting should be so nice), and the jack for replacing the audio cable doesn’t look prone to wear. My only complaint is that they’re so light they don’t feel as if there’s any substance to them, but then, who wants to wear a heavy headset for hours on end during a flight? But if the Bose are 9/10, then the P5 goes to 11. Slightly heavier than the QC15, they feel solid and well built. The P5 ‘phones have a classic, retro look that is both minimal and gorgeous. The lamb skin on-ear pads are easily removable with a magnetic base and show a remarkable attention to detail in every aspect. The Bose can be had in an on-ear design as well with the QC3, while the B&W offering is on-ear only. On-ear vs. over-ear (like the QC15) is something for bespectacled to consider for long term comfort, but the comparatively tiny ear pads of the P5 fold flatter and are dramatically more comfortable and less awkward when pulled down around the neck between listening sessions. With the Bose you pay for tech; with B&W you pay for materials. Advantage: Bowers & Wilkins P5.

Storage case- The Bose come in a well-designed semi-rigid case that zips around it’s perimeter. It’s slim, hold everything securely, and zipped up looks to provide a fair amount of protection from crushing- but don’t be unreasonable in your expectations. They’ve also eliminated the neck lanyard, which I think was a good move. The case is clean, and I can slip it in and out of my carry-on without any extra snagging, hassle, or awkwardness. The P5s come in a soft, lightly padded bag that secures with a magnetic flap. It’s one length of material done tri-fold like a wallet, with little side walls stitched onto it. Velvety on the inside, with a quilted exterior it looks… Bad. Like a ladies purse or something now trying too hard for retro chic, I don’t expect it provides much, if any, protection for the pricey headphones inside. This highlights again the difference in intended use between home and travel use, but I can use a travel case at home better than I can use a soft bag for travel, so… Advantage: Bose.

Controlled environment listening- player used was an iPhone 4S with the EQ off. I know audiophiles will lament that iPods don’t sound that good anyway, but both devices are clearly aimed at iCustomers with the in-line mic and remote. However, the EQ settings made everything sound worse in my opinion, so we’re going neutral from the audio source and letting the headphones sound come through.

  • Daft Punk, Human After All- The P5s are much louder at the same volume, even with the hi/lo switch flipped on the QC15s. The bass is more pronounced, and highs are cleaner… The P5s win this one easily.
  • Deanna Carter, Strawberry Wine- The QC15s sound very natural, a little echo as if this was being played live. I can hear the bass and highs, but something’s off in the mids… The P5s sound a little bit better again, but not much. The bass and mids aren’t mixed well on this track- but both headphones betray the need for good source input.
  • Lenny Kravitz, I’ll Be Waiting- Started with the P5s this time. You can hear the chain on a snare drum shaking slightly in the background when it’s not even being played. Amazing. It’s like I can hear the mic he’s singing through. The QC15s just don’t have the bass response of the P5 so far, but it’s adequate and when this track gets heavily layered later in the song the elements are more distinct. Bose wins this one handily.
  • Nightwish, Dark Chest of Wonders- There’s nothing like a heavy metal band playing with a full symphony to really test frequency response and range, right? Metal needs to be loud, and the P5s win that once again. The QC15 lack of bass lets the vocal overpower the instruments, but I found I preferred that to her voice being slightly more lost in the P5. I’d call this one a draw- neither are quite as nice as I think they could be. 95-98%, but not quite perfect.
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Last DJ- Between the opening twanging guitar and Tom’s vocals this is a song heavy on highs that still has a strong bass line. The P5s sound amazing on this track. The layers sound great. I am in love. The QC15 seem to balance the bass a little more, it still sounds great, but it doesn’t quite sound as much like you’re there in the room as the P5 this time. It’s like they’re too perfect.
  • Muse, Starlight- The Bose sounded like a scientific reproduction again. Good, but… The P5 volume and bass help a lot on this track, but once the vocals come in there’s no question these are the better headphones for this track. The hint of echo and distinct highs, plus the texture in mids I’ve never heard before despite listening to this song lots of times before gives B&W the edge here for the vocals, but the music sounds better on the QC15.
  • Michael Franti & Spearhead, Say Hey (I Love You)- The highs stayed distinct on the P5, but the bass almost ventured into being muddy. As if it was overpowering or lingering, drawing in some frequencies that shouldn’t be there. The QC15 just don’t have the bass response or volume I’d like, but on this track it works in Bose’s favor.
  • Mike Posner, Cooler Than Me- Let’s take a techno/dance turn here. The P5 make the vocals sound great, and the synthpop music has a nice fast response, with crisp detail. The QC15 makes it sound like a digital recording of a voice instead of a natural voice, but the technologic approach Bose takes to sound quality makes the music come out clean as well.
  • MC Chris, Nrrrd Girl- The QC15 handle his high pitched voice and rapid fire rapping just fine, but I’m left with a feeling that I’m missing some of the fullness that may be there. That said, it’s easy to listen to on the Bose. The P5 give me the fullness I felt like I was missing (thank you, bass), and doesn’t impede Chris’ voice. Bowers & Wilkins walks away with this one.
  • LMFAO, Party Rock Anthem- Starting out on the P5, I can’t imagine this sounding any better. The layers sound cleanly distinct, the vibey synth textures can be heard apart from the clean sounds, the voices are clear, and it’s full-bodied. The QC15 still sound nice of course, but they’re just missing something. It’s like listening through a screen: everything is still there and all the elements are identifiable, and if I’d never heard the P5 I would think the bass was good, but it’s like listening to a recording again instead of the real thing. P5 win again.
  • Joan Osborne, One of Us- This song really exploits stereo, arguably too much, but it gives a good mix of layers from different sides. The QC15 sound too perfect, like a machine copy. The P5 sound natural, like I’m in the room with the band.
  • Gnarls Barkley, Crazy- I wasn’t even going to bother with the QC15 after listening with the P5 because of the song’s heavy bass line, but I’m glad I did. There’s an analog scratching layered on this song like a record player when the needle is on a silent part of the vinyl. I can hear it on the P5, and still give the overall win to B&W, but I didn’t notice it until I listened through the Bose.
  • Foster the People, Pumped Up Kicks; B.o.B., Magic; Goat Rodeo Sessions, Attaboy- from synthpop to rap/rock to classical the bass and volume of the P5 just give a more natural and full bodied sound than the QC15. It’s a trade off. The QC15 never achieve the fullness of sound the P5 do, but the P5 sometimes give a little too much bass and make the mids muddy. But since the B&W only get muddy about 5% of the time, and the Bose never get loud enough or full enough sounding, the P5 win.
  • Star Trek (2009)- digital copy downloaded via the DVD in the BluRay retail pack. Imported to iTunes and playing on a MacBook Pro. From the orchestral score, to voices, to special effects and ambient sounds, the Bowers & Wilkins just plain sound better. Richer and more natural, due to volume and bass. I don’t know if that’s fair or if the P5 are cheating somewhat by being biased toward these frequencies, but even the pew! pew! of phasers sounds better.
  • Gaming- The P5 universally sounded better on what I tested. Running a 2011 MacBook Pro 15″, with Windows 7 and Steam I tested Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Braid, Mass Effect and Portal 2. What was shocking was the biggest difference in sound quality was on the “lower res” games BC:R and Braid. It was noticeable on Mass Effect and Portal 2, but the gameplay and stories are so good they keep the sound from being too critical a feature (when both headsets are very good anyway).

In-flight listening- Here’s where the Bose QuietComfort were designed to be used, and it shows. The Bowers & Wilkins P5 are very, very good headsets, but very poor earmuffs. Spoken word podcasts were difficult to hear or irritating between words when the roar of the engine would intrude. They were only acceptable during a flight when listening to music as an alternative source of noise. The Bose, on the other hand, can be switched on for noise cancelling even when you’re not listening to anything at all. I always find myself wishing they even quieter still, but the fact remains they’re the best choice to quiet a noisy flight. From trying to sleep, read a book, and listen to spoken word podcasts or audiobooks the only real choice here is Bose.

Conclusion- So which should you buy? Honestly, it all goes back to the beginning of this comparison, the intended purpose paragraph; I’ve gone back on my original idea of selling the loser on Craigslist and am going to keep both, but that’s just me. The fact is, the Bowers & Wilkins P5 just plain sound better and don’t require batteries. For day-to-day listening and Apple white earbud replacement, they’re a better choice and that’s really the end of the discussion. But I travel, and as I’ve talked about, sometimes for long periods of time. There’s just no question that the Bose are superior for in-flight peace of mind. (Frankly, they were the only thing that kept me sane on an awful Delta flight I’ll talk about in the future.) The Bose would collect dust while I’m at home, if not for their wonderful case, but I’m going to keep them in my suitcase awaiting my next deployment.

The Bose sound about 85-90% as good as the Bowers & Wilkins, require a single AAA battery for operation, but can be used for simple peace and quiet and more applications when traveling. If I had to recommend just one, the Bose QuietComfort would be the winner. The Bowers & Wilkins P5 would be my recommendation if you fly less than once annually, and never more than 4-5 hours at a time. They’re comfortable for much longer stretches, but the constant noise (to drown out a flight) would drive me mad.

And not discussed here are Beats by Dr. Dre. They’re truly awful; another over-priced product from Monster, way too bass-heavy and unbalanced, and not recommended under any circumstance. (Despite the fact that I love their modern design.)

The Myth of the Apple Tax

In some circles, it’s commonly accepted that Apple products cost more than comparable devices from competitors. From laptops to phones and MP3 players, Apple-haters insist that the Cupertino company charges more for pretty design and exclusivity. This gets referred to as the “Apple Tax” and people who buy Apple devices are obviously just fanboys (or worse, misusing the term “hipster”) who were duped into believing the hype in a Steve Jobs-created “Reality Distortion Field”.

Here’s the thing: it’s just not true.

First, let’s tackle the notion of “comparably equipped”. These are the guys who just take raw specifications and proclaim one device to be superior to another. The problem is a computer is a system. Why’s that matter? Because while these guys may know specs inside and and out and are generally pretty knowledgable, they’re not usually engineers that know how all parts will run together. To make an automotive analogy, it would be like declaring an 850 cfm carburetor to be “better” than a 650 cfm… without considering the motor is a now-drowning 289 Windsor. Certain components play better together than others, and this holds true in the computer world. (Don’t believe me? Spend some time reading 1-egg RAM reviews on Newegg. The vast majority are people that bought “spec” RAM without paying attention to whether or not it was matched to their system, with replies from the manufacturer saying “you should have purchased this set”.)

Second, it seems like a lot of competitors are getting sucked into the “reality distortion field” as well, because there are an awful lot of Apple copycats suddenly. But they’re forgetting to drop the price! If Apple is just charging for design and exclusivity, why aren’t these copycats substantially cheaper? Or in some cases more expensive?

That’s just the MacBook Air, but tablets are no different. No iPad competitor offers a comparable product at a cheaper price. Sure, there are cheaper tablets than iPads. They’re also smaller, have shorter battery life, don’t have as responsive or nice a screen… This isn’t a condemnation of Android tablets by any means! If you’re invested into the Google ecosystem they make a lot of sense. But what you pay vs. what you get isn’t any different than an iPad.

The latest Droid-based phones cost just as much as the latest iPhones, with poorer cameras, and less battery life. Android users were proclaiming they had dual-cores before iPhones, but they sucked the battery dry and left a supposedly mobile device tethered curiously near power outlets at all times… If we’re talking about the cost (and now the effectiveness) of the device the “Apple Tax” is bogus once again.

So let’s get back to the big Kahuna. The main event and what is still the focus of work, education, business, and content creation remains a full-blown computer (for now). Whether it’s a laptop or desktop doesn’t really matter in this case. Take the sum total of an iMac (display and everything) and it will stack up dollar-for-dollar against a truly comparable PC running Windows. What’s the big difference?

The big mistake in the entire argument is overlooking what you can do with it.

Nobody really talks about this, and it’s shocking to me because this is what it really all comes down to. Look at the software that comes on a Mac vs. what comes on your average Windows machine from CompuBest big box store. Apple gives you the iLife suite that will create professional looking photo albums, movies, and music right out of the box. The average Dell or HP gives you 30-day Trial software to subsidize it’s cost, and Windows Movie Maker so you can create home videos with 1989-era television quality titles and effects. You’ll sink hundreds more into the “less expensive” Windows machine over it’s lifetime in software and upgrades. Even if the Apple somehow costs more new, it amortizes over it’s lifetime to become much more cost effective than the weekend sale special.

You’ll never play worthwhile games on a Mac unless you install Windows. And I prefer Windows 7 over OS X Lion any day of the week. But we’re talking about what you pay for what you get. And anyone who uses the term “Apple Tax” as if it carries any legitimacy needs to pull down on their shoulders until they hear a loud pop- that’ll be their head coming out of their….

iPad (Gen.1) review

This was originally written in March 2011, right after the iPad 2 released. I bought an original model on clearance, then returned it. Here’s why.

In daylight the screen is near worthless. If you’re wearing polarized sunglasses, it IS worthless. For lounging out by the pool, you’ll need to stick with dead trees.

I can’t believe people were campaigning for a 7″ form factor. This one is 9.7″ and it’s almost too small as-is. Jobs was right when he said a 7″ was too big to be a phone and too small to be a good tablet. That would have been a terrible idea and goes to show sometimes people say they want something, without realizing what that would really mean.

Landscape mode, the keyboard is GREAT! I can type like a fiend on this thing, but bear in mind that I hunt and peck anyway… Still, I am just as fast on this thing (and maybe faster due to excellent auto-correct) as on a conventional keyboard.

I think my biggest frustration with this thing is that I already own an iPhone 4. It has a higher resolution screen, 3G connection so I’m never without a web connection… If you’ve ever lost your internet connection and immediately declared your computer to now be worthless, you have an idea of how I feel going from the iPhone to a wifi-only iPad. (and yes, I realize how spoiled I am that I’m complaining about this)

On the other hand, having a screen this big is gorgeous! The sense of scale really does change things vs. running the same or equivalent app on my phone. People who say the iPad is just an overgrown iPod Touch are technically right on one level, but missing how magnificent the experience can be. The screen size truly does make things order of magnitude better.

This brings me to my other niggle, however. I’ve owned an iPhone since the 3G. I loved my upgrade to the 4 and the screen resolution was amazing. It was a constant bit of joy to watch my old chunky iOS apps get their newer, slicker icons and update to the beautiful graphics the new phone offered. Lest you think I digress, imagine my dismay over the way things are handled on the iPad. Unless you specifically get the “HD” or universal app, the iPad displays the app in a small window that approximates the size of an iPhone screen, regardless of the resolution. Old iPhone 3G or 3Gs apps display at the same physical size as iPhone 4. Isn’t this an instance of the fragmentation that we’re told Apple spares you vs. Android?

“HD”? Really?! It just irks me that everything is “HD” now. The iPhone 4 has FAR superior screen resolution. The screen on the iPad is nice, but calling it HD is a joke. It’s like calling every little thing “epic”, now. When everything is “epic” or “HD”, nothing is.

But that leads into developers and the App Store. Now, I think the App Store is great and that digital distribution is the way to go. Developers get a huge percentage of the consumer’s spent dollar and anyone who wants to gripe that Apple is evil or greedy needs to shut up and look at the conventional retail distribution model before they open their fool mouth. However, the App Store has one critical flaw. That is, the “critics” are the flaw. Reviews on the App Store are meaningless and often typed by troglodytes that seem barely able to operate the equipment on which they’re espousing their opinions. “This is the bomb!!!”, does not constitute a review. Tell me why. Give me high points and low points. Discuss the resolution or how snappy the response is, or how useful the app is. Because as cool as the iPad is as a piece of hardware, it’s worthless without good software.

An aside- stick with reviews from respected sites. Of course, this comes from the guy who’s still angry I wasted a dollar on the craptacular Doodle Jump, when it’s a mini game in the far superior Pocket God which costs the same. Here’s one instance where Nintendo’s Iwata is both right and wrong when he talks about value gaming, but now I AM digressing.

This is a magnificent device for viewing video and consuming media. With the right apps, I can envision this being a remarkable tool for creative media production. I desperately want ColorSplash and other iPhone photography editing apps on this device’s larger screen! (Also, the Constitution [U.S.] and Library of Congress Virtual Tour apps, as well as my bank.)

My friend Tony Brown of the Armed Ape podcast boils his reviews down to some very simple questions, one of which is the money shot: what is it designed to do and how well does it do it? And that’s kind of the rub with this thing. What IS it designed to do? With the right apps and software, this could ALMOST be a laptop replacement. I kid you not, it’s like a ritzy net book. It’s more expensive than your average netbook, but more classy. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is “pretentious”, except I don’t mean for it to have any negative connotation. Since I can’t really be Iron Man, this is the closest I can get to the netbook Tony Stark would use. The construction is substantial and not cheap or chintzy feeling at all- I’m working with something of consequence and I like that. The re-thinking of how the tablet works (as opposed to the abominations that have been Windows based tablets) make this thing usable and a real joy. Apps are creative, and as such it seems to reduce the barriers between man and machine one more layer. When you’re in an app, it simply IS and you simply DO. It’s pretty cool, and you may have to experience it to understand what I’m saying. Apple got that much very, VERY right.

It’s a great e-reader. It’s great for watching movies or tv. It’s great for playing games. Apps written for it are amazing. Oddly enough, it is a god-awful iPod. I love using my iPod or iPhone to listen to podcasts and music while I’m running or at the gym, but this thing is just too big to be a good iPod and the album art it displays looks fuzzy due to the resolution of the pictures on the large screen. Still, while I wouldn’t want to use an iPad as an iPod (getting very tired of typing iEverything), it is one of those functions I don’t think they should remove but desperately need to fix. All it’s really good for right now is playing music in the background while you do something else. But then, maybe that’s it’s perfect function.

So who’s it for? I kid you not, I think this thing is for enterprise. You want something tough, well built, professional and attractive looking, crazy long battery life (especially compared to the competition), capable of doing real work, small and light for packing in carry-on luggage, but capable of giving presentations to clients (now with iPad 2 and HDMI adaptor kits)… The iPad gives you all that, plus calendar, contacts, email… This is a device for the mobile professional. That’s just my non-professional traveler opinion, but I promise you if I were the jet setter type, whisking across country for all manner of meetings and staying in hotel rooms across America, this thing would be my constant companion.

So what are the limiting factors here?

First, the dependence upon iTunes. With the phone, it made sense to me because my phone is super cool, but I’ve never really thought of it as a computer unto itself. The iPad makes me “think different”, to borrow the phrase, about what a computer should be. Being required to tether this device to my home computer seems a crime, and makes me take it slightly less seriously.

Second, if you already have an iPhone, you’re in for a data dilemma. I admitted it earlier and I’ll say so again, I’ve become spoiled by having data at my fingertips whenever I desire. Not having the 3G connection on this iPad makes me sad. But, I’m already paying for data on my phone… And apparently my carrier thinks I should pay an additional $20 a month for tethering… So, they want me to pay again for data access I’m already paying for. I’m not interested in jailbreaking, but my carrier’s arcane data policies might just change my mind, since I’m still kicking myself for getting talked into 2GB a month instead of unlimited right before the Netflix app hit the scene. If I’ve ever felt like kicking my carrier where it hurt, their demand for even more money to get an iPad anywhere access would be the trigger.

Third, and finally, I don’t want to re-purchase apps that I already have on my phone for the iPad, but the iPhone versions on the larger screen are displayed horribly. (Notable exception, Final Fantasy still looks beautiful, even when zoomed in.) I’m willing to pay good money for good apps (curse you, Doodle Jump!), but buying an app twice just hurts. Especially when I’ve already purchased Plants vs. Zombies three times on different platforms. It would be all kinds of slick if apps were simply universal from here on out, and I doubt I’ll purchase many more if they’re not.

So is this thing as magical as Steve Jobs or Jony Ives have said? Well, yes, but slightly less so if you already have a laptop or iPhone 4 or both. The iPad becomes the coolest thing ever that you don’t really need. A very expensive piece of gizmology that I’m struggling to justify spending the money on it that I did. (And I got a clearance 1st generation refurb. Almost $200 off and only now do I think it’s fairly priced.) If I owned desktop computer instead of laptop, or hadn’t already spent the money I have on iPhone-only apps I would likely be far more enamored of it. And I’m an Apple fan; the fact that I don’t want to keep this is shocking to me. It’s not a bad device by any means, and I do think it’s worth the cost because of the quality of the product. But my computers and my phone leave the iPad as a piece of magic in search of a niche because I’ve already got it covered. I’ll still own one someday, just not now. This one’s going back, and I’ll use the money to put a lift kit on my Jeep or something.

But not before typing this entire review in the Notes app on the iPad.