Tag Archives: Product Review

Santa Raided the Vault!

That’s right; the Vader’s Vault!

Yay for Black Friday sales, but truth be told I do feel a bit guilty about it given the financial issues we’re dealing with. I have faith the lawyer will get us out of them though. ๐Ÿ™‚

What did Santa bring? A copper trim finish Protector Elite saber:

Polishing cloth and thumb drive with extra sound fonts included

The Vader’s Vault store page for the Protector Elite.

This has all the bells and whistles of my Custom Battle Wrap Havoc lightsaber, and a few extras as well. That little window at the front is a LED screen that will display which “sound font” (lightsaber sound and color settings) you’re using, the battery life, a digital “kyber crystal” and a few other goodies, and even play about 6 different games such as Pong (the world’s first video game BTW). Like the Havoc, there’s also a juke box that plays The Imperial March or the Cantina Theme.

That’s the Havoc behind the Protector. If it’s not obvious, the Havoc is made of aircraft grade aluminum while the Protector is chrome steel, AND an inch or so longer. That gives the Protector a fair amount more weight than the Havoc. Both are comparatively light, but you feel it in the wrist more if you use the Protector for an extended period of time. Continued practice will get you in shape though, lol.

Slightly surprisingly, the grip on the hilt is quite comfortable. The squared off sides give it an effectively oval shaped grip which fits in the hand quite nicely. I really shouldn’t be surprised though. When we got to tour Vader’s Vault, the owner said he won’t make a saber unless it’s built well, comfortable, and FUN to use. ๐Ÿ™‚

As with the Havoc, this saber came with the option to have multiple blade colors. You CAN buy a saber with a single blade color at Vader’s Vault, and that’s a cheaper option, but why do it when you can customize to your heart’s content?

No, you’re not seeing things in those last two pics. The blade CAN display and cycle through multiple colors at the same time. The Havoc can do it also, but didn’t come pre-loaded with some of the ‘sound fonts’ that this one did.

The fifth picture is supposed to be with a Yellow blade, but the blades are so bright that Yellow got white washed out by the camera.

Unlike the Protector v1 in the video above, this v2 model will let the “seismic charge” and power button light up in whatever color you have the blade set to display, even if it’s a multi-color like in the last two pictures.

As a trade-off, I did give my Mace Windu Hasbro Black Series saber to my cousin-in-law’s son as a Christmas present. I have to admit, I’ll miss it strictly for the potential collector’s value, but it was worth it to see his face light up. We played the whole thing off like in A Christmas Story also. Enough so that for a minute I’m sure he thought he was getting a Red Ryder BB gun, lol.

The better construction and grip on the Vader’s Vault sabers just make it hard to appreciate the Hasbro ones on the same level though. Some day, down the road, I MAY have Vader’s Vault whip me up a custom Mace Windu saber to replace the Hasbro one, but for now I still have Dooku’s saber.

And for those asking WHY Santa would be handing out weapons… Because some people (and Sith) make the naughty list:

FINALLY!!! Scrivener 3 for Windows!

As I’m starting to gear up for more writing, I decided to check yet again to see if the oft promised and never released Scrivener 3 was released for Windows.

IT’S HERE!!!

Not only that, they even kept their word and gave me my upgrade from 1.x for free!

I have to be honest, at this point I’ve just downloaded it and am beginning to work through the tutorial. The only thing new that I’ve seen thus far is the ability to easily insert pictures and videos into your project. I’m not even sure if the videos have to be linked via YouTube or something similar.

Some stuff, as noted in the description I… borrowed from the Scrivener home page has been moved around and “cleaned up”. I’ll see if this ends up to be better organized or not. At this VERY early hour, the two things that I can report are:

  1. That gawdawful, clunky Windows 95 era interface is FINALLY gone
  2. The new version is 64 bit, so it’s a good deal more responsive.

I suspect my previous review will hold true that you can do anything with Office that Scrivener can do. It’s just a question of IF Scrivener has finally made it easier and cleaner to do it with them; one tool instead of 3 or 4.

If you own a copy of 1.x you’re eligible for either a free upgrade or half off depending upon when you bought it, so check it out:

Scrivener for Windows home page at Literature and Latte

Beyond that, I’ll report back in a day or two how things have been going for me.

Sleep Number Bed – How It’s Made & Review

Kind of random I know, but that’s my blog.

This post inspired by our battle with our own bed and Sleep Number’s customer non-service department.

Image from Businesswire.com

As you doubtless guessed from my opening and previous post about sleep quality, I have some real gripes here. I’m going to be fair and talk about the pluses we experienced while we owned the bed also. It’s probably easiest to work through things in a chronological order.

We started out looking for a new bed about 5 1/2 years ago when my back was probably at it’s worst, or at least during one of several truly bad points over the years. The advertised fact that the bed could adjust to conform to the needs of a sleeper, and even that sleeper’s changing sleep needs was a powerful selling point for us. You could make it firmer or softer if you had a physically demanding day, etc…

Resting on the bed at the store, it was just as comfortable as a foam mattress like a Tempur-Pedic, but seemed to adapt and support even better as our sleep numbers were dialed in. And that’s the trick; Sleep Number beds are great when you first buy them.

Purchase is where we hit our first snag or grumble though. When you see the commercials and they say “Only X Dollars”, they’re only talking about only the mattress assembly itself. The base costs more, with an adjustable base potentially more than doubling the cost of the bed. Then there’s the topper that goes on top of the air chambers. The more plush or heat dispersing you go, the price goes up, but the topper is disguised as a different model number. “Oh no, the super plush cooling top? That’s our i12 model, not this i8… It’s much more.”

To be fair, the vast majority of manufacturers of numerous products play the “different model” game. Even with other bed manufacturers though, there’s more of a difference in material construction than with a Sleep Number bed. Many of those beds won’t cost you upwards of $3000 out the door either.

Sleep Number Construction:

Let’s get into how the bed is made so that we can actually start talking about where the real problems begin.

Above is our (former) Sleep Number bed. It was a little over 5 years old when we got rid of it. That is about the shelf life for a poor to middle quality inner-coil spring traditional mattress. The reason we bought this bed though is that it came with a 20 year pro-rated warranty. We figured in the end, we’d come out ahead vs buying 3 or 4 supposedly lesser quality beds over that same time period.

If you notice above, the topper or “pillow top” already looks pretty shabby in terms of holding it’s shape, particularly on the right side. The problem is that the topper is primarily just cheap foam:

It’s got the sleep number logo all over it though, so that must make it high end, right? LOL.

Aside from that foam, there’s about 3/4 of an inch (1.9cm) of not very dense or supportive padding in the upper casing. The problem with the foam is that it loses support without you even realizing it IF you’re only judging it’s condition based on it returning to a normal shape after you get off of it.

As a side note, this is an issue I have with Tempur-Pedic; to get warranty replacement of their mattresses, the foam has to show a full 1 inch (2.4cm) of sag or indentation before they’ll replace it, per some internet sources. Foam, even high quality stuff like Tempur-Pedic uses, loses support well before it shows that kind of sag.

Same problem with our topper there. It looked OK if you unzip it, but NO support. Why does that matter? Because the rest of the bed is a glorified air mattress:

Or in the case of our Queen sized bed, two air mattresses connected via a zipper so there’s no gap in the center. This allows each side of the bed to be adjusted to varying firmness levels independent of the other side. If you’re wondering, the construction there is a combination of cloth and some vinyl-like material. Not much different from a decent quality camping air mattress that you’d buy from a department store.

Needless to say, the potential for leaks is there. Unlike those camping air mattresses, these held pressure pretty well up till our move out here from California. More on that in a minute or so.

Oh and of you’re wondering, YES, that IS just a foam block border around the air mattress, on all four sides. The outer fabric shell is primarily what holds the bed together. NOW, for the sake of being complete, here’s what’s under the air chambers:

First, we have about 3/4 of an inch of more foam to act as padding for the air chambers. THEN we have the bottom of the outer shell, secured to the adjustable base via four bolts anchoring wide plastic hold downs:

As you can see, it’s a fairly simple design overall. The air bags provide the firmness level of each side of the bed, and the topper helps the bed conform to your body and feel softer than a basic air mattress would. The hold downs keep the mattress from going anywhere while the adjustable base is in anything other than a flat position.

The air pump’s hoses hook into the head of the air mattress, and keep the mattresses at the desired setting, at least in theory.

Our Actual Problems:

Aside from the topper’s foam wearing out without us being fully aware of it (the air chamber softness can make this harder to notice than with an all foam mattress), the big problem was with air pressure. Customer (Non) Service as well, as you’re about to read.

Twice in the last 4 months we’ve had my side of the bed alternate between not holding pressure and just slowly being completely random in what it would be. I might go to bed at my ideal sleep number, wake up 2 hours later and have the pressure maxed out, and the next time I wake up, it could be nearly flat. This played hell with my back and neck as well as my already very poor sleep quality.

The first time, we called Sleep Number’s corporate customer service. We got told that we could throw parts blindly at it, OR have somebody come out and diagnose the bed. That would cost $100 though. Cheaper than just guessing and going through a pile of parts, right? We went that route.

It took a week and a half for them to get somebody out. We were stuck on our old inner spring guest bed during that time.

Two young guys that barely look out of high school show up, unzip the topper from the main body and take a quick look at the mattress, looking lost the entire time. They call the same 800 number we did, and talk to corporate. Perhaps unknown to corporate, we can hear the other end of the conversation, and they tell the kids to just label it the air chambers and get on to the next call. They sounded quite annoyed that the kids seemed to want to actually do the diagnosis we paid for.

Unsure what to do at the moment due to fatigue and not knowing how to check the other parts ourselves, we throw up our hands and say “fine”.

Here’s the kicker for this first call: Not only did we get charged $100 for a diagnosis that was nothing more than a blind guess, our 20 year pro-rated discount price for the new air chambers was another $200! Being pro-rated and only 25% of the way through our warranty, that means the parts should have been 75% off. MEANING, Sleep Number prices their air chambers at $800 MSRP.

The replacement parts order was also botched, and when we called back a day or two later, the order had never even been placed. THEN it took almost two weeks for the new air chambers to arrive. Yes, if you’re doing the math, that’s a month without the high priced bed. We also told them we’d install the new parts ourselves (it’s really pretty simple). Another three or four weeks later, Sleep Number has two new guys knocking on our door at the crack of dawn saying they were here to install the new parts we’d ordered.

SO, if we’d waited for them that would have been almost two months with no bed.

We put everything together though, and for a short while everything seemed OK. We figured that MAYBE the fluctuations in air pressure were caused by the pump trying to compensate (poorly) for a previous leak and we were good.

Three months later, we were back exactly where we were before.

THIS time, I spend a couple of days online researching things. YouTube and other review sites have several irate reviews about the pump systems on these beds being complete crap, and Sleep Number allegedly deliberately making them that way so they can sell a steady stream of replacement parts.

The crappy pump in question

Between the cost of the parts last time, realizing finally that the topper is worn out also, and feeling very burnt over the diagnostic fee, we had enough. We figured we’d be paying the same inflated prices for a replacement pump and topper, AND that we’d have NO idea how long before those parts or something else gave out again. That was when we opted to replace instead of repair.

Sleep IQ and Questions of Privacy:

Another thing to consider with a Sleep Number bed is their “Sleep IQ” phone app. First, the app is going to want access to quite a bit of your phone’s system. It’s also not just tracking your sleep via pressure sensors in the pump, it’s reporting that info back to Sleep Number’s computers. It will also pressure you to allow the app to monitor your wi-fi enabled thermostat, “to help avoid you sleeping hot or cold”.

All in all, there’s a ton of data about your sleep habits, sleep schedule, and home energy usage, along with God only knows what else from the other phone permissions, that the app data-mines and reports back to Sleep Number. I guarantee you that info is getting sold to third party marketers.

Since the app also claims to stop snoring by detecting it and elevating the upper portion of the bed, one can assume that the app is also using your phone as a listening device. How else is it going to detect snoring after all? Tossing and turning might be detectable via minor, brief changes in air pressure, but snoring??

Needless to say, we never installed the app. WAY too “Big Brother” for us.

Final Thoughts:

First, let me be fair: Our Sleep Number bed was pretty comfortable when we got it. It really helped with my back. MY big issue with the bed is the lack of long term quality and the piss-poor customer service with the company at the corporate level. When one pays a premium for a product, it’s naturally expected that performance and longevity will above average, ideally well above average.

Most fair, independent review sites will show that the Sleep Number bed is at the top of the charts for long term cost of ownership with beds. Even the custom fitted sheets designed to stay put on the unusual construction and movable base are around $250 for a queen set. Sleep Number is as much in business to sell you parts as they are an actual bed.

As you can see from the pictures above, the bed is really just an air mattress surrounded by foam as well. Nothing that justifies a nearly $4000 price tag for the newest models. In short, in my opinion, not only is the quality not there to justify the price, it’s long term costs are too high, AND the combination of foam and air mattress also make it hard to recognize when some parts are wearing out.

It’s also pretty lousy for sex as well. Too much give, and neither side is intended to support the weight of two people.

Buy ANYTHING else, but save your money here. It’s not worth the aggravation.

The Vader’s Vault Grand Reveal!

Somewhere as the dust was clearing from all the recent madness, my “May the 4th” special order lightsaber came in. It is a “Battle Wrap Havoc” model with some awesome customization:

The above picture is it sitting next to my Hasbro ‘Black Series’ Mace Windu lightsaber for a bit of comparison.

Note the hilt is slimmer; more in keeping with the real world size (diameter) of a sword grip or hilt. It’s also much lighter and better balanced. I *almost* feel like I could fence against a real rapier with it. The hilt length is just long enough to be comfortably used as a one handed or two handed weapon also.

Other Differences:

Here’s what else this lightsaber can do that my two Black Series sabers can only dream about:

Even more realistic blade “activation” and “retraction” with the Plecter Pixel blade

Better sound effects for swings and impacts, including more sensitivity to being swung and actual flash on impact.

Additional SFX and light effects for deflecting blaster fire or force lightning (activated by a second button)

Light up power switch!

15 included Sound Fonts to allow customizing of all the above sounds

The ability to customize the blade’s color for both it’s main color and the clash / deflect effects:

That’s just a small sample there. The installed options included Blue, Teal, Red, Purple, A red and orange mix, Yellow, Orange, and a sort of Sky Blue that’s my favorite thus far. That doesn’t photograph well, but it looks almost identical to this Star Wars: The Old Republic blade color:

It’s a Blue Core War Hero color crystal for you gamers; in an Arn’s Unshielded Lightsaber model hilt w/ Gemini Pulse tuning.

There’s even one option where the blade cycles through all the above colors, which is kind of cool in a bizarre, not lore friendly sort of way. ๐Ÿ˜€

The Sound fonts and blade colors can all be changed on the fly. With the power off, press the second button to access the list of options, then cycle through using the power button. More detailed changes can be made via connecting the saber to a PC and using software to set up in-depth customized profiles.

More Comparisons:

Just to give you an idea of how clunky and unwieldy the other manufacturers can be with lightsabers, here’s my custom havoc next to my original lightsaber shell from Ultrasabers:

Now, the length of the “Fallen LE” shell I’ll give Ultrasabers a pass on. The lightsaber, story-wise, originally belonged to a Lesat Jedi, and Lesats are as big as wookies. Ergo, it makes sense it’d be a nearly a claymore hilt for a human. That thing is thicker than an old police D Cell battery maglite though. The coloring makes it beautiful to look at but it’s unwieldy.

Some day I *may* still finish that saber also, IF I can find a third party that makes electronics that will fit and are better quality than Ultrasbers’ stuff.

Lighting or blade brightness wise, a picture is worth a thousand words:

That’s a completely dark room with the Vader’s Vault saber providing 75% of the illumination. The Havoc was set to purple for a fair comparison against the Hasbro Windu blade. It’s so bright it looks white in the pic. Now that’s Illumination!

LOL

Nuts and Bolts:

Just a quick look at the technical stuff actually. The blade is self contained and can be removed (unlike the Black Series stuff). Similar to the Black Series models, the blade has LED strips running it’s length that allow it to simulate the blade extending or retracting. The main difference is the blade has multicolor LEDs and more of them. The blade plugs into the hilt and is held in place with an allen screw.

The bottom of the blade has a contact plate to allow power to the LEDs:

And the hilt has a couple of contact strips in the socket for it’s side of the power connection:

Irony: The blade plug for my Ultrasabers hilt fits perfectly into the blade socket for the Havoc also, making for great display potential:

Sadly, as it was intended for an older, flashlight type saber setup, the blade plug doesn’t light up at all. Still looks fairly good though. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Official Release Video:

For those who want a more in-depth look at the base model Havoc saber without my fancy emitter shroud, here’s the official release video for the Havoc, direct from Vader’s Vault YouTube channel:

I’m still discovering a few goodies built into the saber and it’s soundfonts. For instance, there’s a ‘jukebox’ option that will make the lightsaber play the cantina theme from A New Hope. When the battery gets low, the saber says “When my patience ends, bad things happen” (a quote from The Old Republic’s Sith Warrior character).

Now all I have to do is find a dueling league since this thing is 100% combat rugged and ready. ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

Spent the Day in the Vault!

The VADER’S VAULT that is!

Yes, that’s right, THE Vader’s Vault; home of some of the best custom made lightsabers on the planet.

So, cool background story… We had to run into Georgia today to take care of some other business. I’d also been gawking longingly at more lightsabers online, and found out that Vader’s Vault “store” (shop really) was only 27 miles away from where we had to go. I talked the spouse into a quick ride with the idea of checking out whatever kind of showroom Vader’s Vault had and asking a few questions.

In short, I wanted to try to get a handle on whether or not Vader’s Vault sabers are actually worth the money. Also get a look at a few sabers as well, I’d hoped. ๐Ÿ˜

What I got was completely unexpected. Instead of a quick look and a few questions answered, we got… the grand tour!

We talked to somebody up front, and they went and got the boss (owner). He came out, gave us a quick run down of the stuff in the showroom and then asked if we’d like a tour.

The showroom included this case full of sabers and saber cases from their history:

That saber up at the top is one of only EIGHT real world copies of the “Twisted Fang” lightsaber available in the Star Wars: The Old Republic game.

A couple of other highlights from the showroom:

Their case of manufactured helmets.

More sabers, emitters and some toys on the bottom shelf. That’s a “mouse” droid in the lower right corner also.

That, unfortunately is all the pictures I got. The rear area of the shop had rooms for wiring work, CNC machining equipment, 3D printers, etc… I didn’t snap any pictures back there though because the owner was lamenting how any time he puts something online, there’s a cheap Chinese knock-off for sale a day or two later. They were also working on one completely new model and some tweaks to existing models (relocated power switches and a few other minor things). I have a sneaking suspicion that we MIGHT see that new model for a May the 4th sale too.

For any readers who may be wondering, I asked about the limited availability of sabers right now. It’s the usual supply chain issues. However, they expect to have a few models back in stock in the next few weeks. I did see them working on a batch of “Revancrist” sabers (Darth Revan’s lightsaber):

Those are one of the few sabers still currently “in stock” also.

One question led to a highlight of the tour also. I asked if their special made sabers with crystal chambers were duel worthy. The big guy brought out a Starkiller and explained in detail:

The cliff notes version is that the hilt itself is strong enough for it. The bracing rods on the chamber are full on steel. HOWEVER, their crystals are a piece of clear quartz which could break or break loose in heavy sparring. So, he advised against using such a saber for more than light to moderate horseplay.

Why quartz? Disney has “cool” ๐Ÿ™„ colored epoxy chunks that they sell for ONLY $30, you say? Well Vader’s Vault sabers have the ability to change blade colors, and the Starkiller will actually shine the same color as the blade into the quartz to make it look like that color Kyber Crystal. It will always match the blade no matter the color.

More importantly (lol) for a couple of moments, I got to hold a $2600 Vader’s Vault masterworks Starkiller in my hand. ๐Ÿ˜ Well, minus it’s outer cover anyway.

We briefly talked about the differences in blades also. Plecter Pixel blades are just as combat worthy as the old LED tubes. Both are polycarbonate, and will eventually break at some point while dueling. The Pixel blade gives a much better and even light quality and is capable of producing effects that an LED “flashlight” type design can’t. All this at a higher price point, of course.

Personally, I’d probably save the Plecter Pixel blade for “show” sabers and use an LED one for dueling. We’re talking $30 vs $130 for a replacement when it finally breaks.

Bottom Line:

Are they worth the price and increased wait time?

I went in a little wary. Half of me was looking to rationalize buying elsewhere. They really are absolutely worth it in my opinion though. Here’s why:

Better Grip, Weight and Balance: The balance on every saber I got to handle was extraordinary. My two black series sabers (Dooku and Mace) and my Ultrasabers “Fallen” saber:

are just plain stout. They’re like wrapping your hands around an old “D Cell” battery Maglite police flashlight. The Count Dooku saber is majorly off balance as well. I got to hold a Vader’s Vault copy of that same saber. The hilt is slimmer, more in line with what a real sword might have, the finish was brighter too. The machining was done so well that it was hard to see where the parts of the hilt actually connected together.

Better Sound Quality: I’ve heard people complain about Ultrasabers and Saberforge being bad in poor quality or muffled sound. My Black Series sabers are fair in this regard. Not great, but fair. Every Vader’s Vault saber I heard sounded like I’d just stepped into one of the movies. Crystal clear quality with sound effects for everything from swings, blade clashes and defected blaster bolts (all of which a plexer pixel blade’s light will respond to also).

Massive Customization: Vader’s Vault has features that Ultrasabers and Saberforge don’t even offer; hilt lighting and illuminated power buttons for starters. Some of their options they don’t advertise on their site. I suspect that has to do with variable costs involved. I saw sabers that were mirror polished, powder coated, weathered, acid etching engraved, inlaid with wood, leather wrapped… you name it.

THIS, I found out today, was done in the owner’s garage when it was just him and his wife. Imagine what they can do now!

Good Company Working Environment and Customer Service: Why is that important? Because even if you don’t care about the workers’ conditions, a happy staff is highly motivated to excel at their job. That means you get a defect free product.

Customer service should be self-explanatory in importance. If you have any doubts about Vader’s Vault though… Keep in mind they COULD have just run me off, or spent a couple minutes answering a few questions and then politely said they had to get back to work. Instead we got treated to an almost hour long tour with Q&A, looks at all their work areas, a demonstration of all a plexer pixel blade can do, peeks at several models in various stages of manufacture or remodel, and even a sneak peek at a pre-production prototype of an upcoming release.

How often do you see that nowadays in ANY sort of business?

Bottom line, you’re going to get a better saber made of higher quality materials and machined to tighter tolerances, better electronics, more bells and whistles, made almost any way you want, and better customer service.

What you’ll get elsewhere is poorly fit together sabers that can’t even hold up to a Disney toy:

Scrivener Update / Rant

What seems like centuries ago, I did a post with some brief impressions of the Scrivener writing software.

Part of my reasons for the earlier review being fairly positive was that buyers were promised a free upgrade to version 3.0. That version has been out for Apple products for some time. It has a MUCH cleaner, more professional looking user interface. Some new features, and 64 bit architecture also, which means performance should be much faster since it call use ALL of a newer PC’s resources.

Well, as it turns out… Literature and Latte has apparently been promising said upgrade for nearly three years now. They’ve failed to meet multiple promised release dates, and have had almost nothing to say on the project. Well, beyond that converting source code from Apple to Windows is HARD! anyway. ๐Ÿ˜ฅ๐Ÿ™„

The irony here is that I was looking for an alternative to M$ Office because I felt I was being ripped off by Microsoft for never being able to reinstall a copy if I have a drive go bad or upgraded. NOW, it looks like L&L has been playing a game of misrepresentation and false advertising of it’s own to boost sales.

Strangely enough, to me anyway, this has divided the user base quite a bit. Some are perfectly happy with more clunky version 1.9 and say that L&L doesn’t owe anybody anything. I’d argue they owe what they advertised and promised to their paying customers.

If you went into a restaurant, and ordered a nice meal, but only got the main course… Your sides and drink were ignored no matter how much you asked when they were coming… Would you STILL pay for the full meal just because the steak was adequate? Would you pay full price for a car without tires and rims just because you like the rest of it, even though you were promised it come with wheels?

In my opinion, this is yet another example of how capitalism has gone off the rails. Fifty years ago, business was done on a handshake, and your word was your bond. NOW, it’s “Screw it, and the contract, I don’t feel like it”.

Whatever happened to ethics and integrity? Oh yeah…

Cynical, and a tiny bit melodramatic? Perhaps, but nothing is made worth a damned anymore, and businesses pull things like L&L did all the time also.

End of rant though.

Bottom line, AT BEST I can only be neutral on recommending Scrivener anymore. It has a learning curve as bad as MS Office, and is only better organized if you don’t understand how MS Office interconnects nowadays. The price is better however. If you’re using a PC, you just have to be OK with being lied to and getting less than you paid for.

Personally, I’m starting to look into the alternatives to Scrivener, like The Novel Factory. We work too hard for what little we have here to be cheated by companies.

Updated Cookware Review

A while back, I did a review of Le Creuset cookware, and some of the more affordable copies of that cookware. Overall, my experience up till that point had been that the clones seemed to hold up well, and would probably be fine with a little bit of proper care. Well, when I did our anniversary dinner a couple weeks ago, I found out different.

Those who saw the post may recall that after cooking the steaks low and slow on the smoker, I put them into a hot pan on the stove top to give them a quick sear.

In fact, it was the pan in the above picture. I took a better look at it a day or so ago, and here’s what I noticed:

The heat had caused stress fractures in the ceramic coating. Apparently they should have included a warning that said “Don’t use with the stove burner on high”.

Admittedly, I’ve had good luck with the other 3 off brand pans, but I’ve never used them on more than medium heat. Well, live and learn… You do indeed get what you pay for.

This particular pan was a Crock Pot brand product by the way.

Why Air Fryers Are AWESOME

It’s Meals Monday here, and today I’m going to tell you about one of the greatest kitchen small appliances ever; Air Fryers.

I’d wager half of you have one already anyway, but for those who don’t, here’s the deal: An “Air Fryer” is actually a high air flow convection oven. It cooks by moving hot air around the food. The effect really is like the food had been cooked in an oil fryer.

The big difference though is that you eliminate all the grease and a ton of the carbs and calories via eliminating the oil. French fries supposedly see a 70% reduction there. I have no way to test that, BUT, I can tell you that they come out every bit as crispy as with an oil fryer, taste lighter, and you actually get more potato flavor using an air fryer.

Chicken strips or nuggets also turn out amazing. Just about anything you toast, bake or fry can be done in an air fryer.

Time wise they’re slower than a microwave, but faster than an oven. The above mentioned fries or chicken strips will take about 10 minutes, as an example. And without any oil to clean up and throw out, which is the worst part of owning an oil fryer.

I was an early adaptor here (yay hipster, LOL). I saw one of the first late night infomercials on them and had to have one. ๐Ÿ˜€ We’ve bought three at this point, only because we keep looking for bigger ones. Our current one is the newer Air Fryer Oven:

Now we finally have one that can cook the chicken and the fries at the same time. ๐Ÿ˜€ That’s the exact model we have also. One of these days I have to try the rotisserie for it and see what I can do.

The Couple of Negatives:

There are only a couple here. First is that the infomercials will show you how you can even cook steaks and other cuts of meat. True, BUT as it’s cooking with hot air, you don’t get any of that extra flavor that you would cooking on a real grill.

The second is that of you’re cooking something fairly thick, you’ll have to go for a lower temperature and cook slowly so that the heat makes it to the center without drying out the surface, OR get creative. With Brats or Italian Sausage, for example, I microwave them for 1 minute first to help cook the center, then air fry them till they’ve got a nice moderate char on the casing.

Air circulation is the last thing. With a standard air fryer, you’ll have to toss the fries, onion rings, or what ever once or twice during cooking to keep them cooking evenly. Just pretend you’re a TV chef flipping an egg with the pan. ๐Ÿ˜€

The air fryer oven does fairly well with circulation unless you have all the racks full, then the top will cook much faster than the bottom rack, and you’ll want to rotate the racks. The company doesn’t give you any kind of a handle for that either. I just grab the hot rack with a pair of tongs. Works fine.

Overall, these things are a wonderful invention. The only kitchen gadget I love more is my KitchenAid stand mixer. They speed up dinner, get food nice and crispy, and can really cut back on carbs and calories. You can almost pretend french fries and tater tots are healthy food. LOL. Fish sticks and breaded fillets really do become healthy, with less grease and more natural flavor, but the same crispy breading as if they were fried. If you can afford the $75 or so, it’s worth picking one up… unless you’re on a raw food diet. ๐Ÿ˜€

As always, this review is totally my own honest opinion also. I get NO incentives of any kind from anyone when I occasionally discuss a product here.

Le Creuset Style Cookware Review

A slight spin on my “Meals Monday” given the current housing situation here… Even if I had all my kitchenware, I’m still left with no grilling allowed at the apartment and only a cheap electric stove to cook on. We’ll be improvising here for a while with Meals Mondays.

So let’s get to it… I’m sure some of you have seen the fancy cookware on the Food Network and cooking shows elsewhere. Vitrified porcelain coated cast iron that always looks so shiny and new. What are the pluses and minuses? Is it worth the money? Are there alternatives? Silk is here with answers! ๐Ÿ™‚

The premiere brand for this kind of cookware is Le Creuset. They’ve been largely the only manufacturer for ages. Their stuff is world class, last a lifetime and pass it on to your kids quality (barring stupid level abuse). It’s also world class expensive. My 5.5 quart dutch oven is currently on sale for $288 (this is NOT stuff you buy at Walmart).

So is it worth it? If you’re like me and prefer things that last, instead of replacing things every couple of years, it probably is. As said, these will last forever under normal use.

HEAT: A Plus and Minus

This is probably the biggest determiner of if this type of cookware is right for a meal you’re making. Between the cast iron construction and the heavy lids, Le Creuset cookware is famous for retaining heat AND heating evenly. People say the dutch oven is great for baking bread because of that. NOW, if you’re making a recipe that calls for something to be cooked on high for a time and then reduce heat… You’re going to have problems.

My best example here is trying to do a one pan breakfast meal. Cook the meat on a higher temperature, then try to turn down the heat so I don’t flash fry the eggs next… Not much luck.

Sometimes it’s simply a question of making the heat retention work for you. Turn down a soup early, even pull it off the stove and it’s going to keep the soup nice and hot.

If you need exact temperature control and to be able to vary it though, some sort of aluminum cookware is probably best. Get something coated though, as aluminum has been linked to various health issues.

A True Heavyweight:

Being ceramic coated cast iron, this type of cookware is gawawful heavy. The dutch oven is 11.5 pounds all by itself. Think of the money you can save on gym memberships though, LOL. Seriously though, a few people will find the weight factor to be off-putting.

Nonstick??

SORT OF… The vitrified porcelain coating is reasonably stick resistant and is as good as most nonstick pans if you use a good coating of cooking spray like Pam. A little olive oil in the pan works fairly well also. I haven’t gotten to experiment yet with how well something like butter or lard work.

Durable?

Vitrified porcelain is specially made, and a good bit more durable than normal porcelain. You’re supposed to be able to use metal cooking utensils with no issues. I’m still careful here myself however.

Stain Resistant?

Well, not perfectly so. Stains will seem to sink into the porcelain, BUT any time they have, I’ve been able to scrub them out with some liquid cleanser. Barkeeper’s Friend FTW. ๐Ÿ™‚ Long story short, food will not just slide right out of your pan like it was a TV infomerical, and it will take a little work sometimes to keep the pans looking brand new.

Alternatives?

Le Creuset had a virtual monopoly on this style of cookware since 1925. There are several brands out there now making slightly similar stuff with ceramic or porcelain exteriors, but SOMETIMES the interior is still bare cast iron. Personally, I **HATE** trying to season cast iron too.

The best alternative I’ve found is made by Crock-Pot. They make pots in very similar sizes to Le Creuset, but are typically 1/3 the price. Take a look at the 5 quart dutch oven on Amazon for example. Normally $90 vs $360 normal price for the Le Creuset, and currently on sale for $52. They also do skillets and frying pans.

The frying pan I did my breakfast pizza post in is a Crock Pot pan:

I have three other Crock Pot brand pans also:

The difference between the “knock offs” and the Le Creuset is that Crock Pot and others use a porcelain enamel coating that’s probably not quite on par with Le Creuset’s vitrified porcelain process. While still durable, it’s probably not QUITE as abuse tolerant as Le Creuset’s vitrified porcelain coating. It’s every bit as easy to clean up, etc… otherwise however.

“Vitrified porcelain tiles are created by combining clay with other elements such as quartz, silica or feldspar under incredibly high temperatures. The vitrification process creates porcelain tiles that contain a glass substrate. The glass substrate gives the tiles a sleek appearance, provides added strength and makes the tiles water and scratch resistant. Vitrified porcelain tiles do not need to be re-sealed or glazed.”

That per Wikipedia, and while the entry was referencing tiles for counters, floors and showers, the process is essentially the same with the porcelain coating.

Is it worth the extra money for the Le Creuset? In my opinion, probably not UNLESS you won’t miss the extra money AND you tend to be rough on your cookware. I operate under the philosophy of “take care of your stuff and it’ll take care of you”. Going by that, AND what I’ve seen of the Crock Pot cookware I have, I expect it to last just as long as the Le Creuset.

While Le Creuset is still a better product, alot of that big price difference seems to be just for the name. Common with luxury goods.

My 3 quart Cuisinart brand pot

Cuisinart also makes some products along these lines, as you can see from the picture above. Same as Crock Pot stuff but a bit more pricey.

My Verdict:

While not ideal for every coking situation, this style of cookware is durable, long lasting, heats evenly and cleans up well. The inexpensive brands should last a lifetime with a modest amount of care. Le Creuset is even more rugged yet, but comes with a premium price tag.

If you’re fed up with throwing out cookware every few years because the non-stick surfaces have decayed, and you can’t get the stains off the bottom, etc… This IS worth it. Pay a bit more, take care of it, and you should never have to replace it.

I love mine enough that they were among the few items we did NOT trust to the movers on the trip to Tennessee.