(You're reading all posts by Leander Kahney) Leander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.
About Leander Kahney
Road trips are great for testing your nerves — and your gear.
I took the Kahney family on an epic road trip across the American West this summer, visiting a half-dozen of the United States' most spectacular national parks. We covered thousands of miles, with six of us crammed into a Land Rover LR3 that had overstuffed storage units strapped to its top and back.
We weren't prepared for the vast distances, but we were prepared for the torrential monsoons and the blazing heat. And somehow we never lost our sense of humor: Here's my son at Zion Canyon in Utah, goofing around for a cruel joke pic to send to his grandparents ("We nearly lost one!").
Having the proper gear helped. Here's a rundown of the best camping and outdoors gear we road-tested during our month-long trip.
Land Rover LR3
The Land Rover LR3 is the best car I've ever owned. It's big, fast and very, very capable. My wife hates it. She calls it the “Assholemobile” because it’s the U.K. version of a Hummer, but I love this luxe SUV.
It's a great vehicle for a big family like ours (we have four kids). Ours is a seven-seater, with a third row that folds up from the rear storage area. The cabin is light and airy with huge, widescreen windows. It has command seating, which is great for lording it over other vehicles on the road.
It feels big and safe. It's got gadgets galore, from the crazy-sophisticated, computer-controlled air suspension to a console icebox for keeping your sodas cool. The superior sound system rattles the windows. The big V8 is so quiet you can barely hear it, yet it hauls the beast onto the freeway like a 747 taking off — even fully loaded.
We used to own a Discovery II — it was, alas, a bottomless money pit — but the LR3 is much improved reliability-wise now that Land Rover has come under Ford's ownership. Shocker: Late-model Landys (approximately $12,000 to $25,000 used) are somewhat reliable. Even the car snobs at Jalopnik call it "shockingly good." At 100,000 miles, everything works perfectly except the seat warmers. This is partly thanks to the previous owner, who rushed it to the dealer every time an interior bulb blew. At 100K, the LR3 is just getting broken in.
Primus Firehole 100
A camp stove needs to be reliable and tough. For this trip, we ditched our trusty old Coleman stove for the Primus Firehole 100. We needed a bigger stove that could feed six hungry campers.
The Firehole 100 is pricey ($169.95), but it's bigger than most and solidly built. Its two burners put out 24,000 BTUs — enough to boil two big pots of water in a few minutes. The fuel line is built-in (we've lost detachable fuel lines in the past) and the burner knobs are recessed to stop them from snagging packs. There's a big plastic handle for easy carrying, and the wind breaks are magnetic and double as prep areas. But the thing I liked best? The piezo igniter worked every time!
REI Hobitat 6 tent
REI's Hobitat 6 tent is a spacious car-camping tent that's surprisingly quick and easy to set up and break down. My teenage son managed to put it up on his own the first night working with a feeble flashlight. After that he became very proficient at putting it and pulling it down, though a 10-minute job became a five-minute one with some assistance from his siblings. Once up, the Hobitat was big and sturdy. We never staked it down or used guy wires, but it stood firm in several thunderstorms and didn't leak a drop.
Unfortunately, the Hobitat 6 is no longer available, but REI's Kingdom 6 ($439) is very similar.
Jacaru Summer Breeze hat
My mother brought me Jacaru's Summer Breeze hat as a gift during a trip to Australia. I didn't like it at first — it's too cowboy — but over the years it's grown on me. It's proven perfect for almost every outdoor occasion, from grueling hikes to boozy afternoon naps after a day swilling the old amber nectar by the river. It's pretty lightweight and its wide brim is good for keeping the sun's rays off my pasty British skin.
Made of cowhide and PVC mesh, it's nearly indestructible. It's been trampled, chucked and swept down the river, but it shows few signs of wear. The Jacaru Summer Breeze hat is available by mail order for $69.00 AUD (about $64).
Waze maps app
At one point during our trip, Apple's Map app sent us 100 miles down a backroad only to have us do a U-turn at a gas station and go back exactly the way we had come. Enraged, I immediately downloaded Waze, a reliable mapping app that includes a killer feature — crowd-sourced traffic alerts.
The free Waze app (available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone) allows other drivers in the area to report things like police, accidents, stopped cars and traffic jams. I found it spooky reliable. The app beeped and chirped whenever we approached a speed trap or a vehicle stopped on the shoulder. There were no false positives and directions were solid and reliable. Waze even has a ton of features I didn't use, like crowdsourced cheap gas alerts and the ability to share drive times with contacts. The only thing I don't like is the cartoony icons.
Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir
Camelbak might make the best bottles, but the best hydration packs are now made by Osprey. We had a trio of 3.0-liter Osprey Hydraulics Reservoirs ($36) for our hikes, and they proved reliable lifesavers.
The Osprey bladders have a stiff backing plate and rigid carrying handles, which makes filling and handling them easier than other bladders. They slipped easily into and out of our backpacks, and didn’t flop everywhere when being filled. The large cap also helped (and the oversize opening made cleaning and drying a snap). The bite valve works better than Camelbak's design, and the lockout is easy to use.
Camelbak Eddy bottle
After years of drinking out of squeezy cycling bottles during exercise, I really fell for Camelbak's Eddy bottle. Unlike cycling bottles, you don't have to tilt your head back to drink: You just bite on the Eddy's silicon valve and suck up water via the internal straw. There are no spills or side squirts and you can gulp down gallons at a time.
The Eddy is a well-designed water bottle: It's easier and faster than any I've ever tried. During our hikes, we had several Eddys to supplement our hydration packs. They proved durable and reliable. They're easy to refill, fit in most car cup holders, and have a handy carrying carabiner loop built into their lids. The bite valve is exposed and got dusty on hikes, but at $16, the Eddy can't be beat for hiking, trips to the gym or everyday drinking. I even water the houseplants with it.
100 percent free of BPA and BPS, the Eddy bottle comes in a range of colors, materials and sizes, from 400ml to 1 liter ($13 to $30).
Old Navy Swim-to-Street shorts
Dirt-cheap and lightweight, Old Navy's Swim-to-Street shorts are my new favorite summer attire. They're absolutely perfect for baking-hot weather.
Made of a 70/30 cotton/nylon mixture, the shorts dry out in no time. That makes them great for hiking rivers or swimming in lakes; they're dry long before you get back to the car. They have enough pockets to carry money, phone and keys, and are easy to wash in the sink and hang over a balcony to dry. $12 on sale.
Alite Mantis Chair
Alite's Mantis Chair is a lightweight, collapsible camp chair that's easy to transport and easy to sit in. It's made from elasticated aluminum tent poles, with four little legs that make the seat quite firm and sturdy. Its large nylon seat is surprisingly comfy for long periods of time.
The Mantis is easily dismantled and stuffed into the bottom of a day pack. It weighs just 1.6 pounds but will support up to 250 pounds. At $120 list, it's not cheap — but we picked up a broken one (which I repaired) at REI's semi-annual garage sale.
It goes without saying we took our iPhones with us everywhere. They were perfect travel companions, great for capturing family photos as well as wildlife — and sometimes both at once.
Photos: Kahney family archives and Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
SAN FRANCISCO — The iPhone has changed the way we do everything, from finding a date to finding a meal. Now it’s about to change the way innovative hardware gets made.
With smartphones manufactured in such massive quantities, basic components like chips and batteries have become dirt cheap. Smartphones also allow hardware to be dumber by providing processing power and a big screen. Add 3-D printers (which ease prototyping), crowdfunding (which has shaken up financing) and Github (for sharing software), and you’ve got a smartphone-fueled manufacturing revolution in the making.
“It’s the cellphone peace dividend,” said Brady Forrest, a former venture capitalist who heads up Highway1, an “incubator” for hardware startups that launched a few months ago here in the city’s Mission district. “So many are being made, prices for components are plummeting.”
Google’s keynote presentation at its I/O developer’s conference today offered a revealing picture of the company itself: meandering, unfocused, copycat and just a little bit evil.
The two-hours-plus keynote had a lot of everything, from a new version of Android to new phones, smartwatches, TVs, cars, Chromebooks and big data — but much of it was deja vu from Apple’s WWDC two weeks ago.
Purple Mac Pro Hackintosh
Unlike Apple's newest Mac Pro, which looks like a trashcan, this replica 2013 Mac Pro is made out of an actual trash can. It even comes with a matching toilet brush.
Purple Mac Pro Hackintosh, back view
Made by hacker JuanLobo, the replica is quite capable, boasting outputs for HDMI (three), USB, Ethernet, DVI and digital audio.
Purple Mac Pro Hackintosh, the guts
It was hard work getting all the components to fit inside the trashcan. The fan cooling the graphics card had to removed and flipped over. Another challenge was squeezing in the special power supply.
Purple Mac Pro Hackintosh, custom 3D base
To make everything fit, JuanLobo created a 3D model of Mac Pro's base. "It provided another 30mm of space that was desperately needed," he wrote on the project description.
The actual trashcan
This is the $53 Lunar Waste Bin used to build the replica Mac Pro.
Water-cooled PowerMac G5
This is a water-cooled PowerMac G5. "I've always loved the style of the PowerMac G5 enclosure," wrote it's creator, MrAhlefeld.
The original PowerMac G5 case
"I've sourced a PowerMac G5 from a local MAC shop in my city," said MrAhlefeld. "It was dirt cheap, cause one of the handles on the to was bend out of shape."
PowerMac G5, filling the coolant
"I will be using some of my old parts as I love my Eheim 1048 pump, just can't beat it at those noise levels," explained MrAhlefeld.
PowerMac G5, the cooling system
The coolant loop includes three beefy fans to dissipate heat. The original G5 ran so hot it had nine fans.
The HackinBeast tower
In September 2012, the HackinBeast was one of the fastest Macs on the planet with a whopping GeekBench score of 36,918.
Based on a pair of Intel Xeon X5690 CPUs, the machine’s total cost was $4,500. That’s less than half of an equivalent 2012 Mac Pro, which would have cost more than $10,000 and topped out with a Geeekbench score of 25,000.
Cooling the HackinBeast
Here's the beast's crazy cooling system. It's loaded with LIQ-702 Liquid Coolant (UV Green).
The HackinBeast's logo. “It took me from January 2012 to Sept 2012 (a total of 9 months); the same amount of time it takes to have a child,” wrote its maker, PunkNugget.
This is a mini G5, approximately half the size of the original. It was hacked down to size by prolific hacker neilhart. "This has been four months of 'fun' and I end up with a high performance machine that runs with the best," he wrote.
Hackintosh mini server
This Mac mini case has been updated with up-to-date components.
With a Star Wars aesthetic, the G4 Stormtrooper Haswell has been updated with a speedy 17 processor. Painting the case was a lot of work. "I sanded all the parts, applied a coat of primer, sanded down, applied a second coat, painted it in black and white (two layers), sanded with steel wool, and finally applied three layers of varnish," said its creator, antonvodenitcharov.
G4 Stormtrooper, open
The G4 Stormtrooper is made for audio work. " I decided to built my dream Hackintosh," said antonvodenitcharov.
iMac G4 Hackintosh
Another iconic Mac, the iMac G4, gets an update from an Intel NUC mini-PC. "The project turned out great, and works terrific in early testing," wrote its creator, ersterhernd.
The Cube's tiny cooling loop
This is the cooling loop for the water-cooled Cube.
Powermac G4 Hackintosh_
"I got excited by the idea that i could have a crazy powerful machine in ANY case I wanted," wrote modder rayd. "So naturally I picked the best looking case ever to be made; the Powermac G4 MDD." The Powermac G4 MDD runs OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Not too shabby!
Brix Pro Hackintosh
"Extremely small form factor micro PC kits are gaining steam," writes Tony of TonyMacX86. "Since the Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) was launched, many users have started using them as HTPCs, and even full desktop replacements."
Brix Pro Hackintosh Mini PC
Tony built his tiny Hackintosh from a Gigabyte Brix Pro mini-PC.
Hackintosh in an Xbox
There's no accounting for some people's taste. This modified Xbox 360 is based on a low-power Celeron processor. It's no speed demon, but serves well as a Mac-based media PC. "The idea was to make a small, cheap but yet capable machine, mainly intended for usage under a TV set," said its creator dj_aris.
These are the computers Apple never built, and never will — a water-cooled Cube; a teeny-tiny G5; a faux Mac Pro in a trash can.
Oh wait. Apple did the trash can, but not a genuine rubbish bin with a matching toilet brush, like the purple beauty in the Hackintosh gallery above.
These homemade Macs, built from non-Apple hardware, come in a thousand different shapes and sizes, built by legions of dedicated, ingenious hackers. In the nine years since Apple switched to Intel processors, a DIY subculture dedicated to building alternative Mac hardware has steadily grown. It’s not a strictly legal endeavor — Apple’s EULA forbids OS X from running on non-Apple hardware — but Cupertino turns a blind eye to hobbyists.
“You know what? We’ve never gotten anything from Apple other than a few anonymous employees asking for help :),” said Tony, who runs Hackintosh website tonymacx86.com, in an email to Cult of Mac. “It’s clear that tonymacx86.com doesn’t sell hardware. I would think that they’d understand that we are promoting the purchase of OS X and Apple peripherals and laptops, and have zero tolerance for piracy.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Victor Broido has an enviable lifestyle. He lives and works 200 yards from a sun-kissed beach. He often kitesurfs before work. Sometimes he surfs during work.
“It was my dream, as a kid, to surf for an hour before going to the office,” Broido said. “That’s my life. It’s happening right now.”
You might want to punch Broido in the face upon hearing this, but he’s the nicest, most self-deprecating guy. You can’t begrudge him anything. Plus, he worked to attain this way of life.
Broido and his colleagues run DigiDNA, an eight-person company based in Geneva, Switzerland, with a satellite office in Geraldton, a small city in remote Western Australia with a reputation for world-class water sports.
DigiDNA is one of thousands of small, independent software developers spawned by the mobile revolution. In 2013, Apple’s App Store revenues topped $10 billion, and a lot of that money flowed to small startups. There are small indies in every category, from games to databases. Lots of them flocked to San Francisco last week for Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. DigiDNA was a gold sponsor of last week’s AltConf, the alternative conference that ran parallel to Apple’s event. (DigiDNA has also sponsored Cult of Mac’s Cultcast in the past.)
SAN FRANCISCO — At Apple’s WWDC developer conference, there are talks about interface design, writing code and fixing bugs.
Across the street at indie spinoff AltConf, the talks are concerned with spying on users and making choices between good and evil.
“We have had a hand in creating one of the most dystopian and undesirable societies imaginable,” said Andrew Stone, a veteran programmer who once worked with Steve Jobs, during a talk entitled “What Have We Built Here?”
It’s not the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear at a developer’s conference, but in an age of widespread government spying and cynicism about corporate slogans like “Don’t be evil,” AltConf highlights that programmers are often presented with moral choices. There’s a growing awareness in the coding community that although the activity of programming is benign, what’s created can be used for evil. Take Maciej Cegłowski’s talk last month in Germany, which has been widely discussed on the Web. Cegłowski argues — convincingly — that the utopian ideals of the early internet have been thoroughly corrupted, and the entire industry is “rotten.”
Monday’s fantastic WWDC keynote was the most significant product introduction since Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPad in 2010. But this time, the revolutionary product wasn’t hardware — it was software.
The surprisingly well-executed event demonstrated two things:
1. Steve Jobs’ greatest product wasn’t the iPad or the Macintosh, but Apple itself. He created a company that can very clearly innovate without him.
2. Although there was no new hardware (for now), Apple’s trajectory is clear: It’s getting into some very big things.
The last major keynote — November’s introduction of the iPad Air and Retina mini — was a major international snoozefest.
Utterly devoid of excitement, it served only to stoke the pervasive rumors of Apple’s lack of innovation after Jobs (which aren’t true, but nonetheless).
It’s time for Jony Ive to take over.
Designer Chris Weir is dismissive of products that take a Swiss Army knife approach to features. He thinks a speaker should be a speaker — and nothing else.
“It’s a speaker, not a speakerphone,” he says.
He’s talking about his Packable Wireless Speaker System, a diminutive Bluetooth speaker he designed for Grain Audio, a hot audio startup. Weir resisted all temptation to add a microphone (for phone calls) or the ability to charge phones from its internal battery. It’s just a speaker, and a surprisingly good one at that.
In a market crowded with dozens of unexceptional, me-too products, Grain Audio stands out. Not only are all of its products made of wood (solid walnut, not wood veneer), Grain’s products do one thing, and one thing well: Pump out sound.
At the giant Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the exhibit halls were packed with wireless audio products. It’s all thanks to the mobile revolution. These are the listening devices of the future.
But future speakers and headphones will be quite different, predicted Matthew Paprocki, co-founder of Soundfreaq, a Southern California company that makes a range of critically acclaimed speakers.
Paprocki’s predictions may have implications for Beats, which Apple is rumored to be buying for $3.2 billion. Beats, of course, makes headphones and has a subscription based music streaming service, but Apple’s plans are unclear.
“They could take all the ingredients that Beats has and bake it into a new cake,” Paprocki said.