Fr. Matthew Cashmore

Deacon in the Church of England. Trustee SPCK. Father, husband, son. Digital media & publishing consultant.

Category: reviews (page 1 of 2)

Reviews for 2012

After being prodded on Twitter, and reminded on Facebook that there’s been an ‘unacceptable lull’ in my reviews I’ve started putting the list together for 2012 reviews. So far I have:

I want to do a lot more than that this year – especially when I head down to the Pyrenees in September – but I’d really like your feedback on what you’d like to see reviewed. So please… take a moment and use the form below to make some suggestions and I’ll get right on it.

I’ve already started to gather recipes to film over on Horizons – but if you’ve got something you’d like to try let me know using the form below.

Cooking videos planned

  • Frittata
  • Sausage Casserole
  • Provincial Fish Stew
  • Sardines and Spinach
  • Paella
  • Scallop and Chorizo Kebabs
  • Eggy cheese sandwich

Let me know what you'd like me to review.

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Suggestions so far:

  • Spearmint Rhino (I’m going to say no here)
  • Bike luggage (will do a comparison I think – soft vs hard, different types of hard)
  • Brick lane bagel shop (no idea, but okay why not)
  • Tucano Thermal Aprons
  • France (what the whole country?)
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Dreaded time of year…

…. the time has come to renew the bike insurance. Hate it. Once again I’ve spent hours going through quotes and trying to figure out which policy is best – I think the thing that winds me up the most (other than making a bunch of phone calls and filling out blasted web forms) is figuring out which policy has which benefits. Does it have breakdown cover? Will it actually cover my bike for everything I need? and on and on and on…..

The reason I’m writing this post is because I’ve found a new insurance company and they’re actually pretty good – I’d even go as far as to say they rock. MCE Insurance seem to cover pretty much everything (even quad insurance should I decide I need a quad…. well I need a quad it’s more a case of persuading Mrs Cashmore I need a quad) – the breakdown cover is supplied by RAC and the online forms (for once) were easy and quick to fill out. Right, enough gushing, I just thought I’d point them out and you can take things from here.

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Asus – a couple of months of ownership

I’ve had the Eee PC (701) now for a few months and have been using it as my primary machine whilst away and my secondary machine at home.

I must admit I’ve had a few issues with it. I’ve had to return it to factory defaults (keep hitting F9 at start up) about 5 times, all down to the fact that I got irritated by the basic set up and tried to install new and wonderful applications and advanced user interfaces. Fortunately all my files and documents are kept on the 8gb SD card slapped in the side, so I didn’t lose anything, but the re-install and then update of the system takes an hour or two – it can quite happily be done on the road – but if you want the updates you need a pretty hefty Internet Connection. I did manage to do it in Starbucks whilst away but it cost me about 20 GBP in coffee to sit there for two hours!

This has actually given me confidence in the kit, unlike most other laptop software setups, if it dies, you can just hammer F9 until it takes it back to the simple set up it came with out of the box – and to be frank – that’s enough to email, blog, skype, sort out my photos etc.

However, there is no way this machine can be used as your primary set up, I’ve had no luck sourcing a decent / simple video editor that has worked consistently, at least, no editor that can pull the DV files off my camcorder as they’re downloaded and then allow me to edit them (using MiniDV). You can combine about three bits of software to do this, but none of them are very good and you will end up getting very frustrated. The simple solution to this is to install Ubuntu and run a better application – combine this with buying a new SD based camcorder and you’d be laughing – of course – you’d need a little bigger internal memory too – the 4gb is quite limiting – even if you are just using it for the system and no actual file storage.

I’ve now had a good play with the new 900 units with a 20gb internal drive – much easier to install new apps and OS – the screen is much better, and it’s just more flexible all round. But at over 350gbp it’s into the territory of other probably better ultra light laptops, and frankly, whilst I can almost afford to lose 200gbp if the asus doesn’t stand up to the journey – 350gbp is somehow, more difficult.

If you accept it’s limitations in order to have a fantastically small, light, bomb proof machine; it’s worth it’s weight in gold. If you desperately need video editing, or advanced photo editing, it’s probably not for you, and perhaps you should have a look at the myriad of new ultra portables (for a little more cash) coming out of everyone from Apple to Dell.

There’s a good round up of the products available over at CNET

it’s a little out of date now and there are many more on the market – but it’s a good place to start.

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The new poncho

Posted by ShoZu

Uploaded from South Wales, where I discovered that a simple rip stop nylon poncho packs up smaller than the army issue job, and even fits me!

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PocketComms

PocketComms Fanned out with pouchNo speaky….

Not a video review this time, unusual for us I know, however I’ve just got hold of a really nice piece of kit that may well prove more valuable than mine and Matt’s (failed) Russian language (Svetlana please forgive us….) course we had planned to do for the trip – I finished having trouble speaking English let alone Russian.

It was a gift ‘to help you on your trip’ said the voice. It was a small pouch with a belt loop – a bit like an ammo pouch. Guns – I hope not? I dread to think where they think we’re going. Anyway looking at the pouch I wondered what it contained fearing the worst but I was pleasantly surprised…

It contained a small book, hinged in one corner. Between the covers were a number of pages of plastic paper featuring lots of little cartoon pictures of everyday and not so everyday things and events. It’s called a Pocket Comms book and the neat little hinge allows the pages to be fanned out to see many pictures at once. It’s been developed by an ex-army intelligence guy who came up with the idea whilst overseas and is based on pictures he used to use when communicating with locals. This developed into the book. Each page is double sided and the book contains hundreds of little cartoon drawings covering any number of situations that you might want to talk to someone about but would find it hard to because you both didn’t speak the same language. All the cartoons are grouped according into categories and each page edge is colour coded so red is used for emergency situations and so on. It’s a really clever idea and at about £8 for the basic book well worth the money. Looking at the website The Police have run a trial using it and there’s even a special Military spec one for the boys and girls overseas.

I’ve spent the morning thinking about things I might want to say and so far I’ve not found anything that I can’t use this book to say for me and I’m not a person of few words so I’m pretty impressed. There are similar things out there that have been more widely used and some of them are free, however in my opinion this really is a gem for the price, size and ease of use – yes you can print a pdf but to make is any good you’ll have to laminate it and all that takes time so why not just get one done for you? Of course the real test is taking it to Russia – although certain aspects of ‘youth culture’ means it may come in handy closer to home. However I think it will serve the 3 of us well on the trip and I’ll report on it’s usefulness upon our return.

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Coolabah Swag bag – the wet weather test

As I couldn’t go camping with Mrs Cashmore this weekend – I decided to take advantage of the hideous weather to give the swag a good wet test.

First of all I wanted to play around with configurations to keep as much of the water off the bag as possible – that resulted in this set up:

Bottom of swag under basha

A simple rip-stop nylon basha combined with a ground sheet and a couple of poles. A simple solution that for about six hours in moderate winds kept 99% of the rain off the canvas.

However, I then left the swag, and having not tied the ropes down properly, the basha came lose and exposed the swag to the full fury of a coastal South Wales storm. Got up this morning to a small water problem. I’ve called this the second ‘test’, when in fact it was my stupidity forcing one.

Good stuff wet canvas

The canvas inside was dry, as was my sleeping bag and mat. I got in and gave the canvas a good prodding. Nothing got through. Must admit I was surprised and very impressed.

I then rolled the swag up, and left it in the back of the car for about six hours for the journey home. Just unrolled it and the water has started to seep inside. Not a great result, but proof if I needed it that I have to ensure that the bag just doesn’t get this wet – either by avoiding camping in the worst weather on the road – or by ensuring I get the basha set up properly and securely.

On a more successful note…. the poncho works!

Matt in Poncho

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Nikwax – waterproofing for the journey

A little while ago we met a very nice chap called Michael Field at the Daily Telegraph Adventure Travel Show – we had a good talk to him and he told us the best way to keep ourselves dry on the road.

After we got back Michael dropped us a line and very kindly offered to send us some bits and pieces to help us get our kit ready. I must be honest I’ve never really believed in after-market waterproofing – we’ve all been there and bought the sprays and the liquids and everything in-between from the camping shop – so when I put the jacket in the wash this weekend I wasn’t holding out much hope.

My jacket is three years old, it’s never been washed and to be totally frank it was not really very waterproof around the tummy area. I’ve always put that down to the way my tummy pushes against the front and desperately tries to escape 🙂

So into the washing machine the jacket went, following the instructions on the tech wash bottle – 30 degree hand wash cycle – out it came dripping wet and not very much cleaner than before – but Michael had warned me – use the tech wash first otherwise the waterproof wont work.

Given the beautiful weather this weekend it was dry in a couple of hours, so went back in on a 40 degree wash, gentle cycle, slow spin with the waterproof liquid. To cut a long story short, it took six hours in total to wash the jacket, dry it, wash it again and leave it dry once more. It’s not a task I’d do in anything but the best of weather.

Allowing for British weather I didn’t have to wait long to test the application. This morning it was throwing it down, a perfect opportunity to see in action the wonder proofing that Michael had promised. I rode for an hour in the rain, constant but not heavy, fully expecting to have to change my top when I got into work.

Arriving in west London I noticed something very odd, the water, as it was hitting my jacket was beading, gathering in little balls before running off all together. It’s not 100% efficient but most of the water simply wasn’t staying on the fabric. Getting into the office I pulled the jacket off to discover no wet spot – nothing at all – bone dry underneath.

These two products form the basis of the Nikwax range, and frankly if everything else they produce works as well as these two, then it’s a name I’ll trust in the future.

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Coolabah Swag Bag Review

Choosing a tent to take overland is never an easy task, do you go for weight? What about material? Cost? All very important questions, but ultimately I think it boils down to how you work with the tent and how it works for you in return.

I know, slightly strange to be talking about forming some sort of bond with something as silly as a tent, but after all this small, insubstantial shelter is going to be your home for the next goodness knows how long, why not take some care in what you chose? Why not take into account how you feel about your home?

Coolabah Swag BagWith that in mind may I introduce the first tent that has made me feel something about how it’s put together – the Coolabah swag bag from Burke and Wills – distributed in this country by www.theaussieshop.co.uk

It’s completely made of canvas, both it’s best and worst point. I remember when I was a kid camping with my dad, a massive six person tent that took up the entire rear of the car, and took about a week to put up. It smelt bad when it rained, if it rained for more than a couple of hours you’d get a fine mist working its way through the material. But it seems even with the oldest tent material in the world we can have a bit of an update.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but it’s more ‘waxy’ and even though I’m yet to test it in the wet I can quite believe the claim from Burke and Wills that once it’s been wet, the seams expand and it’ll deal with everything but the worst of the weather. They suggest before you use it you take it out and give it a good hosing. Makes sense.

It’s certainly a ‘choice’, once I’d decided that I didn’t want to take a tent that took a lot of time to put up, and decided that I didn’t need a tent that I could get changed in etc, then the one man options became more sensible, the problems as ever boiled down to how you get in and out when it’s raining and where do you sit if it rains.

I’ve looked at a lot of one and two man tents, but all the modern ones just seem to be far to complicated. I’ve been looking for something that I can pull off the back of the bike un-roll and get in – complete with sleeping mat and bag. With the Coolabah I’ve finally found it. It ships with a foam mattress that frankly I’d be comfortable with as my main bed, but practically it’s just too big and doesn’t roll to a sensible size. I’ve now replaced that with my Exped Downmat (from Traveldri-Plus) and my sleeping bag – it now rolls up to half the size but it’s still fairly wide. If you’re on a narrow bike with no panniers you may struggle to find a way to fit it on. My bike, just like me, is quite wide and with 54 litre panniers on either side this isn’t going to cause me a problem.

Top entranceThe attention to detail is superb. As you get into the tent through the very accessible top door and put your head on the pillow you notice immediately how well put together it is, how close all the stitching is and how good the material is. I was very impressed when I saw a handy little loop for my torch and a series of pockets just above my shoulder for those little things like phones and glasses. I was slightly concerned about storage for things like my camera, but actually there’s so much room down by your feet that I stowed both my stills and video camera there without noticing them during the night.

There’s enough space inside to comfortably move around during the night and even change your undies and put some trousers on, but putting a top on is a bit difficult and you’ll need to poke your head out to achieve the more space conscious dressing activities.

The design is perfect, rather than the usual crawling into your tent you use a door on the top of the tent, very coffin like. In reality this means you can lie down and look out at the stars, either directly or through the mosquito net before pulling the canvas door over your head for a totally dark night. There is a door at the very end you can crawl through – but frankly – I don’t fit – I do like the fact you can leave the canvas on the end open with the net down however.

Coolabah swag bag on back of bikeIn summary, a great tent, very well made and once you’ve pulled out the supplied foam mattress and replaced it with a more sensible version just right for putting up each night very quickly. The only issues are with the size once rolled up – if you can deal with that and can find a sensible way to cover yourself in the rain (think tarp and poles off your bike) then go for it.

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Camping Espresso Review

Some people may say this is a luxury – but frankly there is nothing worse than waking up in a cold tent on a cold morning to be greeted by instant coffee or stale tea. The easy way to solve this problem? A camping espresso machine of course! Perfect for that first thing wake-me-up.

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Trangia Review

Continuing the series of video reviews, in this episode we look at the Trangia 25-5 – that’s the 2-4 person system that’s non-stick.

(embedded movie from blip.tv)

The Trangia is a wonderful all round system. I use the 25 (the slightly larger version) because I find the 27 too small for a decent cup of tea for more than one person, and whilst there is an obvious space saving issue, I also find the 27 too fiddly to use with the multi-fuel burner. Talking of which I’d consider the multi-fuel system an absolute must – the meths burner which comes with the system is fine if you have an hour to make a cup of tea – but as we discovered on the Dartmoor training run last year – the last thing you need when you’re cold and tired is to be wondering if your food will ever actually be ready.

The 25 can be had for around £50, the multi-fuel burner is about £80 and then you’re looking at between £5 and £10 for the various accessories, like the multi-disk and extra fuel bottle.

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