I do research before I buy things.

I do research after I buy things.

I do more research than is necessary or practical.

Here are the results.


Flashlights: Do the Twist

I guess you could say that I’m a connoisseur of flashlights. I live out in the boondocks where streetlights don’t exist. As a solar installer I paradoxically spend a lot of time in people’s basements, poking around with wires in the dark. I have about a dozen flashlights, many of which live in the backs of drawers due to their poor functionality. In no particular order, here are some ideas about buying flashlights.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are the only way to go, this side of law enforcement work. If you need to blind and disorient a perp or illuminate the far end of an alley to get a clear shot, then go with one of those lithium powered xenon tactical lights. If you are anyone else, get an LED light or an LED conversion for your existing light. They last 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs and you’ll get astounding run time out of your batteries.

On the subject of batteries, get AA powered lights. You will see neat looking little clip lights powered by coin batteries, but the coin batteries die quickly and are expensive for the time you get out of them. You will also see LED lights powered by three AAA batteries in a cylindrical holder. The manufacturer did this to achieve something close to the right voltage in a small package. These lights tend to go dark quickly and the holders get cranky after a while. See my previous post about rechargeable batteries.

There are three kinds of switches that you’ll see on flashlights: slide, button, and twist. Slide and button switches tend to die young. Only the large Maglites seem to have decent buttons. I bought a Nite Ize brand “IQ” switch with the LED conversion for my Maglite. It screwed on in place of the regular tailcap and offered three intensity settings, three blinking rates, and a small red LED for finding the thing in the dark. Cool, but it died within a few months. The twist-head method of the small Maglites and the large Petzl headlamps seem to go on forever.

In the realm of LED lights, get the single 1-Watt or 3-Watt products and avoid the ones with arrays of LEDs set in the face. The multiple LED lights don’t focus well and the weaker LEDs go dark as the battery runs down.

My two favorite lights are my LED converted mini Maglite and my LED converted Petzl headlamp. The headlamp is a twist-on type with a large reflector and a separate 3-AA battery pack on the back. It is bulkier than the nifty little ones you’ll see in camping stores, but it throws a truly functional beam suitable for working in dark spaces and the batteries last for hours.

For your perusal:

My Maglite with the head taken off. The LED conversion bulb looks like a flying saucer with two wire prongs sticking out the bottom. It is a slide in replacement for the original halogen bulb.

My Petzl headlamp. The lower picture is with the lens taken off – blinding.

Two multiple LED lights. The one on the left is redeemed by the fact that it runs on one AA battery and is a twist-on. The one on the right has three AAA batteries in it and the option of twist-on or a tailcap button switch that I don’t use. I had another of the same model that was crippled by a quickly broken button switch.

My recommendation: Get a mini Maglite and convert it with a 1-Watt LED. It will last forever, or at least as long as you do. If you feel the need for hands-free light, get a Petzl headlamp. You can get an LED conversion for those as well. Here’s the link for Nite Ize flashlight products and one for their dealers. Here’s the link for Petzl headlamps.  The model I have isn’t available any more, but the Duo Atex LED 5 and the MYO 3 look good to me.


The big mixer

A little while back I decided that I wanted a stand mixer. The classic stand mixer is the Kitchenaid. The design hasn't changed markedly in the past 30 years, and the reputation of these machines was that they would last 30 years. I was all set to buy one and had my usual wave of research madness wash over me.

Good thing. Kitchenaid was a brand owned by Hobart, which makes those huge stainless steel appliances you see in commercial kitchens. A few years ago Hobart sold the Kitchenaid brand to Whirlpool, which immediately outsourced production to China. I surfed for reviews and found that quality control had become spotty and that people were stripping the gears on their Kitchenaid mixers. I looked on Ebay and found an ominous sign: replacement gear sets for them.

I looked at a number of models, including Bosch, Viking, and Cuisinart. The only one that got consistently good reviews was the Cuisinart SM-55. Ok, there were a couple in the used car price range that got good reviews, but, I mean, come on. I bought one on Ebay for $250. A hefty price tag, but I am hoping to get at least 15 years out of it.

I immediately put it to the test, making two kinds of bread and then crackers. At maximum power it drew about 800 Watts, just over a full horsepower. On low speed it pulled about 200 Watts. It didn't seem to labor at all, even with a load of dense whole wheat bread dough.

It has the great feature of a timer, so I could set it to knead for 5 minutes and just walk away to do something else. The 5.5 quart bowl is large and deep, so it doesn't spray the ingredients on the counter. It comes with a dough hook, a flat mixing blade, and a wire whip. It has low, medium, and high speed power takeoff ports on the top and front. You can get various food processing attachments that plug into these ports for slicing, juicing, grinding, and warping the time-space continuum. Like all smart consumer goods manufacturers, Cuisinart subscribes to the Malibu Barbie philosophy: It's not the doll that brings in the money, it's the accessories.

My complaints are few and minor. The clear plastic splash guard and ingredient chute seems chintzy in comparison to the construction of the rest of the machine. The speed dial is plastic and also seems under-engineered compared to the chassis. With its big bowl it is not a device for small batches. I tried an experimental half-sized recipe with just one cup of flour and the dough hook just toyed with it. So I guess I'll have to bake bigger batches of goodies - weep for me.

The MSRP is $300, comparable to the same capacity Kitchenaid, but you should be able to get $25-50 off that if you look around.


Rechargable Batteries

I think I have found the best rechargable batteries out there, and a charger to match.

The problem with most rechargable batteries is that they self-discharge. Charge up a set of nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal-hydride batteries, stick them in a drawer for a month, and then try to use them. They will be mostly dead. All batteries self discharge over time, but there is a chemical quirk in nickel rechargables that kills them off in a matter of weeks.

Except, I'm glad to say, for a battery with the Seussian name of Eneloop. Sanyo makes them, and so far they have lived up to their promise for me. They claim to retain an 85% charge after one year. I have a set in my LED-converted Maglite that have been sitting around in my coat pocket for a couple of months without a recharge, and they still make it shine.


Of course, a set of good batteries with a stupid charger is a waste. A lot of cheap chargers for AA and AAA batteries are just voltage sources. They plow the juice into the batteries with no regard for how those batteries are taking it. Soon you have expensive little dead batteries.

I'd recommend the LaCrosse technologies BC-700 smart charger. It allows you to charge four batteries at once, each with a customized setting, if necessary. It has a discharge and refresh cycle, and lets you see how many milliamp-hours you have put into each battery. This is a useful way to tell if a battery needs a refresh cycle; when a 2000 mAh battery goes from dead to full with 1000 mAh, you have a problem.

Eneloop AA batteries sell on Amazon and Ebay for around $10-$14 for a 4-pack. The BC-700 can be found in the same places and others, generally between $25 and $40. As always, look out for the shipping charges on small stuff like this.

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