Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Spork by Any Other Name

Photographs by Nicole Holt

A Review of the GSI Telescoping Foon

Long time readers of Graham's Travel Blog will remember that I am a big fan of sporks. For a little background here, please see Spork and Chopsticks. I recently acquired a new spork for my collection and I'm excited to share the details with you today.

Before I get into the details about this tool, I'd like to get one thing straight. I am not at all pleased that GSI used the term foon to describe this product. When I saw the display of these hanging in the travel section of Powell's City Of Books I was immediately drawn to it, but it took me hours in deciding whether or not I could in good conscience purchase and own a foon. Upon inspection of the tool, I discovered that it was actually a spork that had been incorrectly labeled a foon by some misguided marketing person.

I decided that I couldn't hold the name of a product against the engineering folks at GSI, so I purchased the lowly fun. My guess is that since there are several sporks on the market and the name foon was used in an attempt to make this product stand out. I'll admit that the name does stand out, but naming your product a foon in a world of spork lovers is just asking for trouble. From here on in, I'm calling it what it is; a spork.

So, what makes this spork different? Firstly, it's light weight. At 8 grams, it's half the weight of my Snow Peak Titanium spork. This might not sound like a big deal, but if you are an ultra light backpacker then reducing the weight of anything by half is an impressive feat.

The second distinctive feature of this spark is its size. Since this is a collapsible utensil, it measures just 3 7/8 inches long when closed, yet it is a comfortable 6 inches when extended. This is nearly half and inch shorter than the Snow Peak, but when the GSI spork was in use I did not miss this length.

Sadly, this is all this spark has going for it. In light use it performed well enough, but I do have some concerns about durability. Most foods that I put to the GSI Telescoping Foon were no match, but I did notice a fair amount of flex in this utensil in the area where the handle meets the bowl. Ironically, this problem is inherent to the design of the major feature that attracted me to this spark in the first place. Sadly, this flaw is also its greatest weakness.

When you expand the spork, you must be sure to move the tines away from the handle before proceeding as there is a small ledge that keeps the spork from opening unintentionally. This ledge does its job almost too well. When you do want open the spork, you you can irreparably bend the tines if you are not careful. I saw at least one spork at the store with such a bent tine. On the subject of tine strength and durability, I've used this spork for less than a month and I've already seen signs of stress on some of the tines.

What GSI has done is to take a simple and reliable tool and made it complicated and, quite likely, unreliable for real world use. A piece of backpacking equipment needs to work consistently. On a given trip, I will put my travel spork through very little, however I wouldn't want to be dependent on this product for all of my spork related needs for fear of it breaking.

While it is true that this utensil is compact and lightweight, its drawbacks imposed by an unnecessary gimmick far outnumber the benefits. For my pack, I'm sticking to my Snow Peak Titanium model until something better comes along.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Four Nights in a Grain Silo

I never had any aspirations to sleep in a grain silo before, but when I learned that this is exactly what I'd be doing in Akron, Ohio, I began to get excited by the prospect.

It could be that I spend too much time in what seems to be an endless chain of hotels that, more or less, all feel the same that caused the novelty of a novelty hotel to be such a draw. I will admit that I'm also drawn to any sort of historical building, so the thought of staying in one is intrinsically attractive.

This sort of excitement was similar to that which I experianced in anticipation of my vist at the Treehouse Hotel in Oregon so, knowing how well that turned out (see: Road Trip to the Treehouse Hotel) I held back too much excitement untilI arrived. Fortunately, my caution was misplaced this time.

The Quaker Square Inn is situated within the old grain silos and associated factory buildings of the Quaker Oats company. After this architectural icon of industry was retired from its original use, it was repurposed as a hotel and student housing for the nearby University of Akron. Today the first three floors make up the hotel while the remaining floors are student housing.

Normally a hotel that also has student housing doesn't work, but it works well here for two reasons: respectful students and thick walls. These silos were built to last, and they are nearly 8 inches thick. That gives you 16 inches of solid material between you and the next room which assures that sounds of nocturnal activities remain within the rooms from which they originate.

The only weak points from an acoustical standpoint are the windows and doors. In my 4 night visit, I was only disturbed once by a drunk college student which is pretty good considering the situation.

To answer the two questions that you are most likely wondering about: yes, the rooms are round and no, the beds are not round. The rooms are however slightly quirky. For example, the toilet paper holder was just slightly out of reach for someone with average length arms who is sitting upon the toilet. This is due to the fact that the room is round, but fortunately there was a box of tissues within easy reach.

Another quirk had to do with the floor layout. Since a collection of round rooms is not conducive to a sensible floor layout, it is no surprise that finding your room can be a challenge. This is one time in which a room near the elevator is an asset rather than a liability.

These quirks add up to an interesting hotel experience. The morning breakfast includes the expected Quaker Oats, which ties into the theme that continues through the use of ample Quaker Oats memorabilia which is placed in the lobby and breakfast area.

If my travels take me back to this area, I wouldn't think twice about staying here again.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What To Do When You Lose Your Power Adapter

Being a modern business traveler, I carry with me more than my fare share of electronic gadgets. I've got a computer, two cell phones, two digital cameras and occasionally a second computer. Any way you look at it, I carry too many gadgets. Consequentially the more gadgets I have, the more power cords and cables I have to carry and possibly lose along the way.

It would be an inconvenience if I lost my phone adapter, but nearly disastrous if I lost my laptop power adapter. Fortunately I haven't lost any power adapters while traveling, but it could happen.

Since being prepared is often the deciding factor between being able to deal with a crisis elegantly and ripping your hair out, I have decided strike first and prepare for the inevitable. It feels good to have a plan and it took less effort than you might think. I'd like to share my plan with you.

My plan is not as involved as carrying a universal back up power adapter or knowing the addresses of the appropriate adapter venders at each of my destinations. My plan is much simpler: depend on someone more careless than myself.

Every day people leave power adapters behind at hotels. Most hotels collect these in box that acts as a sort of lost and found for power adapters. The odds of someone coming back and claiming one of these is fairly low so the collection slowly grows. Should I find myself in a power adapter situation, I'll head to the front desk and ask to see their box of power adapters. With any luck, I'll be able to borrow the correct adapter and be on my way.

I'll admit that this plan has a major flaw as it relies on someone having my device and losing their adapter at the particular hotel that I'm staying at. While it isn't perfect, it still feels good to have a plan.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Regional Cookie Highlight: Mallomars

Photograph by Nicole Holt

Marshmallow, Graham Cracker and chocolate is no doubt a popular combination. It can be found next to campfires in Smores, in the South in Moon Pies and for a brief window of time in the North East it can be found in one of the most perfect combinations of these three ingredients ever created. I am, of course, referring to Mallomars.

For many reading this, you may have never heard of Mallomars, and if you have then it may likely have been in a fleeting scene in When Harry Met Sally in which Billy Crystal proclaims that Mallomars are, "the greatest cookie of all time."

So what exactly is a Mallomar? It's a round Graham Cracker topped with marshmallow and coated in dark chocolate. This may sound unexciting, but two elements set this cookie apart: high quality and limited availability.

You may have seen generic versions of Mallomars on your grocer's shelves, but the quality of these imitators are nowhere near what you will find in Mallomars. I picked up a bag of generic Mallomar-like cookies in preparation for this article and found them to fall short on all accounts.

The Graham cracker should be crisp, the marshmallow pleasant with out being cloyingly sweet and the chocolate dark, delicious and of high quality.

Due to the fact that real chocolate is being used and that good quality chocolate is prone to melting, Mallomars are only available in the Fall and Winter.

That these prized cookies are only rarely available, my wife and I have taken to stockpiling them in the hope that they will last until Mallomar season rolls around again. This year it's already April and we are down to our last box; we'll need to plan better next year.

In addition to temporal scarcity, Mallomars are also limited geographically with over 70% of them being sold in the metropolitan New York area. If you live outside of this area, you may have trouble finding Mallomars, but they are well worth the effort that it takes to track them down.

Every now and then a shipment has been known to make its way to the West Coast, but these are rare. I'm guessing that it's market testing, but I've never seen this coupled with advertisements so the efforts are doomed to failure. I'd love too see this cookie to be more widely distributed so if it sounds like the Mallomar is for you and you see them, please pick up a box. I'm sure you'll be back for more.

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