Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BAK Gear: Chicco Poly High Chair

Have you ever bought a high chair where your kid couldn't sit at the table without knocking knees or pinching their leg fat?? When we first realized we were preggers, we went straight out to the store and bought the first Graco high chair we found. It functioned. It lacked some features but it worked. Plus, it was cheap. However, as she got bigger, our child couldn't sit at the table comfortably without some sort of injury, whether its pinching her fingers between the underside of the table and the high chair or her leg fat getting squished.

Now, enter the birth of our second kid, and things are a little different. We got some lessons learned from buying a cheaper high chair with limited functionality. We started looking for a more useful high chair that would serve our kid from the first time they sit down for a meal at the table, to at least when she can get on and off her own chair. Plus, for you pansy male designers it should fit the decor and design notes of the house right? As a conversational piece, it should draw in and complement colours of the surrounding area right? 

The Chicco Poly High Chair came in many textile design options and layouts. BAM opted for this red/orange paisley combo matching some artwork and brings out the warm brown and orange hues in the flooring and dining table. Plus it hides shit really well - especially tomato-based sauces - so you won't have a white-coloured high chair with the faint orange staining that you see at second hand stores. We bought this off a garage sale in near mint condition for cheap. Normally it retails around $150 at ToysRus but I still wouldn't pay that much for a chair. For that price, I'd rather the kid sit on stacks of medical textbooks strapped in with a shemagh scarf. So buy it on sale - or used.
Apparently this chair is Italian-designed (although probably mass produced in China and sold at a premium). So if you want to be chic and hip you want this chair. Almost everything about this chair can be operated one-handed - good, bad, meh - it helps.  Ok, so why do we like this chair so much. First here's the marketing text straight off the website:
The Chicco Polly 2-in-1 High Chair Features:
Ultra-slim fold
Two vinyl easy to wipe clean seat pads
7 seat heights, 3 seat reclines, and adjustable footrest
Convenient tray insert and tray storage
5-point harness with shoulder pads and 4 wheels with brakes
What we really like though, is the fact that its vinyl so we can wipe shit off of it, or just stick it outside, and hose the damn thing down - with the kid strapped in.

We also like that it folds into a compact size. Well as compact as any high chair could be squished, but it's out of the way, and out of site (and it won't fall over). I like that it has all sorts of doodads to adjust, whether its armrest, or seatback position, height under table, footrest, seatbelt positioning, It's like being in the driver's seat of a Land Rover.

On the back of the high chair, there's actually some additional features that make it a well thought out product. So if you're like me, you often wonder, "so now WTF are we suppose to do with the tray table if we don't use it?" Well, along the rear posts, there are hooks to keep the tray in place when not being used. There's also netting available which we use for holding myriad bibs and shit like that.

Ok, so now onto the sitting piece, the vinyl. I can't really figure out why they made it a two-piece affair, other than giving it some design contrast. Not a big deal but it works. Although, I suppose if the top layer becomes a Pollack painting, it can be removed leaving another underneath. As with other high chairs with vinyl content, when doing a field strip and clean be sure to run your fingers into the nooks and crannies to rid the chair of dried noodles and shit. Removing both covers for laundering is as simple as unthreading the seatbelts from the eyelets, and voila they both come off easily. Because its vinyl, its also very easy for our dog to do some pre-cleaning.

For the tray table itself, its also a two-piece affair with the main tray table affixed to moveable chair arms by means of sliding it along the rails on the arms. There's plenty of leg room between the tray and the seat, there's also a crotch block to keep your slippery kid from sliding down, if you're not using the seatbelt. The tray insert really is quite helpful with those inevitable spills, just lift off the tray insert, dump and re-attach. All the while keeping your kid in place. The underside of the tray really does look like the Starship Enterprise.

The tray insert is a semi-transparent plastic piece with shallow partitions for water cup, an entrée section, and some side sections. I like that its a solid piece, with no holes (unlike the Graco which had holes to accommodate plug-in toys) - making it much simpler and easier to clean. It also fits in our dishwasher. Not sure of the recommendation but I always follow my rule about, if its kid stuff, and its not machine washable I ain't buying it. We never actually used the tray, because our kid sat at the table

So the last bit I'd like to review is the height adjustment capability. We already know that you can lay this high chair almost flat so your kid can sleep while you eat. Or for an infant who can't hold their head up yet. When we went out looking for another high chair, seat height adjustment was a big performance factor. We needed something that would fit under our table while enabling our child to sit there comfortably without pinching her leg fat.

This chair enables her to sit at the table. With a few height adjustment options, we can essentially let the chair "grow" with the kid, enabling her to remain at our table, and perhaps not having to buy a booster or make her squat on adult chairs for height.

I'd recommend this chair for anybody who requires more control of the adjustment of their high chair to suit their family requirements for having their kids at the table (we didn't use the tray at all). As always, evaluate what you really need. We went through two separate Graco high chairs before we got this one. That's not to say Graco doesn't make a useful high chair, we just found it didn't' slide into our table too well with the kid in it, and when collapsed it actually had a weird weight distribution making it prone to falling over.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BAK Gear: Gro-Clock - children's clock

Sorry folks its been a while since my last legit kid's stuff review. I've been out saving the world and getting a tan at the same time. This review is on the Gro-Clock, a clock designed specifically for aiding your kid to learn when to sleep and when to get out of bed. My little bad ass kids haven't learned to tell time yet, but timings are important to me, probably much more so than love, respect and scotch.

We searched for a perfect system, reading online on how to teach kids how to tell time, and honestly none of that shit works. Not really. Not unless you put your kid into 5 minute horse stance timeouts enough times, that they can guestimate when you say "don't wake up for another 3 horse stances" Well, that only sort of works. The Gro Clock has a countdown timer in the form of sunrays or moonrays, that gives the timings some visual context.

We started out first kid on the Gro Clock when she got into a toddler bed which coincided with her new-found ability to get in and out of bed on her own. Sleep training with this clock enabled her to gain increasing responsibilities and freedoms while decreasing her dependence on us. If she wakes up before the screen turns to wakeup (orange) and the audible beeps, its her responsibility to stay in bed or in her room until it does turn to orange and beeps.

The Gro-Clock really fit with what we were looking for, which were:

  • Visual representation of sleep (indiglo blue) and wakeup (yellowish orangey)
  • Intuitive Countdown timer
  • Dual wakeup times (one for nap and one for night)
  • Silent and/or audible tone
  • Double as a nightlight
  • Adjustable backlighting
  • Child lock out
  • Sleek and sexy

The product itself has a built in battery that "freezes" all the settings, including the main time; therefore if the power is off/on a few minutes it shouldn't be off by much. However after 3 or 4 hours, the battery drains. It also uses an LED backlighting, so power consumption is quite low, in fact it also has a built-in energy saving mode, the clock will turn off the LED after wakeup. There are two sleep modes, using different icons. One is a sun, the other a moon - perfect for daytime nap and night time sleep. We liked this clock so much that we picked up another for our 2-year old - who just transitioned from crib to toddler bed.

Here are the rest of the features from the product website:

  • ​Glowing screen shows images of stars and sun to communicate 'sleep' and 'wake-up' time
  • Includes fun bedtime story book
  • Stars go out one-by-one during the night to show the passing of time
  • Key-lock option
  • Option to set two separate wake-up times (weekday/weekend or night-time/day-time nap)
  • Adjustable screen brightness
  • Silent operation
  • Optional audible alarm feature
  • Mains powered (adapter included)
  • Suitable from age 2+ years
  • Conforms to highest applicable British and European Standards
  • Educational option of showing digital clock during the ‘stars to sun’ countdown
  • "Mr Star" night time graphic
  • Beautifully illustrated bedtime storybook

Now this ain't the magic bullet that will turn your hellish satanic kid into a sleeping heavenly cherub over night. This great piece of hardware used, in conjunction, with consistent parenting and disciplining will yield great results. Now if you just slap this onto their table, and tell them " don't wake up till it shines, or I'm a beat your ass" That's probably not going to work well for you - especially if you just lazy and want to sleep in till 10am. We use sticker charts as a reward system - over a 7 day period. The Gro-Clock becomes part of her nightly routine, and as long as she accomplishes them all - she gets a sticker beside each task, and when she fills the chart she can pick out of a box some useless dollar store trinket. The key here is consistency and a good understanding of Pavlovian Conditioning.

We bought the clock from Toys R Us Canada for $50 CDN.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's tax time! Simpletax.ca

This is just a quick post to say that, if you're Canadian and looking for new way to prepare your taxes and file them easily, then check out Simpletax.ca. Did I mention they are free, no strings attached?

Simpletax is a cloud-based Canadian software company authorized to NETFILE with the CRA. So what this means is that I can log in from anywhere and prepare my taxes - from home, from work, on the bus, upside down in the amazon rain forest... I can even do it from overseas.

I love the simple and intuitive user interface, the question marks are helpful, and the links go to CRA website for more FAQ. I also like the number crunching for optimizing coupled tax returns.

In the past I've used installed software like simply accounting and quicktax and turbotax. These are just bloated applications that I use once a year. So why have it installed? Why not just go to a simple login screen, type my credentials in, then BING BANG BOOM. I can switch between profiles and prepare BAM's as well. It's pretty darn slick.

For me, I don't need tax advice from software, I don't need to know how much more I will save if I take out a loan for my RRSP's, etc. I just need an app that will enable me to fill in the boxes, validate against some business rules, do some optimization and boom done. I'll save the advice for when I meet my financial planner.

The dev team is relatively small, but they are subject matter experts consisting of a tax lawyer, designer, and developer. what more do you need for rapid prototyping other than user feedback?

So, I say, give them a try, and if you like it, send a lil' somethin somethin there way to keep the project going.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

BAM Gear: BOB Revolution SE Jogging Stroller B.O.B.

These days, the BOB Revolution Jogging Stroller is as ubiquitous in the city as it is in the woods. And damned rights it should be. This piece of kit is by-far the best $500 investment we have made. From its high strength aluminum alloy construction to it's big 12" wheels, the BOB is part of our everyday lives. Even with two kids we have managed to use the BOB unintentionally as a two kid transporter (especially useful when on vacation where lots of walking would be involved).

Now when we were considering buying a jogging stroller, I totally balked at the price point of some of these higher-end strollers. Considering now, that it has been in use for over 5 years, through two kids, on a daily basis, I think it's well worth it. You buy cheap you buy twice. Buy Once cry once. And certainly from my cohorts discussions, I do believe that spending the extra money to buy something of higher quality will in the long run serve you better.  We also had to consider, what we wanted our jogging stroller to do. In short we were looking for an active-lifestyle stroller that could also take a beating - in fact I've use the stroller to carry my shooting equipment and steel reactive targets out to the 500m line. But amongst that we were looking specifically for:

  • Big inflatable wheels for trails
  • Adjustable Shock absorption for trails
  • Single front swivel wheel for turn on a dime maneuverability, plus a locking mode for straight jogging.
  • Sunshade
  • Reclining
  • Some sort of storage area
  • Well built and easy serviceability through a local bike store
  • Infant carrier adapter
  • Snack tray
  • Can accommodate even 5-6 year olds
  • Easy to push and manipulate one handed
  • Ease of deployment and tear-down
  • Small footprint and deployed and tore-down
  • Removable wheels
  • Easy to lock brakes
  • Lower center of balance as well as front to back balance
  • Lots of surface area for the hands to grip
  • The ability to accommodate two kids in a pinch
  • Weather shield protection
  • Under $500
We looked and we looked, and 5 years ago, there wasn't that much on the market that fit exactly those needs. There were a few contenders, but we ended up going with the BOB Revolution as it was being sold through our local bike store, and an excellent compromise between true hardcore pavement running stroller, and trail applications.

Those who know me realize that I'm not the gentlest with my kit. Where people will spit-shine their Glocks and their M4's I just throw hose them down with some CLP love and throw them into the safe without nary a worry. The same goes for kid equipment. That's not to say we don't perform proper care and maintenance, but if it's meant to be outside in the dirt, it's going to be outside - in the dirt. 

Here are the features of the BOB from the BOB website:
  • Swiveling front wheel allows for superior maneuverability.  Locks forward for increased stability when jogging or if the terrain turns tough.
  • Easy, two-step folding, lightweight frame for convenient transport and storage.
  • State-of-the-art, adjustable suspension system provides an exceptionally smooth ride.
  • Accessory Adapter allows for quick and easy attachment of BOB Infant Car Seat Adapter or Snack Tray.
  • Ultra-padded, adjustable reclining seat for enhanced seating comfort. Five-point padded harness helps keep your child comfortably secure.
  • Multi-position canopy adjusts for protection against the elements. Large viewing window lets you keep an eye on your baby.
  • High-impact polymer composite wheels with pneumatic tires and tubes take on tough terrain.
  • Low Boy Cargo Basket provides plenty of undercarriage storage. Additional space in large seatback pocket. Internal seat pockets provide a great place for snacks and toys.
  • A simple twist of the front wheel tracking adjustment knob keeps you rolling straight.
  • When engaged, the parking brake helps secure a stopped position.
  • Padded handlebar for comfort; wrist strap helps you secure stroller when strolling and provides handy fold lock when folded.
Now, there have been some enhancements done between the time we bought ours and the current model year, for example, the accessories are now all QD (quick detach), versus when I had to unscrew and screw on shit. However, all the mechanisms and material are still the same.

What I truly love about this BOB, is that even though it comes in at 11kg, it still pushes light. And I attribute that its sealed cartridge bearings as part of the wheel component. I love the shock absorption- mainly because the kids don't complain when we're on the trails.

Ok, so besides jogging with the stroller, we do also take it with us on family outings including when travelling to places where we know there will be lots of walking and complaining and carrying of shit. Some situations where we do use the stroller including lots of uphill/downhill trails to the beach along the West Coast, Camping, and of course family vacations. You will be pleased to know, that when fully compressed with the wheels off, the stroller fits inside most major airport X-ray machines, although you may find it just as easy to empty out all the shit and roll it through. Either way, there's options now for flying - plus all the airlines I've flown with have OK'd it for skychecking (checking the stroller at the gate) which means you now have, essentially, free storage space!

So, when going on family outings we try to keep it minimally loaded, but inevitably, it will end up being the family caravan at the end of the day. Buy a MOMMY HOOK! On one trip where we were out for the entire day, by the end of it, we were hanging two little life backpacks, some activity sachets, jackets and fleeces, diaper bag. One time I even bought flat of water and just rested it on top of the canopy. It was downright epic.

Now, if you have a little one and then a kindergartner, you may of considered buying a Duallie, or a Chariot double stroller. Go ahead, if you intend to jog with both of them. We found that the Duallie double stroller had a very limited window of opportunity to use. I don't really like pushing two kids while I'm jogging. I'd rather tow them on a bike. In anycase, if you are going on a trip and do want to have the ability to transport two kids - easily done. The bigger on just sits in the foot well. It's not beautiful and probably not all that safe, but strolling through a theme-park, you can get your kid to stick her feet out and start knocking down ankles - the equivalent to ice hockey and "elbows out."
There is one thing that I don't really like and its how they want you to keep the stroller folded down. They want you to use a strap with velcro and loop it around itself. I found it a bit hokey, and opted to use one of my leg straps from the Safariland 6004 SLS tactical thigh rig (elastic 1.5" webbing with high grade plastic hardware buckles). I just loop it through the brakes bar and click it together and I don't have to worry about velcro becoming undone. That's a minor issue which I believe this new generation has addressed.

This stroller is truly an all-season stroller, all weather stroller, all-terrain (well - mostly just up to hardpack or loose gravel). I'd recommend this to all my Bad Ass Dads and Moms who are looking for a stroller to do active shit with. Or, if you just want to stroll in the park in the middle of winter you can do that too. Remember, proper care and maintenance will ensure you will get years and years of "adventure" out if it. Then you can resell it and get some good coin back. It has a very high resale value too.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

BAK Gear: Littlelife Adventurer Daysack for kids

This pack is the next size evolution for the Runabout (see review here). It in fact doubles the usable volume from 3L to 6L with only a 50g increase in weight. In terms of sizing it is approximately 31x20x13 cm's.

BAM bought this on sale at MEC for $25. I would of paid full price for it anyway.

We recently tested it out on a week-long trip to Disneyland where the pack was on for approximately 8-10 hours a day. It endured flights, motorcoaches, splash mountain, roller coasters, restaurants, being runover by the BOB stroller, etc.

It's a great piece of kit because,like its smaller sibling, it is ergonomically constructed for little kids. This pack has pockets to keep items organized and strap adjustments to get the fit just right. In terms of sizing, it is meant for children aged 4 and older, and it features the following:

  • Reflective piping for increases visibility.
  • Zippered top access to main compartment.
  • Adjustable shoulder straps with chest strap.
  • Mesh bottle pocket on one side, pencil/pen sleeve on other.
It's the perfect little daypack for our BAK to carry her shit in. She was able to carry her own windbreaker, sunglasses, sunhat, electronic texter toy, small notepad with felt markers, ident photocopies, snacks, an extra pair of thin pants and socks (for the wet rides), and of course her waterbottle. Note that you should test the bag with certain larger water bottles - the Klean Kanteens don't fit well, where as some of the plastics ones do.

When not in use, we can just use the grab handle and hook it to the BOB via the Mommy Hook (which by the way is one of the better inventions out there). At night time the reflective piping is easy to spot, and in the daytime the floral pattern is quite visible as well. 

The funniest thing I've seen when going to theme parks or travelling through airports are parents who don't follow the "One Man, One Kit" rule. They end up carrying all their kids shit and that just f'n sucks balls. Kids need to carry their own, so they know the value of thoughtful packing and packing light.

The Runabout has been offloaded to the younger sibling and as you can see it is still in great shape after 4 years. And remember that little Detachable parent's safety strap on the Runabout? You can use that here as there is a D-Ring on the bag as well. 

I also need to point out that there is no extraneous webbing or sharp corners. The bag is contoured and smoothed out, with very little extra webbing. This is very good because sometimes, bags - especially larger ones with lots of webbing because of downsizing, can get caught on shit. The smoothed contours of this bag means it will run up against stuff and not get caught. Also, because this bag is almost rectangular, it can stand up by itself without falling over.  

This bag ain't at all tactical - my kid won't be running through a warzone faceshooting bad kids. So for what it's meant for, a day use pack, I'd recommend it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

BAD Gear: Blue Force Gear BFG PLATEminus

 If you don't have body armour, your job is not bad ass enough. For over 10 years, I've worn a few different kinds of body armour, and with that - armour carriers. The one I am use to the most, has been the Eagle Industries CIRAS. While it has been the workhorse for a long time (due to its incredible strength and durability), it is meant for a more aggressive role over a longer period of time. I picked up the PLATEminus from Darren at OneShotTactical.com for $179.00 Canadian. That's a great price considering basic plate carriers with MOLLE start at 170 for the Shellback Banshee to the SKD PIG at $329.

Fast foward to 2013 and there are myriad types of armour carriers out there, each professing to perform better than its competitors. In fact, with each generation of carrier, what we learn from fighting bad guys is indeed incorporated into subsequent iterations. As armour itself becomes more durable, flexible, lighter, we also see the complimentary changes within the carrier themselves. Also, a big part of how carriers are evolving relates to the shift from traditional dismounted infantry roles to mounted lite fighting. Armour is being worn, not just by traditional soldier-types, but also PSD, medics, NGOs, uniformed police, plainclothes police, security officers, special operations, amongst others.

Even in my career, I've transitioned from soldier to contracting, and even then I carry phones and comms more than I carry an AK. Even so, armour is a requirement for PPE. I was considering the SKD PIG, the Mayflower APC and the BFG LMAC, but I opted for this one. The main reason is that I can easily utilized my Chest Rig on top of it. Now, with the other ones you can, but there's extra bulk. With the PLATEminus its very thin and minimalist so my Tactical Tailor MAV just sits on top.  In comes the BFG PLATEminus. First thing I'm going to say is that, IT'S NOT FOR ALL ROLES!

I say this because if you think its a replacement for a full-on military patrol rig, you're wrong. Many of the features that make the CIRAS great for that kind of work is absent from this piece. Out of the box it does not have side protectors, nor does it have inner cumberbund - most importantly it does not accommodate soft armour (just backers). Note that it also does not have a grab-handle. Nor would I trust the ITW buckles to keep me harnessed in on an aerial platform (thats what riggers belts are for). This is an extremely minimalist LOW-PROFILE plate carrier. This is a very specific piece of kit designed for standalone (E)SAPI plates (III or IV) with backers in medium or large.

Here are the marketing specs:
MOLLEminus™ Technology - which really is the inverse of the traditional MOLLE system
Contructed from ULTRAcomp™ - as far as I can tell is very similar to Cam Nets. Its half the thickness of a dime and 4x abrasion resistant as 1000d CORDURA®. Apprently it can also be cut and is ripstop.
ITW GhillieTEX™ Low IR attachments cinches the 1" webbing elastic side straps for movement and breathability
Aerospacer Mesh

PLATEminus’ plate pockets are constructed from color matched CORDURA® for maximum signature reduction - eliminating black plates showing through the MOLLEminus front or the need for separate plate socks or painting.  The back of the plate pockets are Tweave to allow some “give” for various plate sizes or shapes.

PLATEminus’ shoulder straps are fully adjustable for length with hook and
loop closures that can accept the LMAC Enhanced Shoulder Pads. The straps feature sewn in One-Wrap for cable and hydration routing. The shoulder straps are edge stable and can be cut to length by the end user in order to trim additional grams and bulk. I love this for mounted roles, where getting in and out of civilian up-armoured vehicles (as well as APC's) present a mobility issue. There's lots of range-of-motion with this carrier, and my shoulders have full movement.

I've been using it for a while now as a replacement package to my CIRAS. With recently issued standalone IV plates, I retired the CIRAS in favour of the PLATEminus. The low-profile signature (both in footprint and in colour) enables me to wear it either on top of underneath a jacket. I don't have a Grey (Arc'teryx "Wolf") colour jacket, but its ok with black and grey. I'm not trying to win any colour contest, but I think that grey is the best option for low pro.

In these pictures, its worn over my LEAF Alpha jacket, but I can also wear it under the jacket, on top of my tactical Ralph Lauren Polo Merino Wool Sweater. This is the perfect piece of kit for those of you working in the tropics where traditional CORDURA® will get soaking wet and heavy. Also, if you're like me and work with clients who'd rather not be walking around with a seemingly Blackwater/XE contractor types, this be the one for you. Also, if you're like me and you tend to futz in the office, until somebody yells, "LET'S GO FOR LUNCH AT THE PRESIDENTIAL!!!!!" then you just slip it over top, snap the sides in place, put on your jacket, and go for some great Lebanese (those guys, they're taking over Africa catering by the way).

As I said this plate carrier isn't for all roles. In fact, I'd personally limit it to those who need to smuggle it inside your packed shoes through contractorus non grata zones, and of course those roles I mentioned above. Because it does not offer side plate protection, I wouldn't bring this into an active GWOT zone;  active shooter critical incident - fo' sho. Also, if you have really old-school steel shitty plates, then you may want to rethink this piece of kit. Limited shoulder padding, as well as non-adjustability of the plates internally, as well as no cumberbund renders this kit to specialized role where lightfighting is key and you don't mind bouncy plates for a short time frame. Now, having said that, I have a large carrier, and large plates, and I notice extremely little movement of the plates. If you have non-standard sized plates, then you will have to test for yourself.

Oh yeah, this thing has a lifetime warranty and is Made in the USA.

Some sort of Room Entry thing

More Room Entry thing

The PLATEminus on my body in action

Oh No's PLATEminus on the ground and dirty

Damn, my ass, it looks good. Definately Bad Ass


Full Disclosure: Unless noted, Bad Ass Dad has not been compensated in any means to review this gear. It is all his own, procured through pro-channels, retail, or issuance.