Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Looking for a camera "day bag"

After carrying my Lowepro SlingShot 200AW bag around for just a few hours in downtown Atlanta one day, it became obvious that this was not the right bag for me. The Lowepro is a nice bag and seems to be built very well, but the design puts the weight in an awkward position and resulted in a lot of neck and back pain within the first hour of wearing it. I even took out most of my gear, just bringing my Canon 30D, three lenses, a spare battery and some filters. Fully loaded, there's no way I am carrying this around.
Lowepro Slingshot
It was probably more a case of my equipment outgrowing my bag much more quickly than I thought. I decided that I would need a larger backpack to carry everything when flying or taking a road trip, plus a smaller bag for short day trips and walking around town. The backpack can wait a little longer so I went on the hunt for a comfortable, good-looking camera bag that could hold my 30D plus a couple of extra lenses. After looking for days and days I made a decision to get the Domke F-2 bag in the cool olive-drab color. I loved the military look and the F-2 seemed to get nothing but good reviews. But the day after I placed the order I discovered the Crumpler line of bags. These looked too good to pass up, so I ordered one to compare, knowing that Amazon would accept a return for the bag I didn't want.
First to arrive was the Domke F-2:
Domke F-2 outside
This bag fits the requirement of cool looking, and will easily hold my 30D and 4 extra lenses with lots of room in the pockets for other stuff. The inside has a 4-hole padded divider that can move anywhere in the bag from side to side.
Domke F-2 inside
The first problem I have with this bag is the two metal hooks that secure the top flap. They are kind of hard to open and close with one hand and a little sharp on the bottom. The flap has some Velcro to hold it as well, so I suppose you could leave the hooks unfastened when walking around. The other problem I have with this bag is the way the divider makes the interior space a bit awkward for putting my camera in. You really only have the choice of putting the camera in the end not taken up by the divider.
Domke F-2 inside with camera
It just didn't feel right trying to get my camera in and out when pushed all the way to one side. I was afraid of hitting the metal hardware that holds the strap too. I would prefer to have two separate dividers so that the camera could sit in the middle. The only other issue I have with the Domke F-2 is that it is just a little too big for what I need. I like that it's made in the USA and I am sure it would be a great long-lasting bag, but once I received the Crumpler, my decision became pretty easy.
Crumpler outside
I opted for the Six Million Dollar Home model after reading reviews and discussion boards. It seemed to be about the right size I was looking for, and it was. The exterior color scheme is great but I am not 100% crazy about the interior green. But I can live with it.
Crumpler inside
What I love about this bag is that I can put my 30D right in the middle and still have plenty of space on either side for two larger lenses or 4 smaller lenses. With my longest lens, the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro, the bag has plenty of depth. It could probably handle a larger, longer lens too.
Crumpler inside with camera
I like the single quick-release latch on the front flap. It only takes one hand to get this bag open. The strap seems strong and comes with a matching pad that wraps around the strap wherever you want it. The build quality seems very good and a little stiffer than the Domke. I feel a bit more secure carrying around the Crumpler.
So the Domke is headed back to Amazon and my barely-used Lowepro SlingShot will be up for sale soon. Now to pick out a backpack!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

China Master, a.k.a. Lin's in Duluth

After a trip down to Stone Mountain last Saturday for the Yellow Daisy Festival, we stopped on the way home (well, sort of on the way) for some Sichuan cuisine at the new home of China Master in Duluth. The sign in English still says Lin's but in Chinese the name "Chuan Ba Wang" signifies that this is indeed the China Master restaurant. We had never been to the old China Master further down Peachtree Parkway but we had always heard good things about it. Just when we wanted to finally go there many months ago, they shut their doors and closed shop. Last month the chef opened back up at the Lin's location off State Bridge and Medlock Bridge roads. What makes this location really interesting is the close proximity to Sichuan House, which is located right across State Bridge Road. Two Sichuan restaurants so close - which one to choose? This was definitely a test of sorts.
First up was "wu geng chang wang" which was also one of our first dishes at Sichuan House.
China Master
If you are not a big fan of intestines this dish might change your mind. The intestines were prepared perfectly and so was every other component of this wonderful dish. Of course, you would expect perfection from the chef who invented it a few decades ago in Taiwan. Chef Liu (not to be confused with Chef Liu's restaurant) came up with this dish a long time ago in Taiwan. He took an existing beef dish and replaced the beef with intestines and pork blood. The combination of all the flavors is wonderful.
Next up was their hot spicy beef, also commonly called hot boiled beef:
China Master
There are two items on the menu called "hot spicy beef" in English but they are not much different. One uses chili powder, and one uses actual chili peppers. We opted for the latter. The addition of cilantro is a typical Taiwanese touch. The broth is much more flavorful than Sichuan House, and without the starch that SH uses in their version.
Our third dish was braised tofu:
China Master
This dish is fairly simple but yet so savory. The gravy is rich with flavor and the silky tofu melts as you bite through the denser, fried outer layer. Wish they had more of a "house tofu" type dish like Cafe 101 but maybe it's called something else. There's quite a few tofu dishes and, just like the beef, there are two with the same name.
Our final dish was deep-fried chicken wraps:
China Master
This is a crunchy treat that would go great with some cold beer. The sauce it is served with is a very old-school Taiwanese style miso-based cold sauce. It's a great combo and something we have rarely seen outside of Taiwan.

Overall the food was great, so good you didn't notice the so-so decor and somewhat dingy ceiling. SH has the decor advantage but so far I am making Lin's my preferred choice for Sichuan food in this area (like we have a lot of choices!). Price-wise it's about the same, maybe a buck or two cheaper per dish.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The basement work continues...

Eventually I'll get done with this darn project! It's getting very close now - just down to lots of little details. The major work is done.
I finally got the boards sanded and stained that serve as a sort of shelf for the three arches in my wife's sewing room. Here's a pic of one of the arches:

Here's a closeup of the shelf:

The basement is fully powered up now that the subpanel has been connected to the main service panel. My Cutler-Hammer panel has plenty of room for expansion:

The home theater still has some details to get done before the big-screen TV moves down. Our oak entertainment center was sanded, primed and painted to match the rest of the trim. I am going to frame up some fabric speaker grills to hide the speakers and subwoofers in the cabinets.

This pic is looking back the other way in the home theater. My computer is set up in the corner on the left and you can also see that we finally painted the ugly door.

My wife's sewing room is really looking good now. Lots of Ikea cabinets for all her fabric.

Looking the other way down the sewing room. The doors in the back lead to my workshop. The workshop is a mess right now so no pics of that until I have some time to clean up & organize.

I sanded and stained some birch plywood to make a large cutting table & work surface that sits on top of a pair of Ikea HEMNES 8-drawer dressers:

My wife did a great job sanding and painting her sewing table. It used to be wood colored but now fits in much better with the same paint color as the trim:

The French doors that will divide the home theater from the sewing room still need painted and hung on the sliding rail system. The rail guides are in place and some trim work needs done around the floor after the doors are in place.

Our Crate and Barrel sofa has been on order for almost 2 weeks with 8-10 more weeks to go. We really can't wait to get it so our basement will feel totally complete. Until then we'll use one of our existing sofa pieces. That's all for now.