Happy Birthday, Hubble Space Telescope!

Hubble Space Telescope, NASA
The Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for 22 years today, and to celebrate, NASA has released this awesome image of the Tarantula Nebula, also known by its less romantic scientific name of 30 Doradus.

A nebula is a massive cloud of gas and dust in which some areas are coalescing and igniting into stars. The Tarantula Nebula is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way galaxy. The light comes from thousands of stars in its center that illuminate the clouds and filaments around them.

In addition to being one of the most groundbreaking scientific instruments of the late twentieth century, Hubble is a team player. This image is a composite from the Hubble and two other space telescopes: Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared instrument my super-cool astronomer wife uses. NASA says:

“The Hubble data in the composite image, colored green, reveals the light from these massive stars along with different stages of star birth, including embryonic stars a few thousand years old still wrapped in cocoons of dark gas. Infrared emission data from Spitzer, seen in red, shows cooler gas and dust that have giant bubbles carved into them. These bubbles are sculpted by the same searing radiation and strong winds that comes from the massive stars at the center of 30 Doradus.”

Happy Birthday, Hubble!

Photo courtesy NASA. To see the image in its full 3000-pixel glory, click here.

Gadling Gear Review: Insulated fleece jacket from LL Bean

Let’s set aside the jokes around polar fleece as the uniform for us Pacific North-Westerners. First of all, I can take it and secondly, dude, polar fleece works. And really, it’s getting better, the fabrics are getting softer and hold up longer and wash better. Even while I’m developing a preference for natural fibers, I’m finding myself pawing the new polar fleece performance clothing and thinking, “Hey, not bad, actually.”

LL Bean has a new line of jackets out that are lightweight and weather resistant and really warm. Bonus, they’re cut with quite a nice mind for style and have some details that make them worth packing.

Heads up — they’re not water proof, they’re water resistant, that’s a different animal. You’ll be fine running for the car or the bus, or in transitional weather, but you’ll want to add a rain jacket if it’s really coming down.

LL Bean’s insulated fleece jacket has all the basics that I look for in this kind of gear. There are zippered side pockets and a zippered upper pocket for your phone or wallet. And yes, there’s a pull through for your headphones. The waist has an elastic pull so you can cinch it in place to keep the wind out. There’s soft stuff where you want it — the neck is lined with a fluffier material and the collar with a slightly smoother fabric that won’t scratch your face when you’re all zipped in against the cold.

Some additional nice details… the sleeves have a narrower cuff, great for keeping the wind out. Also on the sleeves, a heavier, wind-stop fabric. The jacket feels well constructed with double stitching and flat seams. The fit seems true to size, I got a medium, and it fits as I’d expect. It looks nice, too; I’ve had compliments when I’m wearing it. And it comes in a couple of different colors, a cranberry and a teal for women, and a gray, a dark blue and a burgundy for guys.

I’d have liked the black/gray to come in women’s sizes too, I have a personal preference for neutral colors for the travel wardrobe. I’d also have liked to have a two way zip in the front, again a personal preference that helps with fit.

LL Bean rates this jacket as good down to 35 degrees/ -15F. I’ve been wearing it out in 40 degree temps and really liking it — I’m warm without being weighed down. I stayed dry in damp, not quite pouring conditions, and I haven’t felt constricted, it’s great for running around in. A little bit of insulation combined with the Polartec wind-stop fleece seems to be doing its job.

Right now,the jacket is $124.00 directly from LL Bean, down from the original $149.00. Want one? Get it directly from LL Bean.

Gadling Gear Review: Patagonia Men’s Lined Canvas Hoody

gadling gear review patagonia lined cavas hoodySo much of the gear that’s out there these days is incredibly technical and specialized. Ski jackets that are impervious to the elements yet breathe so that you don’t sweat too much. Raincoats with 16 pockets and stretchy materials so that you can also scale a rock face while wearing them. These products serve many purposes and are innovative, but they also end up being expensive and including unnecessary advancements that the average consumer doesn”t require. Sometimes you just need a coat that will keep you warm, can handle getting roughed up a bit and doesn’t break the bank. That’s what I was looking for this fall and it’s why I was excited to try out the Patagonia Men’s Lined Canvas Hoody. It’s a seemingly basic coat that’s practical and durable rather than technical.As you can tell from the name, the jacket’s exterior is a heavy-duty canvas, a material often associated with work gear. In fact, at first glance you might mistake this coat for something that Carhartt would produce. Being that it’s from Patagonia, however, its made from organic cotton and recycled polyester (inside the sleeves). It’s a no-frills jacket that’s meant to get dirty.

The coat is incredibly warm, thanks to the fleece lining that wraps your core. The cut of the jacket keeps the fleece close to your body, but also can feel a bit constrictive at first. While it fits properly in the sleeves, the body of the coat can feel tight and narrow.

It’s always nice to look fashionable and have gear that excels in both form and function. In that respect, the Lined Canvas Hoody is a bit of a plain Jane. That said, for activities such as raking leaves, winterizing your home, taking your dogs out for chilly walks and other outdoor chores that come your way as the days get shorter, a useful work coat such as this deserves a place in your closet.

Little details like the fleece-lined exterior pockets and interior breast pocket make the coat even more practical. As does the drop-tail hem, which is needed since the jacket is snug and short. The hem keeps your back covered when you bend down (say to pick up leaves or a pumpkin). What it lacks in space-age fabrics it more than makes up for in durability and usefulness.

The lack of technical advancements and innovations benefits your wallet, as well. As a basic work jacket, the Lined Canvas Hoody is a very reasonable $149.

If you like your gear to be the latest, greatest and fanciest, this isn’t the coat for you. However, if you need something that can handle work – not adventure activities, but real work – or just want a low key piece of outerwear that will keep you very warm, then this coat is perfect for you. And hey, fashion is subjective. Some people like a subdued, almost retro work coat. And there’s no question that this coat will keep you warm and comfortable during less demanding activities such as attending a chilly football game or fall festival.

The bottom line when it comes to the Patagonia Lined Canvas Hoody is this: It’s well-made, practical and will stand up to whatever you throw at it. Sometimes that’s more important than owning the fanciest or most advanced piece of gear.

The Patagonia Lined Canvas Hoody sells for $149 on Patagonia’s website and at other outdoor retailers.

Columbia Omni-Heat Circuit Breaker Softshell electric / heated ski jacket review

columbia circuit breaker

It’s a mouthful of a name, but Columbia’s new Circuit Breaker Softshell heated jacket is exactly the kind of hardware that avid winter adventurists and residents of frigid locales have been clamoring for. Heated gear has been around for awhile, but older implementations have generally been prohibitively expensive, extremely bulky and short on life. Reviews have generally been mixed, and the cold weather world at large has really been waiting for battery and charging technologies to advance to a point where a heated jacket could be taken seriously. The Omni-Heat Circuit Breaker is it.

This coat is one of three new launches from Columbia for next ski season (it’s slated to go on sale to the public on October of 2011), accompanied by a pair of Omni-Heat electric boots and a set of electric gloves. For this review, we’re going to focus on the most sophisticated of the three: the Circuit Breaker Softshell jacket, albeit a pre-production version that may be altered ever-so-slightly prior to October. Was a jacket filled with heating elements able to keep our core satisfactorily warm during a frigid snowmobile trip through northwestern Montana and during a near-blizzard at Whitefish Mountain Resort? Read on to find out.
%Gallery-114914%The design of the Circuit Breaker Softshell is what really sets it apart, and why it’s likely to be very appealing to travelers looking to keep their load light as they engage in winter travel. The jacket is essentially the same size as any other non-heated ski jacket, but it’s actually thinner, lighter and more flexible than bulky coats which rely on thick layers to insulate you and keep you warm. This jacket is able to trim down on materials thanks to the heating system that runs throughout the fabric; the electric nature more than compensates for the thickness that’s lost. The other incredible part about this system is that you can’t actually feel it while wearing the coat. If there are hundreds of heating tubes ran throughout, you won’t ever notice them until you feel your body warming up. If you’re concerned about tubes or wires inhibiting your motion while wearing it, don’t be — it feels like wearing any other jacket save for one thing.

columbia circuit breaker

That “thing” is weight. On the inner side of each chest section, there’s a clear pocket where a battery pack is stored. The Circuit Breaker can run off of just one, but the battery life suffers. With both packs installed, the coat is definitely heavier than your average non-electric jacket, but once you’ve put on the rest of your winter gear, you’ll forget about the added weight. In our opinion, the added weight is worth carrying around for the benefit of having heat. This is still lighter than some of the older heated solutions on the market.

columbia circuit breaker

Continuing with design, the outer layer of the jacket repelled sleet and heavy snow with ease, and the hood was always easy to find and flip up onto one’s head. There are two waist-level pockets on the exterior, an external chest pocket, and a handy arm pocket that is perfect for storing loose change, lip balm, etc. Turning the heat on and off couldn’t be simpler; just press the button on the front of the coat for three seconds, and it’s flipped on and set for maximum output. Another gentle press turns it down to Medium heat, and another lowers it to Minimum heat. You can disable to light if you wish by holding it for ten seconds (that’ll force the coat to enter “Stealth Mode”). In practice, the button worked great, even when mashed with a gloved finger.

While the design is stellar in most aspects, we did find a few gripes. For starters, there are no extended zipper pulls on the waist-level pockets nor on the arm pocket. For whatever reason, the only extended pull is on the outer chest-level pocket. Columbia should’ve included extended zipper pulls on all external pockets; any skier will understand the difficulty in operating a zipper with a gloved hand, and having no extended pull really made these particular pockets difficult to access. Moreover, the internal clear pockets that hold the battery packs need to be larger; once the jack to each battery is inserted, it’s a tricky process to wiggle the packs into their holsters. A bit more room on the Velcro pockets would have been appreciated. There’s always the slight possibility that the company would add these prior to a full-scale launch, but at worse, you could add your own pulls if you end up sharing our problem.

columbia circuit breaker

Speaking of the battery packs, each one can be recharged via microUSB, and Columbia (thankfully) includes two microUSB charging cables and a single AC adapter that accepts two cables at once. That means a single AC plug can charge up both packs at once — nice! What really impressed us was the extra adapters that were included; anticipating that some buyers may take this jacket to international ski resorts, a number of internal AC plug adapters are included so that you can recharge your coat regardless of where your travels may take you (Swiss Alps, anyone?). This may be an under-appreciated extra by many, but here at Gadling, we’re huge fans of any company that includes support for worldwide power plugs.

columbia circuit breaker

We heard early on that Columbia expected the Circuit Breaker to provide around six hours of heat with both packs fully charged. When we broke out on the snowmobile trails near Olney, Montana, we placed the heat setting on ‘High’ and never backed it down. The wind chill was quite severe, and we needed any extra heat we could find. Within seconds, we felt a rush of warmth all throughout our core region, and it didn’t stop until right around five hours later. We had briefly used the jacket’s heating functions earlier in the day for around a half-hour, so all told, we managed ~5.5 hours of battery life. That’s pretty close to the stated six hours, and it’s even more impressive when you realize that bitter cold temperatures have a tendency to drain batteries.

columbia circuit breaker

Would we recommend the $850 Circuit Breaker? If you live in a location where temperatures routinely drop into the teens, or you’re a frequently traveler to frosty destinations, it may be a worthwhile investment. Non-heated jackets of similar quality can easily reach $500 or so, so the price premium for having five to six hours of heat may be worth it if you’re tired of freezing whenever you step outside. The good news is that the jacket really does do an exceptional job of keeping the wearer warm, and it’s about as elegant an implementation as we have seen. The biggest problem with this coat isn’t in the coat itself — it’s that you’ll probably be itching to splurge on Columbia’s Omni-Heat boots and gloves after you get one. For instructions on how to connect the battery packs, check out the video below.

As a side note, Columbia is planning an entire range of these heated jackets to launch in the fall of 2011. While this specific model has an $850 MSRP, there will be nine electric styles in total ranging from $750 to $1,200.


How to sneak a third bag onto a plane

Annie Scott in a SCOTTEVESTWe all try to travel light and avoid those pesky baggage-check fees, but it can be difficult to cram all your goods into your suitcase and “small personal item” (which, for most people I know, has become a pretty big bag). So, when I received a SCOTTEVEST/SeV jacket to try, my hope was that it would be the ultimate, wearable, third carry-on of which I’ve been dreaming.

The “technology-enabled clothing” from scottevest.com has a lot of secret pockets, from attractive casual men’s shirts with 3 hidden compartments to superjackets like the Scott Jordan Signature System combo (which our own Scott reviewed last September here), which features a fleece and jacket with a total of 52 pockets, many of them specific to particular items like water bottles or pens, and a patented “Personal Area Network for earbud wire management.” The jackets also have a “Weight Management System” which helps distribute the weight of all your worldly belongings evenly on your shoulders.

You probably have the same question I did: “How much can it really carry?” Not only could this jacket potentially save you money at the bag check, but it could also mean no more carrying a bag (or dreaded fanny pack) while sight-seeing, or even replace a backpack on a hike.

I decided to test out the 18-pocket, $120 SCOTTEVEST Women’s Essential Travel Jacket by attempting to load everything from my gigantic handbag into it (thus freeing up my hands for a whole other “small personal item”). Check out my findings in the gallery below.
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