Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leatherman Squirt P4 vs S4 vs PS4

This post will likely interest only a small number of people on the planet, those who know of Leatherman's tiny multi-tool "Squirt" range, and wonder what they are like, or possibly which one to buy. In particular, the latest model, the PS4 combines some of the features of the previous generation - so it's the latest, but is it the greatest? Note that I am not an electrician, so the E4 is of no interest to me and I don't have one (the main tool is a pair of wire strippers).

Firstly, the three tools share some components. They all have a slip-joint (non-locking) knife, for example. This is decent, and fairly sharp when you first get it, so you need to treat it with respect or you will lose some flesh. Note that it's flat ground but the final edge is only on one side of the blade. I use the blade a lot, it's good to have one in your pocket, and nobody is going to feel life threatened when you pull it out HOWEVER, it's also a good way to lose your tool. All you have to do is take it through airport security and they will confiscate it. In fact, that's where two of mine came from, second hand from airport security auctions.

Moving on, they all also have a bottle opener, wide flathead screwdriver (that's one tool) and a one-dimensional phillips head screwdriver. The later arguably also has a small flat head screwdriver at the end also. The one-D thing, in case you have never used it, works surprisingly well. Anyway, that's it for the common tools amongst the P4, S4 and PS4.

Let's cut to the chase and get to the main tools. The clue is in the name of each tool, of course. S=Scissors, P=Pliers. The only tricky one is the PS4, which has pliers as the main tool... and scissors as a minor tool. I'll go over that again to make it absolutely clear. The S4 has scissors, but no pliers. The P4 has pliers, but no scissors. The PS4 has pliers (main) and scissors (minor). You can't have two main tools, and what I mean by minor is that they are smaller and an outside accessible tool, along with all the others. While I'm on this thought, this is one of the things I really love about the Squirt design - ALL tools are accessible from the outside except the main tool, which requires the wonderful butterfly action to open.

A picture may really help here, so here goes -

(Click for larger image)

So, anyway, scissors versus pliers? They both clearly have their place. The S4 is a fantastic "personal grooming" tool, as is evident by some of the companion minor tools. For more general work though, I feel that the P4 is a better bet. The reason is that the pliers are fine enough to make decent tweezers and can cut string (in the wire cutters). Most other things that you might want to cut with the scissors you can get away with using the blade instead. The scissors in the S4 are pretty decent, however, they are quite short and so you will only get a maximum 25mm cut each time. You don't want to be hacking away at an A3 piece of paper with these little snippers, although they are sharp enough that most times you can run the scissor along once you start a cut (obviously, it depends what you are cutting, but paper or tape would do this).

The scissors in the S4 have some grunt to them then, but in the PS4, not so much. I'd still cut my finger nails with them, but that's about it, and I don't know if it'd get through my toe nail! Maybe. So they are a bit dinky, more like a SAK pair of scissors, and only good for really minor jobs. They are even shorter too, at 16mm by my measure. One good thing -- both are sprung, so a cut comes back ready for the next cut. I like this in the main tools too - the pliers are sprung also, please don't underestimate how good that makes them. The spring action on my PS4 is slightly stronger than the other two.

The reason for so much pontificating about the scissors is that they are the "line in the sand" between the PS4 and the other models. It used to be pliers OR scissors, and now you can have both. Is there a sacrifice? Well, as it turns out there is. Not just the fact, already pointed out above, that the scissors are fairly wimpy. The bigger sacrifice is that the scissors take up two minor tool spots, and one in particular I have found handy in everyday use. The two tools lost (as per the P4) are the jewellers screwdriver and the awl. These are both thin tools, and this is where they become handy, being able to get into cracks or a small hole. The PS4 loses both these tools, and as a consequence, has no thin tool. You could argue that you can use one of the blades of the scissors as a thin tool, but it's not really made for that.

The one tool on the P4 and PS4 that I don't use much (and I wish they had used instead for the scissors) is the file/saw/chisel. I've never used this, actually. Funny, but there it is. I'm sure some people use them "all the time" and think they are wonderful. Not me. The S4 has a more useful tool instead, a metal nail file / cleaning hook / ruler. The ruler is a joke, managing just 3.5cm with some of the markings missing. But the hook/nail file are excellent. Coupled with the main scissors and the metal tweezers, you can see why this is the one to have for "personal grooming".

The PS4 has some other "generational" changes too. The design is somewhat different than the other two. The scales, for a start are a matt finish. I thought they were plastic at first, but discovered they were not. How did I discover this? Well, this leads to another subtle design change : that the scales on the PS4 are considerably less rounded at the edges. Sharp even. And when you are using the pliers they are a bit uncomfortable on the hand. So I went at them with some sand paper, and after some rubbing, I exposed the metal underneath.

The S4 and P4 I have are second hand, and fairly "well loved". One issue with the scales is that the anodised aluminium chips fairly easily, particularly around the end with the keyring. I have not had the PS4 all that long, but I get the impression that the finish on this might last a little better.

What they also did with the PS4 is change the scooping that is in the scales, so that you can access the tools. On the P4/S4, the scoops were generous, and symmetrical, identical on all 4. On the PS4, they are considerably smaller, and not symmetrical. Actually, that's not quite right. The long tools (blade and file) get a long scoop along the length of the tool. The smaller tools get no scoop at all, the thumb nicks being *just* proud of the scales. The scissors get an off centre tiny scoop. It's all a bit random, really, in a modern way. One advantage, I suppose, is that it might be slightly faster getting orientated with the tool when you pull it out of your pocket. With the symmetry on the other models, you get less visual clues. I will say that I've never had a major problem finding the right tool, quickly, on the P4, so this is only a very minor win. I will say that I have found, on occasion, getting tools open on the PS4 a slight fiddle, so that's a bigger loss. I have ok finger nails, but if you bite yours, you might not be able to open the tools at all.

One other thing to mention about the scales on the PS4. They are slightly thicker than the P4/S4, and the whole tool is held together by torx screws rather than thick rivets. The screws are taller than the rivets too, so the overall effect is that the PS4 feels ever so slightly wider (about 1mm, it's not much). Potentially this enables you to take the tool apart. I don't intend to, and I don't think many people will, but I guess that's good. The finish also seems to be less cold to touch on the PS4 too, although I might be imagining it. Might be good if you live in a really cold place, but I don't.

I really know how to crap on about nothing, don't I? But for some strange reason, this stuff is interesting to me. I don't know why!

I think it's important to come to a conclusion here. Which is my favourite? And I'm not going to cop out by say "I like them all", even though, I actually do. Let me eliminate the easy one first then. The S4 stays on my keyboard at home. I don't carry it with me as a rule, and like using it but I could live without it by using other tools more suited for the job (I'm looking at you, nail clippers!).

So that narrows down the field to the P4 and the PS4. I had the P4 as an essential every-day carry for ages, and swapping out to the PS4 has highlighted some of the differences. I am yet to use the dinky scissors, but I have had the PS4 in my pocket and missed the jewellers screwdriver. In terms of the (to me) all important "fiddle factor", the P4 I have has the absolute perfect tension to snap back as I open and close it repeatedly. I even half close it and squeeze just enough for the tool to close on it own. It's a joy to do this, again, I'm not really sure why, it just is. Please note that I have used other P4's, and they do not all have this wonderful tension. If the hinge on the main tool has been damaged, this will be ruined, for example.

So which is it, the P4 or the PS4? C'Mon...

Oh, this is hard. Um. Ok. Well, the PS4 I have is new, and black (which I like). But the P4 is a nice blue too, but it's a bit beat up. Oh. Ah...

It's a close race, really, but in the end my heart is telling me this : the one I like the most, overall is the P4. It's just such a nice, tactile experience to use this little wonder. And it has the tools I most often use. I do prefer the symmetry of the scales, if I'm honest too. I partly wrote this post in an effort to make up my mind about this, so now I'm done. Phew!!

BTW, I would recommend buying any of the Squirts on eBay. The retail stores seem to delight in marking these up the wazoo, so it can be half the price. No matter which one you buy, you will wonder how you ever got on without it. They really are wonderful things (and make great gifts too), I'm a big fan of them. I've never wanted or owned a large multi-tool though, it's a compact size and weight of the squirt that makes it the winner it is.

Edit 2013-07-26 : You may be interested in the review of the Gerber Dime against the Leatherman P4 here!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gold - Part 2

Well, it's been a while since part 1, and I have been thinking lately about a different angle on gold.

This is probably an odd angle, actually, but I think it will help shed more light on the slightly mysterious subject of what makes gold valuable. I'm going to take a bit of a flipside view of gold to do this -- looking at the reasons I gave for why gold was valuable in Part 1, and then disproving most of them!

Firstly we need to start a thought experiment. Imagine that you go to the toilet, and come back with a small sample of, um..urine. Wee, piss, you get the idea. Now further imagine that you add a small preservative to this, and then seal it in a small glass vial which in total weighs exactly one ounce. Place it on the table and next to this, place a one ounce of gold bullion bar. Let's look at these two things side by side.

I think it's fair to say that very few people would part with good money for what I will now mostly refer to as "the vial". It is intuitive that this is not very valuable, if at all. I have not tried to sell a vial of my own urine, but I don't think I'd get a lot for it, do you? Perhaps less intuitive for some, is that the gold is by contrast considered very valuable. Even if you do not understand why exactly, or agree that it should be, at least take it for the truth that the market price of gold is currently well north of $1000.

What I want to examine is what these two objects have in common, because these can't really be the things that makes gold valuable. Let's get an obvious one out of the way quickly and by way of example of what I am talking about; they are both yellow. In fact, gold can be a slight range of colours from white, light yellow, straw yellow and a pink yellow (some copper content). I believe urine can have a similar colour range -- if you drink a lot of beer it is diluted and goes pale, and if you are sick and there is blood in there too, it can be pink. Gross perhaps, but I'm just saying they have a reasonably similar colour pallet. I am further suggesting that we can conclude it's not the colour of gold alone that makes it valuable. If it was, the vial would be valuable too, and in the previous paragraph we concluded it isn't.

On a similar vein is the "shiny" quality. Gold is shiny. I would like to point out that so is aluminium foil, and that's not selling for $1000 per ounce. I suspect too that the glass vial could refract light in a most pleasing manner if you took the time to hold it up to a light just so, and look at it like that. So I think Shiny is out too, although you could keep arguing this point for a little longer perhaps.

What about divisibility? One claim about gold is that it's "easily divisible". This is supposed to make it a good bartering/monetary metal as you can portion it out as needed. I have read of merchants that trade in gold wire, as this can be cut to any length. This makes perfect sense, and it can then be easily then wrapped around something, like your wrist for example, so it's practical. On the other hand, if you have a one ounce bullion bar, like the one on our imaginary table, then the only way for the common man to divide this is using a hacksaw. You might get two rough pieces and a waste of gold filings (and if I did it, blood everywhere). Sure, if you happen to have a furnace you could remelt these filings, or sell it as dust by weight, but it's becoming a fiddle. Consider next our vial. If you unstopper it you can pour out as little or as much as you need into another vial. On this basis, I think that the wee is also easily divisible. If they are both easily divisible, it's not this factor that makes the gold the more valuable thing on the table then, is it?

How about "universal recognition"? One supposed benefit of gold it that it's known the world over. I would suggest that everyone the world over goes to the toilet at least once per day too. In this experiment (at least), this is not the deciding factor.

Gold is "rare" as well, being found only in certain rock deposits in limited places on the planet. Is this the thing that makes the gold valuable? Well, the urine could be considered rare, from a certain perspective. If you think it's YOUR urine, then only you can make it, then even over your entire lifetime I would wager (not actually having done the calculations) that there would be more gold on the earth than urine you could produced. From this (admittedly highly contrived) viewpoint, the urine is probably rarer than the gold. Of course, if you take the capacity of all the people and beast in the world, then the vial contents is not rare at all. I'm not really trying to deny this, but just to extend the thought experiment where possible. Suspend reality a little to stay with me here.

Moving on then to the next property, let's now consider the argument often presented that gold has "little industrial use". Because it's more-or-less unused, it can focus on being a monetory metal the logic goes. Other commodities are more affected by industrial demand fluctuations which effect long term price. This is all well and good, and sounds reasonable. Then we look on the other side of the table and try and think of industrial uses for the vial, and draw a fairly big blank. Urine is not useless, but it's also not exactly turning the wheels of industry today either.

Gold makes excellent jewellery, and this demand partially makes it valuable, right? Well, you could turn the vial into a pendant and wear it as jewellery too. It's a matter of taste, after all. No, I don't mean for you to taste it! It just needs some good marketing, perhaps? If Angelina can wear a vial of blood for a while, why not piss?

I don't think gold is valuable just because it's a solid either. Our vial is a solid of sorts anyway, in that it's made of glass. And you could freeze it's contents to make it all a proper solid, but I'll admit that not being a solid at room temperature is the reality here. There are plenty of other solid objects in our life that are not valuable, such as lead. This is further a soft metal, so it's closer to gold in this regard. Is being a solid the single secret to the high value of gold? Doesn't seem likely.

Gold is a dense metal though, which makes it compact for carrying vast wealth. On the table the two objects are the same weight, one ounce. The glass vial, being not as dense, takes up slightly more space but is still easily transportable. It seems unlikely that this is the make-or-break property that differentiates the two objects in value, wouldn't you say?

So, to summarise the thoughts so far as to what is apparently NOT responsible for gold's high value : It's shiny or yellow or a solid or dense, it's divisible or universally recognised, it's rare or has little industrial usage, or that it makes good jewellery. Not a bad list of things that we have excluded, don't you think? Did you think you'd get all that just by comparing it to vial of piss? Any surprises so far? Might be a good time to stop reading and think -- if it's not these things, what is it?

Let's move on to some more difficult things then, if you are ready...

What about durability? Gold is effectively "everlasting", and never tarnishes. Golden objects unearthed from thousands of years ago are practically untouched by time. This is a tough one, and the vial is not looking so strong here. Note that I sneaked in a preservative in the bottling process to add some life to the argument. I would further suggest that for most people, the important span of time is one human lifetime. If something can last 100 years, then it's probably considered by most to be pretty durable. Could a perfectly sealed, with preservative, vial last that long? I have no idea, and I doubt anyone has tried this, but let's say that it might, in ideal conditions (probably away from light and heat). Gold wins here, but not without a fight, and it's not clear if this is the one property that makes gold so special.

How about the "product of labour" argument? That gold is so hard to mine and refine, and represents many hours of labour that can't be faked. This is similar to rarity, but with a twist. It's not exactly hard work to make urine is it, so I think gold wins here too. Staying with this though, are there any other things you can think of that take a lot of time/effort to find or create, but are yet worthless? If it's truly worthless, then you probably would not even bother, but that doesn't mean that examples don't exist. How about finding naturally burnt toast in the shape of Homer Simpson? It might take days of popping toast in the toaster before one comes out looking like him. Would that make it valuable? Sadly, in our sick and twisted eBay world, it might! Oh well, bad example then, but I think you can probably find another.

Gold has been a historical store of wealth, and has a lot of "folklore". The same can not be said for the vial, I don't know any stories extolling the virtues of urine. Kings and Pirates and all that. So chalk one up for gold, again.

So some possible reasons that gold IS valuable are that : It's durable, its a product of labour and that it has some folklore. Not the longest of list, is it?

I will stop this now, because I think I've made the point I set out to make. I do want to just say that I know quite a lot of the logic here is weak in places, at best. The point was not to prove in a watertight logical argument what makes gold valuable, but to playfully consider a situation and see what ideas might come of it, and in the process perhaps questioning some assumptions commonly held.

I believe that gold is valuable for good reason, and that is simply because it has many properties that make it valuable. It's not just one, but them all. Other things may have one or more of these properties too (like our vile vial), but gold has the complete set, which makes it stand apart from everything else. Picking them out one by one like I have done above is a divide and conquer technique -- they all seem weaker on their own. It is the sum of the parts which makes up the real story of gold.