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Sam reviews: Samsung YP-U6AB MP3 player

by on Jan.15, 2011, under gear, Geekery, kit, Reviews

avatarI love music. I listen to a lot of music. My tastes are eclectic, running from Baroque through onomatopoaeic, quirky, more quirky and utterly bonkers, by way of some psytrance, big beat, a bit of metal and stuff I find hard to classify. And everything in between. New Age ambient, prog rock… I’m synaesthetic, and my synaesthesia affects my proprioception. I don’t like any specific sort of music. I like music that does things to me. Check out my Last.fm profile and you’ll get the idea.

My MP3 player is probably the one gadget I have that would cause withdrawal symptoms if I lost it. I’ve had some form of personal stereo ever since the first Sony Walkman, back in the days of audio tape. (I find it scary that there are people alive today who might not know about audio tape.) I went from tape to minidisc to flash drive, and for the past few years have received sterling service from my Sony NW-S205F. It did everything I wanted it to do, despite the clunky and incompatible-with-everything-else SonicStage software, was small and light and easy to use while working out or on the bike, and it was showerproof.

Before any cycling chums start getting their knickers in a twist: yes, I listen to music while on the bike if I’m riding alone. No, it doesn’t affect my ability to hear traffic. As far as I am concerned if you are relying on your hearing to save you from being hit by a car then you’re doing it wrong anyway. If you wish to argue about this, please go and contribute to one of the many, many threads on CC and I will proceed to ignore you there, too. I am a big girl who has tried with and without and I have performed my own risk assessment, thank you very much. You are free to disagree but not to impose.

In the past couple of months it became apparent that my very much loved MP3 player, which was bloody expensive when I got it, was suffering from terminal battery failure. Desperate, I searched the internet thinking that maybe there was a DIY method of changing the battery, because Sony support said it was uneconomical to change the battery and it was better to replace the unit, thereby missing the point entirely because they don’t do anything similar any more. The internet said no: the design is so compact and the insides so tightly packed together that battery replacement is likely to destroy the player.

So that left me needing a new one. I looked at the various Sony products because I’ve always had Sony players. Sadly, as I said, they don’t make anything resembling the NW-S205F any more. Their sports player is this weird combination headphone/headband thing, and I don’t want my ears taking the weight, thank you very much. I find it hard to believe that can possibly be comfortable when running. The alternative is the B series, which diligent research revealed to be allergic to moisture. No good for a gym bunny/recidivist cyclist like me.

Samsung YP-U6QP

I bought the black one, obviously

After hunting around a bit more I settled on the Samsung YP-U6AB (the QP is the 2GB version) on the basis that it seemed to be exactly the same in terms of function as the lamented Sony NW-S205F, but it was rectangular and didn’t have a fast charge. I could live without fast charge.

First there was the issue with the shop losing my order, then replacing my order with one for the multimedia version (yeah, that’ll do well in the rain), then, once all that had been sorted out, sending it using an ancient, asthmatic camel that took a route via Klatchistan. I can only imagine that’s why it took so damn long to arrive.

But get here it did. Yesterday.

As the Sony had sickened to the point of me taking my old minidisc to work yesterday, you can imagine that I was impatient to get going with it. So impatient, in fact, that the lack of any form of carrying case (the Sony had come with a special armband that I have worn so much in the intervening years it has practically left a groove on my arm) only made me a little bit ranty. The software that shipped with the device wouldn’t work on the machine on which we keep most of the music. This did not fill me with joy and happiness. However, the product information indicated that it was compatible with Windows Media Player 11 and that transferring music was an easy drag and drop affair.

Now, say what you like about Sony’s compatibility and their godsawful ATRAC format, the SonicStage software did one thing very, very well: it managed music and playlists and transferred them to the player without me having to think about it. Create playlist, save playlist, drag it to player, done.

First of all I spent more time that I’d intended creating a new playlist in WMP. I meant to chuck a few songs on and get going but there were some I needed to have and then I had to make sure that they had compatible songs around them and appropriate spacing… You know how it is. Well. You probably don’t. So I was as impatient as an unruly sackperson waiting for an even more unruly sackperson to catch up by the time the device was charged, I had swapped across to the other machine and bullied Vista into network sharing properly so I had access to our whole catalogue and then constructed the aforementioned playlist.

I did the drag and drop thing, safely removed hardware as directed in the user manual, then fired up the new toy. I boggled at the small wiggly thing that appeared on the display along with the demand I choose one. What was this? An adoption centre for imps? I picked the one that looked most aggravated and fumbled giving it a name. DID NOT MATTER. NEED MUSIC. NEED PORTABLE MUSIC. GIVE ME MY PORTABLE MUSIC.

Noes!!!! The playlist hadn’t worked! All the songs were there, but they were arranged ALPHABETICALLY. What noxious effluvium of a mastitic ungulate from the nether regions of Beelzebub’s bowels was this? This is 2011! MP3 players are no longer the stupid, simple mass storage devices of old. I wanted a portable soundscape generator, not a flash drive!

I tried installing the software that came with it. It crashed my machine, leaving me with the horrible decision to switch everything off manually to get it unfrozen, even though the U6 had the “Do not disconnect while transferring” warning on it (which was a lie, because I wasn’t transferring anything).

My wrath was mighty.

With a grim determination that could only end up in the MP3 player doing what I wanted it to or someone dying a vicious and brutal death, I rebooted my computer and hit the internet. A seven stage iteration of search terms later I had learned about MSC and MTP and also that the Samsung U6 is one of the very few players on the market that’s still MSC. I spat the dummy at that point and was about to go into full-on berserker mode, but then I found this thread on anythingbutipod. Only the Korean release is purely MSC. In Europe the U6 can be switched to MTP. Once I’d found that I hunted down the instructions to do so because, guess what, it’s not in the user manual.

Success! With MTP enabled the U6 accepts drag and drop playlists from WMP with barely a shrug of the shoulder.

Sound quality seems good enough, although I’m using the Phillips headphones that I had already rather than the nasty-looking things that came with it. It’s not as user-friendly as the old Sony and I doubt I’ll ever use the sports function (I didn’t use it on the Sony, after all) — I only wanted a sports model because they tend to be more robust. The decision tree is more along the lines of Frood‘s creative than the play-all/play-album/play-playlist options on my old Sony. I’m not fussed about playing by genre, artist or whatever. The only option I’d ever want other than album or playlist is bpm. There’s a user-assignable button on it, although I have no idea what I might use it for. I’m sure I’ll think of something.

It’s a subtle, understated little thing in the black option, about half again as long as my thumb. The metal finish gives it a reassuringly robust feel. Now that it’s doing what I want I’m pleased with my purchase, especially as I got a 4GB player for less than half the price I paid for my previous 2GB one. Around forty of your Earth pounds is a pretty good deal, I’d say.

But, really, I shouldn’t have to spend an evening becoming even more of a geek than I am already in order to do something as simple as transfer a playlist. The device should come in MTP mode from the factory, but, failing that, at the bare minimum this should be discussed in the supplied user manual. Samsung, I like your hardware but you need to do some serious work on ease of use.

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MOAR SNO, LOLS

by on Dec.06, 2010, under kit, Photography, rambling, transport

avatarThere can’t be many people in the UK, possibly the world, who are not aware that we are having our earliest severe snowfall for around 20 years. It started on my birthday and hasn’t let up since, although we’ve had one day when there was no new snow. That was yesterday.

This morning at 6am the sky was still clear, as far as I could tell in the darkness. By 8:30am, when I was leaving for work, the snow was falling in earnest.

I took the car, because I’m still recovering from flu. It took me about an hour and a half to get 5 miles. Sitting at the junction of Quality Street (no chocolate) and Queensferry Road and seeing the traffic at a standstill in my direction of travel, which meant it was probably backed up from the Maybury junction, I turned left instead of right and spent another hour getting home again. Just getting the car into the street and out after finding no parking spaces, then into the car park out the back, took about 20 minutes. The snow is lying on sheet ice.

This is the view from our window:

WhiteOut

O LOOK. MOAR SNOBES

It has actually become even worse in the time it has taken me to download from the camera and write this much.

For the past week or so we’ve been experiencing problems with the communal boiler, which means there have been a few days when we’ve had no hot water or heating for more than long enough for it to get very cold indeed. I think they’re coming to fit a new part today. As I’m now snowed in — at least until I get the mountain bike kitted out in appropriate tyres and discovered whether my chest can take the exercise — I’m really hoping they don’t have to turn it off today. It’s already chilly in here.

Talking of cold, I ventured out to the shop in my Vibram KSOs late yesterday afternoon. Previously I’d been out in the Bikilas, which are made of a thicker material and have more robust soles (and really are that pink), and that was fine. While I am so enamoured of the VFFs that I never want to wear “proper” shoes ever again in my life, I can honestly report that I thought I’d managed to get frostbite wearing the KSOs on a mixture of packed ice and snow. I think it might be time to get some of the Ininjis or Lizard socks to keep my little tootsies warm if it’s going to be like this all winter.

Here’s the view from the window now. The trees are disappearing. The gas works vanished hours ago.

The gasworks have vanished.

Look! No gasworks!

I hope Frood gets home okay. He’s got cross tyres on Spartacus. He should be fine.

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Yes, brrrr, it is a bit chilly!

by on Dec.01, 2010, under kit, Photography, rambling

avatarWinter has come to Scotland and it has decided to make a proper go of it. We’ve had snow every day since Friday, and it has settled. Anyone who has seen any news relating to the UK recently will have seen that this is the earliest we’ve had weather this severe in a long time.

I was out in the snow with Andy Gates at the weekend, jumping up and down in the snow in our Vibram Five Fingers:

Snow Bikila

Andy said something that made me smile: a good way to decide whether you’ll like the barefoot Vibram experience or is if you’re a puddle jumper. If you’re a puddle jumper you’ll probably like them.

Unfortunately since then our communal boiler has broken down, meaning that heating and hot water have gone out. It’s bloody cold here. I can’t get to work, so I’m stuck at home and I’m wearing four layers as well as a hat and gloves. The engineer is struggling to get through the snow to fix it.

For that reason, here is a picture I took during warmer weather, of a sad old bike parked outside the supermarket. Whenever one of my machines accuses me of neglect (naming no names, Shackleton) I show him this picture. Makes me feel better, anyway.

Sainsbury's sad bike

What gets me is that the chain isn’t as slack as I’d expect on a bike that badly maintained. Maybe the rear axle has rusted into the drops. I love the way the front light is held in place with duck tape, too.

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Imelda Marcos I ain’t

by on Jun.03, 2010, under kit, training

avatarBy some peculiar quirk of genetics I was born without some of the traits commonly associated with others of my sex. I don’t like gossip magazines, I see no good reason for television soaps to exist, clothes shopping is to be done only if there is no sane alternative, and Jimmy Choo sounds to me like a dogfood brand. (“Jimmy Choo to keep his teeth healthy. Because your dog is worth it.”)

I own two pairs of footwear that would be considered ‘proper’ shoes, and that’s only if you count the Lara Croft replica boots.

However I do own a lot of sports shoes (especially if you count the two pairs of fins, but let’s not go there). My current collection includes three pairs of cycling shoes (road, tri and offroad) and five pairs of running shoes.

The latter is excessive, I admit. But, you see, there’s the old pair of Asics I’ve had for about ten years and they’ve been retired from both racing and training but they’re still good for general purpose wear. There’s the old pair of Trabucos that I’ve trained and raced in to the point where the orange has turned muddy and the uppers are wearing through. There’s the new pair of Trabucos that I bought to replace them but they don’t fit as well because they changed the last and put a stone-plate in there. There’s the pair of Inov8s I use for lightweight hiking and will be used for running if I ever remain injury-free for long enough to get out into the hills.

And there’s the pair of Salomons. I bought these from Run4It on Lothian Road, to replace the Trabucos with the stone-plate when it became clear that no amount of use was going to break them in to the point where they were comfortable. Back in my competitive ski-ing days I used to wear Salomons and I have a pair of Salomon walking boots, as well as a Salomon Raid Revo running pack and some of their running tights. I like their stuff. It’s usually built well and thoughtfully and suits my needs.

XT Wings

They've released a new version now. I expect they have the same heel:toe proportions

In the shop there was a slight niggle in my left foot, but that was the one that had been playing up with the Trabucos, so I figured that it was just bruising. On the treadmill they felt fine. I ran 20k in them on the treadmill in the gym just to be sure. With some lace adjustments and the right socks they seemed okay when I finally took them outdoors. For about 100k.

Then the pain started. Excruciating. It felt like I was landing on a spike every time my left foot went down. Eventually I took them back to the shop and they sent them off to Salomon. Salomon said they’d found a slight flaw and sent me a new pair.

I was even more careful. I checked them in the shop. I checked them at home. I checked them in the gym. No niggle. They felt great. They felt like I had hoped they would feel.

For about 30k. Then exactly the same problem. It was, oddly, relieved either by removing my socks completely —although I ended up with the interior seams chewing the tops of my toes, so I had to race my first of the season with my feet decorated in compeed— or thick off-road socks. Nothing in-between.

During this time I developed acute ITB syndrome in my left knee. This cost me a couple of hundred quid in physio, three months off training and racing at Tranent. My second race of the year, in April, ruptured the plantar fascia in my right foot, which was probably compensating for the restricted motion in my left leg. More physio, not to mention podiatry charges, and more time off training (I managed 15 minutes on the treadmill yesterday and have spent most of the last 3 weeks with my foot taped).

After analysing the various factors that could have contributed, I can only come up with one thing: the shoes.

I’m a mid-foot striker, landing just behind the ball of my foot. What this means is that most trainers are ill-suited to my gait. They have too much padding in the heel and not enough at the front. I’m also a mild over-pronator, so I need late-stage motion control. These are things that competent staff at a good running shop should know about and it’s why I go to a specialist running shop instead of buying my shoes for half the price over the internet. I value the additional service of knowledgeable staff.

I shouldn’t have been sold these shoes. It’s not that the shoes are bad shoes: they’re just not suited to my style of running. Unlike the Asics, which have the built-up heel but also have a fairly generous amount of forefoot padding, the Wings save weight by reducing the padding at the front. This means that, not only is there insufficient padding to protect the foot at impact, the heel is about 50% thicker than the forefoot. In a mid-foot striker this limits ankle flexion through the stride, putting undue strain on the calves and the windlass mechanism in the foot. Because of the lack of padding in the front, eventual compression of the insole meant that when the ball of my foot landed on one of the knurls in the sole I could really feel it.

I’ve had to find out all this for myself by careful research and a lot of reading, which I’ve had time to do because I CAN’T BLOODY TRAIN DUE TO THIS STUPID INJURY.

I’m a bit grumpy from lack of exercise.

There have been suggestions recently that barefoot running techniques, including non-heel striking, increase the chances of plantar fasciitis. I’ve been running this way for five years now and this year is the first of me having an injury of this nature. While it’s true that barefoot running isn’t for everyone, because everyone is different and biomechanics are not generic enough for one technique to suit all, I can’t accept that my running style has caused this injury when I’ve been fine with it for a number of years and thousands of kilometres.

I think the problem is more that most shoes aren’t designed for these techniques, and mixing the two is what is causing the problems. If you’ve got a runner who has heard about these techniques and decides to give them a go in his ordinary running shoes, and those shoes are designed for heel-strikers, then he’s going to suffer the same issues as me: the shoes promote a heel-toe movement and he’s running with a toe-heel movement. Seems fairly obvious to me that this is not a good thing.

Although Run4It has the best selection of Hilly socks in Edinburgh, I’m not best pleased about the service I’ve received there and won’t be going back. I did go in and explain the situation, however their response was to thank me for letting them know and say they’d make a note of the feedback for future customers.

That didn’t help me at all.

I’m trying to look on the bright side: I am now far more knowledgeable about shoes, feet and running than I ever was before and am in a better position to assess whether the staff in a shop are able to offer me competent advice or not. I have finally found a good reason to spend the money getting a biomechanical assessment from a podiatrist and have external verification that my obsession with technique and stretching has paid off.

However, the shoes cost me the best part of 90 poorly molluscs, the combined physio and podiatry costs are in the region of £350, I may need custom orthotics to stop this happening again because of the weakness in the foot; and I currently have only a very slim chance of being race fit for the Galway Triathlon, which wasn’t exactly pocket change to enter.

And I still need to replace my trail shoes. At least I have a very good idea of what to avoid.

I won’t be running in the Salomons again. Size UK 6.5, ladies, blue, have done about 50k and look brand new. Any takers? I don’t have the gene that codes for “wanting to keep a pair of shoes that don’t fit me properly and I’m never going to wear”.

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Gear review – Finis PT paddles

by on May.04, 2010, under gear, kit, training

avatarI have argued on numerous occasions that I am not a geek. Except, let’s be honest, it’s a lie. OK, so I don’t go into orgasmic quivers over the latest mobile phone OS, and the iPad release left me utterly cold. The thought of playing Arkham Asylum in 3D doesn’t give me goosebumps and I can turn off The Gadget Show as easily as I can turn off Iron Chef.

And yet, at the same time, I spent about half an hour obsessively comparing saddle-mounted hydration systems only last week and I have a shelf full of books that go into painfully anal detail about everything from wheel building to running technique.

I confess. It’s way past time. I’m a sports geek.

Not a nerd, not the sort of person who can recite which teams won what in which league in which year from the relative safety and comfort of an anorak: the sort of geek who makes it her business to know the latest thought on technique and performance and kit and gets excited about training aids that other people can’t even identify at first glance.

(I also like computer games, and I don’t mean Nintendogs. I mean The Darkness, Wolverine, Bioshock… you know. All those girlie games.)

So it will come as little surprise to those of you who understand the performance sports geek mentality to hear that I like my swim training aids. Of course I have the everyone-has-those pullbuoy and kickboard, but I also have other things, things that most people wouldn’t recognise. I own a pair of fist gloves. How geeky is that?

The latest toy to take my fancy was a set of the Finis PT paddles. PT stands for “Perfect Technique” and the aim is rather similar to the fist gloves: they are designed to force the swimmer to learn to use his entire body rather than just his hand for propulsion:

PT Paddles are shaped to deflect water around your hand, effectively removing the hands from the swimming equation. By removing the hand as a paddle, swimmers have to find other methods of generating propulsion.

Because your hand can no longer ‘grip’ the water, your body will need to adjust your stroke. The elbow is positioned higher, the hips roll a little further, and the forearm is activated earlier, allowing you to catch and pull yourself through the water.

Wearing the PT Paddles overtime increases your body awareness and muscle memory. Then when you swim normally without the paddles, you will feel stronger and faster in the water.

Finis PT paddles

I thought I’d take to them like a duck to water (ahem), being a veteran user of the fistgloves. What I wasn’t expecting was for them to be buoyant, nor the effect of the additional weight. While fistgloves are not too dissimilar from simply making a fist when swimming, and make your hand slip through the water with alarming lack of resistance, the PT paddles somehow manage to keep the feel of arm speed through the stroke the same while still removing the hand from the propulsive effort. They are also an additional weight to carry through the recovery part of the stroke.

I didn’t find them as tiring as the fistgloves, which makes me think that I’m floundering less in the water and making better forward progress, despite the feeling that I’m not. That in turn tells me that the PT paddles are more about feel and I think that might work for swimmers who can’t cope with the loss of propulsion that comes from fistgloves. They might, indeed, be a worthy intermediate step for someone training on his own, without the benefit of coaching, who wants to try some of these more advanced techniques without resorting to fins.

In terms of construction they are fairly soft, so you might get away with them at the local pool, especially as they seem to be contained within the area of the hand. Adjusting the straps is a bit fiddly, even more so than normal swimming paddles, and it took quite some time to get them to the point where I felt they were workable. Comfortable is still some way off. They are certainly more robust than fistgloves (I’m on my third pair). Of course they are also good for anyone who has a latex allergy.

For what you get they are expensive, and I’m not sure they are worth the price. On the other hand, fistgloves are almost a tenner and are as fragile as a fragile thing called Little Miss Fragile from Fragiledonia, so if you’re as tough on gear as I am and want to try teaching yourself to use more than your hands for propulsion, give them a go. Or take a couple of squash balls into the pool with you — just don’t let go.

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Happy Friday

by on Aug.14, 2009, under Cycling, kit

I’m working from home today as I have a bout of gastroenteritis. Or food poisoning. Or gut flu. Whatever it is seems to be content to prowl around making me feel just a tad less than my usual splendid self, its presence plain but not debilitating, as long as I don’t eat anything. If I eat anything resembling proper food it’s a different matter altogether. So I don’t feel unwell enough not to work, but I don’t feel well enough to go into the office, especially as I’d have to cycle because the car is in for servicing.

In response to a livejournal post on BikePirates I put up some pics of my bikes, and, I have to say, that has cheered me up no end. Share my joy with a touch of bike pr0n for a Friday morning.


The fast one (Peregrine the Pinarello):

I look best on the bike

The loaded one (Fingal, Orbit Fast Tour):

Fingal at Inverness Station

The fixed one (Shackleton, last of the 135mm Il Pompinos):

Shackleton

The other fixed one (Blackbird, a rescued and rebuilt Raleigh Sun Solo circa 1983):

Blackbird goes for a ride

The sometimes grubby one (Max, a Specialized Hard Rock from before they got ugly, with his friend, Bob):

Max and Bob

And if that didn’t make you feel better about the world in general then it’s either because you’re envious of my stable (perfectly understandable) or you prefer lolcats of a Friday.

funny pictures of cats with captions

If that didn’t work then there ish no pleeshing you.

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Amen, brother

by on Jul.06, 2009, under Cycling, Geekery, kit, Lols and memes

I can only imagine Thudthwacker really loves me because he said he read this and thought of me (and Munky, to be fair, but that’s an awkward threesome).

You really need to read the whole thing for full FLAVR, but I shall present you with an excerpt or two that I found particularly lulzy with which to whet your appetite:

If some twat on some message board somewhere says that you can use the lockring from your bottom bracket as a lockring for a fixie conversion doesn’t mean that A: you can, or B: you should. Please listen to me on this stuff, I really do have your best interests at heart.

So you want a bike that you can ride to work, goes really fast, is good for that triathlon you’re doing this summer (snicker), is good on trails and mud, and costs less than $300. Yeah. Listen, I want a car that can go 200 miles an hour, tow a boat, has room for five adults, is easy to parallel park but can carry plywood, gets 60mpg, and only costs $3,000. I also want a unicorn to blow me. What are we even talking about here? Oh yeah. Listen, bikes can be fast, light, cheap and comfortable. Pick two, and we’re all good.

Yes indeedy. Especially on the lockring. I was never convinced about that. I can think of a few others, too, especially that one where they say you can convert a single speed into a fixed hub using araldite. Buh. I personally wouldn’t trust araldite to stop the damn thing slipping, but, you know, I don’t mind buying a fixed hub and rebuilding the wheel. If you think it’s easier and better to shove epoxy resin into the freewheel then good luck to you.

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Why go shopping?

by on Apr.05, 2009, under kit, training

Sometimes it’s a wonder, in these days of Wiggle and other internet sports shops, that actual, physical shops manage to stay afloat. When you can buy sports kit so much cheaper online, why go to a shop with overheads?

I’ll tell you for why.

A couple of years ago I went to RunAndBecome in Edinburgh and bought my first pair of trail shoes. The staff were great. They spent a long time making sure I had the right shoes for my purpose, my feet and my gait. The shoes were the Asics Gel Trabucos, and I’ve been very pleased with them. They’ve done sterling service both in training and competition.

Finally, however, they wore out, as shoes are wont to do. I knew they were on their way out, and then I had a dream in which I got back from a particularly tough run and discovered the soles were completely smooth. My feet had been hurting of late so I figured this was my subconscious telling me to bloody get out there and replace them.

A copy of Runner’s World had arrived with a catalogue from an online retailer offering the Trabucos at half retail price, and money is kind of tight at the moment so I was sorely tempted. However, I like to support shops because of the service they offer, so off I went to RunAndBecome and told them I needed to replace my Trabucos. Size 39. I was expecting to be in and out in a flash.

But when I tried them on in the shop they DIDN’T BLOODY FIT. Asics, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to change the last for the 2009 model and they were now too tight. Several pairs of different and not quite right shoes later the lovely shop lady found a pair of 2008 Trabucos on offer, and they happened to be in my size, and also were made with the same last as the 2007 model. Hooray!

That, boys and girls, is why one should not buy such an important piece of kit as running shoes online, no matter how sure you are that you know exactly what you want. As for you folks who take advantage of shops by going in to try them on and then going away to order them cheaply online: boo sucks to you. That’s just taking advantage, that is. It’s practically theft. You are using their services and not supporting the shop. Keep that up and there won’t be a shop, and then you’ll be reduced to ordering unsatisfactory kit online and having to send it back.

I don’t really mind that the new ones are bright yellow. Even though it tastes teh nasteh. I’ll just not look at them.

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