Category Archives: Gear

Evolution and the path to the JL Project

Evolution to JL

In 2011, I bought my latest Jeep, a Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, as a new 2012 model. I had been wanting a 4 door Wrangler since before they made them. There were rumors of the 4 Door in 2005 and 2006, when I had my 2003 Wrangler, but at that point just rumors. I needed a Jeep with more room and when there was no four door Wrangler in 2006, I traded my TJ on a…gulp…Commander. It was a decision that turned to regret as soon as it became real. The Commander gave me the space I needed, but I never once kidded myself into thinking I had a Jeep. So the next year when the four door finally emerged, it was like a kick in the gut. I persevered though and in 2011, the Commander was paid off and I was ready to get back into a real Jeep. Why didn’t I just buy a 2011 Wrangler four door? Simple, I drove one and the horrible 3.8L minivan engine just killed it for me. The bigger question though is why Jeep?

My 1985 CJ-7

Well, I’ve always had Jeeps. It’s in my DNA. I wanted a Jeep for as long as I can remember wanting to drive. I was old enough to get my first car (of my own) in 1986, I bought a 1985 CJ-7 for $7500. It was the coolest thing I’d ever driven, even though it seemed to be a truck from a bygone era. A very short, time after I got my beloved CJ, Mother Nature felt the need to smite my beautiful CJ with baseball and softball sized hail. The sheet metal was pounded as if by sledgehammers, the top was perforated and it even broke the dash and horn center cap.  It was my first truck that was actually mine and I’d only had it a short time when it was just clobbered by the hail. Being in a small town, there were limited options for repair so the dealer body shop got the job of restoring my Jeep to it’s previous state. They did a horrible job and were completely unable to match the paint and refused to repaint the whole vehicle. In the end, they made me an offer that appealed to my attraction to shiny objects, and the color black. They offered to give me the full price I paid for the CJ towards the brand new 1987 Wrangler that they had just received with giant wheels and tires. It seemed to be newer, cooler and more modern – and compared to the CJ it was. I walked away with the coolest looking Jeep I’d ever seen. Bear in mind that I knew NOTHING about Jeeps other than I really liked them. My new YJ Wrangler had 33″ tires on really wide wheels that caused the tires to stick way outside the fenders. I just knew it was awesome looking. I soon realized that the tires were too large and it needed a lift because the first time I took it offroad the tires kept jamming so far into the fenders that I’d get stuck until everyone got out of the Jeep. I had fun though and it began a life long journey into the Jeep life and probably more so, the life of off-roading.  Over the years, it has included a large number of different off-road vehicles including:

1985 CJ-7
1987 Wrangler
1988 Comanche 4×4
1968 Wagonneer
1979 CJ-5
1989 Wrangler
1969 Ford Bronco
1979 K-5 Blazer
1997 Dodge Ram 4×4
2000 Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4
2003 Wrangler Rubicon
2006 Commander
2012 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2014 Grand Cherokee Limited ecodiesel

Before the mods began..

I see each of the above as evolutionary stages to where I am now.

I saw my 2012 JKU as the Jeep I always wanted, The One Jeep that did everything that I wanted a Jeep to do the way I wanted to do it. Like most owners, I slowly began to modify it to do the things I wanted it to do. While it still had dealer tags, I took it on a trip with friends to Clayton Oklahoma, an area known for big rocks and technical trails. The Jeep did fine but continually tested it’s skid plates so I decided I needed to get it up off the ground with a lift and bigger tires. My friend Jason at hooked me up and soon the Jeep was standing tall(er) and that began the process of transformation. I won’t bore you with the details, but as anyone in the Jeep Life knows, it becomes a never ending process of making your Jeep…well, YOURS. If you own other types of vehicles, you can put different tires and wheels on it, you can Add some stickers, but really, it’s not easy to make it different than everyone elses. Jeeps are different though, they just scream to be made different because there are so many ways you can make it yours. Some changes you make to improve things that you don’t like, some just to look the way you want. After 6 years, I’ve got my Jeep about the way I like it but I’ve got almost 100,000 miles on my Jeep and its my daily driver and there is nothing wrong with it – everything functions perfectly well.  But, it’s missing some cool features other newer trucks have and I’ma techie that likes new tech.  On the other hand, I don’t want to get rid of my Jeep because I have put a lot of work into getting it where I want it and I don’t want to start over.  The idea of driving a Jeep with 100k miles to Moab, wheeling it hard and then driving it back seems like asking for trouble. It’s kind of like relying on an aging quarterback to get your through the play offs healthy. It could happen, but you are playing with fate. The ideal solution would be to get a tow rig (pickup) and a trailer and trailer my Jeep for trips. But pickups are expensive (more expensive than Jeeps!) and then I’d still need a trailer so that’s another $3 grand.  There is a part of me that would love to have something like a Ford Raptor that I could do the occasional off-roading in, but that would be comfortable and easy on my daily drive. It would require trading my Jeep in and it would mean either abandoning the Jeep Life or buying an older rig to wheel and tow. That has been a very appealing idea to me of late. But now there is a new option. It’s called the JL.

Jeep has released the successor to the Wrangler JK, and it’s called the JL. The early peeks at it look like they have created the hardcore offroaders dream. You see, it comes from the factory solving a lot of the off road Jeeper’s issues with the Wrangler. To make the Jeep do the things we want it to do, it needs at least 35″ tires, if for no other reason than the fact that the Jeep just looks ten times better with them. The problem though is that when you add big tires, you create a number of issues. To fit the larger tires, you have to lift the Jeep to clear them. This can create questions about warranty coverage as well as introduce problems like flaky steering or even exhaust clearance. So you have to modify the exhaust and/or the steering for better handling. The bigger tires also make the brakes much less effective so the Jeep doesn’t stop near as well, you have add aftermarket brakes to stop normally. The JK’s front axle is also known to not be as strong as it needs to be for 35″ and larger tires. To minimize the risk of bending the axle, you need sleeve and most also replace the ball joints with heavier duty ones. Oh yeah, you need new drive shafts because you lifted the Jeep. Where do you put your big spare tire? Oh yeah, you need to buy a new rear bumper with a tire carrier. The headlights suck so you have to get LED’s to replace those or add auxillary lights. You want to add lights and other accessories that require switches? You need to buy an SPOD so you don’t have to cut holes for switches and find a place to wire them. OUCH! As you can see the cost quickly adds up and you end up modifying the Jeep in ways that take you into the realm of questionable warranty coverage. You end up spending a lot of money. Well, the JL just made life a lot easier for the new Jeep owner. Here is a short summary of how it will save the new Jeeper a lot of money and I’m talking about the Rubicon model, because what else would you buy?

  • No lift needed for 35’s – The Rubicon has fenders designed for 35″ tires. No need to modify the exhaust either since you aren’t lifting it
  • The axles are designed to handle up to a 37″ tire – no need to beef it up, unless you want to…
  • The brakes are designed for larger tires – no need to install bigger brakes.
  • No need for longer drive shafts because you aren’t lifting – unless you just want to…
  • The tailgate has been designed with a larger spare in mind, the brake light even adjusts for larger tires – no need to go aftermarket – unless you want to!
  • The headlights are LED’s – No need to spend money on aftermarket LED lights
  • There is a built in “spod/auxillary power center” – no need to add aftermarket
  • Improved steering that will handle larger tires better

The list is long, but they seemed to have touched on everything. The windshield now easily folds down. You are probably asking, who folds their windshield down? The answer is nobody because on the JK it takes AN HOUR AND A HALF! Now it can be done in less than 5 minutes. The doors are 15-18lbs lighter each! Ever taken your Jeeps doors off? It’s going to be much easier now! They have even molded handles into them for easy transport The soft top can easily be put up with one person, with one hand even . If you’ve tried to put a JKU’s soft top up by yourself you know how huge this is. The Jeep is slightly larger so there is 2″ more legroom in the backseat of the 4 door and they have reclined the seats and added AC vents to the rear. Now your rear seat passengers will feel like they are more than “cargo”. Do you fold your rear seat down for your dog(s) to enjoy?  In the JK the seats don’t fold down very flat and there is a giant hole between the cargo area and where the rear seat folds. My dogs fall in the hole continually.  Now it’s flat and the space is covered. There are tons of others features including some really high tech stuff on the center display…oh yeah, there is an 8″ display that has Android Auto (and apple car play) as well as tons of useful info about the engine and systems complete with specially designed screens for venturing offroad!


So I’ve decided that I will be passing my JKU on and getting a new Wrangler JL Rubicon 4 door to replace it. I plan on doing a full review after I get it and then documenting the build up of the Jeep as I “make it mine” both here and on Youtube. Stay tuned for more.

Why I won’t be buying the Galaxy S8 (or any Samsung product…)

I see tons of ads for the new Samsung Galaxy S8 phone. In the ads, it looks like a great piece of technology, but I will not be buying it. Why? It’s not because I don’t like it, it’s more a matter of I don’t trust Samsung as a company and as a customer, I feel like they did their Note customer 7 customers wrong. Let me explain…

I haven’t been a fan of Samsung phones. I had bought a Note 5 and it was clunky, and bogged down with Samsung’s version of Android. Something else I hated was that talking on the phone for any length of time caused it to get hot enough to be uncomfortable to hold to your face. About 3 months after getting it, I lost my Note 5. It didn’t bother me, because I just did not like the phone so I looked around for a replacement. I bought a Nexus and liked the phone. The S6 came out and my wife got one, but I wasn’t impressed with it, other than it’s camera. Then the Note 7 came out and it was very impressive looking. Enough so that it caught my interest. Samsung appeared to have fixed their GUI and got rid of everything that I hated about it. I really liked the phone, except for the $900 price tag. In the end, I decided to get it, still not liking spending that much on a phone but as a pre-order, I got a free Gear Fit 2 smart watch so that somewhat made up for that? (That’s another story that did not end well) After a few days with the Note 7, I loved the phone. Honestly, its probably the first smartphone that I really liked and would actually tell others how great it was. I loved the iris scanner since it was quick and easy to use. It had none of the faults of the Note 5. It never got hot when talking on it, or even when on the charger. The phone had a great camera, which is something as a photographer, was very appealing. Even the S-pen, which I never found useful on the Note 5, seemed to be much better implemented on the Note 7.

Battery Failure (an omen?)

About a month after I got the Note 7, my wife went on a business trip to NY. There were some mix ups with her rental car or luggage or something like that and she called me severely stressed out. She had called while she was trying to straighten it out and during the call she mentioned that after turning her phone on after the flight, it had been very hot. Shortly after, the call dropped and when I called her back she picked up but none one appeared to be on the line. I retried and finally there was a voice on the other end. She said the phone had flashed a message about “over temperature and then shut down. When I called her back she could hear me, but for some reason, I couldn’t hear her. Since the phone was hot, she tried the speaker phone and that worked. A few minutes later, the call again dropped, this time for good. My wife had to find a pay phone to call me back. The S6 shut down and would not turn back on, even when plugged into a charger. My wife was in a strange city, with a non-working phone and so couldn’t use it as GPS or to find the nearest ATT store. When my wife finally managed to find an AT&T store, they told her the phone was obviously fried, but they did not have any S6’s. Because the S7 was out they didn’t keep the S6 and the best they could do was to get her a refurbished phone in a week. Being without a phone was out of the question so we decided that she could just buy the S7 and we would get the S6 repaired and sell it. Months later when I was forced into returning my Note 7, I took the S6 to be repaired. At the time the S6 failed it was out of warranty by a couple of weeks so Samsung would not do anything. The repair shop replaced the charge controller and battery (it had melted down) but the screen and digitizer had apparently been damaged by the overheated battery. I guess she was lucky that her phone died a less violent death and I shutter to think about what could have happened if it had caught fire while she was holding the hot phone to her face.

It wasn’t long after my wife’s S6 burned out that someone reported that their Note 7 caught fire and the world panicked. Never mind that there have been countless stories about iPhones blowing up for YEARS! In fact, the same weak that the report of a Samsung blowing up, an iPhone blew up in a young mans pocket and injured him, yet there was no march to recall it. So, after owning the phone slightly more than a month, I was told that I had to return it for replacement. I purchased the phone as a pre-order from Best Buy so I went to return it and found there was a very long line to return it. I made several attempts and decided to wait for things to cool down a bit since standing in line for 2 hours to return it was not something I was willing to do. I kept using my Note 7 and loving it. It still continued to work fine and hadn’t hurt or maimed anyone (as far as I knew). During this time, Samsung was extremely apologetic to their customers but the Internet had started to turn on them and those who had Note 7’s. Suddenly, there was a case of someones Note 7 getting hot on an airliner and the next thing you know pressure was put on the airlines and the FAA to ban Note 7’s. At this point, it had been almost 3 weeks since the Note 7 replacements had started to ship. I finally decide to just bite the bullet and get my phone replaced. I go to Best Buy where I’m told that I need to first reserve a replacement phone. So I waited 45 minutes for someone to take down my information. They put me on a list while in the mean time, I hope I don’t have to fly! A few days later, Best Buy called me to tell me my replacement was in. After waiting 45 minutes to get help and another 45 minutes of them trying to figure out how to switch everything over to the new phone (because I had bought my phone outright it caused issues with ATT), I was out of there with a phone that the sole difference seemed to be a different color battery icon so the airlines could see that my phone wasn’t a lethal bomb. Of course a couple of weeks later, someone with a Note 7 with a green battery icon reported that their phone exploded and the world went crazy.

Why the hysteria around the Note 7 fire reports? Google “S6 catches fire” you will find a huge number of S6’s caught fire.l. Do the same for the S7 and S5. Guess what? There are multiple reports of ALL of the last 3 generations of Samsung phones catching fire. The reality is that lithium based batteries are prone to fire. They have made the phones thinner and thinner so that when these phones are dropped there is no buffer room in the phones and the batteries receive some of the impact. Samsung says they never replicated a fire in controlled conditions. I believe them because taking a phone and bench testing it will never reproduce the issue. They aren’t putting the phones through an actual day in their lives. The Note 7 was insanely popular so when there were reports of fires, even though other Samsung phones were doing so too, the Note 7 was a magnet for the stories. Although Samsung phones had been catching fire for years, the stories never really blew up and went viral. I think Samsung realized that the more attention that was put on the Note 7, the more likely it was that it would spread to their other Galaxy models. If they did not get the Note 7 out of the public eye, they would soon be dealing with a MUCH larger issue. Shortly after just a couple of reports of 2nd generation Note 7’s having battery issues, Samsung issued a statement basically telling users to return their Note 7’s to the carrier. Although recalling the Note 7 would be a large financial loss, Samsung banked on Note 7 users replacing their Note 7’s with other Samsung phones. They were right in fact, and most Note 7 users replaced their phones with the S7 Edge. I held on to my Note 7 as long as possible. Why? I did not want an S7 or an S7 edge. If I had wanted either of those phones I would have bought them when they came out. I wanted the Note 7, but after Samsung badgered me daily with harassing text messages and threatened Note 7 owners with bricking their phones, I finally returned mine. I needed a phone, but there was nothing I liked. The Samsung rep convinced me that the S7 Edge was “just a Note 7 without the S-pen). Realizing it was the least bad option available, I reluctantly traded my Note 7 for an S7 Edge.

Life after the Note 7
I tried to give the S7 Edge a chance, I really did, I promise. The GUI is like the Note 7’s, but in my experience it just isn’t an S7. First, there is no iris scanner so I don’t lock my phone. The finger print scanner isn’t reliable for me so I just don’t lock my phone. I don’t want to have to enter a code every time, it’s a hassle. Obviously, it doesn’t have an S-pen. It has the rounded screen like the Note 7, but on this phone I hate it. The “edge” screen makes the phone difficult to use without a case on it. I always have a case on my phone, except when I need to use it on my Mavic Pro drone. It won’t fit in the screen bracket with a case. For some reason without a case, the screen doesn’t work well because my big hands are apparently touching the “edge” surface and so it ignores my inputs. Unlike my Note 7, the S7 Edge gets extremely warm when I’m using it to talk. Lastly, despite having a case on it, the screen broke when I dropped it getting out of the car one day. I’ve never broken a phone’s glass until that day. Because of the “edge” and shape of the phone case to make it usable, the case can’t protect the edges of the screen adequately and it broke. Also because of the edge screen getting it repaired costs almost $400. So I now have a $700 phone with a broken screen that is not worth repairing. One other thing…I purchased the unlocked version of the S7 edge. I wanted to avoid any chance of carrier bloatware and having seen how long ATT usually waits to send out Android updates, the Samsung rep at Best Buy assured me that the unlocked/unbranded phone would get updates much faster than the carrier branded phones. This was a blatant lie. Not only did the unbranded phone not get the updates faster, the Samsung hasn’t gotten them at all. ATT pushed out Android 7 to their S7’s over a month ago and not only has Samsung not released it for their phones, no one at the company can even answer when or if they will push it out to the unlocked version. My old Nexus 6P got the update months ago!

Samsung Wins the Trust of the Public at the Expense of Its Customers Trust
The real tragedy here is the way Samsung handled the whole fiasco and in the end, how they screwed over their loyal customers. The Note 7 did not catch fire any more than any other Samsung phone, it’s just that the Note 7 was the new, darling phone so the reports of battery fires, exploded in the media – pun intended. I and many, many millions of other users had Note 7 phones that worked perfectly and never hurt anyone. At some point anyone that held onto a Note 7 became a “very bad person”. Samsung quickly turned on their loyal customers by reporting to the media that they were having trouble with “Holdout customers that were stubbornly endangering the public”. How? Samsung happily gave updates on how many people weren’t turning their Note 7’s for the recall. The media and the Internet were quick to label anyone who was holding onto a Note 7 as someone that didn’t care about public safety. Samsung was happy to climb on that dog pile. Instead of doing something for those customers who were actually loyal to their product they instead treated them as criminals and threatened to essentially bricking their phone after crippling it’s battery life. If there is a physical problem with the battery, limiting it’s capacity isn’t going to reduce the risk of fire. Since a majority of fires were with phones on the charger, you have now put those customers in a situation of having to put their phones on the charger TWICE AS MUCH! This was not done for customer safety. Someone at Samsung realized the easiest way to minimize their losses were to force their customers out of their Note 7’s as quickly as possible so that their only real Android alternative was another Samsung phone. Most of Samsung’s Note 7 customers that had turned in their Note 7’s replaced them with the Samsung S7 Edge since it was the “next best thing”. Cell phone generations are extremely short, so it was important for Samsung to get customers out of the Note before the next generation phones released from the competition. Most of the holdout Note 7 users were hoping a suitable replacement would come out so they could replace the Note 7 with something they were happy about owning. If Samsung really cared about those loyal customers they would have offered those loyal customers some sort of loyalty reward towards the Note 8 when it came out. Samsung already had a Note 8 in the design stage and knew it would release around April/May. They even falsely stated that they didn’t know if they would continue the Note because they did not want anyone holding out for it. Afterall, Note 7 customers were likely power users who they assumed would upgrade to the Note 8 from the S7 Edge replacement as soon as it was released. It gave them the opportunity to recoup extra revenue by hitting them twice.Samsung was focused not on it’s customers but on minimizing the damage to it’s bottom line. It worked because while we got stuck with something we didn’t want, they were rewarded with the most profitable quarter in 3 years.

So What Happens When the Note 8 and S8 Fire Reports Begin
Like I mentioned earlier, there are a disturbing number of reports of other Samsung Galaxy models catching fire and exploding. All of the recent models seem to do it. So Samsung what happens when those S8’s start burning? I hope that when it happens (not if) the public hold them accountable and the last 3 generations of Galaxy phones are investigated for the fires that began long before the Note 7.