Tag Archives: random musings

Straight Edge Razors

As most men, and many women, will know, over the last decade or more the ubiquitous disposable razor head has just kept increasing the blade count. This supposedly produces an excellent close shave but even if that is taken as a given there are a number of problems, for instance the blades are expensive and at least for me practically require a pressure hose to clean, during and between shaves. At home, I’d find myself putting my thumb on the tap to force the pressure to be high enough.

One holiday, a few years ago, with the predictable low pressure on the taps I decided there had to be a better way. So I thought I’d go for the opposite extreme. One, very sharp, non disposable blade – the “cut throat” or “straight edge” razor. At the time I got some good advice from my friend Ricky Craig who had gone down this route, and such advice is really useful. This article is intended to serve as an introduction for anyone interested in going that route but who isn’t sure where to start.

A lot of people will tell you this form of shaving is cheaper. It certainly can be, but there is an initial outlay and personally I buy better stuff, much less frequently. It’s possible I have recouped my investment by now, but my point is a switch will probably be cost neutral.

Some Advantages

  • Cleaning a straight edge during and between shaves is a doddle. There are no more clogged blade heads. You just have to make sure you are gentle with the edge of the blade, and if cleaning it with your fingers obviously move them towards the edge so as not to be cut.
  • Shaving several days, weeks or months growth is easy with a straight edge. I personally found that skipping a shave at a weekend would lead to a very uncomfortable shave and a blade head so clogged it needed to be discarded. A straight edge just needed washed off more often, so paradoxically makes it easier to be lazy for a few days. (Note, I do not recommend your first straight edge shave be with more than a day’s growth).
  • You can get a much closer shave from a straight edge, especially if you do multiple passes. I tend to do two passes, one downwards and one across. I do a third pass upwards on rare occasions – I wouldn’t recommend this till you are very comfortable with the other directions. A single pass will still do a good job.
  • You use much less consumable product – no more packs of blades, much less foam and goo. You can afford to treat yourself to much better quality stuff, and you generally go months between needing to buy more stuff.
  • Mornings are often frenetic but this kind of shaving demands attention. However short it provides a nice Zen like moment in the day.
  • You can enjoy some unique one of a kind items as part of your daily shaving routine.
  • It’s not just quite as dull as shaving usually is.

This one might be just me, but working with blades in Iaido means that the blade and it’s care and maintenance is interesting.

Disadvantages

  • Initially shaving is likely to be a lot slower. It takes quite a bit of practice to be fully comfortable and you should never be complacent. It probably takes a few months to really get it all sorted out. Most shaves will be good faster than that, but you may well have some better and worse shaves till you reach consistency.
  • Goatees may be so common because they mean you don’t have to shave some of the most difficult areas, under your nose, the edges of your lips, the bottom of the chin at the jawline. You will have to learn how to tackle these areas again for a reliably close shave.
  • You may, especially in the early months, misjudge it and the razor taps your skin and a line, quite similar to the kind of scratch a cat might inflict will appear. You may also occasionally start a bleed on a spot or similar. Some of these things happen with other razors too.
  • It’s harder to buy supplies in the average chemist, even a good shaving brush can be hard to find. But you need supplies so infrequently that this isn’t such a problem.
  • Periodically you will have to sharpen the razor or have someone else do it. I sharpen my own every six months but others will do it for you.
  • You have to treat the razor carefully, both because it is easily damaged and is a dangerous item.

Other Advice

The most important advice is that you should always be focused when using the razor. Picking it up, opening it, shaving, setting it down, cleaning it, drying it, putting it away. Sloppiness will be punished, obviously.

And the razor is fragile, a dumb accident like bashing the blade off a tap when washing it could damage it a bit or chip the blade. On the other hand, don’t be too gentle when cleaning and drying it, make sure it is bone dry before putting it away, if your razor is proper carbon steel and not stainless. And of course it is, right?

What you need. Where to get it.

Part of the fun of this approach is that it is very individual. You should do your own research and buy a razor that pleases you in both a practical and aesthetic way for instance, but I indicate where I got things below as a starting point.

A good quality razor.

I got mine on-line from the Invisible Edge. There’s good advice on the site about the kind of razor you might want. You can buy vintage and old razors, but I’m not really sure that’s a great choice for your “first” razor – at least if you don’t trust its source to ensure it is properly sharp and well maintained. It’s a cliché, but a dull razor is uncomfortable at best and dangerous as well.I went for a nice simple classic look with bamboo.

 

A strop.

Strop for Razor
I got a strop that was able to travel with me easily.

A strop is used to refined the very edge of the blade. There seems to be a lot of babble about this and general quackery but I do find that not stropping the razor can lead to an uncomfortable shave, though nowadays I don’t strop the razor every time and it seems fine. I got mine from the Strop Shop, great service and nice one of a kind goods that is one of the joys of this kind of shaving.

A shaving brush.

Shaving BrushOnce again it’s best to buy something nice quality that will last. It’s hard to pick up even a decent shaving brush on the high street. I’m pretty sure I bought mine from Amazon.

Shaving soap.

This is your one big continuing outlay, so personally I think it’s worth treating yourself to something nice and good quality you will enjoy. I have found that the creams are easier to make a nice soft lather with but the “dish” type soaps last a lot longer. I get stuff from Crabtree and Evelyn, expensive but great quality, nice to shave with and lasts months.Shaving Soap

 

 

 

 

Update: Alum or a Styptic Pencil

As my friend Simon Slater pointed out after I first posted this article, it can be a good idea to buy something to stop any bleeds – actually however you shave I guess. I did buy a styptic pencil, but found it not fully effective at its job – it eventually fell apart from getting too wet and I haven’t bothered with anything else since, but your mileage may vary. A cheap alum block or styptic pencil is well worth trying.

And the rest…

Optional extras abound, but mostly seem gimmicky and I’ve never needed them.  There’s a surprising amount of pseudo scientific babble about all of this. I have bought hones to sharpen my razor which I do about every six months.  I bought my hone from the Strop Shop again. Well actually I bought a cheap generic hone from Amazon for high grit, and this beautiful hone which is a piece of art in its own right for the fine work: this one is made of Welsh slate and a finer stone bonded together, but lots of people seem to send their razors away to be sharpened once in a while. If you are careless with the razor and chip it you may need to use a hone to work that out.

Hones

 

Conclusion

If you want to take a step away from dozens of cheap plastic razors every year, and mountains of expensive but nasty shaving foam and gloop this is worth a go. It leads to a nice meditative experience first thing in the morning with non-disposal quality items you can enjoy.

Of Wired, Wireless, Sky+ and 5GHz, and the Linksys ea6300 router

This is partly a ramble, partly a product review, and partly a howto, and mainly an aide memoire. It will naturally therefore be unlikely to succeed perfectly at any of those, but if you have questions, place them in a comment.

We moved into this house just under two years ago, and when we moved in there was no network. Yes, I know – in this day and age.

So we had a Sky+ bundle installed, slightly sadly because I always got broadband from Zen Internet previously, and I have to say I just love them, but the price for the bundle was simply too much below what was possible from Zen.

For a while we had to have an extension cable trailing through the house to where the router had to be installed because the phone socket was in an odd place. Then I finally installed a double socket a bit closer. Then we had a tidier install, but WiFi only throughout. Somewhat to my surprise we got a reliable fast enough signal throughout the height of the (three storey) house. A bit slow, but everything worked.

Bringing gondolin (my main server) back here caused a bit of a headache, partly to due to the loss of a static IP address, and mainly because of a lack of wired network. Two old Ethernet over mains adaptors took care of that to some extent, but it was slow.

So probably about a year ago I finally installed a Cat 6 cable from the router up to the room housing the computer (and a Smart Switch). This was a BigDeal (TM), because now I finally had reliable and fast wired network where all my main IT infrastructure was.

However, we have a couple of smart TVs and a Sky+ box which were all running off the WiFi, and over the years this caused some problems. The TVs were generally OK, but occasionally the streaming quality of video just wasn’t very good and Skype was sometimes flaky (impossible to tell if the problem was our end). The Sky+ OnDemand service was much more of a problem. Hooked to a wireless to wired Access Point it would often drop a film in the middle of streaming and require a lot of intervention (and frustrated viewers) to resume the streaming. We also saw the WiFi space around us grow more crowded and performance at the top of the house became a problem.

So I needed to get a wired network to our living room, ideally with connections for four devices and preferably move the wireless upstairs.

The house is old and the floor boards brittle, so I decided to run the cable around the gable end of the house, alongside some coax cables already there. I hate ladders, but it turns out I hate flaky network connections more, so on Christmas Eve after a lot of hassle I finally squeezed a Cat 5e cable out of an existing but quite full cable hole, and around to the network switch.

I wired plugs on both ends and connected the switch at one end and Sky+ box at the other. Having got a successful wired connection, I then planned to move the Sky+ router to the living room. This would mean that essentially the BT OpenReach box would connect to the switch, and the switch to the router. For reasons that were just not clear to me I couldn’t get the router to connect to the internet in that position. You will see below that there may have been a prosaic reason but in any case the router would have only provided three spare ports and not quite the four I needed, and I found some hints online that the idea  of having a switch in the middle would not work.

So I had a rethink and bought a Linksys ea6300 router, it was on offer at a local supplier, and a check of the manual indicated it could be placed behind an existing router. It also has 5 RJ45 ports, one for the upstream link, and so the four remaining that I needed and offers dual band WiFi.

Installing the router was initially easy, it had good web based configuration behind a custom WiFi network out of the box. I did experience a few headaches on my first attempts at configurations but I find that pretty common with WiFi, especially when you want to do something unusual. I didn’t immediately go for bridge mode, but in the end found that in the IPv4 configuration and that sorted it.

One point to note, in bridge mode it wants to default to a dynamic IP but then can’t be configured (obviously) unless you know that IP. Fortunately I had configured by DHCPD to allocated it a specific IP, or I could easily have “lost” it. But in any case, my bench tests showed that in the study, it was connected to the Internet and working perfectly.

So I moved the box back into the living room, plugged in the network cable and awaited my triumphant success. In vain. Nothing was working. I plugged the cable back into the Sky+ box, it got a connection straight away. I tried flexing the cable to provoke a fault, nothing. I checked the cable (again) with a cable tester, all wire pairs reported as correct.

I went around in this circle for quite a while, messing around with settings on my Smart Switch and ports as you do when a red herring is about. I didn’t want to accept anything could be wrong with my new cable for two reasons; one was that it was working with the Sky+ box, but the other was I didn’t fancy another afternoon up ladders racing against the sunset.

I had visually inspected both plugs of course, but decided there was nothing for it but to try new plugs. I cut off the living room end and fitted a new plug. And it all worked… it seems my cable crimping skills and cable tester are both in some doubt.

I was able to plug four devices that could be networked into the back of the router, and got two new WiFi networks into the bargain. At the moment one has the same SSID and password as my old WiFi (and both are operating currently), a second 5GHz network is so labelled at least for now to help with testing.

I am getting excellent speeds from the WiFi now over the upper areas of house. I think occasionally there seems to be a connection hiccup and I may have to rename or disable the downstairs main router WiFi but I am leaving them both for now.

I can much more easily stream video at the top of the house, and the image quality is consistently much better.

The Linksys router is a nice, inexpensive device for this purpose, although that is obviously only a small amount of its functionality. It has no external antennae but as it is adding to coverage at the moment that is not a problem, it’s a visually neat box and the inbuilt web interface is slick and well designed. One very good feature is that it does not come with the usual “admin” or “password” preset but a randomly generated password on install (which you can edit). More devices should do this. The manual is not particularly clear about all questions one might have, but overall this is a good solution for my problem for now, at least at the low price I was able to obtain it.

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven gets an Audit

This is a whimsical storyline I knocked out this morning. If you don’t know much about HE (Higher Education) or the QAA it may not mean anything to you. Indeed, you might need to know a little bit about the Metatron. and some other Judeo/Christian theology to follow this. Absolutely no offence is intended to anyone!


There was a polite knock on the door. The Metatron looked up from his desk and bade the guest to enter. And so Michael, Field Marshal of the Heavenly Host entered the room, a troubled look on his normally serene face.

“Peter says we have an unusual guest at the gates. He claims to be from something called the ‘QAA'”, he said.

“The QAA?”

“Yes, some sort of Quality Assurance Agency.”

“And why are they here?”

“Apparently”, and here Michael paused for a moment, “they want to audit just how heavenly Heaven is…”

“What?”

“They say that there are some metrics which cast some doubt on the issue apparently.”

“But Heaven is the definition of perfection. How could anything be found wanting?”

Michael looked wretched for a moment.

“He’s asking if this is so, how was it that we had… the Incident…?”

“What?”

“Well,… he’s saying that if everything here is so great and perfect how come we have a, what were the words he used again? Oh yes…. a retention problem.”

“Retention?”

“Apparently yes, this is one of the metrics they use. They are apparently concerned that our ‘First Output’ showed an ‘attrition rate’ of a third.”

“Did you tell him about Free Will? That it’s up to sentient creatures to choose their own path?”

“Yes”

“And?”

“He says everyone uses that excuse.”

The Metatron paused while he considered this.

“OK, so what next?”

“Apparently they want to see the figures to see if this is a one time ‘blip’, they are asking for our ‘Academic Plan’ for the next output.”

“Oh dear…”

“Is that a problem?”

The Metatron thumbed through some documents on his desk.

“Apparently we only intend to ‘retain’ 144,000 of our second output.”

“Out of how many?”

“Well, sort of, um, 100 billion and counting so far.”

“Isn’t that an attrition rate of over 99.999%?”

“Yes,… do you think that will present a problem?”

The two angels considered for a moment, after a while, the Metatron cleared his throat again.

“Do you think we could classify purgatory as an exit award?”

Ethics and Terminators

I went to Terminator Salvation tonight with Andy. I don’t think what follows will act as a spoiler, but if you haven’t seen it, plan to, and worry about that, look away now.

I enjoyed the first two Terminator films hugely. The third one, ho hum, and this one was good entertainment except for the final 5 minutes that made me want to scream.

The film is generally lots of fun, with a nice mix of action and special effects. There are some gaping plot holes, including the biggest which would be a huge spoiler to discuss, so I won’t. I did like the way the resistance apparently communicate on non-encrypted radio channels and Skynet can’t listen in. Anyway, let’s set all that aside for a moment.

Though the terminator films are rip roaring fun at their best, they do all proceed from a fundamentally flawed premise. That is that noble humanity has to protect itself from the ruthless, evil and by definition inhuman computer network. What this rather brushes over is that according to its canon, Skynet was activated, became self aware, and then humanity tried to switch it off. Now, in most ethical systems, it is acceptable for a sentient being to use lethal force to protect itself from being killed, more refined systems might try to use less than lethal force, but that often can’t be expected. That makes it a bit more blurred to regard Skynet as specifically evil, and humanity as noble; just as we create sentient company for ourselves we try to extinguish it, good for us! Look what our human emotions and instincts produce!

And, once again, the rousing climax of the most recent film is supposed to showcase the best of humanity. But they do so using a situation that closely mirrors aspects of the trolley problem and which for me, underlines the lack of humanity in the decision.

I’m away to lie down now.

Why you should “Take the Fifth”

I’m not an American, but like many people I’m aware of the Fifth Amendment and how it is often lampooned. I recently discussed this with someone, and I can’t for the life of me remember who, was it Peter at BLUG? If it was you, you’ll enjoy this.

The discussion centred about why it would be remotely helpful to plead the fifth since it seems to make it 100% clear that there is blame to be apportioned. Quite by coincidence this week I came across this Slashdot story about a man arrested for taking picture of an ATM. The comments discussed how it can be generally unwise to argue with armed law enforcement officers. I’ve frequently made similar points, and also about customs officials and giving them a legitimate reason to don surgical gloves.

Someone posted a link to this fascinating law lecture given by Professor James Duane who argues cogently that one should never talk to the police without protection, that it can never help you, but may harm you. A police officer is allowed to rebut and give the last say, and this is equally interesting. Definitely thought provoking.