Archive for November, 2009

DE Razor Review: Astra Superior Platinum

Monday, November 30th, 2009
Astra Scaled.jpg

As much as I would love to stick with the Derby’s, I shall persevere in my quest for the perfect blade.

This weeks blade is the Astra Superior Platinum.

In terms of shaving quality, the blade does OK. The result is a good clean shave without a lot of drama.

The blade does, however, pull a bit more than either the Derby or the Feather. It doesn’t necessarily feel that dull, it just pulls a bit and leaves the skin of my face ever so slightly irked at the whole experience.

Disturbingly, the blade is pulling significantly more after an only a few days of shaving than I would expect. At this point, the longevity of the Astra looks pretty short.

Even if the blade provided an excellent quality shave, I would still be looking for a different blade with as good or better results.


Because the Astra’s packaging just flat out sucks.

The blades come in 5 packs tucked away in little boxes. Not that big of a deal, but not nearly as convenient as the plastic boxes that typically have a used blade slot on the backside.

The real failure of the packaging is in how the blades are wrapped. DE razor blades are typically (always?) wrapped in wax paper or some other water resistant substance to prevent corrosion of the blade.

The Astras are wrapped in not one, but two, layers of waxy paper. Wasteful and annoying. Worse still, the inner wrapper is actually glued to the damned blade!

If you look closely at the scan of the blade to the left, you can see the four glue splotches on the blade (and that was after I had actually scraped the glue off a little bit)!

The glue is a sort of rubber cement — feels kinda like the glue on post-it notes — and, yes, it does collect gunk while shaving.

By the end of the week, the shave from this blade was nothing short of unpleasant. I had flipped the blade to glue side down to get a fresh edge that the quality of the shave was even worse than the other side. Looking at the image, the glue splotches are actually covering parts of the sharp edge and I have to wonder if that degrades the shave significantly.

In any case, this blade was better than the Personna, but that isn’t saying much.

Uncharted 2; Brilliant, Marred by Intermittent Lockup/Freezes

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

I have recently been playing through Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
after having played through the utterly brilliant Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Absolutely genius game. Personally, I have always hated tracked games; games that have a single story line that you follow along, with little to no bifurcation. Yet, Uncharted 1/2 both do such a good job of telling a compelling story that I’m having a total blast. The voice acting and character animation are top notch.

It is as if you are playing along an interactive movie. Where you do get to make all the decisions is in how you approach any given battle; …go stealth or go in with guns a-blazing? …AK-47 with hundreds of round, a sniper rifle that’ll one-shot-kill, but requires precise aim, or a shotgun that requires close range & is devastating? …sneak around and take out the gunner’s nest from behind or try and lob a grenade?

The one problem though, is that the game freezes about once every hour to hour and a half of play. It may be a thermal issue (though I’m playing in a relatively chill room and the PS3 has excellent ventilation), but the symptoms are slightly odd. The music keeps playing, but all graphics and controls are dead. Upon restart, you find yourself just beyond where the freeze occurred, as if the game detected the freeze and moved you to just beyond the point where it happened. If true, this is welcome, but it sometimes means that you are in a tight spot with no appropriate weapons.

And I’m not the only one. Looking at this google search, I see hundreds of reports of the same behavior.

Some see the freeze occur more often than others (and I suspect some are thermal issues, from the descriptions). The problems aren’t limited to any particular model of PS3, either (I’m on a 120GB Slim, being the cheap bastard that I am).

Others have reported no problems at all.

I wish there were some means of reporting bugs and/or tracking issues like these.

While annoying, this isn’t a catastrophic bug (at least not for me — it doesn’t happen that often) to the point of making me regret the purchase. Total a worthy and awesome game to play through!

A Bit of Shaving History…

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
Straight Razors

While visiting the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, it was fun to discover an entire display dedicated to a collection of shaving paraphernalia from circa 1900 or so.

Given my recent over-engineered adventures in shaving, it seemed apropos.

At left are a collection of straight razors that a barber might have employed when taking care of their customers. I’ve never had either a professional shave or a shave with a straight razor by a professional.

The notion of paying someone hold a razor sharp blade against my jugular is a bit nerve racking. But it surprises me not that successful executives pursued such services. Leaders often seek situations where they are decidedly not in control.

In any case, the display also included a beautiful collection of shaving mugs.

It should also come as no surprise that obsession with blade quality has a long history. As an example, here is a blade-of-the-week kit that the museum had on display!

Before there was QWERTY….

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
Blickensderfer Typewriter #7

Before there was QWERTY keyboard layouts, there were a number of others.

At left is a Blicksenderfer Model #7 typewriter from circa 1897.

It featured the DHIATENSOR layout, referring to the arrangement of keys in the bottom row, not the top row. Given the same notation, modern day QWERTY would be ZXCVBNM,.

Go figure.

This, along with the next typewriter, were in the Science & Technology room of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. Can’t recommend it highly enough!! GO!

In any case, here is a detailed picture of the type-head mechanism. The Blicksenderfer had an easily interchangeable type head to enable easy typeface changes.

Bennett $18 Typewriter

A little more than 10 years later, the world had standardized on something pretty close to the modern QWERTY keyboard layout.

At left, is a Bennett typewriter from circa 1910. QWERTY is where you might expect, but other keys are in quite different locations, the space bar being neither a bar nor at the bottom of the keyboard.

Quite a bit of change in the last 110 years!!

DE Razor Review: Derby

Saturday, November 21st, 2009
Derby Scaled.jpg

Honestly, after the Feather experience I thought I would be surprised if another blade proved to offer a better shave.

And, yet, the Derby (amazon link) has done exactly that; produce a silky smooth shave with a pleasant shaving experience & almost no blood loss.

I guess I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, given the rave reviews.

The Derby isn’t as sharp as the Feather, yet it produces a shave that is every bit as close and, unlike the Feather, is considerably more forgiving in doing so. The only downside (so far) is that the Derby doesn’t seem to be quite as adept as the Feather at dealing with the bit o’ skin between chin and lower lip.

For lack of a better term, the Derby is a more relaxing blade for me to shave with than any of the others. It is more forgiving in that it tends to draw less blood, yet doesn’t pull or burn anywhere near as much as the Merkur or the absolutely abysmal Personnas.

Conveniently, the little case stores used blades under the good blades (with a divider between). Handy.

Assuming the Derby provides a bit of durability — lasts at least a week — it is currently the leading blade for me.
The Derby blades have provided a consistent shave for a full week, at that. Great blade for me.

The blade was starting to pull just a bit after 6 days, but flipping the blade over restored the quality of the shave to pretty close to new.

Currently, the Derby blades are my blade of choice. I still have about 5 or 6 brands to try, though.

In the meta, the Derby (amazon link) comes as a surprise. After all, a razor blade is really just a super damned thin piece of metal with very sharp edges. Yet, there is quite a bit more character to that piece of metal and its interface with my beard than I imagined.

(And, no, I have no idea why the blade has the numbers 3 and 4 on it. Nor why the other side has 1 and 2. Anyone? Update:Apparently, it is so you can keep track of which side you might have used or something. Seems silly, but… OK.)

Calling Python from Objective-C

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Every six months or so, I run across a question along the lines of how do I invoke some Python code from Objective-C?

Kinda like here for which I posted the same conceptually concrete but technically vague pattern that I have posted for the last decade+.

Which led to this question.

OK — enough is enough. Here is a working example. Read the rest of this entry »

California Rice Oil Company

Thursday, November 19th, 2009
California Rice Oil & Turkey Burner in Shallow Fry Mode

One reason I started this weblog was as a means of taking notes such that I could use google to index my brain. Another reason, though, was that others would comment on my various postings with ideas, refinements, suggestions, and criticisms. This posting is in response to just such a contribution.

Shortly after writing the turkey fryer article, a comment hit the moderation queue suggesting that I give rice oil a try for frying a turkey. Specifically, the comment pointed to the California Rice Oil Company.

I emailed the contact on the post to ensure that it wasn’t spam and, in so doing, the company offered to send me a gallon of rice oil for review.

I’m not entirely certain how I have entirely missed rice oil in my cooking explorations, but I have. And now that said company introduced me to the oil, I’m never going back.

It is a fantastic product. Better yet, it also appears to be one of the healthiest oils around (see the references).

I love to fry foods and, with the turkey burner or deep fryer, I can fry outside without stinking up the house. A common misconception is that fried foods are greasy & unhealthy. Starting with a good quality & healthy oil, neither is actually true if the fry is executed properly.

In general, the key to frying is to get the grease or oil hot enough that the waters on the surface of the food boil quickly and either seal the food or cook whatever batter or coating is on the food rapidly. Too low of a temperature and it will be greasy.

California Rice Oil at About 450 Degrees!

And that is what I find most amazing about rice oil.

Olive oil has a ridiculously low smoke point of 360℉. At or near that temperature, olive oil will start to smoke and, more importantly, it will start to break down, both changing flavor and greatly impacting the nutritional elements in the oil.

Canola, Peanut and Soy all have smoke points around 450℉, much more reasonable for frying. But all have nutritional deficits or somewhat questionable manufacturing practices (for example, Canola oil is largely produced from genetically modified crops).

Grape seed oil has a very high smoke point of 485℉, but is not balanced across the fats and is very expensive.

Rice oil has a ridiculously high smoke point of 490℉. The pan in the picture was at somewhere north of 450℉. I have never cooked with an oil that wouldn’t be smoking or changing flavor at that temperature!

Read the rest of this entry »

DE Razor Review: Personna

Thursday, November 12th, 2009
Irsaeli Personna 2 Scaled.jpg

After reading my review, Jonathan LeCour was quite surprised by how negative my review was given that he has been swearing by IP’s. Jonathan was kind enough to send me a few blades in the mail — twice, ’cause the post office rejected it the first time (you really can’t send anything through the mail, at least not without proper packaging) — and I have no had the opportunity to give one a try.

Wow. Huge difference. This is a completely different blade from the one you see below. It is nearly as sharp as a Feather, but considerably more forgiving.

The result was an excellent shave and I’m confident I will enjoy this blade for the coming week, exactly the opposite experience from the Personnas below.

Which, of course, begs the question; are the Red Personnas below counterfeit or is there simply a massive difference in manufacturing between the company’s three factories?

What an odd experience.

Thanks to Jonathan for letting me compare. I would offer to send you some of the Red IPs, but… well… you are no enemy of mine and I really don’t want to make you one!

Personna Scaled.png

After a week with the Feather, it is time to move on to the next blade. In this case, I’m going with the Personna Red Package blades, otherwise known as Israeli Personna blades.

Maybe. Regardless of whether or not these blades are actually IP blades is up to some debate and illuminates just how whacky the world of DE shaving can get (hell, I’m writing damned reviews of blades and I’ve only been shaving we a DE for a couple of months!).

Actually, no debate about it. There are three different factories in the world that make blades that carry the Personna label; one in Israel, one in the US, and one in Mexico. The ones I have seem to be made in the United States.

As much as I thought I’d like these blades, now I’m not so sure. A few weeks ago, Amazon listed several different IP blade packs. Now? Not so much (amazon search). I don’t want a blade that I have to order from ebay with a risk of receiving counterfeit blades!

Enough words, time to shave…

Whoah. I had no idea if I would even be able to tell the difference, much less the magnitude of difference!

Very different shave. The Personna is nowhere near as sharp as the Feather.

Notably, I could feel the Personna tugging on whiskers from the first drag. The blade feels like it has more of a tendency to skate over the top and less of wanting to cut.

For me, the first impression is that I’m not going to like this blade as much as the Feather. As the blade was a bit less rough on my more textured neck whiskers (I could grow a mean neck beard), I could see how someone with more texture in the skin on their face might prefer this blade.

In any case, it remains to be seen how this blade performs over the coming week. Hopefully, it won’t pull any more than it did today.

Update: Shenanigans! For me, this blade is awful. It yanks on the hairs and causes awful razor burn to the point of bleeding. Extremely unpleasant. I put the Feather from the previous week back into use today and it, even after a week of use + a few days of sitting around with gunk on it, provided a vastly superior shave to a new Personna red pack blade.

Yet, there are many folks that swear by the IP Israeli made blades. Jonathan LaCour has offered to send me a couple of genuine IP Israeli made blades. I look forward to giving them a try!

DE Razor Review: Feather

Thursday, November 5th, 2009
Feather Blade Scaled.png

I shaved for the first time with a non-Merkur blade from the sampler pack I picked up.

Specifically, I used a Feather blades (Amazon search).

The Feather blades are extremely sharp. Makes the Merkur feel like shaving with a butter knife.

The first shave from this blade is fantastic. Very smooth.

However, this is also not a blade to shave with casually. One wrong move — one lateral slide — and you’ll be bleeding like a stuck pig. I don’t have a problem with this; shaving with a double-edged safety razor has been far less bloody than those stupid expensive cartridge blades.

The next question will be durability. How good will the shave be after a week?

My beard destroys the Merkurs after a week of shaving.

After a week, the blade remains sharp, continuing to cut through anything in its path with ease. Actually, I ended up using the blade for about 10 days due to the shenanigans call on the Personna.

Overall, the Feather consistently delivered an excellent shave. It is, however, not a casual shave. Sharp the Feather definitely is and one wrong move will lead to blood loss.

If your skin is relatively smooth, I would highly recommend giving the Feather a try. If your skin is either very sensitive or bumpy, the Feather is likely to be quite unpleasant.

Quest for the Perfect Blade

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Recently, I took up shaving with a double-edged safety razor, a badger hair brush and a high quality shaving cream. A rather extreme change after 20+ years of shaving no closer than the “shave” afforded by your average electric hair clipper.

Blades Scaled.png

I opted for the double-edged safety razor both for the excellent quality shave and because it is one hell of a lot cheaper (and less wasteful) than paying for multi-blade gimmicky cartridges.

MSNBC has a fantastic (and fantastically long winded) article on the art of shaving (thanks again, Dave!).

Of course, there are about a zillion different blade manufacturers and even more opinions on which particular blade is best. There is no clear cut winner, but there is ample evidence that the best blade varies from individual to individual.

Amazon offers an assortment pack of DE razor blades (DE Razor Blade Mega Sample Pack #6 – 75 Blades
) that covers all of the most popular blades with a handful of others thrown in for good measure.

My plan is to use a new blade on Thursday morning and use that blade for an entire week (or less, if a particular brand wears out quickly). I’ll skip Sundays which will give a good challenge for Monday morning.

I figure I’ll rate each blade on durability, tendency to make me bleed (the DE razor, though, has made me bleed much less often than one of those stupid cartridge razors), quality of the resulting shave, and how easy it is to keep clean while shaving.

As I’m a total n00b at this, I’m welcoming suggestions.

Personally, I’m hoping that the Irsaeli Personna blades prove best. Just because I like the name. Wilkinson Sword is kinda cool, too, though.