July 5, 2014

Sencha Fukamushi Super Premium (From Hibiki-An)

I recently acquired some Japanese green tea from the online retailer Hibiki-An. I don't work for them and they do not sponsor me or give me any kickbacks (although I'd be happy to receive money, tea, or some of their ridiculously expensive matcha bowls as a token of appreciation). I believe that Hibiki-An grows, processes, and sells their tea; unlike other online vendors that may simply serve as distributors. Anyway, I got a bag of their Sencha Fukamushi Super Premium. I like this tea.

Fukamushi is a type of sencha that is subjected to longer/deeper steaming during the processing of the tea leaves. This results in smaller pieces of tea in the final product, which in turn results in a sweeter and more "full bodied" taste relative to regular sencha. You can see some of the fine particles of tea dust in the following picture.

The back of the package includes Hibiki-An's preferred brewing recipe. You can customize the flavor of the tea by varying the amount of tea and water, the water temperature, and the brewing time. I don't have a special fukamushi brewing vessel; I use my standard kyusu, which probably isn't ideal because the strainer doesn't catch all of the tea particles during the pour.

I won't try to describe the flavor profile in detail, because the taste can vary from day to day depending on how I brew the tea. Generally speaking, I would say that the tea is balanced with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Not bitter, and not too "grassy" or "veggie" tasting. In view of its relatively high price, however, I'd hesitate to buy this tea again. That said, I would gladly accept a free bag or lifetime supply from Hibiki-An if they decide to sponsor me.

June 21, 2014

Shave Soap & Shaving Cream

I've been doing the traditional wet shaving routine with a double-edged razor for a relatively long time now, and I've kicked the habit of trying to find the best shaving products to use. I admit to buying too many different shave soaps and shaving creams in an attempt to find a holy grail that really doesn't exist (and even if one does, nobody really cares that much; we're talking about shaving your face here, not a cure for cancer).

Traditional shaving cream is WAY better than the gel, foam, and slime that you commonly find in convenient pressurized cans. One of the best shaving creams that I've used is this one from The Real Shaving Co.

This stuff is manufactured by the same company that produces shaving cream for famous and expensive brands such as Truefitt & Hill. In fact, I believe that the basic composition is the same regardless of the brand. The ingredients are listed on the tube:

You'll find a virtually identical ingredient list on high-end branded shaving cream, but you'll pay 3-5 times as much. So, this product from The Real Shaving Co. is super economical, available at some local drug stores (Rite Aid, for example), and a tube lasts forever. Buy a tube if you see one on the shelf next to a can of slime.

Some shave soaps are much better than the aforementioned canned goods. Things can get a little hairy when dealing with shave soap, however, because some are difficult to lather up, some do not perform well, and some smell terrible. I recently acquired a stick of soap (lime scented) from Mike's Natural Soaps, and it falls into the "much better" category.

It looks like deodorant or antiperspirant, but it's shave soap packaged in a form that can be directly applied to the skin before whipping it into a foamy lather with a shaving brush. I found the stick to be a little inconvenient, so I removed the soap and smashed it into a soap dish for use with a brush in a more traditional manner.

Anyway, this guy Mike knows how to make shave soap. The soap is old school because it's made with tallow and lanolin (vegans beware). The soap lathers up quickly and easily, the lather is really slick, and the natural lime scent isn't overpowering or artificial. After using the lime soap for a while, I decided to acquire a tin of Mike's "Orange, Cedarwood, & Black Pepper" shave soap. I think the basic soap formula and quality are the same . . . it just smells different. I like both of Mike's soaps enough to become a repeat customer.

That's about all for now. Two products that work well and improve the shaving experience. Good stuff.

May 26, 2014

New WASD Keyboard

I'm happy to report that I temporarily kicked my keyboard (and keyboard-related accessory) acquisition disorder. Indeed, I hadn't spent a dime on anything associated with keyboards for more than a year. Until . . . one day at work, after gleefully hammering away on my Filco (which is outfitted with "clicky" blue Cherry switches), a co-worker subtly hinted that my keyboard was too noisy. My response of "That's nothing, you should hear how awesome it sounds without the sound-deadening Shore 40A durometer o-rings installed!" fell on deaf ears. This news bummed me out a little, but also got me thinking about a return to the quieter "tactile" brown Cherry switches. Keyboard Acquisition Mode: ON.

If you are interested in the backstory, read THIS, and THIS, and THIS, or search for posts tagged with the "keyboard" label.

I didn't really do much research before deciding to acquire a "blank" keyboard with brown switches from WASD Keyboards. "Blank" in this context means "sold without any keycaps and shipped in a nice understated box".

Blank keyboards are really intended for keyboard geeks who already own a set of replacement keycaps and are not interested in boring unattractive stock keycaps. So, inside the box you will find this:
Brown Switches, Duh
The box also contains everything needed to install the keycaps and get the keyboard up and running. In the following picture you can see a keycap puller, a USB cable, a USB-to-PS adapter, clip thingies and lube for the keycap stabilizers, and instructions.

Swapping out my keycaps was very easy, but really time consuming. The finished keyboard is shown below. I like that the chassis is void of branding and stickers. It's just basic black.

I kept the sound-dampeners on the keycaps that get the majority of day-to-day use, as a peace offering to my acoustically hypersensitive coworker. The brown switches are definitely quieter, and typing on them is buttery smooth. I actually prefer the fingerfeel of the brown switches over the blue switches.

Again, the keyboard has no labeling or branding on it. It does, however, have two pinhole LED indicators for Caps Lock and Scroll Lock. These indicator lights are subtle, which I prefer over larger LEDs that tend to emit a blinding amount of energy.

LED Indicators
The brown stems of the switches can be seen through the clear keycaps. Meh, the brown color is ugly in comparison to the bright color used for the blue switches. Moreover, I still prefer the clicky noise that the blue switches generate. That said, the typing feel and muffled sound of my new keyboard are perfect for my workplace environment. Accordingly, Keyboard Acquisition Mode: OFF.

May 8, 2014

Diamine Ink Cartridges (Sample Box)

This will be a short post to let all five of my regular readers know about these super convenient ink cartridge sample packs that are offered by Diamine. Fountain pen junkies are familiar with Diamine ink; most people highly recommend Diamine, and their ink is available in a billion colors. My son and I have a few pens that accept standard international ink cartridges, and Diamine offers their ink in that type of cartridge.

I was looking to buy some sample sized bottles of Diamine ink, but luckily found this cartridge sample pack for sale on Amazon:

I don't recall the name of this specific sample pack, but Amazon had a few different packs for sale. The box contains 18 ink cartridges in 10 different colors. There are two of each color except for Maroon and Dark Brown (only one of each in the box): Black; Blue/Black; Emerald; Claret; Turquoise; Royal Blue; Imperial Purple; Maroon; Monaco Red; and Dark Brown. For less than ten bucks, this is a great way to try out different inks if you are willing to live with unusual colors like Claret and Imperial Purple.

Although some of the cartridges arrived with a color-identifying sticker, most of them were void of any indicia other than a colored end cap. It would have been nice to have the stickers on all of them to eliminate the guesswork, but with appropriate medication I'll be able to live with the inconvenience.

My plan is to identify one or two favorite Diamine inks (perhaps after buying a different sample pack) before buying any bottles. At that point, I'll ditch the cartridges and fill my ink converters with bottled ink. At the rate I'm marching through this sample pack, though, I won't be purchasing a bottle for at least a year!

Anyway, if you own a fountain pen that takes standard international cartridges and you're looking to try different ink colors, then take a look at these Diamine sample packs. If you decide to acquire one, say a prayer to the color-identifying sticker gods before you hit the "Buy" button.

April 27, 2014

Olight i3S Flashlight

Flashlights. I like them, use one almost every day, and I've written about three of my flashlights before (link is here). The EagleTac D25A Mini flashlight mentioned in that post is a nice torch, but for various reasons I don't carry it often. Reason 1: my front left jeans pocket is where I carry my flashlight and my phone, and there isn't enough room to comfortably carry the EagleTac (it's a fat AA light). Reason 2: the butt end of the EagleTac has a "sharp" edge that scratches my baby soft hand skin from time to time when I reach into my pocket. Reason 3: I find that my smaller AAA flashlights generate more than enough output for my everyday needs.

What does all of this mean? Why, a new AAA flashlight of course. I've had this little gem for a while, but have been too lazy/busy to write about it. I've carried and used it enough to say with utmost certainty: "the Olight i3S AAA flashlight is very nice."

The i3S is an update of Olight's i3 flashlight, which had some shortcomings. The i3S is available in several different colors, including the shiny blue version I acquired. Features and specs of interest include: Cree XP-G2 LED emitter; three output modes (0.5 lumen moonlight mode; 20 lumen low mode; and 80 lumen high mode); snap-on pocket clip; keychain. The Internet tells me that the i3S goes for about $25.00 (as of April 2014).

The i3S is very compact. It is about 70 mm long, and it's noticeably shorter than my Preon P1 (also a AAA flashlight).

AAA Battery, i3S, Preon P1
What's to like about the i3S? I personally like the reversible clip, which can be handy when I need to fashion a headlamp out of a baseball cap. The keychain is nice and sturdy, although I removed mine. The back end of the i3S is flat (good for tailstanding) and it has a smooth rounded edge that plays nice with my soft and supple skin.

I really like the moonlight mode of the i3S, which outputs a mere 0.5 lumens. Some may think that 0.5 lumens is useless, but I think it's a great option for times when you don't need a strong blast of light. My only gripe is that it takes three twists to reach the moonlight mode . . . the twisty UI of the i3S cycles through the following sequence: Low > High > Moonlight > Low > High > Moonlight > Strobe. I understand why the sequence begins with Low, but I kinda wish it started on Moonlight. Don't get me started on the ridiculous Strobe mode. Oh well, perfection is hard to find.

Small Things Come In Small Packages
One final note. Olight packages the i3S in a cool plastic box that includes a AAA battery. This is a nice touch, although simpler packaging might result in a lower price point. Whatever, for $25.00, the i3S is a great buy. Overall, I'm impressed and very satisfied with the i3S.

March 31, 2014

Finished Tattoo & Artwork

This is a follow up to a post I made about my new tattoo. The tattoo has been done for a while now, and I'm really happy with it. The color is awesome, the design is exactly what I wanted, and all the elements flow together. I just wish that I could get a decent picture of it. For now, the best I could do is this selfie:

I like this tattoo. The design and rendering of the electric eraser and the orange slice are top notch, and the amount of detail is impressive. I am trying to schedule a touch-up appointment with the artist (Craig Driscoll) so that he can smooth in the color of the translucent green french curves. Other than that, I wouldn't change a thing.

As is customary, the artist gave me his original working sketch as a souvenir. I love the artwork, so I asked him to create a color rendering for me. Using the sketch as a guide, Craig created an awesome original piece for me, along with several archival quality prints for my sisters. The original drawing is just as impressive as the tattooed version.

 I framed the original artwork and it now hangs in my office. I am super stoked on the work that Craig did for me. I'm sure that Dad would have liked it, too. 

March 18, 2014

Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica: Bling-Bling Pen!

I recently placed an order with one of my favorite online vendors, and needed to buy a little something extra to get free shipping. A few minutes and US$2.50 later, this gem of a pen was added to my order: Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica (Blue-Black color).

Backstory . . . I'm a big fan of the Hi-Tec-C pens. I was really liking my Hi-Tec-C Coleto pen until I discovered that the refills don't behave nicely if they don't get regular use (I assume that the tips dry out and get clogged). I only have one traditional Hi-Tec-C pen, but its 0.3 mm tip is too fine and scratchy for me. So, when I saw this Hi-Tec-C variant for sale, my goal was to buy a 0.4 mm version to replace the 0.3 mm pen. The excitement of buying a new pen must have been too much to handle, and I suffered a major shopping cart failure.

I accidentally ordered a 0.3 mm version of the Maica pen. Of course, it writes just like my other 0.3 mm Hi-Tec-C, which means I don't like it. As luck would have it, my daughter loves this bejeweled Hi-Tec-C, and she doesn't mind the needle tip. So I gifted the pen to her.

The Maica really is a pretty pen. It has aristocratic script on the body, a shiny colored body that matches the ink color, and a clear cap. Just look at the faceted gem-like flair that resides at the top of the cap:

OK, I can see why some uber-masculine writers may feel threatened and challenged by this sparkly writing instrument. Understood. That said, the pen IS rather handsome and it has an elegant design to it. The grip section is a little thicker than the standard Hi-Tec-C, which creates a better fit for large manly hands. The grip section also featrues some plastic knurling, which sets it apart from the standard Hi-Tec-C grip.

By the way, the pen uses standard Hi-Tec-C refills, which means there are a million colors and tip sizes from which to choose. The next time I place an order, I'll be careful to select a 0.4 mm or 0.5 mm version, with extra bling if available.

February 11, 2014

Inexpensive Acquisition: Gear Tie Thingy

This is just a quick blurb about something stupidly simple, but awesomely useful: Nite Ize Gear Ties. These gear tie thingies are glorified twisties; you know, those annoying wire ties that keep loaves of bread from escaping their bags. The Nite Ize product is more durable, rugged, strong, and colorful . . . but it's still basically a bendy wire. OK, it's a thick bendy wire wrapped in a pretty rubber sheath.

These gear ties come in various lengths ranging from 3 to 64 inches. I have a handful of the 3-inch size and a couple of the 6-inch size. I use them for my charging cords, speaker wires, LAN cables, and headphones. You'd be surprised at how useful they are. Really.

Not much more to say about these gear ties. The instructions are straightforward and very easy to understand: "bend it around something". You owe it to yourself to check these out. All the cool kids have them now.

February 2, 2014

Sennheiser PX 100-II Portable Headphones

I like headphones (good ones) because they are a relatively inexpensive way to experience high quality audio playback. I prefer the sound of open headphones, but there are times when I am forced to use closed headphones (e.g., late at night to avoid bothering others or when it's necessary to block environmental noise). I used to own a great set of open headphones by Grado, but I replaced them with a set of closed headphones by Sony.

I recently had an epiphany and determined that I must acquire another set of open headphones for casual use around the house. Simply put, there are times when it's extremely important to hear things in the surrounding environment when listening to personal music (pizza delivery, hard boiled egg timer, angry bear charging from behind, etc.). I didn't want another set of Grados, and I really wanted a portable design having a short cord and a carrying case if possible. So I hit the Internet, did some research, and decided to get a set of Sennheiser PX 100-II portable headphones.

Sennheiser PX 100-II
These headphones are great for what they are: inexpensive, lightweight, small, and portable cans that are primarily designed for use with laptops, tablets, and digital media players. I didn't buy the "i" version, which includes a microphone control on the cord for use with iPhones.

Open Back Design
The open back design means that sound leaks in both directions. If you play music at eardrum shattering levels, then you will annoy people sitting near you. Conversely, outside noise can and will be heard through the earpads. Speaking of which, the earpads are rather small because they are designed to sit on your ears (not around them). Lack of sound isolation doesn't bother me because I only use these headphones in certain situations where isolation is unimportant.

Easy to Fold
I like how the headphones can be folded into a neat and compact configuration. The earpads twist inward, and the two arms fold upward and lock together as shown above. This makes them easy to carry in a backpack or messenger bag.

Easy to Store
The PX 100-II headphones come with a soft carrying pouch. It's a nice touch, but the pouch provides absolutely no structural protection. It would have been great to have a hard shell case in addition to (or instead of) the drawstring bag.

How do they sound? In my opinion, they provide an awesome audio bang for the buck. They cannot compete against the megabuck offerings from Sennheiser, Grado, Beyerdynamic, Audeze, and others, but they are at the head of the class in their niche category (open, portable, inexpensive). If anyone is interested in more detailed reviews, browse over to Head-Fi. I'm sure that you'll find many pages of comments, reviews, and user critiques there.

January 20, 2014

Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook (Revisited)

This is just a quick follow up to my previous post about the Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook. After writing that post, I purchased and used other "good" fountain pen friendly paper, including a Rhodia Webnotebook. I'm no paper expert, but I've found that the Leuchtturm1917 paper works better for me than Rhodia and Clairefontaine paper. Don't get me wrong, Rhodia and Clairefontaine paper products are great, and I like using them. However . . . Rhodia and Clairefontaine products are expensive, and the paper used in those products can be too smooth and impenetrable for some of my fountain pens. As a result, some pens skip when writing on Rhodia/Clairefontaine paper. In addition, ink takes forever to dry on those papers.

In contrast, the paper found in Leuchtturm1917 notebooks seems to hit a sweet spot such that the paper is absorptive enough to prevent skipping, while also being smooth enough to accommodate pleasant fountain pen writing. OK, I admit that these characteristics may also result in slightly more ink spread, feathering, and show-through than other premium paper. That said, the combination of all those minor downsides pales in comparison to the occasional skipping that I experience with the competing paper. Seriously, I can't stand it when my flowing words of written wisdom get abruptly interrupted by Mr. Rhodia saying "let me stop you right HERE so that you can appreciate my glass-like surface, which limits ink distribution to within a submicron range."

Some folks may retort with comments such as "you're doing it wrong" or "you need to send your pens to a nibmeister and have them all tuned up" or "have you tried using ink X" or "you suck and I hate you" or "I'll bet you live in a dry climate, and that you have hard water, and that you don't eat enough fresh fruit" - fair enough. I suppose I'm just glad that the Leuchtturm1917 paper allows me to write with all of my fountain pens in a consistent and expected manner. Just saying.