January 27, 2013

Merkur Progress Double Edge Razor

Merkur Progress
I introduced the idea of traditional wet shaving awhile ago in this post, which mentions my Mühle R89 double edge (DE) razor. The R89 is a great shaving instrument, and I had been using it exclusively for a long time until RAD (razor acquisition disorder) got the best of me. I don't know why, but I just got an urge to try a different razor. After considering all of the options (it may be hard to believe, but there are a LOT of modern DE razors on the market these days), I decided to buy the Merkur Progress.

The Progress is a two-piece adjustable razor. Everything shown in the first picture represents the handle/base part, and the blade guard or cap part screws into the handle/base part to hold down the razor blade. The ivory colored knob on the bottom of the handle is turned to connect and disconnect the two parts. The knob is also used to adjust the amount of blade exposure, which in turn affects the "aggressiveness" of the razor, which in turn impacts how bloody your face gets after shaving. Thus, hairy Neanderthal types may prefer an aggressive setting (e.g., number 5 on the Progress scale), while those with sensitive skin or people new to double edge razors may find a mild setting more to their liking. Some real experienced black belts of wet shaving will vary the settings of the Progress during a multiple-pass shaving ritual that requires spread sheets, Gantt charts, Venn diagrams, and flow charts for success. Thankfully, Merkur provides multilingual operating instructions for newcomers:

User's Manual
I like the Progress even though I haven't really played around with the adjustable settings too much. I haven't used my R89 razor for awhile, but that doesn't mean that it's been decommissioned. I'll probably return to the R89 after the novelty of the Progress has worn off. I also have my father's adjustable Gillette Slim razor (made in 1967; yes, I researched it) that I use about once a year. I guess RAD hasn't hit me too hard; I only have three DE razors in my collection:

R89, Slim, Progress
Actually, I should probably retract my last sentence because I have acquired a few other DE razors that I eventually sold (on the seedy underground used razor market) or gave away. The following DE razors are no longer with me:
      Merkur 34C Heavy Duty - A sociopath gave this to me as an introduction to traditional wet shaving. I gave up on it prematurely, and Paid It Forward to a friend, who probably hates me now;
      Edwin Jagger DE89 - The razor head parts are identical to the R89 razor. I didn't like the handle; and
      Edwin Jagger Chatsworth Barley - The razor head parts are identical to the R89. It looked like a work of art, but didn't like the massive and heavy handle.

If you are interested in learning more, there are a number of websites and online forums that cover the topic of traditional wet shaving. The Badger & Blade website is a good place to start.

January 19, 2013

Pentel 24/7 Yellow Highlighter

I've expanded my quest for high quality writing instruments to include highlighters for use at the office. For a moment I considered the Pelikan M205 fountain pen highlighter, but common sense reared its ugly head for a change. My typical highlighter use case calls for an occasional highlighted passage, perhaps one out of fifty lines. Thus, I'm pretty sure that a fountain pen highlighter would dry out and skip on me. Besides, I know my fiscal limits, and spending north of $120.00 on a highlighter is beyond me at the moment.

I also considered the Platinum Preppy highlighter, which appears to be rather utilitarian and environmentally friendly with its replaceable ink cartridges (just like the fountain pens) and felt tip refills. That said, I'm not a fan of the Preppy fountain pens, and I assume that the plastic cap and/or body of the Preppy highlighter is made of the same cheap and crack-prone material as the Preppy fountain pen. For that reason, I passed on the Preppy highlighter.

I stumbled upon the Pentel 24/7 highlighter while drooling over the fountain pen selection at JetPens. I thought it looked cool and felt that it would spruce up my office space if left on my desk, so I bit the bullet and spent $1.10 to acquire one.

The 24/7 highlighter has a section that resembles the section of a fountain pen, and it features a transparent cap that includes a spring-loaded tip seal. I admit that the eye candy aspect of the Pentel 24/7 played a role in my acquisition decision - I'm a shallow person.

I would say that the 24/7 is a semi-demonstrator pen because it has some transparent/translucent features. Moreover, you can see the liquid highlighter ink sloshing around in the reservoir chamber. The plastic label covers most of the ink chamber, which is a shame because it would be nice to see exactly how much ink remains. Conspiracy theorists may assume that the label is used to obscure the fact that the ink reservoir is much smaller than it appears. This could be true, but what do you expect for a buck ten?

The standard issue highlighters in my office are the big fat Sharpie Accent markers. In comparison, the tip of the 24/7 pen is much finer and more compact. This could be a plus or a minus depending upon your highlighting task, the font size you are dealing with, etc. Personally, I wish the tip were slightly larger, but whatever. I will find a way to deal with it.

Update (April 26, 2013): the ink volume is disturbingly low in this highlighter, and it runs out of ink too fast. I've gone through three of them in no time. I guess that's why they are so cheap.

January 15, 2013

Candy Corn Click Clack Skull

As I mentioned in this post, Click Clack key caps are highly regarded within the mechanical keyboard geekdom. I was randomly lurking on the GeekHack forum one day, and learned that EliteKeyboards was preparing to sell a batch of Click Clacks. EliteKeyboards used a registration/lottery system in an attempt to satisfy the rabid horde of Click Clack collectors that usually makes Click Clack key caps sell out in a few seconds after an online release.

EliteKeyboards offered several different types of Click Clacks in the sale: a solid black colored skull; a candy corn colored key cap; a candy corn colored skull; and a key cap that looks like a frothy mug of beer. I entered the random drawings for all four of these items, and I was really hoping to get a chance to buy the beer key cap and/or the black skull.

Unfortunately, I wasn't on the lucky "you get to buy this" list for either the beer or the black skull. However, as a ridiculously fabulous consolation prize, I was given the opportunity to purchase one of the candy corn skulls! For a microsecond I thought about declining the offer, but then I came to my senses and pulled the trigger because these Click Clack skulls are worth their weight in gold (to some people).

Feast your eyes on the latest Click Clack acquisition of mine:

Wow, it actually DOES look like a piece of candy corn. I really hate the taste and texture of candy corn, but I'm enjoying this Click Clack version.

January 10, 2013

Christmas Lights: Raising the Bar in 2013

I'm finally going to tear down my meager and pathetic Christmas lights today. Or tomorrow. Or this weekend. Yeah, I'm that neighbor who refuses to abide by the sacred rule that mandates removal of all Christmas lights and decorations some time during the first weekend of each new year. Everyone else on my block has shut down for the season, but my crappy, old school, incandescent, energy inefficient, and unintentionally flickering icicle lights are still glowing. Just like they have every year for the last decade. Although these lights have served me well, I've decided to step up my holiday light game for 2013.

Please read on for more of this exciting story . . .

You see, my side of the block is usually chock full of holiday lights, while the other side is usually very weak and dim. No contest, really, except for the house immediately across the street from me. They have set the neighborhood bar for sure: multicolored icicle lights on the first and second stories; multicolored LED light strings surrounding the garage door; lighted nets on the bushes out front; lighted snowflakes on the second story eaves; and lighted nets (multicolored) on the street-facing roof, which is conveniently angled to allow viewing. To be honest, their light display isn't really all that impressive, but it definitely sticks out as the best one on the block, and it puts my bush league display to shame. I admit it. My kids even tease me about it. "Gee whiz, Dad, why can't we get cool lights like them?" or "Why do we always have the same boring white lights" or "Dad, we have more broken lights than good ones" or "Our lights suck ass!" OK, they don't really say that, but you get the point.

So I hatched a plan to scour the stores for after-Christmas sales, hoping to score some awesome deals on lights and accessories. This of course led to some online research, measuring my landscape and house dimensions, and over-analyzing. One thing led to another, and I convinced myself to acquire some commercial grade LED strings. I looked at a number of online vendors, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Rite Aid, etc., and finally settled on this place. Although I originally was thinking about some animated lights, color-changing lights, or those cool looking "melting icicle" lights, I ultimately decided on a simple arrangement of green mini LED strings combined with red/white LED icicle strings. It took awhile, but I measured everything out, and ordered a boat load of light strings, a few boxes of clips, a 50 foot extension cord, a 9 foot triple outlet extension cord, a couple of three-outlet adapters, and an outdoor timer. The plan is to replace the old dim white icicle strings with the modern red/white icicle strings, topped with the green mini lights to enhance the overall Christmas color scheme. Moreover, the same arrangement will be used to line my ENTIRE street-side fence, which rises about ten feet above the sidewalk and is about 90 feet in length. I'm hoping that the simplicity of the arrangement will be overshadowed (overlighted?) by the sheer amount of candlepower emitted by all of those little diodes.

But wait, there's more. Due to the low power consumption of LED lights, I'll be able to connect more than a billion of the light strings together. So, Phase Two of the holiday light plan is as follows: (1) additional mini LED strings around the perimeter of the garage door, perhaps red only or red and white; (2) lighted nets for the bushes in front of the house; (3) multicolored mini LED strings wrapped around the trees in the front yard; (4) multicolored LED icicle strings on the backyard play structure, which is visible from the street; and (5) a cheesy inflatable Santa, snowman, or perhaps Spongebob Squarepants standing on the deck of the play structure. I haven't given Phase Two much thought, and I haven't purchased any of the items for Phase Two yet. Luckily, I have an eleven month acquisition period for Phase Two. Time is on my side.

My across-the-street neighbor won't know what hit him when I fire up the lights on December 1, 2013. He set the bar in 2012, and I intend to raise it in 2013.

January 4, 2013

Matcha: My Five-Minute Office Tea Ceremony

This is yet another post about something Japanese. Matcha. What the hell is matcha? According to Wikipedia, matcha "refers to finely milled or fine powder green tea." According to me, matcha is "awesome."

Although I had been intrigued by matcha for a long time, I didn't actually try it until about a year ago. I delayed my introduction to matcha for a number of reasons. First, good matcha is expensive. Second, all good matcha comes from Japan, and I was concerned about radioactive tea caused by the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011 (I later learned that good matcha is produced from tea grown in the Uji region of Japan, which was not affected by the meltdown). Third, I really didn't want to get sucked into yet another obsession/interest (too late). Fourth, making a proper bowl of matcha (that's right, you use bowls, not cups) requires specialized gear and techniques; what a hassle:

Matcha Gear
After doing some online research, I realized that a bamboo whisk (a "chasen") is absolutely required. So I bought a "starter kit" that included a chasen and a bamboo spoon/scoop thing (a "chasaku"). I decided to buy a medium tier Uji matcha from a Japanese vendor. So my initial investment was less than $35.00, and I was prepared to be disappointed and write it off. I wasn't, and I didn't.

You can read more about my office matcha set-up after the jump. [Edit: jumps are silly; removed it]

I drink both coffee and Japanese green tea at the office almost every day, so I took my matcha making gear to work. After making a few bowls (somewhat successfully), I realized that I needed additional equipment: a Japanese matcha bowl (rather than an American soup bowl); a sifter; and a Pyrex measuring cup. More gear = just great. I also use an electric kettle that has a programmable temperature setting.

The Japanese tea ceremony involves the preparation of thick matcha (known as "koicha") in accordance with a ritualistic and anal retentive sequence of ninja-like moves and events. The Acquirer office tea ceremony involves the preparation of thin matcha (known as "usucha") in accordance with the following steps. First, if I have a little extra time, I will preheat the matcha bowl with hot water, and then dry the interior of the bowl. Next, I use the chasaku to add a couple of scoops of the matcha powder to the sifter, shake rattle and roll, and use the chasaku if needed to tap all of the matcha powder out of the sifter and into the bowl:

I forgot to mention that during this time, I have the chasen soaking in some hot water in the Pyrex cup. This softens the "fingers" of the chasen and preheats the Pyrex cup, which some thermodynamically sensitive matchaficianados say is important.

Meanwhile, the electric kettle is also doing its thing, keeping some water at the appropriate temperature and ready for the bowl. I usually run the kettle at about 175-180 degrees for my matcha, because that's how I roll. Now for the grand finale. I remove the chasen from the Pyrex, discard the old water, add new hot water into the Pyrex (usually between 75 and 100 ml of water), pour the water into the bowl, and go to town with the chasen. This "go to town" step is critical, and it requires some skill. Not kidding - Google it. Anyway, the chasen is used to thoroughly integrate the matcha powder into the hot water, aerate the liquid and, as Devo would say: "whip it good." The end result is a frothy, creamy, full-flavored bowl of matcha:

The amount of prepared matcha is usually enough for three or four large sips. I believe that you are supposed to drink the matcha rather quickly, similar to how one might drink a triple shot of espresso. I've also heard that the last sip should be slurped up to get the most flavorful experience you can get. Whatever, I just drink it. It's good stuff.