Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Monday, December 21, 2015

Happy Solstice

Imager Credit:
There seems to be some confusion about when the Solstice (winter if you are in the northern hemisphere, summer if you are in the southern hemisphere) is going to take place.  Google says that it will be on December 22nd but quite actually for those of us in North America from the Eastern Time Zone and west to the International Date Line, it will be on December 21st.  So why the difference.  The first thing to realize is that unlike New Years Day celebrations which occur 24 times, one hour apart, the Solstice is a particular astronomical event that takes place at one particular instant in time.  There is only one solstice and it is independent of time zones.  

The December solstice is the globe on the far right.  Note
that the axis (purple lines) points in the same direction (toward
the North Star, Polaris) all through out the orbit around the sun.
Image Credit Wikipedia

Due to the inclination of the Earth's axis, and the fact that the axis of the Earth points at the same direction in the sky, as the Earth orbits the sun through out the year, the apparent motion of the sun follows a path in the sky called the ecliptic.  On a star chart the ecliptic forms a sine wave.  The December Solstice occurs when the apparent motion of the sun reaches the most southern point on that sine wave. At that point the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  

As such the solstice doesn't happen on a date per se like new year's day, it happens at a specific moment in time.   That moment of time usually happens on the 21st or 22nd of December, but it can vary out to the 20th to the 23rd although rarely. 

So the question comes to mind, how long does the solstice last?  The ancients would have declared hours if not days.  The apparent motion of the sun as it reaches it most southern point becomes difficult to discern and it appears to stop moving...always a source of concern.  However everything is moving and if you consider the solstice to be defined as when the precise center of the disk of the sun is over the precise line of the Tropic of Capricorn then the theoretical time of transit is an infinitely short instant.  The center of the sun has no dimension nor does imaginary line of the Tropic of Capricorn.  They are mathematical entities of points and lines with no physical dimensions and as such there is no transit time.   

Max Planck 1858 - 1947
The Father of Quantum Mechanics
Image Credit:  Wikipedia

Ahhh but in our universe, there is no infinitely short instant.  If you had a fine enough stopwatch, it would register the Solstice lasting one Jiffy...a slang physics term for Planck's time.  Now if the Tropic of Capricorn was a painted line exactly 6 inches wide, the there would be a transit time.  The exacter center of the sun would pass over the 6 inch line, well actually 3 inch line because we would have to assume that the painted line was centered over the theoretical line which has no dimension. So three inches of the painted line would be south of the actual Tropic.   So in a theoretical sense the moment is infinitely short.  In a real sense it lasts a Jiffy a discreet chunk of time.   

Planck's time which is the amount of time it takes a photon traveling at the speed of light to travel the length of Planck's length.  Plank's length is the shortest possible distance in our Universe.  We would like to think that we could take a ruler and start cutting it in half.  Twelve inches cut into 6, then cut 6 into 3,  1 1/2,  3/4, 3/8, 3/16.........3/\infty   ...that is keep cutting in half forever.  But you can't.  When you get down to Planck's length, a further cut smaller and you are out of the Universe and into the quantum foam. 

So this moment, the Jiffy, is the shortest measurable time in our universe, any shorter and you are again out of the universe and into the quantum foam.  I have no idea how Planck figured this out, or even if he did.  But anyhow the fabric of the universe has discreet chunks, it is not a uniform fabric that gets progressively smaller the finer you look and like wise the clock has specific tics that you can't get any shorter.  So the solstice lasts exactly one Planck's width.  How long is that?   From Wikipedia

t_{\mathrm {P} }\equiv {\sqrt {\frac {\hbar G}{c^{5}}}}\approx 5.39106(32)\times 10^{-44}\ \mathrm {s}

Just round that off to 5.4 times ten to the minus forty-fourth power of a second.  No use getting lost in the details. 

So anyhow the Solstice is going to happen at a moment and that moment is tonight on the 21st somewhere around 11:49 PM in EST.  The reason Google says it is on the 22 is that they are using universal coordinated time, which when you are asked what time is it on the planet Earth, this is the time you use.  It is virtually the same thing as the old Greenwich Mean Time except it has atomic clocks applying leap second corrections every now and again.  The term Greenwich Mean Time now only applies to the time zone that surrounds the Prime Meridian going through Greenwich England.  It is no longer the label for the universal standard. 

I don't know if anyone actually knows the precise moment...measured out to some fraction of a second, but according the website TIME AND DATE:

December Solstice in Universal Coordinated Time is on
Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 04:49 UTC

Yet I have also seen some predictions for 04:48 UTC.  Why the difference,  I have no idea.  In any event I suppose that we could say it lasts 1 minute long.  would also think from a practical sense that you could say the the solstice lasts as long as a typical sunset into the ocean.  That is allowing for the radius of the sun to pass over the tropic line stop and then reverse direction and pass back.  It should be roughly the amount of time for the diameter of the sun to slip past a horizon. 

Regardless of how long the it takes, it is happening tonight at either 11:48 or 11:49 PM Eastern Standard Time in the US.  So go out and build a bon fire dance and howl at the moon and welcome the first day of winter and the return of Sol. 

For an excellent article see:  The Telegraph, When is the 2015 winter solstice? Everything you need to know about the shortest day of the year

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Loss of Innocence Part 3

The old: my Merkur 38 C HD Barber Pole
Per Alicia's request

Note! This is Part 3. Read PART 1 and PART 2 first. 

As much as I liked my Barber Pole razor, I must admit that I was getting no where with it, I was in sort of a stasis of lousy shaves. I decided the razor was too aggressive and broke down and bought the Merkur Progress 510 C. This is the adjustable razor. Amazon had it on sale for $65. So I finally got the razor I wanted, but instead of spending $75, I spent $105 ($40 for the Barber Pole and $65 for the Progress)…smart Sextant! 

Merkur Logo embossed in the bottom plate is bas relief.
Like chrome valve covers with a Hemi name, very cool. 

While I like the looks of the Progress, I have to admit it is not the beauty that the Barber Pole is. The handle has straight fluted design that is not as attractive and more difficult to grip. The adjustment knob is ivory colored plastic which bothers some folks to the point that a small artisan company modifies the razors with metal knob and calling the result the Mergress. I actually kind of like the plastic knob. It gives it a 50s retro (junky?) look, and there is good old Merkur’s head embossed in the very end of the knob and the base plate. High culture indeed. The Progress is not as heavy as the Barber Pole, weighing in at 100 grams. Actually I think it has a bit better balance.  

Gap adjustment on the Merkur Progress
Image credit: 

The razor is adjustable by elevating the blade from the bottom plate while still maintaining tension on the blade. This allows the gap and angle of the blade to become wider or narrower by twisting the knob. Merkur has stamped in some very difficult to see numbers on the metal collar of the knob so that one has a numeric reference for the gap. For fellow presbyopes (ignore that red squiggly it is the noun for one who suffers from presbyopia which my dictionary in an effort to make me feel better states the origins as: late 18th cent.: modern Latin, from Greek presbus ‘old man’ + ōps, ōp- ‘eye.’ ) use of the Merkur Progress means that you now shave with your glasses on if you intend to make on the fly adjustments.

So now I had the solution. I set the razor to 2 for the first pass and 1 for the second. AND…I got just as crappy of a shave as I was getting with the Barber Pole. How can I get a less aggressive razor than this. I tried using only the lowest setting. No better. So I was starting to get a bit disillusioned with the great DE shaving that everyone else on these shaving forums rants and raves about. Then one day I tried setting the razor to 3. Voila!  I didn’t need a less aggressive setting, I needed more. It is counterintuitive but setting the razor gap wider gave me a far closer shave with less irritation and no nicks. At last! I am still miles from the legendary BBS (Baby Bottom Smooth) but at least I am not nicking myself or causing a lot of razor burn. I haven’t developed a steady enough hand for around my lips so I still finish off with a swipe in that area with the Gillette Sensor Excel. I think of it in terms of a weed whacker verses a lawn tractor. Strictly verboten by the purists but then again the purists probably don’t have MS. 

The new:  Merkur 510 C Progress
Also new, Vie Long Cachurro Horse Hair Brush

So here is where I am today. Using the Merkur Progress 510 C with Wilkinson Sword blades on a setting of three or four on the first pass with the grain, two on the second pass across the grain and slowly experimenting with a third pass against the grain in non problem areas. I use the Sensor Excel on the problem areas. It takes three times as long to shave as with the Sensor Excel but there is a certain joy to using a quality razor, albeit not the orgasmic Zen experience described on the shaving forums. The BBS will remain most likely an unattained goal, but the shave is acceptable by my standards. In real world terms, it is somewhere between a hack job and a DFS. DFS? That is shaving forum speak for Damned Fine Shave. Something less than the BBS but quite acceptable by ordinary standards.

I use Van Der Hagen Unscented Luxury Shave Soap in my beloved cheap dark green Van Der Hagen bowl. I tried Mitchell’s Wool Fat, an medium priced soap from England enriched with lanolin (hence the wool fat in its name). The scent of this stuff is right on the border line for me. One degree stronger and it would be in the trash. Unfortunately while it gives a good shave, the stuff irritates my skin leaving my face glowing red and burning. So I retired it to a ziplock bag and I will try it again in a few months. I still have too many variables…new brush, new razor, new technique. The soap may not be the culprit, although as soon as I went back to the VDH Unscented the irritation went away. I then tried Williams Mug Soap again. This is the cheap lemony scented stuff that my father used and was the inspiration for this entire wet shaving fiasco. Hmmmm, second time around after using the VDH Unscented, I decided shaving with lemon Pledge just wasn’t hacking it. Also the stuff dries very fast. I had to lather one side of my face at a time. I vowed to make 10 shaves with it, but I got to where I hated it so much that after the fourth shave I said to hell with this. 

My razor collection from top left to bottom right:
Gillette Sensor Excel with wire tie nubs.
Merkur 45 Bakelite.
Merkur 38 C HD Barber Pole.
Merkur 510 C Progress.
Dorco Pace, unhappy experiment from the past.
Top right: Norelco 6948XL/41 cheapie but not bad if I am in a hurry. 

Still convinced by the shaving forums that I need a better soap, I ordered and received some Proraso Sensitive Shave Soap from Amazon. It is claimed to have a mild fragrance. Alas, I disagree. It is way too smelly for me. It has an odd combination of pine, soap, with a hint of wood ash. Quite actually, it smelled like I was shaving with a pine scented air freshener from a spray can. It also seemed to cause some irritation, and I did not like the menthol effect. Too smelly and gooey for me. I won’t be trying it again so if I can’t give it to anyone, in the trash it goes. At 10 bucks a tub, it is expensive trash. The lesson here is that I have to quit trying other soaps. I just have no tolerance for the smell of fragrances and apparently they irritate my skin.

Being a fragrance intolerant cretin, after shave for me has always been rubbing alcohol. It works fine and leaves no scent behind. Spend a few minutes on a shaving forum an you will find out that I am crazy doing that for a variety of reasons none of which I remember. As you can imagine there are an endless list of pricey post shave balms that one should use, and, of course, many of them are smelly and gooey. So my aversion to smelly and gooey spares me from spending untold sums on preps and post shave balms. But I did read about one post shave product that is not smelly, heals razor burn, provides antibacterial protection, stanches blood flow from nicks, and tightens your pores. Plus it has been in use for 2500 years. An alum block. What the hell is an alum block? I never heard of one until about month or so ago.

Osma Alum Block, it looks like a block of quartz
Image Credit:

Alum is potassium aluminum sulfate. It is the same stuff that is used in pickles and as an ingredient in baking powder. It is also one of the main ingredients of a styptic pencil. It has antibacterial and astringent properties. Zero odor. After rinsing the lather from your face, you wet the block and rub it lightly all around the shaved areas of your face and allow it to dry. You then can either leave it be or rinse the slight residue off. Best thing since canned beer. Of course like all things in life you can get a good alum block or junky ones. The good ones are cut straight from a large deposit of pure natural alum. The junky ones are blocks fabricated out of loose alum used in other processes or from less than pure alum deposits. Well nothing but the best for me, so I bought a pair of Osma alum blocks cut from the pure deposits in France…bla…bla….

Hmmmm! The jury is still out of that one. I have tried using it only once. It feels odd on my  face while wet, sort of like cool water that is evaporating rapidly.  It does burn on any place where you shaved a bit too close or on nicks. I didn’t mind the burning, I get about the same from the alcohol. It was the sensation left on my skin for hours after the stuff dried. My skin felt very tight and dried out. My face knew what a grape feels like when becoming a raisin. The best I can describe it was sort of like being wind burnt in very cold weather. I left it on for about 15 minutes and then decided to rinse it off. That unpleasant tightness lasted for hours. I have had the blocks now for about a week and I have not been tempted to use them again. 

Vie Long 04312 Cachurro Horse Hair Brush.
Cruelty free, horse hair is collected during grooming.
Image Credit: 

I have upgraded to a Vie Long 04312 Cachurro horse hair brush, To be honest I love my cheap Van Der Hagen boar bristle brush. It is stiff, has a lot of “scritch” (a shaving forum terminology for a rough scratchy feel) and lathers acceptably. But alas a boar was “harvested” to provide the hair for my brush. That doesn’t fly well with my animal loving wife. Horse hair brushes are made with hair from the mane and tail of horses that are collected through normal grooming, not the slaughter of the animal. So Vie Long sends agents out to all the equestrian barber shops in Spain to collect hair for its brushes. Well that is what I have read and tell my wife. For those who like a softer brush, the horse hair is much softer than boar, but not as soft as badger. I have a fake badger hair brush using synthetic bristles and I hate it. Way too soft. The horse hair is too soft for me, but it keeps peace in the house. I have to admit that part of the reason I chose this particular brush was the metal collet retaining the knot. Very manly! It gives the handle a nice weight.  Alas, one has to use care not to chip the ceramic shaving bowl when swirling up a lather especially when the soap wears down.

My brushes:  left Van Der Hagen Boar Bristle.
Center: Simply Beautiful fake silver tip badger hair.
Right: Vie Long Cachurro horse hair.

I did buy one razor just for the hell of it, a Merkur 45 Bakelite razor. It is made from the first manmade plastic, Bakelite. Weighing in at 15 grams it is very light. It gets surprisingly good reviews. A woman reviewer on Amazon liked it because it did not get hot in the shower. I bought it mostly because I think it looks cool in a very tacky sort of way plus Bakelite appeals to my love for Mahjong sets. Bakelite was a commonly used material for the classic American made Mahjong sets in the early and mid years of the 20th century. So far I haven’t used the razor.

Merkur 45 Bakelite with travel case and blades.
Image Credit:

Well I have sort of run out of things to buy. I am fed up with trying “lightly scented” soaps. I have more razors than I need. Aversions to smelly and gooey spare me from trying all the various preps and after shaves. So about the only thing left to play with is blades. The Wilkinson Sword is my blade of choice, but once I get my technique further refined maybe I will try the Feather again perhaps buy a blade sampler.

So there is only one thing left to do, build a “shaving den.” This is something on the order of exclusive gentleman’s club in London built right into your house for the purpose of pursuing the art and zen of shaving.  Centered in the shaving den of my dreams would be a oversized vanity with an acre of counter space to display my fine collection of razors new and antique, many shelves for the various brushes, bowls, preps, and after shave balms, and of course a toilet (tastefully off to the side and equipped with a reading light) would be available for the essentials. 

A Shaving Den
Image Credit: [URL=][IMG][/IMG][/URL]

 One wall would be devoted to library shelves containing the classics and the Encyclopedia Brittanica in leather bound editions. A 60’s style stereo system would occupy another wall. Another wall would have a writing desk with a well appointed desk top computer with a fast internet connection and a large screen for viewing YouTube tutorials and on the fly emergency consultations to the shaving forums.  Another wall would have a small couch with a coffee table laid out with recent issues of Scientific American, Field and Stream, Hot Rod, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, Esquire and the latest Art Of Shaving catalog. 

Not exactly what I had in mind
but you get the idea.  Image Credit: 

 Another wall would display a tasteful Vargas girl pinup shaving her legs with a 1959 Gillette Fat Boy Adjustable. 

The walls, all eight of them, would paneled in the finest mahogany veneers, counter tops all black granite, and lighting a combination of overhead track lighting and Tiffany floor and table lamps. 

Well so much for my dreams. In practical terms I believe that most shaving dens are simply the act of commandeering a powder room and installing good lighting, a good mirror, a bunch of shelves to hold all your gear. This then is where you go to become one with the lather and blade. 

Alas back to reality, being a retired factory worker and not an investment banker, the cracker box of a house that I live in has no powder room and no place for a powder room. So that leaves the bathroom. One thing I have learned in almost 39 years of marital bliss is that the bathroom, especially when you only have one, is a woman’s province. Space will be provided grudgingly for a few manly health and beauty essentials but there is no way my wife is going to tolerate a major invasion of a ridiculous macho shaving den. Hmmm. That leaves the laundry tub in the basement right next to the washer and the cat litter boxes. The cat litter aroma would add to the zen of the experience, take me back to basics, and perhaps mask the fragrance of the stinky shaving soaps!  The simple fact of the matter is that I have no place for a shaving den.

My Shaving Temple
Being spiritually inclined and four dimensionally challenged on this Earth plane, I decided to make a shaving temple. This sits in the (waterless and drainless) corner of the small area that I have claimed for my man cave. While it certainly falls short of a shaving den, being close to the computer, it does provide instant access to all my shaving goods for when I am posting on the shaving forums.

Finally, It occurs to me that most of my readers are women, (except for one notable gentleman in the northern realms who respectfully wishes to remain bearded). 

The Shaving Queen
Image Credit:

 Lest you feel left out, there is a small but devoted contingent of women wet shaving enthusiasts. The Sharpologist has an article by the Razor Queen, Tiffanyanne Pisarcik which lists a variety of wet shaving resources for women.

Sharpologist .com, “Top Resources For Ladies Shaving.” by Tiffanyanne Pisarcik

Pisarcik AKA Tiffany Kosma also appears at the blog What’s Your Ritual 

Well there you have it.  A long journey in a few short months.  Last July I was blissfully ignorant scraping Gillette Foamy red spray can cheapy forumula from my face with a two bladed cartridge Gillette Excel razor.  Now I am shit canning 10 dollar tubs of Proraso because it is too smelly.  I take three times as long to shave, go around with razor burn 50% of the time from my latest failed experiment, and Amazon is raking in a young fortune off my shaving habit.  Ha ha but I am no fool.  Gillette and Schick are not robbing me blind with those expensive 5 bladed cartridges.  

Well off to the forums to see if I can find an unscented prep.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Loss of Innocence Part 2

NOTE!  This part 2.  Read PART 1 first.

I have been trying to write part 2 of my loss of innocence without much luck.  I have gotten into too much detail about shaving crises in the past.  My posts are too damned long anyhow and nobody wants to read about a half century struggle with removing hair from my face.   Well that is an exaggeration.  Since the early 90s I have been using a Gillette two blade Sensor that has worked well.  I have resisted the urge to go with ever more blades and more expense.  The Sensor always gave me an acceptable shave, and while the cost went steadily upwards it was still reasonable compared to the many bladed behemoths that were starting to look like a harrow on handle.  

Image Credit:

Then about 2 years ago I got a bunch of bad cartridges.  After one shave they were shot.  Hmmm a two dollar shave!  I will spare the details of that battle but I now have a Norelco electric shaver and a Dorco three bladed cartridge razor collecting dust (well the Norelco is useful when I am in a hurry).  Then I happened across the Gillette Sensor Excel blade.  Sort of a high tech Sensor blade that would fit my existing handle.  While I was not happy with Gillette for having charged me $30 for the last 15 shaves, I was getting a bit desperate.  So I tried them.  Voila!  They work great.  I was getting over a month (I don’t shave every day) out of  a cartridge.  Far better shave than I got from the Sensor.  They are a couple of bucks more for a 10 pack than the Sensor but well worth the difference.  The only complaint (aside from cost) was that they seem to easily clog between the blades, especially because I don’t shave every day.  The Sensor did as well but they seemed to flush out easier.  The Excels extract a certain amount of shaving time devoted to rinsing the razor but otherwise a good acceptable shave.  So all was well in the shaving world until I lost my innocence a few months ago with wet shaving. 

Hang around any wet shaving forum and you will soon get exposed to the idea that real men shave with double edged safety razors.  To me this is something of a cop out of convenience (and perhaps sanity).  It would seem to me that if you are rejecting modern 
expensive high tech shaving systems then one should gravitate to the true original…the straight razor (affectionately AKA the cut throat razor).  Let’s not be fooled by King Camp Gillette, a true shave can only be delivered by a well honed and stropped straight razor like my father used.  He could shave himself while falling down drunk and not have a nick.  

Image Credit:

Truth be told, if the only way to shave was with a cut throat, I would sport beard.  I can’t bear to even look at photographs of these treacherous devices being used.  How one ever gets up enough balls to drag that thing across their face is beyond me.  Apparently I am not alone in that line of thinking.  So the shaving enthusiasts (wine snobs pale in comparison) have embraced the double edge safety razor as being a sufficiently low tech and traditional method of shaving.  Let’s face it, using a straight razor could result in some catastrophic injuries.  So sanity has prevailed and the double edged safety razor is considered the instrument of choice on the shaving forums. 

Yeah, yeah.  To hell with all that nonsense.  I was quite happy with my Gillette Sensor Excel even if I am a damned fool for paying way to much per shave.  But then I got my brush and razor stand. 

Ahhh!  The pride of my shaving den!
You have to store your brush with the bristles down.  Otherwise the water runs into the handle and deteriorates the bond of the knot of the bristle to the handle.  Leaving a brush with the bristles upright shortens the life of a brush.  So I find a great stand that will also store my razor.  As mentioned in part one, my razor would not stay in the stand.  So I end up with a cheap ass hideous looking soap scummed cartridge razor being supported in a beautiful chrome shaving stand by wire tie nubs. 

Nah the shaving forums are not affecting my judgement.  But what can it hurt to have a look at some of these DEs (the “in the know” term for double edged safety razor).  I was captivated by a company I never heard of, Merkur (German for Mercury).  Hmmm. Shiny.  Precision machining. Engine turned styling. A classic bust of Hermes for a company logo.  These things are works of art.   

Image Credit:

Don’t be an ass Sextant, you used a double edged razor until you went in the service and they sucked.  Ohhhh but look at this one with a “barber pole” handle. Ooooh solid brass core handle, spiraled knurling.  What a manly looking razor.  And let’s face it with my plummeting testosterone levels, I can use all the manly that I can get.  Don’t be ass Sextant, DEs suck. 

Ahhh but wait, look at this one, its adjustable, you can adjust how “aggressive” you want your shave.  Don’t be an ass Sextant, you had an adjustable Gillette DE in 1966 and it sucked.  Oh but look, the Merkur logo is embossed bas relief on the base of the head.  This thing is a beauty.     Adjustable, beautiful German engineering and craftsmanship, charming ivory colored plastic adjustment knob that is reminiscent of the 50s with yet another Hermes logo embossed in it.  (Believe it or not many do no like this feature thinking it tacky.  There is an outfit that makes modified Merkur Progress with metal adjustment knobs.)  Ahhh this is the razor I want.  Why you idiot?   You are perfectly happy with the Sensor Excel.  No I am not, it looks like a piece of shit in my beautiful stand. 

And there you have it, like a teenage boy unhappy with perfectly serviceable painted valve covers on my V-8 engine, I want something that is shiny and macho.  

A Chrysler Hemi with painted valve covers.
Image Credit:

A Chrysler Hemi with chrome valve covers.
You can see the difference shiny chrome makes.
Image Credit:    

So the process of converting to a DE begins.  And the rationalizations start.  Gillette could screw you at any time raising the price or reducing the quality like with the Sensors, or simply take them off the market forcing you to a 17 bladed Lazer Guided Fusion Rotary Vibrato model.  You wouldn’t have to spend so much time with flushing out clogs between the blades (that one is actually true…it is just that you spend so much more time with everything else that the time savings is negative).  You will save a lot of money on blades (also true if you can ever make up your mind).  These razors are made with a sense of craftsmanship and precision…oh boy the bullshit we tell our selves.  Imagine the Merkur razor factory…elfin like craftsman dressed in lederhosen and pince-nez, leaning over an ancient lathe with a micrometer carefully measuring the diameter of brass handle singing strains from Wagner’s Ring.  Having a quality shaving instrument (nah I haven’t been hanging around the shaving forums too long) will make shaving more fun and exciting, a morning male zen ritual.  I imagine myself sitting in the lotus position in a mist shrouded cave, chakras aglow, dipping my shiny precision Merkur into a geothermal heated mineral pool at the precise temperature for opening my pores and softening the whiskers for the perfect shave while strains from an unseen sitar play mysterious soul soothing tones at the precise frequency to make one’s whiskers to stand erect and vibrate in anticipation of the meeting their fate to a precision teflon coated, ceramic over platinum plated, ice tempered stainless steel blade gliding over my face lathered with the pure creme from Tibetan mountain goats combined with triple milled soap hand pressed by virgin maidens.  Now imagine that same scene with a Gillette Sensor Excel razor with wire tie nubs on the handle.  

Ahhhh so I slowly convince myself that a DE will make my shaving life better, and SNAP!  The LET’S BUY relay in my brain snaps from the sensible quiescent don’t be an ass, you don’t need that particular bobble state to a red flashing BUY, BUY, BUY state, and thus flooding the pair of nucleus accumbens in the left and right hemispheres of my brain with a pleasurable charge of dopamine.    

Ha ha!  I am going to BUY and improve my shaving life!  Tah dah!  So then I get off the review websites and go on Amazon.  The Merkur Progress 510 C costs $75!!!!!!  What?  Now the cheap bastard circuitry in my brain gets energized.  Dopamine is diverted to be absorbed in my liver (I don’t know if that is how it works or not but you get the point.)  You idiot, 75 bucks is a lot of money to pay to hack yourself up for a week, toss the damned thing in a drawer, and never look at it again.  The LET’S BUY relay may operate in a digital, zero/one, off/on, don’t buy/buy state, but the cheap bastard circuitry is strictly analogue.  It thrives in shades of grey.  If the razor that I really want is too much then why not buy an “entry level” razor and give it a try.  So let’s see I could buy a Lord razor for $9.75, a Van Der Hagen for $17, a Feather for $12, a Perfecto for $13, and the list goes on and on.  These razors all use the same standard DE blades that my 75 dollar Merkur would use, so why not just go cheap and see how you like it—because if you remember right…you were never too impressed with DEs fifty years ago.  Well all those razors, while being, yes, a DE safety razor, are cheap hunks of cast pot metal.  POT METAL (what ever that is).  Not objects of precision German craftsmanship and beauty crafted from solid brass and plated to an absurd thickness that I have convinced myself that I need.  Now bear in mind, my thinking on this at the time of want is not this clear.  Everything is a murky war of new fired want verses a life time of studious parsimoniousness.   I want a Merkur Progess not a Lord pot metal piece of shit. Its like having the hots for a new Mercedes Benz and going to look at a 15 year old Jetta.

The Merkur 38 C HD
The Barber Pole
Image Credit: Amazon
So the cheap bastard circuitry whirs and buzzes between want and cheap and like all good analogue computers a compromise is reached between the Progress and pot metal.  I will get the Merkur 38C HD Classic Barber Pole.  Great ratings, good beginner razor, mildly aggressive, long solid brass core handle fashioned after a barber pole (but I think reminiscent of a classical Roman Tuscan architectural column…yes I am in control of myself), top rated razor at one of the shaving forums, hefty—weighing in at a whopping 120 grams, and well balanced.  It is precision German craftsmanship for only $40, almost half of the cost of the razor that I really want.   But it is a beauty (which is true, I think it a more attractive razor than the Progress).  

OK, so I ordered the razor from Amazon and received it with one Merkur stainless steel sample blade.  Hmmmm.  No matter how much hype you read on a shaving forum, at some point it comes down to you, the lather, the blade, the razor and your face…its rug cutting time.  So I have my beautiful Merkur Barber Pole (or Roman Tuscan in my mind, a main support in the temple of shaving) and with a trembling hand, remembering all the tips…don’t press, let the weight of the razor do the work, short strokes, rinse often, do not take a second swipe on unlathered skin…etc etc etc. and…it sucked.  

WTF did I expect?  It is a double edged safety razor employing technology that King Camp Gillette developed at the turn of the century (19th to 20th).  The best it is going to do is give you a good shave, not some orgasmic zen experience that is blabbed about on some of these shaving forums.  I surveyed my bleeding face and realized that maybe I allowed myself to fall victim of the hype.  But I was warned, a favorite saying on the forums is YMMV (your mileage may vary) and one is consistently told that it takes a month to learn the muscle memory for a good shave with a DE.  OK so my initial run wasn’t so good, common enough experience, consult the forums. 

The Pride of East German Automobile Technology
The Trabant 601, AKA The Little Stinker, Image Credit:
First thing that is evident is that while Merkur may make the Mercedes Benz of razors, their blades are strictly a Trabant.  It is one of those curiosities in life, the maker of first rate razors produces lousy blades.  Really poor shave.  I would recommend Merkur sending a sample of some other company’s blades.   So I bought some Van Der Hagen ice tempered blades at Target.  Not bad.  Sort of a mild shave but better than I thought they would be.   So the next leg of the journey is blades.  One would think that one razor blade is as good as another but not true.  Some are very sharp and provide a much closer shave but at the risk of razor burn and nicks.  Blades are definitely a case of YMMV.  You have to experiment and find the best blade for your skin, razor, lather and technique. 

So now a new adventure, finding suitable blades.  Brick and mortar stores offer very little selection of traditional DE blades.  You either have to go to a specialty shaving store or an internet shop.  There are a variety of blades samplers on Amazon and some of the Internet shaving shops.  But I decided not to go that route just yet.  Blades vary quite a bit.  I thought that being a newbie, I should learn technique using the same brand of blade.  Keep the variables down.  Once I get my technique down pat, I would then try different blades.  

Standard Double Edged Razor Blade
Feather, the ninja sword of DE blades
Image Credit:  Amazon

I have a rather tough thick beard, and it lays flat but somewhat sensitive old man skin and lots of old man wattles on my neck.  So I read the reviews for the various blades and two stood out that I wanted to try.  Feather and Wilkinson Sword.  Feather, the ninja sword of DE razor blades, are Japanese platinum coated stainless blades that are widely agreed to be the sharpest blade on the market.  It seems one either loves Feather or hates them, they are sharp and they are very aggressive.  The Wilkinson Sword is a blade that I have a bit of history with.  Before I went in the service, I used a Gillette adjustable with Wilkinson Sword Blades.  At the time they were unique in that they were stainless, had a great edge and lasted longer than other blades.  I had my father try them, and he converted from a straight razor to a double edged.  He raved about them.  So I wanted to try them for historical reasons.   

Image Credit:  Amazon

The Wilkinson Sword blade now is made in Merkur’s home town of Soligen Germany, the City of Blades.  It is a stainless steel blade “improved by Wilkinson's famous triple coating process of chromium to resist corrosion, ceramic for added durability, and PTFE for less irritation.”  

My blades finally arrived from Amazon (again I ganged up the purchases so I exceeded $35 but had to wait for the slower shipping…patience will save you money).  I placed a Feather blade in my Barber Pole and with great anticipation of finally attaining the holy grail of wet shaving world, the legendary BBS, Baby Bottom Smooth, began to shave.  I will say one thing for Feathers, they are sharp, I removed beard and hunks of face without feeling a bit of drag, pull, or pain.   The result was something that resembled being on the receiving end of ultra fine bird shot fired from both barrels of a 12 gauge shot gun.  Nicks too numerous to count and razor burn on my neck wattles and chin.  Not a good experience.  I allowed my face to heal for several days with no shaving and then returned to the mild mannered Van Der Hagen blades for a week.  Then I tried the Wilkinson Swords.  They are not as sharp as the Feathers but far more aggressive than the Van Der Hagens or the Merkurs.

And there I remained.  I didn’t seem to be improving.  Every shave resulted in a some nicks and razor burn.  The razor burn I attribute to the second pass.  Wet shaving with a DE usually dictates three passes.  The first with the grain of your beard.   That is the whiskers have a natural way of laying.  With the grain is shaving in the direction that they lay.  It is the least irritating direction.  Think of petting a cat.  When you pet from head to tail, your petting with the grain of the cat’s fur. The second pass should be across the grain, and the last pass against the grain for the BBS.  I am no where near the skill required for against the grain and as such on a different planet from the legendary BBS.   My beard is coarse and lays very flat. 
So I had arrived at a lousy shave stasis.  I was getting no better at shaving, the promised muscle memory seemed to evade me. It was taking three times a long and my face remained sort of a war zone of nicks and razor burn.  I had not yet arrived at the right combination of preps, bowls, brushes, soaps, blades, razors, techniques, and after shaves.  I remained in wet shaving limbo.  

I promised to conclude this shaving business in two posts.  I lied.  It is just far too fascinating to limit to two posts.  Yeah right. I pity you poor reader.  In any event you will have to wait for Loss of Innocence PART 3 to find if I have my happily ever after ending and the legendary BBS.      

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Loss of Innocence Part 1

It started innocently enough.  My can of Gillette Foamy shaving cream (Regular grade, red can, ultra-cheapo, no swilliness, and no fragrance) got to the end where, in a sad diarrheic death spiral, it spit out gas and a watery soapy slop resembling cream more than whipped cream.  My past experience has always been that the slop at the end of the can was not worth the aggravation of using it.  Having the slop drip off my face and the razor did not justify the money saved by squeezing out 5 more sloppy shaves.  As such my usual practice was to toss the can at the first spit near the end and start a new can.  On this particular morning, I was running short on time and was too damned lazy to go down in the basement to retrieve the next can.  So I used the slop, but bearing in mind something that I had recently read, you only need a little bit of shaving cream.  It doesn’t have to be an inch thick like they show in the ads on TV.  So I applied it sparingly and I was pleasantly surprised.  The slop although drippy, gave a much better shave than the foam.  Hmmm!   So instead of throwing it out, I used it to the very bloody end and decided I liked the shave from the slop much better, especially after I started using the next can and got back to shaving with the relatively dry foam.  

This got me thinking about when I was a kid, my father shaved with a straight razor (the thoughts of which still makes me shiver), shaving mug, and a brush.  He used Williams Mug shaving soap.  So I got to wondering, does that stuff still exist?  Indeed it does. 

Image Credit:

A quick glance at Google indicated that it was available at Walgreens.  Well this was all sort of a day dream, a blast from the past, and I put it out of my mind.  A few days later I found myself riding past a Walgreens and a wild hair struck me…what the hell give it a try.  I wasn’t going to bother with a brush and mug, just get the soap and apply it with a wash cloth just to try it out.  Walgreens did not have Williams Mug soap, not even a place for it ( a second look at the web revealed that Walgreens only carries it as an Internet sale). They did, however, have a Van Der Hagen Premium Shave Set that included a dark green ceramic shave bowl, a boar bristle brush and premium shave soap.  

Image Credit:

All for 11 bucks.  They also had another Van Der Hagen set with a badger hair brush for about 34 bucks.  My animal loving wife would crown me for the boar bristle brush but at least I could make the argument that it came from a slaughter house, much like leather.  The notions of badgers being trapped for a badger hair shaving  brush would never fly.  Besides 11 bucks is much more palatable than 34 and I loved the beautiful dark green ceramic bowl.  I have been a sucker for dark green in the past 20 years and I don’t know why.  So I bought it and entered unwittingly into a new phase in my life.    

So now being a proud owner of soap, bowl, and brush, what exactly do you do with this?  Yeah I know, you wet the brush, slop it around the soap, and then smear it on your face, but surely there must be proper techniques?  How do you ensure you get the lather you want, how exactly do you use the brush?  So in these modern times, what does one do when faced with an unknown?  Consult the Internet of course, and fear not there has to be 700 bazillion Internet sites, shaving forums, and YouTube videos showing you how to use your bowl, brush, and soap in the most effective way…and hence I lost my innocence in the world of shaving even though I have been practicing this art in one form or another for better than a half century. 

Welcome to the world of wet shaving.  Yes, there is an entire subculture out there devoted to the ultimate shave. It is hardly visible to the shoppers of the brick and mortar stores with their preponderance of Gillette and Schick shaving products.  Simply Google “wet shaving” and stand back. 

My particular favorite is The Sharpologist

He has a very informative  blog and some great how to shave videos.   

I loved the bowl and the brush, but the soap while giving an excellent shave is smelly, a sort of a rose smell.  My wife gets migraines from fragrances so we have both become fragrance averse.  I found the whiffs of rose throughout the day to be annoying.  Besides why would they give a man’s product a rose fragrance?  I am wussie enough without smelling like a rose on top of it.  I looked around at the various drug stores but couldn’t find William’s Mug soap.  So I looked on Amazon, not only did they have Williams, they have a myriad of other brands some of which are quite expensive.  I also noted that Van Der Hagen made a unscented luxury soap.  I ordered some Williams and the Van Der Hagen Unscented from Amazon.  But being a cheap bastard, I needed to buy some other stuff to get the order over $35 for free shipping.  I don’t belong  to Prime.  

As noted above there is this entire subculture residing on the Internet about wet shaving, so I started reading about this stuff.  In fact, it became something of a hobby.  Shaving a hobby?  I have to be nuts.  Anyhow, the general consensus is that the only shave brush worth owning is a silver tipped badger hair brush.  Yeah right.  My wife will divorce me for animal cruelty.  So I opt for a “faux” silver tipped badger hair brush made with synthetic fibers.    That will fly with my wife.  I also read that a brush must hang bristles down when not in use or eventually the water will damage the knot inside the handle.  So I should buy a shaving stand that holds the brush and razor.  So I ordered the stand, the brush, and two types of soap.  Yepper, I am well over the $35 mark for free shipping.  This is indeed turning into a hobby, a bit of a costly one.     

When my shipment arrived,  I popped out the smelly Van Der Hagen soap from the bowl and set in a cake of Williams.  With my new brush, which is quite beautiful, I lather up the Williams.  It is  fine except that it smells like you are shaving with lemon Pledge furniture polish.  But after you rinse it off, there is no lingering smell.  The synthetic brush is wimpy and I don’t like it.  I like the stiff bristles of the junky boar brush better.  I used the Williams for about a week.  I like the Williams despite the Lemon Pledge smell.  It gives a good shave and I liked how it rinses off clean and leaves no residual smell or greasiness.  From my readings, my acceptance of Williams Mug shaving soap makes me something of a cretin in the world of wet shaving, I may as well be using Fels-Naptha.  Also from my reading, I was anxious to try the Van Der Hagen Unscented Luxury soap.  So I popped out the William’s, stuck it in a zip lock bag and put in a cake of the VDH Unscented.   Absolutely wonderful!  No fragrance.  It takes a bit longer to whip up a lather, and it leaves a slightly greasy residue, but very slight.  It shaves good and ITS NOT SMELLY!  This is my soap.

The stand?  

Perfecto?  Surely I jest!  No that is the brand name.  It is beautiful.  Good chrome plating, sturdy, heavy weighted base with a neoprene scuff pad on the bottom, well made, not a bad price. It worked great for the brush, but not so well for my razor, a two blade Gillette Sensor.  This razor has a wedge shaped head.  It ends up sitting on two diametrical points across the wedge on the legs of the stand.  With the slightest vibration, the razor would rotate in the stand and fall between the legs.  I solved that problem by installing two wire ties on the upper handle and placing the nubs 180 degrees apart.  The razor now sits in the stand on the two nubs.  It works good but looks like hell.  My eventual plan for a solution was to install an o-ring across the legs of the stand and use it as a rubber band to force the razor back into the end of the slot where it can’t fall.  However further reading on the internet invalidated that need.

My Perfecto Shaving Stand with the beautiful albeit wimpy fake silver
tipped badger brush and Gillette Sensor Razor jury rigged with wire ties.

Oddly enough, this crap isn’t just shopping for shaving supplies.  It is turning into something of a hobby.  I start reading about brushes, bowls, various soaps.  Well reading any kind of shaving forum you get exposed to the idea that Gillette and Schick are two corporate behemoths pushing off excessive technological wonders in the form of cartridge razors that are totally not needed and raping your wallet in the process.  A real man shaves with a double edge safety razor and bleeds a bit and saves tons of money on blades.  Quite actually I rather believe that a real man would shave with a straight razor finely honed before each use with a leather strop…but let’s face it, it takes a lot of balls to put one of those things to your face.  So I think the double edged (abbreviated DE) aficionados are opting for an old time traditional solution but one in which you probably will not slit your throat if a car backfires out on the street.   So because this has become something of a hobby and because my Gillette Sensor looks so sucky sitting in its chrome plated stand with a pair of wire ties for supports, I start believing all the claims that double edged safety razors are the way to go. 

In PART 2, which will come soon, we will investigate my further loss of innocence (and blood) in the world of fine German razors and the ninja sword of double edged blades, the Japanese Feather Double Edged Blade.