Two Ears, Just One Mouth

I haven’t written here in a good long while now. Mostly because I’ve been learning everything I can. I started going back to school last semester with Arizona State University. They have a wonderful online program for entrepreneurship (rated #9 and #2 respectively for Bachelor’s and Graduate degrees in the nation by US News & World Report), so I’ve been busting my hump and made the Dean’s List carrying a 4.09 GPA. I’m enjoying it and even thinking I may continue on for a Master’s. ASU has a great support network for veterans through the Pat Tillman center that would help with that, and I’d hate to squander the opportunity. And I love that I’m getting a degree from a real university (regionally accredited) as opposed to some fly-by-night degree mill with dodgy accreditation. Being able to trust in the value and quality of my education is a wonderful feeling.

When I’m not studying required materials for school, I’ve been studying the stock market with Investopedia, or challenging myself and reading books that would have been way outside my scope before, like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I’ve opened up my first investment account that I manage and make trades from, and even been able to wrap my head around Hawking- he’s a wonderful educator and explains the concepts really well. I always try to read and learn as much as I can on a deployment, and this one has been particularly rewarding.

When I sat down to publish this brief entry, I didn’t even intend to write this much. All I really intended to share was this, a Hubble Deep Field image. This is the Ultra Deep Field from 2004, outdone by the eXtreme Deep Field in 2012. Not a picture of stars, but of 10,000 galaxies. Each of them made up of billions of stars. Each of those stars likely a sun to several planets. And the area pictured is “smaller than a 1mm x 1mm square of paper held at 1 meter away, roughly one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky“.

Click to enlarge. VERY large.

Click to enlarge. VERY large.

That’s awe inspiring. Trying to wrap one’s head around the immensity of scale is… humbling. And I think, “I have so much more to learn.”

My Grudging Admission of Harley’s Marketing Brilliance

To paraphrase Wes Siler, it’s no secret that I loathe cruisers because forward controls and ape-hangers are the antithesis of control, and chrome is gaudy. This is where I would normally launch into a rant about how “Harley sucks” because they’re the easiest target. But I have to give credit where credit is due, and their marketing machine knew exactly what they were doing when they introduced the Sportster Seventy-Two.

harley-davidson-sportster-seventy-two

Everything awful about cruisers, now available direct from the factory.

I liked the Forty-Eight from a design perspective and as a rider I came this close to buying an XR1200X, but I was appalled when the Seventy-Two was released. First, because the only good things to come out of the 1970s are Jaws and Star Wars. (If you believe otherwise, I assure you it’s just nostalgia talking. There’s a reason hipsters choose this decade to honor ironically.) But also because Harley-Davidson was finally starting to make some smarter-looking bikes, and in the case of the XR1200X a bike with decent handling and ergonomics. This abomination was an homage to the ugliest possible decade and a huge step backward in handling. The slight warming of my heart to the Motor Company was instantly quenched.

But Harley-Davidson is a company that sells lifestyle and image more than motorcycles, and they understand this very well. So well, in fact, that they saw a youth market where I never would have imagined one as a rider. Harley-Davidson is calling all hipsters. I’m more than a little embarrassed I didn’t realize this until now, because it makes all the sense in the world. The only problem Harley has is that they’re too mainstream. Otherwise, their faux cultures of nonconformity and being trapped in the past (ironically or not) are a perfect fit for each other. In fact, the only way in which Harley may have misstepped is to make this ad just a little too blatant.

Now, as I’ve said before and continue to maintain, a Triumph is a better choice than a Harley in every way and this goes doubly so for hipster appeal. [For the record, I ride a BMW R1200R.] The Bonnevilles have retro appeal, are better bikes, and from a less mainstream brand. But hats off to Milwaukee for seeing the niche. They deserve to profit wildly from the foresight and execution. The only question is if hipsters will spend $11,000 on a new motorcycle when “Thrift Shop” was one of the biggest radio hits of the last year.

Seiko 5

The problem with being a watch geek is two-fold. First, it completely invalidates anything I say if I feel like teasing my wife about how many shoes she owns. Second, mechanical watches tend to be much more expensive than their quartz counterparts.

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Enter the Seiko 5.

We’ll just have to keep hoping that link remains active, because Seiko’s website is fairly awful. (So is Casio’s site for G-Shock watches, with no feature filter to help you through hundreds of styles.) As a matter of fact, if you just go to Seiko.com (USA, anyhow), you can’t even find any mention of the Seiko 5’s existence. But a quick Google search led me to the microsite for the 5 and it’s 50th anniversary. 1963 was a very busy year, with James Bond movies also celebrating their 50th, “I have a dream”, and JFK’s assassination- but I digress. Let’s talk about the watch.

My favorite thing about a mechanical watch is the rapid ticking, like the opening of a 60 Minutes episode, as the second hand makes several discrete jumps between each second rather than the inelegant full second clunk of quartz.

While all mechanical watches I’m aware of share that attribute, the Seiko 5 is unique in a few ways. First is the extremely low cost. MSRP on the watch is $185 USD, but they can be found on Amazon.com for $50-60 all day long. The movement is made in Malaysia and I’m guessing that’s for cost savings. The crystal watch face is a lower grade of Seiko’s proprietary “hardlex” which is a mineral crystal, just not sapphire, to keep the price low. Second is the crown, which leads into how the 5 was named.

  1. Automatic winding
  2. Day/date displayed in a single window
  3. Water resistance
  4. Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
  5. Durable case and bracelet

These five attributes were unique for the time and, considering these watches were devised and cost effective before the Quartz Crisis/Revolution took place, I can’t help but imagine they were the ultimate sports watch for a five to seven year window of time.

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My initial impression of the 5 was shock at how small it is. Honestly, it’s about the same size as most watches I grew up with, but the fashion in recent years for men’s watches has been a larger size (which I think is played out and they’re getting smaller again). But since 37mm doesn’t mean much to me without comparison, here are some photos.

US quarter, the 5, and Kinetic Dad gave me when I graduated high school. Click to embiggen.

Right to left: US quarter, the 5, and Seiko Kinetic my Dad gave me in ’97.

The quarter is 24.11 millimeters. All measurements were taken with Mitutoyo digimatic calipers. There were various decimals but most measurements were within 0.15 mm so I rounded to the nearest whole number with three exceptions.

TAG Heuer Grand Carrera 17, Seiko 5, Oakley Holeshot

Right to left: TAG Heuer Grand Carrera 17, Seiko 5, and Oakley Holeshot.

For the face I measured the diameter of the crystal and you can see on the Oakley that’s not truly representative of the clock face part of the display. (The Oakley’s odd case also skews those figures.) The cases’ diameters were measured based on their radius (again, see the Oakley, who claim 47.5mm), then again including crown, and finally from bracelet stem-to-stem across the face. That explained, the watch sizes are as follows:

  • Seiko 5 – 29mm face, 37mm case, 38.5mm w/crown, & 43mm stems.
  • Kinetic – 29mm face, 38mm case, 40mm w/crown, & 43mm stems.
  • TAG – 37mm face, 43mm case, 47mm w/crown, & 50mm stems.
  • Oakley – 31.5mm face, 45mm case, 49.8mm w/crown, & 50mm stems.

For thickness, the 5 is 10.5mm, Kinetic is 10.3, TAG is 15, and Oakley is 11.8. A US mint quarter is 1.7mm for comparison. I can’t imagine wearing anything larger than the TAG without it being ridiculous and tacky (cough, cough, most Diesel and Oakley), but it also feels just about perfect. It’s been so long since I’ve worn my Kinetic that going back to a smaller size felt like I was wearing a ladies watch at first, but that feeling passed quickly and now it’s like the perfect daily wear timepiece for a jeans and t-shirt guy.

The look (as if you can’t see the face from the pictures) is simple and relatively clean. I like the geometric design, and the hands are large enough that the luminous material is legible in the dark on all three. The case is stainless steel, but in a flat finish. The watch is small enough that this is a non-issue anyway, but the crown being recessed and at 4 o’clock precludes any rubbing or irritation on the back of the wearer’s hand. While the case of the watch is water resistant, I have no desire to stress the cloth band and do not wear this watch in the shower.

The exhibition case back is really just to prove this is a mechanical watch as you watch the balance wheel cycle back and forth. Otherwise, the movement isn’t that fancy and doesn’t have any jeweling on internal parts. The text printed on the back crystal is disappointing, but you’re almost never going to be looking at it.

Excess strap is held in place by two metal loops, one captured within the weave of the band and one sliding free to adjust as you need.

It’s about as basic a watch as you can get, save for the day/date complication. And of course, because it’s mechanical it won’t be quite as accurate as quartz. But who cares about that when we all have mobile phones in our pockets anyway? For just slightly more than a Timex Weekender (an excellent pick for quartz and style) you can own a mechanical watch. No more batteries to die or change. Granted, a mechanical watch should get serviced every now and again to keep it within tolerances, but wouldn’t you love to brag to your friends that your watch is EMP proof (even if it’s not strictly true)?

The short of it is this: in my limited writing on watches I’ve never recommended one. My TAG is too pricey to say “everybody should own one” and the Oakley looks too dude-bro frat boy. As of the date I write this, I’m on a WordPress.com site with no Amazon affiliate link. That means I gain nothing when I tell you this, gentle reader: if you’re interested in watches at all, you owe it to yourself to pick up a Seiko 5. The black model is fifty bucks and free shipping if you’re Prime member. The holidays are over, so you’re free to buy things for yourself again without ruining somebody’s gift plan. (And big, BIG thanks to my wonderful wife for tolerating and contributing to my watch obsession!)

There is quite literally no reason to not own one.

Gillette Super Speed & Super Thin

After my failed Super-Max experiment, a buddy of mine in Nepal sent me enough Gillette Super Thin blades to keep me supplied for at least six months. And I’m going to use every last one of them.

Gillette_SuperThinThe blades shaved easily, with no pulling or irritation, and I didn’t nick myself once. I missed a little bit of stubble running the length of my jaw on both sides of my face, but I suspect that’s due to using the twist-to-open Super Speed razor pictured above. It’s not my usual razor, and I’d bet dropping one of these blades into my trusty Gillette Tech (or practicing more with the Super Speed) will shave my mug baby smooth all over.

♣ Blades vs. Cartridges ♣

Some quick thoughts on shaving with blades vs. cartridges, and I promise not to get weird and preachy trying to convert you away from that multi-bladed environment destroying expensive landfiller made of baby hate, you handsome devil. All kidding aside, it’s insanely cheaper to use blades than, say, Fusion cartridges and does produce significantly less waste for the environmentally concerned… But none of that is really a powerful enough motivator to make the switch. A man switches to retro DE razors and blades because he doesn’t mind taking five to ten percent longer during his shave, and wants to fulfill the experience of shaving like his dad or granddad. To that end, it works beautifully.

Good blades are hard to find in the United States, though. We mostly use cartridges here, so that’s mostly what’s sold. The easiest way to get decent blades here is to order Feather blades from Amazon.com. I’m guessing Americans have enough expendable income to spend “excessively” on speed and convenience. I’ve always found the best blades when traveling overseas, and it seems most online specialty retailers import their blades as well. Gillette doesn’t even list blades on their USA website. Just something to be aware of.

♣ Classic vs. Outdated ♣

I started shaving with a Gillette Sensor, which they don’t make anymore. They still make the cartridges, but buying new from “the best a man can get” means a Mach 3 or a Fusion these days. That’s fine, but I bought I replaced a Mach 3 that I had with a Fusion because of slick marketing and six months later they released the Fusion Power! Battery powered manual razors, vibrating features, different colors and trim levels… What’s next? Flashlights? MP3 players? The capitalist in me understands, but as a customer I’m fed up.

My Super Speed is a flare tipped model, probably from the 1950’s, and works flawlessly. No pitting or rust, it’s like new. I don’t know how old my Tech is, but it’s even simpler and the patent dates back to 1938. And they both still work wonderfully.

Shave like a man. Like your dad or maybe your grandpa did. You won’t regret it.

 

Not all blades are equal

SuperMaxBlades

These are the worst blades I have ever used. Click to embiggen.

I switched to an old fashioned double-edged safety razor shortly after I began using shaving creams and a brush instead of canned gels and what-not. A good friend of mine sent me two vintage Gillettes- a Tech and a Super Speed. The Tech quickly became my razor for every shave, replacing my new-fangled Fusion and it’s five or six blade cartridges. But one of the things the old-timey shavers debate is which blades do the best job actually shaving you. The oft-touted cost savings of a blade vs. a cartridge don’t amount to much if the shave is lousy.

I’ve never thought much about the great razor debate until now. Discussions about esoteric Gillette blades no longer available in the U.S. vs. Feather and dozens of others has always struck me as a bit obsessive and something that couldn’t possibly make that big a difference until now. The Super-Max Super Stainless pictured above gave me the worst shave I can recall having, more pulling at my whiskers than cutting. It was painful, awful, and left patches of whiskers I dared not try to remove again. Specifically, the hairs high on my lip and directly below my nostrils. And that’s before it cut off a small chunk of my cupid’s bow, the edge of the upper lip directly below the philtral dimple. I’ve never felt discomfort from shaving, but this blade caused outright pain.

Super-Max’s website claims they’re made from the “Highest Quality Swedish steel”, but my package was labeled as being made in India if I recall correctly. Maybe they were counterfeit, I don’t know. I don’t even remember where I got them. All I know is they were awful and I threw away the rest of the package and swapped in one of the hundreds of Silver Blue I bought overseas. Ah…. much better.

So the blades DO make a difference. Guess it’s time to find a blade sampler pack for sale from a specialist site. Maybe one of these from Royal Shave will do the trick…

Soaring Beauty

A television ad for the Fargo Air Museum showcased vintage planes, but small town local commercial production couldn’t hide the craftsmanship and artistic design of the old propeller driven aircraft. Even with cheap on-screen banners obscuring the planes and promoting the season’s deals I was struck by gorgeous design of yesteryear, a time when when beauty was intrinsic to manufacturing.

I’ve often mused to myself how strange it seems that aircraft design and it’s aesthetics reflect the era in which it was designed (much like cars) when principles of lift and aerodynamics are constant. That in mind, the pure beauty of aircraft suffered horribly once we entered the jet age. At least (some) cars got pretty again after the 1970s ended- planes have had very few gorgeous jet powered examples. The SR-71. Concorde. The ill-fated XB-70 Valkyrie. There’s an elemental simplicity to their design that could be rendered in a coffee table art deco sculpture and still be recognized. Some of the X-planes were pretty, with the X-29 being my personal favorite.

But the Handley Page Victor is perhaps my current favorite airborne beauty, mostly because I’ve only recently discovered it’s existence.

One of the prettiest planes I didn't know was real.

One of the prettiest planes I didn’t know was real.

I spent over an hour after typing that last sentence searching for an image of a comic book cover (to no avail). I think it was something written by Alan Moore between 2001-2003, during his America’s Best Comics years, and I could swear the cover depicted this very plane. At the time I thought it was just a beautiful example of an artist copying a paleofuture style. It was so striking I always considered buying the issue for the cover alone, despite having no interest at all in it’s content. Who knew the plane was real?

My British friends likely did- the Victor served the RAF for 35 years. But just look at it! The engine integrated into the wing. The five distinct angles of the intake (not visible in this shot). The cockpit shaped like a rocket straight out of a Buck Rogers serial. It’s unlike anything else and utterly gorgeous because of it.

A road-going car isn’t dependant upon it’s bodywork for functionality, that’s what a frame, suspension, etc. are for. Which is why we’ve seen a return to aesthetically pleasing cars like the retro Mustang and Camaro, C7 Corvette, and basically any Ferrari or Aston Martin. But airplanes depend on their shape, and specifically their wing, more than anything else. The function literally dictates the form of an aircraft and in the age of high technology we’ve seen fewer a fewer true beauties take to the sky. It’s totally understandable, but still a shame. We may see modern retro Beetles, Thunderbirds and Minis, but the heydey of iconic design in aviation looks to be long since passed. We’re poorer for it.