better living through product    ·    by Adam Mathes   ·   archive   ·   follow @decommodify

Flint and Tinder Knit Boxers

⍚ December 3, 2012

My father is even more particular about things than me. This trait — combined with his propensity to simply buy things he needs immediately — makes him nearly impossible to buy gifts for.

But I thought he might actually like Flint and Tinder boxer shorts. So I ordered him one pair of knit boxers as a gift to try, and had them sent directly to him.

Before I even had the chance to talk with him to see how he liked them, he had ordered more online.

That’s how good this underwear is.

Underwear is exactly the kind of commodity we use constantly but is not up to the standards it should be.

Flint and Tinder realized that none of the designer underwear in stores was made in America, and in general it was not a good product. They set out to make a better, higher quality product in America.

They succeeded.

Flint and Tinder boxers are the most comfortable underwear I’ve ever owned.

Imagine the most comfortable, lush cotton t-shirt you’ve ever worn — that is what they made their knit boxers out of.

Kickstarter may be increasingly seen as the QVC of the indie web, and it’s not clear that it can always work well for products (as opposed to the sort of artistic projects like books and films I believe it was originally designed for.)

But the pitch for Flint and Tinder was exactly the kind of thing we at Decommodify want to support: high quality, simple products for every day life, made with a new attention to detail, craftsmanship and care, so I supported it.

The end product exceeded my expectations. The fit, feel, the lack of a tag, the deep colors — all really impressive.

Flint and Tinder Knit Boxers, ~$20

available on Amazon or directly from Flint and Tinder.

Fuji X-Pro 1: A Camera For Photography Lovers

⍚ May 3, 2012

If you want to take the best possible pictures in the widest variety of situations, an entry level DSLR with a nice prime normal lense is probably the best value for your money. (A Nikon D3200 and 35mm f1.8 together are under $1000.)

For better optical quality, a full frame (the sensor is the same size as a 35mm piece of film) DSLR like the Nikon D700 (what I normally use) or the new D800 with a fast prime lens is even better. And if you need the fastest possible professional grade DSLR you already know why a Nikon D3X or equivalent is even pricier.

If you just want the best digital compact point and shoot, it’s the Canon S100.

The only camera on the market with great software that is properly connected to the internet in a way that makes sense for consumers is an iPhone with iCloud.

And the most beautiful and emotional cameras when price is no object are from Leica.

If you are evaluating cameras as commodities, that covers just about everything.

People Who Love Photography

So the Fuji X Pro 1 — technically the FUJIFILM X-Pro1 — and similar small interchangeable lens camera systems occupy a space in between those options.

Smaller and lighter than an SLR without some of the capabilities, but bigger, bulkier and more capable than a compact camera.

It will never fit in a pocket.

Like an iPad, it’s an object that must justify itself.

And it does. It really does.

The X-Pro 1 is the modern camera for people who love photography.

Actual Photographers

The Fuji X-Pro1 is an amazing one-of-a-kind camera. It has image quality and lenses more like my LEICA M9 than any DSLR, and it’s smaller and lighter than any DSLR — or LEICA. … The X-Pro1 is probably the best camera ever introduced for actual photographers, as opposed to computer hobbyists or vidiots, in years. The Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III are simply more of the same old thing, while the X-Pro1 is uniquely excellent.

Ken Rockwell reviewing the X-Pro 1.

Ken Rockwell spends a lot of time time using and reviewing a huge array of equipment — his review is a great read.

Key amazing things about the X-Pro 1:

  1. Real physical controls
  2. Outstanding image quality
  3. Unique hybrid optical/digital viewfinder
  4. It is a joy to use

Size and Weight

It weighs just under 16oz. It actually looks like it weighs more. It’s lighter than you would think.

It’s too big to ever put in a pocket, but small and light in a bag.

It’s significantly more comfortable to carry around for hours than my Nikon D700 or any serious DSLR today.

Build Quality

This is an all metal camera that was made with an attention to detail.

Although the branding is quite muted the camera boldly claims “made in Japan” on the back.

It is clear that Fuji is immensely proud of the quality, fit and finish of this product. It’s lightweight but solid. It feels like a Japanese manufactured camera.

Controls

The X Pro 1 is a camera that allows you to actually control the factors that create a photograph using real physical controls.

There is a real shutter speed dial. The aperture is set on the lens. There is an exposure compensation dial.

These all feel right.

These are things we used to take for granted in cameras — well made physical controls with clear affordances and feedback. And yet it is the exception — not the rule — in cameras regardless of cost today.

This camera feels more like my classic film Nikon FM2 than the modern Nikon D700 I regularly use.

I mean that in the best possible way — it looks and feels and operates like a camera — not a beeping electronic gadget.

Image Quality

I will leave this to professionals to measure quantitatively but qualitatively I have been amazed.

The camera is too new to have RAW images properly supported in Adobe or Apple products — all photos here were shot as JPEG. Unlike my DSLR, I find shooting JPEG to be fine with this camera.

Lenses

I have only use the F1.4 35mm lens, which I find to be amazing. It also focuses down amazingly close.

The only lenses available for the camera are 3 fast prime lenses with the new “Fuji X” mount.

I don’t know when the last time anyone released a new camera system where the introductory lenses only consisted of high quality prime lenses but that alone should tell you who this camera was designed for.

You can’t get the camera with some sort of slow zoom kit lens because Fuji doesn’t even make such a thing for it.

Risk

This is a brand new camera system. Unlike buying a Canon or Nikon SLR, there are not decades worth of new and used lenses and equipment compatible with it.

Unlike a more traditional camera, it is not as clear this will hold its value over time, or if Fuji will support the x-mount in decades in the way Canon or Nikon has supported their system.

It is, in some sense, a much riskier purchase.

Downsides

One annoyance was the lens was “loud” — literally, had an excessive chirping while focusing at times. This has been fixed with the latest firmware.

The autofocus is slow compared to most DSLRs, and seems to fail to find focus a little more often than I’m used to. In practice during a day of shooting at a garden, it was not a problem.

(Fuji’s similar previous offering, the Fuji X100 had similar autofocus issues that were improved with firmware over time, so it may get better over time, but it’s impossible to know.)

Fashion

This is a camera that takes it cues from rangefinder cameras made decades ago. While some may debate the authenticity of this look, I find the aesthetic to be a huge improvement over what is generally sold today in cameras.

A camera like this elicits a different emotional response than a serious modern DSLR. There is something quiet and different about a more subtle rangefinder inspired design, and that’s a huge part of the allure of this camera.

When looking directly at the face of the camera, there is no branding visible. This is rare.

In fact, this may be the best camera you can have around your neck where you don’t have to pay extra to de-brand it.

Competition

Per the introduction to this article, on technical commodity value terms, there are probably more practical options for almost all groups of consumers.

The real competition for a camera system like this is the Leica M9, which costs thousands more, or used film rangefinder systems (which still are very pricey.)

If you don’t want or need interchangeable lenses, Fuji’s previously released X100 is a cheaper but similar alternative.

Conclusion

This is a unique camera as of Spring 2012.

Getting pictures of this quality in this form factor — from a camera that looks this good and is such a joy to use — is a wondrous experience.

It’s expensive and quirky, but in my brief time owning it I’ve found it’s an object that will give a lot back to you.

Available on Amazon: Fujifilm X-PRO1, $1699 35mm F1.4 Lens, $599

Ernest Alexander Walker Wax Messenger Bag

⍚ April 23, 2012

A bag is almost too personal an item to even try to recommend, but the bag I use today is an Ernest Alexander Walker Wax Messenger Bag.

The perfect everyday bag, our Walker classic messenger is made from charcoal wax canvas, a durable and naturally water shedding fabric that develops a rich patina with age. The bag features a streamlined hidden closure underneath the flap, giving the face a clean & uncluttered look whilst holding the flap securely in place.

Walker Charcoal Wax Messenger

The back flap is perfect for a magazine or iPad, the main compartment comfortably fits my 15” Macbook Pro and accessories.

The design is functional and beautiful without the loudness and explicit branding of so many bags. Ernest Alexander as a brand is comfortable enough to let their products be beautiful and speak for themselves. The subtle use of the logo on the shoulder strap is quite beautiful.

The quality of the materials — the canvas and the supple leather, the nickel plated brash finishes, the strong zippers — and the overall feel of an intensely well made product shines through.

It’s an attention to detail coupled with the knowledge the bag will get only get better with age and use that makes this bag the best I’ve owned.

Ernest Alexander Walker Wax Messenger Bag, $295 directly from Ernest Alexander in chocolate, tan, charcoal and navy

iPad (3rd Generation, 2012) Review

⍚ March 18, 2012

It has been more than a decade since personal computers were primarily tools for hobbyists, large businesses, or luxury goods. Owning a laptop or desktop computer is now nearly essential to modern life in many places.

Cellular phones - and smartphones in particular - are quickly closing in on the PC as the most essential piece of personal electronics.

Tablets - which can not at this time replace a computer due to a lack of capabilities nor replace a phone due to size - are thus fundamentally a luxury good today.

An additional object.

You can do without one.

If you have to choose, you should choose a laptop or a smartphone to prioritize with limited dollars.

Thus the iPad must create a market for itself. It has to be a device you want, to feel, to hold, to own. It is not a necessity for conducting business or living your life or staying in communication.

The Intimate Computer

What Apple has done - and what Microsoft’s tablet efforts in the past and Android’s efforts fail to do today - is create a luxury good that creates a market for itself with how wonderful it is to experience. It must be an experience — not purely utilitarian. I have - somewhat to my surprise - used my iPad nearly every day since pre-ordering the original. It is the more natural object to use on a couch, or in bed.

(The only other logical tact is creating tablets so cheap as to be nearly disposable — this is what Amazon is doing and as they continue to cut costs they will likely be the only serious alternative by creating a radically different price point and experience.)

The iPad reinvented personal computing by making it intimate and personal.

But that is old news — that is the story of the iPad and iPad 2.

What’s new in 2012 is the display.

The Most Impressive Screen in the World

The story of the new iPad is this: the new iPad is the most impressive high resolution display in the world, and you can hold it in your hands and take it with you.

Text on it isn’t like reading on a monitor — it’s like paper that is alive.

Elements look organic, not digital and jagged.

I am just amazed by how incredible things look on it. It’s really incredible and has to be experienced. Looking at comparison images does not do it justice.

Historical Context

The screen readability problem will be solved in the future, since screens with 300 dpi resolution have been invented and have been found to have as good readability as paper. High-resolution screens are currently too expensive (high-end monitors in commercial use have about 110 dpi), but will be available in a few years and common ten years from now.

Jakob Nielsen, Be Succinct! (Writing for the Web)

I remember reading this when Nielsen wrote it in 1997.

15 years later we aren’t quite there in terms of the computers on our desks.

So realizing the most impressive high dpi reading experience in 2012 is a 9.7” tablet that runs for 10 hours that I can carry with me everywhere and has built in cellular network connectivity is mind blowing.

Conclusion

Highest possible recommendation.

Which iPad

I refuse to pay per-device for network connectivity so forego the cellular versions. Like the original, I chose 32gb as a sufficient enough size, though I think many users will be happy with 16gb. I think black makes the screen look better than white, but it’s a matter of prefence.

Purchase

iPad (2012), Apple $499 available directly at Apple Stores, Amazon, and elsewhere.

Why I Love The Ubiquitous KitchenAid Mixer

⍚ February 27, 2012

The food you make is only as good as your tools, ingredients, and willingness to fail.

(The last two are outside the scope of this site.)

The reason the KitchenAid Stand Mixer is a mainstay in a well stocked kitchen is because it’s really good at what it does.

It’s an embodiement of technology making our lives better - taking a huge amount tedious manual labor and making it nearly effortless. Do you remember how much better freshly whipped cream is than anything you can buy in a store? It’s only minutes away from reality.

The annoyance of mixing cookie dough for an endless period of time? Gone, replaced with a mechanical whir.

It’s not that you don’t lose something with with the subtraction of the strain of mixing from the cooking experience. But time and effort and willpower are finite — is the physical strain of mixing an impediment or a reward in and of itself?

By making it a choice — effortless mixing or a conscious application of force — both choices become better than if they were in isolation.

KitchenAid Mixmaster Pro 500

~$300 on Amazon

Wigwam Socks

⍚ December 14, 2011

Although I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on a single pair of fine shoes — because my feet are worth it, and so are yours — I’ve never worried about socks.

Honestly, you really should overspend on feet. There isn’t much better advice than to take care of your feet.

And yet here I am writing this in disposable, thin, not particularly comfortable or nice, generic Hanes crew socks, and you’re probably reading it in worn out socks too.


Because socks are disposable. So why care? They wear out, you throw them out, get new ones. Nobody sees them. They are just transient pieces of cloth on feet.

But that’s wrong. Just because a product may not have a half-life in decades doesn’t mean it won’t impact your life.

Wigwam Socks

Start wearing socks that are well made, from quality materials, and are comforable. My recommendation is Wigwam.

“Wigwam Mills, Inc. is proud to knit its socks in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, U.S.A., just for you because we care.”

In terms of pure comfort for lounging around the house in your socks, the Wigwam Men’s King Cotton Crew Length Crew Sock is without peer.

Super soft, super thick — like walking on a cloud, if clouds were composed of cotton and knit in Wisconsin.

The downside is they may in fact be too thick for your shoes, if you’re the kind of person who leaves the house.

Thickness of Wigwam King Cotton compared to a worn out existing sock

For a well made sock with a more normal thickness, I recommend the Wigwam Super 60 Crew, much more reasonably priced in 7-packs. Still well-made from high quality materials in the USA and more likely to fit in your shoes, but without the lush thickness.

Waking up and putting on a fresh pair of thick, comfortable socks is a small luxury within your grasp.


King Cotton Crew Length Crew Sock, ~$10 on Amazon.

Wigwam Super 60 Crew, ~$15 for 7-pack.

iPad Sleeve

⍚ November 16, 2011

There is a cottage industry of iPad cases, and while I understand their appeal I have never desired one.

Either my iPad is in use, place on a table when not in use, or in a bag with me during travel. I only need it covered while in the bag.

I know, I know, you want something to protect it from when it’s dropped or use it to prop itself up on a plane’s tray table. I get it.

But I don’t. Those other cases add bulk and get in the way.

All I want is something to protect it from being scratched when I throw it in my bag. Nothing more, nothing less.

So I use a thin, simple, suede sleeve - the iPad Suede Jacket from WaterField Designs

It doesn’t photograph well, so watch this promotional video instead.

It’s thin. Very thin, very snug.

It has two little pieces on the side to hold the sleeve open as the iPad slides in. I find it quite satisfying to use, even if it may not be the most efficient form of storage.

There’s another little pull tab at the lengthwise end to aid removal from the sleeve. Again, quite satisfying.

It’s that tactile feel of suede, the bit of satisfaction in use, and small attention to detail that make this simple sleeve recommended.

Availability

A bit pricey, but it’s high quality materials and constructed in San Francisco.

$19 from WaterField Designs

The Best Rechargeable Batteries

⍚ November 7, 2011

Sanyo Eneloops are the best rechargeable batteries.

Sanyo invented the low-self-discharge NiMH battery. Unlike most rechargeable, it retains more of its power over time. There are competitors, but Sanyo still makes the best.

Vs. Regular Batteries

At ~$10 for 4AA, they’re easily twice as expensive as normal batteries, but you should use them much longer through charging and save money.

But it’s not really the money, it’s the convenience of just charging things instead of running out of batteries, running to the store to buy batteries, throwing out batteries constantly.

I’ve been using the original versions for years, and recently bought some of the improved 2011 editions. Never having to run out to buy batteries is easily worth the price.

Battery powered devices running out of power are one life’s small inconveniences that can be made much less annoying with a little bit of forethought.

More

Consumerresearch recommended

And Cool Tools

In depth electronic testing (with graphs) of Eneloop performance and discharge

Eneloop homepage

Buy Some

4 AA with charger, ~$20

8 AA, ~$20

Power pack, ~$50

A Leather Wallet that Gets Better

⍚ November 4, 2011

I don’t remember the last time I bought a wallet.

The wallet I’ve been using for over a decade is a wallet my father got as a gift and never used.

A lovely, shiny, black leather Coach wallet.

But despite the brand, it has only gotten worse over time.

Size

The problem is it’s too tall for US paper money. The height (at 4”) is wrong. So over time when money is in it a crease develops around where cash is in the wallet, where part is thicker than the rest.

I don’t think Coach makes it anymore — all the wallets on their site now have one fewer card holder per side, and at 3.75” tall probably fixes the problem.

The glossy texture over time has become less pleasing; the seams falling apart.

It’s not that it’s become unusable over time, but it doesn’t feel like a baseball glove that’s gotten worn in over time, more like a shoe wearing away over time.

It only feels like it will get worse.

Improve over time

What I wanted was something that would get better with age, so the Saddleback Leather wallet’s pitch appealed to me: http://www.saddlebackleather.com/Classic-Wallet-Bifold.html?sc=8&category=87

100 yr. warranty. If it wears out before you do, I’ll replace it for free 100% Full Grain leather No breakable parts,e.g. zippers, buttons etc. Industrial marine grade thread Pigskin lining (tougher than leather) Gets better looking every year No one will comment on how cool your wallet is … this year. In ten years for sure, but not this year. It’s nothing fancy. It doesn’t have a window for your driver’s license and it there’s no plastic spare key holder. It’s just a very solid wallet made with leather from the top of the hide called full grain (where the fibers are the most tightly woven together). It will be the longest lasting wallet you’ll ever own and least exciting… the first year.

And at under $50 it seemed reasonably priced to try.

In Use

It’s a bit thicker and stiffer than one might like, but that’s to be expected, I think.

Cards at first were a bit harder to put in and out, though it’s become better over the first week.

The stitching and matte leather look good, the interior and exterior textures are very pleasing.

It feels like it will stand the tests of time, but we’ll find out. I’ll report on it again over the coming months as it gets used, but so far I’m positive on it.


Saddleback Classic Bifold Leather Wallet $45 at Saddleback Leather. · $50 on Amazon

Kindle 2011 Review Part 3

⍚ November 1, 2011

In Use

After extensive use on a week long trip to Hawaii, I like it.

It works on the beach and you don’t have to carry books.

The contrast and readability is acceptable, excepting the previously discussed typographical issues.

Battery life wasn’t an issue on a week long trip with hours of daily use.

The page turn buttons continued to bother me, but overall the ease and lightened load seemed worth it on vacations.

Vs. The Other Kindles

This is the wrong device to get someone who doesn’t have a computer and WiFi. If you’re getting a Kindle for a technophobe, consider one of the 3G models that requires zero setup and is fully self contained. A bit more in initial cost, but it will be configured to “just work” and be network enabled out of the box.

I don’t see much reason to get the keyboard version ($20 more) unless you find the dimensions of this one too small (remember, the screen size is the same, but the device size is much smaller) or the primary user will be buying books on the device rather than with a computer.

I have not used the unreleased Kindle Touch but I have my doubts that a touchscreen is necessarily better. I think I would rather have better dedicated page turn buttons than constantly be touching invisible targets on the screen to turn the page, but I’ll reserve judgment until I try one.

The Kindle Touch is a tad larger and heavier — ~6oz vs ~7.5oz, 6.5” x 4.5” x .34” vs. 6.8” x 4.7” x 0.40” — but not significantly, and $20 more.

The $199 - Kindle Fire - despite the name and branding - is not really in the same category of devices, and is more rightly compared to an iPad or Android tablet. The Kindle Fire will not have competitive battery life, weight, or a display easily read outdoors.

Vs. Competing Ereaders

The iPad is too heavy and impossible to read in the sun.

Nobody buys Android tablets and they aren’t really worth talking about, and again, they’re not really the same class of device.

iriver Story HD has partnered with Google to make an ugly device that has mostly been ignored. http://books.google.com/help/ebooks/ereader.html

I would never buy such a thing.

The Nook is the only serious competitor in the ereader space that has a properly integrated bookstore backing it, which is critical to the ease of use of an ereader.

Any device that expects you to purchase content, manage it on on a desktop hard drive, and sync via USB seems antiquated at this point.

The first generation Nook was a bizarre frankenstein hybrid of eink and a color touchscreen that I thought was extremely bizarre, though the latest Nook Simple Touch at $139 seems significantly better.

Conclusion

As I began the discussion of the device

The new Kindle is practically weightless, holds more books than many people read in a lifetime, runs for a month on a single charge, and frees you from housing physical manifestations of books you buy.

If that’s appealing to you, there’s never been a better, cheaper way to get an eink reader.

If you’d rather lug books around instead, I respect and admire you.

Don’t get it wet.

Kindle 2011 version, $79 on Amazon

Kindle 2011 Review Part 2

⍚ October 21, 2011

After embracing the mortality that electronic books represent, it’s easier to evaluate the latest Kindle.

The new Kindle is practically weightless, holds more books than many people read in a lifetime, runs for a month on a single charge, and frees you from housing physical manifestations of books you buy.

$79 on Amazon.com

Size and Weight

The new 2011 Kindle is small. Smaller than you might expect if you haven’t seen one in person, and significantly smaller than the previous generations.

Compared to a paperback:

The Kindle has the capacity to store about 1500 of those.

Screen

The 6” screen seems to have significantly improved in contrast compared to the second generation Kindle I own.

The “flashing” of all black during each page change of previous Kindles has been replaced with a flashing every few page turns, at the expense of slightly less sharp text, though I can’t tell the difference without looking through a macro lens. (I also have terrible vision.)

Turn The Page Again

The diminutive size of the device comes with a cost in terms of content displayed per page.

A quick non-scientific sampling of a full page of text in terms of characters per line:

  • 50 cpl (1036 characters over 21 lines)

Compared to my older Kindle 2 on the same text:

  • Kindle 2nd Generation: 50 cpl (889 characters over 18 lines)

Similar line lengths, but the new Kindle has less cruft at the top and bottom of the screens, allowing more lines per screen. In comparison to the Kindle app on an iPhone 4S:

  • 32 cpl (411 characters over 13 lines)

The line length still seems a bit short compared to most physical books, even tiny ones. Grabbing a trade paperback from my shelves for comparison showed about 60 characters a line, and about 40 lines per page.

The Elements of Typographical Style suggests 45 to 75 characters as acceptable, with a 66-character “widely regarded as ideal.”

The fewer characters per line is in part due to the way the text is typeset on the Kindle, generally yielding significant rivers of whitespace. Excellent typesetting (whether manual or automated) allows hyphenation and tightening of the space between words and letters together at times for better readability and compactness, while most electronic books and your web browser generally only spread words and letters further apart to justify the text, and don’t add hyphens. This leads to less pleasing rivers or white space, and hampers readability.

Compared to previous generation Kindles with the same size screen, there’s much better use of the space by eliminating some of the persistent indicators at the top of the screen. Pressing the menu key brings them back when necessary. This is a clear improvement.

But compared to a trade paperback (the smallest commercially sold books sold intended to be read) you’re still getting about 5/6 of the line length, and about half the lines per virtual page, so you’ll be “flipping” pages a lot more often than you would be for an analog book.

This makes the controls to flip pages even more critical.

Controls

But the page buttons are terrible and the affordances are all wrong.

I literally could not work the page flip buttons on my first attempts.

The buttons are flush with the beveled edge of the device. The angled bevel is extremely small - and much smaller than the edge of the device, which is what I assumed (incorrectly) was the part of the button one needs to push.

This is wrong.

Having realized this was wrong, I attempted to push inward on the tiny bevel to turn the page, which is also wrong.

In fact, the buttons aren’t even really buttons you push, because they hinge away from the device, so it’s actually more like you’re pulling the button away from the device - pushing “out.”

You have to, more or less, rock the edge of the device away from itself to change pages.

I have never seen or used a similar button on a device, and even after using the device it felt a bit unnatural. Compared to the buttons on the second generation Kindle, they seem more aesthetically pleasing but significantly less usable.

The directional control and four accompanying navigation buttons don’t exhibit any such problems, and navigating the menus and other systems is fairly easy, except for the noticeable delays in the refresh of pages.

The Off Switch

Why does it even have a power switch?

You don’t need to turn a real book off. You just pick it up and start reading.

Although it’s an electronic device, I’m unconvinced it’s necessary an ereader should behave differently. The long lasting battery of eink devices is because the screen is only powered on when changing the screen, not in a “steady” state.

So it actually uses power to reconfigure the screen to turn it off.

One of the possible advantages of having a power switch is that the device would stay off and not accidentally change pages when placed in a bag or pocket. But the power button - a small push button on the bottom of the device - can be triggered easily in a pouch or pocket accidentally.

A lock switch somewhere on the device might have been a better design.

Of course, the real reason you “close” your ebook (and it closes itself for you) has nothing to do with usability.

A Special Offer to Sell Yourself

At $79, the Kindle comes with “special offers” or what people who are not writing marketing copy for companies call “advertising.”

When “off” the Kindle displays an ad. There are also ads in the menus. There are no ads within the text of books (as far as I can tell.)

The cost of not having your devices “off state” sold to the highest bidder is $30.00.

If you’re not sure if this is annoying, it’s best to order the cheaper version as you can pay the $30 to remove the ads later.

If I continue to use the device, not having ads is worth $30 to me. Books are one of the few mediums left that are generally free from the noise of commerce and advertising, it seems unfortunate to sacrifice that.

Keyboard

The physical keyboard of previous Kindles is thankfully gone, replaced with a frustrating on screen keyboard that is best left unused. The slow refresh of eink, combined with the difficulty of navigating on screen keyboards with a directional pad makes more like texting on an ancient phone than typing on a computer keyboard.

This Kindle is really best as an auxiliary device for reading, where the books are chosen and purchased on a computer. When used in this way, there’s not much use for the keyboard.

Whispernet

Also removed is the free 3G wireless data connection present on previous Kindles and available on more expensive models, instead replaced with WiFi.

Other than the annoyance of typing in a WiFi password on the on screen keyboard, this doesn’t seem like a major loss, but does change the context of the device a bit.

Planning Ahead vs. Instant Vending Machine

With ever-present 3G access, the Kindle was entirely self-contained. You could go anywhere (within reason) and purchase and read books. No planning necessary!

With WiFi, before a trip you’ll have to actually load up your Kindle with what you want to read. Or find a place with WiFi, which is getting easier but is often not guaranteed or pricey.

This does make the Kindle lose a bit of the magic it originally had as a completely self-contained device where you could instantly buy and read a book anywhere, but practically may not impact most people. The real magic is buying on Amazon.com on a computer, and having books just show up on the device.

The Power Cord

The $79 Kindle comes with a USB cable to connect to a computer and charge it, but does not come with the AC adapter to charge the device by directly plugging it into an outlet.

Amazon charges $9.99 for the charger. Which is ludicrous.

(I already had one from an earlier Kindle.)

In Use

I’m taking it on a vacation next week and will post part three when I return, reviewing sustained usage, along with a comparison to other ereaders.

No More Green Soap

⍚ October 14, 2011

I use Irish Spring bar soap.

Not out of some deep thought or understanding of soap, but because my father used it and why should I care?

Because, it’s soap. Right? Soap isn’t complicated.

But it’s on my list of objects to rationally analyze that I use daily.

A quick search finds the following: http://www.goodguide.com/products/137641-irish-spring-original-deodorant

Controversial Ingredient: Titanium Dioxide This ingredient raises a low level of health concern, according to GoodGuide’s ingredient classification. • This ingredient is suspected of causing cancer, according to sources compiled by Scorecard (www.scorecard.org) • This ingredient is suspected of causing reproductive toxicity, according to sources compiled by Scorecard (www.scorecard.org)

And what is titanium dioxide used for?

Titanium dioxide is the most widely used white pigment because of its brightness and very high refractive index (n = 2.7), in which it is surpassed only by a few other materials.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium_Dioxide

The color of my soap - which I don’t care about at all, really - may possibly be suspected of maybe giving me cancer.

But isn’t cancer a small price to pay for the comfort of a green hue I’ve known since childhood?

And I hate change.

The Science of Suds

Maybe this would all make more sense if I remembered chemistry.

Soap, after all, is simple chemistry, right? I remember learning how to make soap in chemistry class. http://cavemanchemistry.com/oldcave/projects/soap/

Let’s take a fat derived from palm oil (containing palmitic acid) and hydrolyse it using sodium hydroxide. Saponification is the term applied to the hydrolysis of fats using a strong alkali like lye. The reaction is [C15H31CO]3C3H5O3 + 3 NaOH(aq) -> 3 C15H31COONa(aq) + C3H5(OH)3(aq)

Then again, maybe it was Fight Club.

So maybe the chemistry is a more complex than I remember, but there’s no need for a myriad of complex things I’ve never heard of to be there.

Probably.

Healthy Natural Soap

What about natural soap? Soap that isn’t trying to kill me in order to create a more pleasing pigment color or odor?

Trying to find a soap that wouldn’t kill me using GoodGuide was surprisingly infuriating.

Turns out, just about everything is full of things that are probably killing me.

Soap is simple. There shouldn’t be anything in soap that I can’t understand with advanced high school level chemistry.

I resolved to find a soap that had ingredients I could recognize.

Years Before

I mentioned my search for new soap to my girlfriend, someone who for years has been concerned about the chemical contents of products.

“I told you to stop using that stuff years ago!”

“And what did I say?”

“You told me you needed to use it because it was deodorizing and you smell.”

“That does sound like something I would say…”

Simple Soap

Tempting as it was to get some lye and start turning my garage into a soap factory, I didn’t want Tyler Durden to start messing up this product blog, so I did something much simpler.

I went to Whole Foods and picked up the simplest soap I could find.

365 Glycerin Soap FRENCH MILLED Unscented. Cruelty Free · Biodegradable, Natural, No artifical colors. Ingredients: Saponified Coconut and/or Palm Oil, Vegetable Glycerin

In Use

What surprised me is, well, I actually liked it.

A lot.

After years of mass manufactured chemical infused color soaps, using a natural glycerin soap actually felt nicer. Smoother, less plastic.

Recommended.


365 Glycerin Soap, < $2 for a 4oz. bar. Available from Whole Foods.

The Sound of a Real Keyboard

⍚ October 12, 2011

If you’re reading this at a computer, type on the keyboard in front of you and listen.

Really listen.

What do you hear?

The Click Tap of Progress

Some clicks and taps, but probably very little in comparison to what you would have heard with a cutting edge 1980’s keyboard.

If you’re at a desk reading this, the computer in front of you has orders of magnitude more computing power than the computer that guided mankind to the moon. And the computer-phone in your pocket is more powerful than what was on your desk a decade ago. But the keyboard in front of you is likely a cheap membrane keyboard. Basically a pile of rubber plastic goop that some switches push into.

A rubber dome keyboard

It wasn’t always that way.

80’s Keyboards

I’m no keyboard fanatic (the one built into my MacBook works just fine for me), but there are two legendary models from the 80s which seem to be the zenith of QWERTY design. The Apple Extended Keyboard II and the IBM Model M.

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/05/a-tale-of-two-k/

If you used computers back then, you probably remember the satisfying “click.” Something is lost without that.

— IBM Model M, Inside the World’s Greatest Keyboard

One could speed through typing on these — sometimes faster than the computers of the time could keep up.

Apple Extended Keyboard

The Sounds of Silence

The tactile and audio feedback of newer keyboards is significantly worse, and it may be be worse for you. The amount of force necessary to trigger a keystroke on these classic keyboards was less - you don’t have to “bottom out” the keys. With membrane keyboards, you often need more force.

But your health is a small sacrifice for the coworkers surrounding you who can click through a game of solitaire without the terrible sounds of someone trying to communicate furiously with a machine by typing quickly and loudly.


It’s a lot easier to get everyone cheaper keyboards than to give everyone an office. Or space to do their job in peace. Besides, team players want to be in the cubes, in the “pit” — to increase the frequency of interactions and communication.

We’re living in the future now, and we can’t afford to be disturbing each other with our keyboards — only by those too busy not typing on them.

Tent of tranquility

My former office.

Which Mechanically Switched Keyboard

If you have a proper office with actual walls, or choose to leave corporate life entirely to write essays for the web, it’s easier to focus on the important questions in life like:

Can anyone recommend a mechanical keyboard?

http://ask.metafilter.com/121278/Mechanical-Keyboards

…and not worry how loud and offensive your answer is.

Model M keyboard

If you want a “new” Model M get a unicomp http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net//en104bl.html

Those more serious about keyboards congregate at: http://geekhack.org/ where you can even heard sounds of the keyboards and learn all about the different kinds of switches.

Members here get mechanical keyboards for various reasons. Maybe they grew up with them and have fond memories of a IBM Model M pinging away. Maybe they got tired of throwing out mushy rubber domes every three years. The best reason is Mechanical Keyboards just feel better and they will make you more efficient at gaming/typing. After you try one most people find standard rubber dome keyboards mushy and boring! Unfortunately Mechanical Keyboards cost more than the $5 throwaway keyboard that comes with most computers and the first reaction you have may be “why bother - my keyboard works fine”. Keyboards are the primary way in which you interact with your computer. Think about how much money you spend on the other devices you use to interact with your computer - computer mice (you probably have several), computer monitor, and graphics card. Your fingers deserve the best.

http://geekhack.org/showwiki.php?title=START+HERE+—+The+Geekhack+Mechanical+Keyboard+Guide+-+Includes+Glossary+and+Links

There’s a lot of options in mechanical keyboards, but almost all of them suffer from one terrible flaw.

The Cord

Keyboard technology did take a giant leap forward from the 1980’s in one important area: cords.

Those windy, unwieldy cords that accompany keyboards seem absurds now. An ugly mess happening constantly on your desk.

The problem is that the intersection of wireless keyboards and mechanical keyboards is nearly nonexistent.

Which makes it very easy to recommend the one I use, as there are very few options mass produced and available.

Get the XArmor U9W 2.4 GHz RF wireless mechanical keyboard

It has all the satisfying click and heft of a mechanical keyboard, but without an annoying cord.

It has a flaw: the indicators in the top right. Traditionally keyboards had num lock, caps lock, and scroll lock indicators. This one has num lock, low battery, and a transferring data indicator which lights up whenever you press a key. This feedback seems a bit excessive, and I’d rather have a caps lock indicator.

But that’s a minor issue.


Typing on it is a joy, and it is the best PC accessory I have bought in a decade.

XArmor Wireless Keyboard

★★★★ / ★★★★★

A stellar and nearly flawless product, four out of five stars.

XArmor U9W 2.4 GHz RF wireless mechanical keyboard, ~$100 on Amazon

A New Trimmer

⍚ October 2, 2011

Previously

My beard trimmer died and I started freaking out, throwing things out, making lists, and intensely focusing on the design and functionality of everything around me.

Prologue

I briefly considered going to a local store and opening up all the packaged beard trimmers and trying them, or spending hundreds of dollars in the name of science for my future hypothetical readers, but in the end I only have one beard to test on.

Since it was unlikely I would be able to actually see a selection of trimmers on display and hold them — let alone use them — I turned to the web for answers.

And as with any commercial query, I got mostly seo garbage back. But can we talk for a minute how difficult web search has become due to the bizarre economics of search and advertising on the web?

No, there’s no time, we have to move on.

ConsumerSearch recommended that other people recommended a Wahl Lithium Ion thing. So an Amazon click and a day later I was trimming my now absurdly long and unkept beard.

Review

The first thing I noted about the Wahl 9876-2001 Lithium Ion All-In-One Trimmer with Rotating Head was just how awful the packaging was.

After opening the terrible packaging, the second thing I noticed was that there are a lot of plastic things that come with this.

A lot of plastic things.

The Good

The namesake lithium-ion battery comes charged, and after a week of use it’s still charged.

The unit felt powerful compared to my now useless former trimmer, and made very quick work of my increasingly terrifying and out of control beard.

Although I was annoyed at the numerous plastic guards and accessories, having a number of single length accessories is actually much better than the previous “sliding” multi-length guards I had used. With a clip on single position guard, there’s no possibility it will shift in position while shaving and you’ll end up with uneven crazy beard.

There’s a satisfying, though not overly loud, whirring sound in operation.

The Bad

All those accessories come with a plastic house for them to live in, which is supposed to look like this:

Which in the real world ends up looking more like this:

Terrible design: no visual cues as to what goes where, nothing fits or clicks in a satisfying manner, and who has the space for this crap in their bathroom anyway? I’m sure like everyone else who owns this, I threw it all in a dob kit bag.

The chrome looks lame and dirties easily: not the right material for a bathroom accessory.

The grip isn’t satisfying or secure, it feels slick.

Verdict

A significant improvement to my last broken shaver.

Everything fits smoothly together, and it’s powerful and functional.

While functional, it fails to impress. Pressing it against my face seems like a chore, rather than a delight. Better materials, a more functional grip, and more delightful appearance would have been nice.

For $39.99, I now look less terrible, but I still have to shove a slightly unpleasant object into my face in the mornings.

Maybe I should just use a pair of scissors.

Wahl 9876-2001 Lithium Ion All-In-One Trimmer with Rotating Head, $39.99 on Amazon

★★ / ★★★★★

Two stars out of five.