The shaving renaissance in my bathroom

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So, just about a year ago, I shunned the 17-blade, nuclear powered, vibrating monster from Gillette.  The Power Fusion was banished to the cabinet under the sink, along with the can of aerosol-propelled goop that I used to slather on my face.  In search of a better shave (I used to have 5 o’clock shadow at 11am), I decided to kick it old school, and opted for a double-edge safety razor.  My first razor was a Merkur 180 long handle.  Nice razor.  I ended up passing it on to my friend John, who is still using it.

It took a bit of time & learning the intricacies of a proper blade angle, etc., but I am not master of my facial hair.  Part of my initial problem was the manly man inside winning out and choosing the sharpest blade I could get my hands on – a Feather.  The Feather is a wonderful blade, which is super thin, flexible and is unbelievably sharp.  Starting with Feather was a huge mistake.  I eventually moved on to Astra SP blades, which were considerably more forgiving.  These days, I can manage a Feather easily enough.

Along the way, I’ve tried several razors, each with its subtle variations.  I’ve had:

  • Merkur 180
  • 1972 Gillette Super Speed (currently on loan to a friend)
  • 1972 Gillette Super Adjustable (the “black beauty”) – my “birth year razor”
  • Weber Polished with Bulldog Handle
  • Merkur Futur (loaner from a friend that I gave back – it gave me hamburger neck more than once!  For me – adjustments range from super-aggressive to “machete”.)
  • 1960 Gillette 195 (aka the Fatboy) – I had this one re-plated in rhodium, and it’s gorgeous

Currently, my stand has 3 razors in it – the Fatboy, the Beauty and the Weber.  I’m also trying out a 1956 Super Speed Red Tip and a 1963 Slim Adjustable that I got as a gifts for friends, and am going to have restored/re-plated soon.  The Red Tip has a reputation for being very aggressive, but I find it’s unwarranted.  I will say that I keep coming back to the Fatboy.  It’s a smooth piece of engineering.

So, that covers razor and blade.  What about shaving cream? After all, I did mention that I cast aside aerosol-propelled goo.  What did I opt for?  Despite having a coarse beard, my skin is a bit sensitive, so I opted for Taylor of Old Bond Street’s Jermyn Street cream & aftershave.  Those prices look high, and they are a bit.  Mostly, because US retailers have to import the stuff from the UK.  Happily, for me, I pick the stuff up for a fair bit less in London at the TOBS shop.  While more expensive than crappy canned goo, the stuff lasts a very long time, and is of extremely high quality.  My face is much happier with the gentler, more natural products I’ve been using.

Sometimes, I also use Proraso Red for a change of pace.  It’s a fairly mild cream as well.  It’s quite a bit cheaper too – $10 for a tube that lasts several months.

That cream goes onto the end of a badger brush, and gets swirled around in a cappucino mug with hot water to product a nice, smooth lather.  I do two passes on my face, one with the grain (WTG), and another across the grain (XTG).  I’ll do a few touchups and that’s it.

Printing from the iPad without buying a new printer

Ok, so you’ve got a snazzy new iPad, and would like to print.  Since iOS 4.2, Apple has had AirPrint, which only works with a small set of HP printers.  While yes, it’s super cool to be able to print from the iPad, how much will you really do this?  If it’s enough to warrant buying a new printer, good for you.  If you’re like me, and want to have the ability to do so, but probably will rarely do it.  Read on to find out more. Continue reading

Review/Howto: CyanogenMod 6.0

CyanogenMod LogoI finally did it.  I rooted, and took the plunge.  This past week, Cyanogen release CM6.0, based on Android 2.2, aka Froyo.  What the heck is this rooting business about?  One of the nifty things about Android is the open source nature of the beast.  Since the source code is all out there, users are free to modify, remix & reload to their heart’s content.  Now, I’ll grant you that you’re not likely to find a lot of kernel hackers out there who really want to squeeze the last bit of performance out of their phone.  However, that’s not to say that there aren’t users who want to serve up the phone “their way,” be that simply changing the look & feel of the device, swapping out the kernel for one that underclocks the CPU to save battery, or even simply gaining more control over the device (especially true in carrier-subsidized devices).

Right now, CM6 is available for a handful of HTC devices, as well as the original Motorola Droid.  For a complete list, check the wiki to see if your phone can use CM6.  First up, you’ll need root access to your device, as you’re going to need to flash a custom recovery image onto your phone.  Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds.  Again, back to the wiki, look at the detailed directions for your device.  For some devices, like the Nexus One (what I’m using), you may want to grab the “Universal Androot” package.  It works for the N1, as well as a bunch of other devices, and is available from the developer’s site. And yes, Virginia, there is enough of the pages written in English that you’ll be able to figure it out.  If you’re a phone that’s not supported by the Universal Androot, you’re not sunk yet.  There’s either a manual process, which will be described on the wiki, linked above, OR if you have an HTC Evo, Desire, Incredible, Wildfire, Aria (aka Liberty) or Hero, you can use unrevoked.  It’s pretty painless.

CM6 Home Screen
My Home Screen

Warning: once you root, there may be no going back, especially if you do something like unlock the bootloader.  Officially speaking, once you unlock the bootloader (which isn’t always required), your warranty may be void.  I’m not responsible if you blow up your phone, start a small war, or your cat runs away.

Another warning: If you’re using a device that uses the HTC Sense UI, flashing CM6 will cause the UI to revert to the standard Android UI.

Got root?  Ok, now it’s onto the easy parts.  Install ROM Manager from the Android Market.  You can use the free version without any troubles.  Got that loaded?  Go ahead and flash the Clockworkmod Recovery to your phone.  ROM Manager should autodetect what type of phone you have, but it will ask for confirmation before it does anything.

Ready to roll?  Ok, grab the CM6 ROM image from a mirror.  While you’re at it, grab the latest Google Apps zip file for your phone type as well.  Stash those on your SD card.  Here we go.  First up, a full backup.  Back into ROM Manager, and “Reboot into Recovery”.  In the recovery?  Ok, now do a backup.  This is also called a “Nandroid Backup”.  What the heck is that?  Put simply, it’s a full backup of your current ROM image.  You want to do this.  REALLY.

Once you’re in the recovery menu, just do a backup.  Navigating the recovery menu uses the trackball to go up, down & select, and the power button acts as a “back button”. Your backup will take 3-5 minutes, and will require about 300-500 MB on your SD card.  Make sure you’ve got the space available!  For your reference, my Nexus One’s backup of the stock 2.2 image was 303MB.

HTC_IME Keyboard Portrait
HTC_IME Keyboard Portrait

All backed up?  Ok, let’s go.  Do a factory reset/wipe and wipe the cache as well.  Next, install a zip file from the SD card, specifically the CM6 ROM.  Repeat the steps to install the gapps image as well (if you’re planning on using the gapps, and you probably are).  All done?  Reboot.  Your phone will come up like it’s all brand new.

I’ve take some additional steps, going a bit further than just stock CM6.  I also added the HTC_IME Mod keyboard, which replaces the standard Android keyboard with the HTC Sense keyboard.  Once you get it installed, selecting it is as simple as doing a long press on a text field, and changing the input method to HTC_IME mod (assuming you’ve already turned the mod on in the system keyboard preferences!).

So back to the review.  So, was it all worth it?  I’d have to say yes.  Absolutely.  There was certain a small amount of inconvenience, associated with backup & restore of data, re-creating accounts and sync mappings, as well as the little things like prefs for ringtones, etc.  That was far and away outweighed by the good stuff I got – better performance, enhanced feature set – especially the use of ADW.Launcher by default, and the enhanced power control widget.

HTC_IME Keyboard Landscape
HTC_IME Keyboard Landscape

Ok, so now suppose you want to go back to where you started, how do you undo all of this?  Simply boot back into the recovery image, do another factory reset/wipe, wipe the cache and then restore.  Reboot, and you’re back.

Android is still in many regards somewhat of a wild west affair with regard to software updates, especially given the open source nature of the OS.  Will there be bumps along the way?  Probably.  Are you the type wants a phone that “just works” and doesn’t like to tinker?  CM6 probably isn’t for you, nor is pretty much any custom ROM.

Review: Nokia N97 Mini

N97 MiniRecently, the nice folks at WOMWorld sent me an N97 Mini to review.  Thanks guys.  I received the Euro model, the RM-555, which supports UMTS on the 900, 1900 and 2100 Mhz bands, in addition to quad-band GSM and a 802.11g WLAN radio.  Living in the US, I’d have preferred to have looked at a US model that included the UMTS 850 Mhz band, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?  Right.  So, on to the show..

Physical Attributes

The device’s size is great.  Nice and small.  I had an N97 for a (very) short time not long after it came out, and I was not a fan of the form factor.  It felt almost like carrying around an old 9500.  What a brick that thing was.  Contrasted with this, I’d be totally satisfied with the form factor.  Obviously, thinner wN97 Mini Home Screen Portraitould be better, to a point, but I’m not unhappy with the thickness.  In terms of construction, there’s just enough metal to make it feel solid in your hands, like it’s not going to snap in half while you’re typing on it.

One problem I had with the layout – the position of the headphone jack.  On my train ride home from the office yesterday, I had my headphones plugged in while listening to some tunes.  Typing a couple of emails and texts was awkward.  It would have been better if the headphone jack had moved toward the top, but the camera assembly would then need to be relocated.  Typing on the keyboard wasn’t bad, took a bit of getting used to, but nothing ridiculous.

Software

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  S60 is really showing its age.  Yes, S60 v5 has some advances over v3, even FP2, but it’s still got a lot of the baggage that’s accompanied S60 devices over the years – mostly speed related.  This phone won’t win any UI races.  The device lacks any form of multi-touch capabilities, due to its use of a resistive touchscreen.  Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments about how you can use resistive screens while wearing gloves.  Frankly, I don’t often find myself trying to use my phone while wearing gloves.  I’d rather have a capacitive screen – much more responsive.

N97 Mini Google MapsAs it’s big brother does, the N97 Mini includes Ovi Maps, and is compatible with the new version of Ovi Maps that includes free navigation.  I love the free navigation concept, and expect others to follow suit.  That said, I much prefer using Google Maps.  I find it faster and more responsive than Ovi Maps overall, and think it’s much better at finding things in the area because of its hooks into the Google Search infrastructure.  I’d use something like Ovi Maps in my car for navigation, but I’ve owned a Garmin Nuvi for several years now, and I’m not quite ready to get rid of it.

For email, I’m using Mail for Exchange.  The latest version for S60 v5 does not N97 Mini Home Screen Landscapeinclude HTML mail support, something I miss from my E72.  I’m planning on trying out RoadSync on this phone as well, but since I already know that it doesn’t support network destinations (i.e. access point groups), I’ll be disappointed there as well, though I will get my HTML mail.

In the browser arena, as expected, I found the Nokia browser to be adequate, but not really as good as I’d like to see it.  I tried out Opera Mobile on the device, and was generally more pleased with its functionality, though I found it to be slightly less responsive than the stock Nokia browser.

Network

I ran a some speed tests from a variety of sites, using both AT&T 3G data as well as via the WLAN in my home.  Over the air, I saw download speeds ranging from 500 – 780 kbps.  Over the WLAN, I saw speeds around 1.2 Mbps.  On my Mac on the same WLAN, I see about 18 Mbps down and 4.2 Mbps up (I have 20/5 FiOS at home).  These performance numbers are consistent with my tests with other S60 phones, like the E71, E72 and my wife’s E75.  It’s also close to what my iPhone toting friends in the area see.

Conclusions

In summary, the N97 Mini is definitely a better choice than the bigger N97.  It’s more pocketable, and has the same features, with a better form factor.  If all you’re after is an S60 v5 touch device, you’d probably be better off with the 5800 Nav Edition, but if you can’t live without a qwerty keyboard, the N97 Mini is a winner.  Will I buy one?  Probably not – I’m satisfied with my E72.  Right now, Android 2.1 has ActiveSync that gets email and contacts.  If they add calender support to it, I’ll be on an Android device before too long.  Why?  Newer devices, more innovation, actual integration with Google Voice – something I actually use on a daily basis and more than one vendor really interested in using it.  Hopefully S60 can turn things around before my next phone purchase.  As a co-worker said the other day, the call quality on Nokia devices is better than anything else I’ve ever used.

Home Virtualization Project 2.0

Virtualization FunnelYou may remember the Home Virtualization Project from last year.  In that project, I converted my existing server, based on a Shuttle XPC (SP35P2 Pro, to be more precise) from a Linux server running VMware Server 2.0 to a VMware ESXi 3.5 server.  It worked well, but left a few things to be desired, such as..

  1. No RAID
  2. Onboard NIC required significant fiddling to get working under ESXi 3.5u4
  3. No onboard video, so I needed a video card, plus a network card to get going (the real root cause of #1 above).
  4. A bit loud.  The system wasn’t terribly loud, but for something that’s on full-time in the background in my office, it could be distracting at times.

So here we are, it’s a brand-new year, so the big project was an upgrade, inspired by some requirements I found with a project at work.  In the end, the old server was converted into a workstation and now has a happy home.  So what’s the current system?  Another Shuttle XPC.  This time, it’s the SG45H7.  This is a slightly smaller chassis than the already small SP35P2 Pro.  The SP line has space for 2 hard drives up top, above the optical drive that the SG line lacks, resulting in a shorter case.  The SG45H7 is targeted as an HTPC, and includes onboard video with both SVGA and HDMI outputs.  Further, it includes 2 expansion slots, one PCIe x16 and one PCI. Continue reading

Facebook Chat via Jabber/XMPP

Facebook Chat on JabberAt long last, after promises to open up Facebook chat to Jabber clients, it’s up and going.  Finally!  No more crappy plugins for Pidgin and Adium that stop working randomly.  No more leaving a browser window up and connected to Facebook either.  It’s working quite well, so far at least.  Interested?  Head over there and they’ll walk you through the process.

What brought this about?  Facebook has started opening up and federating their IM system with other networks.  First up is AIM.  That’s right, AIM users can now chat with Facebook Chat users.  Since Facebook wisely chose the open XMPP (eXtensible Messaging & Presence Protocol) for this, which allows easy federation (i.e. interoperability) with other IM services, including the greater Jabber/XMPP community, which includes Google Talk, both in its standard and “Apps for Your Domain” flavors.

Here’s the gist, tell your Jabber client (they give precise instructions for Pidgin, Adium and iChat) to connect as your-user-name@chat.facebook.com and you’re all set.  For other Jabber clients, check out the link above for any particulars on the connection parameters.

One thing that they did not do, and it’s a bit irksome – no SSL/TLS support.  Come on kids, we’re in the 21st century here, let’s get with the program a bit.  After all, the standard login.facebook.com page uses SSL, so why not this too?

So overall, it’s great news, but they’ve still got a bit of work to do.

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