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Men’s Shaving Brushes

When I was a kid in the 1950’s, Dad always used a shaving brush, shaving cup and shaving soap to work up a hot lather. I never asked him anything about this ritual because I’d seen it all on Gunsmoke and the other old-time TV shows. There was a quaint old custom that obviously went out of fashion in the 19th century.

I used sensible twentieth century shaving aerosols. In January 1970 Gillette’s patent registration for “The Hot One” was accepted. That was a chemically-driven foam that became hot when dispensed. It used hydrogen peroxide to generate the reaction. I adopted it immediately, but I noted the foam only stayed hot for about fifteen seconds, after which it became just another shaving cream. As I recall, that product was pulled from the market after about a year due to skin reactions reported by some users. After that, I went back to various popular brands of foam shaving aerosols for  a number of decades.

Researching this post, I’m reminded what a huge market for men’s shaving products there is. There are articles on hot shave dispensers, how to shave with a straight razor, and even on individual brands of shaving cream.

In the 1990’s I discovered you could still buy a shaving brush like my dad’s, and I bought one. I used that pretty regularly for the remainder of my working career. One can buy a “shaving cup,” but I generally just use a heavy wide-brimmed coffee cup of the sort used for soups. You can also recycle the bath soap chips you’d normally discard when they get down to a certain size, and I find so functional difference between that and a dedicated shaving soap. I’m not a purist for any one shaving method, and I keep an electric shaver around for a quick lazy retired man’s shave. I even keep a can of Burma Shave around.

My shaving brush, rinsed in very hot water and then used to work up a good hot lather, softens the whiskers and prepares them for the shave better than any other method I’ve tried. I like the fact that I don’t have to rinse a load of excess shaving aerosol off my hands before I begin shaving.  It’s still the smoothest, cleanest way I know of to shave.

Dad was right after all!

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UK Monopoly Board

I was watching the BBC comedy show As Time Goes By. The girls were playing Monopoly. They were calling out the street names and they had them all wrong! I’d never heard of those places. No Boardwalk, Marvin Gardens or Park Place. On a hunch I checked it out in Wikipedia. Sure enough, the British version uses British place names! Photo below is a screen capture from Wikipedia.

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National Jukebox


A friend sent us the link to the US national repository for “heritage” music and early recordings — from the dawn of the recorded audio age. These Library of Congress recordings are generally all around 100 years old. They’ve been digitized – a massive undertaking, and, given their age and the sound quality of early recordings, a challenge. As you’d expect, this is really vintage stuff, but I doubt it can be found elsewhere in the public domain.

Quotes from  the Library of Congress web page

The Library of Congress presents the National Jukebox, which makes historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives.

The National Jukebox debuts featuring more than 10,000 78rpm disc sides issued by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1900 and 1925.

These selections are presented as part of the record of the past. They are historical documents which reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these recordings, which may contain content offensive to users.

Selections I monitored:

  • I pagliacci [Victor 3239, 1901]
  • Air for G string [Bach, Victor Herbert’s Orchestra, Victor 70047, 1911]
  • Waiting for the Robert E. Lee [Victor 16511, 1912]
  • Temptation rag [Victor 16511, 1910]

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Klondike 2011

I still play Klondike Solitaire, but you’ll note there hasn’t been a peep out of me on this topic  in almost two years.

In my last 2009 post I noted that I’d achieved 50% win ratios but had then sunk back down to around 48%. That pattern has repeated itself several times since the 2009 post. I hit 50.4% today and had to check to confirm that’s a new personal record, though I’ve hit 50.3% at least twice before. It won’t last.

I’d also written that I had a new article on Klondike [strategy] in the works, but that I was putting it on hold. Now I’m just going to put it on ice.

The image below shows I’ve played over 3,000 games in the current “session” (and there have been others). So, if I’d been playing for a dollar a hand, I’d be about twelve bucks ahead. Not what you’d call a bell-ringer at the casinos.

Based on my own long experience, it’s my personal belief that Klondike Solitaire odds are close to exactly 50% if you do everything perfectly. I’ve been playng Klondike for the better part of 10 years, and I started saving off results in 2007.  It’s always the same old pattern. There is no mathematically possible way my current 50.4% win ratio has anything to do with a good luck streak or a bad luck streak someplace back in the past. If you start recording a new session, and win the first hand, that’s a 100% “win ratio” – but watch how fast it sinks back down to the same old 50% range!

I read a short story in The New Yorker the other week where the author wrote that he plays marathon Solitaire – a lot of it, like me. To him, it’s not about winning an individual game. It’s about the thrill of  getting on a roll and winning a streak of ten or twelve games in a row.

It is all much like surfing the Sargasso Sea. Once in a while you’ll get to ride a few gentle swells that roll in from a thousand miles away. And then it is over and you are in the doldrums again.

So it’s not about beating the house after all. It’s about relaxing, and maybe it’s about all the things you can think about while “wasting time,” like that book you’re trying to write.

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I Still Play Klondike

… and I have a major update wrapping up the wit and wisdom of my previous posts on Klondike Strategy. But that update has been gathering dust for months. I’m feeling rather humble about the whole thing.

You see, I climbed to over 50% win ratio on that same long streak of games I’ve been accumulating for years. So, I reasoned, I must be doing way better than 50% in order to raise the long-term average that much. And, I started a brand-new game under a new user name.

I haven’t been able to hit better than 48.3% since.

So, my “new strategy” makes a lot of sense but I haven’t seen any improvement in my score. I can’t even beat my old record. Maybe I was just riding the 100-year Tsunami.  I play more Sudoku as a consolation. Perhaps I’ll publish that new Klondike article one day. When, I just don’t know …

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Klondike Wins 49%



I don’t know what the official record is for this game, if it exists, but 49% is a record for me.

If you do the math, this isn’t really 49%, it’s rounded up from 0.4896675… or 48.966%. I wrote the SolSuite support folks about this. Their answer:

Our programmers have explained to me that it is possible to have only one decimal after the point, so the percetages [sic] have to rounded. Anyway, they know about your suggestion. Thank you!

I’ve worked with programmers most of my working life, and this answer is of course balderdash, though (as I just explained) not entirely unexpected from the profession. If the higher score is “better”, and you only support one decimal place, the answer should be reported as 48.9% (truncate excess digits; don’t round up).

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L1000427.jpg Bjarne pipes ... Click image for larger file.

With the passing of great pipemaker Bjarne Nielsen in 2008, the family decided not to continue in the pipemaking business, and the last inventories were sold to distributors. Fortunately some nice models are still available. With the recent arrival of  what may well be my last Bjarne (right center), I decided to take a family portrait.

Some of this modest collection have already graced the pages of Miscellany. The two Pokers (left top and center), and the giant “sitter” churchwarden have become great smokers. Two newer thick-walled freehands (right top and center) are becoming all-time favorites, producing a cooler, more pleasant smoke than even my prized Nordings. The one factor I am seeing that best accounts for a good, cool smoke is bowl wall thickness.

The two darker-finish pipes in the center are my “travel pipes” – lighter weight, thinner walls. It is more difficult to get them to produce a good smoke – though emptying a half-smoked pipe, when the shuttle bus arrives, is hardly a good way to break in a pipe or maintain good smokers.

 Leica C-LUX 2 mini digital … Click image for larger file.

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Fastest Klondike win



This Klondike win, with its new jump to 48.4% wins, was a long time in coming, but it was my fastest ever: 1.33 minutes. I slogged up through the wins by tenths from 47.7 to here, but it took over a month. As in the October Klondike post, I busted through a record and then fell back at every step. It takes patience – too much of it. My main strategy change is even more aggressive shuffling of cards from top to bottom, and vice-versa, to give myself every possible chance to promote just one extra card to the top foundation piles – while the iron is hot.

“Aggressive” means:  if you have a two of hearts burying its own ace at end of game, and if you can disassemble a couple of large stacks on the top foundation piles all the way down to the three of clubs, and play that deuce, you have another win. The alternative is saying you’re stuck and willing to lose the game.

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More Klondike

The thinner the ice, the more anxious is everyone to see whether it will bear. — Josh Billings

The mighty falleth, and riseth anew, so that we may see them fall once again. I’ve busted through this 47.7% barrier three times. Klondike isn’t just a great way to pass the time away. It’s a tough Solitaire variant requiring more concentration than you might suppose. If you play it long enough, you’ll see that even one oversight or mistake can make the difference between win or loss.

To get this measly one percent gain in the stats took a lot of work. I’m doing at least one thing different, by which I can account for the gain. I’m spending a lot more time interrupting myself, so to speak, to work the “tableaus” (7 piles on the bottom) – the cards I’ve already played. For example, say I need a five of clubs on the foundations (4 piles on top). I have it, but it’s buried by a red 4 of hearts and a black 3 of spades. I do have a five of spades I can get to, on the bottom of another foundation.  What to do? Simple, move the 4 of hearts (and the 3 on top of it) over on top of the five of spades.

It’s worth the extra effort.

Now I can move the five of clubs to the clubs foundation pile. It’s only one card. But sometimes it pays to get “greedy” while you can — if I waited, the five of clubs might get buried too, and then it may be too late.

UPDATE 10/28/2008

Doing this is also a double whammy. Not only do you build your foundations, you get to turn over the next card buried in the tableaus and play that too. At a minimum, you’ve parlayed this into two good plays. With a little luck near the end of the game, this can cascade into a win that otherwise would have been a loss.

And we knew there was a specific reason for mentioning this little strategy. See the image below.

This game isn’t even finished, but you can see it’s a guaranteed win: the tableaus are now all played out. All we have to do is move those cards up top to complete the foundations (or click “Game/Autoplay” from the menu, which takes the repetitious grunt work out of it.

This looked like a loss, but what I did is remove my six of diamonds (yes, the image is hard to read) back off the diamonds foundation, and put it down over my seven of spades. This allowed me to play my five of spades from one of the stagnant tableaus. Before I saw this move, I thought I was stuck with a loss. But, true to my earlier real-time prediction, this little stunt cascaded into a win situation.

Was it a win? Of course it was a win. When the big picture seems too cut-and-dried, it’s time to start sweating the small stuff.

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Frog Morton and the Curious Tins

L1000364.jpg Frog Morton collection ... Click image for larger file.

Frog Morton line of pipe tobacco … Click image for larger picture.

Frog Morton is a line of distinctive pipe tobaccos from McClelland Tobacco Company, of Kansas City. Among pipe tobacco aficionados, McClelland enjoys a deserved reputation as a purveyor of fine specialty or “boutique” tobaccos, such as their Frog Morton line, or the strong and aptly-named blend “Mississippi Mud”.

The History Channel did a 2006 special on Tobacco. You can always catch a re-run. They included a sequence on pipe tobaccos. History Channel singled out McClelland’s KC packaging facility and delightfully imaginative product line-up. I was pleased to see both the Frog Morton and Mississippi Mud brands featured.

The Frog Morton line consists of four blends (that I know of):

  • Frog Morton – “an exceptionally rich, smooth and dark Latakia mixture for the pipe”
  • Frog Morton on the Bayou – “Smooth and dark and calming, like the waters of the bayou, a relaxing Balkan blend”
  • Frog Morton on the Town – “An elegant, smooth Oriental blend”
  • Frog Morton Across the Pond – “A cool-smoking, fragrant blend enhanced with Syrian Latakia.”

It helps a little to de-code the descriptions in tobacconist jargon.

“Latakia” is a Syrian blend originally produced in the Syrian town of Latakia.  Dark black, earthy and strong, Latakia smells vaguely like a calamine preparation. Smoking it straight is usually considered over the top; it is a blending tobacco.

“Oriental” seems to refer to a quaint colonial notion of the British Empire that the orient consisted of the region of Turkey, Syria and such – what we today call the “Mideast”.

The “Balkans” refer to the mountains and peninsula of southeastern Europe, including Serbia and Turkey.

“On the Bayou” is heavily flavored with Louisiana Perique, a tobacco concoction prepared by soaking tobacco like rotting leaves in a puddle, until black, and then compressed, dried and flaked. The preparation is actually much like that of Latakia in the old world. The results is an earthier mixer. Used judiciously, it also makes for a pleasant and distinctive smoke.

I have used small quantities of Perique in my own earlier blends of “Alex’s Mix”. I also tried adding Latakia to the blend, but, finding the Latakia overpowers the Perique, ended up using only Latakia in my mix.

I find all of the Frog Morton line to be pleasant smokes, and generally will smoke one or the other as a dessert or after-dinner treat. I do prefer the original “plain” Frog Morton, which is not quite as complicated as others in the Frog Morton line, and probably will stick to this original Frog when re-ordering.

I don’t have the lingo to answer the tobacconist question “but what does it taste like?”  What does a honeydew melon taste like? At some point, you just have to buy one and try it. I can tell you that my own mixes (25% Latakia) are pleasant and medium-strong, sweet without a hint of artificial sweetness. and draw enthusiastic unsolicited compliments from perfect non-smoker strangers.

Of the four “Frog” blends, then, it being noted that I already lean toward a less complex Latakia-based blend, I find the Perique treatment interesting but a little out of balance for my palate and sense of smell (you can smell the Perique in the can). Of the Syrian and “Oriental” blends, I know much less, but for my taste the verdict is the same as for “On the Bayou” – interesting, but I still prefer the original Frog.

Frog Morton, then, would be stronger without being harsher, a pleasure to the very bottom of the bowl, a blend I could heartily recommend pipe smokers try when they are looking for something familiar but pleasantly different at the same time.

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