Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 14th, 2021

All the balls are the same color

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Don’t believe it? In the explanation you can see the balls with and without the stripes.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 9:56 pm

A more detailed look at Wootz steel

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Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 5:50 pm

Homeless Oaklanders were tired of the housing crisis. So they built a ‘miracle’ village.

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Gabrielle Canon has an interesting article (with more photos) in the Guardian. It begins:

Tucked under a highway overpass in West Oakland, just beyond a graveyard of charred cars and dumped debris, lies an unexpected refuge.

There’s a collection of beautiful, small structures built from foraged materials. There’s a hot shower, a fully stocked kitchen and health clinic. There’s a free “store” offering donated items including clothes and books, and a composting toilet. There are stone and gravel paths lined with flowers and vegetable gardens. There’s even an outdoor pizza oven.

The so-called “Cob on Wood” center has arisen in recent months to provide amenities for those living in a nearby homeless encampment, one of the largest in the city. But most importantly, it’s fostering a sense of community and dignity, according to the unhoused and housed residents who came together to build it. They hope their innovative approach will lead to big changes in how the city addresses its growing homeless population.

“It is about uniting everybody,” says Dmitri Schusterman, a nearby resident who also serves as the Director of Innovation for Artists Building Communities, one of the organizations that helped build the center at the end of last year. Cob on Wood was brought to life with help from local advocacy arts and food groups who teamed up with Miguel “Migz” Elliott, an expert in the ancient technique of making cob structures. Together with teams of volunteers and residents, they built each component by hand.

Now, roughly five months since they broke ground, a community has coalesced around the space that not only hosts events and workshops but also offers food, hygiene and skill-sharing to the estimated 300 people who live in nearby encampments.

“It is working,” Schusterman says, smiling broadly. “This is the vision we had and it is working like a miracle.”

Tackling a pair of crises

Cob on Wood was born of parallel crises – Oakland’s rising rate of homelessness and the Covid pandemic.

The city is home to more than 4,000 unhoused people, a figure that has jumped 86% over a four-year period, according to a 2019 report. Homelessness disproportionally affects Black Oaklanders, who make up 24% of the general population but 70% of the unhoused population.

Xochitl Bernadette Moreno and Ashel Seasunz Eldridge, co-founders of Essential Food and Medicine, one of the organizations behind Cob on Wood, distributed food and hygiene products to those who couldn’t “shelter in place” during California’s lockdowns. That’s when they learned about just how dire the situation had become.

“[Covid] exposed those pre-existing cracks in the infrastructure of how we take care of our people, our communities, our neighbors,” Eldridge says.

Moreno adds: “Knowing that the issues people in these communities face around hunger and access to water, access to places to cook – these issues existed before the pandemic and they will continue to exist after the pandemic.”

There are at least 140 homeless encampments in Oakland, according to a recent city audit, which found the city had mismanaged its response to the crisis. Building on findings from the United Nations general assembly, which, after visiting the Bay Area in 2018, reported that treatment of the unhoused was “cruel and inhumane”, Oakland’s audit reported that many unhealthy and unsafe conditions have persisted, including a lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and health services.

City officials have tried to address the growing issues with new programs, including the “tuff shed” project that provides clusters of small structures as temporary housing solutions and so-called “Safe RV Parking” sites that include access to electric hookups, portable toilets and security.

But critics – who include some of the unhoused participants – say the programs are plagued with safety issues and do little to address underlying causes of housing instability. Some have also expressed concerns that the programs have given the city more political leeway to crack down on encampments and increase sweeps, an often traumatic process for unhoused people who can end up losing their few belongings.

“People are not only being evicted from homes they once had, but then they are being evicted from the homes that they create – communities they’ve built for themselves when they had nowhere else to go,” Moreno says.

After growing frustrated with the city’s interventions, several other communities have attempted to create their own solutions, including a group of women who started a safe encampment in vacant lots, and an advocacy organization called the Village, which has built tiny homes on empty areas of public land across the city.

Cob on Wood organizers are also hoping to empower unhoused residents to solve the problems they think the city hasn’t adequately addressed – from fire prevention to sanitation access – while organizing to collectively engage with officials and limit the sense of “otherness” and disenfranchisement which residents say is an all-too-common side-effect of homelessness.

They broke ground in December. Clearing needles and trash from an area near Wood Street – a half-mile area lined with makeshift structures, RVs and tents – a crew of volunteers and camp residents under Elliott’s guidance used pallets to frame the structures. They were insulated with scavenged materials before being coated in “cob”, a mixture made from organic materials including sand, subsoil, water and straw.

Each structure is lined with a “living roof” – featuring a garden – that creates an attractive aesthetic while insulating the inside from the abrasive city sounds and the elements.

“There are cob structures that were built 700 years ago that are still being lived in,” Elliott says. He hopes to prove that “cobins”, as he calls them, could serve as a quick and affordable addition to other encampments, to offer shelter and house other services.

“I am trying to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

More on cob construction.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 3:30 pm

Why We Speak More Weirdly at Home

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The implied comparison is to how we speak in public. I initially thought the comparison was to how we spoke at home before the pandemic. (I like it when comparisons are explicit.) Kathryn Hymes writes in the Atlantic:

I celebrated my second pandemic birthday recently. Many things were weird about it: opening presents on Zoom, my phone’s insistent photo reminders from “one year ago today” that could be mistaken for last month, my partner brightly wishing me “iki domuz,” a Turkish phrase that literally means “two pigs.”

Well, that last one is actually quite normal in our house. Long ago, I took my first steps into adult language lessons and tried to impress my Turkish American boyfriend on his special day. My younger self nervously bungled through new vocabulary—The numbers! The animals! The months!—to wish him “iki domuz” instead of “happy birthday” (İyi ki doğdun) while we drank like pigs in his tiny apartment outside of UCLA. Now, more than a decade later, that slip-up is immortalized as our own peculiar greeting to each other twice a year.

Many of us have a secret language, the private lexicon of our home life. Perhaps you have a nickname from a parent that followed you into adulthood. Maybe you have an old joke or a shared reference to a song. Sometimes known as familects, these invented words, pet names, in-jokes, and personal memes swirl and emerge from the mess of lives spent in close quarters. During the pandemic, we’ve spent dramatically more time in those quarters, and our in-group slang has changed accordingly.

Cynthia Gordon, an associate linguistics professor at Georgetown University and the author of Making Meanings, Creating Family, has spent much of her working life in the strange land of family discourse. “Any group of people that has extended contact over time and sees itself as distinctive is going to have some specialized uses of language,” Gordon told me. “Listening to recordings of other families is like being immersed in a different world.”

We speak differently in different settings—this is no surprise—depending on whom we’re talking to and what the purpose is. Whether the formalities of a work presentation for colleagues or awkward small talk on a first date, our language shifts as the context and audience change.

Familects are a part of the intimate register of language, the way we talk “backstage” with the people we are closest to. They’re our home slang, if you will, where we can be our nonpublic selves in all their weird glory. Familects can emerge from any type of family: big, small, chosen, or your “quaranteam,” as a friend calls it. Over time, these terms may become sticky in your inner circle.

What inspires this family-language invention? In general, sufficient time logged together and shared experiences as a unit. Children are frequently the architects of new words, especially while they’re learning to speak. As kids fumble and play with sounds and meaning, their cutesy word experiments can be picked up by the whole family, sometimes to be passed on between generations as verbal heirlooms of sorts. Many new familect terms are also forged in the building stage of close relationships, when couples or friends are creating private ways to show affection or navigate tricky conversations as they cross the fuzzy boundary from acquaintance to intimacy.

Mignon Fogarty, host of the Grammar Girl podcast, has been collecting these family words for years. Listeners call the podcast to offer their own family lingo and the stories behind it, giving the audience a glimpse into their relationship dynamics. “Families have their own famous people,” Fogarty told me, before sharing a recent example. “This family went to the dog park and there was a woman who looked just like her dog, named Stanley. Now whenever someone looks a lot like their pet, well, they have a Stanley situation on their hands.”

Familects help us feel like family. Private in-group language fosters intimacy and establishes identity. In a study on the use of idiosyncratic

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Memes

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On Finishing “Finnegans Wake”

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I’ll start by noting that the Kindle version of Finnegans Wake is quite inexpensive (78¢), especially compared to the hardbound edition ($596.02). Gabrielle Carey writes in the Sydney Review of Books:

James Joyce once famously said that if it took him seventeen years to write Finnegans Wake, then a reader should take seventeen years to read it. In his usual prophetic way, he turned out to be exactly right. My Finnegans Wake Reading Group started in July 2004. We finished in February 2021.

‘We’ll be dead before we get to the end!’ we often joked. In a sense we never really expected to arrive at the famous last words: A way a lone a last a loved a long the

And then it happened: page 628 was within reach.

James Joyce received the first copy of Finnegans Wake in his hands on 30 January, 1939, just in time for his 57th birthday on 2 February. So I scheduled our final reading for 2 February, 2021. But then I postponed it. And postponed it again. And then a third time. I had never done that before. For seventeen years I had been religious about sticking to the set day and time – the last Sunday of every month – no matter what. But now I realised there was part of me that didn’t want to read that final page. Because what would I do next? Finishing Finnegans Wake felt like the end of a long, literary marriage and I instinctively understood what that meant: a bad case of post break-up blues. Or was it because I’d been convinced that the Wake was a world without end when in fact, as Joyce writes, it was whorled without aimed.

Over the years I have intermittently recorded the Finnegans Wake reading group sessions, which usually run to around three hours. In 2004, I began with cassette tapes, then graduated to an iPad, and then iPhone. At first, I conscientiously transcribed the salient parts of each gathering, noting my favourite words and phrases:

psing a psalm of psexpeans, apocryphal of rhyme

paradox lust

thinkamalinks

gossipocracy

in deep humidity

let us pry

you have reared your disunited kingdom on the vacuum of your own most intensely doubtful soul.

I’ve found my vacation in life

langwedge

The ritual for FWRG was simple and remained unchanged for 17 years. We met around my kitchen table at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. I made pots of tea. Others brought cake and biscuits. We took turns in reading – usually a few paragraphs at a time – followed by discussion and consultation of Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake (third edition) – although this dependence became less regular as we realised how much more fun it was to work out the references for ourselves. After two or three hours we would break out a bottle of wine and keep talking until dark. It was always a thrill, always funny, always informative, always enjoyable. As the song says, ‘There’s lots of fun at Finnegan’s wake!’

For our final meeting I cleaned the teatimestained Wedgewood cups with bicarbonate of soda, the same cups we had drunk tea from since 2004, and ironed my best linen tablecloth. Our last meeting was attended by eleven people, Joyce’s magic number, signifying renewal. Over the years, members have come and gone but a core has persisted for the duration: a retired Welsh mathematician nicknamed Mr Google because of his encyclopaedic general knowledge, an English music reviewer obsessed with Wagner’s Ring cycle, a pop music reviewer and culture critic, a high school teacher, a woman who describes her job as ‘working in investment bank technology’, a retired solicitor, an Irish psychiatrist (specialising in drugs and alcohol) and me. During our time together we have weathered a litany of life events including: an almost divorce, an actual divorce, various depressive episodes, three births, two cancer diagnoses and one death.

Only very occasionally have I felt that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

William Press: At lunch with Freeman Dyson

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William Press writes in Inference:

IN THIS ESSAY, I would like to tell the story of a minor discovery in mathematical game theory that Freeman Dyson and I made in 2011. Dyson was a personal friend and one of the great mathematical physicists of the twentieth century. He died in 2020, at the age of ninety-six. He was famously self-effacing, which is not to say that he lacked an accurate opinion of his own abilities. Freeman would deny that he had done anything at all and then allow friends—or even strangers—to vehemently contradict him. Our discovery was not of that character. It really was very minor. The reasons for telling the story now are less about the discovery itself and more about the tendency of scientists to seek lessons in moral philosophy in the least likely of places—high-school algebra, for example.

Imagine that a group of scientists gather to play a kind of terror game. They must propose scenarios that, should they eventuate, would shake their belief in the foundations of their fields. The mathematician’s proposed terror is that a long message, in English, is found to be encoded—in excess of any plausible random probability—somewhere in the first billion digits of pi.1 The physicist’s terror is that the interaction cross-section of a fundamental particle will have significantly different values when measured in different places on earth, or in the same place at different times.2 The biologist’s terror is that some feature of the living world will be unexplainable by the principle of natural selection. Within biology’s subspecialty of evolution theory, there is a small area of study known as evolution of cooperation. That study, some would say, lies closest to the biologist’s terror. That makes it worth poking at.

Cooperation and Defection

IN BIOLOGY, a cooperator is an individual who pays a cost for another individual to receive a benefit. When cooperation is mutually beneficial to two individuals of the same or different species—a condition termed direct reciprocity—then it is favored by natural selection. There are other possibilities. In so-called kin selection, an individual’s self-sacrifice may be favored if, on average, it helps another individual in the same gene pool to survive.3 The unit of survival is understood in this case to be not the individual, but the gene that two individuals share.4 It is harder to understand why individuals cooperate when defection would be more favorable or when the reciprocity is only indirect.

Suppose that two microbe species, A and B, both need processed nutrients a and b. The cooperative state might be that A produces aB produces b, and each secretes a portion of its nutrient for the benefit of the other. But this equilibrium is not evolutionarily stable: a defecting with a mutation that halts its sharing of a becomes a free rider, benefitting from B without paying the fare. Free riders, avoiding a cost, will tend to take over the population. The evolutionarily stable endpoint is noncooperation, even though cooperation would be better for both species.

Cooperation among humans seems hardest of all to understand. “Humans are the champions of cooperation,” Martin Nowak has remarked. “From hunter-gatherer societies to nation-states, cooperation is the decisive organizing principle of human society.”5 In much, if not most, of our cooperation, reciprocity is indirect. To be sure, some people give money to universities in the hope of getting their own children admitted—kin selection—but many more give to charities that are of no direct benefit to themselves or their kin. Many billionaires become philanthropists, but from the standpoint of evolution theory, why is this? A quirk of our culture, maybe? But cultures, too, compete for dominance with other contemporaneous cultures, and by a process akin to natural selection. Are we to understand that generosity is selectively favored? Or are the generous billionaires only transient?

Charles Darwin recognized that cooperation posed a challenge to his theory of natural selection. He described an elegant experiment to ferret out whether the aphid yields its excretion to the ant voluntarily, or involuntarily with the ant as a parasite.6 He provided a convincing argument that it was the former. Darwin, the consummate naturalist, hated overgeneralized theory. Yet the significant literature on the evolution of cooperation that has flourished in the last fifty years is almost entirely theoretical. Much of it is cast in the formalism of mathematical game theory, a subject that came into existence more than half a century after Darwin’s death in the work of John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. Game theory describes how competing, sentient players, in a well-defined universe of choices and payoffs, may knowingly seek to optimize their own outcomes. Evolution is the blind watchmaker,7 optimizing only by trial and error. Exactly how the achievable outcomes of evolution correspond to the mathematical optima of game theory is not a settled question.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

GO BACK TO MICROBES A and B, but now promote them to sentience. They become Alice and Bob, who are arrested on suspicion of committing, together, a serious crime. Each has sworn not to betray the other. They are questioned in separate rooms.

“We already have enough evidence to convict you both of a misdemeanor,” the detective says to each, “that will put you away for one year.” Each, separately, says nothing. “But if you defect, rat out your partner and turn state’s evidence,” the detective continues, “we’ll let you go, scot-free. Your partner will get a felony conviction, six years in the state penitentiary.”

“What if we both turn state’s evidence?” Alice and Bob each ask.

“Well, I can’t let you both go free,” the detective says. “You’ll each get three years.”

Alice reasons as follows: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

I will add this: Robert Axelrod had two “tournaments” in which computer algorithms competed in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Anatol Rapoport (author of the book Operational Philosophy that had a big impact on me when I read it in high school) wrote the algorithm that won the first tournament, using a simple strategy of tit for tat: cooperate initially, then respond as the other player did from then on.

Axelrod published the results and the strategies used, and then, with that information available to assist participants in their work, held a second tournament. Anatol Rapoport won the second tournament as well, using the same strategy.

Axelrod’s book is a lot of fun. Recommended.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 1:15 pm

Apostles of Bad News: Just 12 People Are Behind Most Vaccine Hoaxes On Social Media, Research Shows

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Shannon Bond reports on wellsprings of misinformation and lies:

Researchers have found just 12 people are responsible for the bulk of the misleading claims and outright lies about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“The ‘Disinformation Dozen’ produce 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which identified the accounts.

Now that the vaccine rollout is reaching a critical stage in which most adults who want the vaccine have gotten it, but many others are holding out, these 12 influential social media users stand to have an outsize impact on the outcome.

These figures are well-known to both researchers and the social networks. Some of them run multiple accounts across the different platforms. They often promote “natural health.” Some even sell supplements and books.

Many of the messages about the COVID-19 vaccines being widely spread online mirror what’s been said in the past about other vaccines by peddlers of health misinformation.

“It’s almost like conspiracy theory Mad Libs. They just inserted the new claims,” said John Gregory, deputy health editor at NewsGuard, which rates the credibility of news sites and has done its own tracking of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation “superspreaders.”

The claims from the “Disinformation Dozen” range from “denying that COVID exists, claiming that false cures are in fact the way to solve COVID and not vaccination, decrying vaccines and decrying doctors as being in some way venal or motivated by other factors when they recommend vaccines,” Ahmed said.

Many of the 12, he said, have been spreading scientifically disproven medical claims and conspiracies for years.

Which provokes the question: Why have social media platforms only recently begun cracking down on their falsehoods?

Both members of Congress and state attorneys general have urged Facebook and Twitter to ban the “Disinformation Dozen.”

“Getting Americans vaccinated is critical to putting this pandemic behind us. Vaccine disinformation spread online has deadly consequences, which is why I have called on social media platforms to take action against the accounts propagating the majority of these lies,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told NPR.

Social networks crack down on COVID-19 vaccine claims

The companies have stopped short of taking all 12 figures offline entirely, but they have stepped up their fight: They’ve labeled misleading posts. They’ve removed falsehoods. In some cases, they’ve banned people who repeatedly share debunked claims.

Facebook said it’s taken  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Here are the 12 blackguards listed in the Center’s report (which is worth reading):

1 Joseph Mercola
2 Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
3 Ty & Charlene Bollinger
4 Sherri Tenpenny
5 Rizza Islam
6 Rashid Buttar
7 Erin Elizabeth
8 Sayer Ji
9 Kelly Brogan
10 Christiane Northrup
11 Ben Tapper
12 Kevin Jenkins

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 12:25 pm

A GOP Civil War? Don’t Bet On It.

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Jeff Greenfield, five-time Emmy-winning network television analyst and author, has a piece in Politico that is somewhat depressing because it seems valid. It begins:

If you’ve been reading the coverage lately, or listened to gloating Democrats, it’s easy to believe the Republican Party is eating itself alive.

The former Republican president literally campaigns against incumbents of his own party. NBC calls it a “GOP power struggle”; The Hill describes “deep rifts”; and the Democratic National Committee exults over “a GOP civil war.” After losing the White House, the House and the Senate, its congressional leadership is now in open conflict; Wednesday, the minority leader is expected to oust his No. 3.

Among Democrats painfully aware of their tiny or non-existent margins in the House and Senate, the prospect of a divided Republican Party offers hope that this “civil war” will redound to Democrats’ advantage in 2022.

They shouldn’t be so sure.

First, beyond a few spats that make headlines, it’s getting harder to detect any serious division among rank-and-file Republicans. In Congress, and at the grassroots, the dominance of Donald Trump over the party is more or less total. The small handful who denounced the former president for his massive lies about the election and his seeding of an insurrectionist riot are now either silent, or have embraced a mealy-mouthed argument for “election integrity.” The same state officials who pushed back against Trump’s attempt to overturn November’s results have embraced a series of restrictive voting measures ostensibly designed to combat non-existent “fraud,” all aimed at hobbling voters inclined to vote for Democrats. Mitch McConnell, who denounced Trump’s behavior in high-minded tones in the aftermath of the riot, also—on the exact same day—voted to exonerate him of wrongdoing.

Second, and more significant, history is littered with times that critics on the left, and in the pundit class, were positive the Republican Party was setting itself up for defeat by embracing its extremes … only to watch the party comfortably surge into power. This time there are structural advantages as well: Given the Republican advantages in the House (through gerrymandering, and the statistically “wasted” votes in landslide Democratic districts), in the Senate, in state legislatures and in the Electoral College, a Trump-dominated Republican Party is a strong contender to take the White House next time around. And, contrarian as it may seem, the lockstep devotion to the former president may actually enhance, rather than lessen, its chances. What we’re seeing isn’t a civil war. It’s a purge, and there’s every reason to believe it will work.

This is not the conclusion you’ll reach if you follow much of the mainstream press. A New York Times story on Saturday about Trump’s hold on the GOP quoted former Rep. Barbara Comstock, former Sen. Jeff Flake, GOP consultant Sarah Longwell and Republican strategist Scott Reed, all warning of the political danger of a Trumpcentric party. These are estimable public figures, none of whom remotely speaks for the Republican base. For the past few weeks, much media attention was focused on Michael Wood, the 34-year-old veteran running for a Texas seat with a message that the Republican Party had to move away from Trump. He wound up finishing ninth, with 3 percent of the vote.

For a broader measure of just how one-sided the “civil war” is, you don’t need to stop at the behavior of House Republicans, who are poised to defenestrate Liz Cheney from her leadership post, and who overwhelmingly voted in January to block the certification of electors. A far better picture emerges when . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 12:12 pm

The Wootz Hunter

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Almost three years ago, I blogged an extract from an article in Craftsmanship about a farrier who rediscovered (with the help of a professor metallurgy) how to make wootz steel, a secret lost around the 13th century. I rewatched the video that accompanied the article and again found it fascinating (as is the article itself), so I thought I’d point it out to new readers who are interested in fine steel and sharp objects. A great read and an interesting video.

UPDATE: I found a longer and more detailed video on Wootz steel:

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 10:21 am

Conservatives embrace Pro-Choice

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At least it seems that way, based on the chyron in this screengrab from Tucker Carlson’s Fox “News” program:

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Medical

Farewell, Krampert’s Finest Acadian Spice Bay Rum

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I tried a Chubby 2 Super but the knot was way too dense and stiff for me — it felt like I was using a rough block of wood. The Chubby 1 Best is more to my taste for a stocky brush, and it had no problem evoking a fine lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Natural Bay Rum.

Maggard Razors’ V2OC razor head is a clone of the Parker 24C/26C, and a very nice head it is, here mounted on their stainless steel MR7 handle. Three passes resulted in a totally smooth result, and the shave was comfortable throughout.

Krampert’s Finest is shutting down after a decade in business. I do like their Bay Rum aftershave, and I have enough to last me a while. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend that you act quickly since some vendors may still have stock on hand (but I expect it will soon be gone — Maggard Razors had some yesterday, but today they are out of stock). The notice on Krampert’s website reads:

Sorry folks, Krampert’s Finest has shut its virtual doors.

But this has been coming for some time. Years ago I designed my splashes for myself, handed some out to others and next I knew it turned into a business. I figured OK, as long as it’s fun I’ll continue. It has since become a J O B. I’m retired and I don’t want a job. I considered selling it, but I designed my products for myself. I didn’t build this to sell. So I made the decision; the website is coming down, Krampert’s Finest is no more.

To everyone who has made this business enjoyable and a success you have my gratitude and thanks.

Brian

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 8:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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