Feather AS-D2

I’ve been shaving with the same Merkur Classic since I transitioned to wet-shaving a decade ago. This past January I treated myself to an upgrade in the form a Feather AS-D2.

Feather blades have a reputation for being the sharpest on the market. I would occasionally use them in my Merkur, but generally I stayed away. They were too sharp and would result in knicks or burn for the first few shaves, after which point they would have dulled enough to be comparable to other, more normal razor blades.

So I was not entirely sure what to expect with the AS-D2. As it turns out, Feather knows what they’re doing. The Feather razor blades and AS-D2 were clearly engineered to work together. I’ve seen it described as a mild shave, which is true in that Feather blades in the AS-D2 result in no knicks or burns, but is a somewhat misleading term, in that it also consistently provides me with the best, closest shave I’ve ever had, with little effort.

My technique with the AS-D2 is the same as it was with the Merkur. One pass with the grain, one pass across the grain, and a final pass against the grain. The only difference is the angle. Compared to the Merkur, I hold the AS-D2 handle at a more obtuse angle (placing the head and the blade at a more acute angle against my face). I generally kept the handle of the Merkur at about 30 degrees. The AS-D2 is held at (or slightly above) 45 degrees.

Angle of Attack

The AS-D2 wants sharp blades. I find that the first 2 shaves with a new blade are great, the 3rd is mediocre (what I would have described as a good shave with the Merkur), and the 4th is poor. I have been replacing the blade every 3 shaves, where with my old Merkur setup I would get 5 or so shaves out of a blade. I buy Feather blades in packs of 100, which works out to about $0.25 per blade, and I generally only shave twice a week. A quarter every 1.5 weeks is an acceptable shaving expense.

Between the Feather and the Merkur, my sample size is only two, but it’s hard to imagine a better safety razor.

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A Better Towel

Discovery Trekking‘s Extreme Ultralight Travel Towels are the best quick-drying, packable towels I’ve found. Typical microfiber towels are scratchy and quick to stink. The Extreme Ultralight Travel Towel forgoes microfiber for Polartec Power Dry with a Polygiene treatment. They are soft, pleasant to use, and resistant to funk.

It’s use may be somewhat unintuitive for those who cut their teeth on traditional towels. Rather than the typical rubbing action, the Extreme Ultralight Travel Towels work best when you pat yourself down.

I bought my first of their towels in 2015. I go to the boxing gym in the morning and shower before work, so I’ve used that single towel multiple times per week for the past 3 years. It has no smell. In fact it is indistinguishable from the new towel I just bought last week.

I prefer the towels in size medium, which measure 28” by 34”. It’s the right size to dry off my whole body, though if I had long hair I may opt for the larger size. The only shortcoming of the towel is that it has no loop to hang it from, but this is easily remedied with a piece of paracord and some thread. On my scale, the size medium (with paracord hanging loop added) weighs 3.4 oz (98 grams).

I own the towels in charcoal and olive brown. The olive brown color is similar to that shown on Discovery Trekking’s website, but is what the rest of the world would call coyote brown. The charcoal color is nothing like what they show on their site. In their images it appears black, but in reality it is a grayish green, similar to foliage green, but slightly darker. I like it.

Normally I would not care about the color of a towel, but I note the colors here because the fabric is comfortable enough that I actually use the towel as a scarf — something which I cannot say about any microfiber towel. It provides warmth in cooler weather, and sun protection in hot weather. The Power Dry fabric is rated at UPF 15. This dual use makes it easy to justify the towel’s miniscule weight and volume in a pack, ensuring you always know where your towel is.

Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Douglas Adams

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PPE Kits

I began carrying an N95 respirator in my bag every day around 2007. The masks can be easily added to any first aid kit without much of a weight or size penalty, and offer respiratory protection far superior to that of a bandanna or a surgical mask. While useful during an influenza pandemic, my motivation for carrying the mask was centered more around urban disaster. Any time there are buildings coming down, I assume there will be asbestos, concrete dust, and similar contaminants in the air that I don’t in my lungs.

Most discussion of the extended use and reuse of respirators centers around contagions and the influenza use-case. While it seems safe enough to assume that the masks have an unlimited functional shelf life if stored properly, I’ve not found any information related to visual inspection of the masks for proper use. My own respirators get cycled every two or three years, but there is still a lot of room for abrasion in the pack, which I assume diminishes the protection the masks offer.

I had not thought much about this until last year. The respirator was something I carried but didn’t use. After a decade of carry, my first time actually needing to take the respirator out of my pack was this past October during the Napa and Sonoma fires.

After using the masks I had on hand during the fires (and unsuccessfully attempting to barter my surplus for chocolate), I began to better store the replacement batch for next time.


By keeping the respirator in a 5” x 4” aLOKSAK I’m ensured that no damage is done to during storage. The airtight seal offered by the bag means that the inside of the mask stays clean, at least until the first time I take it out in a contaminated setting. By added a pair of nitrile gloves to the bag, I create a compact, wallet-sized PPE kit. The same thing can be purchased, but all the prebuilt kits I’ve seen are too bulky for me to want to carry. My PPE kits can easily be slid in with the medical supplies in various my first aid and disaster kits. Pair that with EDC eye protection and you have a decently comprehensive solution.

The only appreciable thickness comes from the vent on the respirator, but I’ve found that vented respirators are key. A properly fitted respirator without a vent hampers my ability to perform physically, which isn’t a great trade-off in any situation where I find myself needing to wear a respirator.

PPE Kit with Every Day Carry

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Hanger One

Bicycle for scale.

Hanger One

Ames Research Center

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LUKS Header Backup

I’d neglected backup LUKS headers until Gwern’s data loss postmortem last year. After reading his post I dumped the headers of the drives I had accessible, but I never got around to performing the task on my less frequently accessed drives. Last month I had trouble mounting one of those drives. It turned out I was simply using the wrong passphrase, but the experience prompted me to make sure I had completed the header backup procedure for all drives.

I dump the header to memory using the procedure from the Arch wiki. This is probably unnecessary, but only takes a few extra steps. The header is stored in my password store, which is obsessively backed up.

$ sudo mkdir /mnt/tmp
$ sudo mount ramfs /mnt/tmp -t ramfs
$ sudo cryptsetup luksHeaderBackup /dev/sdc --header-backup-file /mnt/tmp/dump
$ sudo chown pigmonkey:pigmonkey /mnt/tmp/dump
$ pass insert -m crypt/luksheader/themisto < /mnt/tmp/dump
$ sudo umount /mnt/tmp
$ sudo rmdir /mnt/tmp

Flattening Water Stones

I’ve been sharpening my knives on the same Japanese water stones for a dozen years now. Despite my best intentions, I do not always use the full length of the stones. Somewhere in the back of my mind I have always been concerned about dishing the stones. Last month I took a sharpening class at Bernal Cutlery, which was the first hands-on instruction I’ve ever had in the subject. One of the things I learned was that there are other stones that can be used to flatten sharpening stones.

After the class I purchased a 95-micron DMT Dia-Flat Lapping Plate. It only took 30 seconds or so for it to flatten my water stones. Either it works extremely well or my stones were not as dished as I thought they were. After using it, there was a very obvious improvement in how the stones sharpened. More than I would expect just from flattening them. It makes me think that perhaps the pores of the stones had been clogged from years of use, which was addressed by removing the top layer of material with the lapping plate.


The lapping plate is certainly not cheap. I’m sure that they do not last forever for professional sharpeners, but given how frequently I use my stones I think the lapping plate falls into the buy-it-once-for-life category. It has extended the life of my water stones, which I think makes it a justified expense.

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