Saturday, November 23, 2013

Recommendation: InoReader


Back in the old days (e.g. 1995 to some time earlier in this millennium), I bookmarked lots and lots of web sites and visited each one each day to find content for Freedom News Daily and, later, Rational Review News Digest (of which FND is now an ISIL "co-brand").

Then came RSS, and I put off using it for several years because most of the readers didn't seem ready for prime time.

Finally, NewsSquares, which was a fine service when it served essentially as a nice-looking front end for Google Reader but which has gone downhill since Google Reader died.

So I've been looking for a replacement, and I think I've found it: InoReader.

It has a nice front end GUI, and on the back end it doesn't seem to suffer much from problems I've had with other readers (e.g. frequent re-sets such that articles I've marked read suddenly pop up again as "new" for no apparent reason -- that's been one of my big NewsSquares gripes lately). I've only been using for a few days, but I'm following more than 60 feeds and haven't had a single problem with it so far.

So if you're not happy with your current RSS reader and are looking for a replacement, check it out.
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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: Micro Touch One Safety Razor versus Dollar Shave Club 4x


The usual up-front info and disclaimers: I received a Micro Touch One razor, with case and blade pack, for review purposes (the offer came via Fuel My Blog) -- MSRP $19.99. I also receive extra months of service for referring customers to Dollar Shave Club, which I have previously reviewed. The mission, from the Micro Touch One people's point of view, was to get a review of their razor, not necessarily a competitive review with any other. The head-to-head comparison is my idea; since I've previously and positively reviewed DSC, it makes sense to put the new razor up against the one I've been using for a year.

Review Protocol: I received the Micro Touch One about two weeks ago, and immediately shaved with it. And I mean shaved. I trimmed my beard and dome down to stubble and shaved my entire face and head with the razor. For a week after that, I shaved my face daily with the Micro Touch One (once I have my head shaved, I normally just run an electric foil shaver over it each morning -- until I decide to let it grow out for awhile), using different facilitators (shaving cream, shaving gel, mug-and-brush shaving soap, and my preferred, thanks to Jeffrey Tucker, baby oil). For the second week, I allowed my goatee to grow back in (having established whether or not that particular beard area would be a problem area), and switched back and forth between the Micro Touch One and Dollar Shave Club 4x on a day-to-day basis. This morning, I conducted "the head-to-head review shave" -- new blades on both handles, shaved one side of my face (randomly determined with a coin toss) with each razor.

Short Version of the Review: I absolutely love the Micro Touch One. It's a classy and classic piece of gear, it's a money-saver over time (if, as their ads claim, 24 blades is enough for a year of shaving, then four years worth of blades will set you back $10-20), and in terms of shave performance it was well beyond satisfactory.

Long Version of the Review:

The Micro Touch One comes with a nice hard-shell, velour-lined plastic travel case with in-lid mirror, as well as 24 double-edge safety razor blades (advertised as a one-year supply), for $19.99. Why is this price point important? Because I'm comparing the Micro Touch One to the Dollar Shave Club 4x. From DSC, I get four blades (or, rather, four four-blade "cartridges") per shipment, at $6 per shipment. The normal shipment frequency is monthly, but based on my own needs I stepped that down to bi-monthly. Six shipments per year, $6 per shipment ... $36 a year. That's nearly twice the cost of the Micro Touch One with a one-year supply of blades (and it looks like 100 double-edge safety razor blades -- a four-year supply -- run $10-$20 depending on brand). So if the razors are comparable, you're saving money from the get-go with the Micro Touch One.

Are the razors comparable?

The Micro Touch One is made of solid brass and chrome-plated. It has a nice heft to it and feels comfortable in hand. It's a simple piece of gear -- the only moving part is the twist-handle that raises the safety bar up for blade insertion, removal and cleaning. And the blades are just the same old blades that King Gillette introduced in 1901. They have a groove that fits over a post. Not much to go wrong there. I've had no problems with it so far, and don't foresee any likelihood of it malfunctioning under normal conditions.

The Dollar Shave Club 4x handle is also very nice -- a metal and plastic razor handle with a presumably ergonomically sound shape, a rubberized grip and a button for releasing the used cartridge. On the other hand, my first handle fell apart after six months. DSC replaced it free, of course, but still ... I've also had blade cartridges come apart at the interface point (the mechanism isn't insanely complicated, but we're talking about tiny plastic tabs) long before I considered the blade surfaces "used up."

For ruggedness/reliability, definite advantage Micro Touch One.

So it really comes down to the shave, and this is where I was surprised.

It's just intuitive that a modern 4-blade razor will deliver a smoother, more comfortable shave than the old-fashioned safety razor and that a modern handle with a pivot on it will do a better job of handling the curve of jaw and chin, etc.

But to be honest, I can't tell the difference between the two razors on shave closeness. Both sides of my face are smooth. The handling is a little different, but different is not the same thing as difficult. I had no problem getting those little places near the nose, shaving around the chin curve, etc. with the Micro Touch One. The differences, once again, redound to the advantage of the Micro Touch One: It's easier to clean the whiskers out of than the Dollar Shave Club 4x, and to the extent that I feel "razor burn" (which is hardly ever very much), the four-blade cartridge seems to be a little more irritating than the single safety blade.

The bottom line, of course, is what works for you. You may have your own reasons for preferring multi-blade cartridges, ergonomic handles and so forth, and if you do I still highly recommend Dollar Shave Club. But if you don't have such reasons, the Micro Touch One is a classy and classic piece of gear, a money-saver and, in terms of shave performance, well beyond satisfactory.

If my recommendation isn't enough for you, maybe you'd rather hear the opinion of Rick Harrison (of Pawn Stars fame). Click here to check that out.

[Update: Click Here for my 1-year follow-up review of the Micro Touch One]
[Update 2: Well, the Micro Touch One bit the dust at 17 months -- click here to learn more!]

Friday, November 08, 2013

Yes, I am a Shield Mutual Customer


Speaking of things you might want to spend Bitcoin on: Shield Mutal is "the Agora's first defense agency."

I can't really review the service, since I've had no reason to invoke its protections yet, but I did join not long ago, and paid with Bitcoin.

As far as prospective reviews are concerned:

One reason I took the step is that if I had to draw up a list of activists I'd like to have working for my release and publicizing my situation were I detained by state gangsters, Shield Mutual proprietor George Donnelly would show up somewhere near the top of that list.

Do I expect to be detained by state gangsters? I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen at some point, but for any particular time cycle it's more of a hedged bet, aka "insurance" (I see elsewhere that George himself doesn't think of it in precisely those terms). While it's unlikely on any particular day that I'll find myself in the grip of the state for non-force-initiating activities, the amount I'm paying to Shield Mutual to spring into action if that does happen is quite small. I think it's a good deal.

Another reason I joined Shield Mutual is that I'm very interested in "building the new society in the shell of the old," and projects like this one seem to be a very good first step.

And the third reason is that they accept Bitcoin, and I like Bitcoin (largely for the same reasons as indicated in the preceding paragraph).

I guess a fourth, minor and un-premeditated, reason is that if you sign up with Shield Mutal and put my name in the "who sent you" box, I get a commission.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Review: BitcoinShop.US


The usual up-front info and disclaimers: I received no payments, perqs or (so far as I know) special considerations from BitcoinShop.US for writing this review, nor is this an "affiliate link"/commission type review. I always let you know when that kind of stuff is involved; in this case it is not and I am writing the review completely on my own initiative, to recommend or warn against) a product or service.

The short and sweet: I highly recommend BitcoinShop.US, primarily on the basis of exceptionally courteous and accommodating customer service.

The longer version:

When shopping online, I'm less worried about always having a problem-free experience than I am about dealing with people who solve the problems with the experience. Because no matter how good you are at what you do, there will occasionally be problems. I can have 99 problem-free experiences with a product or service. It's that 100th experience -- whether it gets resolved, how it gets resolved, and how quickly it gets resolved -- that tells me how good you are.

In the case of BitcoinShop.US, two problems arose during my first transaction with them, and both problems were resolved with elan, with aplomb, and in my (and other users' -- you'll see) favor.

As the web site name implies, BitcoinShop.US is a place to buy stuff using Bitcoin. What kind of stuff? All kinds of stuff, but the emphasis seems to be on electronics and computers, which is what I was looking for when I went there.

To be specific, I decided to buy my family an early Christmas present, one of those new-fangled flat-screen high-definition television sets (I don't watch a whole lot of TV, but the family as a whole watches some, and we watch movies, and the kids game, and all of our reasonably sized TVs have been old-style CRT monsters).

I found what looked like a really good deal on a fairly large (42") 1080p TV. I checked my Bitcoin balance, saw that I had enough, added it to my shopping cart, and headed for checkout.

PROBLEM #1: BitcoinShop.US prominently advertises "free shipping." I knew there might be a sales tax requirement at checkout, but that was the only difficulty I anticipated. As it happened, there was no sales tax component ... but there was a 10% "BitcoinShop.US surcharge." Er ...

I wrote a nastygram to the site's support, noting that I had just about enough Bitcoin to pay the purchase price, not enough to pay 10% extra, and that it struck me as dishonest to advertise one price and then jack it up by 10% with a "surcharge" rather than honest shipping fees or government-imposed taxes.

SOLUTION #1: I received a prompt and courteous reply, not only giving me a 10% discount coupon code to bring the price down to the advertised price, but agreeing with my contention and saying that they would change their price advertising system ASAP so that what you see is what you get. And they did -- now when you shop at BitcoinShop.US, the advertised price is the shopping cart price. How cool is that?

PROBLEM #2: Shortly after my order went in, I got another email from support: So sorry, but that item is out of stock, and they'll be happy to refund my Bitcoin (that kind of thing probably can't be automated very well, since it's not obvious that the wallet address Bitcoin came from is the one the customer will want it refunded to).

SOLUTION #2: I decided to throw out a counter-offer. While there weren't any other 42" 1080p televisions in anything like the same price range, there were several smaller models (of more reputable brands) in that price range. I picked a Samsung 32" model priced at about $10 USD worth of Bitcoin more than my original choice and asked by reply email if I could substitute. The reply was almost immediate: Of course, and they would match the price of my previous order instead of asking for more Bitcoin.

That was the middle of last week; the folks at BitcoinShop.US had to handle everything manually, and told me they'd send me a tracking number when they had one and that I could expect the TV by the middle of this week. This morning, I sent a note asking about that tracking number ... and about 10 minutes later, before they had a chance to reply, the TV arrived. Just finished setting it up.

Very, very cool. The BitcoinShop.US folks quickly, courteously and effectively fixed every problem I ran into and got me the goods quickly and at a reasonable price despite those problems.

Some additional thoughts:

I really, really, really like Bitcoin, but the obvious problem with it so far has been "how do I use it in normal, everyday transactions like doing my Christmas shopping?"

Yes, I know a few outlier merchants will let you order pizza, domain names and whatnot with Bitcoin, and that a number of worthy causes accept donations in Bitcoin format, but in order for it to "arrive" as a full-blown alternative to politically-approved, state-issued fiat currencies, you need to be able to use it in "everyday commerce."

In my opinion, BitcoinShop.US fills a big hole in that need. I doubt that its available inventory is as large and diverse as, say, Amazon.com's, but it looks pretty large and diverse.

And even if they are drop-shipping via other vendors in the background, as I suspect they are, they're letting you shop in Bitcoin denomination instead of having to go through a "middleman" process where you price something in fiat currency, transfer Bitcoin in exchange for a gift card and so forth. I think that's an important step.

So, to reprise my short and sweet version, I highly recommend BitcoinShop.US.

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