Archive for September 2009

For Love Of Rotary Head Razors

Scatman Dan was talking about “Open Source Shaving” and I had to chime in on my shaving experiences.razor_blade

I was in college. I was getting ready to go out to a very fancy dinner with my girlfriend. I spent extra time in the bathroom lathering and shaving extra close, put on a nice suit and went over to her place. She welcomed me at the door, gave me a kiss, brushing her cheek against mine and immediately pulled back, saying sternly, “Didn’t you even shave?” The next day I went out and bought an electric razor, a Norelco 5825 XL rotary shaver.

My dad had previously shown me his old “bar” electric shaver and I was unimpressed. It pulled at my hair and didn’t do a very good job, leaving some hairs even after several passes. But I had this image in my mind of that claymation santa claus riding the rotating blades through the snow, apparently giving Norelco razors to all the good little girls and boys, and that serious voice repeating, “Shaves as close as a blade or your money back.” I was not disappointed.

I have a rough scratchy beard. I switched to a Norelco rotary head electric razor (Norelco 5825 XL) in 1990 and have NEVER looked back. Shaving takes under 2 minutes (yes, really, I timed it this morning), is closer than any blade I’d used (girlfriend confirmed), and in 19 years (wow, I’m getting old) hasn’t cut me once. I can shave in the car and the built-in trimmer attachment is convenient to cut down nose and ear hair. I bought an extra razor for the car and haven’t spent a penny on blades in all that time. My first expense, last month I spent $10 replacing the rechargable batteries in both razors. I hope to get another 10 years out of them though I’ll grant that one of the razor’s motors now seems to be failing.

Caveats: It shaves poorly when my beard is wet: right out of the shower or when I’m sweating, so it is a poor choice if you live in a hot climate with no air conditioning; when I was on a trip to such a place, I had to time my shaving carefully to after my face dried and before I started sweating.  If I haven’t shaved in 3 days, shaving is “ouchy” because it pulls the hairs but it hasn’t ever hurt or redden my skin. The first week I used it (19 years ago) it was uncomfortable to use but I was fine after that. Mine cost about $90 in 1990, I see ones on Amazon for about the same today. The only required features I see in a rotary shaver is that it’s rechargable and has built in trimmers.

For usage instructions, with a blade, you touch each part of your face once but with an electric, you rub the razor over your whiskers quickly many times. It’s a totally different but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

I got my dad a newer Norelco 8140XL razor in 2006. I played with it a bit and I’m “fairly” happy with the gift. Mine from 19 years ago is frankly a better model but his gives just as good a shave. Read my letter to Norelco about their 8140XL shaver.

Teller gives away the secret to his career in magic

This is fantastic. Teller (Penn &…) responded to a young Brian Brushwood’s letter with some excellent wisdom. Yes, I can tell you that Brian uses these bits of wisdom in his act every day. It’s really very simple.

You should read this on Brian’s site, but here is an archive of the discussion

From Brian (on Tuesday, Oct 17, 1995):

Date: Tuesday, Oct 17, 1995
From: “Brian Allen Brushwood”
Subject: Fury
To: “Teller”

All right. I have put it off long enough. I told myself I would wait to write you until I had something meaningful to say, but I have been sitting on your address (figuratively) for months now, and am fed up with waiting.
The fact is, Teller, I am furious at you.
Not for offending anyone, for being outrageous, or for being so inventive with your magic, but because you were there first. In Genii magazine, you make a brilliant point of explaining that regardless of the true origin of a trick, whoever is most famous performing it OWNS it (I believe you cited your new “ownership” the bullet catch). Unfortunately, I don’t believe you extended this idea far enough. This concept reaches all the way into the very attitudes and styles of performance. In short, because of Penn and Teller, I cannot be angry at magic, at least not on stage.
It seems to me, that just as you own the Bullet Catch, so do you own the ability to lash out at magic, to act as a vent for your audiences frustrations with the cruise-ship trickymen. Not to mention the use of blood and/or violence in a humorous way. Hell! You might even own the two-male duo! All this ownership has kept me from doing the kind of stage (and close-up, believe it or not) magic I want, for fear of being branded a copycat.
This summer, I attempted to tackle this problem by writing a couple of two male duo acts, trying my damnedest to keep the P&T out of my veins; it met with some success. One act, consisting of two comedy magic character peices (A drill instructor who performs the “coloring book”, A gibberish-speaking samurai who performs a card-trick that ends in Hara-kiri) won the Texas Association of Magicians Senior Comedy competition. However, I find it difficult to follow your advice of “letting hate, not love, be your driving force” (which is absolutely true) and at the same time keep from becoming a P&T wannabe.
If you could offer any advice on how you established your own character and style, I would greatly appreciate it.

Brian Allen Brushwood

Just writing the letter was cathartic… I mean after all, who was I to Teller? I would have been perfectly happy to get a five word courtesy response, but to my absolute astonishment, the next morning I found the following mind-blowing essay in my inbox:

Teller’s Response:

Date: Wed, 18 Oct 1995 3:40:27 -0500 (CDT)
From: “Teller”
Subject: Fury
To: “Brian Allen Brushwood”

My dear bastard son,

It is about time you wrote, my boy.

Now, calm down. Remind yourself of a few things.

I am 47. I have been earning my living in show business for twenty years. I have been doing magic since I was five, which makes it 42 years. And I had the good fortune to (a) meet Penn and (b) become an off-Broadway hit at the exact right moment in time.

When we started we HAD no style, no understanding of ourselves or what we were doing. We had feelings, vague ones, a sense of what we liked, maybe, but no unified point of view, not even a real way to express our partnership. We fought constantly and expected to break up every other week. But we did have a few things, things I think you might profit from knowing:

We loved what we did. More than anything. More than sex. Absolutely.

We always felt as if every show was the most important thing in the world, but knew if we bombed, we’d live.

We did not start as friends, but as people who respected and admired each other. Crucial, absolutely crucial for a partnership. As soon as we could afford it, we ceased sharing lodgings. Equally crucial.

We made a solemn vow not to take any job outside of show business. We
borrowed money from parents and friends, rather than take that lethal job waiting tables. This forced us to take any job offered to us. Anything. We once did a show in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia as part of a fashion show on a hot July night while all around our stage, a race-riot was fully underway. That’s how serious we were about our vow.

Get on stage. A lot. Try stuff. Make your best stab and keep stabbing. If it’s there in your heart, it will eventually find its way out. Or you will give up and have a prudent, contented life doing something else.

Penn sees things differently from the way I do. But I really feel as if the things we create together are not things we devised, but things we discovered, as if, in some sense, they were always there in us, waiting to be revealed, like the figure of Mercury waiting in a rough lump of marble.

Have heroes outside of magic. Mine are Hitchcock, Poe, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Bach. You’re welcome to borrow them, but you must learn to love them yourself for your own reasons. Then they’ll push you in the right direction.

Here’s a compositional secret. It’s so obvious and simple, you’ll say to yourself, “This man is bullshitting me.” I am not. This is one of the most fundamental things in all theatrical movie composition and yet magicians know nothing of it. Ready?

Surprise me.

That’s it. Place 2 and 2 right in front of my nose, but make me think I’m seeing 5. Then reveal the truth, 4!, and surprise me.

Now, don’t underestimate me, like the rest of the magicians of the world. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that I’ve never seen a set of linking rings before and I’ll be oh-so-stunned because you can “link” them. Bullshit.

Here’s how surprise works. While holding my attention, you withold basic plot information. Feed it to me little by little. Make me try and figure out what’s going on. Tease me in one direction. Throw in a false ending. Then turn it around and flip me over.

I do the old Needle trick. I get a guy up on stage, who examines the needles. I swallow them. He searches my mouth. They’re gone. I dismiss him and he leaves the stage. The audience thinks the trick is over. Then I take out the thread. “Haha! Floss!” they exclaim. I eat the floss. Then the wise ones start saying, “Not floss, thread. Thread. Needles. Needles and thread. Ohmygod he’s going to thread the need…” And by that time they’re out and sparkling in the sunshine.

Read Rouald Dahl. Watch the old Alfred Hitchcock episodes. Surprise. Withold information. Make them say, “What the hell’s he up to? Where’s this going to go?” and don’t give them a clue where it’s going. And when it finally gets there, let it land. An ending.

It took me eight years (are you listening?) EIGHT YEARS to come up with a way of delivering the Miser’s Dream that had surprises and and ENDING.

Love something besides magic, in the arts. Get inspired by a particular poet, film-maker, sculptor, composer. You will never be the first Brian Allen Brushwood of magic if you want to be Penn & Teller. But if you want to be, say, the Salvador Dali of magic, we’ll THERE’S an opening.

I should be a film editor. I’m a magician. And if I’m good, it’s because I should be a film editor. Bach should have written opera or plays. But instead, he worked in eighteenth-century counterpoint. That’s why his counterpoints have so much more point than other contrapuntalists. They have passion and plot. Shakespeare, on the other hand, should have been a musician, writing counterpoint. That’s why his plays stand out from the others through their plot and music.

I’m tired now. I’ve been writing to you, my dear bastard son, for 45 minutes merely because, tonight, I’m remembering that evening I first met your mother in Rio, during Carnival…ah!…and how we loved!



Without a doubt, reading these words set me on the path to where I am today. For anyone wanting to make a living doing something artistic, I hope his words are as helpful to you as they were to me.

Thanks again, Teller.

Note To Self: Make Fire Fog

From a discussion I had Saturday night… I talked about how I’m not passionate about many things in my life but right now I’m passionate about making my Fire Fog art piece. So do it!


This is truly a thing of beauty

local version:

Gun Ownership Decreases Homicide Rates

A friend, let’s call her Sally, commented on my Facebook post of 9-27-09. I didn’t have enough room to respond properly there so here we go. Sally writes “Statistically, countries that allow people to have guns have more gun violence and deaths than countries that don’t allow people to have guns.”

I disagree and have a lot of data to back up my assertion. Let’s discuss.

If you’ll allow me, let’s change that supposition to “I believe there is a strong correlation between a country’s gun ownership restriction policies and it’s homicide rate.”

I was trying to change your wording from “countries with more guns have more gun violence” to “countries with more guns have more violence in general” because, well, that’s what’s important, isn’t it? And by changing that wording, we are avoiding an easy trap, of course places with more guns will have more gun violence, but knives, clubs and rocks can kill you just the same. Sally, does that work for you?

Sally, if that works for you then we can’t use the two sites you quoted (1)(local archive), (2)(local archive) since they talk about “gun deaths” and not “homicides”. I welcome you to re-google some articles. Here’s an appropriate one (local archive). (you’ll notice that the US is at the top of the “Firearms Death Rate” chart but way down in the middle of the “Intentional Homicide Rate” chart)


Let’s start with some statistics in America. How about we compare gun ownership levels in individual states with their homicide rates?

Gun Ownership rates can be found here (local archive) and gun death rates can be found here (local archive: choose “firearm” and select output group “state”)

Simply put those two together in a graph and note that there is somewhere between no correlation and a NEGATIVE correlation between gun ownership and violence in the United States! Here’s an article (local archive (sorry, the original source wasn’t available when I went to grab this archive)) on the subject. (there are many more, google for them) and some graphs on the subject 1, 2, 3 (sorry, I didn’t grab local archives of these before they went offline).


Ok, that was the warmup. Let’s try some European country statistics. I borrow this table from a Harvard University paper “WOULD BANNING FIREARMS REDUCE MURDER AND SUICIDE? : A REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL AND SOME DOMESTIC EVIDENCE DON B. KATES AND GARY MAUSER” (local archive). The paper is very well researched with lots of footnotes quoting many very reliable sources.
gun ownership vs murder rate in europe

Nation		Murder Rate Rate of Gun Ownership
Russia		20.54 [2002] 4,000
Luxembourg	9.01 [2002] c. 0
Hungary		2.22 [2003] 2,000
Finland		1.98 [2004] 39,000
Sweden		1.87 [2001] 24,000
Poland		1.79 [2003] 1,500
France		1.65 [2003] 30,000
Denmark		1.21 [2003] 19,000
Greece		1.12 [2003] 11,000
Switzerland	0.99 [2003] 16,000
Germany		0.93 [2003] 30,000
Norway		0.81 [2001] 36,000
Austria		0.80 [2002] 17,000

“Hey wait!” you say, “If I squint at that data, it looks like there is a NEGATIVE correlation between gun ownership and the murder rate.” Yup. Read on.

The same pattern appears when comparisons of violence to gun ownership are made within nations. Indeed, “data on firearms ownership by constabulary area in England,” like data from the United States, show “a negative correlation,”


A second misconception about the relationship between firearms
and violence attributes Europe’s generally low homicide rates to stringent gun control. That attribution cannot be accurate since murder in Europe was at an all‐time low before the gun controls were introduced.


two recent studies are pertinent. In 2004, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research. It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents.15 The same conclusion was reached in 2003 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s review of thenextant studies

Again, this paper uses extensive footnotes. Don’t take their word for it, take the word of the more than 100 experts in the field they quote which include folks like the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and fricking everybody. Read it for yourself and follow the footnotes.

Sally, you also wrote, “No one really needs an AK47 for example. I also don’t think the 2nd amendment meant for individuals to bear arms”

This is simple. Answer two questions for me.

  • What is the general purpose of a militia? (to fight a war)
  • Who is expected to supply the armaments in a militia, the government or the individual members? Since the express purpose of the Bill of Rights as stated in its preamble is to prevent the abuse of the powers of the government, the answer must be “the individual members”.

So, lets say that you are a militia member. Would you want to own a crappy gun or a good gun? Let’s take that one unnerving step further and say you are a government who’s people you want to abuse. Would you want militias to have crappy guns or good guns?

Sally says, “And the beautiful thing about this country, even though sometimes we all complain about it, is that we can all disagree. :)”

And if you want to keep your right to disagree as stated in the First Amendment, I suggest you support all the others with all your strength! Please support the second amendment by calling Governor Schwarzenegger today!

Too Much To Do!

Mon 9-21 – Dinner with Charlotte in Alameda, Air Gun obtainment!

Tues 9-22 – Adventure dinner out to Glen Park, getting picnic supplies at Canyon Market, discovering  Eggettes, having a picnic on our living room floor, seeing lit candles outside our door and happy birthday song from Cindy!

Wed 9-23 – Dorkbot with Mark Pauline, getting beer for Schuyler at Dorkbot and telling someone “Yeah, Schuyler’s younger than he loo.. oops”, then drinks with Erik at Tempest!

Thurs 9-24 Noisebridge with Schuyler, discovering the capacitive properties of old keyboards

Fri 9-25 Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley concert at Shoreline Amphitheater with Charlotte, Rick and 40,000 screaming hot chicks.

Sat 9-26 Greek Food Festival! Greek Food Coma!! Very fun Kinky Salon as John Bender! Dare I say that much of the evening was quite wholesome!

Sun 9-27 Rest! I DIDN’T go to the Hand Car Regatta, the Folsom Street Fair (I feel I should go at least ONCE in my life, oh well), or the Greek Food Festival (I was still in butter shock from yesterday!   But I did go to Noisebridge for a while to hack on some SWARMie stuff and some nice guy’s Arduino project.