Archive for the ‘Thingophilia’ Category

Lately, my main mode of transportation has been my Xtracycle cargo bike. Recently, I made my biggest haul home from the office, which included a Cuisinart ice cream maker from Amazon. Stay tuned for ice cream updates.


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I get it. I’m not breaking any new ground here by telling you about the Holga. You have one. Your friend who’s a graphic designer–the guy who wears denim cutoffs and oversized ironic sunglasses–told you about it and you bought one on Amazon. Maybe Urban Outfitters. But here’s the thing: hipsters aren’t always wrong, and trends can be fun to follow. I was certainly seduced by this particular hipster trend, and I’m not sorry about it.

For the uninformed, the Holga is basically a very cheap, plastic camera that takes poor pictures in an unpredictable way. Meet Holga:


It’s the unpredictability that’s fun. A digital camera, by contrast, is like a meal at a chain restaurant. You know exactly what you’re going to get. And yes, most of the time, that predictability is great. But one of the forgotten pleasures of shooting film is the mystery and sense of anticipation that lies between shooting and developing. The Holga takes that mystery and turns it into pure chaos.

These are the few (barely) salvageable images from my last Holga roll, which goes all the way back to our famous road trip. They all have the Holga’s characteristic vignetting, one of its more charming tendencies. But they also have an odd out-of-focus look, which may be due to some sort of double exposure. Or maybe there’s something wrong with the lens. Could’ve been light leaking into the camera, too. Holga is known for that. I can’t tell exactly. This is the first time she played this particular trick on me.

Also, you can also clearly see the effects of double exposure in the light vertical strips on the sides of the images. I had the camera on the wrong setting and wasn’t advancing the film far enough after each shot. Check out the right side of this photo:


But the more time I spend with these photos, the more I like them. I am a fan of the accidental. This entire blog, after all, is dedicated to my love of aimlessness. And what represents that better than photographs that are accidentally blurry, grainy overlap with each other, and yet for some reason are oddly intriguing?


I snapped this just after seeing Funny People at the Alamo. Great movie, by the way.


I suppose it’s fun to screw up when there are no consequences. It’s fun to stumble. You see the world in a new way when you’re falling down. And for some reason, when the picture is blurry you spend more time looking for the details. Maybe there’s something there worth finding.


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It’s great when something does more than one thing for you. In the case of mobile phones, it’s nice when they can double as a camera, for example, as it means you have one less thing to carry around. Alton Brown also makes a pretty persuasive case for what he calls multitaskers in the kitchen. He’s not a fan of the garlic press, for example, because it only does that one thing.

But sometimes it’s nice–charming even–when something does merely one thing. It helps, of course, if it does that one thing in style. Witness this little charmer we picked up at Giant Robot in San Francisco.


It really is charming. And that isn’t just a matter of it’s style, but a reflection of its simplicity. Sure it only does one thing, but it does it reliably and without confusion. It doesn’t crash. It requires no tech support.

And there’s also the dial. The digital world has removed many of the dials, knobs, and rotors from our lives, in exchange for buttons and sliders. I suppose it’s just nice to have something round around.

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When I worked in advertising, I’d often hear the following tidbit recited to prospective clients: The average American encounters something like 3,000 marketing messages every single day. We were of course citing this statistic without the least hint of irony even as we were trying to worsen the problem.

However transparent our aim, the premise was true: We Americans are marketed to constantly. (“Marketed at” might be more a more apt way to put it.) And while everyone likes to flatter themselves by claiming immunity to the effects of these messages, we are wrong. Even if we don’t naively believe the promises of advertising, marketers manage to worm their way into our lives in more subtle, and often insidious ways.

One example is shaving. How many of us have been sucked into the arms race that shaving has become? Now, feast your eyes on this little beauty. It’s a Merkur Hefty Classic Safety Razor. Guess how many blades it has? Just one. Guess how much they cost? Less than $0.60 a piece.

Razor 1

But here’s the real point: this razor (and most similar ones) will give you the best shave of your life. You’ll realize that those multi-blade Gillette monstrosities have been the cause of the very problem they claim to solve. What they really offer is a slightly better sandpaper to abuse your face with when all you need is one simple, well-angled blade.

Razor 2

I’m not going to go into all the details here, but there’s a whole ritual to be discovered. It’s called “wet shaving.” Google it. My brother Jon told me about the whole thing initially, and even gave me this badger hair shave brush for Christmas a couple of years ago. Here it is next to some of Eliza’s makeup and a Frida Kahlo matchbox we picked up in Mexico (which probably deserves its own post).

Razor 3

For more reading and products, check out Classic Shaving and The Gentleman’s Refinery. You’ll see, especially at Classic Shaving, that there’s not a lot of sophisticated marketing going into selling these razors. But they work, and they’re beautiful to boot.

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