Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Human Drift

It's amazing how some things withstand the test of time like the safety razor.  Despite all the great technological improvement, many of which King Camp Gillette imagined himself in The Human Drift, the safety razor is as valued today as it was when Gillette patented it in 1880.

I came across a little biography of Gillette some years back and was amazed to learn of the man behind the razor, whose brand name still exists on safety blades today.  He had imagined a utopia, which he called Metropolis on the site of Niagara Falls designed to house millions and using the hydro-power to generate electricity.  It is very classical in inspiration, no doubt taken from the ideas of Etienne-Louis Boullee, who had imagined a similar structure a hundred years before in his Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton.

However, other instruments haven't fared so well, like the slide rule, which Newton would have used himself over 300 years ago.  It's an amazing device, which NPR pays homage to in this new series.  It remained in use into the early 70s before the calculator replaced it.

I remember having to learn how to use one for math class.  I still have my Dad's old slide rule, along with his Brunton compass, which is still made today, and a little mini sextant he used for survey maps of geological veins in Africa.  He would tell me stories as he taught me how to use his slide rule.  I still have all those instruments in their respective leather cases.

I still have my grandfather's silver-plated safety razor as well,  which I continue to use today.  My son was wanting a safety razor of his own, so I bought him a nice butterfly razor, which he is very happy with.  While technological breakthroughs have made slide rules, Brunton compasses and sextants obsolete (barring a zombie apocalypse), you still can't  beat the close shave of a safety razor.

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