Opinel #7: Beautiful Practicality

N_7VRN_COUTEAU_CARBONE45.00We use them everywhere: in the kitchen, wood shop, fishing, camping, arts and crafts, and so many other areas. Knives are one of the most versatile and ubiquitous ‘tools’ that man has probably ever made: everything from the flint sharp knives of yesteryear to the latest greatest super-steel blades of the present. As an ex-avid follower of the knife industry, I can say that it is just as prone to fads as any other industry. However, this fact makes the designs that endure year after year all the more intriguing, and today I want to introduce a specific brand that has been in production for over 120 years: Opinel.

Opinel, a French knife manufacturer, made its first folding knife in the year 1890. Characterized by a hardwood handle, carbon steel blade, and collar lock, the knife is numbered according to blade size. Today I will be talking about the #7 (one of the more ‘mid-sized’ folders), however, all the knives share the same materials and build, just coming in different blade and handle sizes.

The no. 7 Opinel is characterized by a 3 and 3/16″ blade, 7. 1/16″ overall length, and 1.3 oz total weight. The handle is constructed from a solid piece of beechwood machined in a circular shape. This keeps the handle incredibly lightweight, but also provides a hand-filling shape that many thin or flat handled folding knives cannot match. The blade is X90 carbon steel, with a clip point shape and full face flat grind (fffg).

So, what makes the knife so enduring? There are many facets that contribute to this knife’s continuing popularity -but the chief of them is ‘beautiful functionality’. What I mean by this is that the knife is so well suited to its intended functionality that there is a sense of beauty in the design (distinct from aesthetic beauty -although it has that too). The knife is incredibly lightweight which means that it is effortless to carry and ‘disappears’ into your pants pocket. Also, as was mentioned earlier, the roundness of the handle fills the hand nicely and makes for a very comfortable grip whenever using the knife. The only downside to the handle is that it is solid wood -if it gets wet it swells and can make the blade very difficult to open or close. The blade is full face flat ground, meaning that the grind creating the cutting edge of the knife extends from the spine of the blade all the way down to the edge in a straight line. This produces a low angle and an edge that gets incredibly sharp, as well as reducing drag when cutting into vegetables, sandwiches, and other things (see image below for pictorial representation).

 

Grinds1
Diagram of blade geometry: full face flat grind is on the left

The blade is carbon steel on my particular model. While there are stainless steel models, I would definitely have no problem recommending the carbon version. The blade dulls somewhat quickly, but I have not found another knife that is as easy to sharpen and will take such a razor-like edge. Also, if you are worried about corrosion resistance with the carbon steel, you can always force a patina on the blade to protect against red rust (essentially corroding the blade with a chemical -kind of like bluing a gun). Finally, the collar lock on the knife is highly functional and simple to use. It provides the necessary protection to keep the blade from cutting one’s fingers but requires virtually no maintenance and blends with the aesthetics of the knife. Also, out of all the knives out there, the Opinel offers incredible opportunities for customization of the handle. Opinel even sells versions of their knives with ‘raw’ wood handles to allow wood carvers to make unique pieces of art. While this knife has existed for over a century, and has a lot going for it, it will only set you back a mere $12.39 on Amazon.

Custom carved Opinel
http://www.couteaux-berthier.com/custom-opinel-knife-n-boxwood-sea-horse-carved-n-1,us,4,OPINEL8hippocampe1.cfm

When carrying a knife day to day I would like to say that the price paid is equivalent to the time a knife spends in my pocket. However, I have knives costing many times the Opinel’s price that get less wear time than this sub $15 knife. The incredible light weight, combined with razor sharp blade and easy use design, means the Opinel keeps finding its way into my pocket over many other fancier knives. Sometimes the old ways really are best. If you’re in the market for a simple pocket knife to have for general use give the Opinel a look: it offers great design and will most likely set you back less than more modern and expensive blades.

 

Brew Reviews Round 2

I’ve had a few since last I wrote on good brews. Here’s what I tried, in varying lengths:

Old Tom’s Original Ale

I was excited about this one because it was lauded as one of the world’s finest malted ales. It has won numerous awards in Britain, so I understand that they are quite fond of it. Plus, it’s named after the brewery’s original cat. What’s not to love there?

All in all, this drink had a decent strength to it, but little complexity. There was a hint of what tasted like an English toffee to it. At 8.5% ABV, it was worth a drink. Nice and dark, but simple. All around, I’d give it a B. Certainly enjoyable, but it doesn’t capture one’s interest the way some others have.

Adnam’s Tally-Ho

This was also an English Ale, and weighing in at 9.0% ABV I was expecting it to pack a punch up front. It surprised me, with a smooth drink from start to finish. The mouth feel was enjoyable and more noticeable than Old Tom’s, and the taste was more complex with some hints of fruit and nuts. Of the two English Ales, this would be more of a go-to for me. Easily an A.

Shiner Ruby Redbird

Despite my bias against wheat beers, I decided to give this brew a shot because I enjoy most of Shiner’s repertoire. I had this one paired with a warm pizza. Even though I pulled this drink straight from the fridge, it felt warm on the palate. It has a fruity, grapefruit taste that comes on strong, with some gentle hoppyness in the after-taste. There were some notes of what I think may have been all-spice or ginger. This beer had no head to speak of. At 4.01%, it was far from a strong drink, but paired decently with the pizza. I didn’t especially like it, but it was drinkable, and easily so. It makes for a perfect pizza beer, and was more complex than Goose Island’s offering on the last go-round. All in all, I’d give Shiner’s Ruby Redbird a C. Not great, but not bad either.

Until next time, enjoy!

My Dearest Margarita

My Dearest Margarita,

It is with the greatest regret that, for the first time in our long acquaintance, I must decline your most generous invitation of a springtime romp at your estate. I am not currently held in the highest favor around here, and running away at this juncture would seem too much like cowardice, even for me. It’s not just my stepmother who hates me, this time. Every courtier I meet looks as if they would gladly pounce on me, skewer me, and roast me over a fire in the Great Hall. Now, I know you well, and I know that you’re always thinking the best of me, and for that I truly do thank you. However, I really am rather to blame for my current situation. “My dearest Sophia!” you will say, “Are you letting your worser nature get the better of you?” To which my response will be, “Yes, I am afraid so.” To which you will respond with some inspiring speech meant to hoist me out of the doldrums for all eternity, which I will dismiss by adding, “But it was worth it.” For, you know, in every great struggle, sacrifices must be made.

The sacrifice that most immediately calls my attention is a string of violent sneezes. I am currently confined to my bed with a dreadful case of the sniffles, the shakes, the spots, and other unsavory little annoyances. Indeed, the whole castle is affected various manners of sickness. How did I, the Princess Sophia, the paragon of good health (the opposite of my poor mother), become ill? Well, you shall hear.

Four days ago, I was in my tower room studying Accounts of the On the Eastern Rim of the World. (This is an excellent book that I would recommend to you, but I know that your tastes tend more towards the sentimental and than the violent.) However, I will admit that for once my thoughts were not on my reading. Instead, I was meditating on what to do concerning His Royal Highness, King Darren of Rongolan. You know, that stuffy little northwestern kingdom that you always forget during geography exams. So far, His Excellency’s visit was going splendidly. That was a circumstance I was determined to set aright.

You know, of course, that my most honored stepmother is determined to see me married off to some foreign person of importance. She is so violently set on it that I, even I, the ever-stubborn, have, in the darkest hours of the night, thought it only slightly inconceivable that I might give in to one or two of the more tolerable candidates. But, honestly, am I to get married off and let her brat inherit the kingdom? Not likely! You know my good father’s health isn’t what it should be, which means she would be regent for her spawn! Leave her to ruin the kingdom with her “exquisite taste in diamonds” (which she already does behind my father’s back)? No!

Yes, yes, I will calm down now. All this to say that, at the moment King Darren arrived, I immediately put on my least flattering gown (yes, it’s the one you’re thinking of) and, of course, I began squinting. Even if the kingdom wasn’t at stake, I believe I should still resist his majesty. I don’t want to waste good deal of paper attempting to describe the dullness of his character. Know this: He has a dark mustache shiny with much too much scented oil. That should tell you everything you really need to know about him. That, and that he simply would not go away! He oozed around the castle for a full month! I was actually a little bit…perturbed, shall we say.

And so, I sat in my tower and stared into space, thinking of how to get rid of the King. Of course, I came up with a plan; I always do. But it involved one of the people I was recently lamenting about: my half-brother, little Henry.

When I arrived at his “schoolroom” (as it is called), the little fool was screaming at the top of his lungs and effectively ruining a fine sheet of paper by tearing it into shreds. His tutor was covering his hears and wincing. I therefore offered to take Henry on a short walk to calm him down. I was not refused; the poor tutor looked positively grateful. We walked along the corridors on the east side of the castle, the quietest section.

“Henry, dear,” I said, “There is something I would very much like you to do for me.”

“WHY?” Henry is currently at that stage where he can’t say anything quietly.

“Well, it would be very funny, you know. It would be quite exciting.”

“WHAT IS IT?” he asked. I could tell I had successfully captured his interest.

The actual conversation took a good while; my stepbrother is quite dense, even for a five year old. The long and the short of it is this: I raided the apothecary’s medicine cabinet. I helped myself to all those nasty herbs and powders, the kinds that bring on sneezing and vomiting and other things. I gave them to Henry, with this admonishment: “Now, Henry, remember, you must sprinkle this substance only on King Darren and his courtier’s plates.”

“ALRIGHT.” Ah, fool that I was not to detect that gleam in his eye as he snatched the substances! I even failed to discern the true meaning behind that little grin of his as we returned to his “lessons.”

That evening, I entered the dining hall…oh, why should I prolong the matter? You have doubtless guessed what occurred. I was doing my best to be as nasty a conversationalist as possible to King Darren, who was seated next to me, when my stepmother, who was lounging next to my father, began to sneeze. Indeed, I began to notice an uncanny amount of sneezes and belching among the populace in general. Shortly after, I began to experience symptoms, as well as the King. Then I noticed that my dear brother, Henry, hadn’t eaten a thing, not even his favorite strawberry tarts. Shortly after that, we all felt too ill to continue our supper, and promptly staggered to our own chambers bed.

I am supremely grateful my dear father eats only gruel now, which Henry didn’t touch. And while King Darrin and his entourage are laid up, I shall take care to have my usual Rumor Ring get to work. You know, whispered conversations between two bedside servants about the all my horrible qualities, including my notoriously squinty eyes.

Thus, I shall hope to have the King driven off by the time of his recovery. I have half a mind to punish Henry…but in the end, I think I won’t. He is just a silly child, after all. I shall have greater foes to conquer once I ascend the throne. To be completely honest with you, I must admit a certain chagrin that I didn’t think of plaguing my stepmother myself. I can imagine she looks properly terrible.

With All Fondness,

Sophia

Good Design

Have you ever tried to pull a door open only to realize it needed to be pushed instead? Or pushed on the wrong side of a door before discovering the correct side?

The_Design_of_Everyday_Things_(cover_1988)If so, then you have experienced what Don Norman criticizes in his book The Design of Everyday Things: poor design. Poor design is all around us–if you’ve ever attempted to plug in a USB device and had to try again because you attempted to insert it upside down, then you’ve experienced what Norman is talking about.

Norman also discusses the factors that accompany good design. These include discoverability and usability. Users should be able to figure out simple devices by the use of visual or audible cues–a vertical metal bar fastened to the right side of a door suggests “push here,” just as a visible hinge column can indicate a door may be pulled. Norman calls these visual cues “signifiers,” and they indicate what sort of functionality a device or object affords.

poor design
poor design – this symmetrical head make it easy to attempt to connect upside-down.
better design
better design – this asymmetrical head makes the proper orientation visually apparent.

The Design of Everyday Things is the sort of book that even non-designers (i.e. most people) will appreciate, allowing them to identify design flaws and make better decisions about what they buy and use, because appliances with good design can save time and frustration. One of the paradoxes of design is that when a device has good design, the design becomes invisible. Only when something is poorly designed do we notice the device–that’s why we notice doors when they don’t open as we expect, software that doesn’t give feedback to our actions, and…containers of liquid with bad spouts that slosh when poured (just to point out an example from the past week!).

Good design is critical to making everyday life easier and frustration-free. While The Design of Everyday Things is a good read, simply being aware of a few design principles–making a device discoverable by the use of visual or aural signifiers, providing feedback to users–will make life more enjoyable.

Do you have any experiences with good or bad design? Share in the comments below!

Linux: Part 2

512px-Tux.svgLast month I gave a brief intro to this series about Linux, and as was mentioned at the end of the last post, today’s article will cover some key facts for Windows users to understand about Linux that will make comparing the different distributions easier, and then talk a bit about Linux Mint (my distribution of choice).

Key Facts:
1. Distribution (distro): unlike Windows, there are many different ‘flavors’ or ‘versions’ of the Linux operating system. Each distribution will have its own unique quirks, but many of the different versions have much more in common than not. All distributions share the same core -called the “Linux Kernel”.
2. Desktop Environment: another major difference in user experience between Windows and Linux is that while Windows comes with one user interface (start button, windows explorer, etc…), Linux has dozens (and maybe even hundreds) of desktop environments to choose from. Some of the top ones are: Unity, Gnome, KDE, XFCE, OpenBox, MATE, and LXDE.
3. Terminal: unlike in Windows where the “Command Prompt” is virtually never touched, Linux makes heavier use of its Terminal: a screen to input text commands directly to the operating system. Although most mainstream distributions are far enough along that you should only rarely have to touch the terminal, learning how to master it can actually save you lots of time. While graphical user interfaces look pretty and are less intimidating to inexperienced users, nothing beats the efficiency and raw speed of working via text commands. Also, EVERY Linux distro is going to require at least some use of the Terminal, so bear that in mind whenever considering moving over from Windows.
4. Repository (Repo): Whereas most Windows software is downloaded as files off of the internet, Linux distributions use what are called “Repos”. A repository is a collection of software. Rather than downloading individual files from websites, a few simple commands on the Terminal enables you to automatically download and install software to your Linux system. This makes keeping up with software much easier than managing individual files, and since software is constantly updated in the repositories you don’t have to worry about manually updating/reinstalling software to get new versions.Think of repositories as being sort of like “app stores” in iOS or Android. However, if you still prefer to download individual files and run them manually Linux supports that as well.
5. File Structure: on Windows you have the classic file structure that always starts with “C:\”, also called your “c” drive. However, Linux does not operate this way. In reality no computer actually has a “C:\” drive, it’s just something that Windows made up and happens to be on every computer that they make. However, Linux just puts its operating system files onto the hard drive, giving you a very accurate idea of where files are actually located within the operating system.

kxYj8-WgEnough with the snippets of information. Next I would like to use some of the above terms to describe my preferred Linux distribution: Linux Mint.

  1. Distribution: Mint is currently one of the most popular Linux distributions in terms of monthly downloads. Mint is based off of Debian (another Linux distro unto itself), and thus shares some traits. However, some the defining characteristics that make Linux Mint a great choice are:
    a. Large User Base: if you have problems, chances are you can easily find a solution online where somebody else had a similar issue. I have yet to come across a problem that did not already have a solution.
    b. Intuitive Install Process: Mint uses a guided install process that is intuitive for the most part, and manages the complexity of system install well.
    c. Complete Package: Linux Mint, right out of the box, offers a complete experience: email, internet, office software, graphics software, music players, messenger apps, etc. This makes Mint an excellent choice for those who are new to Linux, or people who like to have a completely functional system from start up. Also, Mint does an excellent job of installing drivers and managing your computer’s hardware, meaning that minimal tweaking and ‘fixing’ will have to be done to keep the operating system running at peak performance.

  2. Desktop Environments: Out of the box, Mint comes packaged with 3 main desktop environments to choose from: MATE, Cinnamon, and XFCE. If you are used to a Windows machine, MATE and Cinnamon are the closest parallels and offer very solid functionality. Out of those two, if you really want slick looking graphics, go with Cinnamon. XFCE is nothing like Windows in terms of layout, however it is lighter weight on system resources than either of the previous two, and anyone who doesn’t care about eye-candy and just wants raw light-weight performance should look here.

mate
MATE
cinnamon-1.3
Cinnamon
xfce-1
XFCE
  1. Terminal: out of all of the distros, Mint does not require as much use of Terminal as some more advanced or minimal distributions. However, it is always there if you want to learn it (believe me, its so much more efficient than using the mouse).

  2. Repository: Mint has a very good software repository. I have been able to find almost all the software I need in it. Also, while you can use Terminal to download or update software, Mint included a very handy software center that you can search for, and download, software through.

For somebody moving from Windows, Mint is probably one of the best options: offers a robust and fully featured system out of the box and also includes 3 highly functional desktop environments 2 of which are very reminiscent of Windows. Finally, the ability to complete many tasks without using Terminal, and the extensive software available through its Repository, make Mint an excellent choice for those looking to get their feet wet in the Linux pool for the first time.