Friday, September 30, 2016

A Gear Geek Abroad by Grayson Parker

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Grayson Parker took a trip to Ireland recently and he wrote something of a gear-centric travel log.  Grayson's writing is great and his taste in gear is equally good.  Enjoy and thanks Grayson. 


Travel can be stressful on anyone, but read around on gear-related forums and you’ll see a particular dread for it. As a community, we value being prepared, and that impulse naturally kicks into overdrive traveling to an unknown land. When the TSA or foreign law forces us to abandon that approach, it can cause a fair amount of distress.

I’ve just returned from a short trip to Ireland. After adjusting for some flight delays, we had four and a half days to see as much of the country as we could. We did all of the typical tourist kitsch: explored castles and pubs in equal measure, panicked at driving on the left side of the road, and ate more meat products than doctors recommend. (Black pudding is delicious, by the way). But this isn’t a travel journal, so I won’t go on about what we did. I will say that Ireland is a lovely country with delicious food and excellent beer, and leave it at that. What I want to do here is detail my travel experiences as a gear geek abroad.

This article will go over what worked and what didn’t during the trip. Before anyone asks, no, I didn’t bring (or need) a knife during the trip. Like much of Europe, Ireland’s knife laws are tied to intent. If you have a knife out in public, you can be charged by the Garda unless you can demonstrate that you have a good reason. As such, I thought it prudent to leave my sharps behind. It didn’t seem worth it, and I’d have to check my bag to do so.

What I’m glad I brought

Fear not, I won’t go through every item I packed into my trusty Synapse 25. I’d have you snoring at the minutiae in seconds. Instead, I’ll just touch on some of the particulars. What kept me occupied (at the expense of my family’s sanity) over the trip was my Ti2 Design Techliner Shorty. I’ve tried to transition away from fidgeting with knives, and the Techliner has been the nicotine patch to my cigarette. I also spent a fair amount of the flight writing review notes, and the Techliner did well in that role.


Most of our nights were spent in B&Bs in the Irish countryside, and twice we walked back from dinner at the local pub after dark. Here, my Zebralight H52w was quite handy. As a travel light, I can’t recommend it enough. It takes a common battery, functions as a headlamp, and boasts excellent performance. In the event it's lost, the H52w is cheap enough that replacement isn’t a burden.


In my review of the Zebralight H52w, I noted that the user interface was a bit complex, but registered no real complaints. That assessment may need to change. While the plane was preparing to disembark, I was removing the accumulated crud from my pockets, and in the process handed the light to my girlfriend, who accidentally turned it on. In her efforts to turn it off, she activated the strobe feature. I turned it off quickly enough that I don’t think anyone noticed, but the last thing I need on an eight hour flight is the flight marshal wondering where the strobe light came from.

As an afterthought, I threw my Tru-Nord brass compass in my backpack, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t used for navigation - the roads were difficult enough to manage with GPS - but it was nice to have on the flight. With it, I could roughly figure how far along the flight was by the direction of the plane.

What I wish I brought

One of the biggest challenges during the trip was keeping my smartphone charged, as mine was one of two that had service. GPS was a necessity, so my battery was often drained before noon. I’m not an exceptionally good planner, and I put off buying some essentials until the day before.. What I ended up in the last-minute rush was a shitty charging cable and an overpriced battery pack. The battery pack wasn’t awful, just more expensive than it should have been, but the cable needed to be held at just the right angle to actually charge my phone. Don’t buy Belkin.

It seems like a no-brainer, but I wish I brought my Leatherman Style PS. The combination of tools it offers is small, but well suited for travel. It can handle most odd grooming needs and get you into the clamshell standing between you and whatever you forgot to pack. As it stands, I discovered that the spring on the scissors snapped a few days before we left. I looked around town for a replacement, but to no avail.

Also, my approach to clothing was completely wrong. Since the trip was so short, I thought a few simple outfits would do the trick, and that I’d just take an hour one night to wash whatever needed washing. My plan backfired. The trip was SO short that I never had the time nor the inclination to do so. I ended up spending the last day (plus the trip back) feeling rather shabby. It didn’t help that our last night was spent here:


What I wish I left behind

Sad to say, I wish I left my HALO carabiner behind.


I brought it along because I wanted a multitool I could fidget with, but I ended up stressing out so much over what airport security would think that I tossed it in a relative’s checked bag. While abroad, I never once used it. There was plenty of beer involved, but always in a pub, so the bottle opener was unnecessary. The flathead could have been used in a pinch, but such an instance never arose. Looking back, I should have avoided the headache and left it behind.

General Observations

I couldn’t pretend to have a feel for the gear culture (or lack thereof) in Ireland. I did jot down my observations, however, so take them as you will.

1. I saw one man using a SAK to prepare a picnic lunch in the town square at Cashel. No one seemed to mind.

2. There was not a pocket clip in sight, and I tend to notice such things.

3. I found three stores selling Swiss Army Knives, and one selling Leatherman. These stores sold either sporting goods or gifts for men (their branding, not mine).

4. Coors Light is on tap at Irish pubs. This isn’t gear related. I’m just disappointed that shitty beer made it across the pond.

5. Hamilton watches are sold in the Dublin airport. I was sorely tempted.

6. No snakes.


Monday, September 26, 2016

August 2016 Carry

I just got this in before the calendar flipped.  August is one of my favorite months of year, in no small part because, for a week, my family and my parents all go on vacation to Maine.  Specifically we venture up to Mount Desert Island, get a beautiful beach house, and go hiking, morning, noon, and night.  We are either on a trail, on a mountain, or on a rocky beach exploring.  With my peeps around me there is very little more I would want out of life.

This year we got some new gear to go with us and that stuff hung around for most of the month in pictures.  Eugene was kind enough to express ship me the 247 so that I got it for the vacation and the result was some sweet photos, like this one:

Olamic Wayfarer 247 and Muyshondt Aeon Mk. 3

Every vista on Mount Desert Island is spectacular, even the pine choked shorelines.  Here is a close up.  During the trip we played an animal spotting game and to keep track I used an LL Bean Field Notes special edition to, you know, make notes while in the field. Here is a shot of that set up, again with the Wayfarer (yep, I really liked it):

LL Bean Field Notes, Olamic Wayfarer 247, MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen, the Mk. III Aeon, and a found worry stone

Other knives were either taken with me or purchased on the way.  One I was delighted to find was the unheralded but very capable Kershaw Speedform II:

MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen, Klarus Mi-7, and the Speedform II

As intriguing as the Speedform II is, the Klarus is equal parts awful.  Its switch is a nightmare and the UI is bad, bad, bad.  And while I like something different than black everything, that blue is not exactly my favorite.

Speaking of blue gear I like, here is a great pairing:

Olight S1 Baton and the Spyderco Roadie

These two are just so good, both separately and together, that if you weren't a gear geek, but wanted a very competent pair, I'd be hard pressed to recommend something much better than these.  I love the Roadie--the Spyderco answer to many a Case slipjoints.

It wasn't all play and no work.  I went to work the majority of the month and when I did this was a common carry:

MBI HF-R, Chris Reeve Mnandi, and Pilot Metropolitan

You know that old reviewer trope--"If I didn't know the price...," well I didn't know the price of the Pilot fountain pen that came in the Blue Box review sample I got from Massdrop (review coming soon).  It turns out that it was the Metropolitan and it is a really cheap fountain pen.  Color me surprised, preferrably with Kon Peki, because it is amazing.

Well, the weather is starting to get cooler and fall is my favorite season, so look for more and interesting carry.

Obligatory Busse Update

At some point this coming month of October we are getting our very large maple and oak trees trimmed back.  I did some negotiating and in exchange for a good sized discount the tree folks have agreed to leave everything behind.  Secretly, I would have paid them to do so, as it means an opportunity to use my favorite tools--saws, axes, and knives.  That said, this will be the largest ever trim our trees have received, so it is possible I will be sawing, chopping, and cutting for a few weekends.  If someone out there answers my prayers the Busse will arrive before the Chopacylpse.  If it doesn't I will be one mopey amateur lumberjack.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Olamic Cutlery Wayfarer 247 Review

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.  And thanks for indulging me for the crazy op-ed responses.

If you are a knife knut to any real degree you have a list of knives in your head that you eventually plan on getting around to trying out.  Over the months or years it just keeps floating beneath the level of "buy."  Its there, you like it, but something else comes out and catches your fancy, over and over again.  For me that knife is the Al Mar Falcon Ultralight.  It looks wonderful and has a clip, unlike its little brother, but I have never had the chance to just pull the trigger.  It was one of those "get around to it" knives.  This knife was another.  But unlike the Falcon, which costs around a $130, this knife was tremendously expensive, especially in the upgrades version of the midtech.  As reviewed, the knife was probably around $525.  Not exactly an impulse buy.

But man am I glad I got a chance to try this blade out.  It is easily, easily, the nicest of the midtechs I have handled.  It is very easily on par or better than quite a few customs I have held.  It is hard to call a knife this expensive a value, but like the Sebenza, it really is.  What an amazing knife.  I was blown away the first time I fired it open.  The speed, the sound, the weightiness, it all was nearly breathtaking.  The Wayfarer 247 has me questioning only one thing about Olamic--how could the custom be any better?  And that, my friends, is the very best thought a midtech could put in your head. 

Here is the product page. The Wayfarer 247 costs around $400 stock.  As reviewed it is around $525. Here is a written review. Here is a video review from Auston.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Wayfarer 247 (sometimes), and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Pure, solid awesomeness.

Design: 2

The Wayfarer 247 is a smaller version of the custom Wayfarer and both have pleasingly brawny, if traditional lines.  There is a substantial pommel, the blade is a classic spear/drop point shape, the handle slabs are thick and substantial.  On paper, the knife's design doesn't seem groundbreaking--it's full of very good, but very safe choices.  Nothing wrong with that.  

But it's the small touches that really bring the design from good to great.  The copper colored pivot and screws are nice, purely aesthetic, but nice.


The chamfering around the handle is well done, both aiding in grip and nice looking.  But one detail that really surprised me was the floating backspaces.  This is not a design feature you see on many knives, especially midtechs.  

In a sea of same-same midtechs, Olamic took the titanium slab framelock flipper and did something with it.  The pushback in the community against these midtechs has risen to a pretty loud chorus--most are nothing exciting, a bland version of a custom and/or a knife that lacks the panache of some of Spyderco's nicer offerings, but here with a solid design and eye catching details, the Wayfarer is better than a lot of the competition.  

The performance ratios, because of the heft of the knife, aren't going to blow anyone away. The blade:weight is .70--this a beefy cutter.  The blade:handle is .73, which is actually quite decent, better than the Delica's .68, for example. 

Fit and Finish: 2

Eugene at Olamic talked at length on the Modern Neanderthal podcast about how much work goes into all of their knives and it clearly shows.  Everything was drum tight, there was no blade play, no wiggle in the lockbar when engaged, nothing.  Furthermore, every surface was error-free and the blade finish itself was one of the nicest satin finishes I have seen.  The clip was tight without being excessively grippy.  In short, everything felt 100% dialed in.  As you will see this is a theme that will be repeated in this review--the Wayfarer 247 is just dialed in.  

Grip: 2

I am not a fan of overly complex grips and the pistol grip here is right on the line of being too much.


But after a week carrying the Wayfarer will hiking in Maine and another three weeks carrying and using it in regular everyday situations I can say that the grip was very good.  Strange as it may seem, the Wayfarer reminded me of a Becker handle, or at least the back half of a Becker handle and that is a very good thing.   There are some negative side effects of the pistol grip (see: Carry, below), but in term  of in-hand feel, you won't find many flaws. 

Carry: 1

You know I don't like big and heavy knives.  That's pretty much a given by now.  The Wayfarer 247 is an example of why.  With all of the metal in the butt end of the handle, the knife just feels awkward in the pocket.  It's not terrible thanks to a very well-positioned pocket clip, but even among similarly sized knives such as the larger and heavier Eraser, the Wayfarer feels awkward.  It felt like I was carrying a hockey puck around in my pocket.  On long and steep climbs it became noticeable.  Around town and around the house, it wasn't too bad, hence the score of 1.  But be aware--the Wayfarer is bulky and this is where it shows.  If you a person that loves big knives (and really, who doesn't love the feeling of a Mag 2D in the pocket, swinging away), ignore this lost point.  

Steel: 2

The review sample ran Elmax and despite what the Elmax Myth tells me, I have yet another data point confirming that Elmax is a damn good steel.  I used the Wayfarer to do a lot of stuff in the month I had it and aside from a bit of stropping it was fine.  And the reality is that if you wipe your blade down, strop it, and dab some oil on it every once in a while, it will look good as new for a long time, especially if the steel is something like Elmax.  In a way, I am glad the Elmax Myth occurred--people have moved on and now, without the glare of the community focused on it, Elmax can surprise us again, as we come back to it and realize, well, this is a damn good steel.  Think of it as this generation of steel's RWL34.

Blade Shape: 2

The Wayfarer has something of a drop point blade, a good deal of belly, and a sharp but not thin tip.  It is, in the performance sense, 100% awesome.  If I was picking nits, I would point out that the awkward hump on the spine, but it has zero impact on performance and the rest of the knife is so visually arresting I just don't care that much.

Grind: 2

Perhaps this is why I don't care so much about the hump--the grind here is not just immaculate, it is actually so well done that it is beautiful.


Grinder satin is not hard to do, engine turning or engraving it is not, but, when done well, it is actually something to behold and here, it is that good.  The big thing that always concerns me about thick knives is something I like to call the "Strider challenge."  Strider makes thick stock knives that, in my experience, just aren't great cutters.  Here, the Wayfarer handles this issue with aplomb, tapering down to a very fine, yet stable edge.  You couldn't ask for more from a blade this big and this thick.  The grind is outstanding.

Deployment Method: 2

It's a great flipper.  Truly great.  No questions asked.


But is it the best I have ever handled?....hmmm....that is a good question.  It is no doubt better than any Spyderco flipper I have had, which is saying something because they have all been good.  It is probably better than the majority of ZTs.  It is at least equal to the Steelcraft Mini Bodega.  But it's not QUITE in that upper echelon, occupied by a few knives.  It's probably a small tick below the Kizer and the the ZT0450CFZDP.  It's a bit behind my Gedraitis Pathfinder.  And it is not better than the Shrio Neon.  But the fact that it is in the same company as these great flippers should tell you something--this is one heck of a blade with a very well-executed flipper. 

Oh and the thumb hole, I couldn't get it to work at all.  Aside from its size and placement, I couldn't get a grip because the inside edge of the hole is chamfered.  But with a flipper this good, who cares?  Think of it as decoration, and unlike a thumb stud, it snags nothing.

Retention Method: 2

One thing that has vexed me since this blog started is trying to trace design ideas on knives back to their inventor.  We have some designs, like the liner lock, that have a popularizer like Michael Walker, but going beyond that is very hard.  And so too with the ball bearing at the end of a clip, which works wonderfully by the way.


I originally assumed it was designed by Todd Begg, then I went to a local knife show and saw a knife with the same feature that was clearly before Todd Begg, in fact, it was probably made before Begg was born (unless he is using some serious dark magic to preserve himself).  When I asked about the design, the owner of the knife actually told me it was taken from an even older knife and he had no idea who came up with the notion.  Regardless of who invented it, the design is great--providing quite a bit of tension while making retrieval and return a breeze.  Great clip here even if it looks a bit hot spotty.  In fact, in use I didn't find that to be the case.  Oh and in yet another "more than just a midtech" touch, the clip uses three stand offs.  How classy.

Lock: 2

You'd think well-executed frame locks would be a dime a dozen, but even now, years into the TFF (titanium framelock flipper) boom, we still see some that just aren't that good.  Here though, we have a dialed-in, spot on lock that snaps into place, remains there without much issue, and is easy to disengage, but only when you do so on purpose.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

My only ding here is one of preference.  Handling this blade tells me one simple fact--Olamic makes great stuff. I am really straining to think how their custom stuff could be better, aside from exotic materials on the handle and other embellishments.  As far as the core product is concerned, the Wayfarer is a step or two above the majority of the midtechs out there, both in terms of details, like the floating backspacer, and in terms of fit and finish.  There are no crude machining remnants or the like--just pure, solid awesomeness.  I am so glad I got around to checking out Eugene's stuff.  He and his team make great knives.  

The Competition

Well, I hate to do this to you, but this will be a cliffhanger ending to this review. I finally got my third entry into the uber-production blade shoot out this past week and I'd prefer to have the ending be organic, as opposed to forced.  Look for a head to head to head battle between the Wayfarer 247, the Steelcraft Mini Bodega, and the Shirogorov Neon.  In other words, "To Be Continued..."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Responses to Anne Trubek's Rebuttal

I wanted to post this in the comments, but it was too long.  Sorry for filling up your feed this week.

It was really nice for Anne to comment on this blog.  She is a well-known writer and does pieces for the New York Times.  For her to spend the time and energy responding to my comments is very nice of her.  That said, I am unconvinced by her responses.

Here is why: 

First, the idea that I am besmirching her character is something that I have a hard time understanding.  If she were a witness in a case of mine and I was tasked with cross examining her, I would absolutely bring out the points in which she appears biased.  Pointing out that she runs a magazine and writes and sells books about the end of cursive shows that she has a bias and bias is one of the classic ways humans determine credibility and the merits of a statement.  If your Dad says "Your roof needs replacing" that's one thing.  If a roofer trying to sell his services tells you that exact same thing, its something entirely different.  So too with pointing out where and how she makes her money.  My point is simple and not attack on her character--she is like the roofer trying to sell you a roof.  If I would have called her dumb or mean or snobby, those things constitute an attack on her character, but pointing out that she has a bias is a fair point of criticism in basically any form of argumentation.  Also note that I started my response by telling people of my bias--I like pens, handwriting, and cursive.   

As for the notion that she should seek publicity--I 100% agree with this.  She is selling her writing.  The more people that read her writing and the more people that know she is selling that writing the more likely she is to sell said writing.  But just like the Hollywood celebrity that makes money by being famous but also complains about the paparazzi, if you are staking out a position in the most respected newspaper in the world, you should be fine with criticism.  If not, then don't seek the publicity.  Being vocal in an opinion column means, by the very nature of the position, that people will be vocal with their opinions right back at you.  That is what I did.  

The buzzwords and jargon issue seems pretty clear to me--the "cognitive automaticity" argument was something that I laid out, even used the same descriptor--"term" as I referenced in the lead-in paragraph.  Sorry that she missed that. 

The derision argument is one based on a notable omission--California was conspicuous in its absence.  Maybe she genuinely didn't know, but it seems hard to miss, especially if she is doing research on this topic.  All her examples fit this stereotypical view that some (maybe not her) have of folks in the South.  It could all be a genuine mistake on her part, but I think it is fair for me to draw out the implication that it is something more. 

Its also important to note that she ties handwriting to nationalism, but again does not own up to the fact that she left out important details regarding the comments made in the Louisiana legislature.  She did the old movie trailer trick--she took the parts of the quote ("America!") that supported her argument and left out the ones that didn't ("Viva La France!").  Its hardly nationalism when an American legislator is saying "Viva La France".  Freedom Fries this ain't.

As far as her son's difficulties, there is no way to verify this.  It seems incredible to me, especially when the year it happen changed and now has blended into two years, but there is no way to confirm the claim and I'll assume its true.  But even if it is true, this doesn't prove the failings of cursive or the teaching of cursive or the correctness of Common Core abandoning cursive.  It proves, if true, that Anne's son was taught by a few terrible people.  And we all know this logic is baloney--Ted Bundy went to law school, but not every law student is a serial killer.

As for Common Core, I have no opinion on it.  I'd need to do some research before proffering an opinion and that opinion would not be germane to this blog, so...I am not going to waste time discussing something I do not know enough about to responsibly form an opinion capable of being defended in a logical and reasonable way. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Anne Trubek's Response

In a truly kind showing, Ms. Trubek contacted me and wrote a rebuttal.  Here it is, completely unedited:

It’s never fun to get a Google Alert on your name only to read a blog posts that discredits your work by citing an anonymous student review of your teaching from years ago.  There are so many attacks on my character, integrity, research methods and intelligence here. None are substantiated. You did not reach out to me to verify if any of your claims are true. You did not read my book on the topic.  Because my character and integrity have been questioned in   “A Rebuttal to the Anti-Cursive Lady: Why Anne Trubek is Wrong, ” –I’m told I lie, have no credibitily, and am opportunistic--I’d like to respond.

My op-ed presents an opinion (that’s what an op-ed is). And it contains facts. No opinions are expressed as facts. There are no factual errors in the piece. 

From this piece I learned that I “rank poorly in citation indexes.” I’m not sure how this is pertinent. Or what it means! I haven’t published a work on scholarship in fifteen years.  I have published scholarly articles, though, and they are searchable through academic databases. Mr. Scullimbrene says that “Ms. Trubek doesn't seem to be that important of a scholar.” I agree! I am not a scholar. I left academia some time ago, and stopped writing scholarship even before that. 

Mr. Scullimbrene writes that I am “a typing apologist” and am being coy and dishonest about this. His evidence that I am a “typing apologist” is a link to a piece I wrote many years ago about touch typing. The article is not evidence that I am an apologist. I am neither coy or dishonest. 

More attacks on my character, without basis, are found in the fact that I run a magazine: 

“Getting pieces published in the New York Times is great publicity for that, especially when she takes a position like she did, one that is bound to stir up controversy and give her more visibility. “

What is the implication here? Is writing an op-ed for the New York Times good publicity? Of course. But what does that have to do with my arguments about cursive? What does it have to do with my integrity or my character? . (is the implication that an “honest, credible” writer would refuse an invitation form the NYT to write an op-ed because the publicity might be suspect?) 


“ That said, running a magazine, even a digital one, while condemning cursive is a bit like using an oven instead of a fire, but still riding a horse instead owning a car. ”

I do not ever condemn cursive. I wrote a book of obscure cultural history about cursive, in fact. 

To summarize: I am dishonest and opportunistic because I once wrote about touch typing, a student I taught didn’t like me, and I wrote something for the New York Times.

Now, as for the factual errors in my piece. I am going to switch gears here and just take these one by one

1.)        “She used buzzwords and jargon, some of which were not used correctly (or misleadingly).”  

Which words? How were they used incorrectly? You never say. 

2. ) “First, there is a clear point of derision that is common among intellectuals.  Note that all of her references to backwater political entities championing cursive came from the South--Louisiana and Alabama.” 

What derision? Where? I do not ever use the words “backwater political entities”. I also never say "those rubes from backwater states love cursive."  I never say anything about the South at all. All I do is name two states were the most recent examples I found of introducing cursive bills. 

3.)        In her article Ms. Trubek also notes that when the Louisiana legislature passed the bill to include cursive in schools they shouted "America".  She attributes this to some silly link between cursive and patriotism--a form of jingoism certain intellectuals love to deride.

            I do find evidence that people are connecting cursive to nationalism—I’ve noted this over the past few years, and it is a fairly phenomenon. My evidence is not based on “a form of jingoism certain intellectuals love to deride” but, well, evidence! From transcripts and school advertisements and things others have said or written. 

4. “This brings up another point about her dismissal of the connection between cursive and American history.” 

I never dismiss such a connection. I believe cursive to be very key to understanding American history and vice versa..  I did not leave out anything because it did not suit my narrative.  If you are curious to know more about my view on American history and cursive, I write about it at length in my book 

5. Some people prefer to handwrite because it goes slower

 I agree! I know many people who do this. I argue the Common Core should not include cursive standards.  I never say cursive is not useful or a fine option. And for this reason I agree with the benefits of cursive, why automaticity is not always a goal and the other comments listed. 

At this point I still do not know which facts I apparently got wrong in the op-ed. 

Next up: 

5. “I could find no source to support her claim that Palmer replaced Spencerian because it was more manly.  Nor could I find a source to support her quotes around the phrases "powerful hygienic effect" and "initial step in reforming many a delinquent".  Ms. Trubek should have shown her work here and didn't, but the quotes make a reader think she is pointing to a historical source.  She might be, but we don't know what it is.”  

For the best discussion of this topic, see Tamara Plakins Thornton, Handwriting in America: A Cultural History. Other citations can be found in the endnotes in my book. 

6. “Then there is the claim that is simply preposterous--the fact that her son "had to stay inside during recess for much of third grade because he wrote his j’s backward."

 What can I say? It is true. I did not lie. He had a very old school, traditional teacher. After those two years—2nd and 3rd—they were both very difficult for my son—3rd being worse--  I transferred him to a private school.  Shall I send you his report cards? The notes on the interventions that happened during those years? How should I respond to this accusation that I lie?  

You write  “Frankly, this, more than anything else she wrote tells me that her argument is nothing but shit. “ 

What can I say. It happened. Also: how does an anecdote about my son make arguments about Common Core, American history, etc.  “shit”? 

The final section take up my logic:

1.)        Apparently I say : “therefore we should not lament the loss of cursive” 

But I never say this. In fact in the op-ed I say it is a loss. 

2.)        Then I'd dispute the notion that education is merely about converting raw materials (children) into workers.” 

I agree! I do not believe the goal of education is to convert children into workers. 

3.)        “ Cursive isn't dying it is transitioning and Ms. Trubek either fails to see this or ignores it because it doesn't serve her economic purpose--selling a book about the death of handwriting.”  

I agree completely! I think it is transitioning. And my book is not about the death of handwriting. It is a history of handwriting that contains 3-4 pages about its possible future. 

I believe in the liberal arts. Also: I wrote a book of obscure cultural history! That’s pretty liberal artsy! 

4.) “She is also doing something that every 5 year old does--she admits she has terrible handwriting--maybe it's the classic case of "things that I am bad at don't matter."  

 I never said it does not matter. And I spent years researching this topic. 

5.“ To be virulently anti-cursive or to cheer its demise is as intellectually tyrannical as being a cursive authoritarian as a teacher.” 

I am not either virulently anti-cursive nor do I cheer its demise. 

6.) “It's also silly to think that kids can't do both.  There is plenty of space inside our children's brains to learn how to type and how to write in cursive. “ 

Agreed! I never say children shouldn’t learn it if they want; just that they should not be graded on their ability to master it. 

7.)  “As her RateMyProfessor reviews say more than once, she is stating an opinion (and an ill-formed one at that) as fact.  “

I argue that the logic of the Common Core is sound. That’s an opinion, stated as such, published in the Opinion section of a newspaper. 

I thank you for the chance to respond to these attacks of my honestly, credibility, and intelligence. 

Anne Trubek

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Rebuttal to the Anti-Cursive Lady: Why Anne Trubek is Wrong

This is not a pen blog.  But I like and review pens.  I carry some nice ones--an Edison Pearlette and a Pilot Vanishing Point are current favorites.  And I like handwriting.  I take a metric ton of notes, as most trial lawyers do.  And I check in on the pen world every week thanks to the amazing Pen Addict Podcast.  So when Brad was railing against a New York Times Op Ed piece on the death of cursive, found here, I took a gander.  The quick summary of my response is simple--Anne Trubek is wrong.

Here is the full length response.

Ms. Trubek's argument against cursive is something that I have researched and thought about.  I think there are three relevant parts to the rebuttal--a bit of background on the author so you know where she is coming from, an analysis of her facts, and an analysis of her argument's logic.  I think any one of these three avenues should make you question the merits of her position, but when you combine all three I think it is clear that she is wrong, she has an axe to grind (and a book to sell), and her style of argumentation and thinking is part of a larger trend in "cultural and intellectual journalism" that is just plain bad, dismissive of certain people, and decisively anti-thinking.

About Anne Trubek

Ms. Trubek taught Rhetoric, Composition, and English at Oberlin College from 1997-2015.  She was a tenured professor.  Oberlin is a prestigious university and achieving tenure at such an institution is a true intellectual accomplishment.  My wife is a professor and many of my friends are as well, some in the same field that Ms. Trubek taught, and I can say that that position alone is a sign that she possesses some real gifts.  Ms. Trubek, in an odd move, resigned her tenure post.  She did so, according to that article, to be a freelance writer full time.  This is important to remember, as she is selling her writing, including a book on the history and end of handwriting. 

But if you dig a little deeper into her academic career, you find this.  Rate My Professor is a silly site and generally I ignore everything on it.  For Pete's sake it invites you to evaluate how attractive your professor is.  But in this one case there are some telling reviews of Ms. Trubek.  Many of the negative reviews share a similar thought--she states her opinion as if it is fact.  This is something that is clearly seen in her Op Ed piece linked above.

Furthermore, Ms. Trubek ranks poorly in citation indexes.  On Web of Science she has three works, all of which are book reviews for the New York Times, and those works, collectively, have been cited once.  Citation indexing is something more common in the sciences, and it is new to the Humanities, but the idea is to try to figure out how important a person's work is by how many times other scholars have cited it.  This showing on the most reliable and largest citation index system is very poor.  There are no scholarly articles listed at all and a single citation to the works Ms. Trubek wrote.

But I need to put out a few caveats.  First, these systems are very new in the Humanities.  Second, Web of Science, the gold standard in the sciences, is leading the charge in the Humanities, but I would concede that there are probably differences between poetry and chemistry that make citation indexing less important in the Humanities.  Finally, it may be that there is another citation index for the Humanities that I am unfamiliar with that is more important and might have Ms. Trubek doing better.  The person that ran my search for me is very familiar with Web of Science and I trust that there were no user errors in getting these results, but these other things might mean this is not the most important point against Ms. Trubek and her argument against handwriting.  There are lots of problems with the citation index system, but, like with many systems, the extremes can be indicative and here, in this one limited but highly important method of determining the value of one's scholarship, Ms. Trubek doesn't seem to be that important of a scholar.

It's also important to point out that maybe Ms. Trubek might not want to be a scholar, but instead an author.  If that's the case, it's fine to ignore the citation index.  She does much better on Goodreads.  She has five books, two of which are anthologies.  All of them average 3.43 out of 5 stars or better.  That's a much better showing than her scholarship, which is basically non-existent.  This isn't a surprise based on what she said in the article where she talked about giving up tenure.  There she mentioned a feeling of isolation from the language of scholarship.  She describes herself in a few places, like that tenure piece, as a writer, not a scholar.       

Its also clear that as anti-cursive as she is, she is also a typing apologist.  It is one thing to claim that you are a researcher and through that research you have reached an unavoidable conclusion.  Its another to be an apologist.  In the past, there was a strong intellectual tradition in being an open and unabashed apologist.  Pascal, of the famous Wager, was one.  Just because you have a bias, doesn't mean you are wrong or that you can't make good arguments.  But instead of being honest about her position as an apologist, she is not forthcoming, either about her need to sell her writing (again, something that, in and of itself is fine) or her position as a proponent for cursive's "opponent" (in her mind)--typing.

Finally, Ms. Trubek runs a digital publishing company/small press and lectures and runs workshops on writing.  The main thing she publishes is--ready yourself--a magazine.  Getting pieces published in the New York Times is great publicity for that, especially when she takes a position like she did, one that is bound to stir up controversy and give her more visibility.  That said, running a magazine, even a digital one, while condemning cursive is a bit like using an oven instead of a fire, but still riding a horse instead owning a car.  Magazines of all stripes, digital and otherwise, are a dying breed.  Perhaps she should do an autopsy on magazines next.

Fact Checking Her Piece

There were a lot of factual assertions in the piece, some of which were linked and some of which were not.  The fact that they were linked, while showing her work, does not mean that she accurately summarized the source material.  Additionally, she used buzzwords and jargon, some of which were not used correctly (or misleadingly).  She ignored bits of history that, given her book's subject (the history of handwriting), seem like something more than a regular omission.  Then there is the one thing that tells me something is truly amiss.  Let's go through these one at a time.

First, there is a clear point of derision that is common among intellectuals.  Note that all of her references to backwater political entities championing cursive came from the South--Louisiana and Alabama.  Some parts of American intellectual circles stare in puzzlement at things that happen in the South and as if to say--"How could those rubes think that way?" While there are things I don't like about the South--a historical embrace of society-wide racism, for example--I think the wholesale dismissal of people because of where they are from is intellectually superficial and bad for intellectual discourse in America.  Why did she not include California's efforts to save cursive?  It may have been an honest omission on her part, but it could have also been that including California didn't fit her narrative of "those rubes from backwater states love cursive."

In her article Ms. Trubek also notes that when the Louisiana legislature passed the bill to include cursive in schools they shouted "America".  She attributes this to some silly link between cursive and patriotism--a form of jingoism certain intellectuals love to deride.  This point is both a misrepresentation of the facts and a cover up of the true reason the politicians in Louisiana celebrated their bill passing.  According to the Times Picayune, the senators actually said: "America" and "Viva la France!" This is hardly the jingoism Ms. Trubek highlighted.  Digging further, the journalists for the Times-Picayune found that the legislators were celebrating cursive's role in historical documents like the Magna Carta and the Constitution, not in some simple, stupid politicized connection between America and cursive.

This brings up another point about her dismissal of the connection between cursive and American history.  In fact, there is a strong connection.  When the nobles rose up against the crown, they usually signed their documents of protest using something called a round-robin signature method.  Instead of signing the document at the bottom, thus putting names in order (which could then be seen as showing who the leader among the rebels was), signing round robin style made everyone of equal status.  Here is an example:

With the Declaration of Independence, the US rebels were more bold not bothering with the round-robin method.  Even bolder still was John Hancock, who signed the document not only in the center, thus signifying his leadership role, but also in his own distinctive cursive.  Cursive was important here because, it more than anything else at the time (when there were no pictures) was a signifier of the person.  Hancock, by signing the document in the center in his large distinctive cursive script was telling King George "Come Get Me!"

But Ms. Trubek leaves this out of her bashing of cursive--a fact that not only explains why the Louisiana legislature was shouting "America" but also why the real celebration was for history, not jingoistic patriotism.  But that doesn't fit her narrative either, and so she changed some facts and omitted others.

She claims that innovations in writing had to do with speed, and that is true.  But the jump from quill to ballpoint is not a fair point.  It wasn't goose feather one minute to Bic Crystal the next.  There were fountain pens in the mix.  And the issue, in my mind, wasn't speed--my fountain pens write just as fast--but convenience.  Ballpoints were cleaner and did not need to be refilled.  They were also cheaper.  Speed is not the point in her one example.

And a second point on this issue--I am pretty fast with my pen and my keyboard, but there are times, such as in court noting live testimony, that I would RATHER have a pen than a keyboard.  Even if you set aside the noise, which will draw the ire of the court reporter and the wrath of the judge, there is the fact that you can easily and visually relate and append notes.  I might be able to type faster in a pure, record what people are saying sense, but if I want something useful AND fast in the end, I'd rather have a pen and paper.

She also talks about the goal of early childhood writing education being "cognitive automaticity", a term used in psychology.  Some research in to this point shows she misses the bigger picture.  Its not just that we want kids to not think about writing, but instead write about thinking.  It is that we want them to enter into flow--a psychological term for enhanced focus and processing speed.  There, the research is not conclusive.  In fact, Susan Sontag and Truman Capote were both known to write by hand and enter "the zone" when doing so.  Furthermore, this enhanced focus when not typing has been found to occur in us mere mortals and our children.  Finally, if she was even a bit more honest, she would realize that many great painters enter flow when using brushes and painting by hand, something akin to writing in cursive.

Her notion that a keyboard makes writing thoughtless might be true, but I do not think that is an admirable goal at all.  Finally, on this point, compare her desire for automaticity with research done on mindfulness, something that studies have shown is very good for you.  Cursive, especially well done cursive, requires an attentiveness that is very akin to exercises done by mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn, specifically, his warm up exercise on eating a raisin. There is even research done on this link between handwriting and mindfulness.  Having automaticity as a goal completely misses the point.  Automaticity is a way station on the path to flow and she cited no work showing that cursive or handwriting in general impacts one's ability to have enhanced focus and processing speed.  Personally, I'd rather have some thoughtful, relaxed kids writing things out, than a bunch of wired keyboard crackheads texting each other every five seconds.  One of those seems healthier than the other.     
I could find no source to support her claim that Palmer replaced Spencerian because it was more manly.  Nor could I find a source to support her quotes around the phrases "powerful hygienic effect" and "initial step in reforming many a delinquent".  Ms. Trubek should have shown her work here and didn't, but the quotes make a reader think she is pointing to a historical source.  She might be, but we don't know what it is.

Then there is the claim that is simply preposterous--the fact that her son "had to stay inside during recess for much of third grade because he wrote his j’s backward."  I am a parent.  I send my son to a very traditional Catholic school and I myself attended such a school.  We both have had nuns and lots of them.  I was forced to do cursive and he will be too and yet I have never heard of this sort of punishment.  It defies belief.  If anyone was going to be forced to stay inside, it would have been me, but it just didn't happen.  Furthermore, I can't imagine, as a parent, not stepping in at some point.  By about October, I would have said something to the school administration and if nothing happened then, by January my child would be in a new school.  It is also worth mentioning that in the Freaknomics episode she was on she said her son was in second grade.  This smacks of literary license and outright exaggeration.  Frankly, this, more than anything else she wrote tells me that her argument is nothing but shit.  No school outside of one that teaches gymnastics in Communist China does this.  And if you are going to get on two national sopaboxes to complain, at least tell the same lie twice.   

The Logic of the Argument

The logic of Mr. Trubek's argument is basically this: cursive is dying, it doesn't do all of the things people think it does, and therefore we should not lament the loss of cursive.  Under all of this is a notion that education is about preparing kids to be employable members of society.  I would first dispute the logic of the argument, especially the argument's hypothesis.  Then I'd dispute the notion that education is merely about converting raw materials (children) into workers.

It's hard to disagree with the notion that cursive is being taught less in schools.  With the advent of keyboards, computers, and texting, I'd agree that it's pedagogical role is being reduced.  But I think it's equally difficult to ignore the number of people, adults, that enjoy pens and handwriting as a hobby.  Its also hard to ignore the fact that in the adult working world, especially the one I am in, handwriting and cursive still play a major role.

Lots of stuff moved from the class room to the hobby den and has done just fine.  We used to teach blacksmithing in school or had programs (apprenticeships) set up to do this.  Now, it's not even taught in vocational schools.  But it is doing fine, especially considering there is zero actual industrial need now.  Forged goods are a pure luxury and there are a growing number of folks learning how to forge steel.  As proof of this--the American Bladesmith Society recently approved the first blacksmith school in the US, up in Lewiston, Maine, run by a number of people including friend of the blog Nick Rossi.  It will never be as big a thing as it was, considering we don't shoe horses for travel anymore, but like cursive, forging is surviving and growing compared to its worst state.  Cursive isn't dying it is transitioning and Ms. Trubek either fails to see this or ignores it because it doesn't serve her economic purpose--selling a book about the death of handwriting.  

So the premise is faulty or at least ignorant.  But the real rallying point for me is the notion that education is merely a process of making children employable.  My bias here is pretty clear.  I went to a liberal arts school.  Two of them actually, both run by Jesuits.  My wife did too.  And she teaches at one now.  Suffice to say, I am a firm believer in the liberal arts philosophy of making a well-rounded person.  

The idea that education is this great mill that has an input of cheerful little ones and cranks out mass-produced work widgets is not only dispiriting, but part of a society-wide problem.

So many people go to college without any real notion of what they want to do in life and while in college, because they are not forced to encounter things they would otherwise never encounter, they pass through higher education without learning much and are put out on the other end with a useless degree and end up as the best read and most well-educated dishwasher on the planet.  This discontent was one of the driving forces behind the Occupy movement.  As a philosophy student, it was a notion that occurred to me many times.  But the bigger issue is this--in part due to my liberal arts background I could flex into a number of different careers, equipped with an idea that I wanted more than a job.  I was looking for an occupation that would both earn me money, satisfy me intellectually, and help the world be a better place.  I found that career as lawyer (the stopgap for all humanities majors when you realize your degree does nothing in the real world).  Without exposure to many different ideas that come from a liberal arts background, I would have never had those goal or the resiliency to flex from philosophy to the law. 


Ms. Trubek is wrong.  She is ignoring reality in more than a few places.  And some of her stories and anecdotes are simply unbelievable.  She is also doing something that every 5 year old does--she admits she has terrible handwriting--maybe it's the classic case of "things that I am bad at don't matter."  

Cursive may not be a lesson in school for long, but that is a sad commentary on our view of education and it might be the thing that releases cursive into a new world of creativity, such as the art Jake Weidmann does.  We lose something when cursive goes from the curriculum--a connection to history and our past and a chance to slow our busy lives down.  That is something worth lamenting, even if you are selling a book saying otherwise. 

The final point I want to make is a cautionary one.  To be virulently anti-cursive or to cheer its demise is as intellectually tyrannical as being a cursive authoritarian as a teacher.  It's also silly to think that kids can't do both.  There is plenty of space inside our children's brains to learn how to type and how to write in cursive.  And there are times, such as in the middle of trial, that cursive is the best way to go.  Simply because these events are outside of Ms. Trubek's evidently tiny bubble of experience (I would have called it an ivory tower, but she left that), doesn't mean they are illegitimate.  I have seen lawyers from some of the wealthiest firms on Earth writing in cursive in court.  They are working on billion dollar plus cases and frankly any option they want is available to them, so the choice of cursive says something.  Cursive has a place, both as a hobby and as a work skill. Maybe Ms. Trubek can't see that from where she sits, but that doesn't mean she is right and cursive is dead.  As her RateMyProfessor reviews say more than once, she is stating an opinion (and an ill-formed one at that) as fact.   And she is wrong.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Survive! Knives and Criticisms of the Small Batch Post

Something of a controversy erupted so the scheduled Olamic review will be next week.  Sorry folks.  That knife deserves a really well written review.  

The folks in the BladeForums subforum for Survive! Knives didn't take kindly to the criticism I leveled against Survive! Knives in my post on Small Batch InsanityHere is the thread (I have a link and a thread because I know some browsers bump out links to forums):

Additionally, since that post I have done some following up with the company regarding my order.  I thought this stuff warranted a post as I know many of you are interested in Survive! Knives stuff, so here it is.

Order Update

One thing the folks on Blade Forum pointed out was that I was not exactly clear on the time line.   They were 100% correct.  I should have been better.  Here is the blow by blow account. 

9/3/16, 3:01 PM: I click on a button for the GSO 4.7 that says "In Stock" and I buy the knife.

9/3/16, 3:03 PM: Confirmation email received from Survive! Knives.  This is an automated email.

9/3/16, 3:03 PM: Order Status email received from Survive! Knives.  It indicates that my order is
awaiting fulfillment.  This is an automated email.

9/10/16, 3:31 PM: I receive an email in response to my email asking about my order.  It is an automated email that says that Survive! Knives is a small team and they are busy fulfilling orders.  This is an automated email.

9/12/16, 1:29 PM: I receive an email from Jordyn.  It says that they are working their way through GSO 4.7 orders from "earlier last year."  I don't know if she means earlier this year or earlier 2015.

9/13/16, 11:15 AM: I receive an email responding to my request for a more precise shipping date (actually ANY shipping date).  This is the same email I received on 9/10/16.  It is an automated email.

9/13/16, 12:44 PM: Jordyn again emails me and tells me that "the GSO 4.7 Cru Forge V knives just need sharpened and then they will be ready to go.  You should have a tracking number from us within the next couple of weeks."

Jordyn's second response confirms that the GSO 4.7s are not "In Stock" they are "In Production".  That's fine, I just wish I knew that when I bought the knife.  They clearly knew when they marked them for sale that they didn't have product to actually ship to people and to say that it is "In Stock" when its not is a bad business practice, whether selling knives, cars, or medicine.  In fact, Survive! Knives has a notation for "In Production" they just didn't use it on the knife I ordered, which they could have easily done.

Argument Restatement 

This highlights my two problems I had with Survive! Knives.  It is not the wait, it's the poor communication combined with up front payment.  

I have waited for years for a knife, two actually--my Swift and my Anso both required a wait of at least two years.  But I understood that going in because both makers told me.  Survive! Knives sort of poor, contradictory communication with customers is not healthy for that business. 

When you add to this the notion that they require payment up front, there is a distinct unease that goes along with placing this order.  I am willing to trust Survive! Knives for a long time.  If problems arise I can take care of them when the time comes.  For now, I think there is enough reason to let the money ride that I won't rescind my order.  The problem is there is a long and sullied history in the custom knife world of payment up front.  Tradition has come to be that reputable makers, from small guys all the way up to world class makers like Scott Sawby, do not ask for money up front absent an outlay for special materials.     

Again, its not the wait or the price.  My problem is the poor communication coupled with up front payment.  Those two things are unacceptable to me.  And really, the up front payment thing isn't the worst thing in the world if there was a reputation of delivering goods backing it up.  But Survive! Knives' poor communication has created expectations for the delivery of knives that has not been met.  It all goes back to the communication issue.  And that is one thing they can fix with zero capital investment.    

BladeForum Feedback

I will ignore all of the ad hominem attacks, personal insults, demeaning comments, claims of my infantile behavior because, well, it's the Internet and people react that way when something they like is criticized.  I assume they are not directed at me because they know me or they have any merit behind them, but were directed at me because I was the person criticize what they like.  To me, this has an unmistakeable display of passion, and that means there is something to this Survive! Knives thing.  I'd rather not be insulted, but it is an indication that people like these blades.

I will also note the problems with brand loyalists. I understand that it is the Survive! Knives sub forum, the epicenter of their fandom, but some of the comments were really nothing more than articles of faith.  But let's move on from those too because as in all issues of pure faith, reason holds no sway.

Chiral.Grolim's Feedback

I will, of course, point out the silliness the legal terms thrown around because, well, traditionally forum boards have not been great sources of legal wisdom.  First, libel is not a term used by the law much anymore; it has been almost universally replaced by the term defamation or false light. Libel is the kind of legalese that non-lawyers use to sound lawyerly.  Second, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan discusses defamation and the 1st Amendment.  Third, typically defamation involves claims that are demonstrable false.  Opinions, like "this is an ugly painting" or "I think they are doing this to drum up publicity" are not the kind of statements subject to defamation claims.  Not much there.

Specifically, the claims listed as dishonest, were, either, not said by me, or at the very least, arguably true.  The first claim that Chiral.Grolim called dishonest and libel was the notion that Survive! Knives used the shortages as marketing.  That is not what I said.  Here is the quote: "But for some reason, folks think this is a good way to build buzz for their gear, like free advertising."  The operative word here is "folks" and by that I meant marketing people in general, not Survive! Knives.  Just look at console releases, which I explicitly referenced in the original post, to see what I mean.  Nothing better than a shortage at Christmas to generate free publicity.

The second claim was that Surive! Knives is peddling vaporware.  Well, here is the definition of vaporware from Google: "software or hardware that has been advertised but is not yet available to buy, either because it is only a concept or because it is still being written or designed."  This pretty clearly applies to Survive! Knives.  They have drawings and CAD renderings of blades and they have taken preorders on them.  They are up on the site, thus being advertised, and are not yet available.  The vaporware may, eventually turn real, just like some lucky kids got SuperGrafx in Japan, but this is neither dishonest or wrong at the moment.

The third claim was that Survive! Knives is running a scheme to bilk consumers.  I never said this and I don't believe this to be the case.  Some folks on the thread do believe that to be true, but I never said that or implied it.

The fourth claim was that the only way to acquire a knife was pay up front and wait years.  Again, I never said this and I don't know if it is true one way or the other, in part, because of just how confusing it is to try to buy a knife from Survive! Knives.     

RCB2000's feedback

RCB2000 brings up the Busse ordering system.  He points out correctly that I did not explain that Busse only takes a dollar to place an order and then charges the rest later.  This is true, both in that I did not mention it in the post and that Busse does this.  I did not mention in the post because I had mentioned in in other posts and on the podcast.  Given that I didn't think I needed to, but I should have. RCB also points out that Busse released a slew of knives this year and that is true too.  They also did a bunch of other work--Blade, LEO/Mil work.  True as well.  My beef with Busse is that after the initial emails we received no communication about delays.  I had to call to get it.  But compared to Survive! Knives, Busse looks saintly.  At least they said the knife was not in stock and they have a wait time of 2-20 weeks (one can complain of the lack of precision, but that's not the point).

RCB2000 also points out given Busse's work load that the four extra weeks seems worth it.  I agree.  It does.  I just wish they would have told me about it instead of forcing me to go look for it.  Maybe in that extra four weeks they can make me a sheath ;)

RCB2000 had one final point about Survive! Knives' order process: "I think you are making it sound more complicated and convoluted that really is, again to serve your narrative."  There is simply no way around this fact--the process is not as simple as it could be.  They could have a binary code: in stock or out of stock, but they chose not to do that.  It may very well be true that the blades are worth the hassle, but there is, unquestionably, a hassle you have to wade through to buy something.  This hassle is unnecessary in two senses.  First, they could just be clearer about what they have and when it will ship.  That's free.  Second, compared to other small elite gear operations, like Muyshondt, Survive! Knives ordering is a baffling.  Muyshondt is a one man show, a part time gig, and he is making very complex items.


Yet, if you go to Enrique's site, you can click a button and buy something.  That is generally not possible on Survive! Knives site, despite appearing as though you can. 

Silver Needle's feedback

Silver Needle claimed I disliked Survive! Knives.  I will be truthful--I don't.  I don't really like or dislike any brand.  I like products and designers, but brands...they don't register for me as a like or dislike thing.  They are pure abstraction, so liking or disliking a brand is similar to having an emotion response to the number 3.476 or some other arbitrary abstraction.  I do like the design and look of many of Survive! Knives' blades, hence me placing an order.

He also pointed out that I was implying that Guy at Survive Knives was using scarcity as a marketing ploy.  Let's be candid here--this is the fundamental tenant of capitalism.  Scarcity drives demand.  To say Guy was not doing that on a macroeconomic level is silly.  Silver Needle is probable correct that it is not Guy's intent or plan, but to deny that he wants to sell hard to get products so he can make money is crazy.  On a microeconomic level, I am certain Silver Needle is right that Guy Seiferd did not plan the scarcity.  It seems like the fundamental issue over at Survive! Knives is a lack of planning, so I will chalk the scarcity up to that and not some nefarious marketing scheme (even if that is what a marketing person would want).  As such, Silver Needle is right and I am wrong here--If I implied it was part of a plan, I was wrong.

Silver Needle makes a very good point and one I wish I would have stated outright.  He says: "If he really thinks Guy is out to fool people by displaying designs and specs on the website yet delaying the production on purpose, then I'd strongly disagree."  I do not think this at all.  What I think happens is simple--Guy is a knife making savant and loves designing and grinding knives.  His business organization and capacity need work.  I have no doubt that if he could, Guy would meet all of the orders instantly.  He just hasn't focused on the production process enough.  And it has been years now.  It's imperative, if Survive! Knives is and thrive as a business that they work on this issue.  I can be patient and wait and so can a lot of the folks in their subforum, but the general knife buying public won't and eventually the fans will have bought all they want or need.

Lazarusrat's feedback

Lazarusrat has a good point too--I am upset that I had to pay in advance.  The custom in the knife world, as mentioned above, it to NOT do this and nothing I have seen from Survive! Knives makes me think I should approach them differently.  In fact, I have never paid up front for a custom knife, whether it was from Charles Gedraitis or Scott Sawby or Steve Karroll.


The custom is you don't do this and I have been careful not to do it either.

Clip's feedback

Clip makes a very good point, basically exactly my criticism--Survive! Knives should have more realistic (and posted) delivery dates.

General feedback

A few people pointed out that Survive! Knives model is very similar to the model used by Randall Made Knives.  This is not true.  The only common feature of the ordering systems is that both take a long time.  Beyond that, there are no similarities.  First, Randall Made Knives require only a $50 deposit on a knife that is usually more than $400.  Survive! Knives requires payment in full ahead of time.  Second, while the wait times are long, right now your order placed today would be delivered in 2021, Randall says that up front, which Survive! Knives does not.  Third, and most critically, Randall Made Knives have generations of reliable production to count on and reassure customers.  Survive! Knives has no track record of delivering products on a timely and consistent basis, even since their founding in 2012.  This has always been an issue with them.  Randall, on the other hand, churns out stuff like clockwork, slow clockwork, but clockwork nonetheless.    


Survive! Knives makes what looks like to be great knives, now they need to work on the business of making those knives.   First and foremost, and least expensively, they need to be clear and honest about what they have and how long it takes to ship stuff.  That is absolutely without question a requirement.  If they can't do that, regardless of how good the knives are, the business will never work.  When all or most of your sales are done over the Internet, a form of communication (among other things), having good communication is key.  If they don't change this, regardless of anything else, including the quality of the product, they will not succeed as a business.  And this is the change that is easiest to make--it's free.

Second, the idea of paying up front is just not in carrying with custom.  Nothing that Survive! Knives, or pretty much any other custom/small batch maker, does convinces me that they should be the exception to the rule and tradition in the knife world.  If they were making Van Barnett-level blades with insane complexity and gold parts, sure.  But they aren't.  I am not investing in a company--despite what some people want--I am buying a product.  If they want to do this "invest in my company thing" fine, go to a crowdfunding site.  If not, don't expect people other than your most ardent fans to accept that as a business model.  People want to buy products, not stock in Survive! Knives.

Finally, to give them slack because they are "young" or "small" is to ignore a whole class of gear makers that are the same age and size or newer and smaller and doing more complex stuff and getting it right, time and time again.  Will Hodges of Tactile Turn makes some of the finest stuff out there and he gets it right over and over again.  Enrique Muyshondt is the same--every product is a superior product made to the highest standards and produced and released on a regular basis.  I have yet to see or hear a reason why Survive! Knives is different or should be held to a different standard.  The list of folks that are in the same position as Survive! Knives or are newer and smaller goes on and on--Jason Hui of Prometheus, Brian Gray of Edison Pens, Brad Dowdy of NockCo, Jens Anso, Eugene of Olamic Cutlery, Jeff Freeman of Freeman Outdoors, Ryan of the James Brand...these are the folks I like to focus on with this blog and one of the reasons I was interested in Survive! Knives to begin with, but if they are going to enter this elite company, they need to do better.

Furthermore, and to take this back full circle to the point I was making in the original Small Batch Insanity post, the knife world is populated by very small companies.  Even if you exclude the folks I mentioned above, the other companies, with three notable exceptions, are all tiny.  Spyderco is a knife company with a global presence that has consistently made great knives for more than twenty years.  They do this with a staff of around 30 people.  CRKT is smaller.  SOG is not much bigger.  In fact, Benchmade, KAI USA, and Gerber/Fiskars are the only companies that are real, medium to large businesses.  Then there is the thing that Thomas W explained to me once--anyone can make a good knife once, a great maker makes them consistently for years.  Chris Reeve has done this.  Mike Stewart has done this.  Sal Glesser has done this.  But some folks don't seem to appreciate that achievement.  Instead, they fawn over these small companies for reasons that are unclear to me.  

I want Survive! Knives to succeed. I want them to make great knives. I want one of them.  But they need to work on the business side a little or they will, as I put it before, get lapped by the competition.  Even if they don't want to do that and invest in infrastructure, they need to communicate with their customers better.  What I experienced is unacceptable.  

I appreciate BladeForums folks for knocking some sense into me.  I hope I could return the favor.   Thanks to RCB2000, Silver Needle, and Clip for letting me quote them.  And, as always, the floor is open--if anyone wants to post a rebuttal, send it to me and I will publish it unaltered.  Additionally anyone is welcome on the podcast.  Heck if Guy Seiferd himself wants to write something or come on, he's welcome, too. 

Anonymous's Feedback

One person took me up on my promise to publish comments unaltered.  Here is what he or she wrote:

Saw your article on everyday commentary and recently your reaching out at the Survive! subforum.

I wanted to give you a heads up to what you are walking into  if you don't already know and a little background history.

I own six  survive knives purchased over years including their newer 2016 models and I have about  $1,000  on "preorder". So I am very much in-the loop and speak from personal involvement and experience.  here is my current collection...

I wanted to give you a heads up, there are MANY very upset customers and non customer (observers) that believe Survive has gone from a legit business making excellent knives, to a legit business making excellent knives that is running a  pyramid scheme, either deliberately or through gross incompetence.  About two years ago, Survive! Changed thier main sales model over from selling them in small batches as they came up, to selling them primarly as "preorder/prepurchases"..  When they made this change, they went so far as to claim it as an "investment" program inesting into the future of thier company.  When they did this, they came up with Multiple CAD drawings of knives that only existed on paper and started taking preorders for thos.. In total, they created nine CAD drawing nonexistant knives and took preorders for those.   The reasoning was so they could know exactly how many knives to commit to and to order the materials in Bulk and for just what they needed.  Seemed legit.  Where this has gone VERY south, is with the lead times. They only make ONE model at a time. Currently, they have been manufacturing the current model (GSO 4.7) for about a year.. and they are still not finished.

I brought this up in a concerned thread that raised lot of drama in bladeforums.. The concern being... if it takes them a year to make ONE knife, and they have NINE models on backorder with prepayments is that model sustainable? You can read this discussion here.

You can also look at a lot of angry customers at their own facebook page.

Just a heads up, the  Bladeforums  survive! subforums is a group of dedicated coolaid drinking fanboys that will absolutely defend Survive! and SK!s business model no matter what you say. I wanted you to know that those specific people do NOT represent the bulk of the knife community and SK! customers.  Many of the bladeforum SK! forum fans are made up of die hard fanboys that have THOUSANDS of dollars to spend on frivolous toys with no care or concern. Ineed you will see a number of thier fans will talk about how "Well I have thousands of dollars on X other investments and not worried about when they come in" The reality is, the rest of the survive customers- it IS a big deal to spend a thousand dollars and go years with nothing to show for. And yes, the lead times ARE a concern because if it takes one year to make one model- and they have 10 other models on backorder prepaid for, is that really a sustainable model? At some point they are going to get a mass demand for refunds..

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trolling for Hate: Small Batch Insanity

If you remember the brief fire that burned bright that was the original KnifeHaterz IG account, you might also remember, before it went off the rails started just being mean, his or her precision sniping of one the gear world's greatest foibles--our infatuation with small batch stuff.

Let's just all admit it--if there is a piece of kit out there and there is some "I made this by the sweat of my brow in my garage" story behind it, we love it.  We root for those makers and companies.  We cherish and lionize those brands.  But the reality is, some of the items these folks or companies produce isn't that special.  Just because one dude made something with a Dremel or the company chooses to bequeath to us one or two blades at a time doesn't, necessarily mean that it is great.

Yes, this post is inspired by my now more than three month long wait for a Busse 2nd Gen Battlemistress.  The receipt told me the wait could be 2 to 20 weeks.  What does that even mean?  Well, a call to Busse last week told me that it doesn't mean either 2 or 20 weeks.  Instead, I was told it would be 20 weeks plus a month or so. Yikes.

There are two problems that people seem to overlook--poor product design and lack of products.  There are egregious offenders in both camps and some inauspicious small makers hit both.

The worst offenders of the first kind, in my mind, are some of the so-called custom knife makers.  These are folks that have a grinder.  That's it.  They aren't really making knives, they are making what Mike Stewart calls knife shaped objects.  These are crude, clunky designs that don't cut.  You see a lot of these on IG and many are fixed blades.  They have "finishes" that are accurately called "mistakes". If you make a mistake and repeat it enough, it becomes a finish.  Some of these knives aren't just bad cutters, some are so weird and so poorly made I would know what to do with one if I got it for free.  But worse than the junky product is the sycophantic buyers that praise the design as "original" and the maker as providing excellent customer service.  This is the absolute worse form the infection I have written about before called Magical Thinking.  Here we aren't even talking about something lame made by a master.  We are talking about junk made by a dude with a grinder.  

As the boom in the knife business and the custom knife business continues we will continue to have folks that decide to jump in and see what they can do.  As I have noted before, simply based on the law of averages, very few of these new makers will be any good.  Most will be flushed out of the hobby once the market contracts and hopefully their turd-like products will go with them.  The thing that puzzles me is the forces of the market SHOULD be punishing these folks.  Why buy some crude hunk of shit for $200 when you can buy a well designed knife for much less on the very same Internet that brought you the IG famous piece of crap?  Market logic depends on the rationality of buyers.  In the knife world, that sometimes goes out the window.  

As bad as the person-with-a-grinder-and-a-dream products are, in some ways the vaporware folks are even worse.  If you are around my age and were infatuated with video games in the early 1990s you remember how hype obsessed folks in the enthusiast press were.  No game that was released was at good because there was another game, available in Japan only, of course, that was better.  We had Mario, but we were waiting for an unavailable Mario ripoff.  And then there were the Japanese only game systems we were always pining for--remember the SuperGrafx?  It's easy to hype a product if you never have to make it or release it to the public.

So it goes with some small batch gear makers.  Wanna Survive Knives fixed blade?  Me too.  They look awesome on paper, because all you need to do to look awesome on paper is write down some good specs.   Let me try this:

Survive Knives Vapor

4.5 inch blade
5.5 inch handle
CF molded sheath with Tek-Lok
SM100 Blade Steel
Drop Point Blade Shape
Westinghouse Micarta scales
Weighs 3.4 ounces

Price: $175

Look at that!  I did it!  I made an awesome knife!  Or I listed a bunch of specs.  Boy do I wish I could use CAD because then I could really make the Vapor even cooler.  

I get that Survive Knives is basically run by one guy and it is hobby, but even with those limitations, they are producing precious few actual products.  And don't bother trying to time a release.  I have now been suckered into calendaring a release three times, only to go to their site and find nothing.  And the release notes are silly: in production, out of stock, pre-order....blah blah blah, but never: In Stock.   

Some companies pull out of the vaporware stage.  HDS did so with their Rotary and even now, years later, it is one of the best lights on the market.  But my hope for Survive Knives is dwindling.  There are complex instructions for buying their blades--Monday sales (which three times did not happen while I was watching) and pre-orders.  Let's be clear--never pre-order a knife if you have to pay for the whole thing up front.  Too many problems happen with this set up and too many great makers don't do this.  If Scott Sawby could hold my order for three years without even a penny, Survive Knives can do so too.  Then there are the flash sales.  I wish I could say this was a joke, but they had the GSO 5.1 "in stock" for two days starting at 2 PM and ending at 2 PM two days later.  I am not sure how they could make it more inconvenient to buy one of their products.  You know what the "How to Buy" button should say?  Click to add to cart, pay.  That's it.  I don't want to have to calendar a sale and I don't want to have to sign up for your newsletter where you show the one or two people in the world that actually have one of your knives outdoors slaying beasts with them.  Make knives, not newsletters. 

But for some reason, folks think this is a good way to build buzz for their gear, like free advertising.  It might be, but it also builds frustration and distrust (especially with a pay up front preorder model).  And it's bad business.  Why bother with all of the shenanigans necessary to land a Survive Knives blade when Bark River is making readily available stuff that is as nice and cheaper?  And if you want exclusive there is the available, but not in crazy numbers Fiddleback Forge stuff.


In the end, Survive Knives will get lapped by the competition that has decided to, you know, make knives.  Weird right?  

Don't get suckered by the hype of small batch.  Look for quality.  Don't give your money away up front to anyone, unless you are asking for something to be made with crazy materials.  And don't be a small batch fanboy.  Imagine if some small batch guy made a knife as sweet as the Mnandi.  How bonkers would people go?