All posts by Tim

Shaving

Mike wanted me to write some stuff about shaving. He needs to follow up with his side of the story.

I started this post over a year ago. I only wrote the previous paragraph before I got side-tracked.

Learning to shave

Dad had a beard. I think at some point he gave Mike and I some cursory advice on how to shave, and that was it. I think it consisted of:

  1. Make sure your skin is wet. Shave after showering.
  2. Shave with the grain before you go against the grain.

I can attest that the first point is valid. The second… it took me several years to learn that if I shave against the grain, at any point in the process, I’m asking for trouble. So I stopped. I know that by college, I had stopped that step completely.

So that was it. Everything else was trial and error. Anyone who has ever done lab experiments knows that when your output variable (your feedback) is delayed by a couple of days from your inputs, it takes a while to figure things out. Couple this with the fact that you have to keep repeating the input actions every day or so, before you get the feedback, and it becomes a very long and drawn out process. Does my face hurt because of how I shaved this morning, or from 3 days ago?

Lastly, I didn’t necessarily realize that there was something I could do about this. I figured for a long time, “This is what it is.” It wasn’t all that bad and I didn’t know any better.

So it basically took about 15-20 years of shaving before I wised up. And I eventually did. A close shave is the worst type for me. Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of what the shaving industry markets. I see Mike essentially stopped shaving; that’s how he deals with it.

I blame the Mach3.

The Mach3

The Gillette Mach3 was released in 1998 according to Wikipedia. To put that in perspective, I turned 19 in 1998. I don’t remember when I started shaving (13? 14?), but I didn’t shave that long before the Mach3 came out, and I certainly didn’t have heavy facial hair before then either.

Now, for those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with my facial hair, I don’t have a lot of it. I shave every other day (something it took me a few years to realize). I most certainly don’t need 3 (or 4 or 5) blades to knock back my 5 o’clock shadow. I used this razor, or variants thereof, for the better part of 15 years. It sucks for me. Too close of a shave which led to irritation. Also, the heads on these things are huge, which makes it hard to shave certain areas, like under your nose.

Sensor Excel

For some reason, back in 2007, I bought a Sensor Excel and some blades. I think it was because I was a poor graduate student, and the thought of spending a week’s worth of food money on razors got on my nerves a little. The Sensor is a 2 blade razor. Probably all I needed. I used it once or twice and then forgot about it for some reason.

I started using it again about 2 years ago. Ingrown hairs and razor bumps are for the most part a thing of the past. I still only shave every other day, and only with the grain. The replacement blades are getting hard to find, so I order them off of Amazon.

Oddly enough, the regular Sensor blades aren’t quite as good as the Excel blades, but they do in a pinch. I just have to shave at a slightly different angle.

Wiki says the Sensor and Sensor Excel were released in 1990 and 1993 respectively and are discontinued. I think the blades I buy are imported from other parts of the world.

The future

At some point, I’m not going to be able to get these razors any more. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’m not going back to 3, 4, or 5 bladed razors.

I’m getting to that point in my life where I don’t want to dick around with this shit, so whatever the decision ends up being, hopefully I won’t have to make another after that.

Machine learning and age

I’ve been using Mathematica more for work, and finally getting better at it. It’s only been 20 years…

Anyway, Mathematica has some machine learning capabilities built in, so I started playing around with them. Maybe something would be useful for work? (Probably not.) Anyway, a few of the tools have pre-trained datasets to play with, so you can just plug stuff into them.

One is the “NameAge” dataset, which predicts the most likely age for a given name. Naturally, I put some names in. I then plotted up the difference between the predicted age and the person’s actual age. In my chart, negative numbers represent how much younger the person is predicted to be compared to their actual age, and positive numbers are older.

Buff does the worst, but with her given name, she is predicted to be much younger. Up next is Joe, Mike, Pete, Tom, and myself; according to this machine learning dataset, we should be getting ready for retirement, clocking in at more than 15 years older than our actual age.

Max

Max is no longer with us. I am thankful for the role he played in our lives. You will be missed.

Max loved being outside.
Max loved sleeping.
Max did not love getting his nails dremeled.

More of Max on flickr and here on protozoic.

Element 115 and Bob Lazar

Just the other week, a big announcement in the field of science was made. Element 115 was named Moscovium (Mc). Yes, it was discovered sometime in 2013, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention.

Why is Element 115, errr, Moscovium important? Bob Lazar is why. I don’t remember all the details from the video we got,1 but I seem to remember Mr. Lazar claiming that Element 115 was ultra stable, unlike most of the heavy man-made elements.2

Anyway, not much else to say on this. Though if anybody has a good copy of the video, I wouldn’t mind watching it again.


  1. I think we rented it from Hollywood Video. Remember that? Maybe it was Blockbuster though… 

  2. Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element on Earth. 

Apes on ponies

I think it was 10th grade English (maybe 11th) where we learned that back in the days of Shakespeare, one of the spectacles people used to attend for entertainment was ‘apes on ponies.’ I think the idea was that you tied an ape to the top of a pony and watched it destroy the pony.

The phrasing of this always made us laugh. I have never seen another reference to ‘apes on ponies’ in my life.

BREAKING UPDATE — Apparently I finally figured out what to search for. The ‘sport’ is horse baiting or bear-baiting.

A Spanish nobleman of the time, who was taken to see a pony baited that had an ape tied to its back, expressed himself to the effect that “to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screaming of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable.” (from Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 3, 1910)

People have always been awful.

Kindle Paperwhite review

As I’ve written in the past, I’ve had an iPad for a couple years now. I use it quite a bit, though my usage is starting to wane. I finally got a new laptop as I alluded to in the aforementioned post. The screen on my phone is also large enough now that I don’t mind using it for more things. These things mean less iPad usage.

One area in which the iPad is infinitely superior to these other devices is reading. It’s a fantastic device for reading PDFs, particularly scientific articles and scans of technical books.1 I’ve read a few books from the Kindle store on it as well. It works. However, for ‘long form’ reading like that, the iPad gets heavy and a bit of a pain to hold. Wah wah, I know.

Another issue with it is the glossy backlit screen. There is some truth to those Kindle commercials. It’s hard to read in sunny environments, and after spending all of my adult life staring at backlit screens of varying quality, I’ve noticed that bright white screens with the back light screaming on high fatigues me after a few hours.2 Another disadvantage of the big backlit screen is battery life. While from an objective point of view, that something as small and powerful as the iPad has a ~10 hour battery life is frankly amazing, from our spoiled 2015 perspective, it’s a bit short. One good plane trip with some time at the airport can really run your battery down.

I think you see where this is going.3 Over July 4th, I played around with Krissy’s Kindle, and talked to both her and Buff about them. I was intrigued. When I got back, Amazon just happened to release a new Kindle Paperwhite. So I pulled the trigger.

My initial reservations were about the slightly off-white background color and the smallish screen. I can say having read several thousand pages on it, the size is fine (for me) and the color is very reminiscent of the paper stock used in paperbacks. I think I’ve settled on the 2nd smallest font size, which is still legible but puts a healthy amount of text on the screen.

I really like this thing. It’s small, has great battery life, and the display is really great. Even though it does have a top light for reading in the dark, the display really is easy on the eyes; easier than a back light in many situations.

Since it’s often easier to complain about things then praise them, I’ll relate the negatives now:

  • The lighting is slightly inconsistent at the bottom of the screen. There’s a small area in the center that is slightly darker than the rest of the screen. Considering that the device is somehow piping light from the top surface of the screen, it’s amazingly uniform.
  • The light is a bit cold for me. It’s a shame it isn’t a tad warmer.
  • The typography is a little whack sometimes. It’s not always pretty either. However this is apparently something Amazon is working on finally and will update soon.
  • Equations suck. Or, the display of equations. Any technical book is still better on the iPad.4 I partially contribute this suckiness to the visible compression in the equation images and the low resolution of them. Until not too long ago, Kindles were 167 or 150 PPI. The earlier Paperwhites were 212 PPI. So I suspect that many of the images for equations are optimized for lower resolution displays than the Paperwhite 3 and Voyage, both of which have 300 PPI screens.
  • But seriously, what kind of weirdo reads books with equations for pleasure?
  • I wish I could put my own photo on the sleep screen.

These are all really minor negatives. The 300 PPI E Ink screen looks great. And it’s good to be reading more again. Highly recommended.


  1. When used in conjunction with Dropbox, it’s a great little reading system. I use Documents for iOS and have a folder in my Dropbox directory that is linked up to Documents. Throw a file in said directory, and it’s on my iPad (and iPhone) for the next time I want to read it. 

  2. For this reason, I have most of my text editors, email programs, reading programs, etc., set for white text on a dark background. It was a pleasant surprise to find that OS X 10.10 had an option for dark menu bars. 

  3. Unless you are blind, you should have seen where this was going from the title. 

  4. I have one exception to the technical book thing. One of the books I have used the most over the years is the NRL Plasma Formulary. I’ve used that thing several times a week since 2000. It’s a little pocket-sized book with all the equations and info a plasma physicist might need, along with a great section on units and dimensions. Anyway, it also comes as a PDF with nicely typeset equations—not images of equations. It looks great on the Kindle because of the typesetting, and the fact that the pages in the booklet are roughly the same size as the Kindle screen. So you don’t need to pan around to see anything on the page. It’s a perfect fit. 

1do’clock

Any table top RPG player worth his or her salt has dice, more dice than one would possibly need. I remember buying totally pointless trap and weather dice, like you couldn’t just make a 1d6 die table for weather conditions. Whatever, it’s part of the hobby and it’s harmless fun.

But what the fuck? Why would one need a d12 that tells time… by showing the numbers 1-12 in analog clock form? Wouldn’t a regular d12 be just as good?

doclock

Wasteland & the Apple II

Wasteland title screen
Wasteland title screen

Way back in the day, we had an Apple II+. I think it was an Apple II+; it might have been an Apple IIe. Maybe someone can remind me. This would have been circa 1989 or 1990. The II+ was replaced by the IIe in 1982 and a few new features. To be honest, I’m pretty sure we had a IIe, and Tom had a II+. More on this later.

Ours had a monochrome green screen and two bulky separate 5.25″ floppy drives. Tom’s had a color screen; color back then was around 4 or 16 colors. We didn’t have a lot of games for this thing, or really any software for that matter. Mind you, this computer was already pretty outdated when we got our hands on it. I think my parents acquired it after the local school system (or community college where my dad worked) got rid of them. So it was already unwanted junk by an organization which traditionally is resource starved.

So games. We would have been 10–13 around that time and we naturally wanted games. We had this box of disks that we had copied off of someone my dad knew, but it was a mish-mash of stuff. There was a copy of Zork III, which we played a ton of and never got really anywhere. That’s all I really remember from that batch. Anyway, games. We wanted games. I remember being with my mom at the mall in Software Etc. looking at discount games. There wasn’t a lot of choice; the Apple II was pretty much dead at this point. We got a copy of Questron (or Questron 2) and Wasteland. I think they were in the couple dollar price range.

Scorpitron (PC)
Scorpitron (PC)

We played a lot of Wasteland. I remember sitting on the edge of Tom’s bed, each of us ‘controlling’ one character in the game during combat, being afraid of messing up and losing a party member, and generally not know what was going. A few moments stand out:

  1. Being scared shitless of the Scorpitron. This giant menacing robot parked out in the middle of an intersection in Las Vegas which could decimate you.
  2. Falling in the river and not being able to get out for quite some time. Characters would fall unconscious, but their swimming skill would get boosted a lot.
  3. Getting stuck on a stage in some bar in some town and having to use acrobatics to entertain the crowd so they’d let you off.
  4. Going in through a skylight in Ugly’s Hideout instead of a full on frontal assault.

I played the game off and on after that time, through high school and even doing a long run through it freshman year in college. I even made a website for the game, way back in 1997–8.

Naturally, when Wasteland 2 had a Kickstarter, I backed it. I started playing it sometime last December. I haven’t made it all that far but I’ve really enjoyed it. It manages to capture a lot of the vibe and mechanics of the original while still being updated.

Desert Dweller (Apple II)
Desert Dweller (Apple II)

One particular example of staying true to Wasteland is the rocket use mechanic. If I recall correctly, ‘AT Weapon’ (Wasteland anti-tank weapon skill) and ‘Heavy Weapons’ (Wasteland 2 equivalent) aren’t the greatest skills. The reason being is that rockets were somewhat scarce, and the non-rocket weapons the skill controlled weren’t always that great and/or burned through a lot of ammo. So at least when I played, no one was particularly good at them. So rocket use was often unskilled. That was ok, because they did a shit ton of damage and at least in Wasteland 2, are area effect weapons. Still, accuracy left a bit to be desired. So you stockpiled and used them in ‘Oh shit’ moments as an act of desperation. Those ‘Oh shit’ moments helped heighten the excitement of the game for me as a kid, and play some part in how much the game stuck in my mind.

Anyway, the Apple II and the few games we had made a big impression on me. Wasteland (and Zork III) defined games for me in many ways, and I’m happy that Wasteland II captured a little bit of that.