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Electric Razors

I’ve used an electric foil razor for shaving for most of my life. When I was a teenager I tried safety blade razors, but they were too abrasive on my skin, and I still cut myself frequently. My grandfather bought me a foil razor which lasted until I was in grad school, and worked well.

For most of the time since then I’ve bought foil shavers from Remington, but I’ve been increasingly unsatisfied with their products. Also, replacement parts were increasingly hard to find locally. A couple of months ago the razor – which I didn’t like as much as the one it replaced a few years ago – started failing, so I bought a new one, which I liked even less. I gave it a try for a month and a half, but it just wasn’t doing the job.

So I did some research online, and the consensus seems to be that the Braun Series 7 razors are the best you can get in the realm of foil razors. So I ordered a 7-720 and gave it a try over the weekend.

And holy cow does it work well. It’s quieter and much more effective than either of the Remingtons. I suspect replacement parts will be a bit pricier because the shaving cartridge is a single unit rather than separate blades and foil, but if it holds up in shaving quality then it will be well worth it.

I bet I’m soon going to wonder why I didn’t switch to Braun years ago. (The answer is that I was cheap and didn’t want to spent that much money on a razor. Being cheap is its own punishment.)

On the left, the Remington razor that died 2 months ago. In the middle, the Remington I replaced it with. On the right, the Braun razor I started using on Saturday.

On the left, the Remington razor that died 2 months ago.
In the middle, the Remington I replaced it with.
On the right, the Braun razor I started using on Saturday.

Halloween Soap

Changed my soap in the shower yesterday to this:

Pumpkin soap

I get my soap from Essence of O, when I see them at the many art fairs in the area during the summer.

Averted Cartastrophe

The worst part was the waiting, not knowing whether my car would still be drivable, or if it would need a new engine, and thus need to be replaced. Because I wasn’t going to throw a new engine into a 15-year-old Honda Civic that I’d been considering replacing anyway. But if it were toast then I’d need to find an alternative way to work for a few days until I could rent a car and start looking for a new car. Unless I just wanted to go buy another Civic to keep me going for a couple more years.

The cracked radiator is by far the worst problem I’ve had with this car. Next worst would in cost have to be replacing the struts, but they never went bad to the point of inconveniencing me. And after that is mundane things like a dead battery. That’s pretty good. Hondas are very reliable cars.

So I was on edge most of the day waiting for the dealer to get back to me as to whether the engine had been damaged due to running hot. The temperature gauge had been pegged in the red when we got back from San Francisco on Thursday, but it had only been five or six miles since we’d first smelled what we learned was coolant steaming from the crack. And then another two miles or so in the red driving it to the dealer – apparently low-50s morning temperatures aren’t cool enough to keep the engine cool.

Finally I called them, and the advisor got back to me that the leak test showed no problems with the engine. It seems my car is nigh-indestructible, and it should keep going for at least a while longer.

Which means I’m gonna have to get that oil change and new windshield wipers later this month after all.

I think its days are still numbered, but that number is not zero. Not yet.

Car

A Lot in a Day

Debbi and I took today off to go up to San Francisco to go to Cal Academy and a few other places. So here’s the obligatory panorama from the Academy’s living roof:

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

On the drive home, Debbi remarked that she smelled something like maple syrup. Then she smelled it again as we got close to home. I looked down and the temperature gauge for my car’s engine was pegged. Fortunately we were only blocks from home. I opened the hood and it looks like there is a leaky seal or hose, because steam was squirting out above what I think was the radiator. So, off to the shop it (hopefully) goes tomorrow.

Inside, I found that one of the cats had pooped on the carpet. Hopefully it’s just some transient diarrhea, but we’ll keep an eye on them.

Moreover, Debbi seems to be coming down with a bad cold and plans to stay home from work tomorrow. Hopefully it doesn’t find its way to me in the night – I do tend to get sick when the temperature changes for good in the spring and fall.

On the bright side, I think I’ve figured out how to fix our outdoor accent lights, which have been going on and off erratically at night. And we got to watch the Giants advance to the World Series.

So it should all work out. Worst case, if this is the end for my trusty car, it’s given me 15 years of mostly trouble-free service, which is about all one could really ask for.

Most Played Songs

The top 10 most played songs in my iTunes library, probably dating back 10 years or maybe more:

  1. “River Out of Eden” by Frameshift, from Unweaving the Rainbow (2003)
  2. “Mandelbrot World” by Jack Foster III, from Jazzraptor’s Secret (2008)
  3. “Journey’s End/The Traveller’s Lament” by Magenta, from Home (2006)
  4. “The Seventh House” by IQ, from The Seventh House (2000)
  5. “A Crack in the Ice/Pins and Needles/Double Vision” by Arena, from The Visitor (1998)
  6. “End on a High Note” by The Flower Kings, from Paradox Hotel (2006)
  7. “There Was a Time” by Spock’s Beard, from Octane (2005)
  8. “Squonk” by Genesis, from A Trick of the Tail (1976)
  9. “If The Sun” by Glass Hammer, from If (2010)
  10. “Believe/No Place For the Innocent”, by Pendragon, from Believe (2005)

This is a pretty representative list of my musical tastes over the last 10 years, largely neo-prog rock with a smattering of other proggy stuff as well. These ten are tracks which I am more inclined to just pick and listen to because I really, really like them.

This list would have looked very different in years past. In 1991 it would have been dominated by Jethro Tull and The Who, while in 1999 you probably would have seen Sonia Dada and Collective Soul. I (re-)discovered progressive rock in 2001, stopped listening to commercial radio, and prog has dominated the list every since.

Weird that Home is the only one of the ten albums not available on the iTunes Store – Magenta seems to have only a couple of albums available there, and not their best ones.

At Long Last, A Baseball Game

Last night I went to a baseball game in person for the first time in several years. Honestly my baseball fandom has flagged in recent years, but I followed it closely for almost 20 years so I don’t feel too badly about it.

Ticket

I’d actually been invited as part of a group to a luxury box at AT&T Park. I’d been to a Giants luxury box once before, and it’s very nice, but when I got there it wasn’t what I expected: Rather than one of the paneled boxes in the second deck, the “Corona Beach Club” appears to be where the news photographers used to set, so it’s in front of the first row along the first base line, about 3 feet below field level. The view from the box looked like this:

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

The folks hosting the box sprung for a fair amount of catered food, for instance this:

The food spread

It was all quite yummy. Well, the sausages were standard ballpark sausages with moist buns, so that wasn’t great, but I mostly stuck to the soft tacos.

It was a pretty exciting game. Admittedly, with only 4 games left the Giants weren’t playing for much, as all that was left to decide was whether they’d be hosting their wild card game or not, and they’d clinched their wild card spot earlier that day when the Brewers lost. Still, the Giants jumped out to a 6-0 lead, then watched it collapse in the 7th inning, backed by a grand slam, and then they retook the lead in the bottom of the 7th, helped in part by a successful suicide squeeze (I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person before), and eventually won the game 9-8. It took three and a half hours – I think a third of it making up that seventh inning.

Looking towards home plate

The team was also celebrating the 60th anniversary of “The Catch” by Willie Mays (which actually happened on September 29, but there are no games scheduled for that day this year), and Mays (who is 83 years old) came out in a very spiffy car, and was driven around the field occasionally throwing baseballs into the crowd. I snapped a couple of good pictures of him, the second one being just as he tossed a ball into our box (no, I didn’t catch it):

Willie Mays in his car

Willie Mays tossing a baseball

Occasionally Major League Baseball is a little too wrapped up in celebrating itself, but it’s hard not to appreciate when a team does something like this for one of its greats.

The weather was great, the game was fun, I got some good pictures, and even enjoyed riding CalTrain to and from the park (and the walk home from the station at a little after midnight was kind of pleasant, too). I’m gonna have to go see another game or two next year.

Celebration of winning a playoff berth

I Love Rainy Days

Rainy Day

I woke up this morning to a rain shower. We’d been expecting it – our second of the season, me having been caught in the middle of the first one last Thursday while biking to work. This one was heavier and lasted several hours before drying up around mid-morning.

I’ve always loved rainy days. I have a memory from probably around 10 years old of having to walk the dog (our Welsh corgi, Punkin) during a hurricane. I’m sure I remember it more fondly than I felt about it at the time, though hurricanes are usually pretty tame by the time they get to Massachusetts.

In Wisconsin we got some great rain storms. I remember driving through a lightning storm on the highway and marveling at the hundreds of lightning bolts coming down in the sky. Also watching a huge storm pass about ten miles north of Madison while watching from my apartment balcony. But also walking through plenty of showers – and a few storms, the rain not stopping me from heading downtown to the coffee shop on any given Friday night. I’d certainly get wet sometimes, since I stopped wearing raincoats in college and stuck with just a jacket and an umbrella. But I didn’t mind.

In California we sometimes joke that we don’t have weather, we have climate. I miss all the weather I’d get in other parts of the country – even the snow, but mostly the rain. Rain here is mostly restricted to November-through-April, and is usually concentrated around Feburary and March. The rest of the year it’s the “eternal summer”, and rain showers are rare and light. But even the winter showers are really just that – showers. We don’t get big storms, we rarely get thunder and lightning, and usually not a lot of wind. Not by the standards of other parts of the country.

But I appreciate the rain whenever it comes (and not just because we’re in a drought). I like listening to it come down on the roof, smelling the scents released by the rocks when they get damp, and even going out and clearing clogged drains with a stick.

There’s nothing else like it.

Khans of Tarkir Prerelease

This morning I drove down to Illusive Comics for the prerelease of the new Khans of Tarkir Magic set. I could hardly top my showing at last spring’s Journey Into Nyx prerelease, but I was hoping to have fun anyway.

I chose Mardu – the Black/White/Red clan with the Raid mechanic – because I basically like to attack early and often, with removal to back up my charge. I opened my packs and my pool looked like this:

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

I was sorely temped by the three Abzan cards (White-Black-Green) to find a way to splash Green, but I decided to stick to my guns and go with Mardu. I did consider whether I could swap out Red for Green, but my Green cards were just pretty weak that it seemed like a bad idea. Anyway, I ended up a bit pressed for creatures, wishing I had one more bomb or one more solid 3-drop. I ended up following Marshall Sutcliffe’s advice and playing 18 lands (and zero Banners, because I think the Banner suck, much like the Cluestones from Return to Ravnica sucked).

So, here’s what I ended up with:

My Khans of Tarkir prerelease deck

Besides the three nonbasic lands, I ran 5 each Plains, Swamps and Mountains. I had ten Warriors with some useful cards to enable them.

The most stressful thing about playing these tournaments for me is my opening draws, worrying about getting color screwed or mana short or flooded. Working on choosing when to mulligan has been one of the main things I’ve been working on. And with Khans being a 3-color block, that just exacerbated my worry. I’d hoped to play a 2-color deck with a splash, but that just wasn’t in the (literal) cards. So I had to hope I’d make some decent draws.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

My good deed for the day came after the first match, where I ran over my opponent in two games. I realized afterwards that it was his first prerelease and he didn’t realize that he should play a 40-card deck, and instead put together a 65-card, 4-color monstrosity. So I helped him cut his deck down to a 3-color 40-card deck. Maybe not the best it could be, but perhaps competitive. I saw him briefly at the end of the day and he said his deck had done well after that.

Anyway, so 1-0 to me, but I felt like I hadn’t really earned it.

I lost my next three matches, and each one was a worse beating than the last. I stumbled on colors a couple of times, and I got drastically mana flooded over and over. My fourth match, against another player with a 1-2 record, saw me get badly run over in two games while drawing land after land. 18 land is only 1 more than the usual 17 for a normal block, but it was hard not for my brain to think that it was responsible for my terrible draws. But I stuck it out.

My one triumphant moment was when an opponent played Sarkhan, The Dragonspeaker, hit me for 4, and then next turn I attacked with my 3/3 into his 0/5 wall, and then killed Sarkhan with Arrow Storm. Go me! I ended up losing the game anyway.

In the final match, I gave in and swapped out a couple of lands for another nonbasic and a Banner. I somehow managed to beat him in two games running, including the second game where we both ended up ridiculously mana-flooded. So my final record was 2-3.

I was pretty disappointed in Ponyback Brigade, because the core body is so weak, and the Goblin tokens are annoying because they’re not Warriors and so not affected by all the nifty Warrior cards in the set. And the Ankle Shanker looks nifty, but it also sports a weak body and was almost immediately killed whenever I played it.

I think there are a few lessons for me to take away here:

  1. Sometimes you just have a run of terrible luck.
  2. The most important thing in the prerelease is to have fun. I picked Mardu because I thought it would give me the best chance to win, but I think I would have had more fun if I’d picked Abzan.

Despite all this, I’m looking forward to drafting the set when it’s out. Maybe I’ll see if I can head down to Illusive to draft in person a couple of times over the next few months, in addition to playing online. Though it’s too bad that their only regular draft event is Friday night – a Saturday or Sunday afternoon would probably be more convenient for me.

Vacation Part 2: Cape Cod

The main plan for this vacation was to spend a week on Cape Cod. My parents have been vacationing there every year (well, as far as I know they haven’t missed a year) since I was a kid. Even after they divorced they continued to go, each one going down to the cottage on consecutive weeks, with my sister Katy and me going down for two weeks. We moved among different cottages in Orleans over the years before eventually settling on a duplex near Skaket Beach.

Katy suggested last year that we all go down with my Dad this year, so we were able to rent both sides of the duplex. Dad and I drove down last Saturday, and Katy joined us, with her boyfriend Andrew, and her son I and his daughter A. I haven’t done more than a day trip down to the Cape in over 20 years, so I was looking forward to this.

Cottage Sign

We had gorgeous weather for most of the week – a little humid at the start, and a little cloudy at the end, but considering it could easily have been drivingly hot and humid all week, or raining, I’m not complaining!

We settled into a pattern of Dad going to get us pastries for breakfast in the morning, and we’d each brew coffee on our sides of the cottage. It was relaxing. Katy and Andrew went out for runs or walks in the morning, and sometimes I’d amble down to the beach to look around. We spent some time down on the beach during the week, but we also spent a lot of time going out and doing stuff.

We took a trip down to Chatham, where we stayed for a few years when I was quite young. It’s got a cute downtown with a nifty candy shop, among other stores. On the way back we swung by the beach, which has changed a lot over the last few decades, as storms have washed away the natural breakwater and radically changed the shape of the sands. Once upon a time you could walk in the shallows and pick up starfish, but I don’t think they come in that far anymore. I bet that over the next few decades that erosion will even threaten Chatham Light which stands a few dozen yards from the bluffs over the beach. We’ll see.

Chatham Beach

None of us were terribly familiar with restaurants to go to on the Cape, so by Wednesday we were turning to Yelp to find some places to eat. We found several good ones, such as the Orleans Public House (which we went to three times), and the Rock Harbor Grill.

On Tuesday, everyone else went off on a horseback ride, so Dad and I drove down to Woods Hole to see the Oceanographic Institution (WHOI, pronounced “hooey”). Unfortunately, it took longer to get there than I’d expected, and it turns out the WHOI buildings close down at 4, so we didn’t get to see a lot. But it’s pretty down there. We’ll have to go back earlier in the day someday.

On Wednesday we went to the Edward Gorey House, where we tried another new restaurant, the Optimist Cafe, which was maybe the most popular among us. The Gorey House was quite cool, with lots of samples of his cartoons and original works. The house is the house he lived in, which is also pretty neat. And there’s a scavenger hunt based on the Gashleycrumb Tinies. Well worth the visit. I wish I’d bought one of their tote bags.

Edward Gorey House front door

On Thursday, Debbi came down with her sister Dianne and two of her kids, R and J. The girls, R and A, are about the same age, and the boys, J and I, are also about the same age. After a bit of ice-breaking, they all got along great. We got pizza for lunch, and then went down to the beach for a couple of hours. It was nearly low tide, so the boys dug in the sand for a while, and the girls pulled the floats out to the water and paddled around until it was time to go. Everyone seemed to have a great time!

Andrew and A left Friday morning, and the rest of us made a trip to shop in Wellfleet. We had lunch at the simply-named Bookstore & Restaurant; I’d been going to the bookstore for decades, and always assumed the restaurant was just a basic diner, but it’s actually a quite good restaurant. The bookstore, sadly, is a shadow of its former self; I found a number of neat things there in the past (they once had a fine set of silver age comics, for example), but now it seems to be a barely-organized collection of random stuff. Too bad. Anyway, we also walked over Uncle Tim’s Bridge, which is quite scenic. Well, on the way back I and I (heh) ran down the hill and across the bridge as fast as we could go. I can outrun him, but he’s not far from being able to outrun me. Then we waited for Dad and Katy to catch up.

Saturday it was time to head out, so we packed up and cleaned the cottages and drove home. Dad and I stopped at the Optimist Cafe for brunch, and bludgeoned out way across the Cape through nasty traffic. I visited Mom for the afternoon and then went back to have dinner with Dad and do laundry. Tomorrow Debbi and I fly home.

It was a nice, relaxing trip. Kind of nice to be off the Internet for a week except for my iPhone. I don’t know when I’ll make it down there again, but hopefully before another 20 years go by.

Sitting on Skaket Beach

John Scalzi: Redshirts

Redshirts is just about the perfect vacation book: It’s a page-turner, it’s funny, and it’s thought-provoking.

It takes place in a Star Trek-like universe, in which crew members of the starship Intrepid find that they are at great risk of being killed whenever they go on a mission with one of five key officers. So much so that most of the crew tries to look busy whenever they can’t avoid the officers outright. Our hero Andrew Dahl and his friends – all recent recruits to the Intrepid – try to unravel what’s going on, and find that not only is there a high fatality rate, but that the officers’ adventures are filled with near-impossible levels of coincidence, as well as events which seem flat-out impossible violations of the laws of physics. Eventually they convince themselves of what must be happening, and hatch a plan to try to fix things and save their own lives in the process.

If you’re familiar with the central conceit of the book, then I’ll discuss it at more length after the jump below. If you’re not, then I’m not going to spoil it here. And it’s either going to work for you, or it isn’t. It worked for me (for the most part), and the story is a fine example of characters backed into a corner and struggling as best they can to get out of their predicament. It’s also at at-times touching story for certain characters who realize what’s been happening to them (in some cases for years), and for certain other characters whose confrontation with the fantastic events causes them to reflect upon and change the course of their lives.

Scalzi is, no doubt about it, a fantastic wordsmith. His light tone doesn’t always work for me (and I can easily see it turning off some readers), and he has to thread the needle here to not lighten the tone of the often-gruesome first half of the book without making it feel inappropriate, and then switch gears to the more serious second half without it becoming maudlin. He succeeds at this quite well, and I was constantly impressed with how funny the book was, but also how clever it was.

As I said, the similarity to Star Trek is deliberate, but it’s not – as I’ve seen a few observe – fan fiction by any reasonable measure. It’s also not metatextual in that it’s not really commenting on Star Trek or similar shows. (If it’s commenting on anything, it’s poking fun at the bad writing that creeps into – if not pervades – most TV shows which have to crank out 20+ episodes per year.) It’s using the basic framework of Star Trek to tell its own story, and I think by-and-large it is respectful of the genre while still being realistic about its sillier aspects.

Unless you take your Star Trek too seriously, or can’t connect with Scalzi’s writing style, I think Redshirts is well worth a read.

Some more spoiler-laden discussion after the jump:

Read on, Macduff! »