Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 3rd, 2008

Mortality linked to increased CO2 emissions

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Bad news:

A Stanford scientist has spelled out for the first time the direct links between increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increases in human mortality, using a state-of-the-art computer model of the atmosphere that incorporates scores of physical and chemical environmental processes. The new findings, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, come to light just after the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent ruling against states setting specific emission standards for this greenhouse gas based in part on the lack of data showing the link between carbon dioxide emissions and their health effects.

While it has long been known that carbon dioxide emissions contribute to climate change, the new study details how for each increase of one degree Celsius caused by carbon dioxide, the resulting air pollution would lead annually to about a thousand additional deaths and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma in the United States, according to the paper by Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. Worldwide, upward of 20,000 air-pollution-related deaths per year per degree Celsius may be due to this greenhouse gas.

“This is a cause and effect relationship, not just a correlation,” said Jacobson of his study, which on Dec. 24 was accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. “The study is the first specifically to isolate carbon dioxide’s effect from that of other global-warming agents and to find quantitatively that chemical and meteorological changes due to carbon dioxide itself increase mortality due to increased ozone, particles and carcinogens in the air.”

Jacobson said that the research has particular implications for California. This study finds that the effects of carbon dioxide’s warming are most significant where the pollution is already severe. Given that California is home to six of the 10 U.S. cities with the worst air quality, the state is likely to bear an increasingly disproportionate burden of death if no new restrictions are placed on carbon dioxide emissions.

On Dec. 19, the Environmental Protection Agency denied California and 16 other states a waiver that would have allowed the states to set their own emission standards for carbon dioxide, which are not currently regulated. The EPA denied the waiver partly on the grounds that no special circumstances existed to warrant an exception for the states.

Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA administrator, was widely quoted as saying that California’s petition was denied because the state had failed to prove the “extraordinary and compelling conditions” required to qualify for a waiver. While previous published research has focused on the global effect on pollution—but not health—of all the greenhouse gases combined, the EPA noted that, under the Clean Air Act, it has to be shown that there is a reasonable anticipation of a specific pollutant endangering public health in the United States for the agency to regulate that pollutant.

Jacobson’s paper offers concrete evidence that California is facing a particularly dire situation if carbon dioxide emissions increase. “With six of the 10 most polluted cities in the nation being in California, that alone creates a special circumstance for the state,” he said, explaining that the health-related effects of carbon dioxide emissions are most pronounced in areas that already have significant pollution. As such, increased warming due to carbon dioxide will worsen people’s health in those cities at a much faster clip than elsewhere in the nation.

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Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 3:29 pm

Campaign advisers

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Read a remarkably depressing discussion of the advisers and in-groups of the campaigns.

Independent journalist Allan Nairn and American Conservative correspondent Kelley Beaucar Vlahos discuss a little-addressed facet of the 2008 campaign: many of the top advisers to leading presidential candidates are ex-U.S. officials involved in atrocities around the world.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Election

I don’t wish to brag, but…

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My apartment smells incredibly good.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Daily life

Funny post

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but not mine:

The safest place in the world

01/02/08 @ 07:04:31 pm, by Catherine Hayday

…is the kitchen of a lapsed vegetarian.

“Did the chicken touch there? I think the chicken touched there. Oh, and then I touched the olive oil after I touched the chicken. Maybe I should mark this knife with a big red X to show that once it was used to cut raw meat… Or should I put all these utensils in a pot of water right now and boil them for sterility?”

My kitchen paranoia is off-the-charts as I make the big (and ever so tasty) life change from vegetarian to enthusiastic organic meatatarian.

I cooked meat once in the whole near-decade that I was a vegetarian. And that was to make Irish Stew on St Patrick’s Day for some of our friends. Because my family’s Irish Stew recipe will make grown men and babies cry (in happiness). But while the dish turned out be-a-u-tifully I could not relax about the stewing beef in my kitchen. I thought it would be no big deal — I’m not squeamish about flesh, was proud of the organic meat I had sourced, and I hadn’t had any problems with the smell of cooking meat.

But the presence of blood in a kitchen that has known only veggies and wheats and dairy is just bizarre. It was dripping red danger on my low-end porous rental apartment food preparation surfaces, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Suddenly all of those over-the-top commercials about kitchen cleaners made sense to me. Of course people would want industrial strength disinfectant sprays and disposable wipes for every surface. And where could I get some right now?

I’m over that now, somewhat. But it is still there receded into the background, and part of the whole experience of the otherness of meat for me. I am ignorant to its fleshy ways. By being a vegetarian throughout my late teens and twenties, I have completely missed out on the growing pains and life lessons of preparing meat for myself. Not, mind you, that I spent that time becoming an astounding vegetarian cook and have that to fall back on. Damned squandered youth. But if I ever had a memory for how to prepare, cook, store meat, it is now lost. Bake a chicken breast? No idea. Stick it in a loaf pan and broil it for 4 hours? Slice the skin? Cook it frozen? Wrap it in tin foil, shake it over my head and leave it in the moonlight? All equally plausible options to me.

I am ignorant to the point of laughability. And don’t especially know where to start. Which is why I am starting with baby steps. So as the chicken breast I deboned sits in my oven at 350 degrees until my brand new meat thermometer tells me it has reached an internal temperature of 165F, I will sit here eating my steamed kale and pondering where to go for guidance. Is there such a thing as a course in remedial meat preparation for ex-vegetarians?

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

By-passing the Electoral College

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Cute idea:

A Stanford University computer scientist named John Koza has formulated a compelling and pragmatic alternative to the Electoral College. It’s called National Popular Vote (NPV), and has been hailed as “ingenious” by two New York Times editorials. In April, Maryland became the first state to pass it into law. And several other states, including Illinois and New Jersey, are likely to follow suit.

How NPV works is this: Instead of a state awarding its electors to the top vote-getter in that state’s winner-take-all presidential election, the state would give its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This would be perfectly legal because the U.S. Constitution grants states the right to determine how to cast their electoral votes, so no congressional or federal approval would be required. NPV could go into effect nationwide as soon as enough states pass it (enough states to tally 270 electoral votes—the magic number needed to elect a president). In 2008, NPV bills are expected to be introduced in all 50 states.

“We’ll have it by 2012,” says Robert Richie, executive director of the reform group Fair Vote.

NPV is an agreement between the states to honor the wishes of a plurality of American voters. (Koza came up with the idea from his experience working on lotteries, where state compacts are common.)

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Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Election

Netflix “watch instantly” to get a lot better

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HDTV, in a word acronym:

Netflix announced a partnership this morning that is expected to herald the next step in the evolution of the world’s largest online movie rental service. The Los Gatos, California-based company is partnering with South Korean electronics manufacturer, LG, to develop a set-top box that will give consumers the ability to stream movies directly from the Internet to HDTVs–all without the aide of a PC.

“Internet to the TV is a huge opportunity,” Netflix founder, chairman and CEO Reed Hastings said in a statement. “Netflix explored also offering its own Netflix-branded set-top boxes but we concluded that familiar consumer electronics devices from industry leaders like LG Electronics are a better consumer solution for getting the Internet to the TV.”

The fruit of the collaboration–a networked piece of LG-designed hardware–is expected to become available to Netflix’s 7 million consumers in the second half of 2008. Like the company’s current offerings, access to the service will be made available for a monthly fee.

“Consumers crave compelling and immediate content, and the Netflix online streaming movie feature can provide instant gratification,” added KI Kwon, president of LG USA’s consumer electronics division. “This alliance underscores LG’s goal of developing smart technologies that deliver flexibility, convenience and control to consumers.”

The planned service follows last year’s introduction of Play Now, which offered Netflix users the ability to stream a limited selection of films directly to their PC.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 12:19 pm

Weird: just when you thought it was safe to be skeptical

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Magnets have been touted for their healing properties since ancient Greece. Magnetic therapy is still widely used today as an alternative method for treating a number of conditions, from arthritis to depression, but there hasn’t been scientific proof that magnets can heal.

Lack of regulation and widespread public acceptance have turned magnetic therapy into a $5 billion world market. Hopeful consumers buy bracelets, knee braces, shoe inserts, mattresses, and other products that are embedded with magnets based on anecdotal evidence, hoping for a non-invasive and drug-free cure to what ails them.

“The FDA regulates specific claims of medical efficacy, but in general static magnetic fields are viewed as safe,” notes Thomas Skalak, professor and chair of biomedical engineering at U.Va. Skalak has been carefully studying magnets for a number of years in order to develop real scientific evidence about the effectiveness of magnetic therapy.

Skalak’s lab leads the field in the area of microcirculation research—the study of blood flow through the body’s tiniest blood vessels. With a five-year, $875,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Skalak and Cassandra Morris, former Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, set out to investigate the effect of magnetic therapy on microcirculation. Initially, they sought to examine a major claim made by companies that sell magnets: that magnets increase blood flow.

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Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Top 100 tools for learning

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Useful. (Also see this list.)

Have you ever wanted to know what tools other learning professionals use and which are the most popular? Here at the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies we wanted to find out too. So in July and August 2007 I posed a simple question on our website and blog: “What are your 10 favorite tools for your personal learning/working, or for creating learning for others?” We received lists of Top 10 Tools from 109 learning professionals. I had personally invited 30 of these respondents and the other 79 replied to the open invitation. While many of the respondents are well known names in the e-learning field, including Jay Cross, Clive Shepherd, Clark Quinn, Brent Schlenker, Stephen Downes, Seb Schmoller, James Farmer, Jane Bozarth, Harold Jarche, Karl Kapp, Charles Jennings, and George Siemens. Other contributors are practitioners working in corporate training or education, so there was a wide range of contributions.

Over 400 different tools were named by the respondents, but 100 tools received three or more mentions and these became our Top 100 Tools for Learning 2007.

What can we learn from this list? Here are a few observations:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 10:23 am

For the kids

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International Children’s Digital Library.

The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation is to excite and inspire the world’s children to become members of the global community – children who understand the value of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas — by making the best in children’s literature available online.

We invite you to explore our growing library and learn how you can contribute to our efforts.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 10:20 am

Avoid Sears

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This is bad:

Join “My SHC Community” on, and the company will install some pretty impressive spyware on your computer: is distributing spyware that tracks all your Internet usage – including banking logins, email, and all other forms of Internet usage – all in the name of “community participation.” Every website visitor that joins the Sears community installs software that acts as a proxy to every web transaction made on the compromised computer. In other words, if you have installed Sears software (“the proxy”) on your system, all data transmitted to and from your system will be intercepted. This extreme level of user tracking is done with little and inconspicuous notice about the true nature of the software. In fact, while registering to join the “community,” very little mention is made of software or tracking. Furthermore, after the software is installed, there is no indication on the desktop that the proxy exists on the system, so users are tracked silently.Here is a summary of what the software does and how it is used. The proxy:

  1. Monitors and transmits a copy of all Internet traffic going from and coming to the compromised system.
  2. Monitors secure sessions (websites beginning with ‘https’), which may include shopping or banking sites.
  3. Records and transmits “the pace and style with which you enter information online…”
  4. Parses the header section of personal emails.
  5. May combine any data intercepted with additional information like “select credit bureau information” and other sources like “consumer preference reporting companies or credit reporting agencies”.

If a kid with a scary hacker name did this sort of thing, he’d be arrested. But this is Sears, so who knows what will happen to them. But what should happen is that the anti-spyware companies should treat this as the malware it is, and not ignore it because it’s done by a Fortune 500 company.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 10:17 am

Reducing menopausal symptoms and stress

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Turns out that it’s easier than you might think:

With more menopausal women seeking natural therapies to ease symptoms, a new study has found that simply adding a brisk walking routine can reduce a variety of psychological symptoms such as anxiety, stress and depression. The research is published in the January issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

“With the aging population, physical activity represents one way for women to stay mentally healthy. Physical activity can help throughout the menopausal transition and afterwards,” said Temple University public health researcher Deborah Nelson, Ph.D, the study’s lead author.

From 1996 to 1997, 380 women living in Philadelphia were recruited and they have been followed for more than eight years. The women reported their physical activity level and menopausal symptoms including stress, anxiety, depression and hot flashes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Diamond’s almost unique structure

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Interesting for you gemologists:

For centuries, human beings have been entranced by the captivating glimmer of the diamond. What accounts for the stunning beauty of this most precious gem? As mathematician Toshikazu Sunada explains in an article appearing today in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, some secrets of the diamond’s beauty can be uncovered by a mathematical analysis of its microscopic crystal structure. It turns out that this structure has some very special, and especially symmetric, properties. In fact, as Sunada discovered, out of an infinite universe of mathematical crystals, only one other shares these properties with the diamond, a crystal that he calls the “K_4 crystal”. It is not known whether the K_4 crystal exists in nature or could be synthesized.

One can create an idealized mathematical model of a crystal by focusing on its main features, namely, the atoms and the bonds between them. The atoms are represented by points, which we will call “vertices”, and the bonds are represented as lines, which we will call “edges”. This kind of network of vertices and edges is called a “graph”. A crystal is built up by starting with a building-block graph and joining together copies of itself in a periodic fashion. Thus there are two patterns operating in a crystal: The pattern of edges connecting vertices in the building-block graphs (that is, the pattern of bonding relations between the atoms), and the periodic pattern joining the copies of the graphs. One can create infinitely many mathematical crystals this way, by varying the graphs and by varying the way they are joined periodically.

The diamond crystal has two key properties that distinguish it from other crystals. The first, called “maximal symmetry”, concerns the symmetry of the arrangement of the building-block graphs. Some arrangements have more symmetry than others, and if one starts with any given arrangement, one can deform it, while maintaining periodicity and the bonding relations between the atoms, to make it more symmetrical. For the diamond crystal, it turns out that no deformation of the periodic arrangement can make it any more symmetrical than it is. As Sunada puts it, the diamond crystal has maximal symmetry.

Any crystal can be deformed into a crystal with maximal symmetry, so that property alone does not distinguish the diamond crystal. But the diamond crystal has a second special property, called “the strong isotropic property”. This property resembles the rotational symmetry that characterizes the circle and the sphere: No matter how you rotate a circle or a sphere, it always looks the same. The diamond crystal has a similar property, in that the crystal looks the same when viewed from the direction of any edge. Rotate the diamond crystal from the direction of one edge to the direction of a different edge, and it will look the same.

It turns out that, out of all the crystals that are possible to construct mathematically, just one shares with the diamond these two properties. Sunada calls this the K_4 crystal, because it is made out of a graph called K_4, which consists of 4 points, in which any two vertices are connected by an edge.

“The K_4 crystal looks no less beautiful than the diamond crystal,” Sunada writes. “Its artistic structure has intrigued me for some time.” He notes that, although the K_4 crystal presently exists only as a mathematical object, it is tempting to wonder whether it might occur in nature or could be synthesized. This is not so far-fetched as it may sound: The Fullerene, which has the structure of a soccer ball (technically called a truncated icosahedron), was identified as a mathematical object before it was found, in 1990, to occur in nature as the C_60 molecule.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 10:13 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The psychology of the US

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The US spends more on its military than the military spending of all other countries combined (and 10 times more than the next largest military budget, which is China’s). The US could cut its military budget by 80% and still be outspending China 2 to 1.

In the meantime, the national infrastructure desperately needs work and updating (bridge failures, water purity, and so on), we need national health insurance, we need to expand access to higher education and improve education’s effectiveness, and so on and on.

So why all the money going into the military? Is the US really so frightened of other nations?

I think it is simply the outcome predicted by President Dwight Eisenhower:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

We now have a military-industrial-government complex in full flower: legislators paid off by lobbyists for companies becoming wealthy from military expenditures, with retired military and retired legislators and retired officials from the Executive going to work for military contractors. And our liberties are gradually being removed and made inoperative to protect the new powers.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 9:58 am

Philip Glass on Sesame Street

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For fans of Philip Glass:

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 8:30 am

Posted in Music, Video

Windows only: personal software inspector

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This is a cool (free) application: it looks at all the programs installed on your computer and tells you which ones need updates. The full scan on my computer took 5 minutes 20 seconds, so not bad. (It will scan in background.) From the list of “insecure” applications (i.e., those requiring updates), it seems that when Sun installs a new version of the Java Runtime Engine, it leaves all previous versions in place—bad idea, IMHO.

Take a look.

UPDATE: I just went through the “insecure” applications and installed updates. I like PSI.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 8:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

This sounds very tasty

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From Simply Recipes:

“Bacon” variety avocados are in season in the winter; lighter in flavor than the more popular Haas variety, these large, thin-skinned avocados are exceptionally creamy and are perfect for using in sauces. While remoulade is typically made with mayonnaise, in this case we’ve substituted the mayo with avocado and seasoned it with lime juice.

  • 2 large avocados, cut and peeled
  • 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (can substitute lemon)
  • 3-4 Tbsp light olive oil (light refers to flavor and color, not calories)
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallots or green onion
  • 1 Tbsp minced parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of salmon fillets
  • Grapeseed or canola oil

1 Put avocado pieces and lime juice into a food processor or blender and pulse until blended. Slowly add olive oil, pulsing, until you reach desired consistency of sauce. Add minced shallots (or green onions) and parsley, pulse just until combined. Remove to a bowl, add mustard, salt and pepper to taste.

2 Coat the bottom of a sauté pan with oil, heat on medium high until almost smoking. Season both sides of the salmon fillets with salt and pepper, carefully lay the salmon into the pan, skin side down. Cook the salmon until about medium doneness, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Serve salmon with avocado remoulade sauce.

Serves 4.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 8:07 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Interactive physics demonstrations

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And, speaking of self-education, here’s a useful site:

Physics provides more than 40 online interactives that demonstrate concepts in mechanics, fluid mechanics and dynamics, electromagnetism, and quantum physics. Watch simulations of a pendulum, suspension bridge, charged particle in a magnetic chamber, hourglass, Archimedes’ Principle of Buoyancy, electrical fields, gears, light-matter interactions, Newton’s Cradle, pulleys, springs, water flow when a dam collapses, and more.

I had to change the timeout for connection (under Options, Preferences) from 5 seconds to 15 seconds in order to connect. But then it connected fine, and it’s pretty cool.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 7:57 am

Posted in Education, Science

Business self-education

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Cool Tools points out the reading list for a personal MBA. At the link, you’ll find a recommended reading list and links to a forum of people engaged in the enterprise. The web page at the link includes a thought-provoking quotation from Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting:

“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.”

And Kevin Kelly notes:

I once dabbled with the idea of getting an MBA. After a life avoiding any work in a business, I wanted to start one of my own and knew zero about it. Like many folks, I thought a heavy-duty school program would cure my ignorance and inexperience. But an official MBA degree can easily cost $100,000. I figured out I would learn more spending $500 in self-education. So I devoted $200 for books and the other $300 actually starting a small mail-order business (the fee went for an ad). In two years I learned more about how business really worked than any MBA graduate I had met. No matter what they tell you, an MBA is not essential for landing or handling a good business job. The chief “skill” you’ll come away by your degree is a diploma, and a network of indebted friends in business. The latter is actually useful.

There is another option to an overpriced degree, which is the self-education path outlined above. Pursue your own Personal MBA in tandem with actual experience doing some kind of business. Josh Kaufman has put together an excellent and very hefty reading list which forms the core of his PMBA course. It is downloadable as a free PDF. The recommended readings are wide, deep, holistic, and very good. You could purchase all of these easily available books for $500, and if you combine study of them with actually trying stuff, you’ll be far ahead in the business game.

If you go this route, you need to supplement your self-education with a network of live humans engaged in business (the only part of a certified MBA you’ll miss).

Kaufman has recently updated his annotated recommended reading list. No PDF yet, but his website is chock full of the new material.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 7:48 am

Light blogging today

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The Wife and I are going to San Francisco to see the Joseph Cornell exhibit at the MOMA.

UPDATE: Trip canceled: bad storms predicted. We will stay at home.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 7:41 am

Posted in Art

Leathery guy

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I used Mama Bear’s English Leather shaving soap this morning, with the Sabini ebony-handled style 2-ish brush. A really wonderful lather. It occurred to me to mention that the secret of a great lather from a shaving soap might be worth restating: first, a good shaving soap and a good brush. (Caswell-Massey shaving soaps, for example, will not produce a lather.)

Then, the brush being wet, get enough soap onto the brush. This means a brisk brushing action around the soap with the tips of the bristles. When a little lather starts to form, that means you’re picking up soap. Continue the brisk brushing for 30-45 seconds.

Then use the brush to apply the soap layer to your entire beard, brushing it in well. At this point, you have a good coating of soap, but not much lather. So add a driblet of hot water to the center of the brush, and brush your beard vigorously all over. You’ll have a lather at that point, and whether you need an additional driblet depends on various things, but it’s possible. For me, this morning, I did use an additional driblet and continued brushing vigorously on my beard to work up the lather I wanted.

Then I picked up the Merkur Futur with the once-used Treet and did three passes, lathering again before the second and third (across and against the grain, respectively).

Extremely smooth shave, finished off with Geo. F. Trumper Spanish Leather aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2008 at 7:39 am

Posted in Shaving

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