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Archive for August 14th, 2015

Common cognitive disorders

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Earlier I linked to “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in the Atlantic. It describes the infantilizing of higher education with the goals of (1) avoiding intellectual challenge and (2) increasing student emotional comfort. The authors’ recommendation of cognitive behavioral therapy is quite interesting: identifying cognitive mistakes and attacking them head on. CBT has been proven to work: numerous studies validate its effects. The entire article is worth reading. It has this appendix:

Common Cognitive Disorders

A partial list from Robert L. Leahy, Stephen J. F. Holland, and Lata K. McGinn’s Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders (2012).

1. Mind reading. You assume that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.”

2. Fortune-telling. You predict the future negatively: things will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I’ll fail that exam,” or “I won’t get the job.”

3. Catastrophizing.You believe that what has happened or will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. “It would be terrible if I failed.”

4. Labeling. You assign global negative traits to yourself and others. “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.”

5. Discounting positives. You claim that the positive things you or others do are trivial. “That’s what wives are supposed to do—so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”

6. Negative filtering. You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. “Look at all of the people who don’t like me.”

7. Overgeneralizing. You perceive a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me. I seem to fail at a lot of things.”

8. Dichotomous thinking. You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.”

9. Blaming. You focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings, and you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.”

10. What if? You keep asking a series of questions about “what if” something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. “Yeah, but what if I get anxious?,” or “What if I can’t catch my breath?”

11. Emotional reasoning. You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out.”

12. Inability to disconfirm. You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought I’m unlovable, you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently, your thought cannot be refuted. “That’s not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors.”

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2015 at 4:19 pm

Interesting comment on respect, from Paul Krugman

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Krugman blogs:

This is a blog post about fanatical centrists, British debt history, and ponies.

Start with the fanatical centrists: Martin Longman flies into a well-justified rage over a “centrist” column that concedes that the Iran deal is something we really need to do, effectively concedes that the arguments of the deal’s opponents are scurrilous and irresponsible — but condemns Obama for being “dismissive” of the opponents’ arguments.

That’s something that happens to me all the time. I constantly get mail — and sometimes other peoples’ columns — condemning me, not for being wrong, but for being dismissive of the arguments of those I criticize. After all, these are important people, so they deserve to be treated with respect. Right?


If people consistently make logically incoherent, ignorant arguments, the duty of a commentator is to say just that — not to mislead readers by pretending that they’re actually serious and making sense. You shouldn’t make gratuitous insults — I have never, to my knowledge, declared that someone’s mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries. But stupid/ignorant is as stupid/ignorant does, and influence changes nothing.

Where I’ve been getting pushback lately is in my pronouncements that the whole Republican field is talking nonsense on economic policy. That’s a terrible thing to say, I’m told. But what if it’s true? And of course it is.

Consider a couple of recent entries. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2015 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

The big earthquake that could destroy much of the West Coast

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A rather grim albeit interesting article by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker:

When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Tohoku, Japan, Chris Goldfinger was two hundred miles away, in the city of Kashiwa, at an international meeting on seismology. As the shaking started, everyone in the room began to laugh. Earthquakes are common in Japan—that one was the third of the week—and the participants were, after all, at a seismology conference. Then everyone in the room checked the time.

Seismologists know that how long an earthquake lasts is a decent proxy for its magnitude. The 1989 earthquake in Loma Prieta, California, which killed sixty-three people and caused six billion dollars’ worth of damage, lasted about fifteen seconds and had a magnitude of 6.9. A thirty-second earthquake generally has a magnitude in the mid-sevens. A minute-long quake is in the high sevens, a two-minute quake has entered the eights, and a three-minute quake is in the high eights. By four minutes, an earthquake has hit magnitude 9.0.

When Goldfinger looked at his watch, it was quarter to three. The conference was wrapping up for the day. He was thinking about sushi. The speaker at the lectern was wondering if he should carry on with his talk. The earthquake was not particularly strong. Then it ticked past the sixty-second mark, making it longer than the others that week. The shaking intensified. The seats in the conference room were small plastic desks with wheels. Goldfinger, who is tall and solidly built, thought, No way am I crouching under one of those for cover. At a minute and a half, everyone in the room got up and went outside.

It was March. There was a chill in the air, and snow flurries, but no snow on the ground. Nor, from the feel of it, was there ground on the ground. The earth snapped and popped and rippled. It was, Goldfinger thought, like driving through rocky terrain in a vehicle with no shocks, if both the vehicle and the terrain were also on a raft in high seas. The quake passed the two-minute mark. The trees, still hung with the previous autumn’s dead leaves, were making a strange rattling sound. The flagpole atop the building he and his colleagues had just vacated was whipping through an arc of forty degrees. The building itself was base-isolated, a seismic-safety technology in which the body of a structure rests on movable bearings rather than directly on its foundation. Goldfinger lurched over to take a look. The base was lurching, too, back and forth a foot at a time, digging a trench in the yard. He thought better of it, and lurched away. His watch swept past the three-minute mark and kept going.

Oh, shit, Goldfinger thought, although not in dread, at first: in amazement. For decades, seismologists had believed that Japan could not experience an earthquake stronger than magnitude 8.4. In 2005, however, at a conference in Hokudan, a Japanese geologist named Yasutaka Ikeda had argued that the nation should expect a magnitude 9.0 in the near future—with catastrophic consequences, because Japan’s famous earthquake-and-tsunami preparedness, including the height of its sea walls, was based on incorrect science. The presentation was met with polite applause and thereafter largely ignored. Now, Goldfinger realized as the shaking hit the four-minute mark, the planet was proving the Japanese Cassandra right.

For a moment, that was pretty cool: a real-time revolution in earthquake science. Almost immediately, though, it became extremely uncool, because Goldfinger and every other seismologist standing outside in Kashiwa knew what was coming. One of them pulled out a cell phone and started streaming videos from the Japanese broadcasting station NHK, shot by helicopters that had flown out to sea soon after the shaking started. Thirty minutes after Goldfinger first stepped outside, he watched the tsunami roll in, in real time, on a two-inch screen.

In the end, the magnitude-9.0 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed more than eighteen thousand people, devastated northeast Japan, triggered the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant, and cost an estimated two hundred and twenty billion dollars. The shaking earlier in the week turned out to be the foreshocks of the largest earthquake in the nation’s recorded history. But for Chris Goldfinger, a paleoseismologist at Oregon State University and one of the world’s leading experts on a little-known fault line, the main quake was itself a kind of foreshock: a preview of another earthquake still to come.

Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable. Occasionally, at the borders where they meet, it is not.

Take your hands and hold them palms down, middle fingertips touching. Your right hand represents the North American tectonic plate, which bears on its back, among other things, our entire continent, from One World Trade Center to the Space Needle, in Seattle. Your left hand represents an oceanic plate called Juan de Fuca, ninety thousand square miles in size. The place where they meet is the Cascadia subduction zone. Now slide your left hand under your right one. That is what the Juan de Fuca plate is doing: slipping steadily beneath North America. When you try it, your right hand will slide up your left arm, as if you were pushing up your sleeve. That is what North America is not doing. It is stuck, wedged tight against the surface of the other plate.

Without moving your hands, curl your right knuckles up, so that they point toward the ceiling. Under pressure from Juan de Fuca, the stuck edge of North America is bulging upward and compressing eastward, at the rate of, respectively, three to four millimetres and thirty to forty millimetres a year. It can do so for quite some time, because, as continent stuff goes, it is young, made of rock that is still relatively elastic. (Rocks, like us, get stiffer as they age.) But it cannot do so indefinitely. There is a backstop—the craton, that ancient unbudgeable mass at the center of the continent—and, sooner or later, North America will rebound like a spring. If, on that occasion, only the southern part of the Cascadia subduction zone gives way—your first two fingers, say—the magnitude of the resulting quake will be somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6.Thats the big one. If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one.

Flick your right fingers outward, forcefully, so that your hand flattens back down again. When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover* some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy.FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says.

In fact, the science is robust, and one of the chief scientists behind it is Chris Goldfinger. Thanks to work done by him and his colleagues, we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s all interesting. It includes almost a minute-by-minute recounting of what is going to happen—and the degree to which we are totally unprepared. For example:

. . . The first sign that the Cascadia earthquake has begun will be a compressional wave, radiating outward from the fault line. Compressional waves are fast-moving, high-frequency waves, audible to dogs and certain other animals but experienced by humans only as a sudden jolt. They are not very harmful, but they are potentially very useful, since they travel fast enough to be detected by sensors thirty to ninety seconds ahead of other seismic waves. That is enough time for earthquake early-warning systems, such as those in use throughout Japan, to automatically perform a variety of lifesaving functions: shutting down railways and power plants, opening elevators and firehouse doors, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, and triggering alarms so that the general public can take cover. The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.

Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling. But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass. Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, cannisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.

Across the region, other, larger structures will also start to fail. Until 1974, the state of Oregon had no seismic code, and few places in the Pacific Northwest had one appropriate to a magnitude-9.0 earthquake until 1994. The vast majority of buildings in the region were constructed before then. Ian Madin, who directs the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), estimates that seventy-five per cent of all structures in the state are not designed to withstand a major Cascadia quake. FEMA calculates that, across the region, something on the order of a million buildings—more than three thousand of them schools—will collapse or be compromised in the earthquake. So will half of all highway bridges, fifteen of the seventeen bridges spanning Portland’s two rivers, and two-thirds of railways and airports; also, one-third of all fire stations, half of all police stations, and two-thirds of all hospitals.

Certain disasters stem from many small problems conspiring to cause one very large problem. For want of a nail, the war was lost; for fifteen independently insignificant errors, the jetliner was lost. Subduction-zone earthquakes operate on the opposite principle: one enormous problem causes many other enormous problems. The shaking from the Cascadia quake will set off landslides throughout the region—up to thirty thousand of them in Seattle alone, the city’s emergency-management office estimates. It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment of anything on top of it. Fifteen per cent of Seattle is built on liquefiable land, including seventeen day-care centers and the homes of some thirty-four thousand five hundred people. So is Oregon’s critical energy-infrastructure hub, a six-mile stretch of Portland through which flows ninety per cent of the state’s liquid fuel and which houses everything from electrical substations to natural-gas terminals. Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. Any one of these second-order disasters could swamp the original earthquake in terms of cost, damage, or casualties—and one of them definitely will. Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.

Among natural disasters, tsunamis may be the closest to being completely unsurvivable. The only likely way to outlive one is not to be there when it happens: to steer clear of the vulnerable area in the first place, or get yourself to high ground as fast as possible. For the seventy-one thousand people who live in Cascadia’s inundation zone, that will mean evacuating in the narrow window after one disaster ends and before another begins. . .

And it continues.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2015 at 11:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

An interesting way to make better use of our electricity grid

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Samantha Page reports at ThinkProgress:

In the basement garage of a high-end apartment building in the middle of New York City, a few electricians are quietly installing a century-old product that is now poised to revolutionize an industry — and maybe lead the United States into a carbon-neutral future.

Taking up about two parking spaces is a wall of boxes. They are simple lead-acid batteries, similar to what keeps the lights on in your car. But these batteries are linked together, connected to the building’s electricity system, and monitored in real time by a Washington-state based company, Demand Energy. Demand’s installation at the Paramount Building in midtown Manhattan is going to lower the building electricity bills and reduce its carbon footprint, even while it doesn’t reduce a single watt of use.

Every night, the batteries charge up. Every day, they run down, providing a small portion of the building’s energy and reducing the amount of power it takes off the grid. This cycle of charging during low-use times and discharging during high use times helps level out the Paramount’s electricity use.

It’s important to note that not all electricity is created equally. Renewable sources, such as wind and solar, don’t emit any greenhouse gases during power generation. Coal-burning and other fossil-fuel plants do, but even those plants emit different amounts of carbon dioxide depending on how they are used. Just like going 55 mph in a car is more efficient than going 100 mph, the more consistently we all use electricity, the less emissions we produce.

“The electricity grid as it’s designed today is a perfect just-in-time energy system,” Doug Staker, president of Demand Energy, told ThinkProgress. This means that for every computer turned on in the morning, the grid has to supply that amount of power. But it also creates opportunities. “At night, when all the demand goes away, there is a potential to have oversupply,” Staker said. That oversupply goes into batteries. It all comes back to flattening the demand curve — driving demand down during the day and up at night.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2015 at 11:07 am

A big breakthrough on the way to a quantum computer

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Very interesting report in Motherboard by Daniel Oberhaus:

Today marked the unveiling of a reprogrammable optical chip that is capable of processing photons in an infinite variety of ways. This development marks a massive step toward the realization of a quantum computer capable of wildly outperforming its most powerful classical counterparts, a technological feat that has been dreamt of for decades.

The new chip was heralded by the team of researchers from the University of Bristol and the Japanese telecom company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone as a “quantum optics lab-on-a-chip” because it brings together a number of pre-existing quantum experiments on a single device, drastically cutting down the amount of time and resources needed to design and run experiments to test theories about quantum computing. The work is detailed in a report in Science.

“A whole field of research has essentially been put onto a single optical chip that is easily controlled. The implications of the work go beyond the huge resource savings,”said Dr. Anthony Laing, a research fellow at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Quantum Photonics. “Now anybody can run their own experiments with photons, much like they operate any other piece of software on a computer.”

Quantum computing was first postulated by renowned physicist Richard Feynman in 1981 in response to the problem of simulating quantum mechanics on a computer. Quantum mechanics, which deals with interactions between individual atoms and particles, involves so many variables that the amount of memory required by a classical supercomputer to model quantum interactions is basically impossible. While Feynman was not the first to recognize this problem, he was one of the first to propose a solution: rather than model quantum mechanics on a classical computer, why not just make a quantum computer? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2015 at 9:28 am

The Chinese government does not understand the action of the market

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Update: And another look at the situation, by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker.

And another update: In the New Yorker John Cassidy looks at the situation.

As Paul Krugman explains in a very good column, they are attempting to control directly what the market does, and that not only doesn’t work, it reveals an abysmal ignorance. Krugman writes in his column:

China is ruled by a party that calls itself Communist, but its economic reality is one of rapacious crony capitalism. And everyone has been assuming that the nation’s leaders are in on the joke, that they know better than to take their occasional socialist rhetoric seriously.

Yet their zigzagging policies over the past few months have been worrying. Is it possible that after all these years Beijing still doesn’t get how this “markets” thing works?

The background: China’s economy is wildly unbalanced, with a very low share of gross domestic product devoted to consumption and a very high share devoted to investment. This was sustainable while the country was able to maintain extremely rapid growth; but growth is, inevitably, slowing as China runs out of surplus labor. As a result, returns on investment are dropping fast.

The solution is to invest less and consume more. But getting there will take reforms that distribute the fruits of growth more widely and provide families with greater security. And while China has taken some steps in that direction, there’s still a long way to go.

Meanwhile, the problem is how to sustain spending during the transition. And that’s where things have gotten weird.

At first, the Chinese government supported the economy in part throughinfrastructure spending, which is the standard remedy for economic weakness. But it also did so by funneling cheap credit to state-owned enterprises. The result was a run-up in these enterprises’ debt, which by last year was high enough to raise worries about financial stability.

Next, China adopted an official policy of boosting stock prices, combining a stock-buying propaganda campaign with relaxed margin requirements, making it easier to buy stocks with borrowed money. The goal may have been to help out those state-owned enterprises, which could pay down debt by selling stock. But the consequence was an obvious bubble, which began deflating earlier this year.

The response of the Chinese authorities was remarkable: They pulled out all the stops to support the market — suspending trading in many stocks, banning short-selling, pushing large investors to buy, and instructing graduating economics students to chant “Revive A-shares, benefit the people.”

All of this has stabilized the market for the time being. But it is at the cost of tying China’s credibility to its ability to keep stock prices from ever falling. And the Chinese economy still needs more support.

So this week China decided to . . .

Continue reading.

Late in the column:

The common theme in these wild policy swings is that China’s leadership keeps imagining that it can order markets around, telling them what prices to reach. And that’s not how things work.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2015 at 9:04 am

Lemon all the way, and a note on describing razors

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SOTD 14 Aug 2015

After using Myrsol Lemon yesterday, I was in a lemon mood, so this morning I am using Honeybee Soaps Fresh Lemon, a fragrance that I asked her to make. To my nose, it is perfect: it smells very like a fresh lemon, with no sweet or custard overtones at all.

I got a very nice lather with the Rooney Style 3, Size 1 shown. Then three passes with the Feather AS-D2 shown left my face BBS. In discussing this razor on Wicked_Edge, I got a clearer picture of the trap when describing a razor. The trap occurs because we typically want to know the razor’s feel and performance, and unfortunately the same words are typically used to describe each of the two aspects—but the meanings of the words differ depending on which is being described.

Feel is generally described as “mild” or “aggressive,” where “mild” means that the razor feels  comfortable, gentle on the skin, not inclined to nick; and  “aggressive” means uncomfortable, harsh, feeling as though it can nick at any moment.

Performance is described using the same two words, but in this context they have slightly different meanings: “mild” in this context means inefficient, doesn’t cut well, hard to get a BBS shave; and “aggressive” in this context means that the razor cuts stubble efficiently and effectively, easily producing BBS shaves and requiring fewer passes to get the job done.

So when a razor is descried as “mild” (or “aggressive”), it’s important to determine whether it’s the razor’s feel or its performance that’s being described.

Of course it’s quite possible that a razor’s feel and the performance are both “mild”: the Weishi is an example. And a razor can have an “aggressive” feel and and also an “aggressive” performance (though the meanings of “aggressive” for feel differs from the meaning of “aggressive” for performance). Many find the Mühle R41 aggressive in both feel and performance.

Some razors, though, have a mild feel and an aggressive performance—for example, the modern slants, the Standard, the iKon Shavecraft #101, the Parker 24C, and (for me) the Feather AS-D2 when I use a Feather blade in it.

Because slants are often described as “aggressive” (referring to performance), many new slant users are surprised by the mild feel, assuming the slant was aggressive in both feel and performance. It’s not.

Similarly, because the mild feel of the AS-D2 is quite noticeable, its aggressive performance can be overlooked. (And apparently for some its performance is also mild, but for me it’s always been aggressive in performance, mild in feel.)

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2015 at 8:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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