Later On

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

Archive for March 9th, 2021

What Is Life? Its Vast Diversity Defies Easy Definition.

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Carl Zimmer writes in Quanta:

People often feel that they can intuitively recognize whether something is alive, but nature is filled with entities that flout easy categorization as life or non-life — and the challenge may intensify as other planets and moons open up to exploration. In this excerpt from his new book, Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive, published today, the science writer Carl Zimmer discusses scientists’ frustrated efforts to develop a universal definition of life.

“It is commonly said,” the scientists Frances Westall and André Brack wrote in 2018, “that there are as many definitions of life as there are people trying to define it.”

As an observer of science and of scientists, I find this behavior strange. It is as if astronomers kept coming up with new ways to define stars. I once asked Radu Popa, a microbiologist who started collecting definitions of life in the early 2000s, what he thought of this state of affairs.

“This is intolerable for any science,” he replied. “You can take a science in which there are two or three definitions for one thing. But a science in which the most important object has no definition? That’s absolutely unacceptable. How are we going to discuss it if you believe that the definition of life has something to do with DNA, and I think it has something to do with dynamic systems? We cannot make artificial life because we cannot agree on what life is. We cannot find life on Mars because we cannot agree what life represents.”

With scientists adrift in an ocean of definitions, philosophers rowed out to offer lifelines.

Some tried to soothe the debate, assuring the scientists they could learn to live with the abundance. We have no need to zero in on the One True Definition of Life, they argued, because working definitions are good enough. NASA can come up with whatever definition helps them build the best machine for searching for life on other planets and moons. Physicians can use a different one to map the blurry boundary that sets life apart from death. “Their value does not depend on consensus, but rather on their impact on research,” the philosophers Leonardo Bich and Sara Green argued.

Other philosophers found this way of thinking — known as operationalism — an intellectual cop‐out. Defining life was hard, yes, but that was no excuse not to try. “Operationalism may sometimes be unavoidable in practice,” the philosopher Kelly Smith countered, “but it simply cannot substitute for a proper definition of life.”

Smith and other foes of operationalism complain that such definitions rely on what a group of people generally agree on. But the most important research on life is at its frontier, where it will be hardest to come to an easy agreement. “Any experiment conducted without a clear idea of what it is looking for ultimately settles nothing,” Smith declared.

Smith argued that the best thing to do is to keep searching for a definition of life that everyone can get behind, one that succeeds where others have failed. But Edward Trifonov, a Russian‐born geneticist, wondered if a successful definition already exists but is lying hidden amidst all the past attempts.

In 2011, Trifonov reviewed 123 definitions of life. Each was different, but the same words showed up again and again in many of them. Trifonov analyzed the linguistic structure of the definitions and sorted them into categories. Beneath their variations, Trifonov found an underlying core. He concluded that all the definitions agreed on one thing: life is self‐reproduction with variations. What NASA’s scientists had done in eleven words (“Life is a self‐sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution”), Trifonov now did with three.

His efforts did not settle matters. All of us — scientists included — keep a personal list of things that we consider to be alive and not alive. If someone puts forward a definition, we check our list to see where it draws that line. A number of scientists looked at Trifonov’s distilled definition and did not like the line’s location. “A computer virus performs self‐reproduction with variations. It is not alive,” declared the biochemist Uwe Meierhenrich.

Some philosophers have suggested that we need to think more carefully about how we give a word like life its meaning. Instead of building definitions first, we should start by thinking about the things we’re trying to define. We can let them speak for themselves.

These philosophers are following in the tradition of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In the 1940s, Wittgenstein argued that everyday conversations are rife with concepts that are very hard to define. How, for example, would you answer the question, “What are games?”

If you tried to answer with a list of necessary and sufficient requirements for a game, you’d fail. Some games have winners and losers, but others are open‐ended. Some games use tokens, others cards, others bowling balls. In some games, players get paid to play. In other games, they pay to play, even going into debt in some cases.

For all this confusion, however, we never get tripped up talking about games. Toy stores are full of games for sale, and yet you never see children staring at them in bafflement. Games are not a mystery, Wittgenstein argued, because they share a kind of family resemblance. “If you look at them you will not see something that is common to all,” he said, “but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that.”

A group of philosophers and scientists at Lund University in Sweden wondered if the question “What is life?” might better be answered the way Wittgenstein answered the question “What are games?” Rather than come up with a rigid list of required traits, they might be able to find family resemblances that could naturally join things together in a category we could call Life. . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 6:15 pm

Odd water-droplet behavior examined and explained

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Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 5:05 pm

A loophole in Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

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A reminder: The Three Laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 4:52 pm

The Future of Weed: 12 Bold Predictions for the Next Decade of Consumer Cannabis

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As more states legalize marijuana, the Federal government must at some point reconsider its classification as a Schedule 1 drug:

Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:

heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote

LSD, ecstasy, and peyote all have potential use in psychotherapy, and marijuana clearly has medical use and not nearly so high a potential for abuse as alcohol, which is not on the schedule at all despite its clear and obvious dangers associated with addiction and death. (See, for example, this report from today: “Bowling Green student dies after drinking ‘copious’ alcohol at a frat event under investigation for hazing.”) There are no recorded deaths from marijuana.

In Inside Hook Eli London takes a look at where the cannabis business might go:

So what’s the deal with weed?

It’s sort of legal, but also not really. It’s a plant … or at least a flower that’s derived from one. Back when it mostly grew out of the ground, it was demonized by Nixon’s DEA as a gateway drug; now that it’s taxable and grown in hulking, byzantine greenhouses, it’s seen as a path to redemption from the opioid epidemic and a road to riches for investors and entrepreneurs.

The sales of legal cannabis are projected to reach somewhere in the realm of $35 billion within the next five years. The actual economic impact of that market could hit $130 billion in that same timeframe. Marijuana startups are cropping up like they were being founded in hydroponic soil and bathed in UV light. Dozens of cannabis companies (mostly based in Canada, since it’s not federally legal in the US) are already available for trading in American markets. Marijuana is fully legal in 15 states (as well as DC) and at least somewhat legal in all but three states.

The green wave is coming. My inbox flows over with PR pitches from upstart marijuana companies and thinkpieces about the industry every week. In my financial news consumption, I hear about cannabis stocks on a near daily basis. In my political reading, I’m constantly reminded of the state-vs.-federal debate that underpins policy and legalization. And in keeping up with social-justice issues, I’m constantly reminded of the ugly and devastating impact marijuana and the war on drugs has had on Black and brown communities across the country.

But rather than try to summarize all these things and write a dreadfully underqualified synopsis of where the industry is heading over the next decade, I figured it would be better to talk to experts – founders, investors, lobbyists, organizers and more – from across the cannabis landscape to get their thoughts directly. I asked them broad questions about what the next decade of consumer cannabis will look like, and from their answers, I was able to parse together 12 predictions for what the next 10 years hold.

This is not an exhaustive or definitive list; it is a compendium of common themes and predictions I saw from speaking with a sizable amount of industry professionals. It is by no means gospel, but it is — we hope — a document that will give you thoughtful insight into a nascent sector of the American economy that is only destined to keep growing. That’s what plants do, after all.

Getting Stoned Out of Your Gourd Will No Longer Be the Goal

Microdosing cannabis will become the preferred performance, productivity and wellness tool across many professions, including pro sports. Microdoses of cannabis become commercially available in settings where consumers face triggers for stress or anxiety, e.g., airports and airplanes, dental offices, etc.” – David Cookson, Founder, Sula

“There’s a misconception about what a large swath of the market wants out of a cannabis experience. While there’s a legacy community of consumers who want to get very high or for whom a high THC percentage is simply the norm, there’s a much larger existing and nascent consumer demo that is looking for a more moderate and functional high. Just as not everyone wants to be drunk when they drink, not everyone wants to be blasted when they’re high.” – David Weiner, Co-Founder, Gossamer

“Microdosed products will not only become more popular, they will be the norm. Products with a mild dose of THC are the most appealing to mainstream consumers that are open to cannabis but have not tried or have not tried recently. It is these products, like our Cann Social Tonics with 2mg THC, that will bring in waves of new consumers to the industry. They care about feeling in control, having consistent experiences that are turnkey, energizing and social. Watch out for more and more microdose THC products across all product categories.” – Jake Bullock, Co-Founder, Cann

We Will Stop Thinking about Weed in Terms of Indica or Sativa

“As more research is funded, we see the supremacy of the Indica/Sativa dichotomy being challenged. Research suggests that looking at cannabis strictly through this framework might not serve our understanding in the way it is marketed to us.” – Max Spohler, Co-Founder, Artet  

“Classification of ‘strains’ as indica, sativa or hybrid as well as creatively named hybrids/strains will be largely replaced by a scientifically supported classification system that more accurately correlates to evidence-based ‘effects’ and indications for cannabis compounds.” – Cookson

THC and CBD Are Only Part of the Equation

“Consumers will continue to become more knowledgeable about the benefits of cannabis and its various compounds beyond just THC and CBD, including terpenes and cannabinoids like CBN and CBG. They will also understand how cannabis can fit into their daily routines along with other supplements and health products.” – Jim Baudino, Partner, Sands Lane Holdings

“[There will be an increase in] awareness of minor cannabinoids and terpenes. We’ve only scratched the surface of understanding this plant’s full potential. Right now many consumers only know THC and CBD, and many buy weed solely on how high the THC percentage is. However, terpenes impact the high more than many consumers realize, so I think those will be more in the spotlight in coming years.” – Kate Miller, Co-Founder and CEO, Miss Grass

“More conversations [will revolve] around the impact of various cannabinoids (outside of the THC and CBD conversations that currently dominate). The cannabis plant in so rich and versatile, and up until now we primarily focus on two, while there are well over 100 to consider. – Nidhi Lucky Handa, Founder, Leune . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 3:03 pm

How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire

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Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev write in the Atlantic:

To read the diary of Gustave de Beaumont, the traveling companion of Alexis de Tocqueville, is to understand just how primitive the American wilderness once seemed to visiting Frenchmen. In a single month, December 1831, Tocqueville and Beaumont were on a steamship that crashed; rode a stagecoach that broke an axle; and took shelter in a cabin—one of them bedridden from an unidentified illness—while the nearest doctor was a two-day hike away. Yet they kept meeting people whose resourcefulness they admired, and they kept collecting the observations that eventually led Tocqueville to write Democracy in America—the classic account of the ordering principles, behaviors, and institutions that made democracy function within this sprawling country.

Tocqueville’s interest in American institutions reflected more than mere curiosity: In his native France, a revolution launched with similarly high ideals about equality and democracy had ended badly. His parents had nearly been guillotined during the wave of violence that followed the momentous events of 1789. By contrast, American democracy worked—and he wanted to understand why.

With the wholesale transfer of so much entertainment, social interaction, education, commerce, and politics from the real world to the virtual world—a process recently accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic—many Americans have come to live in a nightmarish inversion of the Tocquevillian dream, a new sort of wilderness. Many modern Americans now seek camaraderie online, in a world defined not by friendship but by anomie and alienation. Instead of participating in civic organizations that give them a sense of community as well as practical experience in tolerance and consensus-building, Americans join internet mobs, in which they are submerged in the logic of the crowd, clicking Like or Share and then moving on. Instead of entering a real-life public square, they drift anonymously into digital spaces where they rarely meet opponents; when they do, it is only to vilify them.

Conversation in this new American public sphere is governed not by established customs and traditions in service of democracy but by rules set by a few for-profit companies in service of their needs and revenues. Instead of the procedural regulations that guide a real-life town meeting, conversation is ruled by algorithms that are designed to capture attention, harvest data, and sell advertising. The voices of the angriest, most emotional, most divisive—and often the most duplicitous—participants are amplified. Reasonable, rational, and nuanced voices are much harder to hear; radicalization spreads quickly. Americans feel powerless because they are.

In this new wilderness, democracy is becoming impossible. If one half of the country can’t hear the other, then Americans can no longer have shared institutions, apolitical courts, a professional civil service, or a bipartisan foreign policy. We can’t compromise. We can’t make collective decisions—we can’t even agree on what we’re deciding. No wonder millions of Americans refuse to accept the results of the most recent presidential election, despite the verdicts of state electoral committees, elected Republican officials, courts, and Congress. We no longer are the America Tocqueville admired, but have become the enfeebled democracy he feared, a place where each person,

withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but he does not see them; he touches them and does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains for him, one can at least say that he no longer has a native country.

The world’s autocracies have long understood the possibilities afforded by the tools tech companies have created, and have made use of them. China’s leaders have built an internet based on censorship, intimidation, entertainment, and surveillance; Iran bans Western websites; Russian security services have the legal right to obtain personal data from Kremlin-friendly social-media platforms, while Kremlin-friendly troll farms swamp the world with disinformation. Autocrats, both aspiring and actual, manipulate algorithms and use fake accounts to distort, harass, and spread “alternative facts.” The United States has no real answer to these challenges, and no wonder: We don’t have an internet based on our democratic values of openness, accountability, and respect for human rights. An online system controlled by a tiny number of secretive companies in Silicon Valley is not democratic but rather oligopolistic, even oligarchic.

And yet even as America’s national conversation reaches new levels of vitriol, we could be close to a turning point. Even as our polity deteriorates, an internet that promotes democratic values instead of destroying them—that makes conversation better instead of worse—lies within our grasp. Once upon a time, digital idealists were dreamers. In 1996, John Perry Barlow, a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and an early internet utopian, predicted that a new dawn of democracy was about to break: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind,” he declared, a place where “the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville [sic], and Brandeis … must now be born anew.”

Those ideas sound quaint—as outdated as that other 1990s idea, the inevitability of liberal democracy. Yet they don’t have to. A new generation of internet activists, lawyers, designers, regulators, and philosophers is offering us that vision, but now grounded in modern technology, legal scholarship, and social science. They want to resurrect the habits and customs that Tocqueville admired, to bring them online, not only in America but all across the democratic world.

How social media made the world crazier

In the surreal interregnum that followed the 2020 election, the price of America’s refusal to reform its internet suddenly became very high. Then-President Donald Trump and his supporters pushed out an entirely false narrative of electoral fraud. Those claims were reinforced on extreme-right television channels, then repeated and amplified in cyberspace, creating an alternative reality inhabited by millions of people where Trump had indeed won. QAnon—a conspiracy theory that had burst out of the subterranean internet and flooded onto platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, convincing millions that political elites are a cabal of globalist pedophiles—spilled into the real world and helped inspire the mobs that stormed the Capitol. Twitter made the extraordinary decision to ban the U.S. president for encouraging violence; the amount of election disinformation in circulation immediately dropped.

Famously, he found many of the answers in state, local, and even neighborhood institutions. He wrote approvingly of American federalism, which “permits the Union to enjoy the power of a great republic and the security of a small one.” He liked the traditions of local democracy too, the “township institutions” that “give the people the taste for freedom and the art of being free.” Despite the vast empty spaces of their country, Americans met one another, made decisions together, carried out projects together. Americans were good at democracy because they practiced democracy. They formed what he called “associations,” the myriad organizations that we now call “civil society,” and they did so everywhere:

Not only do [Americans] have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools … Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.

Tocqueville reckoned that the true success of democracy in America rested not on the grand ideals expressed on public monuments or even in the language of the Constitution, but in these habits and practices. In France, philosophes in grand salons discussed abstract principles of democracy, yet ordinary Frenchmen had no special links to one another. By contrast, Americans worked together: “As soon as several of the inhabitants of the United States have conceived a sentiment or an idea that they want to produce in the world, they seek each other out; and when they have found each other, they unite.”

In the nearly two centuries that have passed since Tocqueville wrote these words, many of those institutions and habits have deteriorated or disappeared. Most Americans no longer have much experience of “township” democracy. Some no longer have much experience of associations, in the Tocquevillian sense, either. Twenty-five years ago, the political scientist Robert Putnam was already describing the decline of what he called “social capital” in the U.S.: the disappearance of clubs and committees, community and solidarity. As internet platforms allow Americans to experience the world through a lonely, personalized lens, this problem has morphed into something altogether different.

Could these platforms have done more? As a matter of fact, Facebook keeps careful tabs on the toxicity of American discourse. Long before the election, the company, which conducts frequent, secret tests on its News Feed algorithm, had begun to play with different ways to promote more reliable information. Among other things, it created a new ranking system, designed to demote spurious, hyper-partisan sources and to boost “authoritative news content.” Shortly after Election Day, the ranking system was given greater weight in the platform’s algorithm, resulting in a purportedly “nicer News Feed”—one more grounded in reality. The change was part of a series of “break-glass measures” that the company announced would be put in place in periods of “heightened tension.” Then, a few weeks later, it was undone. After the Capitol insurrection, on January 6, the change was restored, in advance of Joe Biden’s inauguration. A Facebook spokesperson would not explain to us exactly when or why the company made those decisions, how it defines “heightened tension,” or how many of the other “break-glass measures” are still in place. Its published description of the ranking system does not explain how its metrics for reliable news are weighted, and of course there is no outside oversight of the Facebook employees who are making decisions about them. Nor will Facebook reveal anything about the impact of this change. Did conversation on the site become calmer? Did the flow of disinformation cease or slow down as a result? We don’t know.

The very fact that this kind of shift is possible points to a brutal truth: Facebook can make its site “nicer,” not just after an election but all the time. It can do more to encourage civil conversation, discourage disinformation, and reveal its own thinking about these things. But it doesn’t, because Facebook’s interests are not necessarily the same as the interests of the American public, or any democratic public. Although the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 2:07 pm

As did the Great Depression, the pandemic year may bring a sea-change in how the public views the role of government

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Prior to the Great Depression, much of the public had the idea that people who needed help were shiftless and lazy. Since they themselves did not require help, and since they lacked imagination, insight, and contact with those who did need help, they disapproved of government programs to help such people. “They don’t need help, and if they do, it’s their own fault,” was pretty much the sentiment.

But when the Great Depression hit and millions and millions were out of work and unable to find jobs, the public slowly realized, “Wait a minute. All these people cannot be shiftless layabouts.” And for some, the realization was particularly forceful, because they themselves had lost their job and their farm and their home, and they knew that they were not at fault — that it was due to forces beyond their control — and that the government not only could help them, the government had a responsibility to help them. That’s why they pay taxes: so that there will be a government organized and empower to help the public — or, as the Constitution so clearly states, to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare.”

The Biden stimulus relief plan that the House will vote on tomorrow so that President Biden can sign it into law is a clear sign that the public supports and even expects the government to step up and help out when things fall apart. Certainly this view is not universal: every single Republican Senator voted against the plan, and when the Texas power grid failed, the view of many conservatives matched that stated by Rick Perry, that people would be happy to freeze to avoid government help. That is not, if I read the mood of the country correctly, not a view widely now shared by the public.

The election next year will be interesting. I expect that Republican Senators who are running for re-election and Republiccan Representatives will be faced with the question, “Why did you vote against Biden’s stimulus relief plan? It saved our bacon, and you voted against it.” An answer of “I voted against it because I didn’t need it and none of my donors needed it” will not, I think, pass muster.

And regarding how government can help the public, this report in Yahoo News is interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 1:41 pm

Sea Slugs That Chop Off Their Heads and Grow New Bodies

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The head of Elysia cf. marginata just after autotomy. Credit: Sayaka Mitoh

There’s a stunning video in a NY Times report by Annie Roth, but I don’t know how to embed it. Do take a look. The report begins:

A few years ago, Sayaka Mitoh, a Ph.D. candidate at Nara Women’s University in Japan, was perusing her lab’s vast collection of sea slugs when she stumbled upon a gruesome sight. One of the lab’s captive-raised sea slugs, an Elysia marginatahad somehow been decapitated.

When Ms. Mitoh peered into its tank to get a better look, she noticed something even more shocking: The severed head of the creature was moving around the tank, munching algae as if there was nothing unusual about being a bodiless slug.

Ms. Mitoh also saw signs that the sea slug’s wound was self-inflicted: It was as if the sea slug had dissolved the tissue around its neck and ripped its own head off. Self-amputation, known as autotomy, isn’t uncommon in the animal kingdom. Having the ability to jettison a body part, such as a tail, helps many animals avoid predation. However, no animal had ever been observed ditching its entire body.

“I was really surprised and shocked to see the head moving,” said Ms. Mitoh, who studies the life history traits of sea slugs. She added that she expected the slug “would die quickly without a heart and other important organs.” But it not only continued to live, it also regenerated the entirety of its lost body within three weeks.

This prompted Ms. Mitoh and her colleagues to conduct a series of experiments aimed at figuring out how and why some sea slugs guillotine themselves. The results of their experiments, published Monday in Current Biology, provide evidence that Elysia marginataand a closely related species, Elysia atroviridis, purposefully decapitate themselves in order to facilitate the growth of a new body. Although more research is needed, the researchers suspect these sea slugs ditch their bodies when they become infected with internal parasites.

Ms. Mitoh and her team monitored several groups of Elysia marginata and Elysia atroviridis over the course of the creatures’ lives. Not all the sea slugs they monitored decapitated themselves, but many did — one even did it twice. Bodies regenerated from the heads of both species, but the headless bodies stayed headless. However, those dumped bodies reacted to stimuli for as long as months, before decomposing.

The head wounds the sea slugs created during autotomy took only one day to heal. Organs such as the heart took an average of one week to regenerate. For most of the sea slugs, the regeneration process took less than three weeks to complete.

“We’ve known for a long time that sea slugs have regenerative capabilities, but this really goes beyond what we had thought,” said Terry Gosliner, senior curator of invertebrate zoology at the California Academy of Science.

Dr. Gosliner, who has discovered over one-third of all sea slug species known to exist, suspects that the impressive regenerative capability of these sea slugs may relate to another impressive biological talent they possess.

Elysia marginata and Elysia atroviridis are often called “solar-powered sea slugs.” They are among a small number of slugs that can incorporate chloroplasts from the algae they eat into their bodies. This lets the slugs sustain themselves, at least partially, on the sugars the chloroplasts produce through photosynthesis.

Having this ability, which is known as kleptoplasty, could be what allows these sea slugs to survive long periods of time without their bodies.

In most animals and even some sea slugs, autotomy is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 11:58 am

A hearing-aid check-up every couple of years is a good idea (only for those who wear hearing aids, of course)

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I wear hearing aids because I have some hearing loss and those with uncorrected hearing loss tend to suffer cognitive decline and social isolation (see this earlier post).

I replaced my first pair a couple of years ago, and the audiologist suggested (via email) that it would be a good idea to come in for a check-up. (No fee involved — although the hearing aids I got seemed expensive, the cost does cover extras. For example, I get free batteries, replacement ear domes (that cover the tiny hearig-aid speakers), cleaning sticks (removes wax guard over speaker with one end of stick, other end applies new wax guard). And I got the free check-up.

The check-up began with a new hearing test, and my sensitivity to high-frequency sounds had diminished somewhat, a natural effect of continued aging. (I’ve been trying to stop it, but not altogether successfully.) That was accommodated by reprogramming the hearing aids to add more boost to those particular frequencies.

But before doing that, the audiologist updated the firmware in the hearing aids. It seemed to be an extensive update — it took several minutes — but most of the changes were under the hood. One clear change was the start-up sound. When you insert the hearing aids and then turn them on, they let you know they’re on by making a little sound. My Oticon hearing aids played a brief melodic sequence of 5 notes. These hearing aids, by Resound, made a sound “ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding” (8 dings). After the update, the power-up sound is now a single “beep” in thead  mid-range — a marked improvement, IMO.

After the visit, I once again heard high frequencies clearly, which makes the little sounds of daily life crisp and definite. It’s like getting a new pair of hearing aids. I had mentioned to the audiologist that I liked the hearing aids, but I did get feedback when wearing headphones, but I could put up with it. So when she gave me ear domes, she gave me a new type of ear dome — the kind I had used had four small perforations, and the new ones are not perforated. That totally solved the feedback issue.

Altogether, I feel as though I now have new hearing aids for a total cost of CAD 0 (US$0).

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 11:04 am

Wow! Unruly razor totally tamed by using Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave — plus it now turns out to be a very good razor

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Per reader suggestion (thanks, Owen), I brought out a couple of razors from the back row — razors in isolation because they so frequently savaged my face — to see whether Grooming Dept pre-shave would offer good protection and improve the shave experience with those razors (as well as the final result).

I did my now-customary prep: wet my stubble at the sink following my shower, rubbed a pea-sized lump of the pre-shave into the stubble for 1 minute, and after the first 30-second blip from my timer (the Sonicare toothbrush buzzing on the counter), I wet my fingers slightly and continued massaging.

I easily worked up a great lather from this Phoenix Artisan kokum-butter shaving soap. Alt-Eleven’s fragrance is very like that of Alt-Innsbruck aftershave. (Alt-Eleven seems to be currently unavailable, some fragrances do return.) With my face well-lathered, I picked up the wicked razor for today, the iKon Shavecraft Short Comb, a razor banished to the back row after nicking me too often.

Today’s shave was a totally different experience. I certainly treated the razor with respect, and was careful to ride the cap and not the guard, and I did not feel threatened by the blade. After a pass, I follow Grooming Dept’s suggestion and, rather than rinsing my face, just wet my hands and pat my face lightly to wet it before applying lather for the next pass.

After three passes I had an uncommonly smooth finish and one (1) very tiny nick on my chin that closed up instantly after an application of My Nick is Sealed. While I would not rank this razor high on the comfort scale — though with the pre-shave, it is quite tolerable (rather like a rowdy guest on his best behavior: all goes well, but still you’re watchful) — but I would rate it quite high on efficiency.

A small dab of Phoenix Artisan’s Star Jelly balm, and now my face feels wonderful. Star Jelly dries/is absorbed very quickly, so your face feels free of any balm residue after a few minutes.

Tomorrow I’ll try another razor that I had set aside. Thanks, Owen, for suggesting this experiment. I doubt I would have thought of it on my own because the existence of those razors was hidden behind a locked panel in my mind. Now that the door’s been opened, I can’t wait to try the others.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2021 at 9:10 am

Posted in Shaving

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