Life

For the first time in umpteen years, I’m solidly below 230 lbs (I briefly dipped below 230 in 2007 or so, the last time).

I’m using the rather innovative and revolutionary diet of Eat Right and Exercise. Otherwise known as Consume Fewer Calories Than You Burn.

Namely, I’m biking to work every day it isn’t raining, cut out junk food, cut down on portions, and have focused on eating lots of veggies and fruits.

At right is my means of tracking weight, the Withings Wifi Body Scale.

The Withings scale is WiFi enabled. Thus, if you stand on the scale for about 5 seconds after your reading stabilizes, the scale will submit your weight to a central web site where a (rather bloated and slow) Flash app can be used to monitor your weight.

However, there is also a fairly nice iPhone app. The scale can also be configured to tweet your weight (my 174 lbs target is actually below what I’d consider success @ about 190), as well.

I also briefly used the Lose It! application. It is actually a very well designed, easy to use, application for tracking your caloric intake.

Beyond all the techno-goop, the Withings scale is simply very well engineered. It has a striking, minimal, design and feels quite solid. Setup was a breeze and use is quite intuitive. It can track multiple people’s weight and automatically identifies each user by their weight (though I have no idea how it would deal with two people who have similar weights).

Update:I’m keeping a list of ebook publishers/sources for which I’ve found inFeel free to send me suggestions. This is, by no means, a complete list — I’m just taking notes as my OCD-compulsive nature kicks in and I build up a huge set of books to read.

  • The Baen Free Library contains quite an amazing selection of donationware ebooks from many well known science fiction and fantasy authors.
  • Feedbooks contains a ton of public domain and original content as they are also a publisher of ebooks. Their blog is pretty interesting, too.
  • A one-off; Charlie Stross’s Accelerando comes highly recommended.
  • In the meta-category; a weblog post claiming to point to the “top 20 websites for DRM-free Sci-Fi Books”.
  • This list is impressive and also leads to cheap sources for ebooks, too. I’m perfectly happy paying for ebooks (just like real books), though I’m not at all happy about paying more than the paperback price for an older book.
  • Tor books — publishers of Jordan’s Wheel of Time series — has embraced ebooks to a large degree.

iBooks-SciFi.PNG

I know lots of people that have picked up iPads — no surprises there. What is surprising is that just about everyone has something for which their reaction is “the iPad changes everything”.

I have several of those, but — at the moment — the biggest is reading. I used to read tons and tons of books, but gradually tapered off because I carrying around a couple of books was a pain in the ass and, for vacations, I would need to take up to a dozen, depending on duration.

That and, frankly, it has been bloody obvious for years that an e-book read that is “good enough” would provide a portable library and a decent reading experience. The Kindle was almost the one, but having 40% of the front surface area covered by a keyboard seemed like a complete waste to me. I did, however, use the Kindle app on the iPhone to read a couple of books — good, but not great.

I find iBooks to be a wonderful reading experience. Easy on the eyes, very nice user interface and — with the versatility of the iPad — I can read Kindle books, and do a myriad other things on the device. Haven’t spent much time with the Kindle app, but if it is like the iPhone, it’ll be just fine, too!

I, however, am a cheapskate. I haven’t quite brought myself to drop money on books. Fortunately, there is a large number of freely available books in both the iTunes and Kindle stores.

With a bit of hunting, I have also hit upon a treasure trove of mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy — my favorite genres — books! In particular, Baen Books made available a large number of their books in many formats! In particular, you can find a list of the participating authors, click through to their titles, then select the EPUB/Nook/Stanza Format on the download page.

Note that the books have covers as in the picture on the left, but the cover art doesn’t show up in the iBooks application on the iPad.

I donated $51 in return for a ton of books.

Dutch Oven Bread

A while ago, I took up bread making. The goal being to master turning out a consistently awesome loaf of your basic bread using a simple mix – knead – rise – knead – rise – bake recipe; standard fare directly from the first chapter in Rulhman’s Ratio.

From the first loaf, I was able to turn out a generally yummy hunk of bread, but the texture was just a bit dense.

At the moment, I bake all of my bread in a cast iron dutch oven; 30 minutes lid on, 40 or so minutes without the lid. This leads to a wonderful crisp crust and soft interior.

As it turns out, my bread was too dense simply because I wasn’t letting the dough rise long enough on the second rise! Extending the second rise not only fixed the density issue, but I’ve also now cut my ingredients by a third because my existing quantities would actually cause the bread to lift the lid on the cast iron dutch oven!

Completed Kegerator

I have always wanted to brew beer and have a number of friends that do. The results are almost always delicious and always interesting.

Having helped with the bottling process, I decided long ago that if I were to ever brew beer, I would not use bottles. Instead, I would rack into a keg and dispense from there.

Obviously, I needed a kegerator!

To force the issue, I brewed my first batch of beer a few months ago knowing that i would have to figure out a means of serving said beer from a corny keg before I could enjoy the fruits of my brewing labors. A 5 gallon “corny keg” is the standard vessel used in soda fountains and it has two “ball locks” on the top, one for the gas line and one for the liquid out line.

I actually looked into simply purchasing a kegerator outright, but they were expensive, generally inefficient, and often designed very poorly.

Thus, I decided to build my own.

If you are lucky enough to have a gas range, you already know the joys of a dead even heat source that can range from medium-low to blowtorch. None of that cyclic all-on/all-off nonsense of the typical electric range, for example.

However, “low heat” is not something in the typical gas range’s vocabulary. On our Viking, the lowest setting on the smallest burner will keep a small pot of water at a rolling boil and will consistently cause a cup of rice to boil over. And it is a really low flame!

Enter the heat diffuser. A heat diffuser sits between burner and your pan or pot. It effectively acts as a heat buffer and, as the name implies, diffuser.

On a gas range like mine, it allows one to achieve the lowest simmer/heat you might want. On an electric range, a cast iron heat diffuser — you want thermal mass — will nicely even on the all-on/all-off behavior of most ranges.

At ~$20, it is a worthy tool to add to your cooking arsenal!

I have long wanted a really good toaster oven. One that had decent capacity, was versatile, and insulated such that it doesn’t lose a ton of heat when sticking food into it. As well, I can’t deal with poorly designed products and will often choose dead simple over a full featured item simply because simple is harder to screw up.

After 8 months of research and comparisons, I finally settled on the Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven. It isn’t simple and it certainly isn’t cheap, but the Breville is really quite an excellent piece of technology.

The Breville’s controls are straightforward. You select the mode first, then there are two additional dials that configure, effectively, temperature and time. For toasting, the two additional buttons select slices and darkness; seemingly silly, but it actually works quite well!

As well, the toaster oven has a convection setting and a “frozen” setting that automatically adjusts the cooking times to account for cooking frozen foods. The “frozen” button is the one feature that borders on frivolous gadgetry. Then again, cooking random frozen foods really isn’t a part of our diet. If it was, the adjustment it makes actually does make sense.

The interior capacity is large enough to bake a 13″ pizza or roast a whole chicken (though you might have to cut it into two halves). Combining decent insulation with high wattage, the Breville both heats relatively quickly, holds heat well, and the outside does get warm, but not terribly hot.

When the internal rack is in toasting position, opening the door magnetically slides the rack out a few inches. Very convenient.

All in all, the Breville is a well engineered kitchen tool. It can easily replace your toaster and can often fill in for your full sized oven while both pre-heating more quickly and using less electricity overall. And, of course, the Breville can act as a secondary oven for those times when you need two ovens.

Since the addition of the Breville to our cooking toolset, it sees daily use.


Many months ago, I went from a half inch or greater beard to clean shaven. After a few weeks of dealing with cartridge blades, my lovely wife Christine gave me a very nice double-edged safety razor set. A bit of research revealed that the choice of blade was critical to the experience.

Blades Scaled.png

Being who I am, the only logical conclusion was to buy a sampler pack covering the most popular blade and try a new blade each week to find one that I liked (and to actually determine whether or not the brand of blade even matters)!

Now that I’m done, I have encountered a few surprises and amassed a handful of questions along the way. So, in a summary:

Why bother?

If you are going to keep a clean shaven face, a double-edged safety razor strikes a nice balance of price optimization and performance.

First and foremost, the quality of shaved produced by a double-edged safety razor is way beyond that provided by a cartridge razor. Notably, my face stays clean shaven for far far longer. With a cartridge razor, an 8 a.m. shave would lead to a rough face by 4 p.m. With a decent double-edged blade, I still have a smooth face 11 p.m. Beyond that, my skin is a hell of a lot less irritated.

Conveniently, it is also comparatively cheap. Cartridge blades are stupid expensive — dollars — whereas a decent quality double-edged safety blade is all of about 6 cents per blade in bulk.

To achieve a decent shave with a DE safety razor requires paying a bit of attention and taking things a bit slow. After a few weeks, it becomes a bit of morning ritual… a bit of calm amongst the storm that is my life.

Which razor am I using and what cream?

The one at the left. It is a relatively plain Merkur straight safety razor. It is of medium weight and not that aggressive (i.e. the space between guide and blade isn’t that wide). Feels good in the hand and is easy to clean.

Before the shave, I use a bit of oil rubbed into my face. As for cream, I’m using the house brand from the art of shaving applied with a badger hair brush. Works well enough, but I’ll probably try some others as this runs out.



Sharp Scaled.jpg

I shouldn’t be surprised that the last blade from the sampler that was new to me would yield some unexpected results (I still have the Merkur to review, but that was the blade my razor came with and, thus, I’m saving it to the last. That and I’m likely going to be reviewing a different kind of Israeli Personna and updating that particular review, too).

The Sharp (stainless) come in just about the most unassuming packaging of any blade; a simple cardboard box. Yet, that simple cardboard box has a bit of hologram embedded in it! Most likely, this “seal of authenticity” is an attempt to stymy counterfeiters, which — apparently — are quite a problem for some manufacturers!

The blades, themselves, are wrapped in not one, but two, pieces of wax paper. One with the logo and one transparent. Held together without glue, even!

So, that unassuming package actually had one of the most competently wrapped blades of all I have tried.

The blade, itself, proved to be quite sharp. Not Feather sharp, but still quite a bit sharper than most other blades I tried.

The resulting shave is decent, but far from superb. It provides a perfectly competent shave without too many cuts or too much burning of the skin. Yet, still, there was some irritation and it did draw a bit of blood whereas a week old Dorco had not.

And after nearly a week of using the blade, it has held the edge competently, too.

The only real ding against the blade is that the little box doesn’t provide a means of disposing of the blades as do some other brands.

That word… competent… has come up often in describing this blade. Apt, too, as it really is a competent blade. Given the impression offered by the packaging, my surprise was the result of discovering a perfectly serviceable blade inside. The two other blades — Personnas and 7a.m. — in similar packaging were awful!

If Sharp Stainless were all I could find, I would have no complaints!

7am Platinum Stainless Scaled.jpeg

Can’t say I was expecting much from this particular blade. The name, the lettering, and — mostly — the packaging all scream “cheap blade” to me.

However, opening the little cardboard box revealed blades that were wrapped in two pieces of paper; the logo paper and an inner translucent wax paper. The fold is one of the tightest I have seen on a blade and, quite nicely, there was no glue on the blade!

Like the Dorco, I hadn’t shaved the day before trying the blade.

While the resulting shave is actually quite good in that it is quite smooth and the blade didn’t nick me at all, it pulled from the first stroke. The blade clearly isn’t dull — if it was, the quality of the shave would be sub-par — but it is as if the blade were catching and yanking on each hair before the cut.

Not surprisingly, this has left me skin with a bit of razor burn, especially under my chin.

Given the feel of this first shave, I doubt this blade is going to last the week.

Christmas Table

For Christmas Eve, our tradition is to serve the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

This year, my parents and one of my sisters are in town. We were joined by our neighbor Ron.

Christmas Table Detail

As the name implies, the meal is composed of at least seven seafood dishes. Thus, a great excuse to pull out the full china settings and go for fancy table supreme!

Since my father is allergic to soft shelled seafood, this year’s feast included oysters, squid salad, clams, mussels, scallops, sole, and freshwater bass.