Archive for June, 2006

Darn Squids

I’m not a motorcyclist, though I know a few, but they never cease to amuse, and amaze, me… and generally not in entirely good ways.

I saw a college-age guy riding a crotch rocket today. Like most young crotch-rocket-riders, he was wearing sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt as he whipped thru traffic at 50 miles per hour. Oh, and a pair of sunglasses. No helmet, no protective gear…

…except one of those “armored” spine protectors, the kind normally only worn by off-road motocross racers. He was wearing it, I might add, over his t-shirt.

I can’t really fathom why. It certainly wasn’t for looks, unless the strappy, “Hi, I’m in traction” look is now in. All I can imagine is that, in the event of an accident, he doesn’t mind permenant disfigurement (to his face, head, torso, or extremeties) or head trauma, or becoming quadrapalegic… but has enough of a fear of being a parapalegic that he’s willing to look like an absolute idiot to, perhaps, protect against that happening.


Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on June 29th, 2006 | Comments Off on Darn Squids

Unsettling Trends

I wrote a while back about Microsoft’s abject stupidity regarding hardware requirements for Windows Vista. To be fair, the trend towards requiring bleeding-edge hardware is pretty widespread – Firefox on any OS won’t really run well with less than 1GB of RAM, for example – and for all the wrong reasons (it’s designed to be a memory hog).

The gaming world has long pushed the boundaries of PC hardware, but that has usually been to get the most out of a game – if you want (for example) anisotropic filtering, high-dynamic-range lighting effects, and antialiasing all together at once at 1600×1200 at 120Hz, you’re going to need some decent video hardware. It’s always been in the game developer’s best interests to ensure compatability with hardware that’s – at least – one generation removed from the current cutting edge.

Half Life 2 was, and still is, a great example – you need a fast computer, a good video card with a lot of memory, and a goodly amount of system RAM to get the most out of the game. Even today it puts most modern hardware thru it’s paces pretty well.

But HL2 was very much playable on a computer that was a year or two old. Sure, you might have to turn off the EAX sound effects, and play at 800×600 – or turn off various video enhancements – but it – and any other Source-engine games – were still very much playable at a reasonably frame rate.

Then there’s Bethesda Softworks’ much-anticipated, prematurely-released Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It is, quite simply, unplayable on anything less than a bleeding-edge gaming computer. 2GHz AMD processor? Nope, not going to cut it. 8X AGP GeForce FX 5500? Nope, not going to cut it, even though they advertise the FX line as being supported hardware. 2GB PC3200 DDR? Not going to help. I mean, this is a computer that’s about two years old, and runs Half-Life 2 wonderfully at 1024×768 at 85Hz and about 50 FPS with reasonably awesome graphics… and – even with every setting possible in Oblivion set to the lowest, worst-quality setting, I get about 2 FPS – yes, two frames per second – at 640×480. Even by hacking the .ini file, I can’t get above 5 FPS outdoors.

5 frames per second might be usable on, say, a text-based game like Rogue or ADOM or Nethack, but in Oblivion, it’s a useless, bad-graphics nightmare that looks a bit like (I imagine) playing one of the early Bard’s Tale games after taking ‘shrooms.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on June 19th, 2006 | Comments Off on Unsettling Trends

Exposure Indices, Vintage Photography, and the Written Word

There’s a dangerous trap the photographer can fall into when using vintage photography equipment – or, more often, reading vintage books on photography. The problem is this: things change.

Today, Kodak’s traditional B&W films are Plus-X (ISO 125) and Tri-X (ISO 320 and 400, depending on variety). A very few years ago there was Verichrome Pan at ISO 100, as well. All these films have been around since the 1950’s, at least, and Verichrome – the last major orthocromatic B&W film made – predated WWII. Millions of photos have been taken on them, and hundreds of photos have been published with exposure information given – e.g. 1/25 second at f/8.

There are two catches here, though. Films used to be slower – in 1955, Tri-X was an ASA 200 film, Plus-X was 50-speed, and Verichrome was ASA 64; more or less a stop slower than they’re reckoned to be today, given the conventional wisdom that ASA == ISO. Simple, right?

Nope. Remember the “Sunny f/16 rule”? The sunny f/16 rule is pretty much a constant – bright sunlight, average subject, expose at f/16 for 1/film speed second.

The 1955 Kodak Master Photoguide has a handy-dandy exposure guide in it – the “daylight exposure computer”. You’d think it would show a setting for Plus-X of 1/50th second at f/16, right, Plus-X having been an ASA 50 film then?

You’d be wrong. They show the exposure for an average subject in bright sun with clear sky on Plus-X to be 1/25th second at f/16.

I’m not 100% sure why this is.

The obvious conclusion – which I believe to be correct, incidentally – is that ASA and ISO really aren’t equivelant; the latter is based on strictly-controlled laboratory tests, and the former seems to have been more empirical and abritrary. An alternative explanation, if you want to retain the belief that ASA and ISO speeds are comparable, is that more density was considered beneficial than is the case today.

The latter definately bears investigation as a possible part of the equation in producing B&W photos with a vintage look to them; if habitual one-stop overexposure was the norm in the 1950’s, then trying to get “that look” with a “correctly”-exposed modern film is understandably difficult.

Anyway, the point is, reading about photography – or trying to learn from exposure details written, say, a half-century ago by Ansel Adams – is not as straightforward as it could be.

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on June 18th, 2006 | Comments Off on Exposure Indices, Vintage Photography, and the Written Word

Wet Shaving Masochism

I shaved yesterday, for the first time in about eight months. I used to really loathe shaving, and would grow a beard every winter. Now that it’s demonstrably not winter, it was more than time for the great shaggy thing to come off.

I might never go back to a beard again.

For some time there’s been an increase in popularity in what’s being called “wet shaving” (or “wetshaving”) – the slightly retro grooming with a brush, soap, and a vintage (or vintage-style) straight or safety razor.

There are a lot of reasons for the popularity of this. Excellent double-edged razor blades can be had for around $0.20 apiece, which is a far cry from the $5 per blade I’ve seen Schick Quattro blades selling for. In fact, razor blade prices for today’s razors has gotten so ridiculous, the local Walgreens pharmacy keeps all their razor blades under lock and key, like cigarettes. So spending $0.25 per week on razor blades is definately attractive.

But screw frugality; we’re a society of conspicuous consumers. Bigger, newer, and more expensive is better, baby.

Um, no. Not where razors are concerned.

I used to use a Gilette Sensor. A couple years ago someone gave me a Mach3. Both ranked high on my suck-o-meter in terms of giving just generally bad shaves. Part of it was my fault – I’d never been taught how to shave properly, and never thought to try to find out.

A big part of it was the razors, though. The Sensor and the Mach3 clog like crazy, and gave me razor burn like nobody’s business. Time for a change.

So yesterday I got two old razors in the mail. A basic double-edged Gilette safety razor, and a Gem Micromatic single-edged razor. I cleaned them up, loaded them with drug-store blades, took a scissors to my beard, and set out to shave the remaining 1/2-3/4″ stubble.

I’m a crazy luddite masochist, so after a shower, I lathered up with my trusty Barbasol, and put the Micromatic to my face.

A word on this razor, if I may; Gem and Star single-edged razors date from the 1930’s to 1940’s, and are extremely common. They take single-edged razor blades, just like the ones in a lot of box cutters and window scrapers. Even among wet-shavers today, they’re viewed as dangerous and nearly impossible to get a good shave from without cutting yourself.

All you need to do is read the instructions, though; keep the head of the razor against the skin, and shave with as much of a lack of pressure as possible. The razor slid across my lathered face in silence, broken only by the quiet sound – I kid you not – of hair being cleanly separated from my face. Ahead of it, shaving cream and hair; behind it, perfectly naked skin blinking in the light.

Seriously; my best shave EVER, in more than a decade of shaving.

With a $3 razor and a $0.25 single-edged “GEM” blade.

I’d planned to shave half my face with the Micromatic, and half with the Gilette safety razor, but the Gem went thru my beard so well I gave up on that plan and did my whole face with it. In the end, I used the double-edged Gilette for a little touch-up on my neck and under my nose; it shaves a little closer, I think, but not nearly as smooth.

So, yeah, I’m hooked on this wet shaving thing. After all, who wants to pay a king’s ransom for a mediocre shave? I’ve seen the light – and I’m not going back!

Published in: Geekiness, General, Wetshaving | on June 17th, 2006 | 2 Comments »

Movie Update

Word from the producer is that she is almost – finally – (again!) finished editing fifty hours of footage down into just less than two hours of the the much-anticipated Into the Darkness Urban Exploration documentary. Those younger and more emo than I can apparently also check out urbanexplorers and urbanexplorersfilm on “MySpace”.

Published in: General, Urban Exploration | on June 13th, 2006 | Comments Off on Movie Update