Archive for August, 2012

Pesky Reruns

August 28, 2012 - 1:49 pm 11 Comments

May be recycled content, but saying I’m glad of the chance to do so is like saying a man struck by lightning is feeling a little under the weather. It doesn’t really do the situation justice, now does it? At any rate:
hippobirdietwoewe,
hippobirdietwoewe,
hippobirdiedeerlab_rat,
hippobirdietwoewe!

Truth In Advertising

August 25, 2012 - 1:29 pm 4 Comments

On the grocery store magazine rack, one of the article teasers in Men’s Health: “SHED MONEY”

I thought this was unusually honest for a fitness magazine, until I peered behind the bottom rack and saw the last word underneath was “STRESS”.

Product Review: DIY Custom Ear Plugs

August 24, 2012 - 3:24 pm 15 Comments

After several friends, most recent of whom being the delightfully a-tactical Phlegmmy sang the praises of custom-molded earplugs for shooting purposes, I decided to look into them.

Then I discovered the price tag, and that it required making an appointment with someone to futz around with my ears and laser micromodel each hair in my ears and so on and so forth and long story short (too late!) giant dick-dance to get it done if you don’t luck into a guy with a booth at a convention or some such. Already having perfectly cromulent electronic muffs, I gave it a miss and broadly said screw it.

Then while nosing around further because I am curious by nature, I found out Radians DIY version for less than I’ve paid for dinner out, and was intrigued. I decided at that price point it was worth trying, even if they turned out to suck.

They do not suck.

The process on paper is basically the same as mixing a two-part epoxy, only more of a gel than a goo. You wash your ears, split two components into two portions each, mix, and mash into your ear in such a way as to make a good sound-tight fit, then sit still for fifteen minutes or so.

In practice it’s still basically that, but they don’t warn you it’ll sound like you poured an entire box of rice crispies into your ear canal with all the crackling and popping noises this stuff gives off as it cures. Or that the chemical reaction gives off more heat than you’d expect, which also warms the air inside your ear, which expands and makes the plug feel like it’s crawling out as it hardens. They also don’t mention the part where “Hey, you molded a nice smooth exterior. Good luck getting a grab on it to pull it back out!” and I spent the better part of a couple minutes with arms wrapped at various angles around my head trying to tug my ear into some mutilated tangle so I could lever the damned things out. But if you hold still and just give the odd gentle press during the curing process, they come out fine. No, seriously. Hold still. Grab a book or something and chill, you hyperactive spaz.

Anyway, once cast, I was a bit dubious about the performance. I’m accustomed to the you-know-it-when-you-hit-it seal of the various flavors of cheap disposable plugs, and these do not provide that. I gave them a test drive at the movies, and while LabRat left with her ears slightly ringing (The Avengers), I came out happy as a clam, and the sound the whole way through was quieted, but without that “I’m listening through a pillow” quality normal plugs provide. Encouraged, but still dubious, I finally got around to trying them at the range.

Honestly, I was shocked at how well they did. I expected the lack of that seal feeling from cheap plugs to translate to “Fine for cutting ambient ongoing noise, but crap for a sharp overpressure like a rifle report.” Instead even cracking off .30-06 was perfectly comfortable, on par with or even slightly better than some Peltor 6-S muffs I picked up on sale, and without the bulk of big ‘ol cans on my head.

The obvious drawback is they’re not electronic so everything is muffled, including conversation and range commands, but for twelve bucks, holy shit they deliver, and you don’t have to make an appointment for Tony Stark’s non-union Mexican equivalent to shoot lasers into your ear. Nerd ranch approved.

Gravitas

August 17, 2012 - 3:49 pm 14 Comments

Idly wasting my afternoon, my inbox announced the arrival of a new email. On inspection, it was from our pet gunsmith, Spear. This is a person to whom I speak on the internet quite literally every day. He has been, and remains a welcome guest here at the Nerd Ranch. The relationship is not exactly the sort of professional level arrangement you would find between two opposing lawyers. Thus, when I read:

Mr. S. Ray

This email is just to double check and confirm the work I have to do for you.

First will be a complete refinish on the previously duracoated CZ-75.

Secondly will be installing a new safety and a complete trigger/action job on the springfield 1911.

If there is something I omitted or if there is something else you’d like done, please let me know.

Thank you
Spear

…I was a tad curious. Obviously, there is only one appropriate way to respond. So I did.

Sr. Percival Jose Chucklenuts Jr., esq.,

Your lurid prose inducing quite profound tumescence in certain portions of the anatomy notwithstanding, I find your catalog of charges accurate and correct.

After some period of omphaloskepsis while considering your missive (that I assure you most certainly did at no point involve any quantity of lubricating solution or absorbent paper products), I have reached the conclusion that I do indeed wish to press further upon your talents and impose addendums in the pursuit of ensuring my role as baddest motherfucker with two swinging nuts and a hog like a length of pipe.

Primarily, with regards to the 1911, provenanced of the fine Springfield Manufacturing Concern, I desire most thoroughly that the nether regions of the device receive chamfering in order to facilitate the insertion of magazines- verily, bevel the magazine well so I can mag-fuck the donkeypiss of the device.

Additionally, I would have you ramp the barrel to encourage the proper feeding of ammunition of more modern design, such as bullets with what is called a “hollow point.” My desire is that should a gentleman of differing morality engage in a debate with such bawdiness as is common in Those People, that I should be capable of punching as many fist sized fuckholes in the shitheel as fast as I can pull the trigger on that bitch.

My sincere thanks for your communication are of course included.

Sincerely,
Monsignor Commissioner Herr Jinglehopper the 13th

Warfare In Food, Fat, and Class

August 15, 2012 - 4:34 pm 28 Comments

Via Chas Clifton, an article by Rod Dreher on the intersection between food, class, politics, and culture, and some of the weird eddies and patterns thereof. His article is specifically about the breed of “fuck you, nanny liberal” conservative that takes perverse joy in eating the opposite of what the “blue elite do”- junk food rather than arugula and organic grass-fed beef. I agree with Chas: read it all, and some of the comments for good measure (they remain surprisingly civil, or have for as far as I’ve been reading), not least because it’s resistant to excerpting and this post will mostly be a collection of thoughts in reaction.

- Several of the commenters brought up a point Dreher didn’t, which is that our food culture- and that of many other nations- is a relic of a time when the average citizen would spend most of the day on his or her feet, sometimes working so hard as to require two or three times the calories to get through the day at “maintenance” that the average citizen with a desk job does. The diet associated with the South and Midwest isn’t saturated in fat and starch because Southerners and Midwesterners are particularly more stupid or indulgent than other regions, it’s because they were the agricultural center of the nation and eating the greens without the pork fat or broccoli instead of mashed potatoes would have been about as productive to the average eater as eating steam. There were still sedentary people, and for that matter fat people (including fat people doing just as much of the physical labor as the skinny people), but the average working life was still not one that primarily involved sitting still.

- A common strain of thought I saw in the comments (firmly to be expected from something aimed squarely at a conservative audience), was the idea that obesity is running rampant because we’re moving more and more to more government- and insurance-funded health care, and thus obese people don’t bear any “costs” for being obese. I regard this as utter bullshit. Being obese IS a cost, and a steep one; insurance and Medicare aren’t funding liposuctions or any sort of magical fat-loss, or even doing anything more than somewhat mitigating the health problems associated with morbid obesity. You can’t pay your way out of crippling arthritis, runaway diabetes, sleep apnea, or doing ordinary errands being a giant and daunting physical challenge, even with someone else’s money. These aren’t inconveniences, being very obese is miserable compared to being thin or even moderately overweight. That isn’t even going into the social costs, which…

- …Dreher doesn’t seem to believe exist. I know it’s pretty much standard for conservatives to see themselves as standing athwart a wholesale abandonment of personal responsibility, but the degree of divergence between the America I live in and the one he apparently does is so great as to make me wonder if we’re inhabiting parallel dimensions. In the one I live in, being fat is regarded as not just undesirable but essentially sinful- perhaps the fact that Dreher agrees with that view in a classic-Christian sort of way is why he doesn’t see it as standout or as another cost associated with obesity. Being fat is like extending a blanket invitation to the world to remind you that you are, and usually accompanied by either a lecture on self-control akin to the one Dreher delivers or instructions that seem to assume that you were raised by wolves and have absolutely no idea that cake is fattening or that you should move around some. Befriending or being family to someone who is noticeably fat is like having a permanent ticket to a movie consisting solely of the world’s rudest people offering the most gratuitous abuse or obvious advice. For whatever reasons obese people are obese, because that state is not sufficiently unpleasant as to be discouraging is clearly not it.

- Speaking of cake, a brief pause for a minirant: What IS it with the cake? I eat cake on exactly two occasions, my own birthday or the birthday of someone sufficiently intimate to me to want to include me in that night’s meal. The vast majority of other people that I know, fat or thin, do pretty much the same. Literally the only person of my acquaintance who has such a sweet tooth they eat cake on a semiregular basis isn’t fat. Is there a secret town in America whose population consists of fat people who subsist solely on cake, donuts, and bacon?

- Moving on to the actual topic at hand, one observation I had is that not only did we essentially lose a generation or two of Americans in which knowing how to cook a variety of nourishing foods from scratch was a bog-standard adult life skill that everyone acquired in the family home, we did a switcheroo on the class associations of this skill. Immediately postwar during the prosperity and technology boom of the fifties, cooking became associated with the lower classes and immigrants who couldn’t afford food that was largely pre-prepared or prepared by someone else- or at least, not having to do much or any cooking for yourself became associated with wealth and status. Sometime around the eighties, yuppies kicked off a home cooking boom in which the type and cost of ingredients scaled up a good deal (setting the origins for those Whole Foods shoppers in the class-warfare game), and cooking from scratch for yourself became associated with wealth and higher class in itself. Knowing how to turn a bag of rice, beans, and maybe one dubious piece of meat into a hearty meal for six became a lower-class thing; then later knowing how to turn the same ingredients (with the price of the meat much higher for its new associations- have you seen what oxtail costs lately?) into a delicately spiced meal for two became the mark of the food snob. Meanwhile relying largely on preprepared or processed food remained the middle norm.

- It’s easy to focus on morbidly obese people who have flagrantly excessive and calorific diets and damn well know it and are suffering dramatically from the physical consequences, but in my experience this actually consists of a very noticeable minority. Most of “fattening America” seems to eat pretty similarly to the America that hasn’t gotten all that heavy. Maybe all the fatties are hiding in closets at night eating boxes of bacon-donuts, but most Americans who have a weight problem and don’t fall into the “fuck you Michael Bloomberg, I’m taking this 20-piece chicken bucket to my grave” camp seem to be if anything more conscious of what they eat, and that it should be smaller portions of not-cake, than folks who aren’t carrying around a gut. (This effect is perhaps only apparent to anyone who has been on a diet and watched lots of perfectly normal-looking folk eating things the dieter’s doctor has told them will make them physically become the Death Star.) Again: “eat less, move more!” and “you just need to be shamed more/told not to eat giant gobs of sugar and butter because clearly you don’t know” do not seem to be working.

- …Which is not to try and claim that diet, class, or our cultural eating patterns DON’T have anything to do with it. Being obese is miserable and you will catch hell for it, but eating is something very basic you have to do several times a day, and the habits we form with respect to what reads as “food, yum” to you, how often you eat and in what contexts, and where you get your food form very early and are tremendously ingrained because eating and drinking are the most basic things organisms MUST do to get on. They are difficult habits to change because evolution favors doing what worked well enough the last time to get fed, and novelty-seeking in times of abundance (which are now a more or less permanent feature of life for first-worlders) carries a lot more costs than benefits.

Which is ALSO not to say that we can’t lose weight because hardwired evolution brain is controlling everything we do, but changing our eating habits is actually pretty difficult. The background desire to do so is low to begin with, which then doesn’t help when you also have to cope with doing something radically different three or more times a day to satisfy a basic physical need, every damn day, for results that are slow to appear and give positive feedback. Throw in the fact that our appetites tend to calibrate around “the usual” as opposed to “what we actually need” (which can lead to undereating as easily as overeating- the habit matters most) rather than what we actually need and it can take a long period of new habits to recalibrate, and “fuck it, I’m having some chicken nuggets” becomes a pretty understandable temptation, even absent the class warfare.

Oh, and all the usual sources trying to give us advice on how to diet and exercise and lose weight are also full to the brim with bullshit it’s hard to recognize unless you already have a pretty good background in nutrition and physiology, so even if you make a superhuman feat of self-control you may not get good results anyway if you were following bad advice. (Free hint: one weird tip will never work.) To make it even more fun, some of those people giving out ludicrously terrible advice have M.D. after their name. A type I diabetic of my acquaintance was told after diagnosis in adulthood to eat a low-fat diet, to spare their heart, a low-carb diet, to keep their blood sugars under control, and a low-protein diet to spare their kidneys. Pointing out that this left literally no macronutrient options on the table for consumption in abundance enough to keep a young adult alive did not seem to register.

- I’ve done a lot of bashing on Dreher here, but I actually agree with much of what he wrote- just not with his fat sinners, thin moderates paradigm. He’s dead bang on that cooking is a disappearing skill, and that cooking quality ingredients from scratch is actually much cheaper than primarily living off fast food and preprepared and processed food, because the base ingredients are pretty cheap and the ones that aren’t aren’t meant to be the bulk of the meal unless you’re throwing a luxury feast. The treatment Jamie Oliver got in Huntington DID have a lot more to do with class warfare than with what was actually benefiting or hurting the schoolchildren. (Saying this makes my teeth grind, because Oliver makes my teeth grind and I happen to think his own attitude of re-educating the ignorants is part of the problem… so inconvenient when people respond with spiteful ignorance right back.)

Weapon Charging

August 9, 2012 - 4:01 pm 5 Comments

It makes the sort of troll commenters* that come in distinct subspecies make a lot more sense when you realize that, from their chair, you are effectively the giant enemy crab. And they ARE by-god going to attack your weak point for massive damage.

*Not my trolls. Someone else’s.

Smell II

August 8, 2012 - 8:57 pm 11 Comments

…For lo, life continued to be relatively unexciting and there were a bunch more things on the shelf I hadn’t tried, some of which I didn’t even know we had.

Captain of Industry

Ah, the heady scent of monopolistic lucre! This scent is all about what it feels like to take a private elevator up an Art Deco skyscraper. It is the scent of standing in the wood-paneled office on the top floor of that skyscraper, gazing out through floor-to-ceiling windows upon the churning factories of your capitalist domain. It is the scent of wearing a suit jacket and tie, but NO PANTS.

Because you can.

Mahogany backing a glass of really super-expensive scotch, with a curl of the best lemon peel. How best? This lemon had its own summer home and a personal assistant. That’s how best it is.

This one belongs to Stingray, though he’s largely put it aside in favor of other things. (Including that Barbaric Splendour that didn’t work for me.) In the bottle it smells extremely lemony, with the whiskey/scotch backing it up. Wet on my skin it smelled like I had bathed in a whiskey sour, which wasn’t exactly unpleasant but carries unfortunate social implications. Once it dried the wood came forward a lot more, and gave it the balance it needed. Miss Bonnet added some Drambuie to the Captain’s scotch, candied the lemon peel, and changed the mahogany to rosewood, but otherwise didn’t muck much with the scent. I like it, but I probably won’t wear it much since I still think of it as Stingray’s.

Down Quark

The up and down quarks are the most stable of all the quark pairs: the others undergo particle decay and end up as one or the other. Were one inclined to indulge a metaphorical fancy, one might note that Up and Down could be interpreted as the afterlives of the other quarks, which gives Down in particular a rather nifty bit of villainy.

Quarks in hell: black patchouli, smoked clove, and a leather bullwhip. Fun!

In the bottle: WOULD ANYONE LIKE SOME OF OUR CLOVES? PLENTY OF CLOVES UP IN HERE. This continued when I put it on my skin, which immediately resulted in my smelling like a pack of Clove chewing gum left in a car on a hot day. Happily, though, the more it dried and warmed the more the leather came forward; once it had “finished”, it came out as dark, a little dangerous, and a little sexy. Only problem is that it took ages to do this and I spent the rest of the time smelling like the aforementioned chewing gum. Stingray loved the end result, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I will probably put it up to the stress test, but I’m not looking forward to the lecture from my captain about how clove cigarettes aren’t any better for my lungs than the regular ones.

The Melancholy Death of Nikola Tesla

We owe Tesla a debt we can never repay: as the father of modern electrical engineering, radio, and innumerable other things that looked like mad science until they worked, he’s also the father of this shop. His life was brilliant but his death, alone and impoverished in a Manhattan hotel, was a heinous injustice from a bright world that owed him everything. We can’t change the past, of course, but we can make a memorial in our chosen medium.

Our tribute to him is a subtle blend of sandalwood, earth and light patchouli, given an antique twist with a touch of violet and the industrial fumes of a world struggling out of gaslight into incandescence

This is… very aptly named. In the bottle it smells pretty much like it’s described, dark and brooding with a light floral note and a sense of things you can’t quite identify lurking around the edges. Wet on my skin it smelled of VIOLETS, a universe of them, and came very close to getting washed off. (Also, for some reason, anise.) As it dried the florals calmed down and something that smelled like some sort of machine oil came forward, as well as some woodiness and a quality I can only describe as “wistful”. Overall it made me smell like a Gothic engineering student, carrying a tasteful bouquet of violets. (Possibly to decorate my re-engineered hearse.) I’m not sure if I LIKE smelling like that, but kudos to ZOMG for managing to brew something that smells exactly like the abstract concept it’s meant to.

Elder Spicecake

Elder Spicecake: ELDER SPICES THAT MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO USE. Smoky clove, cinnamon, rum and apple puree with a strong whiff of some intrepid but unlucky adventurer’s musky bay rum (applied shortly before he fell into the Elder Cake), all covered with a sticky-sweet glaze.

In the bottle this smells JUST like the description- a big, dark, rummy cake that smells a little musky and somehow mean. Then I put it on my skin and discovered that it smelled just like the fruitcake my grandmother used to send at Christmas, which could be problematic because it was craving-inducing. Apparently, though, Miss Bonnet didn’t want cake, because by the time it dried the only thing remaining of the smell was again, cloves- and the clove faded pretty fast. This was not AT ALL what I expected to happen; I had been avoiding trying this precisely because I thought it’d make me smell like the elder spicecake had eaten me.

The Baron

Rich, complex, and powerfully masculine, the Baron is a scent to wear when conquering towns and administrating with a practical-minded, questionably benevolent hand. Bergamot, lavender, and amber mellowed by spiced rum, bay leaf, and cedarwood.

I waited this long to try this one because it belongs to Stingray, and, well, is described as “powerfully masculine”. In the bottle it smells about like you’d think, though the woods and herbals are most aggressive. Wet on my skin the bergamot and lavender were most prominent, though the smooth spiciness overall was there.

Then Miss Bonnet got hold of it. I’m still wearing it, and I smell like someone’s tea party, complete with cookies. I have no idea where the vanilla came from, but it’s there. It is, to put it mildly, no longer masculine. Why she rejected the spicecake and turned Baron into a ladies’ luncheon I have no idea, but that’s how it worked out.

Product Summary: Ew.

August 6, 2012 - 4:19 pm 29 Comments

A couple weekends past, the bounciest gunbunny of them all, our friend Spear, came to visit. On this visit, he had laid hands to one of the more oddball entries in the modern firearms catalog, the FN PS90 in semi-auto, long barreled civilian trim. It looks like this:


(Image credit Wikipedia)

This is a canoe paddle:

(Image credit some paddle store. Nice lookin’ though.)

If these shapes seem similar to you, that is because the FN PS90 is in fact a paddle for the failboat.

Spear has requested that my review be more in depth than “Set that pile of suck on fire and never speak of it again,” so let me elaborate.

First, it’s a bullpup. This means that in an effort to save length, everything has been shoehorned into oddball locations, such as the chamber being pretty much under your cheek when firing. And the trigger being nowhere near the sear, or the rest of the trigger-involving parts. This means there’s a fuckoff huge rod connecting the trigger way at the front of the gun to the actual primer-slapping mechanisms at the rear, so the trigger pull feels like you’re trying to choke Spongebob Squarepants. The trigger doesn’t so much break, but more is like when you chill silly putty and then try to snap it in half. It mostly oozes around the problem and then sort of lets go in a half hearted glorp.

This particular model came with the factory sights. Which also sucked. They were adequately lined up for social purposes, but to acquire them required head gymnastics that would earn at least a bronze*. Attempting to use them for anything more than 50 yards, give or take 20, and you may as well just point and hope.

Next we have the ergonomics. As a southpaw shooter, I do appreciate when there is a nod in this department to those of a sinister bent, but the funky-ass little radio dial serving as a safety is a device that feels more at home on a car’s dashboard than as part of the firing controls of a super duper space gun that this paddle aspires to be. To use it, you fiddle the dial to a different position, and then flip the gun from side to side trying to figure out if you just put the safety on or off, before eventually declaring “Fuck it,” pointing it down range, and seeing if you can make Spongebob Triggergroup emit a sharp gurgle or if it will just stretch and squish silently. Additionally on the ergonomics, your support hand goes inside the trigger guard, because nothing screams “Good idea” like having your off thumb in the same tiny space as your trigger finger. It’s perfect for doing shadow puppets while you shoot! I call this one “Punching a retarded designer in the balls.”

Back to the bullpup design, this particular incarnation ejects downwards, and brings us to an important safety tip: Ladies, do not shoot the FN PS90 ever unless you are an A-cup. The brass shot down at my chest and by sheer luck all bounced off my range ID badge. Hard enough to leave marks, and a couple tiny little melty-streaks. When LabRat went to shoot it… well her chest is less straight down than mine. Ladies, if you must stroke this oar, it is even more vital than normal to wear a shirt with a very high neckline. A turtleneck wouldn’t be a bad choice. “It’s great if you’re wearing armor, ’cause then it’s no problem at all,” I was told. Guess what I wasn’t wearing. Guess what nobody else was wearing.

This brings us to the ammo itself, the 5.7x28mm. On paper, it’s fairly interesting. In reality, it’s a necked cartridge about the size of a large ibuprofen that’s more or less a .22 mag and costs something stupid like six gold per round. The main advantage is that it’s technically a bit fiestier down range than said .22 mag, and the magazines for this thing (the most interesting part which I’ll get to in a minute) will hold 50 of them and still function. How much fiestier? I couldn’t tell you. I don’t want to get shot with either, so let your wallet be your conscience in this situation.

Now, the magazine. The magazine is also stupid as hell, but it’s stupid as hell in a way that’s so nifty that it actually works that I can’t help but like it. Ammunition is stored perpendicular to the axis of the barrel, so each round has to make a 90 degree turn as it leaves the mag and goes into the chamber. Spear wouldn’t let me disassemble beyond any hope of reassembly inspect thoroughly the mechanism that causes this to happen, but somehow it does, and does so without at any point the magazine becoming unloadable from spring tension on the 30th or 40th or even 49th round necessitating thumbs of steel. I’m pretty sure a child was sacrificed during the design of this magazine, because for as over-complicated as it is, even LabRat wasn’t able to break it or make it stop feeding.

Which, fair is fair, I also have to note that the paddle is very reliable and did not have a single jam, ftf, fte, qrs, tuv, or any of the other little bundles of joy that translate to “won’t go bang when I strangle Spongebob.”

Spear was good enough to point out, repeatedly and almost to the point of defensiveness, that this gun is not designed for popping prairie dogs or deer or sporting clays or any of the other things that every other gun in the universe can multitask to at least a little, but for the single and sole purpose of being a personal defense weapon (he wouldn’t even call it the PS90, just “the pdw”). For this one and only task, I can see it as being a viable entry…. in the original short-barrel configuration. With the extended paddle neck… er, barrel, the impressive shortness that could sit comfortably along a car door muzzle forward is trashed, but 50 rounds of decent, if overpriced and goofy, ballistic stop-that in a won’t jam ever (trust me, if it didn’t jam for LR or myself, it’s pretty solid) package is not a bad option to have. He further reports that while the rate of fire on the un-neutered version is high enough to rank into the realm of stupid, that with good trigger discipline it will spray a healthy dose of lead into whatever needs to stop doing that very controlably. Unfortunately, with Spongebob Triggergroup, the only practical way to get enough practice to have such discipline in the first place is if you’re shooting someone else’s ammo.

The FN PS90 is good for: Mercenaries and body guards in third or lower world shit holes where threats are a bit more serious than paparazzi, with ammunition budgets in place and paid for by the client, but they still have cars and stuff and buildings with doors instead of tents/yurts. People with more money than sense who think it’s a cool looking space gun. People who want one because fuck you I want one and that’s all the reason I need dammit. Movie prop departments who need more than the glowing field doors on the prisoner cells** to convince the audience that the setting is in space/the future.

The FN PS90 is not good for: Everybody else.

Moving this up from comments to make sure it’s seen, because it’s too good not to, LabRat notes: “I’d like to append that Spear brought it in large part to let me try a bullpup rifle, given that front-heavy rifles are one of my bugbears.

I am told my reaction to shooting it was much akin to a small child that has been handed a salmon-flavored ice cream cone.”

*Obligatory Olympics reference completed. We may now resume ignoring the event just as hard as we do the rest of the time.
**Y’know what would’ve been better than force fields? An actual door. With a lock. That won’t shut off when the power goes out.***
***Yes, we love us some Cave

Smell?

August 3, 2012 - 4:43 pm 20 Comments

I debated whether this remotely qualified as postable, but given that I haven’t got any other ideas today, content only a small handful of people will be interested by is superior to no content. And damned if I feel like even glancing at politics again today, especially given as the Chickfildämmerung still seems to be in full swing.

I’m kind of a scent geek. It’s one of my few concessions to girliness; I’m roaringly uninterested in clothes or makeup and my hair care regimen is centered around laziness and pragmatism, but I’ve been fascinated by perfumes and essential oils since I was little. For a long time I made my own- I can’t even remember why I stopped doing that, probably because it’s a really damn inconvenient hobby to have if you’re limited in space and don’t live in a city big enough to support a local store that sells essential oils.

When I’m psyching myself up for something (test, interview, event, planning on jumping Stingray’s bones extra spectacularly, whatever), picking a scent for the occasion is as important if not moreso to me than picking an outfit. I have a small collection of favorites for every occasion, things that work for very specific purposes or moods, and a much larger one of stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time but… just… didn’t… work.

For those that don’t spend their time mucking about with perfume, there’s a caveat; everyone’s skin chemistry is different, and lots of scents, especially more complex ones with ingredients that aren’t blunt as a hammer, will smell very different on people whose skin chemistry is sufficiently different. No one knows what exact conditions produce what exact effects, but hormone profile, skin pH, skin oiliness or dryness, and diet all have definite influences. Some are more or less constant over a person’s lifetime and are as unique as they themselves are, some will change with age, stress levels, pregnancy or menopause, and significant diet shifts.

I have learned over time that, for whatever reason, my own skin chemistry, at utter odds with the rest of my personality, will aggressively feminize any scent or oil that touches my skin. Sweet scents tend to get dialed up and dominate other notes in the blend; floral notes will rampage out of control; rougher, sharper scents will be de-emphasized or erased altogether. Occasionally some act of alchemy will pull floral or delicately spicy notes out of scents that aren’t supposed to have anything like that in them. Because the changes my skin chemistry may make to a dried scent in comparison to how something smells in the bottle or wet on the skin are sometimes so dramatic and so opposed to the rest of my personality, and because I am completely psychotic, I have come to visualize this force of my nature as a small, prim woman in Victorian clothing. Her name is Miss Bonnet. Miss Bonnet’s chief joys in life are flowering gardens and tea parties with sticky baked goods served. My chief concern with any new scent is what Miss Bonnet is going to do to it by the time it’s finished drying and warming.

In any case, one of the traditions of roller derby is creating a persona to go with your name and performance on the track. Roller girls can get quite elaborate with extra uniform accesories, facepaint, and other “boutfit” touches. Me being me, the first thing that occurred to me when I realized I should do this was to go looking for a scent to go with. Something that smelled like flashy, fast-moving violence. And, ideally, wouldn’t break down into something hideous when subjected to a few hours of sweat and stress*. This may, in fact, be completely impossible to accomplish, but at the very least I’ll end up with a bunch of things that may smell fantastic on me on more ordinary days when I could stand to feel confident and energized.

Lately, I’ve been a big fan of ZOMG Smells, largely because they make it very easy/cheap for me to order lots very small samples to see what it’s actually going to smell like on me, partly because they’ve got a big sense of creativity and fun and seem to be able to follow through in the quality of the actual product, and partly because they seem to add quite a lot of personal touch to client orders. Every time we get something, we see evidence someone is paying close attention to what the client asks for and throwing in one or two extra samples of something they might like. So, for this particular project, I’ve stuck with ordering from them. (I feel I should probably caveat that the nature of our relationship is strictly me giving them money in exchange for smells; writing this was entirely my idea based on being hard up for content and this having consumed a portion of my week.)

Here are the results so far, for those that didn’t bail out 700 words ago.

Coronal Mass Ejection

Scent description:

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas and sometimes, just sometimes, it sends a big ol’ glob of those fun times hurtling out into space propelled by solar wind.

When these coronal mass ejections are pointed Earthward, they do neat junk like freaking out radios, the entire power grid of Quebec, and the Earth’s magnetic field in general. The Carrington Event, a super-major CME in 1859, was especially exciting, causing aurorae borealis as far south as Rome. Certain telegraph operators at the time–possibly crazed on patent medicines–also claimed that they could operate their telegraphs without an external power source due to the current running through the lines. A coronal mass ejection of this majesty happens, on average, every 500 years or so. Ready?

Notes: Pink grapefruit, Tunguska pine, two ambers and the distilled fear of everyone working in telecommunications…by which we mean tolu balsam.

In the bottle, this smells just about as described. Mostly grapefruity, with something warm and a little woodsy underneath, and something difficult to pin down or define lurking about the edges. Wet on my skin, the pine and amber came forward a lot and the tolu balsam asserted itself a bit more.

Unfortunately, as I learned when I later looked up what exactly tolu balsam is, it smells like vanilla and cinnamon to most people. Miss Bonnet loves these things in a way that’s sort of inappropriate. By the time it finished drying on my skin and warming to my body temperature I smelled like I’d spent my day working in a Cinnabon outlet. No trace of any of the other elements remained. I wound up having to actually wash it off my wrist to stop smelling like a tray of baked goods. I will probably give the rest of the sample bottle away to a friend whose skin is more reasonable on the subject of sweet, vanilla-y smells. I wish her joy of it, because this smelled amazing in the bottle and I’m really disappointed it doesn’t work for me.

Nuee Ardente

French for “a glowing cloud”; Volcano for “I must have you right now, darling”. An incandescent current of superheated caustic gases and glittering shards of volcanic glass that rushes downhill ahead of an eruption’s rocky components, the nuee ardente is a volcano’s most potent distillation of its twin capacities for beauty and hot death.

The former cities of Pompeii and Saint-Pierre were blown a kiss, thus, by Mounts Vesuvius and Pelee respectively. And now….well, you know. Our take: rosewood and dark rose blooms, black tea, and flecks of cinnamon.

In the bottle it smells exactly as described, somehow hot in the way a smell shouldn’t be able to present. The cinnamony smell isn’t sweet at all, but more like the raw bark off a cinnamon tree. Wet on the skin the rose and tea assert themselves a lot more strongly. By the time Miss Bonnet was done with it, it smelled less like a pyroclastic flow and more like having black tea with cinnamon sticks sitting in the cups, in a rose garden on a hot day. Not unpleasant in the least, and I’ll probably use the rest of the sample, just not remotely what I was going for.

As a strange footnote to this test run, Tank loved this one. He sniffed and nuzzled me like I smelled of finest deer poop, and I had to shoo him off when he started drooling on my chair. The other two dogs didn’t care. As of the other two one is neutered and one is female, I worry a bit this makes me smell of bitch in heat on some level.

Wrestling Tigers While Calling Your Mum Long-Distance

There are days when you are doing absolutely everything, and somehow you manage to balance it all with aplomb. This scent is for those days, both to reward you for coping well and to encourage it to continue: earth to ground you, incense to soothe the scattered mind and help you collect your thoughts, beloved frankincense for a touch of ancient luxury in your everyday life, two steady woods, and a sweet cola drink to help keep you perky and alert.

Incense, cola, frankincense, woods both sharp and creamy, and a hint of rich, grounding earth.

In the bottle it smells potent and aggressive. Heady stuff. As it was drying it acquired a bizarrely strong floral note, which thankfully faded once it was finished settling on what it was going to be, which was slightly sweet, woody, spicy, feminine (as usual for me) and very well blended. Stingray characterized the end result as “I feel pretty, and also I am going to kill you”. Winner. Will put this one through a stress test to see how it stands up to sweat, and even if it falls apart I’ll be ordering a full bottle because this worked fantastically for me. It lasts for ages without breaking down into simpler components, too.

Barbaric Splendour

Rich and proud and glinting with everything precious your neighbors had until you rode up and took it away from them. A heady blend of plunder notes and the pleasure of inflicting your will on the populace! Golden amber, sandalwood, patchouli and earth churned by the hooves of your richly-caparisoned steed. Isn’t ‘caparisoned’ a great word?

Exactly as described in the bottle. Someone sweaty and ready to beat your head in, who also happens to be oiled up with something faintly exotic. Unfortunately, once applied, Miss Bonnet chased the barbarians away with her broom, leaving only a faint residue of sandalwood and patchouli, though that residue lasted a day and an age. Stingray liked it a lot more than I did, which means he can have the rest of the sample. It will probably work better on his skin anyway.

Camping In A Vanilla Forest

Holly says this scent is like going camping in a vanilla forest, and so we went with that. Imagine, if you will: your campfire sends up thick vanilla smoke as night falls upon your little party deep in the woods. The fire heats a chunk of old tree sap– young amber in the making– until it adds its golden essence to the sweet aroma. The night air from the ancient vanilla forest smells of rich earth and herbal secrets under fragrant fallen logs. In the morning, you will hunt black vanilla truffles.

Young amber, smoky vanilla, earthy patchouli and a hint of vetiver-green shadows in the underbrush.

This one was the ZOMG crew’s bonus extra in the package, and apparently they know better than I do. In the bottle it smells, bizarrely enough, EXACTLY as it’s named: like you are sitting next to a smoky campfire in a dark forest primeval that for some reason happens to smell of vanilla. As it started to dry it seemed like Miss Bonnet was pulling her usual inappropriate mojo and making it smell entirely like sweet vanilla and coconut, but after it settled down the results were surprisingly nice. The smoke and char came back, along with something faintly floral that Stingray characterized as what would happen if Susan Sto Helit took over Miss Bonnet’s flowerbeds**. Against all expectation I’ll run this one through the sweat test and see what happens. At the very least it’s the first vanilla-smelling anything I’ve ever tried that doesn’t make me smell like a six year old eating a sugar cookie.

*I should probably note before the nightmares start that I am *not* one of those people that likes to marinate in perfume. My sense of smell is pretty sharp, and if mine is good Stingray’s is supernatural. I pick one pulse point, singular, and give it a quick, light swipe or spray and done. Generally no one but the two of us notices I smell of anything in particular.

**Possibly the single geekiest description I have ever written of anything.

As Drive-Thru Apple Pie

August 2, 2012 - 3:18 pm 14 Comments

My various collections of beliefs and bugaboos mean I don’t have a dog in this fight, or at least that my various dogs have begun fighting amongst themselves while I wander off (Chick-fil-A donates to organizations I disapprove of and appears to wrap its workers in a moist embrace of big-brotherly nosiness I also disapprove of, on the other hand fuck a whole bunch of government thuggery- let consumers decide who they want to give their lunch money to). Plus, Chick-Fil-A doesn’t have any franchises within fifty miles of me, so my opinion of them means precisely diddly with a side order of squadoo.

I will say, however, that a full-scale culture war fought on the battlefield of a fast-food fried chicken chain, including buycotts, boycotts, sign-waving protestors, and kiss-ins, is maybe the single most uniquely American phenomenon I’ve seen in my life to date.

As insular family-controlled religious fast food chains go, I vastly prefer In-n-Out anyway.