the bouncey zone

The latest news from Charlie’s world

LightRx for iPhone & iPad

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Shortly after Christmas my family took a week-long trip back to Oklahoma. It was fun. We got to see many friends and relatives and visit several old haunts.

I tried to pack as little as possible, but decided a few things were worth the extra bulk. One was my blue light panel. If you don’t know what that is, imagine a small plastic box containing a rectangle of bright blue LED lights. Prop the box up somewhere in view, turn it on, and go about your morning routine.

It sounds silly, but I’ve found this to work pretty well for resetting my internal clock. Especially in the middle of winter, when the days are too short, I have trouble going to sleep at night and waking up in the morning. This leads to a noticeable drop in energy and mood during the day.

Seeing blue light for a few minutes makes the brain think it’s daylight – time to wake up! This resets the body’s day/night cycle, making it easier to sleep when night comes. I can’t speak for anyone else, but seems to help me feel better.

So I was doing my morning shave, glancing at that blue light, and got to thinking: What if I could leave its power cord at home? Could I adapt it to run from an iPad charger? A check of the panel’s electrical requirements suggested that it might be possible, but wouldn’t be easy. I set the idea aside.

At bedtime that night, as I was doing a few last-minute things on my iPhone, I had another thought: Wow – this screen is so bright. And so blue. No wonder it’s hard to sleep after playing Angry Birds.

A bright little screen that’s always with me…

When we got back to Colorado a few days later we started working on our new project. It was in the App Store a month later. It simulates the effects of a blue light panel on an iPhone or iPad. Unlike an LED panel, it adds no extra bulk or weight. Our tests also show that it has only a small effect on battery life. Perfect for travelers and office workers!

Blue LED panels typically cost $60 and up, depending on the brand and whether you buy new or used. Our app is only $1.99. If you have an iOS device and want to see if blue light will help, give ours a try.

More info: http://hyperadaptive.com/app/lightrx/

(Android friends: We haven’t forgotten you, but we’re testing demand first on iOS. We appreciate your patience.)

Plan C

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We’ve moved to Colorado!

Going into the whys and hows would take too long. Maybe later. But the short version is, we’re at my sister-in-law’s house in Pueblo. Our house in Norman is on the market. Getting to this point involved several hectic months of planning, cleaning, storing, and catching up on home repairs. Not an experience I want to repeat very often, but we’ve learned a lot.

(Most important lessons for home owners: If any repairs or upgrades need to be done, get started now! Don’t save it all for selling the house later. First, because it’ll make the move too stressful, and second, because you won’t get to benefit directly from the work. Someone else will. Besides, what if you never move and it never gets done? Also: Get rid of your unnecessary stuff. Don’t wait on that either. Start today. Give it away for free if you have to. Third lesson: Handymen are inherently unreliable. Ask a realtor in your area for a few phone numbers.)

Scott starts second grade in 2 weeks. I’ll be curious how Colorado schools compare with Oklahoma’s. His new school mascot is a rabid-looking gopher. Somehow this makes me smile.

Dana left her job in OKC a few months ago. Now we’re working on our own projects. Nothing to announce yet, but exciting things are coming soon. Watch this space for more news!

Andrew!

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We have a new baby! His name is Andrew.

Andrew

He was born near the end of June. I should have posted an announcement here sooner, but we’ve been traveling a lot to visit family. So far Andrew has been to (or passed through) Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. He’s been to Denver in the northwest, San Antonio in the south, and almost as far east as the Georgia border.

We did all of this in our family wagon, a 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan. Same gas mileage as our 2003 Honda CR-V (which has been sold) but with a lot more elbow room. And a DVD player. A steady stream of movies kept the older boys sane during the long drives.

But now summer is over. School has started. Scott is in 1st grade, and Blake is in preschool again. They’re doing great in school.

Scott's first day of 1st grade

Times marches on. Fall will be here soon.

My first iPhone project was approved for the iTunes App Store!

It does one thing: Given a price in dollars in one year, it says how many dollars would be needed to buy the same thing in a different year. Yes indeed, it’s an inflation calculator. I know there are others in the App Store, but mine has a few advantages:

  • It uses actual Consumer Price Index numbers from the US Dept of Labor. The source of the data is made available so math nerds can test the results. I know the federal CPI isn’t perfect, but it’s the most useful data set that I’ve found for this purpose.
  • It can optionally use quarterly CPI averages in addition to the usual yearly average. This helps if one of the prices is from a high-inflation year. Most other inflation calculators don’t do this.
  • I don’t expect people to pay a buck up front. It’s free but uses iAds. I consider this an experiment; we’ll see how it turns out.

Please try it if you have an iPhone or iPad and occasionally find yourself wanting to do inflation calculations on the go. Yes, such people do exist, and I’m one of them. Pay attention when reading things written many years ago. When the author points out that an item costs so-much, you can run my Price Inflation app and find out whether that’s supposed to be outrageous or a bargain.

It’s also useful as an educational tool, for teaching about the effects of inflation over time. Another use is to help set realistic long term savings goals. Retirement planning is the standard example. And when someone says “When I was your age that only cost a quarter!” you’ll be ready.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Link to “Price Inflation” at the iTunes App Store

Neither rain nor snow…

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Last night I visited the liquor store around the corner. I’ve been wanting to find out if scotch is any good. Also, there was a big snow storm coming. Snow is a great excuse for a hot toddy.

I wasn’t the only one there. The place was totally packed. The line was almost out the door. Bottles clinked under every arm. Not just a wee bottle of whisky: Several had cases of wine and gallons of vodka. People were buying alcohol like it was the end of civilization.

I think a large part of Norman might be spending the snow holiday very, very drunk.

The proprietor grumbled “it’s going to be dead tomorrow…” I have no doubt that he at least made an effort to show up for work today. His store stayed open right up until the legal closing time during the 2009 Christmas Eve Blizzard. I know this because I hiked out into that storm to see what was still open. It was pretty much just the liquor store and the gas station. Both stayed busy that night, too.

Love that entrepreneurial spirit!

Update: To be fair, about 3/4 of the people in the liquor store had pretty much the same thing in mind that I did. They wanted a bottle or two of something pleasant to drink while snowed in. What made it funny was the number of people who all got the idea at the very same moment. Also those other people who each bought enough for a party…

The grocery shrink ray

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The Consumerist isn’t perfect on every subject, but I think they do a wonderful job with their coverage of the Grocery Shrink Ray – a catchy name for hidden grocery price increases. I caught this example of the shrink ray in action and passed it along to them. Whether they decide to use it or not is up to them, of course.

Here’s the story: Santitas tortilla chips recently went from 13 oz to 12 oz while keeping the price at $2. My math says that’s effectively an 8% price increase.

Santita shrinkage

This is actually very common. Yesterday I noticed that Wal-Mart’s store brand apple juice went from 3 quarts to 1 gallon, and from $2 to $3. That’s 50% higher for 33% more juice. I think that works out to 12.5% more per ounce. The fun part? The new package brags about how it’s 128 oz for the same price as 96 oz. I call that “lying” – unless they’re referring to name brand competitors.

On some level it’s hard to blame the food packagers for playing this game. Their cost of materials is always going up, for too many reasons to get into here. Shoppers are quick to notice (and complain about) obvious price increases.

(There might be government pressure to hide inflation for political reasons, but I can’t prove it. I’m not sure if it’s much of a factor at the manufacturer level anyway. Let’s focus on consumer psychology for now.)

The solution? Be sneaky. Make the package just a little bit smaller. I’d rather see an honest price adjustment, but they didn’t ask me first.

The Grocery Shrink Ray. Spotting it is almost fun when you know what to look for. Check The Consumerist for more examples.

For the past two weeks I’ve had a secret. Now it’s time to share: I wore the same t-shirt for 8 days as an experiment. This started the Friday before Labor Day. Didn’t even wash it the whole time. After that, and up to today, I’ve been effectively alternating between two shirts – washing them only occasionally.

Those who really know me will probably have to sit down and blink quietly for a while. See, Charlie never wears the same shirt without washing it first. Charlie feels unbearably icky at the mere thought of putting yesterday’s dirty shirt back on after a shower. This news is just weird.

There are two simple reasons for the experiment. The first: This is no ordinary t-shirt. It’s not made of cotton or synthetic fiber, both of which smell bad and feel funky after one day of ordinary summer sweat. This is soft merino wool.

I’ve seen wool t-shirts before. Usually they’re sold at high-end outdoor gear shops. They look and feel like soft cotton, are almost as light as tissue paper, and have a cost per ounce similar to sterling silver. A typical merino t-shirt sells for about $60-$70, and the long sleeve version is about 50% higher. Sometimes I call it mithril after the wonderful but horribly expensive body armor in Tolkien’s world.

(By the way, I think real mithril armor could be simulated by weaving fine Liquidmetal wire into fabric. If someone actually does this, please remember that I had the idea first and send me a free sample.)

This kind of wool is legendary for its ability to dry quickly and resist odor. One reviewer claimed to have worn it for “about 8 or 9 days” without washing it. Oh really? That sounded like a challenge.

For months I just couldn’t get past the high price tag. Then I found a merino shirt on sale. Several interesting retailers have big discounts in the week leading up to Labor Day. One of them – Backcountry.com – had one for half price. So I ordered it. (This is the brown “Wall” shirt which still seems to be on sale.)

It arrived in time for a four day road trip to AnimeFest in Dallas. The plan was to wear it every day throughout the convention, disguising the experiment on alternate days by wearing a loose-fitting button up shirt on the outside. At night I would hang it up to air out. In the morning I would shower, put on my crystal deodorant (which works great if applied correctly), and wear the shirt again.

Before I reveal the outcome, let me give the second reason for the experiment. It’s what Tim Ferriss would call a “comfort challenge” – an exercise meant to face fears directly and thus get past them. Seneca’s 18th letter to Lucilius also provided inspiration. You should read the whole letter, but here’s a quote:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”

Arguably there’s nothing coarse or rough about jersey-knit merino. I certainly wasn’t going miss any meals. But never mind that. I’m sure Seneca would understand the point: I was terrified at the thought of reusing a dirty shirt.

So here’s how it went. A few notes: These shirts have an “athletic” fit. In other words, if you normally wear size XL, you’d need to order XXL. That size didn’t actually exist for this shirt, so mine was a little on the tight side. It didn’t look bad, though. This wool is soft and cuddly. Overall it’s very comfortable.

A day passed. Then another. Somewhere along the way I decided to order two more shirts. These were a slightly different model, identical except for the colors. Also they were slightly cheaper and available in XXL.

Nobody around me seemed to notice anything unusual. Occasionally I would smell something bad and ask myself “Could it be me?” Then I’d go to a different room and the smell would be gone; it always turned out to be someone else. Many anime fans are notoriously young and indifferent to personal hygiene.

Soon AnimeFest was over, and I was back home – and still wearing the shirt. It didn’t smell bad at all, unless I stuck my nose directly into the armpit seam and inhaled. In that spot from that distance it was, in Dana’s words, “a bit whiffy”. But otherwise it was fine.

Was this the condition that I had feared?

On day 7 it started to pick up cooking odors. On day 8 I wore it to the YMCA during my workout. (It did that job beautifully.) My new shirts had been delivered, and it was time for a quick wash in the sink. By morning it had air-dried back to a clean smell.

So I started wearing one of the new arrivals, a black shirt with blue seams. This time I washed it approximately every other night. Once or twice I switched back to the brown shirt for a change of scenery. I wore the black shirt all through FenCon this past weekend, washing it once after Blake wiped snot across my shoulder. I’m even wearing it right now.

18 days with 2 shirts. I’m going to call this experiment a success. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try the grey shirt.

The video is from Scott’s first day of kindergarten. Yes, I know I misspelled “kindergarten” twice in the titles. I usually end up calling it “kiddie garden” anyway.

“Cheese quesadilla!”

Note: The video and still photos were taken with my new iPhone 4. Editing was done in iMovie on my Mac.

Still shaving, a year later

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It’s been a year or so since I posted any news about my shaving experiments. I haven’t given up on it, and I haven’t settled into a final long-term pattern either. Something interesting came up yesterday. It’s time for an update.

First, some lessons over the past several months:

Shaving oil (instead of soap or cream) is not at all useful on a dry face. On a wet face it’s okay, but really it needs some very hot soapy water to de-gunk the blade periodically. I’ve found one exception where the shaving oil seems to work reasonably well – but more on that later. Most of the time, shaving oil is better used after shaving as a soothing lotion.

Sometimes my low-end Braun electric razor is still good enough. A real blade does a faster and closer shave, but the electric version isn’t as rough on the skin. Also, it effectively allows separating bathing from shaving. This is useful if the daily routine has been scrambled – when traveling, for example. On that subject, the electric razor goes through the Airport Insecurity checkpoint without any fuss – no sharp blade, no liquids. (Never mind that the power cord would make an excellent silent weapon. But don’t tell them that.) So I’m not giving away my Braun yet.

Double-edge blade notes: Personna blades from Wal-Mart seem to alternate between “perfect” and “bloody” in the same package. Hard to tell in advance which kind is loaded in the razor. The dispenser is good for storing used blades safely. (I also have a “safe” for used blades, bought on clearance at the beauty supply store.) Derby Extra blades work well enough at a low cost, but get dull a little more quickly than I’d prefer. Same for Dorco blades. (Dorco is an unfortunate brand name in North American English.) I’m still testing a few other brands.

Spraying rubbing alcohol on the blade after each use seems to make it last longer. The alcohol evaporates quickly, pulling water away and preventing microscopic rust spots. This is also true for modern multi-blade cartridge razors. I tried it with one of my old Mach 3 cartridges too. By the way, a hot shower also improves Mach 3 performance.

The most important lessons so far: First, take your time, don’t get in a hurry, and don’t press too hard. Second, the shave doesn’t have to be baby-butt perfect every time. One pass of the blade – maybe two – is often good enough, with fewer nicks and less irritation. Most people don’t care how smooth your face feels, as long as you look and smell clean. (My beard will grow out a noticeable amount within a few hours anyway.)

Now for the things that came up recently.

A couple weeks ago I decided to try something new. By new, I mean brand new. And disposable. Here’s a picture:

Personna disposable
(This photo and the next were taken with my new iPhone 4.)

Why? I’ve been thinking that a simple disposable razor would be a nice in an emergency evacuation kit. (If you don’t have one, you should. Get a simple backpack and pack one change of clothes, minimal toiletries, a water bottle, and enough non-perishable calories to last a few days. One for each member of your household. Keep it where you won’t trip over it but can still grab it in a hurry.)

A disposable razor is small and light, it’ll do the job, and you won’t cry if it gets lost or stolen. For the same reasons, several travel writers have suggested using one disposable razor in a travel kit. It’s fine for a weekend trip, and for longer stays it’ll work long enough to buy another razor locally.

For everyday use, I think the disposable kind is an unnecessary waste of plastic. But I had to try one at home before trusting my face to it on the road. I had an unpleasant experience with a free disposable razor last year.

This razor worked surprisingly well. I used it in the shower several times (spraying with alcohol afterward) before it got too rough. My shaving technique has definitely improved over the past year.

One time I tried it a different way: Washed my face over the sink, then used shaving oil instead of cream. The shaving oil really worked that time. Saturating the skin with hot water before applying the oil made all the difference. I’m not sure if the type of razor or the freshness of its blade made any difference. I’ll have to do more experiments.

Yesterday I picked up something very different:

GEM 1912

It’s a Gem model 1912 single-edge razor. I especially like the chain pattern on the handle. I’m not sure of its exact age, but it has to be from sometime between 1912 and WW2. In other words, it’s about the same age as my grandfather plus or minus a decade. Please let me know if you can help pin down its age any better.

I got it from a friend’s store. He has a pretty good variety of interesting “vintage” razors. It’s fun to look at these things in person before committing to buy. (Shop #24 in the Old Farmers Market in OKC. Look for JP Cole Custom Metal Art. They also sell my homemade soap.)

So far I’ve only shaved with the Gem once, using a modern blade from the pharmacy. It worked pretty well. I’m looking forward to trying it again.

Migration

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In case you hadn’t noticed, bounceyzone has a new look!

Actually, it’s much more involved than that. Over the past month I’ve been moving all of my web sites. First, unclecharliessoap.com went to Weebly as an experiment in free web service. Then I deleted several web apps that were unnecessary.

The rest moved to a hosting company that costs half as much as the previous provider. The old company can expect a cancel-my-account notice in the morning. Just in time, too, because the service period expires at the end of this month.

I’d like to merge my various photo and video galleries eventually. (See side bar for links.) They might end up going to something like Flickr or YouTube, so someone else can have the headache of maintaining them. Notice how I’ve done test posts using both of those services.

Or maybe not. There are some advantages to retaining control. For now I’m just happy to have them on the new server with the photos and their descriptions all still the same. That’s the hard part about merging different galleries: Keeping the titles and descriptions intact. I’ll figure it out.

Other news since the previous post: We went to the circus for Scott’s fifth birthday. Sold soap and scarves at Norman’s Medieval Fair and at Wiesenfeuer Baronial. Also caught up with some business bookkeeping and filed our income taxes. Somehow I managed this without teaching the boys to cuss – though they did hear a few things that would have made Samuel Adams smile.

Conestoga 14 was this weekend. Beltane Games is next weekend. An exciting 10th anniversary vacation in Hawaii is next month.

Busy times. Now you’re more or less up to date. Hope you like the new look!