Sunday, September 13, 2020

Miscellany: 2015 Lexus ES350 review - The Granny Car

Mom's going to be a grandma soon, so it's fitting that her current vehicle is a Lexus ES350, a midsize sedan that's commonly associated with...well...grannies:

The ES350's sedate reputation is largely based on its driving dynamics, which are focused on luxury rather than sport. It starts with the engine - the car has the same 3.5L V6 found in Camrys and Avalons since 2006. Paired with a 6-speed auto, the engine is reliable, smooth, and runs on non-premium gas, but it isn't particularly powerful. The available 268 horsepower is peppy enough for most purposes, but I sometimes had trouble merging into traffic or passing trucks on the highway.

The ES350's handling is also so-so. I'd never expect a big front engine, front wheel-drive sedan to carve like my 328i, but the ES350's cornering borders on boaty and floaty, with pronounced understeer. The car also takes much longer to stop than I'm used to; once it picks up speed, you have to brake early if you want to avoid jerking to a halt. On the plus side, the ride is comfy, controlled, and perfect for cruising.

The Lexus interior is well-built and practical, for the most part. I didn't like the wood portions of the steering wheel, which get hot to the touch in Florida summers, but the leather on everything else works great. Even a midlevel trim ES350 like my Mom's had heated and ventilated seats, blindspot detection, parking assist, and a backup camera - all of which you have to pay big bucks for in 2015-era sedans from the Germans.

Overall practicality is good, as there's plenty of leg and shoulder room for even the rear passengers, and the car is festooned with cupholders and storage areas for everyone. The back seat does not fold down, but the large trunk makes it mostly a nonissue. While this is not a vehicle I'd buy, my family and I drove to Atlanta and back during quarantine with it, and we weren't at each other's throats despite spending 20 hours in the car. Perhaps Grandma really does know best.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Miscellany: COVID-19 EDC


Disposable face mask - Even if you don't think the masks do anything, obscuring your identity couldn't be a bad thing in these strange times.

Comptac Single Magazine Pouch Belt Clip with spare 10-round G26 magazine - Still the best spare mag pouch I've ever used.

CASIO G-Shock GA-1000-8A watch

ShivWorks Clinch Pick

GLOCK 26 in PHLster Skeleton appendix holster, loaded with Federal 124 gr. HST ammo

Slimfold wallet

POM pepper spray

Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA

iPhone 5s

Monday, August 31, 2020

Miscellany: Making a Pathfinder 2E character

My friends and I are playing some Pathfinder Second Edition over Labor Day weekend, so I am putting together a min-maxed PC who's one part Mike from Breaking Bad and one part Jinyiwei. Curious as to how character creation in Pathfinder 2E compares to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition? Check out the character choices I made below:

1. Ancestry

The Core Rulebook contains 6 ancestries (dwarf, elf, gnome, goblin, halfling, and human), and selecting one is the first and most important choice you make. Each ancestry carries a slew of ability bonuses, special feats, and in most cases, a "flaw" (an ability score penalty). 

For my character, who is going to be going around investigating dissidents and whacking them with a sword, I pick human. I get two free ability boosts (+2 to a score) and no flaws, so I pump Strength and Wisdom.  I choose the "Versatile" heritage, which gives you a free general feat - I opt for "Canny Acumen" and become an expert in Will saves.  Finally, I get the "Natural Skill" human ancestry feat and get trained in Intimidation and Stealth.

2. Background

The second choice, and a similarly irrevocable one, is choosing a background. I pick the "Detective" background, which boosts either Wisdom or Intelligence (I go for Wisdom again), and then a free boost of your choice (I pick Strength, natch).  It also grants training in Society, Underworld Lore, and the Streetwise skill feat.

3. Class

Choosing a class is important, but perhaps not as important as you might think since there are multiclassing feats. I'm torn between choosing a straight Fighter or trying a Rogue with the "Ruffian" racket, but I ultimately go Fighter. 

Picking the Fighter class gives me a Strength boost, expert training in Perception, Fortitude, and Reflex saves, training in Athletics and three more skills (I pick Deception, Diplomacy, and Survival), and expert training in martial weapons, among other things. I pick the first level feat Power Attack, which lets you add an extra die of weapon damage on a successful hit.

4. Ability Scores

You get four more ability score boosts, so I pick Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma.

5. Equipment

I am planning on using the special saber of the Jinyiwei, which is essentially a bastard sword in Pathfinder terms. That means I can roll big fat d12s worth of damage using the sword two-handed, and also use the sword one-handed for grappling, shoving, and disarming to take advantage of my max Strength. Throw in a cool hat and multicolor armor, and Qinglong is done!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Books: Quarantine Recovery Double Feature

I've found that the flip side of training for a half-marathon is recovering from all the miles you're putting on your legs. After all, it's no good to push yourself hard if you end up injured and unable to train for a month. To that end, here are a couple of books that provide some unique perspectives on repairing and replenishing the human body:

Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, Christie Aschwanden

Athletes go to strange lengths to bounce back from a hard workout. Soaking in a bathtub full of wine? Blasting yourself with subzero air? In Good to Go, Christie Aschwanden tries out these newfangled treatments with a skeptical eye. Some of them sort of work (at least they feel good), some don't work at all. In the end, she finds the best ways to recover are the ones that don't require spending a lot of money - plain water, homecooked meals, and a decent night's sleep.

Year of the Cow: How 420 Pounds of Beef Built a Better Life for One American Family, Jared Stone

Part family memoir, part healthy living treatise, and part cookbook, Year of the Cow follows TV producer Jared Stone as he feeds his family for a year (well, it's more like two) using beef that came from a single, grass-fed, responsibly-raised cow. While Stone admirably commits to not wasting anything, it is a daunting task at first...the meat doesn't even fit in his freezer. Over time, though, he learns to cook all of the animal (including the heart) and learns a lot about taking things slow and being grateful for what one has in the process.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Music: Song of Time

One of my favorite harpists on YouTube, Amy Turk, has released an entire album of harp and ocarina covers for the soundtrack of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (well, minus the temple themes).

If you know anything about harp playing, you know what a monumental effort this is, and if you've played Ocarina of Time, you know just how well these covers capture the essence of the music while translating it from blurry N64 PCM to luscious harp and ocarina. For me, listening brings back memories of slashing bushes and riding Epona over Thanksgiving weekend in 1998:

Monday, August 03, 2020

Books: Quarantine Running Double Feature

Like a lot of people, I've taken up running as a way to get exercise in the COVID-19 era, with my goal being to run the half marathon event at the Palm Beaches Marathon in December (I'm crossing my fingers that it won't get cancelled this year). Here's a couple of books that have helped me in my quest to cover 13.1 miles.

Run Forever: Your Complete Guide to Healthy Lifetime Running, Amby Burfoot

There are a million running books out there if you want complex training schedules, micromanaged meal plans, and the latest jargon about your VO2 max and lactate threshold. Run Forever, by former Runner's World editor Amby Burfoot, is a little different. Rather than bombard you with information masquerading as wisdom, the book distills a lifetime of running knowledge into simple straightforward advice to run well into old age. Burfoot may only be half as fast as he was when he won the Boston Marathon, but what he's lost in speed he's made up for in perspective.

Becoming Boston Strong, Amy Noelle Roe

The Boston Marathon bombing is in the news again due to a recent appellate court ruling, and Amy Noelle Roe's memoir opens with a raw first-person account of that awful tragedy. But Roe doesn't let the bombing define her relationship with the world's greatest marathon. To the contrary, Becoming Boston Strong is more about Roe overcoming a directionless period in her life to find the sport of running and reach her dream of qualifying for Boston, despite injuries and personal setbacks. If you feel like reading a frank personal odyssey, full of life's ups and downs, then you'll like Becoming Boston Strong.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Miscellany: POM pepper spray review

One takeaway from my ECQC class (I swear I'll do a full review eventually) is that it's good to have a ranged less lethal force option, as there are a lot of situations requiring more than harsh language but less than busting a cap. The two main choices in this area are Tasers and OC spray. Today I'm reviewing the most convenient option I've found, POM flip top pepper spray units.

Other companies have put out small form-factor pepper sprays, but the POM unit is the only one which both carries easily (via the integral pocket clip, pictured above) and packs a significant amount of pepper spray. POM claims that each half-ounce unit gives 12 seconds of continuous spray up to 12 feet. Now, my informal testing yielded more like 10 seconds of usable spray at 10 feet, but it's still way better than the novelty keychain or pen-size dispensers.

POM also has the best firing mechanism I've see in a pepper spray unit of this size. Rather than use a twist-off safety detent, like most of the Sabre lineup, POM uses a flip-top. This is a lot more secure (I've had Sabre units unlock in my pocket), ambidextrous, and easy to use under stress. The POM design automatically orients and indexes the spray toward the attacker - so long as your thumb is on the button, whatever your thumb is pointing at is going to get hit.

In situations where people look like they're going to beat you up but pulling a gun isn't yet justified, POM is a good option, and one that I've taken to carrying with me whenever I'm in public.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Movies: Eurovision Song Contest - The Story of Fire Saga

I don't think I'm alone when I say that I needed a silly diversion this Fourth of July weekend, and Netflix's Will Ferrell movie "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" provided it:

"Eurovision" follows the same basic structure as any number of Will Ferrell sports movies. You know the ones - "Talladega Nights," "Semi-Pro," "Blades of Glory" - where a plucky underdog battles through tough competition to gain personal fulfillment, if not actual victory. Unlike those movies, Ferrell has a truly gifted foil here in the form of Rachel McAdams, who shows off the comedy chops that made her famous in "Mean Girls." She brings the mix of wacky and sincere that separates good Will Ferrell movies from bad Will Ferrell movies.

Rating: 7/10

Links: Murder Is Her Hobby - Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The coronavirus is keeping museums across the country closed, but there are still some neat ways to visit these places virtually, like this online gallery of the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”:

The Nutshell Studies were created in the 1940s by "the mother of forensic science," Frances Glessner Lee. Lee made intricate dioramas based on real crime scenes, in order to train police investigators to methodically analyze evidence. The attention to detail, macabre subject matter, and gender of the author (women in law enforcement were rare back then) made the Nutshells famous, so it's nice to be able to explore them via the World Wide Web.

Miscellany: Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA review

Hurricane season is coming, and that means potentially losing power for days at a time. The best EDC flashlight I've found for such situations is the Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA. The Streamlight can take CR123A, AA, and even AAA batteries without the need for different body tubes or adapters. How? There's an internal spacer spring that allows the flashlight to accept the wildly varying lengths and widths of the three battery types, and smart circuitry steps down the output for when you're running with non-CR123 cells.

Physically, the ProTac 1L-1AA features a bidirectional pocket clip (perfect for clipping onto a baseball cap to use as a headlamp), a momentary/constant-on tailcap, and the "TEN-TAP" programming found on most of the ProTac line (I usually just lock the light into high mode and call it good). While the 1L-1AA doesn't put out as much light as the competition, its unparalleled versatility makes it much more useful when the grid's down.