Crawling Toward Vengeance

My denial almost ended today, then I thought of another way to put something off.

This time of year at the school where I work is the time of exam making. (Also known as “our time“.) Normally this would be a happy time of great joy and vengeance (because those things totally go together) but for some reason I find I can’t enjoy the making of the vengeful exam as much as I usually do.

Part of the problem is that because of the way we’ve been teaching the grade I’m in charge of there isn’t a lot of material for a final exam, especially one worth 50% of the final mark. The students have done lots of speaking projects, made visual aids and even “invented” something they called “new” superheroes in the same way that kid in Texas invented that clock.

The performances are usually pretty good, but there’s no way to put that on a test.

As a result I do what anyone would do: deny and delay. I tell myself I have lots of time, and even do significant amounts of advanced mathematics to prove it, right up until the moment I don’t have lots of time. (Note: this is exactly how I got through university.)

Today, even though I still have lots of time, I managed to do some work on vengeful exam. I was as surprised as everyone else. I then hit a moment where I’d have to start making decisions and ran through a thought process that involved using last year’s questions without any changes; using last year’s questions but changing the second listening; using last year’s questions but changing the order; using last year’s questions AND last year’s listening recording.

Mind you, I do not believe that even the students who took the test last year could pass it this year, but even I felt a twinge of guilt.

Then, during class, I got an idea for a question. i made a few notes, but I’ll get to them later. Vengeance is a dish best served eventually.

Midori Traveler’s Notebook Journal Passport Size–Long Term Review

I am now torn between being cool and not being cool or doing surgery to be cool.

Several months ago I finally broke down and bought a Midori Traveler’s Notebook Journal which all the really cool kids have. However, me being me, I bought the more pocketable Passport Size as the large size takes only one kind of notebook and requires a bag if you want to carry it around.

I liked it and liked that it took passport sized notebooks from Muji. It would also fit, just barely, an Eighty Pages notebook.  I started using it to carry my three basic notebooks (food journal; life and work notes; writing notes).

I like that it has thin but tough leather and I don’t mind the small bookmark, mostly because it can be cut off with no problem. With a little effort and a couple rubber bands it could be stuffed with extra notebooks.

The passport sized Traveler's cover from the top with the Eighty Pages Volume three.

The passport sized Traveler’s cover from the top with the Eighty Pages Volume three.

I wish that it was a little larger and could hold Field Notes sized notebooks–they can be forced in, but they stick out the ends–but I could forgive it because, unlike the larger version, it doesn’t require you use proprietary notebooks (or perform surgery on a notebook; more on that in a future post).

The leather ages well and gets softer without getting floppy. With one exception, the elastic bands held up well. The only strap I had to tighten was the strap that holds the cover closed. It’s attached at the back and was used enough that it started to get lose.

What I didn’t like almost as soon as I got it was the metal bit at the back used to bind the elastic cord and the book mark. What I didn’t realize was how annoying it would become.

First, it doesn’t even lay flat against the spine. It sticks out and is large enough to cover a mechanical pencil. It’s large enough it could be used as a weight for a fishing line. I can’t figure out who at the manufacturer thought this was a good idea. It taps when you set it on a desk. It scratches the desk. It prevents the notebooks from sitting flat. I tried moving it inside the spine, but it crushes the ends of the notebooks and works its way back outside. It’s such a bad idea only people in love with the idea of the notebook cover itself can possibly forgive its existence.

Cult Member: Dude, you’re too attached to material things. By scratching your desk you make it yours.
Me: Piss off and stop scratching the desk.
Cult Member: It’s a feature not a bug, Dude.

Why does this fishing weight metal bit exist?

The metal bit in its natural position next to a Kurutoga mechanical pencil. Why does this fishing weight metal bit exist?

Something like that.

I’ve heard that, over time, the elastic bands loosen and the only way to tighten them is to remove the fishing weight, do some pulling and cutting, and then put a new fishing weight on. (Midori is more than happy to sell you a new one.) At this point I’ve heard that many people opt to knot the elastic bands rather than wrestle with the useless metal bit.

If they ever come out with a version that doesn’t have the metal bit I might reconsider using them. Until then, I have something else to try.




Quad Field Notes Leather Notebook Cover–First Impressions

As I abandoned large notebooks and planners I found myself running about with various materials: smaller notebooks, bigger notebooks, note cards and random scraps of paper with random notes on both sides.

Along the way I discovered many excellent small notebooks, such as Field Notes notebooks, the passport sized Midori Traveler’s notebooks and other random notebooks. I suddenly found myself using three different notebooks at the same time (food journal; life and work notes; writing notes) and started looking for a cover to carry them all. I looked at the Midori Traveler’s notebook, but it was long and reminded me too much of my old Filofax planner. It also wasn’t pocket friendly.

Instead I started carrying the smaller Midori Traveler’s Passport sized cover with three small notebooks in it. The problem with it is, and I’ll give it a more through review another day, most of the notebooks I like to use are too large for it. At one point I tried a Field Notes Two Rivers and had bits sticking out both ends.

Somehow, and I don’t remember how, I discovered a company in Andover, Kansas named Old Church Works. They produce several pen and notebook related items, including a number of leather covers designed to hold notebooks the same size as Field Notes notebooks. I ordered one and, after a bit of delay, have finally decided to start using it.

The Quad Field Notes Leather Notebook Cover (hereafter referred to as the Quad) is bulkier than the Midori Passport, but that’s most likely because it’s new. Once I’ve had a chance to carry it around, I think it will start to soften and break in. It’s also half and inch longer than the Midori and I’m wondering how it will feel in a back pocket.

The OCW Four next to the Midori Passport sized. Both are holding three notebooks.

The Quad next to the Midori. Both are holding three notebooks. (The extra strap holding the third notebook is top left.)

The Quad is made from 6-7 ounce leather that’s been vegetable tanned and treated with bee’s wax along the edges. To hold the notebooks it has a long elastic cord laced through the leather to form loops. The laces are long enough to form built in bookmarks that end in brass aglets.

The Quad also comes with an extra elastic strap that allows the user to attach one or more extra notebooks.

The strap about ready to hold the Two Rivers (left) and the Story Supply together.

The strap about ready to hold the Two Rivers (left) and the Story Supply together.

This is a nice touch as Midori is more than happy to sell you a glorified rubber band to help keep your extra notebooks together. (Note: a large rubber band also works really well.)

The Quad also solves the number one reason I’ve been annoyed with the Midori: the metal bit. Midori fastens the straps and the book mark together with something resembling a fishing weight. It sticks out and has a tendency to tap and scratch tables and desks. (More on that in the future post.) The Quad simply uses lacing and knots to hold the straps together.

The annoying metal bit on the top notebook cover.

The fishing weight on the top notebook cover. You can also see the length differences in the two covers.

Right now, the only early annoyance with the Quad is that the book marks are the ends of the straps meaning there’s no way to get rid of them without performing surgery on the straps. They look good and the brass aglets are nice looking and less tappy and scratchy than the fishing weight on the Midori, but I don’t really need bookmarks and they hang out farther than they need to for pocket carry. I wish they were tied in as a separate piece so that I could remove or add them at my pleasure.

But we’ll see what what I think in six months or so. Until then, check out Old Church Works website . The history of the name is an interesting story.


Mad Game Watching Skills

I managed to finish my NaNoWriMo pages for today, but between bursts of writing, I needed a distraction. Because it was another day when I couldn’t be bothered I ended up watching a game more than I played it. It turns out I’m actually pretty good at that.

Although World of Tanks is a free game, it makes its money by selling special tanks, premium time that lets you earn more in game “money” and experience when you play, “garage” slots so you can acquire more tanks without having to get rid of any and “gold” which lets you buy other special tanks and special equipment.

Every now and then, as a way to improve their viewership, game streamers will giveaway gold, or premium time or special tanks to their followers. On the days I can’t be bothered to play, I’ve had good luck winning some of those special things. In order to win you usually only have to make a comment or type a certain code and you are entered in the drawing.

Over the past several months I’ve won two special tanks, “gold”, premium time, a garage slot and a t-shirt.

Faced with that luck, over the past 24 hours I watched snippets of Tanking for the Troops which is an occasional game streaming “telethon” that helps raise money for Operation Supply Drop. which sends crates of games and game related items to deployed service people and those in veterans’ hospitals so that they might enjoy a bit of distraction from the brutal reality around them. My cousin (a U.S. Marine) told me about how World of Warcraft was his distraction in Afghanistan between work, bouts of boredom, and random threat alarms.

I, of course, was in this for myself. By merely commenting I was automatically entered in drawings and won “gold” and a special tank. All this for being snarky a couple times an hour.

Once I had mine, er, after winning, I made a small donation to Operation Supply Drop.

The trouble is, to use any of this free stuff, I’ll actually have to be bothered to play the game. Not an easy thing to do with exams coming up. Maybe I’ll just watch more streams and see what I can win.

More Than One Challenge Causes Strife

I annoyed our youngest today. Like all kids under the age of teen, she has a natural desire to help out and do stuff. However, because she’s a tween, she apparently only likes to help out and do stuff once.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and our oldest were off to visit schools today which left me in charge of our youngest and random chores.

The first chore was to hang the laundry outside but that involved a couple steps. The first step is to unpack every other item from mesh bags She Who Must Be Obeyed insists on putting things in and which adds extra complications to what should be a fairly straight forward process. (That’s another post. If I’m smart I’ll never write that post.)

The other step was to take down and fold the laundry from yesterday. (That’s another post. If I’m smart I’ll never write that post either.) I took the dry laundry off the hangers and handed it to our youngest and said “fold this”. I had to provide a little instruction but she did a good job.

Later, it was my job to throw together some lunch. I reheated yesterday’s mushroom rice and whipped up a wilted spinach salad with bacon, tomato, olive oil and a dash of lemon juice. Our youngest seemed to enjoy the meal.

After we ate I cleared the table and told her to do the dishes. She went into preteen mode and ignored me. Later, when I reminded her to do the dishes, I got the “why?” and, oddly, I gave her an answer that didn’t involve “I told you so”. I told her I’d cooked and she got to clean. Also, it wasn’t that many dishes and I would do the biggest and most dangerous things (frying pans and knives). She grunted a response (which is clearly proof she’s practicing to be a teenager) and did nothing.

Eventually, I had to remind her to do the dishes. At that point she did them and even dried them and put them away.

Now it’s my turn to do the dishes. (Insert grunted response.)

Sometimes They Try to Con You

Note: WordPress was having issues yesterday and I was unable to post this. Here it is now. I hope.

Yesterday, as I was on my way to my last class, a student stopped me and handed me a piece of paper. The piece of paper was an official note challenging an absence I’d given him earlier in the term.

Unfortunately he’d chosen an excuse that was impossible for me to believe.

First you have to understand that in the school where I work it is possible to fail, at least in high school. One of the guaranteed ways to fail is to miss one-third of the classes for the year. From this there is no salvation. If students fail based on low scores, they can take make-up exams and get passing scores.

This particular student has never been a particularly good student. When I had him in class last year he was bad and this year he just started skipping every other class. At his point, with three classes left in the term, he’s already failed the term because of absences. He can only afford four (possibly five, long story) more absences or he fails the entire year.

Because of this, he approached me with the challenge note and explained that he’d actually been present in September on a day I’d marked him absent. He said he’d been in class, but had merely been in the wrong chair.

Now, there’s a lot that’s wrong with this excuse. First, he’s not the quiet type. If he were in the class, I’d have noticed and told him to get back to his seat or get out. If he were in the USA he’d have been put on drugs years ago. In Japan he refuses to sit still and inevitably walks around and talks to his friends.

I’d do that because, Second, the classroom is small and the only seats he could sit in besides his own would be in front of me.

Third, I can count and would notice the class was full. I would also call out his name if his chair was absent and at least seven people would have pointed him out to me and I’d have told him to get in his seat or get out.

Fourth, he chose a day when I was handing out the official “textbook” pages. (Long story.) If I’d thought he was absent, I would have set aside a paper with his name on it and given it to him the next time he was present. The odds of him having that paper with my handwriting on it are very high.

I conferred with his homeroom teacher and explained my argument and he said. “it’s up to you.” I rejected the challenge and don’t expect much follow up.

The funny part is, because he’s late a lot, if he’d said I’d marked him absent because he was “in the toilet” for 20 minutes I might have believed him. Instead he chose poorly.

That Place I Do Not Go Except When I Am Here

Am I a hypocrite, desperate or simply practical?

I only ask because it seems that the only place I don’t have standards is the middle of Tokyo.

It often surprises my Japanese students that 1) I never eat at McDonald’s when I’m in the USA and 2) that I never go to Starbucks for a coffee.

I explain there are much better options for both fast food and coffee in the USA. Most Starbucks in the USA full of caffeinated writers plugging away at computers, abusing the free Wi-Fi and taking up all the seats. Someone merely sitting and having a coffee is either waiting for someone or ran out of battery in one or more electronic devices.

I say that, and mock that, yet, here I am in a Starbucks in Tokyo. I’m fully caffeinated, plugging away at a computer, abusing the free Wi-Fi and taking up one of the seats.

In my defense, because Japan for the most part by-passed portable computers and cellphone users got used to high data plan bills, it has precious little free Wi-Fi. Finding a place where you can plug in a computer and do some work without worrying about your battery dying. (re. this updated review) is difficult. About the only places you can do this consistently are McDonald’s (if you have a Nintendo DS); 7-11 stores and Starbucks. Even my cellphone provider has a “free Wi-Fi” service for which they charge a monthly fee. (No, I’m not making that up. I think in this case “free” means “you are free to use it at your leisure after you pay us.)

Luckily, right now this Starbucks is nearly empty. That’s a nice surprise as this store is usually the second busiest in the world after the Starbucks at the CIA headquarters.

That said, even if it fills up, as long as I have a comfortable chair at the table with the outlets, I usually don’t feel too guilty about taking up space.

Am I a hypocrite, desperate or simply practical?


Finding and Making Fellow Travelers

Yesterday, in my evening class, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: lend one of my better fountain pens to a student so she could try it. I then watched as she passed it to another student to try.

Oddly, and I’m as surprised as everybody else, I didn’t hurt anyone.

This all started with a discussion of notebooks. I pointed out that, with a few exceptions, I prefer Japanese notebooks. The student was impressed, especially when I mentioned Tomoe River paper and how good it was for fountain pens.

That prompted one of my younger students to ask why I carried so many pens and I was like “because”. She then asked to see one and, because she will eventually fill out evaluations about me, I thought I should lend her one. The problem is, I didn’t have any crap ones to lend her and she wanted only the best.

At first I had to show her how to hold it. She started to use it with the feed up and I had to explain to put the pretty side up. I also explained, perhaps a bit to vehemently “don’t press, don’t press, for Goodness’ sake don’t press. Just let the weight of the pen do the work.” She wrote her name and passed it to another student. We repeated the same ritual and, out of the blue, another student began giving advice. Once he got the hang of writing with it, he couldn’t stop writing stuff.

I think he was especially impressed by the writing style from the stub nib. This led to the revelation that the student who’d offered advice was also a fountain pen fan, or at least familiar with them.

We then had a discussion about pens, including the Pilot Hi-Tec-C and a few others.

I hope to cultivate this interest in pens and fountain pens among my students. I’ll just have to remember to bring some pens I don’t mind lending out.

The problem is, I don’t actually have any of those.

Swiss Army Traveler–New is Not Always Better

I bought it because it was called a Traveler and I was dreamy and pretentious enough to believe that described me in the months before I went to Albania with the Peace Corps. At least, I think it’s called a traveler, it might be called something else, which says a lot about my mental state in those months before I went to the Peace Corps.

Whatever it’s called, and for the sake of today’s post, I’ll call it a Traveler, that Swiss Army Knife has been my constant companion in my travels and I like that old, 1991 or 1992 version better than the recent versions.

I won’t go into the specs except to say it has a large blade, small blade, scissors, flat head screwdriver, can opener, cork screw, leather punch and knobby hook thing. It also has a toothpick and a pair of tweezers.

I’ve used the blades a lot and the big blade is starting to get that over-sharpened/badly sharpened look old knives get, but I still use it and still carry it to the in-laws. I’ve also gotten lots of use out of the scissors, the leather punch, the screwdrivers and the corkscrew. I still have and use the original toothpick and someday may actually clean it. I like the Swiss Army Knives better than other multi-tools because the blade is usable. On others the blade is secondary to the pliers or the mess of screwdrivers (that’s a technical term).

However, after I moved to Tokyo, I couldn’t find the old Traveler. I was convinced it got thrown out during the move and eventually gave up looking for it and bought a more modern one. It had all the same tools, but came with an attached key ring that I found annoying as it gets in the way of using the blades. I’ve attached a lanyard to it mostly as a way to find it quickly in my emergency kit bag.

Several months after I bought the new one, I found the old one and I know it’s odd to befriend inanimate objects, but I did feel as if I’d renewed a friendship. The old knife has been around the world with me and together we survived Albania, Turkey and an interrogation in Greece.

Recently I’ve added another Swiss Army Knife to the holdings: a smaller blue Alox Cadet. It is thinner and only has four tools and because it has a shorter blade it MAY be legal to carry in Japan. (Note: I won’t carry it until I confirm that). I like it but it has that key ring thing, which I may just take off and be done with. I’ve kept the other knife 25 years (minus a few months where I couldn’t find it) and at no point did I wish it had a lanyard or a key ring.

I’ve actually used the knobby hook thing more than either of the key rings.

Family photo:

Family photo: The old Traveler is in the middle;the newer one is at the top; the new blue Alox Cadet is at the bottom.


Halfway There But Not Halfway Home

I may not get there. I’ve already juked the stats but it doesn’t look as if that will help.

Yesterday was day 15 of the 2015 National Novel Writing Month and I should be at 25,000 words. Instead, on day 16 I’m at 19,190 words. If I’d stuck with my plan of writing on the days off during October and swapping them out with days in November, I’d be in better shape.

Instead I spent a lot of time doing research and doing some basic world building.  That was useful, but didn’t produce many pages of text. (More on that later.)

After a good start, I hit last week. I was busy and I didn’t get much chance to sit down and write. Over the weekend I got a lot done and then sat down and recounted words. I’m putting down about 195 words per page on average and decided to bump my official word count per page. That helped a little, but not that much.

(Note: With those accounting skills I am available to help governments of all kinds with revenue and harvest predictions and five year plans.)

The coming weeks will be just as busy as last week.

I’ve finally got a plot and an ending and am forcing myself to slow down and overwrite. One of the problems with writing by hand is you feel as if you’ve written more than you have and you’re convinced the pages you’ve just written are wordy and boring. Then, when you enter them into a word processor, you realize they are only one page of typed text and that you’re actually rushing.

I’ll keep working on the book. I have a couple weekends yet to go, including one three day weekend, and I could manage my time after school and before my evening class better. I could also, hypothetically, work on bits of it during class. Hypothetically, of course.

The last ditch plan will involve incorporating the research I’ve done. It’s not very much, though, and I’ll have to get a lot closer to 50,000 for those notes to help. I’ve already dropped a couple days of writing anyway, so I won’t feel too bad about adding them to the total.

I will also need to find a place to hide and write when I’m at work.