Monthly Archives: April 2015

cKc EDC–An Awesome Solution in Search of a Problem

I own a knife that solves a problem that probably wasn’t a problem. It’s still an awesome knife, though.

First some background: After I started renewing an odd interest in knives, I discovered cKc Knives. cKc Knives is run by Kyley Harris, a part-time knife maker in New Zealand who made videos that were one part humor, one part profanity and one part awesome. (In one great video, he proved a metal ruler could cut paper as part of a response to ludicrous claims from another YouTuber.) He also had one of the greatest sales videos I’ve ever seen when he proved his awesome sharpening skills by slicing a computer manual in half as easy as cutting warm butter.

He also approaches knife making from an attitude that’s best described as a mix of scientific curiosity and “why the hell not?”

As such, his knives don’t look like anyone else’s and have features that seem more like responses to other people’s claims. To prove that the shape of handle matters more than the handle’s material, he made a knife out of a material that’s slipperier than Teflon.

My favorite knife (although just barely) is the cKc EDC framelock. It was his first framelock and it was his attempt to make a lock that wouldn’t fail.

Note to non-knife people: One of the favorite past-times on YouTube is to take a folding knife and slam the blade spine on a table to see if the lock will fail, causing the knife to close on the user’s hand. The theory being that if it fails like that it will fail and close on your hand when you’re whittling a stick or opening a box you got in the mail. (Something like that.)

The cKc EDC from the side.

The cKc EDC from the side.

The cKc EDC, though, has a lock that’s designed to never fail. Harris designed the lock with a groove that, in theory, will act like a catcher’s mitt and catch the lock bar. He tested it by locking different knives and the EDC in a vice and hitting them with a broomstick. He sheered a piece of one knife but the EDC didn’t fail.

The problem is, though, that it’s unlikely anyone would ever hit the back of a knife like that unless I was, for some inexplicable reason, using a folding knife to hammer a nail. As such, the lock on the EDC solves a problem that’s not a huge problem on most knives.

Also, the trade-off is that the lock design leaves the knife with a slight rattle. To allow for the groove, the blade has to move a little. This goes away when you grip it and start using it, but it’s still a bit disconcerting the first time you shake the knife and it rattles. I bought it used and had to take it apart and clean and oil it a bit to make the blade open smoothly.

That said, I like everything else about the knife. The ELMAX steel holds an edge well, although, because I live in Japan, I haven’t had as much chance to test it out as I’d like, and the titanium scales and handle shape are surprisingly comfortable. It has a 3.1 inch blade (8 cm) and is 7.4 inches long (18.6 cm) it’s the prefect size to carry around the house.

Unfortunately, Harris has taken a hiatus from making knives. However, if you’re interested, check out his shop on Gearbastion, where you can also find a lot of other new knifemakers, from the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

I hope he starts making knives again soon. Until then, keep watching Gearbastion.




Belated Popcorn and Half a Movie

It was another one of those days, but in a good way.

Today our youngest insisted on going to a movie so she could use the discount coupons we’d received for some reason or the other. I used my powers of persuasion delay and whining (Example: “I went last time! I went last time! It’s your turn! It’s your turn!”) to convince She Who Must Be Obeyed to go. I pointed out that 1) the movie was in Japanese, 2) Someone would have to drive and 3) she could enjoy a nap as she traditionally falls asleep during movies (even those at home).

Oddly, this persuasion worked and She Who Must Be Obeyed took our youngest to the movie.

However, it turned out that they made it to the theater with just three minutes to spare and didn’t have time to get popcorn. (From my point of view, this means the movie sucks by default).

Later, they brought home Baskin Robbins ice cream, including the awesome (therefore doomed) German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream which gave me flashbacks of my default birthday cake when I was growing up. They also brought home the tale of woe about how they hadn’t had any popcorn and that meant the movie sucked. (Something like that.)

However, because they got back relatively late and because we’d had a hefty amount of ice cream, no one was hungry for supper. She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had a moment of ESP and we both said “popcorn” at pretty much the same time. This meant we got to eat popcorn for supper, which is one of my favorite suppers. (There was also leftover pizza, which is another favorite supper.)

We then sat down to watch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. This time it was my job to sit with our youngest as this is a scary movie and I needed someone to comfort me. (Strike that. Reverse it.) She Who Must Be Obeyed finished her nap and we got to see half the movie before it was bath and bed time.

I’ll get to watch the rest another day, but probably without popcorn, which means the movie will suck.


Namisu Nexus Minimal Fountain Pen–Good First Impressions at Long Last

I bought a couple pens in August 2014 that were supposed to be shipped in November. I didn’t get them until this week.

Thus far it seems to have been worth the wait.

First The Wait:
Kickstarter likes to tell the public that it is not a store. Its users are not “shoppers” they are “backers” and a lot of pixels are used to explain the difference. Quite frankly, a lot of the backers disagree with this lesson in semantics (I suspect it’s the exchanging money for goods thing) and they tend to get upset when a project repeatedly misses it’s deadlines, especially after the first few deadlines have been missed.

But it’s important, if you’re going to back something on Kickstarter, to remember that if it is a store, it’s not like a normal retail store. It’s more like a hybrid of shopping, investment and gambling.

In my case I bought a pair of Nexus Minimal fountain pens from Namisu, a company out of Edinburgh. The project overshot its 10,000 British pound goal by ten times, finally finishing at over 104,000 pounds. This meant, to those of who’d backed other projects, that the pens were going to be delayed. In Kickstarter, success breeds delay. If it doesn’t, it breeds crap.

That said, my problem with this Kickstarter is that although we got a lot of backers updates, we didn’t seem to get a lot of information. The deadline was always being pushed back by some technical issue and we would get more information later that turned out to be an update telling us we’d get more information later. I was an Early Backer and wanted to know where I was in line but I never found out until I got my pens.

The Pens:

The Titanium version (bottom) and the Aluminum version (top) you can see blue ink in the threads.

The titanium version (bottom) and the aluminum version (top) you can see blue ink in the threads.

The pens themselves are very nice, with a few small quirks. They both needed a thorough cleaning and I had to tighten the nib and feed on the titanium version. Because the cap threads are at the front of the pen behind the nib–which does make it more comfortable to use–the threads fill up with ink as the pen is being filled, adding an extra bit of clean up.

Also, the cap is barely bigger than the nib which means I have to be careful when I re-cap the pen.

I’ve used the pens for the past few days and although it’s too early make any serious judgements, I think they were worth the wait. The titanium medium nib on the titanium version is surprisingly juicy and writes like a broad nib. It also had a funny squeak when I first started using it, but that’s already going away. It writes well, but the tines are slightly out of line and will need some work. The aluminum version has a steel medium nib that writes well and leaves a thinner line than the platinum nib.

The machine work on the section looks great–part of the delay involved improving the fit and finish of the pens–but they dig into my fingers if I’m not careful how I hold the pens. The threads on the titanium version need some polishing as they grind when I put the cap on and off.

I’ve already worked the two pens into my daily carry by cleaning and setting aside a couple other pens. Eventually I’ll have used the two enough to make a long term review.

Until then, I have a lot of writing to do.

The First Week Ain’t Nothing but Sore Feet and Attitude

Today we finished our first week of the new school year. Now we need the weekend to recover.

The first week back after a break is weird. It’s been several weeks since we were in front of a class and we are suddenly back on our feet. In my case, I move around the classroom a lot and my feet are sore from all the sudden walking (in new shoes, no less). We also spend a lot of energy planning and having meetings and, for some of us, getting the new people up to speed.

It’s also hard to get back in the groove in front of the students. Teaching after a break is not like falling off a bicycle (something like that). Each class is different and the plan that worked well with one class got disrupted by a little jerk in another and by the teacher having too many carbs for lunch in yet another. In once class some of the students get the jokes, in others they weren’t listening closely enough to realize the teacher was speaking.

It’s also hard to get into the teaching rhythm early in the year as there are a few national holidays coming up (starting next week, actually). Breaks get filled up with busy work and our legs are still trying to find the path from one room to the other. In my case I’m doing boring stuff like talking about rules while at the same time trying to give the impression that English is interesting and fun to people who mumble in Japanese about how they can’t understand my English.

As I mentioned yesterday, in first year high school classes (10th grade) we are also dealing with students who haven’t had time to recover from junior high school anything goes mode.

That said, it’s good to be back in front of students. It’s also good knowing one week is already past.

Always That Guy and Always That Class

Today I asked one of my colleagues if he knew anything about a student I’m teaching. He just laughed.

That was all the answer I needed.

After all the years I’ve been teaching at the school where I work, I remaine amazed at how different one class is from the other, even in the same room. In my first year high school classes (10th grade) I’ve got one good class, one average class, and one that promises to age me at a much faster rate than normal. The funny part is that class is made up of two different sections of the same grade. (Basically about half the class is from one section and the other half from another).

The students from “the other half” are loud, sarcastic and rude. Even worse, they are confrontational. Today I was very close to throwing a boy out of class (the one I asked about) because his basic form of response involved slurping noises and raspberries and putting on a show for his friends. He was also disguising his poor English level with sarcasm and back talk (in Japanese, of course). Normally I ignore those kids, unless they drag others along, but today, when I’m explaining the class rules, I give the bad boys the attention they crave.

Some of this trouble is caused because the classes are arranged, roughly, by club, with baseball boys tending to be in the same class and soccer boys in another class. This means the classes have different moods and the bad boys have a lot of friends around to act as an audience

The other part of the problem is that only a month ago the students were still in junior high and couldn’t fail and couldn’t be thrown out of class. (Well, they can, but it’s complicated and involves other teachers. Long story.) They are still of the belief that there’s not much I can do to them.

They are wrong.

First, they can fail. At least two students were held back in 10th grade last year. One dropped out/moved on, the other chose to repeat the grade. Another student failed on attendance but managed to get himself promoted to 12th grade, albeit with lots of complicated caveats.

I can also give them lots of extra work (much of which I will mark as received but never actually read)

The students have also forgotten that my class is last period. I have all the time I need. (My record for keeping an entire class late is 25 minutes.)

At the end of class, after explaining the stick, I threw them a carrot and let them relax for the last five minutes. The bad boy asked why I hadn’t done that sooner. I told him it was because I’d had to spend so much time trying to get him to shut up. If he’d been quiet, they would have been able to relax sooner.

There Can Be Only One And One There Is

Sigh. Apparently I’m too good at being scary and that means I have a lot of work to do in the next few days.

A few days ago I wrote about he sales pitch I had to make for my third year high school class elective. I mentioned how we had to temper our pitch to chase out the wrong types but keep enough of the right types to have a viable class.

I didn’t temper very well, apparently as only one student signed up.

This means I have to do a lot of rethinking and revising by Monday. My class was based around acting techniques and acting exercises and it works best with a lot of people. With one it will be possible to do a monologue but extremely difficult to do a dialogue. It will also make the entire second term impossible as my students do a staged reading of one three person play and then write another as their final project.

The other problem is that even when I do have a few good ideas, it doesn’t take that much time for one person to finish the activity and leave me with lots of time to fill. (I had the opposite problem when the course jumped from six students to 14 a few years ago.)

Oddly, this phenomenon affected my other colleagues as well. Another teacher got only one student; a second teacher got only five; and a third got 15 for a class about music. This is a huge surprise as the teacher is actually likable and music classes usually attract almost twice that number of students. There wasn’t much love for the foreign staff this year as we gathered only 22 students between us.

I have a few ideas about what to do and I suspect a lot of videos and discussions of acting decisions will be involved. (I’m imagining watching scenes of the different Jokers from the Batman movies and talking about the differences.)

At least I’ll only have two exams to mark this year. I’ll just have a lot of work before that.


Reverting Back to Sharpened Sticks

One of the strangest things that happens to the pen and stationery addicted is they eventually revert back to using wood pencils. At least for a while.

I’m not sure what causes this phenomenon but most of us already have various versions of mechanical pencils which are sort of, almost, like pens. Moving to wood pencils therefore isn’t that big of a step.

Also, since a lot of us, especially fountain pen users, are already well lost in retro mode, using pencils gets us lost on a different level of retro. Sort of a Retro Retro.

In my case, I’ve always had a few wood pencils around in case the urge to draw and or sketch hits me.

Note: This urge occurs for about three days once every seven years. That’s one day to get the urge and go shopping; one day to actually draw stuff; and one day to find a place to store the new stuff.

Second Note: Yes, I know I have stuff on hand for when the urge hits but using it would require 1) that I remember I have it and 2) that I remember where it’s stored. Also, new stuff is better than old stuff.

For some reason, when I was making a lot of purchases from Levenger, I noticed they were selling boxes of pencils. I was most interested in the wood box they came in. (I have a thing for boxes more on that in another post) and them being stamped with the word “pencil” in six different languages. Each box had 20 pencils.

However, soon after I got them, I reverted back to using pens. Over time I’ve used almost one entire box and the other remains unopened an unused. In fact, the pencils are still in the plastic.

The last three pencils in the first box and the unused second box in the background.

The last three Levenger pencils in the first box and the unused second box in the background.

Now I hear there’s an entire store in New York City dedicated to wood pencils. Suddenly I’m feeling the urge to draw. At least for a while.

Watching You Watching Me Watching You

Today I was in a room where everyone was watching me as much as I was watching them.

Today was the first day of classes and that means today was a kind of testing period. I gave the students an assignment and then watched how they worked and what they did and didn’t do.The assignment was to introduce your partner using only lies–they were supposed to lie about his name, too–and then the partner gets to correct the introduction.

(Please note: Yes, I work at a Christian school and, yes, I am teaching my students to bear false witness.)

I paid attention to which part of the room was noisy when I was busy with other students, which students volunteered to do the introductions, which students needed translations from other students about what to do and which students were doing the translating.

Some names I remembered from past classes and others I recognized from the trauma they caused other teachers. In at least one case, the teacher had disliked the student so much the student’s name had become a swear word.

At the same time, the students are watching me. How noisy do I let them get before I quiet them down. Am I keeping score.

The next class, when they are supposed to have finished their first homework, will be another test. I’ll be watching who has excuses and not homework and they’ll be watching my reaction.

Of course, one of the questions I asked them to tell me was their biggest fear. That’s what I can use against them. (Unless they are afraid of ghosts; that’s more problematic.)

Sales Pitches and Dirty Knowing Looks

On Saturday I had the job of selling a class while also trying not to sell it too well.

At the school where I work the third year high school classes are electives. Students get to choose the classes they want and we teachers can teach any topic. In the past we’ve had courses in Canadian History, Media, Computers and Music. Japanese English teachers have offered courses on Nathaniel Hawthorne and Basic English. Students can also take Spanish and Japanese history.

To pitch our classes we write a general outline at the end of the previous school year and then are given a half-hour time slot and a room. During that half hour the students roam around to classes that seemed interesting in the outline and we make a more personal pitch and answer questions. The students then fill out cards listing their first, second and third choices and there’s a vote counting session that would put Chicago and Florida to shame. (More on that later.)

The sales pitch is tricky. As teachers our goal is to attract the right kinds of students whilst simultaneously attracting enough students to make the class viable. In the past I’ve taught classes in literature that ranged from four to six students, business English classes with 14 students and a class I called Basic English that had 24 students. (Important safety tip kids: never call a class “Basic English” because lots of students sign up; call it “Damned Near Impossible Hard Torture English” instead.)

However, you can’t oversell the pain. One year I had zero students sign up to a literature class. I was informed that this happening one time was forgivable, twice much less so.

This year I’m offering a course that will require the students to do a lot of speaking. I had a good turn out of about 20 students who arrived in three waves. That said, turn out does not always correlate with sign ups as the year I had 14 students I only had five or six students attend my sales pitch. Groups of friends divvy up the presentations and then assemble to decide which class to take. It’s also possible to end with students who put your class as their last choice. (They are typically not very happy to be there.)

During the sales pitch, most of the students I recognized as good students and some asked good questions. Others had to have someone translate my comments. I encouraged them with a wave of the hand and a “this isn’t the class you’re looking for” to take a different class.

Towards the end of the half hour a group of students I knew to be, er, LESS than good students walked by. I encouraged them with a stern look that this wasn’t the class they were looking for.

Sometime this week I should get a class schedule or much less forgiveness if no one signs up.

Noodles and Beer in the Afternoon

A friend and former colleague is back in Japan and because I was at work on a Saturday (long story) he came back to the school and I showed him all the new toys that had arrived since he’d left. We then went for a beer and a bowl of ramen soup.

One of my relatives once scoffed at the idea of an eight dollar bowl of soup. I told her she was missing out. She remained skeptical even when I pointed out it was only eight dollars because of the exchange rate.

Part of the problem is that ramen soup, in the USA at least, is sustenance for graduate students. In 1995, while I was at Ole MIss, I vaguely remember the price being a dollar for a pack of five. A quick check of some websites tells me that’s what the price is now. This means, oddly, that ramen is one of the few foods to go down in price relative to inflation. (The inflation adjusted price should have been $1.54 for a pack of five.)

This notion of cheap graduate student food is also true in Japan, the difference is it’s also food for workers with short lunch breaks.

The other difference is that if you spend a little more, you get well made ramen, even at a national chain. My friend and I went to a chain that is quite typical of ramen chains. You buy tickets for what you want from a vending machine near the door and then one of the staff fetch the tickets and start preparing your order. This way employees never touch the money and the store has a good sense of what sells and what doesn’t.

A lot of this is designed to get you in feed you and then usher you out as quickly as possible. My friend and I, however, did not do that as the other good thing about most ramen restaurant chains is they sell beer from the moment they open until they close.

We bought ramen, gyoza and a beer and then got confused when we actually had the choice of bottle for draft (we chose draft). We both spiced up the ramen with garlic greens mixed with red pepper sauce and destroyed the ramen, as people are supposed to, as quickly as possible. We then sat around catching up for a couple hours hogging the only real table in the restaurant.

Oddly, we only had one beer each, at least until we visited a grocery store and my friend bought a canned whiskey drink and walked back to the station with me.