Monthly Archives: May 2015

Abandoning that Paper Thing and Hoping the Batteries Last

Well, maybe it was a waste of time after all.

I’ve written before about my odd (to most normal people) habit/hobby of constructing my own analogue calendars, entering the dates by hand and then crossing off the days as I go along. It takes a couple hours of work (plus or minus several minutes of swearing at various complications) to get it more or less how I want it.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended. (No, really, they are numbered.)

Normally I carry it around and scribble To Do lists and random daily tasks and record correspondence and then use it as reference to remind me where I was and when. In the past I also kept all my calendars as a reference.  For the record, on one occasion I actually had to refer to them to establish the most likely possible day the term would end and summer would begin allowing a colleague to make travel plans. (Therefore hoarding, for want of a better word, is good. Hoarding  works.)

I also mentioned, though, that I’d also started using Google Calendar as a back up.

The trouble is, this year, I’ve been using the back up more than the analogue version. I can use it on my phone and my tablet and can use it on different browsers. It’s easy to change and I can make corrections without having to track down some correction tape. and leave evidence of my mistakes everywhere.

Lately, the analogue calendar has been carried but not consulted. Every now and then I remind myself to look through it and cross off the days, but that doesn’t inspire me to use it.

I’m now at the point where I’m ready to pull it apart and salvage what I can. (I can also just turn it backwards and upside down and use it for morning pages.) I am, however, struggling with the sunk cost fallacy. which in my case can be summed up as “I made the thing and even though I don’t use it I have to carry it so that didn’t waste my time making it even though I don’t use it because carrying it is symbolic of me having made it to use even though I don’t use it.” Something like that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to enter the destruction date in my Google Calendar. I just hope the batteries last in my phone.


Morning Pages for Worse and for Better

Several months ago, as part of a plan to write more, I decided to try my hand at writing morning pages. I quickly modified them but I’m not sure if that was for the better.

For those who don’t know, “morning pages” are the brainchild of Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way. To do morning pages you’re supposed to wake up, pick up a notebook and knock out three pages of writing without putting any thought, grammar or punctuation into it. (Rather like this blog, at times, now that I think about it.) The theory is that you’re essentially performing a kind of brain dump and cleansing your mind of whatever flows from your fingers and your pen. You then are supposed to throw away the completed notebook.

I tried the pages that way for a while but then eventually felt as if I was wasting time with them.  I’d zone out, nearly fall asleep, and long for coffee. Most of my early pages were along the lines of  “I need coffee I need coffee I need coffee I need coffee sweet mother of Jesus I need coffee coffee coffee coffee my kingdom for coffee my soul for coffee your soul for coffee death to all who refuse to bring me coffee no coffee no life no coffee no God decafen, decaffinated, decaf coffee is evil and freaking hard to spell.” (Something like that.) Basically, it was all the kinds of navel gazing that kept me from writing morning pages in the first place. (In fact, it’s the same thing that kept me from writing a blog for a long time and still keeps me from writing a proper diary.)

That lasted for about a tablet and a half. Since then I’ve modified my morning pages routine. I write on A4 copy paper pads I assembled myself from scrap paper and I don’t start writing until I’ve showered and had at least one sip of coffee. My goal is two A4 pages in half an hour, although I’ve been known to take longer on weekends and days I don’t have to be into work early.

I change pens every day so I have a chance to do long term tests of different pens, nibs and inks on cheap copy paper. I also write different types of pages. There are the whiny brain dumps where I complain about life in general; the pen reviews where I describe how it feels to write with the various pens; and the focused writing.

In the latter I focus on whatever particular project I happen to be working on. I sketch characters and scenes and brainstorm ideas for different plots and different characters. If anything seems particularly useful and legible, I underline it and then go back and type into a computer file. I’ve managed to get some useful stuff that way.

If I were smart, I’d brainstorm one of these blog entries and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. But, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m not that smart.



You Know You Make Wanna


That pretty much explains this morning.

As a rule, although I’m not afraid to let fly an angry “SHUT UP!” that echoes down the hall, I try to avoid shouting at students, especially those in lower level classes. This is because 1) the Japanese tend to react to angry outbursts with laughter that 2) leads to a larger angry outburst and 3) if it’s a lower level class, most of them don’t understand a word I’m saying anyway.

Today my high school classes went well but one of my junior high school second year classes was in a mood from the moment I stepped in the door. They didn’t get sat down once the bell rang and then some of them kept walking around during the warm up. This led to a very rare seat change and the first ever that occurred during the warm ups.

I’d been warned about a few of these students before school started during the traditional annual “Commiseration of the Class Lists” when we look at each other’s class lists and wish each other strength to get through the year.

To this point, the class had been noisy but usually did the assigned activities and work. When this happens it usually means that a day of reckoning is coming, which is what happened today. When I spoke several students turned and mocked 1) that I was speaking 2) that I was speaking English and 3) that they couldn’t understand me in English. (Note, this is somehow a joke on me.)

At one point, the boy who had to change seats was talking with the people who got him in trouble. This led to a Level Seven Shut Up–this one goes to eleven–which led to laughter in three different classrooms down the hall. (Note: Teacher’s leave the doors and windows open because this is the time of year when it’s just warm and humid enough to need air conditioning but before the air conditioners are turned on.)

I kept plugging through the book and the plan until a student asked me a question in Japanese and I answered in English. It suddenly dawned on them that I might actually be able to understand them. This prompted another boy to mumble something about me speaking in Japanese. I reminded him he was at a top tier school and there were plenty of public schools he could go to if he wanted to speak Japanese.

At this point they were openly discussing the fact I could understand Japanese. They then tried to press to see if I’d speak Japanese. I shrugged and said my classes were always in English.

Then I told them to shut up and get back to work.


Rules at School and the Law at Home

Today, She Who Must Be Obeyed invoked school rules to explain why she’d confiscated our oldest’s Android tablet. I was prepared invoke my own rule that “when it becomes a problem Daddy makes the problem go away.” Unfortunately, I was already too late to make much of an impact other than point a finger and say “yeah, and don’t you forget it” at a teenager who wasn’t actually listening.

One of the things non-Japanese find difficult is the abundance of rules, both written and unwritten, involved with having a child in a Japanese school. These rules can be annoying and seem like interference in family affairs. (Which they are, sort of. You’ll see.)

For example, although there is no official curfew, students are expected to be home at a certain time. Parents take turns going out and policing parks and other popular hangouts to remind the kids it’s time to get home. If you gave permission for a child to stay out late, that gets around and you might hear about it at the next Parent/Teacher conference.

Since this week is mid-term exams at our oldest’s school, the powers what are at the school have asked students not to waste time on electronics until after the exams.

Although this seems like a good idea, I find it has a couple problems:

First, we’d already imposed our own ban. (More on that later.)

Second, the way the school suggestion is phrased, it allows for students to debate what the meaning of “is” is and argue that since they’ve studied a while they now get tablet time. Our oldest, for example, has interpreted the ban as allowing her to use her now neglected Nintendo 3DS and its limited internet access. (Her motto seems to be “No Twitter/No Life”. to which I respond with “Yeah, and don’t you forget it.”)

Third, once the exams are over the assumption is that the ban is over once and for all forever until the final exams. This, however, is false as our local ban will not be over.

Since our local ban will not be over–long story involving broken charging cords; stolen power cords; tablets stolen from She Who Must Be Obeyed; passwords on all our electronics; and Line calls from friends at 1:45 in the morning–we will almost certainly be involved in a fight over the appropriate amount of time allocated for tablet use.

In the end, though, I will make it all go away as I can simply change all the passwords. However, if the problem persists I’ll find a way to configure our wireless hub to accept only certain MAC codes and reject others (say, hypothetically, those on a certain teenager’s tablet and/or 3DS). I prefer this way because it allows me to turn access on and off without having to memorize a new password. (Enforcing rules, after all, shouldn’t be THAT inconvenient.)

And don’t you forget it.

Pelikan 4001 Blue Black Ink–Banned for Good Reasons

Pelikan 4001 Blue Black ink is so bad I’m actually kind of hoping I somehow got a fake bottle of it.

The ink comes with a certain mystique as it has been banned in the USA for reasons involving a Chemical That Is Never Named (probably not its real name). For this reason everyone interested in fountain pens and blue black ink is trying to get a bottle. I’ve also read reviews praising it on many websites and thought I’d give it a try.

The box and the bottle. Neither can be trusted.

The box and the bottle. Neither can be trusted.

I started out using it in my aluminum Nexus Minimal with a steel M nib. As part of my pen and ink testing process I usually sit down and write two pages of morning pages. This lets me test the comfort of a pen and the flow and color of the ink on cheap copy paper. Later I try the pen and ink on a higher quality paper.

I was immediately struck by how poorly the ink flowed. It felt dry and it left a grey line that darkened a bit over time but still seemed very pale. I cleaned out the pen and made sure it was completely dry. I shook the bottle to mix the ink and tried inking the Nexus again.

I got the same result.

I thought it might be the nib, which needed to be adjusted, and decided to try it in a different pen. The next day inked up my Levenger Sunset, which is one of the juiciest pens I own.

The line was slightly darker but not much. Even with the gold nib on the Sunset I felt as if I was writing with a dying ballpoint pen. I had to resist the urge to press harder to make the ink flow and to refrain from breathing on the end to help the ink flow. In the way some inks change color as they dry and age, the ink does eventually darken but it never has that satisfying color from the label and that many reviews praise.

A sample on Tomoe River paper. You can see how pale it is.

A sample on Tomoe River paper. You can see how pale it is.

In the end, Pelikan 4001 Blue Black is a good example of what fountain pen types call a “dry ink”. It’s helpful when you’re confronted with the question “What do you mean that ink is dry?” (As if any normal person would ever ask that question.)

I left the ink in until the converter was used up and it’s officially been banned from my pen and rotation. Now I just have to find a place to store the bottle until I finally decide to throw it out or give it away.


The International Bank of Dad’s Good Intentions

At some point when our oldest was still in elementary school, I came up with this plan to teach her something about money. The results have been mixed.

The plan was to give her an allowance based on her age. She got 100 yen per month for each year of her life. When she was eight, she got 800 yen per month and then she got 900 yen per month when she turned nine.

There were also a couple rules. First, she had to save 10% of her allowance (after doing the math to figure out what that was) and she had to set 10% aside to donate to those in need. This rule also applied to Christmas cash, New Year’s Money and any birthday cash.

I started referring to the 10% donation as “money for sick people” and when I say that, She Who Must Be Obeyed immediately starts coughing and saying “I’m sick. I’m sick” and I have to hide the money and pretend she doesn’t know where it is.

In addition to all that, I founded the International Bank of Dad. The 10% deposit in the bank, along with any extra savings, earns 5% interest per month. This means 100 yen will have earned an extra 80 yen at the end of the year. (No you may not open an account with IBOD; but if you have any bailout money, please send it.)

When our oldest entered junior high I doubled the money (she gets her age x 100 every two weeks now) and scaled the interest back to something I could actually afford.

When our youngest turned eight we started the age X 100 yen per month plan.

The mixed results come from a couple things, first She Who Must Be Obeyed was amused by all this but not especially dedicated to it. It was, and is, as far as she’s concerned, my hobby and not her problem.

Also, although she did well at first, our oldest is now a teenager which means, by default she’s a Keynesian and her motto is “Spend Baby Spend”. Being a true Keynesian, she’s also taken to borrowing from She Who Must Be Obeyed for larger purchases. (It’s amazing what you can do with other people’s money.)  Unfortunately, SWMBO usually makes the loan without actually working out the terms and arguments ensue.

Our oldest also confiscated money intended to be split with our youngest, although she simultaneously denies this whilst claiming our youngest donated that voluntarily.

The International Bank of Dad has intervened in a few instances by paying allowance directly to She Who Must Be Obeyed or keeping a large portion of it and facing the brunt of the argument.

I suspect that eventually the International Bank of Dad will be forced to intervene more fully. Debtors prison (dishes and housecleaning) and confiscation (her tablet will be mine) will ensue.


Earlier is Better than Later

Today I felt as if I was being called in to work to substitute for myself.

To understand this you have to understand that every now and then, at the school where I work, classes get cancelled because of trips and we end up teaching a reduced schedule. However, although I do a lot of planning at home, there’s no real reason for  me to be at the school on these days until I actually have a class.

This often leads to the strange act of going to work around lunch time. Now a colleague of mine insists that a day of work is a day of work and it doesn’t matter if you’re working in the morning or the eventing. I respectfully disagree. There’s a big difference between finishing at lunch time and starting after lunch.

In the case of the former, you can look forward to relaxing at home or at a coffee shop in the afternoon. In the case of the latter, you can’t relax because you have some place to be. In fact, at best, it feels as if you’re interrupting a day off because you’ve been called to work.

I once volunteered to teach extra classes if I could get all my classes in the morning. The person in charge of scheduling said it was impossible and ignored all pleading after that.

There’s also the problem of going to work during the hottest time of the day. I walk to the station and by the time I get there I I’m sweaty enough that might as well have not bothered to take a shower and/or suddenly desperately need one.

This schedule, however, is only a May phenomenon. By June we are back in the grind and the days come without mercy.

It’s almost like having a job.

Some Things are Classic, Some Things are Just Old, Some Old Things Are Classic

I went to Tokyo this afternoon to get nib work on two of my new pens. I ended up leaving with a pen that’s older than I am.

Although I like my Namisu Nexus Minimal fountain pens, both pens had nib issues. The Titanium nib was off center and the tines were misaligned. The steel nib was dry. I could have realigned the tines myself, but I had part of the day off and it was a good chance to get out of Dodge for a while.

I decided to go to EuroBox (link in Japanese) which is a small vintage pen shop right at the end of the Ginza shopping district in downtown Tokyo. It is in one of the old creepy buildings I like a lot. The stair case to the 4th floor (3rd floor UK) is hard to find and it’s narrow, low and creepy. If you go up the main staircase, you won’t find EuroBox, just a dark hallway with lots of suspicious empty rooms. EuroBox, when you find it, is surrounded by peeled paint and exposed electrical boxes.

The door to Euro-Box. Come visit us, Dwayne. Come visit us forever and ever and ever...

The door to EuroBox. Come visit us, Dwayne. Come visit us forever and ever and ever…

When I arrived, the proprietor, Eizo Fujii was helping a customer. This gave me time to peruse the displays of vintage pens. (I didn’t take any pictures as there’s a sign asking you not to. Because he was busy, i didn’t get a chance to ask him for permission. You’ll just have to visit yourself.)

As I was looking, he returned a tray of pens to the display and I noticed they were vintage Pilot Capless pens. My ears went up and I took a look at a black one expecting the price to be absurd. When it wasn’t–it’s actually cheaper than a new Pilot Vanishing Point–I started the pen buyer’s rationalization process: I expected that to be a lot more expensive than that therefore, at that price, that’s like getting a discount on it. That’s totally a bargain! I’ll take that but only because I’m saving money on that.

(Note: by that logic, almost anything, even a private jet with gold toilet fixtures, can be considered a bargain.)

When it was my turn, Mr. Fujii, who speaks very good English, fixed my Nexus pens as I watched. After he finished I asked to try to the Pilot Capless C200SW (manufactured August 1964 I believe). Unfortunately, I liked it enough I decided to buy it.

I then had to go down to Ito-Ya, one of the best stationers in Japan, to get a converter that fit the pen. (The cartridges it takes are no longer made.) After I got the pen home I had to soak it to clean out quite a bit of gunk, but now it works fine.

The initial impressions are good: It is slender but unlike other Capless pens, the clip helps you rather than gets in your way. I suspect lefties would have little trouble using this pen, which is not always true of vanishing point pens. It’s also a touch longer than my similar Vanishing Points.

The 1964 Capless compared with my mid-90's Vanishing Point.

The 1964 Capless compared with my mid-90’s Vanishing Point.

The nock mechanism is odd. You have to push it half way to extend the nib, then push it the rest of the way to release it. If you just push it all the way it doesn’t stay open and Mr. Fujii looks at you in a sad way as if you are an idiot (well, maybe that’s just me.) It has a Fine nib which I usually don’t like but Mr. Fujii smoothed it perfectly.

The pen with the nib extended and a brief writing sample.

The pen with the nib extended and a brief writing sample explaining some of the pen’s details.

The nib section, pre-cleaning. I like the odd facets on the nib.

The nib section, pre-cleaning. I like the odd facets on the nib.

The underside of the nib. You can see the surprisingly cool clear feed.

The underside of the nib. You can see the surprisingly cool clear feed.

I’ll put it in my pen rotation and do a long term review another day. Until then, there was a pink one She Who Must Be Obeyed might like. And a red and gold one other people might like. At that price they are real bargains…



Another Fine Mess was Made

In my daily log today, the weather doodle looks like the sun is barfing up a fur ball of flames. This is absurd, of course, because it’s not yet August when the sun actually does barf up flames all over Japan.

Instead the mess was made by a pen burping.

One of the charms/curses of owning and regularly using fountain pens, especially if you use bottled ink,  is that you will, no matter how careful you are, get ink on your fingers eventually. Sometimes, even if you’ve been careful, the pen takes it upon itself to make a mess.

Today as I was adding rays to my sun doodle, my Noodler’s Konrad fountain pen suddenly decided to burp up Noodler’s Apache Sunset ink in a heavy glob that sent me looking for tissue. As I dabbed the mess, ink soaked through the tissue and got my fingers messy and smeared on the log. (I didn’t think to take pictures but, in my defense, my hands were messy.)

Today the sun barf's flame on to the clouds.

Today the sun barf’s flame on to the clouds. That ink has a great color, though.

The effects of the burp on yesterday. Still a great color.

The effects of the burp on yesterday. Looks good with the Noodler’s Midway Blue and Diamine Sherwood Green.

This is caused because the pen was getting low on ink. When pens like this get low complicated laws of physics (complete with complicated math and power point presentations) suddenly activate and remind the user, via a gusher, to refill the reservoir. The Noodler’s pens are cheap pens designed to be tinkered with by the user (before use you are expected to clean the pen, adjust the nib and, in my case, take it apart and remove a part to make it work better, but more on that in another post). Because the celluloid is thin, it make the burping worse. (None of my other piston fillers burp but they are better made.)

Making the mess worse was the flex nib. Flex nibs are designed for calligraphy (the split between the tines is longer) and they let a lot of ink flow. When one burps, you end up with globs on the paper.

I cleaned up the mess and refilled the pen, which required getting more ink on my fingers. Once again I neglected to take pictures.

Maybe next time. And I’m pretty sure there will be a next time.

Low Pressure Big Headache

Typhoon Noul (aka Typhoon #6) is coming and it’s giving me a headache.

We’ve been having relatively cool weather recently, including a couple days that felt like Awesome rather than the usual Pleasant weather. This means the air was dry rather than increasingly muggy. It also means that payback is coming.

The last couple days have been cool but you could feel the humidity increasing. Only wind kept it from counting as Pleasant weather.

Today, though, we passed through Awesome to Pleasant to the Season in Which it Rains. Because of this, air pressure and gray skies have been playing hell with students and teachers alike. Also the wind has kicked up dust and pollen. We’ve been watching our youngest closely as the low pressure from typhoons has been known to trigger bouts of asthma. So far so good, but I was the one who got hit.

On the way back from work, about a 100 yards or so from the station I started to get my migraine spot. I swore a little and picked up my pace. Once I got home I downed a couple aspirin and a cup of coffee because, as fate would have it, She Who Must Be Obeyed had just made a fresh pot of coffee. (Technically, as SWMBO reminded me, that was for her not for me but in my defense, it was medicinal.)

Luckily, my ghetto treatment worked and the migraine was mild. I’ll go to bed early and, luckily, I get to sleep in tomorrow as the day after a migraine, even a mild one, leaves me feeling as if I have a mild hangover.

The other problem is that typhoons usually have to unusual effects. First they sweep the sky clean and leave it an impressive clear blue. Second, they drop off heat and humidity.

It’s enough to give a person a headache.