Monthly Archives: June 2015

Uni Style Fit Single Color Slim Gel Ink Pen–Small Pen Big Name

The other day I found a pen that I don’t fully understand. It has a name that’s too long in any language.

In Japan it’s the Style Fit Single Color Holder  (スタイルフィット 単色ホルダー) but in English it’s the Uni Style Fit Single Color Slim Gel Ink Pen. In either language, it seems to be a single ink version of the Uni Style Fit Multi Pen that holds either three ink refills or five.

The version I found has a 0.28 mm tip and orange ink. It is silver with a clear section and an orange nock.

I used the Style Fit for a few batches of morning pages and for my daily 10 Ideas. It writes smoothly, and I found the .28 mm line growing on me. It wasn’t scratchy, even on copy paper, but the pen is too slender for me to hold comfortably. It’s thinner than a wood-case pencil.

The clear section on the Uni Style Fit Holder.

The clear section on the Uni Style Fit Holder.

I also found the orange ink to be too bright for my taste. That said, it would make an excellent way to highlight text whilst taking notes in a meeting or a class. The pen was also thin enough to fit inside the cover of a Midori Traveler’s Notebook, although it would require some modifications to make it stay in place securely.

What I don’t understand is the exact purpose of this pen. (And, yes, I am the kind of guy who ponders a pen’s purpose in life.) The refill can be pulled out and placed in a multi pen, making the pen a kind of active refill storage device. It’s like a way to use your refill if you have six inks but only five places in your multi pen. It’s also a way to write if you are too lazy to actually change out an empty refill.

I’m glad I found it and got a chance to play with it, but I doubt I’ll be buying one for myself. Instead, I’ll be returning this one to the room from whence it came.

A full length shot of the Style Fit on a Field Notes notebook. You see traces of the line off to the right.

A full length shot of the Style Fit on a Field Notes notebook. You see traces of the line off to the right.

Watching But Not Listening

The company I work for has been pretty good to me but for some reason the people who work in the office won’t listen to a word I say.

For example, for several years we were blessed with being left alone and then one day the staff in charge of us announced they wanted to start doing classroom observations. I emphasized that they were welcome any time (well, not really, but that’s what I said) as long as they didn’t come at the end of June when we were busy finishing projects and making exams and going slightly mad.

Then, last year, things got strange: the observers came unannounced (an ambush observation) and they came on the last Friday in June, only a couple days before exams started. We were in the middle of filming projects with our students and it was the worst possible time to be there as I’d have to be out of the classroom while most of my students stayed behind.

When I saw the observers I said, in the most diplomatic manner possible “What the hell are you guys doing here?” Eventually I invited them to the filming room to watch a couple projects being filmed and peace was made.

When they observed later in the year, they called and warned me and I was much more diplomatic. No. Really.

Then, this year, before school started, one of the observers asked me what the best days to observe were. I held back the response on the tip of my tongue (when hell freezes over) and instead suggested the beginning of June as to come any later would mean they would merely see almost exactly the same class they’d seen before (me filming students as they did a project).

After all this I got a call explaining they’d be coming next week, which is the last full week before exams start. The conversation I had with them went something like this:

Them: We want to observe would the end of June be better or should we wait until next term?
Me:      Late September, early October would be better.
Them: So we’ll see you at the end of June then?

Now the optimist in me (as small and weak and naive as he is) believes that they are REALLY busy and this was ABSOLUTELY the ONLY time they could observe. The pessimist/realist in me thinks this is a compliance test and/or a way to show they are in charge of us and the school where I work.

I’ve tried to explain that these late June visits annoy the Japanese staff as well, but I have better luck getting through to our teenage daughter than I do the company I work for.

Temptation to Laziness or Sticking With What Worked

I resisted temptation today. Mostly.

It is exam making time at the school where I work and this creates an odd dilemma for those of us responsible for making exams. Do we stick with what worked merely recycle what we used last year (aka get lazy) or do we try to make a new test (aka rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.)?

To be more specific, I don’t want to use too much of last year’s exam because students who took it are still roaming about the school with copies of last year’s exam. On occasion we find loose copies floating around the classrooms. However, because much of the material we’re teaching is the same as the year before it’s hard to come up with something new other than change last year’s “True” answer to “False” and reword a couple questions.

In my case I usually end up with a hybrid. I stick with what worked a few years ago and then reword a few questions. I also, on occasion, come up with new questions and change up the listening questions.

There’s then an commenting/editing session where colleagues teaching the same grade get a chance to read through the exam and hack out the bits they don’t like. Typical comments are “We didn’t teach that this year did we?” “I didn’t teach that. Were we supposed to teach that?” “Who taught you how to spell?” and “How drunk were you when you wrote this test?”

This is also the time when we offer to make the test easier or more difficult based on how annoying our students are being. On occasion, after a particularly bad class, I’ve been known to tell test a test writer that she can’t possibly make the test too difficult. I usually add the phrase “If one of us can pass it, it’s too easy.” Granted, I usually fall for the traps in the listening and fail that part anyway which complicates my instructions but I generally pass the rest. (Note: I wish I was joking.)

For a brief moment there’s a twinge of concern that we might be making life difficult for those students who try really hard in our attempts to punish the bad students.

But that moment ends fairly quickly and the test gets harder.

Beware the Ides of June

June has come and its arrival was marked by one of those days.

For one of those days in June, though, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

First the weather was stuck somewhere between “humid” and “liquid”. Luckily it was reasonably cool and I wasn’t as sweaty as I could have been by the time I got to the station and to work. This meant my forearms only stuck to my papers and notebooks for about 20 minutes after I started working.

Second, for reasons I don’t fully understand, the school where I work has decided to lock the air conditioners at 26 Celsius (or just under 79 Fahrenheit). This wouldn’t be so bad except the ACs don’t run enough to dehumidify properly, the students get sleepy and I, well, I just stop caring because my forearms are sticking to my papers and notebooks.

Third, perhaps because of the changing weather and air pressure and the current pressure to produce exams, I find myself experiencing what can only be described as “blind” or “game concentration” where my focus on what I’m doing keeps me from focusing on what I should be doing.

In today’s case that meant working on my exams instead of going to class. I looked up from my project to see that it was 11:55 and my brain process went something like “Wow, look at the time. Luckily I have time to work before I have to be at class at at 11:45. Cool. Wait. Crap!”

I got to class and was surprised to see my better bad class sitting in their chairs and ready to go. I was also surprised that most of them worked the rest of the period. Hell, I was being irresponsible, I couldn’t exactly ask them to be responsible. (Note: Officially I was taking an important phone call so that may have made me appear more responsible than I was.)

During lunch, for some reason, every surface I touched was messy and I had to wash my hands three times.

Later I spent several minutes cursing auto-format before realizing I was working on the wrong section and had to hit Ctrl + Z about 30 times and start over.

Despite all that, I managed to finish my exams and get some other work done. However, the way things went today, the exams probably didn’t save correctly or the computer will crash. Or, I actually did mess them up.

June has come, which means optimism is dead.

Electronic Digital Dilemmas and Electrical Blood Sports

Today’s post is a split post about gadgets and stuff.

One of the current issues we are dealing with at the school where I work is about how smartphones should be used in the class. In the junior high, students are not allowed to have their cellphones turned on. If a student gets caught with a live cellphone, we are supposed to confiscate the phone and turn it over the homeroom teacher who metes out the proper punishment.

In high school it’s more complicated. Students are allowed to have phone and the dilemma becomes how to use them in class. Right now the most common use is as replacements for both paper and electronic dictionaries. Some teachers allow their use (me, with some controls) others don’t like them at ll.

In my case I set a time limit. Students can use the phone for two minutes. I’m trying to prevent them from using translators. Not only is this lazy, but the English is often bad.

For example, after a couple trips through a translator “I don’t like eating too much pasta but I can’t stop eating pizza.” becomes “I do not like it too much to eat pasta, but I can not stop eating pizza.” “I like to watch tv after school but I don’t like to watch it on Sunday because I have to do my English homework.” becomes “I like to watch TV after school, so I have to do my English homework, I do not like to see it on Sunday.”

In such cases I usually mark the sentence with a question mark and the explanation that it’s not really English.

(Note: It’s also understood that if I catch them playing a game or texting I will own their phone for a few days.)

Small and Light:
For the teachers the battle is over CD players and it’s quite a cutthroat battle.

The school has a small allotment of CD working CD players and an even smaller allotment of light and easy to carry ones. This leads to shameless hoarding. Teachers will walk in to school, set down their bags and grab the smallest CD player available, even if they won’t need it for a couple hours. This is done by both men and women. In fact, I’ve seen large, athletic men practically race each other to the shelf to grab the smallest available CD player.

Illicit deals are made where Teacher A agrees to pass the small CD player to Teacher B. Teacher C hides a small one under her desk. Teacher D takes a large CD player and then complains for a while about how heavy it is.

This has prompted a lot of teachers to acquire their own small CD players. Personally, I’m hoping most of them do because that will leave the school CD players for me. Also, I tend to grab the heaviest one anyway because I consider it the gentlemanly thing to do.

I then get my worst student to carry it back to the office.

Periodic Fits of Competence

Occasionally I’m pretty good at my job. Unfortunately, it usually happens by accident.

For example, the other day I told a student to lie to me and it went so well I’ll probably have more students lie to me. Before class I’d prepared an article that listed ways to tell if a person was lying. I then had the student read a monologue twice. Once as he’d prepared it and once using all the lying tells. It went well and I think I’ll keep that for the future. Probably.

Back a thousand years ago when I first started teaching as a graduate student I was observed by my then boss. All I remember is the students were supposed to read three essays, one of which was by a fundamentalist Christian. As the students discussed the essays with me, I suddenly felt compelled put a chart on the board that summarized the various assumptions motivating the three writers. In his follow up comments, my then boss told me the chart was effective, but that I didn’t finish filling it out.

I think I used the chart again, but knowing me, I probably forgot about it. Teaching is like acting. Despite your preparation, there’s a lot of improvisation and that makes it easy to forget things you did the next time you would be able to do them. Also, things that worked brilliantly with one class will flop with another and you have to do more improvisation.

For example, after I started working at the school where I work, I used to make my junior high students make practice tests for their partners as a form of exam review. After 30 minutes or so they exchanged and took each other’s tests. This worked well for a few years until we got a group of students I dubbed “The Demon Seed Class”. They played rather than making the practice exams and I abandoned the entire activity at the end of that year and started giving them writing practice.

Sometimes, I only got one chance to do a trick. When I was at Ole Miss, I managed to get one of the coveted Introduction to Literature courses. (Explaining why these were coveted would require another post.) At some point I assigned Hamlet which is the happy play where a depressed Dane manages to kill the entire Danish Royal Court by pretty much being too afraid to kill one guy. I remember at one point putting all the characters on the board and eliciting a complete list of who loved who, who was related to who, and who wanted to kill who. I also remember being told it helped clarify some of the parts of the play.

For some reason, when I got to class on the day we were set to finish the play, I suddenly changed plans. Instead of the quiz I’d prepared, I gave the students only one question: “List everyone who’s dead at the end of Hamlet.” Now, I grant you, given that Hamlet has a pretty high body count, you can almost list any character and have a good chance of getting points but the students had fun and they still had to know the characters.

The next year I was in Japan and I never had a chance to teach Hamlet again. To rephrase Uncle Monty from Withnail and I: “It is the most shattering experience of a young teacher’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, ‘I will probably never teach the Dane again’.” Something like that.

You Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til You List It

Periodically, when I have lots of stuff to do, I avoid it by decluttering and purging a bunch of stuff.

(Note: I used to bake cookies as a form of avoidance, but it’s too warm for that and the butter required is suddenly a rare and precious thing here in Japan.)

(Note: The cookies were awesome and usually handed out to fellow graduate students, but that was another post.)

Part of my decluttering process involves sitting down and listing stuff. I started with pens and fountain pens and was shocked to see how many I actually have (23) and that doesn’t include the two on the way (well, at least one; the other is confusing. Long story).

Of those 23, seven are already retired and at least four of those have enough value to be sold. A few others just aren’t interesting enough to use or keep (which is part of the purge). One of my tests is to clean up a pen and put it away for a while and see if I miss it. If I don’t, it’s a candidate for the purge.

After that, I sat down and listed the bottles of ink I’ve acquired. That was even more shocking: 14 types in 16 bottles–also a long story. One of those bottles, despite my best efforts to like it, is crap. Two of the others just aren’t interesting enough to use or to keep. Some of them I’ve had for a long time and the bottles are half empty but I’ve counted them anyway.

Don’t even get me started about knives and notebooks.

Part of what happens is the acquisitions happen over time. A pen here; a bottle of ink there; both at the same time back over yonder. Inevitably, old purchases get put away and replaced but by new ones but rarely are all the purchases in the same place at the same time. Putting them in one place, I’ve just discovered, is much better than sitting down and making a list. Not only will you be shocked by the pile of stuff but you will forget to add one or two things if you don’t actually look at them.

Even as I wrote this post I realized I’d forgotten to list three pens.

The other list I make is which of the listed items I use regularly and why. That’s down to a half a dozen  pens and six inks. I recently bought larger bottles of two inks I like a lot, which is why I have 14 inks in 16 bottles.

What inspires all this is my desk. I like it cleared off because moving stuff around becomes a kind of distraction, especially when it’s time to dust. (And especially, especially, as right now, when it’s WAY past time to dust.) Over time, though, the acquisitions, and a few delayed decisions and projects begin to pile up and take up space. I get annoyed by it and clean things up and move things out.

Then I start getting more stuff, mostly because I now have space for it. Sigh.



Suffer Now or Suffer Later

Well, I freaked out at first and probably pissed off the doctor, but then things got better.

I was still kind of disappointed though.

As I wrote yesterday, today was my annual health check and I started it by making a big mistake: I looked up the possible side effects of an upper endoscopy on the internet. I therefore went into the health check worrying that I’d made a terrible mistake and was going to have bleeding and a sore throat and would passout on the way home after traveling in the wrong direction. (Something like that.)

I was surprised to see how modern the clinic was and how calm every one seemed compared to last year’s “MOVE, MAGGOT, MOVE!” attitude. The comedy, though, started when I changed into my hospital clothes. Everything  was too short. I had highwater trousers and a hapi style jacket that looked like a short sleeve version and only reached my waist. The best thing was they had airplane style slippers that actually fit my feet (I almost brought them home but they started to tear).

Every thing went surprisingly well after that. (It’s the difference between a private clinic and a public hospital). After the basic checks, though, I went for the endoscopy.

This had several steps. First I had to drink something and the nurse left me alone for a few minutes whilst whatever it was started to take effect. Then she injected some kind of anesthetic gel onto the back of my throat and I had to lean back and hold it there for a few minutes. That was hard and I sat up a few times to keep from choking. (Probably a mistake.)

When the doctor came in the nurse sprayed the back of my throat with something and the doctor started the procedure. I noticed that the nurse was behind me and wondered if she was there to hold my head. The doctor inserted the camera and, after a bit, I panicked, started to choke and pulled the tube out.

Two things happened at that point: First, I was shocked at how much tube came out. Second, the doctor started lecturing me about how many of these he’d done and that he’d trained in Germany and I how I needed to stop wasting his time (the latter was implied). I relaxed and they tried again and it all went well. But it was weird feeling the camera moving around.

All must have gone well because I was then sent to the final consultation with a different doctor. She pulled on my lower eye lids. Pressed under my ears and checked my thyroid then threw me out. The entire consultation lasted less than a minute.

I then went home and took a nice nap until I was able to eat and drink again.

This is much better than drinking barium and getting the amusement park ride x-ray treatment. That isn’t so painful at first, but you can’t go home and take a nap because you get to enjoy four hours of Constant Intermittent Explosive D (a technical term).

This does lead to a philosophical issue of whether it’s better to suffer now for a good time later or experience a good time now and suffer later.

I’d prefer to suffer now and will request the endoscopy in the future.

That said, I’m disappointed I didn’t get to watch the video of my stomach. I could kind of see it out of the corner of my eye, but I  hope they send me a copy. I know it’s odd, but I’m interested in looking at me from inside as well.

Maybe next year.

Only Bad Choices for Health

I’m currently on a forced intermittent fast. This is because tomorrow I’ve got a health check and the check will involve a tube and a camera.

This will happen because, as the company I work for likes to point out to the people who hire them, “Dwayne is over 35” and because I’m on Japan’s national health care scheme, I’m entitled/required to take a physical every year.

One of the oddities is that it used to alternate between full physical and mere x-ray from year to year. However, the last couple years it’s been a more comprehensive check involving blood, x-rays, eye checks and peeing in cups.

Every now and then, though, I’m asked to do a stomach cancer test. There is, however, no good way to do this. Choice One is taking a gas tablet, drinking barium and getting placed on the medical equivalent of carnival ride and then getting spun, angled and rotated whilst being irradiated. That is followed by a long belch and a mad dash home before the barium solution decides to evacuate. That is followed by hours on the toilet waiting for the barium solution to finish exiting.

A few weeks after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 I was told that I’d have to get a health check that included drinking barium solution. My response involved a shockingly profane version of “I would prefer not to”, because I didn’t want to get stuck in a train station during a rolling blackout and end up spending hours in a station toilet. Also, there was no guarantee I could get a taxi because of the restrictions on gasoline.

Tomorrow, though, I’ve opted for the upper endoscopy. I’ll get drugged and have a camera shoved down my throat. Because of that, I won’t be able to eat until sometime tomorrow afternoon and then I probably won’t want to eat as I’ll probably have a sore throat and nausea. (Remember, this is for my health.)

In the end I’ll decide which is a better test, although I suspect they’ll both leave me feeling like crap. One literally, and one figuratively, of course.

Nock Co Sassafras and Lookout–One Yearish Review

I got a stack of pen cases about a year ago and two quickly became my every day carry cases. The others have sat unused–mostly.

The pen cases are from Nock Co, a small company in Atlanta, Georgia. I ordered their entire line–at the time anyway–of seven cases.

Several Nock Co pen cases. the Lookout is open at the back.

Several Nock Co pen cases. the Lookout is open at the back. The dark blue next to it is the Sassafras.

Although they are all well made, the Sassafras and the Lookout were the ones I liked the best. (Note: all Nock Co cases are named after mountains in Georgia.)

I started with the three pen Lookout but, me being me, quickly found that three pens were not enough. I started using the five slot Sassafras to carry a flashlight, pens, pencils and erasers. It opens like a book and has a pair of flaps to protect the pens from each other and keep them from falling out in a bag. Eventually I started carrying a different flashlight to make room for more pens. I even, and this will horrify some pen addicts, let the pens touch.

The Lookout with a meager three pens.

The Lookout with a meager three pens.

My full Sassafras load out.

My current Sassafras load out. See how some of the pens touch.

The Sassafras with one flap lowered.

The Sassafras with one flap lowered.

Of the two, the Sassfras has been used the most. I carry it to work and when I head down to Tokyo. I’ve been impressed by how durable it is. There’s a little fraying and I can already tell which corner will give up the ghost first but it looks in better shape than the much more durable Maxpedition Mini I used to use. Also, the Midnight Blue exterior doesn’t get as grungy as the khaki Mini did. (The Nock Co label, though, has begun to look a little off color.)

I was also impressed at how well it keeps the pens in place. I was worried that as it got jostled around the pens would fall out but that hasn’t been a problem at all.

The Lookout, because of the way it’s sewn, feels sturdier and feels as if it will keep the pens safer. It’s Steel exterior (Steel is a fancy word for dark gray) still looks good. My biggest complaint with the Lookout is that it can only hold three pens. It’s something designed to fit in your pocket not be flexible to all your pen needs. I use it mostly for pen overflow or as everyday carry on days I know I won’t need many pens.

The only problems I’ve had with the cases is the problem I have with all nylon products: they are not leather and will not age as well as leather. The dark color helps but I can see the nylon starting to wear and get slightly fuzzy. I looks like gray dust on the surface of the nylon. It’s also begun to feel a bit more floppy than it was before.

The Sassafrass could use a zipper to close it all the way, but I fear that would add the dangly bits I didn’t like with the Maxpedition Mini. (Note: Nock Co has been teasing zippered folios for what seems like several years now, putting the zippered folios in the realm of vapor wear.)

I still look at the other cases and try to think of uses for them. I may swap the Lookout for a Hightower that holds three pens and a small notebook. The zippered roll case Brasstown has become my pen overflow, temporary storage case, but I leave it at home and don’t carry it around.

I encourage everyone to check out the Nock Co cases. Even if you only have few pens you’ll be able to carry them in style.

The Sassafras carrying three pens and two pocket knives.

The Sassafras carrying three pens and two pocket knives.