Monthly Archives: January 2016

Every Thing Old is Once Again

I woke up with a headache this morning and alcohol was not the cause, although it was to blame.

This was like a visit from an old friend who used to visit more often but who I haven’t seen in a long time. Perhaps because I’ve added a few more carbs back into my diet, or perhaps because the weather is changing or perhaps because I ate a packaged soup that expired 2.5 years ago for lunch yesterday (note: it said BEST BY not TOXIC AFTER) this old friend stopped by for a visit.

Even worse, I went to bed knowing I was going to wake up with a headache.

I knew this because I started to get a tight spot in the left side of my neck. Imagine waking up with a stiff neck and that’s how I felt before I went to bed. Usually I would pop a couple migraine pills and go to bed. However, because I’d had a couple ounces of vodka (from an ancient bottle of Absolut; are you noticing a trend here?) I couldn’t safely take any medicine.

As a result, when I woke up, my head looked and felt a lot like this:

How my head felt this morning. The screws and the pain are to scale.

How my head felt this morning. The screws and the pain are to scale.

I drank some coffee and hoped it would go away. When it didn’t, I took the medicine I would have taken the night before (note: it is not past the BEST BY date. Probably.) and went back to bed for a couple hours.

After I woke up I braved breakfast and although I didn’t have a lot of energy to make and eat very much, what I ate settled well, and I settled down at the desk to waste time.

Since then I’ve been woozy but not sick. I’ve had no trouble eating except I didn’t have a lot of interest in eating. I also managed to accomplish several small tasks but nothing big.

Tomorrow I suspect I’ll feel better. Then I’ll be able to waste time more efficiently.


For Want of a Door the Schedule

It wasn’t an “Oh sh#t” moment, it was more of an “Oh crap” moment.

When I arrived at the train station on my way to work today the first thing I noticed was the time schedule had destinations listed but no times. My first reaction was “Oh crap” because it meant that something had gone wrong and there were train delays. It also meant that the trains were going to be crowded.

Note: The “Oh sh#t” moment, when it happens, takes place on the way to the station. It occurs at the precise moment I can see the circle in front of the the station. If it’s full of people and one or two police officers, my reaction is “Oh sh#t” because it means the trains have stopped and no one is being allowed into the station. This can be good (if I’m on the way to work) or bad (if I’m going shopping).

Today, though, the first train arrived on time and although there were a few more people than usual, it wasn’t that crowded.

This, of course, was a trap.

The train that arrived on time wasn’t the train that was supposed to be arriving and the people who were late for work kept pressing in until even the air itself said “to hell with this, I’m leaving” and we were left with no air. Luckily, I had a wide place for my feet and a bar I could hand on to with my left hand whilst my right hand wielded my book bag at knee level to keep people from pressing farther in.

The trip was slower than usual, but not that bad. After I arrived I work I discovered that 1) classes were delayed a half hour and 2) the reason the trains were slow was because of a “door problem” that had occurred at at nearby station a few hours before.

A website that monitors trains was full of tweets from Japanese mocking the idea that a door could cause that much delay. A few hours later, the trains were still messed up. It must have been a hell of a door.

Any Thing That Can Go Wrong at the End Will

Suicide was not the answer but I was definitely thinking about murdering someone.

First you have to understand that, thanks to a technical problem, I’ve just spent part of a final class reentering marks into a spreadsheet and trying to remember, in a couple cases, what scores I had entered earlier. This all has me thinking about my master’s thesis.

Several hundred years ago, when I was working on my Master of Arts degree, and Microsoft Word had only just been invented, I had a technical problem. I was using WordStar which, at the time, was still kind of trendy but which, today, is roughly the equivalent of writing with a hammer and chisel.

I was confident in my abilities to use it, which means, of course, I was doomed. If I hadn’t been as stressed as I was, I probably would have been more cautious. However, somehow, and I’m still not sure how, in linking four files together so they could print without me having to retype the entire mess into one file, I somehow managed to destroy most of my master’s thesis.

I discovered this when I tried to print it out a day or so before I had to turn it in to my review committee.

Me being confident–and it being the early days of computers–I hadn’t bothered to back anything up. (Yes, I realize there’s no logic in that sentence whatsoever.) The only back up I had was notes, a partial printout and vague memories of what I had written. At this point fear led to panic; panic led to projected anger; projected anger led to rage; and I knew, at that point, someone needed to die.

The trouble was, I couldn’t think of anyone to kill whose death would have made the situation better.

Instead I assembled the scraps and in an epic all-night writing session managed to hammer something out that resembled what had been there before. Oddly, rather than this being a fish story about the great Shakespearean work that had been lost, I still feel the rewrite was better. (If you’ve ever read my master’s thesis that tells you how bad the originals were.)

Then again, maybe that’s just denial and I should have gone ahead and killed someone.

In the end I passed, although there were apparently some issues with one of my committee members. It’s probably best I didn’t know that earlier.

Going to One School or Another

Our oldest got good news today and congratulations are in order, even though the news may not relieve her stress. Or ours.

Our oldest received notice that she’d passed the entrance exam and been accepted to the private school that serves as her second choice/back up school. This means that whatever happens she’ll be able to go to a good school.

Unfortunately for both us and the school, they sent the list of “sign up” fees and both She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had small heart attacks. This means we’ve ordered our oldest to redouble her efforts to get into her first choice school. If she doesn’t I’ve promised to seize her tablet and all electronics until she graduates from high school.

Note: That is actually a half-truth: If she doesn’t get into the cheaper school, we’ll have to sell the electronics to help fund her going there.

Note to the school: Thanks for your honesty, but I’m not sure honesty’s the best policy for getting students.

As I’ve mentioned before, the next exam is at the beginning of March which means she has another five weeks (exactly) to study for the exam. We’ve also started sending her to juku (or cram school) once a week to get extra tutoring in mathematics. (She’s not to the level of maths where they stop using numbers, but she’s way beyond the level where I can help her other than to cheer her on/tell her to put her damned tablet away.)

Until she gets the results from the next exam, we will pay a small fee to hold her place on the private school’s roster until we make a final decision, sell items, etc.

Luckily, she likes her first choice a lot, so she’s got a lot of incentive to study. On the other hand, now that she’s got a sure thing, we may have to keep after her.


Noodler’s Old Manhattan “Bulletproof” Black Ink–Long Term Review

There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black. –Nigel Tufnel, Spinal Tap guitarist.

Although I have several kinds of ink sitting around, I’m not the kind of fountain pen user who swaps out inks constantly. Instead I like to find a perfect combination of pen and ink and then stick with it. Sometimes, though, I change pens but keep the ink.

I don’t remember how I stumbled across Noodler’s Old Manhattan. I either read about it on Fountain Pen Network, or found it on the website of the New York based Fountain Pen Hospital as the ink is exclusive to them. I seem to remember it being recommended as one of the “blacker black” inks available and for some reason that made me interested in it.

I put it in my Pilot Vanishing Point and it immediately became my favorite ink. It is about as black as it can be, more black than Aurora Black, which is also one of my favorite inks.

Old Manhattan is smooth and, at least on regular copy paper, dries reasonably quickly. Once it’s dry, it doesn’t smear and it doesn’t wash off if it gets wet. With other inks, Aurora included, if I’m working during a Tokyo summer and the Communists Heat Resistant Individuals who run the school where I work have set the air conditioner to “Mild Swelter”, my sweaty hands and forearms end up printed with what I was working on.

Note: THAT ink never seems to wash off. What evil is this?

Even when I write a heavy, wet line, it dries reasonably quickly, at least on regular copy paper.

Noodler's Old Manhattan on copy paper.

Noodler’s Old Manhattan on copy paper.

Noodler's Old Manhattan on Tomoe River. It looks great; dries eventually.

Noodler’s Old Manhattan on Tomoe River in terrible lighting. It looks great; dries eventually.

After it dries, it also holds up to spills rather well. The following pictures show the ink after I’ve wiped away the water (which sat on the ink for a couple minutes).

Noodler's Old Manhattan on copy paper after the water's been wiped away.

Noodler’s Old Manhattan on copy paper after the water’s been wiped away.

Noodler's Old Manhattan on Tomoe River paper after the water's been wiped away.

Noodler’s Old Manhattan on Tomoe River paper after the water’s been wiped away.

I’ve finished almost two bottles of the ink since I bought it and already have two replacements in storage. It is now used in my newest workhorse pen, a TWSBI 580. I like the ink capacity (note to the Pilot Pen Company: find away to increase the ink capacity in VPs and you’ll win me back). I also like that I can easily disassemble and clean the pen.

That leads to the main negative of Old Manhattan: it’s got bits floating in it.

In order to make it bulletproof, it lays down black sediment that, according to Noodler’s, resists all known tools of forgers, including bleach and UV light. That sediment, though, can build up in your pen.

After years of using it in my Vanishing Point, with what I thought were frequent thorough cleanings but were really only basic rinsings, I was shocked to see how much black sediment came out of nib when I soaked it with a proper cleaning solution. I never had any clogs, but I did notice that red ink (after it became my marking pen) always seemed bit darker than I expected when I used it in the pen.

The half empty bottle of Old Manhattan. You can see the sediment clinging to the side.

The half empty bottle of Old Manhattan. You can see the sediment clinging to the sides of the bottle.

Fountain Pen Hospital also sells a Blue Manhattan that I may have to check out some day. First, of course, I’ll have to find the perfect pen for it.

Sitting Around Just In Case

I was trapped at home today by someone who wasn’t at home. It was all done just in case.

Today was a school day, although I didn’t have a full day, but because our youngest has been feeling under the weather, I was told by She Who Must Be Obeyed to remain near the phone lest we get a call from the school telling us that our youngest was sick.

In that case, I’d have to drag my lazy self down to the elementary school and escort her back home and then stand “bowl and tissue” duty, in case she got really sick.

As a result, I found myself stuck at home with very little to do. After I did some obligatory work because the company I work for requires I develop stuff to use at the school where I work (yeah, it confuses and annoys me, too) I found myself with little to do.

Oddly, rather than my usual time wasting and game playing (too many links to link to, but here’s an example) I set about finishing winter cleaning on the variety room. This involved clearing a shelf of defunct textbooks and tossing my moldy copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses which I’d kept as a trophy after I finally finished reading it many years ago. (Long story.)

It also meant filing away some “just in case” denial with my old karate bag and karate DVDs. The DVDs are filed away and the bag is slowly being converted to an emergency kit bag.

The result is a clean shelf for She Who Must Be Obeyed to fill and better organized shelves in my Black Shelf Tower of Doom (more on that in another post). There’s still more to do, but that’s tomorrow’s task. There’s a lot more “just in case” denial stuff that needs to go.

But first there are some games to play. (I did that today, too…)

A Peaceful Lazy Feeling

If I hadn’t done dishes yesterday and today, things might have been different.

Today, in a very rare occurrence, I wasn’t the only one who was lazy. However, perhaps for the first time ever, every member of the family was lazy. In fact, I’m surprised anyone left the house, although not surprised I didn’t.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that I did dishes more than once. Usually I spread those chores around, however, because on normal Sundays I am, by any practical definition of the phrase, one step away from being bedridden, I thought it best that I do dishes to prove that 1) I am actually awake and 2) my legs work. As a result, I did dishes last night and then after breakfast and lunch today.

Rather than earning me hosannas and thank yous, these acts infected the other members of the family with my usual Sunday affliction.

Granted, there were a number of reasons for this. Our oldest was still recovering from her entrance exam and slowly getting back into study mode for both school and her next exam. Also, she did lunch dishes yesterday so I thought I’d go easy on her. Our youngest doesn’t do much on Sundays but is usually more active than she was today. It turns out she might be catching what She Who Must Be Obeyed had last week.

She Who Must Be Obeyed is recovering from a 24 hour bug that took 72 hours to get over. She ended up doing laundry, but it all had a casual “well, I’ll get it done eventually” feel rather than her usual “If I don’t get this done now it will burst into flames” attitude.

Tomorrow things should be back to normal. I’ll still, more than likely, be lazy, but at least everyone else will be active.


Field Notes Workshop Companion–End of Book Review

I just finished a notebook that was both friendly and unfriendly to fountain pens. I like it a lot, but it also kind of annoys me.

The Field Notes Workshop Companion Book 01 “Wood Working” is one of six notebooks in a boxed set sent as part of the Summer 2015 Field Notes Colors edition.

On paper, so to speak, it seems great. It has French Kraft-Tone 70#T “Standard White Craft” paper with a light brown dot grid pattern. 70#T paper is thick enough to handle most fountain pens and inks.

The notebook also looks great. Each book in the boxed set has a different color cover and a different “workshop” theme: wood working, automotive, gardening, painting, plumbing and electrical. Each book includes information and tips about its theme. The back of the Wood Working includes information on nail varieties, wood working jargon and the always wise “A table saw can be either your best friend or your worst enemy…”

The Workshop Companion on the right next to a used America the Beautiful edition.

The Workshop Companion (right) next to a used America the Beautiful edition.

The cover is 100#C card stock that features some excellent design work.

My back page tests showed that the paper could handle every fountain pen and ink I threw at it. Even the heartbreaker, Noodler’s Apache Sunset put down with a steel flex nib, didn’t bleed through or feather.

The pen tests. I push fairly had to leave as much ink as I can.

The pen tests. I try to lay down as much ink as I can. That’s Apache Sunset at the top and second from right at the bottom. The 1.1 stub looks great here (on the right above the red lines). 

The back side of the same page.

The back side of the same page. Even Apache Sunset with a flex nib couldn’t break it.

At this point I started to encounter my first “Hmmm” moment. My favorite Field Notes notebook, of the few I’ve used, is the America The Beautiful edition. It has Finch Paper Fine 70#T “Soft White” paper that was smooth and terrific to write on. Because both editions are 70#T, I was expecting a similar experience with the Workshop Companion.

However, the paper in the Workshop Companion notebook felt much rougher and stiffer than the paper in the America The Beautiful. As a result it was much more unforgiving with some of my pens. My Edison Glenmont’s 1.1 mm stub nib, for example, didn’t do well on the paper at all. Instead of a thick line, it tended to leave a thin line with little shading. Other pens did better, but I found the writing experience to be inconsistent and, depending on the nib, scratchy.

Also, although the middle page didn’t start falling out as in my Two Rivers edition, I could see that the staples were starting to give way even though the notebook had been carried in a cover rather than unprotected in my pocket.

The weak staple. You can also see how badly the stub nib does at the top of the picture.

The weak staple. You can also see how inconsistently the stub nib performs on the paper at the top of the picture.

I like the Workshop Companion a lot and it draws double takes from almost everyone who sees it. If the it had smoother paper and better staples it would be perfect. Instead, as is, it’s just very good. I’ll look forward to using the rest of the books, but I won’t rush to get more.






Stressing After the Exam and Almost Missing the Cake

Today our oldest took her first high school entrance exam and was so stressed today she almost made herself sick. Luckily she got that way after the exam.

In Japan students don’t automatically move from elementary school to junior high school to high school. Depending on the school you want your kids to attend, there might be exams at every level. The school where I work, for example, is currently holding entrance exams for the junior high school. (Students who were lucky enough to pass the elementary school exam several years ago, though, get to move up automatically.)

The most important exam, though, happens between junior high school and high school. The goal of parents is to get their teens into high schools with reputations for placing their students in top universities. (Yes, choosing a high school and choosing a university are nearly the same thing here.)

Our oldest and She Who Must Be Obeyed have made several trips to potential schools, both public and private, and narrowed the choices down to one top public school and a very good private school. I should point out that private schools in Japan aren’t necessarily better than public schools. In fact, one of the worst schools I ever taught at was a private school. The public school our oldest chose is considered better than the private school she likes. The private school is her back-up, in case she fails to get into the public school. (We are hoping she gets into the public school, though, because private schools cost MONEY in all caps.)

The test today was for our daughter’s back-up school. She went up to Kawagoe and sat through a three hour written test (multiple choice) and then made her way back home. We took her to a local restaurant for lunch (she had sushi, I had pork steak) and then we bought some cake at at local shop.

On the way home she sat forward as if she was sleepy but it turned out she wasn’t feeling well. She’d finally released all the tension and it had made her kind of sick. We told her to take a nap while I ate the piece of cake I’d chosen (because that’s totally what you eat when you’re on a diet).

Now she’s feeling better, but the exam for her first choice is in two months so we may go through this again. (I just hope there’s more cake.)

Kurutoga Roulette Gun Metallic Mechanical Pencil–Long Term Review

Where I grew up, the cool guys didn’t have normal pencils. They either borrowed pencils when they came to class (because I always seemed to have extras they often came to me) or they carried, in their pockets no less, tiny little stubs of pencils that were barely more than a chewed eraser, a ferrule and a piece of lead. They somehow wrestled them around their assignments with their giant, work-roughed fingers.

In that environment, any person who didn’t already realize I was a complete geek became fully aware of it when I started using mechanical pencils.

I think I got one from my grandfather and another I may have bought or received as a gift. I remember them having thick lead, maybe .7 or 1.0 millimeter, which made them annoying because they never seemed sharp. I also remember using pencils with disposable nib units that you used till they were stubs, then you pulled out the spent nib unit and shoved in the top to force the next unit out. (Those were good only when they stayed sharp and if you didn’t lose a nib unit which rendered all the others useless.)

Since then, I’ve alternated between classic wood case pencils and mechanical pencils. After my experience with the doomed Rotring 600, I’ve stuck with a Uni Kurutoga Roulette in Gun Metallic.

The Uni Kurutoga is one of those Japanese creations that solves a problem that you didn’t realize was a problem until it was solved. It has a built in spring rotation mechanism that rotates the lead every time you pick up the pencil and, in theory, allows the lead to wear evenly and prevent one side getting flat and wide and forming a sharp point which is really important to people who worry about such things. (Artists, for example.)

A traditional mechanical pencil. You can see the line variation and some fuzziness.

A traditional mechanical pencil. You can see the line variation and some fuzziness.

Lines from the Kurutoga. They are even despite me pressing rather hard.

Lines from the Kurutoga. They are even in width despite me pressing rather hard.

I chose the metal version of the Kurutoga because most of the plastic ones were rather tacky (i.e. I’m not cool enough to use them) and they weren’t something you could use in a business setting without attracting a lot of attention and triggering a long discussion. I like the knurling on the grip section. It feels comfortable and, unlike the rubber grips on pencils I’ve used before, it doesn’t get sticky and start coming loose.

A closeup of the knurling, and unneeded hole, in the grip section.

A closeup of the knurling, and unneeded hole, in the grip section.

The anodizing has held up well, as has the mechanism. I also like that the mechanism makes the pencil thicker than a normal mechanical pencil, which makes it more comfortable for me to use. I’ve found that the mechanism acts as a kind of shock absorber that keeps the .5 milimeter lead from breaking. (In the lines pictures above, the regular pencil broke three times; the Kurutoga didn’t break once even though I was pressing harder.) It’s heavier than a regular pencil, which I also like.

My only complaints are very small. The eraser cap at the end is too short and when I try to pull it out of my Nock Co. Sassafras I often pull out only the eraser cap. Also, I don’t like the orange hole in the grip section. It mostly seems to exist to show off that the mechanism actually moves. (One part of it has a logo that appears and disappears as you use it.)

The Kurutoga in my Nock Co. Sassafras. That end cap comes off easily.

The Kurutoga in my Nock Co. Sassafras. That end cap comes off easily.

The Kurutoga is now a necessary part of my every day work carry. It not only records student absences and scores, it also, in several cases, decides their fates.