Monthly Archives: March 2016

Fake it Till You Can Make Them Write It

The worst thing you can hear when you’re about to take over a class for four weeks is “which class are you teaching?” from the person you were counting on to tell you which class you were teaching.

The worst answer you can give is “I don’t know”.

Since I’m now “off work” for a couple weeks, I agreed to pick up four weeks of Sunday classes with a program I’ve mentioned before. The trouble is I was given no information to help me prepare for the class. I didn’t know what class I’d be teaching, what level or what textbook I’d be using.

Eventually, after the other three teachers arrived, and through the process of elimination, we figured out what class I was teaching in time for me to prepare for it. That’s when my worries really started.

My predecessor had finished only four units out of book that has ten. A colleague teaching a different class in the same level was on unit seven. With four weeks left his status actually made a lot of sense. For me it means that I have to rush to finish as much of the textbook as I can.

This is the moment when the doubt hit. I doubted his notes; I doubted my ability to fill five hours of class with little prep; and I wondered how in the hell he managed to make “pages 11-18” (from his notes) last four hours. (In his defense, the listenings in this textbook seem to last several hours.)

Once I got in the class and established where the students were in the book (my predecessor’s notes were accurate) my “golden doorknob” skills (more on those in a future post) took over and I managed to create a plan that lasted five hours.

The trick, of course, is to assign work for the students: check your answers with your partner; make a short speech; make groups and write a two minute role play about death. (Something like that.)

For next week I’ll have time to plan. Because of that, I doubt the class will go very well.





A Lightbox in the Darkness

If She Who Must Be Obeyed had come home an hour earlier, she probably would have turned around and gone back to work.

Instead, in keeping with the motherly tradition of following “I’m home” with a critical “What the hell is that?” whilst still in the entry way, she questioned why no one had opened the curtains.

I stated there were two reasons 1) it was raining so there was no sunlight to let in and 2) I needed the darkness. Oddly, this latter reason didn’t seem to comfort her.

I needed the darkness because this morning was an exended photo shoot of  pens and random stuff I plan to review and/or sell. This involved breaking out my lightbox–a Foldio 2 I got via Kickstarter–and testing the limits of the camera on my Samsung tablet. I almost broke out my tripod and DSLR but decided I wanted to see what the tablet could do. (This also meant I didn’t have to charge the DSLR batteries, dust off the tripod or wrestle with its aging parts.)

The Foldio 2 works well, but it requires the room be as dark as possible. That meant I kept the kitchen and variety room curtains closed and turned off all the overhead lights I could. Our youngest was practicing piano and doing homework and didn’t notice the darkness in the rest of the apartment. This surprised me as she usually has a natural scanner that tells here when is the best/worst time to interrupt someone else’s project in order to achieve maximum disruption.

After almost two hours, I emerged into the light with over 300 pictures. The next stop was to upload them all to my desktop and load them into Lightroom. That was followed by a brutal, occasionally depressing culling. The tablet didn’t do as well with ink swatches as I’d hoped. More on that in another post. I’ve scheduled other Saturday photo shoots, some that will involve my DSLR and the old tripod, in order to learn how to solve that problem.

The next step is to post the pictures along with some prices and sell some of the stuff. But I also have a lot more pictures to take. I just hope I can convince She Who Must Be Obeyed not to be afraid of the dark. At least for a few hours.


Morning Speeches With a Side of Oddness

For a minute it appeared as if most of my choices were going to be absent. Then one showed up and things got odd.

Part of our responsibilities at the school where I work is to assign, correct, chase down, listen to, choose, correct, cajole and threaten students during the speech contest phase of the year. For high school, we assign the speech topics at the end of the autumn term. Students, in theory, have the winter break to finish it. The first four classes in January and February are spent correcting mistakes and listening to students perform their speeches.

The trouble is, most students already know, more or less, who is going to go to the contest and who is going to win once they get there. (Kind of like me being forced to enter a slam dunk contest against Michael Jordan and Zach LaVine. Spoiler: I’m not going to win.)

Once the best two from each class are chosen, we then spend time 1) convincing the students that, yes, they actually must go and 2) chasing down copies of their speeches. This year, one of my students performed a speech that was good enough to win the class. He then refused to 1) give me a copy and 2) go to the contest. This means one of two things: he improvised or he cheated. In the end, he claimed the former but I suspect he was using someone else’s speech. Because he has a fairly passive homeroom teacher, he was able to argue his way out and someone else went in his place.

Then, today, my first two choices were absent from the contest. On the one hand I like this because it shortens the contest a bit, but it looks bad for me. Then, towards the end of the contest, the emcee made surprise announcement. “Mr. X is absent, but Mr. C has arrived and will give his speech instead.” My student walked up to the podium.

Students in the audience started yelling “fix,” “it’s rigged,” or “hacks”. (Not really. Most were not aware there were still speakers at the front.)

My student, was in jeans and a hoodie as if he’d been hanging out with his friends and suddenly remembered he had an appointment. He gave a good speech, and I suspect would have won if he’d been on time and been in uniform. Instead he didn’t place.

Now we’re done with speech contests until next year. We already know who will probably win, but maybe he’ll show up late and out of uniform.

A Time to Make Plans; A Time to Cast Away Plans

I’ve never been one to allow a good plan to get in the way of my leisure time. This is even more of an issue when the plan wasn’t that good to begin with.

The plan was get up, get ready, go out, find ink, bring ink back, sell ink. The only catch in the system would be what would happen if there was no ink. My alternate plan was to visit a couple pen shops and use them as fodder for future posts. I also have a couple posts to write so that was the final alternate plan.

Turns out there were other alternate plans.

The day started with a very rare bout of oversleeping, although, technically, it was not oversleeping because I went to bed late.

If I have some place to be, I’m pretty good at getting up on time and getting ready. However, in the past I’ve tended to reverse polarity, so to speak, and change “early to bed, early to rise” to “go to bed whenever, get up whenever”.  Last night whenever was well past 1:00 a.m. and my body decided to hit snooze a few times and wake up with my usual hours of sleep.

The trouble is, that threw off the rest of the day. Plans to go out became excuses to stay in. Plans to work on next week’s “work” day assignments became plans to work on personal stuff. Plans to work on personal stuff became a conversation with a friend. Plans to do personal stuff after the conversation with a friend became game time.

(Note: I only had the conversation with the friend because I noticed he was online playing the game. So, technically, the conversation was interrupting a plan that had already been interrupted.)

Tomorrow I have actual work, sort of, and then have plans to go out after. The problem is, that plan to go out after the actual work changes the way I planned to dress for the actual work tomorrow.

An Annual Ritual of Much Touching and Pondering

Everything must be touched. It is a curse.

One of the hoarding habits I have is an odd compulsion to touch everything I plan to throw out before I throw it out. I look it over, relive a few memories and then decide if I’m really going to ever use it again. Because of this, it’s impossible for me to simply throw out a box of stuff I haven’t touched in months without going through it first. Luckily, I’ve gotten a lot better at throwing stuff out.

I bring this up because the end of the school year marks an annual ritual I have where I purge the old school related stuff and make room for new school related stuff. I do this at school during exam pass backs and whilst waiting to check final marks.

I also rethink my desk space at home and try to declutter it by rethinking how I use it. (Lately that means “less space for writing” and “more space for gaming”.)

The problem is that rethinking the spaces on the desk requires rethinking the spaces in the file cabinet and “variety drawers” (which is totally not a dirty phrase). Moving stuff off the desk, if it’s not to a trash bin, requires moving other stuff.

At the same time, I’m culling my pen collection to get it down to the stuff I use (including stuff that stays at home) and to implement a one in/one out policy. I’ve already chosen several pens to sell. I also have 15 bottles of ink around that I hope to resell. (I acquire interesting stuff as it becomes available and then hope I can sell it. So far, so good.) Then there’s a number of knives that need to be culled.

Note: in an odd way, reselling the ink has made it easier for me to decide which pens to sell as I’m more comfortable with online buying and selling. I’ve also managed to arrange PayPal accounts to get money from my US account to my Japanese which makes She Who Must Be Obeyed Happy.

Today I cleaned one space–a trick recommended by Leo Babauta in his Sea Change Program–and plan to do another space tomorrow.

The trouble is, I start to think about why I filled that space in the first place and why i want to keep that stuff.

Or I’ll just buy some ink. Or play some games. We’ll see.

Longer and More Boringer

It is commonly understood that the most boring things on earth are a Baptist sermon and a Japanese junior high school graduation.

Both start out with lots of hope, energy and spirit. People dress up in suits and, well, Sunday best, and sit in rows and, on occasion, sing songs. This spirit carries people through only part of the ceremony, though.

In the case of the Baptist sermon, God eventually takes leave by pointing out “I AM the Word” implying that it’s not necessary for God to sit and listen to someone else explain the Word. God leaves and goes and has brunch and gets ready to watch football (or basketball depending on the season). Those left behind suddenly find the spirit waning (with God present but not technically there you can expect nothing less) and they get restless and start thinking about brunch and football (or basketball depending on the season).

At this point there is at least an hour of actual sermon left and all that’s happened is the reading of the church announcements and one 17 minute prayer. (Attend a Baptist church this Sunday and prove me wrong…)

In the case of a Japanese junior high school graduation, the energy starts with the students walking in and, one by one, receiving their diplomas in silent dignity. Spirits are high and a few tears flow from parents’ eyes as tens of thousands of dollars worth of camera and smartphone equipment record the event.

Then the speeches begin and the spirit is murdered through repeated blunt force trauma.

In our oldest’s graduation today, there were five different speeches, not including two by students. The longest speech, about five minutes in, invoked John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” and my reaction was “ah, crap. Here we go.”

As a rule, when someone invokes JFK, you know the speech is going to go on a while.

As more people took the podium, it seemed that everyone was expected to give a speech. At one point I’m pretty sure the MC was saying “Has everyone given a speech yet? Have you given one? Lady at the back in the dark suit, yes, you, have you given a speech yet? Sorry, what’s that? Three months ago? You gave your speech three months ago when this ceremony began? Well done. Thank you.”

It should be noted: no one actually records the speeches on any of the tens of thousands of dollars worth of camera and smartphone equipment. Instead they save their batteries.

Eventually, after two hours, including an hour of speeches, the ceremony ends and the students and VIPs leave and the parents are locked in the room whilst the principal gives another speech.

After that we are set free to visit the classrooms where the actual fun begins. Our oldest’s homeroom teacher showed a slideshow, complete with music, of fun moments from the year. The class surprised him by serenading him with a famous pop song, changing the words to include his name and “arigato, sensei”. He burst into tears.

Everyone else started crying, too. Even I got something in my eye. And not because of boredom.

Field Notes Shenandoah–End of Book Review

About a thousand years ago, Saturday Night Live had a segment on Weekend Update where Gary Kroeger complained about the disease of spot bleeding. The bit wasn’t that funny because it was a joke you could see coming from miles away.

Spot bleeding does, however, describe the paper in the Field Notes Shenandoah limited edition.

Out of the box the Shenandoah is one of the best looking editions in a long time. The covers are different shades of green and are bound together with a birch veneer belly band which, despite being 90% useless, still looks pretty cool. Although I like the Two Rivers and Workshop Companion editions, it’s nice to see a simple cover, which is more in the Field Notes tradition.

The Field Notes Shenandoah edition.

The Field Notes Shenandoah edition.

Each cover is dedicated to a different tree in the Shenandoah Valley and includes drawings of their leaves and short descriptions of the trees. Each has a duplex covers (two different colored papers fused together to form one thick piece) with gives them different colors inside the covers.

The paper is 60#T Finch Opaque “Bright White” paper with a 3/16″ Appalachian Moss light green graph. Unfortunately, the paper is not particularly fountain pen friendly, but in an odd way.

The paper bleeds a lot, especially when I try to break it, but the rest of the time it spot bleeds.

The back side of the back page after I made it bleed.

The back side of the back page after I made it bleed. Even here it is mostly bleeding in spots.

The spot bleeding under the next day's food log.

The spot bleeding under the next day’s food log. You can also see how the grid cuts through the lines in the ink.

For the most part, the bleeding, as always, doesn’t bother me. I’m more annoyed by the grid pattern which messes up the way the ink flows on the page. I would love to see a Field Notes limited edition that just had blank pages inside.

I resubscribed to the limited editions and plan to give away more copies this year. The Shenandoah is a good gateway drug, er, starter edition, especially for those who haven’t yet learned the power of the dark side (fountain pens).

1960-Something Pilot Capless Fountain Pen–Long Term Review

I’m no longer sure how old this pen is.

When I was at the 17th Mitsukoshi Fountain Pen Festival I showed this pen to the clerk at the Pilot Pen area. A few seconds later a different lady grabbed the pen and passed it to the Pilot repair expert. The guy examined it and reported to the different lady. A minute later my fountain pen was two years younger than I thought it was. It’s either two years older than I am, or it’s the same age as I am.

Either way, I like this pen a lot and it’s made me rethink the style of nib I like.

The 19543/66 Pilot Capless.

The 1964/66 Pilot Capless.

Perhaps because the first Fine nib I ever used was on a Chinese Golden Star/Hero fountain pen I bought in Albania, I’ve been unimpressed with F nibs. My writing style is fast, loose and semi-legible and the Golden Star F nib seemed scratchy and dry, especially on cheap paper. It was, at least to my sentiments at the time, not much different than using a ballpoint pen.

The gold Fine nib on the 1964/1966 Pilot Capless, though, is terrific. It is smooth and a lot of fun to use. It seems made for Pilot Blue-Black ink, but lately I’ve been using Maruzen Athena Blue-Black in it.

Even on cheap paper, the nib is smooth, and although I’m a big fan of the “faceted version” of the pen, I find I haven’t missed mine at all since I stopped using them. When I start reusing this pen, though, after a period of non use, I quickly realize why I liked it and look for excuses to use it.

A close up of the nib on the 1964/1966 Pilot Capless.

A close up of the nib and feed on the 1964/1966 Pilot Capless.

The nib from a different angle.

The nib from a different angle.

I like that, although it’s thin, it doesn’t have the large clip of the other versions. I’m able to hold the pen the same way I hold all my other pens. This makes it easier to write small. The pen uses the older Con-W converter which, oddly, holds slightly more ink than the more modern converters.

My main complaint is that, because of its age, the pen tends to leak ink. It doesn’t drip out of the pen, but it does get all over the mechanism of the pen. Also, because of its short tube, the Con-W never feels 100% secure on the pen. I also have to be careful to align things correctly.

Since I got the 1964/66 Capless, I’ve been experimenting with fine nibs and pens from different companies.

My handwriting is still terrible, but at least it’s small and compact.




The 2016 Tokyo Folding Knife Show

He really was too trusting, but then he was also surrounded with knives. Later, he set the knife up as a kind of trap.

Today was the 2016 Tokyo Folding Knife Show. Since I started attending knife shows, the Folding Knife Show has consistently been among the best of the shows. Lately, it’s actually been improving.

This year’s show featured a number of new makers, including one young man who was both in over his head and attracting a lot of attention. Daisuke Kojima‘s flipper knives started selling and he found himself with only a couple knives but no business cards. The old guard, partly happy to see a young face, spent a lot of time chatting with him, and when he had the chance, he visited their tables with a shocked “hey guys” look on his face and an obvious fear of offending someone.

One of Daisuke Kojima's knives.

One of Daisuke Kojima’s knives.

I also got a chance to play with some flipper knives made by an Australian named Glenn Waters. He lives and works in Aomori and promotes his knives “pocket art” or “art knives”. He scrolls each knife by hand, making each knife unique. The first knife I picked up had a 900,000 yen, or $7907.23 price tag. It was a VG-10 steel blade with titanium on the lock side, and Timascus bolsters and mammoth ivory scales on the show side. It also had a reasonably usable blade shape. I’m still shocked he let me pick it up and play with it.

Glenn Water's knive.

Glenn Water’s knife. It has a usable blade shape, but would you really use it?

Later in the show he would hide the price tag under the knife. This seemed dangerous to me as people would pick it up, see the price, and drop the knife as their hearts failed.

Taiwanese maker Chen Wei Chun had an impressive display of Damascus folding knives that were well made and provided lots of temptation.

Chen Wei Chun's knife.

Chen Wei Chun’s knife. It’s not a bad price for a large knife.

My favorite item was a combination pen/killing tool from Tadashi Machida. It was a wood ballpoint with a pocket knife built into the top. The two halves of the pen could twist apart revealing an impressive looking “stop reading over my shoulder” weapon/metal awl.

Is this awesome or crazy?

Is this awesome or crazy? Yours for only $439.30.

i got there late (long story) and stayed for the drawing. I didn’t win anything (not even the black sesame seed seasoning) but had a good time.

The next show is next month. I’ll probably go, but it won’t be as much fun as today.




Watch Where You Sit or Watch Your Diet

My plan actually worked better than expected, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Today was a farewell party for teachers leaving the English department at the school where I work. Four young teachers were moving on to permanent positions at other schools and one teacher was retiring after 37 years at the school. There were a couple odd things: One teacher is going to be an extra in an upcoming Godzilla movie, another teacher was having her second farewell party as she’d already left once and then come back. I hadn’t spoken to any of them more than a few times but thought it best to be there because of office politics.

By accident, I arrived before everyone else and chose my seat carefully. The plan was to pick a small table with only four chairs because then we’d get plates designed to serve six people but only have to share them between four people.

This turned about better than expected because the people I was sitting next to started rejecting their portions. They did this because their portions contained mushrooms and/or were staring back at them. (Today’s meal featured whole shrimp and a lot of whole tiny white fish which look suspiciously like little white worms.) I and another colleague suddenly found ourselves with more food than we expected. Japanese parties are usually long on beer and short on food but we were suddenly getting full.

We made up for the extra food by passing on things our colleagues did eat (well, most of it anyway).

This, of course, busted my usual diet–although I managed not to eat more carbs than usual, unless you count the beer…

I was also on my best behavior–not that my usual behavior was that bad–until I ordered whisky as my second drink. I ordered two glasses of whisky (straight, of course) which prompted two reactions:


When the glasses of whisky came they understood. The portions were quite small and I combined them into one glass to make a normal single.

This means, at the end of the day, I had more food than I expected, and will probably pay for it tomorrow, and had more whisky than anyone else expected, although it wasn’t actually that much.