Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Best Laid Aside Plans

It was one of those days again today, in an odd way.

The plan was simple and had simple steps:

get up early,
drink coffee,
eat breakfast,
mark exams until early stages of insanity set in,
drink more coffee,
stare at bourbon,
turn away from bourbon,
mark exams until full stage of insanity,
sort ink,
find addresses,
pack boxes,
mail boxes,
mark whilst insane.

All that was supposed to be accomplished by lunch. What happened after lunch didn’t matter because “insane”.

None of this, of course, factored in things such as “family” or “rationalizing laziness”.

I woke up early, then discovered that She Who Must Be Obeyed had got up sooner and was doing laundry, which meant “bathe” was sabotaged so I passed on “shave” as well. (Note: I have no sense of smell and wasn’t planning on going outside until later and as the wedding vows go “in sickness and in health, for cleaner or stinkier.” Look it up.)

I did manage to drink coffee and eat breakfast in there somehow.

It was, however, my job to hang the laundry that was blocking my shower once it was finished and after She Who Must Be Obeyed had gone to work. (Note: hypothetically speaking I was on an unusual schedule that involved working from home part of the time today.)

That meant the marking exams phase started late and although I drank coffee, I completely forgot to stare at the bourbon which meant I was never tempted to add it to my coffee. This actually put me ahead of schedule. Sort of.

At that point, I hit the marking wall and decided to make some ink swatches as samples for people interested in acquiring the ink. I also decided to skip ahead to the address finding and box packing. But that meant I had to find boxes. I also looked up the shipping costs and, oddly, didn’t think about reaching for bourbon although such an act would have been justified. Instead I reached for a knife and started cutting down the boxes of the smaller shipments to reduce the weight.

Once again, I started doing math to see if I was actually making money shipping ink. (I am, but I need to set out a more helpful list of prices for those interested in acquiring some and a better process for getting it shipped.)

At some point after that, I was forced to put off the actual shipping until tomorrow afternoon. (Note: our policies are that your ink will arrive precisely “some day”; we don’t, however, specify in which year that will happen. Thank you for paying in advance, though!)

Eventually, I got marking done, although I’m not finished.

As the saying goes: Tomorrow is another day.

I just didn’t realize that was a threat.


Ink and Marking in Confluence With Posts

I’m in the middle of marking final exams which means it’s a great time to deal with ink. In fact, today was a confluence of different events related to recent posts.

Not only am I marking final exams, but once again, I have some concerns about the listening test as the first listening I’d recorded at home had sound issues that earned comments from one of the test proctors. I was worried they’d affect the results, but thus far the scores have fallen in the usual spread.

The marking is being done with the MUJI fountain pen I gave my initial impressions of a couple posts ago. Although I like the nib, I can already sense a few issues that will make an eventual long term review–hints: thin, slippery, dry. It hasn’t made me reach for my old marking pen yet, though, but it’s still early in the process.

Then, in the middle of marking, the doorbell rang and three boxes of ink arrived. I’ve mentioned before my low margin, suddenly higher volume (barely enough to buy me a bottle of ink for myself) newly started side business but today it actually became a real thing. I’m now responsible for carefully packing and shipping things people have already paid for.

I also have to remember who ordered what and where they want it sent–I kind of wish I hadn’t written that all down in pencil–and get it to the post office without breaking anything. I then have to deal with the post office staff who think INK=WMD. I also have to decide if I want to continue this and how to make it a more organized thing. Then I have to do some math to see if the margin is merely low or actually negative.

Oh, and at some point I have to finish marking my exams. That is also rather low margin. And math is involved eventually.

Freezing Near Dancing Girls in Leotards

I spent the day freezing whilst watching girls in leotards simultaneously freeze and dance. My main job, though, was to serve as navigator, but I even let a female do that. Sort of.

Today was the it’s-the-end-of-something-so-let’s-dance-in-the-cold-performance (something like that) for our youngest’s Rhythmic Gymnastics group. The RG powers-what-are assemble clubs from around Saitama Prefecture and they put on an afternoon show. (There is, in fact, a morning performance with different clubs, but we didn’t have to go to that.)

They choose the end of February because, well, I’m not sure. I think it’s because many of the girls are finishing with the clubs before moving on to high school and/or junior high. Or it’s because that’s the best time to schedule an unheated gymnasium.

I started the day with a private class that I’m teaching while the regular teacher is out of Japan. I then got to serve as navigator during our trip to the performance site. However, this time I used my smartphone as the navigation system because real maps require effort. The navigation system (Google maps with its female voice) is pretty good–I especially like its on-the-fly traffic warnings–but has an annoying tendency to announce a turn a few hundred meters in advance and then to say nothing until saying “turn —” without any warning.

Once we got to the arena, we managed to get a good seat, but our youngest’s performance was the 13th or so on the program. This meant we got to sit in the cold gym watching performances that had to meaning for us. (Note: for reasons involving sadism, Japanese public gymnasiums are neither heated in winter nor cooled in summer making them hellish pretty much all the time.) At one point I broke out my gloves to keep my hands warm.

Our youngest finally performed, did a good job, and then we got to wait for a few more performances.

That was followed by decades of picture taking.

The return trip was mostly uneventful. We pitted our car navigation system versus Google Maps. (I’ll post about that result another day.) Along the way home, though, we managed to buy chicken and bourbon.

MUJI Fountain Pen–Initial Impressions

Although there are two different MUJI stores nearby, I put off buying a MUJI fountain pen for a long time. I figured I could get one anytime I wanted one and therefore there was no reason to get one anytime soon. Something like that.

Then, last week, I found out that the pens use Schmidt nibs and since I already have two pens with such nibs (my Retro 51 EXT and my Karas Kustoms Ink) and like them a lot, I thought I should give the MUJI FP a try.

For those who don’t know, MUJI is a kind of cross between an IKEA and a Gap store. They emphasize both style and simplicity, and all their goods come unbranded. MUJI is short for Mujirushi Ryohin (無印良品 in Japanese) or “No-Brand Quality Goods”.

The pen is a slender tube of aluminum with a knurled section and a pop off cap that slips into a slot at the back of the pen allowing it to post securely without scratching the pen. It takes small standard international cartridges (I’ve not tried larger sized ones) and will take an international converter allowing it to use bottled ink. I’m currently using it with a converter made by Levenger and Parker Quink red ink.

The MUJI fountain pen.

The MUJI fountain pen. Under the knurling at the front you can see the slot where the cap slides in.

Capped and with a converter full of ink it weighs only 21 grams, or 3/4 of an ounce.

The knurled section is comfortable but still a bit slippery for my taste, although that may be because the pen, at 10 millimeters (.4 inches) is right at the edge of too slender. Unposted it has a decent length of 12.5 centimeters (4.9 inches). Posted it’s still a comfortable 16 centimeters (6.3 inches). The inside of the small cap is rubberized, which does a good job of protecting the nib from, ahem, improper insertions.

The steel nib had to be washed out of the box as it had some kind of oil on it, probably as rust protection, and it has a lot of feedback but nothing annoying or scratchy. At this point, I haven’t experienced any skips or hard starts.

A close up of the Schmidt nib and knurled section.

A close up of the Schmidt nib and knurled section.

To give it a work out, I’ve decided to make it my marking pen for the end of year exams. I’ve already had to make a lot of red marks with it and it seems to get along with the Parker Quink red.

My students may not be as impressed, though.



Namisu Nexus Minimal Titanium–Long Term Review

It squeaked, but not in a cute little kitten kind of way; rather it squeaked in a chalk-on-chalkboard kind of way.

I’ve written about my Namisu Nexus Minimal fountain pens before. When I first started using them, the aluminum barreled, steel-nib version quickly became my favorite, partly because the steel Bock nib was smooth and well tuned. It also became one of my workhorse pens whilst the titanium version became a secondary pen that often stayed at home and was filled with inks I thought might damage pens I liked better.

However, over time, that preference has begun to change.

The titanium version sitting next to its cap.

The titanium version sitting next to its cap.

Out of the box, the titanium version had two problems: the tines were crooked and the titanium nib squeaked. I had the nib tuned at Euro Box and although the tines were straightened, the nib still squeaked. The squeak was the main deal-breaker for a lot of people but I found it went away after a while, the same way the soreness caused by new shoes eventually goes away as the shoes/your feet break in.

Even without the squeak, the titanium nib still didn’t feel right. It had a lot of feedback or scratch, even on smoother Tomoe River paper. However, during last year’s NANOWRIMO, I finally used the titanium version enough on cheap copy paper that the scratch went away. As a result of that, it’s become a daily carry and use pen that is always inked with something.

Detail of the titanium Bock nib.

Detail of the titanium Bock nib and how it writes on Tomoe River paper. The bead-blasted body looks great.

I like the weight of the pen. With the cap its about 45 grams (1.58 ounces). Without the cap it’s 39 grams (1.38 ounces). That’s just enough weight that the pen does all the work, especially as the design put’s a lot of metal toward the front of the pen, but not so heavy that I feel as if I’m trying to write with a baseball bat.

The pen looks great. The bead-blasted titanium has just enough grip to keep the pen from being slippery and keeps it from getting marked up with greasy fingerprints. Some users have complained the large grooves that serve as grip and section hurt their fingers, but I’ve found them mostly comfortable. Cleaning the cap threads after refilling the ink can be a pain, but I like having the threads forward of my fingers.

I do wish the cap was larger, though, as if I’m not careful when I put the cap back on, I can feel it bump the nib. (Also, I’m not sure it was necessary to have three full twists to get such a small cap on an off but that’s a small complaint.)

Although the nib has grown on me, I’m still not fully sold on titanium nibs. They are nice over time, and have some of the features of more expensive gold nibs, but they still seem like a gimmick more than an innovation, the same way a glow-in-the-dark nib would be. I’d rather have either gold or steel. (Note: I would totally try a glow-in-the-dark nib.)

I like the titanium body, though, and am interested to see if titanium’s corrosion resistant properties will allow it to be used as an “eye-dropper” filled pen. I’ll let other people try that and write about it first, though. 

(Note for non-pen people: “eye-dropper filled” means the barrel is completely filled with ink rather than using a converter; this allows for a greater ink supply and greater opportunity for making a great mess.)

I’m not sure if I’m going to keep the pen or try to sell it. I like it, but I have others I like better (and a couple on the way). Now that it’s broken in and doesn’t squeak, it might be time to give someone else a chance to try it.

One Day One Week One Month Which Day

None of us on the native speaker staff at the school where I work are sure what day it is or what day is coming. Our only motto is “trust no one, especially yourself”.

Because the schedule at the school where I work is weird in January and then gets crazy in February when different grades end at different times and some seem to never end, it gets difficult to keep track of what is happening when. This often leads to confusion and misinformation.

Yesterday, for example, one of my colleagues said that she though classes ended next Wednesday and three of us assured her that, no, classes actually ended on Tuesday.

The trouble is, we all seemed to think that next Tuesday was next Wednesday or that yesterday was today, which was Wednesday. Something like that.

That was all corrected today, though, when those of us who’d given the false information suddenly realized what day it was yesterday.

Part of the problem is that we are still teaching some grades even though final exams have started. We will also be marking final exams before we’ve finished teaching. This makes it hard to keep track of where we are supposed to be when, even when we exploit modern technology such as Google Calendar or older technology such as “legible notes on paper”.

Hopefully we will all remember to show up for our exams when they finally happen. I have two exams on Friday, including the exam I’m responsible for, but before that I have a junior high class. I then have to remember two more junior high classes.

In the past we’ve had people confuse what day was which and they ended up missing their last classes before exams.

Truth be told, I have at least one class I’m tempted to miss. It may be time to play dumb. I’m sure I’ll show up, but I won’t know until the last minute if I will or not. I’ll also be questioning what day it is until I do show up.

Thrice We Go Again

Some classes just don’t get it. It’s rare, though, for the same class not to get it three times in the same year.

At the end of every term, depending on what days they meet, it’s possible for a class to have extra days compared to other classes of the same grade. In those cases, I usually follow the same plan: The last two class meetings are reserved for review. The first of the two usually follows the rule “Study my class today and I won’t look at what you’re studying next week”.

I phrase it this way because I’m not, technically, supposed to allow what you might call study hall classes unless the students are studying my lessons. Every now and then, though, some goodness and kindness enter my heart and it becomes .0003 times larger.

Classes that get it understand that while on the last day I might state that they should review my class I won’t actually be looking at what they are studying, unless they start sleeping and playing, in which case they must review my class.

The class that didn’t get it though, failed three different times on the next to last day. In each case I had groups of students who:

Didn’t open the book.
Opened the book, but to the wrong unit.
Opened the book to the correct unit but never turned the page after that.
Open the book to the correct page but had a different text book set on top of it.

All that, of course, happened in Japanese with nary a word of English spoken.

I reminded them a few times about what was going to happen and they either ignored me or, in case of the worst students in the class, acted annoyed and muttered bad things about me and my heart became 3 sizes too small.

That earned them a special assignment for this week. I made a nice review worksheet that, in theory, should have taken no more than 20 minutes to complete, however, several students spent the better part of the lesson working on it.

I suspect some of the worst students hadn’t actually been working on it until I started collecting the worksheets. That inspired the worst students to finally finish, but the worksheets from the best students were already in my possession making it harder for the worst students to cheat.

Now, I’ll just make sure I have them all and then throw them away without grading them.

I told you my heart got three sizes too small.

Dangerous Bottles and Running Blockades

I spent part of the morning trying to convince a man and a woman that bottles of ink were not dangerous items.

As part of a recent, very low margin, side business I’ve been dabbling in, I will track down inks exclusive to Japan and ship them beyond far horizons to recipients waiting on distant shores who’ve shipped specific amounts of cash across electronic horizons to my near shore/PayPal account. I do this because some of the inks are so popular, the stores won’t ship direct overseas. If they did, they’d get bought out quickly and local customers would never get any. (I refer to this as an “export ban” and what I’m doing as running a blockade.)

The inks have sold so well that Sailor, the company that makes the ink, has been forced to change bottle styles because their regular bottle maker can’t keep up with demand.

The problem is, in order to run the blockade, I have to use the Japanese Post Office and it isn’t always much help. (Yes, blockade runners totally used the post office.)

As soon as I handed the package to the staff at my local post office, the woman noticed the fragile sticker on it and said they didn’t ship dangerous items. I said they weren’t dangerous. She then dragged some man over and I then spent several minutes explaining to both of them what I’d meant by “art supplies” on the mailing label, and then adding the word “ink” to the label, and then filling in a couple other forms involved in shipping things to the Netherlands. 

I then had to explain that, yes, I’d packed the ink bottles carefully and that they would most likely survive the trip, especially if delivery staff paid attention to the sticker that said “fragile”.

Eventually they let me hand over money for the shipping (more than I’d expected, making the margin even lower) and I was sent on my way. So, I presume, was the package.


Professional is Necessary; Professional Sound Quality is Not

It took a little bit of tweaking, but I think I’ve got my voice ready for the listening test.

Unfortunately, my computer won’t let me finish the project.

I’ve mentioned before how, at the school where I work, we are responsible for writing our own exams and recording the listening portions of each exam. For the past few years, to save our sound and recording expert colleague a great deal of extra work and stress, we’ve begun editing our own recordings (using Audacity) and burning them to CD.

This year, I tried something a little different. Out of the blue, when I was testing my headphones and making sure Audacity was updated, I decided to go ahead and record the monologue portions of the test. This would save us all a lot of time in the recording studio at the school where I work. (Note: “recording studio” is a strong word to describe the cheap equipment in the recording booth.) All I would need is a couple people to record the conversation section and then I could sit down and edit everything.

The recordings I made were pretty good, but the “enemy of good” part of me took over (as in “perfectionist” not as in “if you only knew the POWER of the dark side” although that’s pretty cool, too) and I began to worry if the recording made with my forty dollar USB headset mic was too rough and sloppy to be useful.

I considered recording everything again in the “recording studio” but instead just played around until I got things passable. As one former colleague pointed out, we’re not doing this for movies or as part of a professional sound design project.

I took that to heart and all the files are tweaked and ready. Unfortunately, the DVD RW on my computer won’t open and I can’t actually burn the CD. Instead I get to do it on a Japanese language computer tomorrow.

That has the potential to turn me toward the dark side once and for all forever.

Entering the Terrible Threes

I’m still not sure why I’m doing this. It’s more of a habit at this point and I do it even when I have no ideas.

Whatever the reason I’m doing it, today marks the end of two years writing this blog.

I had planned to write some sort of epic anniversary post and offer some freebies, but life and work intervened to prevent me from assembling all the stuff I’d planned to assemble. I still plan to do that (the freebies) but it will have to wait until later in the week.

I remain shockingly resistant to little concepts like “planning” and “follow through” when it comes to this blog. For a while I had a bit of a plan going: do this post this day, that post that day, take pictures of stuff here and there, but the plans quickly crumbled into dust.

I also have been lazy about taking random excursions and writing about those. Instead I’ve been dependent, much more often than I’d planned, on personal posts that are little more than diaries where I complain about stuff. Those usually come about an hour or so before bedtime when I just can’t be bothered with the post I’d planned.

That said, I think the writing and coherence of the posts have improved over the two years, even when I’m typing random words a few minutes before bedtime. I still have stuff to review and a number of books to review but have resisted taking a day to do nothing but take and organize photographs.

The goals for year three are to, at long last, assemble an email list and offer a newsletter version of Mere Blather that people can subscribe to (and, in theory, include a post that doesn’t appear on the website).

I am also pondering taking a weekly Sabbath, probably on Sunday, where I might post a picture or two but don’t actually write anything. I imagine myself knocking out a couple posts that day and having them in reserve. Or just assembling posts into a newsletter. Or doing nothing and liking it.

I also have a long list of posts I never wrote that I stare at every now and then but never actually write. (In a couple cases I’ve forgotten what I mean by the notes I’d written.) I’ve also got an Amazon Associates account I haven’t fully exploited. (I would, of course, remind you that there is a donation button on the right side if you’re using a PC and way down at the bottom if you’re reading on a phone. You can even donate in Bitcoin if you can figure out how to do that.)

Either way, for those of you who’ve suffered through these posts on a regular basis, thanks. I hope to keep you entertained for at least another year. (Not that you’ve been entertained thus far, but isn’t it pretty to think so?” )