Monday, January 31, 2011

Modern Convenience Revisited

Remember this?  Well...that was pretty much my weekend.  Ugh.  I finally got rid of my giant old tube TV, which made scary popping and sparking noises the last few times I turned it on, starting in about July.  Incidentally, it steadfastly refused to do so when I finally found someone to help me take it to be recycled, and he (the guy taking it away) asked me to demonstrate what was now I'm all worried I got rid of it for nothing.  But it took me several months to get someone to help me, and every time I'd dared try it in the meantime, it was making That hopefully I did right.  But in any case, the good behavior at the last moment adds fuel to the fire with regards to the obsessive thinking I've been enduring.

I'm getting a tax refund this year, so I was hoping to use that (with a little extra) to buy a very basic new TV, mostly just for DVDs and maybe streaming a few things from the computer.  But gee-willikers TVs are complicated these days!  Not only are there apparently about ten times as many brands as there used to be, but they come in way more sizes and price ranges, not to mention have more detailed specs than the average computer: refresh rates, sizes, resolutions, upscaling stuff to let them display regular older TV content (something like that), internet capability,  and all sorts of other whatsits.  And every single model has at least some people claiming it ruined their life and the customer service people of TV Company X kicked their dog and insulted their mother when they tried to ask for help.  It's a scary world out there.  And I'm now crippled by the fact that I have enough knowledge to be completely bewildered.  Yay me!

I really hate on-line research.  There's never one right answer.  And for big ticket items, I hate the responsibility of choosing one single option.  *sigh*  As a friend used to put it, I want an angel with a flaming pie to swoop down to tell me what to do.  And when it comes to guidance in consumer electronics, I don't think the heavens are really gonna spare me a flaming pie.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Current Pencil Related Reading

Books and Pencils

1. Bear with me for a moment on this first one...there is pencil content, I swear!

If you've never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I would like to highly recommend it.  It is so wonderfully, richly written.  The characters are heartbreakingly real in all their hopes and all their flaws, moments of beauty and joy, shattered dreams and struggles.  It feels almost like a very vivid biography rather than a novel...and to a great extent, I suspect it to be just that in disguise.

It takes place in the few decades of the 1900s, and the primary character is Francie Nolan, an intelligent, sensitive, imaginative little girl growing up in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood.  Her imagination is a blessing and a curse to her: there's one particularly poignant scene in the first part of the book where she and her brother are waiting in line with other poor people to buy stale bread from the bakery--loads are brought back from the local stores and sold at a cut rate price, first come, first served.  As they're waiting, she observes a group of old men sitting in the back, enjoying the warmth for awhile before joining the line fighting for the bread.  She focuses on one man in particular, dirty and shabby and with holes in his shoes and ugly, thick-nailed toes peeking out, and thinks about the fact that once upon a time, he must have been a sweet little baby with little pink toes that his mother loved to kiss.  Once he was a young man, and went courting.  And so on.  She imagines his whole life...and then the current moment barrels down on her, the way he is now, the seemingly inescapable result of poverty--and she suddenly feels that if she doesn't get away immediately, she will find herself instantly changed in the same way.  She is thrown into such a panic that she has to rush out of the room.

More than anything, she wants to learn; she wants to know.  She can't wait to go to school, to meet other children, to be given knowledge.  There is pencil content here, too:
Most of all, she wanted "school supplies": a notebook and tablet and a pencil box with a sliding top filled with new pencils, and eraser, a little tin pencil sharpener made in the shape of a cannon, a pen wiper and a six-inch, soft-wood, yellow ruler.
I'm intrigued by the pencil sharpener in particular.  I wonder, were tin novelty sharpeners common right then, or was this a fond childhood memory on the author's part?

But there's no actual mention of her getting such a thing right then, and when she gets to school she is unable to make friends, has to share a desk meant for one person with another student, and is treated with contempt by most of her teachers because of her impoverished background.  The students are given a single pencil to use during the day, which is taken back from them after use:
She accepted with pride the pencil the monitor passed out to her in the morning and reluctantly surrendered it to another monitor at three o'clock.
If that doesn't make you appreciate the modern world and the relative wealth we all possess...!

OK, so the pencil content isn't a reason in and of itself to read this book...but it does make me smile.

2. More on-topic, the next library book on my to-be-read pile is Henry Petroski's work, The Pencil.  It contains a full and detailed history of pencils, and the men whose names now grace so many of our favorites--Dixon, for example, and Eberhard Faber, and Faber-Castell.  It explains mysteries such as why (in the US, at least) most pencils are yellow.  From what I can tell in flipping through it, it gets a little technical in places (lots of detail on the development of lead composition, for example, and the mechanisms in early mechanical pencils), but nonetheless it appears to be a must-read for any lovers of writing instruments.  I'm looking forward to it.

As a final note, I just got my hands on some General's Semi-Hex pencils.  I look forward to playing with them over the next little bit.  Woo-hoo!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Doing the Deek thing

Just because I feel like it...a Deek-style sort of journal entry.

1-25-11 1


This, my friends, is a demonstration of an effective method for training your human to play fetch with you whilst Internetting.

Translation from the Siamese is, roughly, "Now, throw the ball.  Throw the ball.  NOW!  THROWTHEBALLNOW."

In the beginning you may find that you need to repeat yourself, or you may need to drop the ball directly onto their keyboard to ensure they get the point, or you might perhaps add some Siamese curse words to the mix; but with time, your human will learn to do as they're told.

(Sorry about the long dead-air segment at the end of the track.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Another Saturday Walk

Another gloomy week...and then, wonderfully, the sun came out in force today!  It was a truly beautiful sunny day, temperatures in the 50s, not much wind.  Felt like spring.  So I again took the dog out for a long walk.  It was a little too bright on the way out, as the sun was right in our eyes...but it sure felt good all the same!  I again didn't think to bring my camera (next time!!), and again couldn't resist grabbing the phone to take a few shots, such as they are.

Sunlight filtering through leafless trees--beautiful!
Sunlight filtered

I'm both intrigued and a little frightened by this hill.  It is so cool looking!
Fern Hill
See all the ferns?  On the other hand, it's so steep, it seems like a landslide just waiting to happen, and it seems at least once a year, one of those trees tumbles down across the path.  There are chainsawed remains scattered here and there along the borders of the trail.  I don't walk here on windy days.  Call me a coward!  But it's a very pretty little section otherwise.  In the spring, there will be flowers all along the base, and lots of new little green plants.

Farther down the hill, a small river flows by.  It's not quite in flood stage--it remains within its banks--but this is about as high as I've seen it.  Normally there is a border of rocky ground on each bank, and you can scramble down from the path and stand there.  Today, there was no such thing, and the water was flowing so quickly I stayed where I was.  Pretty, though.
High Water

The moss seems quite happy with all the damp!
Moss doesn't just grow on the north side 'round here....

I tried to take Cisco's picture, but he long ago decided cameras are scary, scary things.  He turns into a very sad excuse for a dog whenever I brandish one in his direction...hangs his head and sighs and won't sit up.  I think he musta gotten one too many flashes in the face as a puppy, because for the most part, he's been that way since I got him.  (He came from the pound when he was about a year old, so we both of us have phobias and neuroses the other just...doesn't...get.)  Since the phone is only rarely used as a camera, and since I had the shutter noise off, I thought I might be able to actually snap a photo.



Not gonna sit still while you wave that thing at me...

Oops!  Caught....
Cisco for real - finally!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cowcast Continued: Ghost Cow?

I ended up doing one more day's worth of cow scribbling during lunch today.  I swear, I'll get back to regularly scheduled content (whatever that is) soon.

Cowcast 3
Cowcast 2

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spontaneous Lunchtime Pencilcast

A quick and dirty writing exercise inspired by Mike Clemens' latest post, in quickly and dirtily scanned format.

Lunchtime Pencilcast
Lunchtime Pencilcast2

The Downside

I managed to remember my lunch today (sometimes a rare occurance), but forgot my entire backpack, which contains my current reading book (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), my current writing books (journal, full sized notebook, the little brain dump notebook, and assorted index cards), and my box o' pencils.

I feel like I'm missing an arm.  And what am I gonna do during lunch??

If I lived in "the cloud," I wouldn't hafta be in mourning.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

One For the Pencil People: the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener
For Pencil Revolution's full review with morebetter pictures, click here...

So...I went through an entire NaNoWriMo-by-pencil with just my trusty little brass Kum wedge sharpener, but there is definitely something to be said for the speed and tidiness of the big guys.  Every time I went to Staples or Office Depot, I eyed the big honkin' permanent mount metal sharpeners warily, and the electric sharpeners more warily still.  I remember how many times the old crank type sharpeners ate the pencils of my youth, and while I'm sure the electric ones are efficient, using an electric sharpener for my good old-fashioned wooden pencils causes me mental pain.  OK, not really, but I don't really have a place for one, and I like the idea of the manual crank.

I'd seen mention of these "Classroom Friendly" Pencil Sharpeners awhile back (the "classroom friendly" bit refers to their being very quiet as burr sharpeners go), and I'd sort of tucked the information away for future reference.  When John of the Pencil Revolution blog recently did a very nice full review of them, I was reminded of them again and decided to spring for one.  They're under $20 shipped, putting them in line with most of the basic electric sharpeners out there.

First off, it came *fast*.  Unbelievably so.  Troy, the seller, lives on the east coast, while I live in Western Washington.  I still got it within four days of ordering, and that's factoring in my ordering it on a Sunday.  Wow.

It's pretty plain, as you can see.  The streamlined shape kind of reminds me of a retro toaster.  It's cute.  On the top, there's a sticker that says simply, "Pencil Sharpener."  Gotta love that.  It has a nice hefty feel to it: except for the shavings bin, most of the parts are metal.

How does it work?  Pretty simply.  Here is a strangely mesmerizing rather slow motion video demonstration.

I held off on sharpening most of my current arsenal, so I got to put it through its motions pretty thoroughly when it arrived.

Get the point?
I think this accidentally ended up becoming a "Some of these things are not like the others..." game. first thoughts:
  • First off, it's nicely stable.  It comes with a sort of vice mount (that's what the hole beneath the drawer is for, I think), but it's heavy enough that you don't really need that.  It does just fine free standing.
  • Secondly, whoaaa, it produces a long point.  Yeah, I saw the comparison photo on Pencil Revolution that shows points made by different sharpeners, but it didn't really sink until I saw them in person.  The points it makes are crazy long, yet--as is mentioned in that review--with a very slightly flattened end instead of the needle-point most hand-held sharpeners produce.  It takes a little care to write with such a long, thin point, but I did find I could write for several pages without feeling like I needed to stop and resharpen, quantifiably longer than the usual point.
  • It also does a pretty good job of only sharpening until the pencil has a point.  I did have trouble with a few pencils, but it wasn't the sharpener's fault, I wouldn't say.  The lead in some of the Mirado Black Warriors is off center, and it didn't automatically stop sharpening those as quickly as it should have...not really surprising.
Being me, I had to stop and smell the shavings...and they're cool shavings.

Pencil shavings

Instead of the thick curls I get from the Kum, it makes little curly sawdust bits.  Neat.

Shavings Close-up

Oh, and speaking of neat, I do like how all the shavings just drop down into that tidy little acrylic bin for emptying.  It sure beats the way I used to spill shavings all over the floor trying to empty the twist-on barrel of the old style metal sharpeners.  And, I admit, a lot of the time it's a lot handier than sharpening with the Kum wedge and getting my fingers dirty.

All in all, it's likely to become my primary sharpener unless I need to sharpen something on the go, or for pencils I want to be particularly careful with.  I know some homeschooling moms who might be interested as well.  It's a nice piece of kit.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Light and Life

Down the trail

It is the darkness of midwinter that gets to me, far more than the cold.  This darkness is even more of a factor here in Western Washington, where not only are the days shorter than they were back in Vermont, but we also have long stretches of cold, rainy greyness: day after chilly, dreary day, with no real light.  It is hard not to feel crushed by it; or at least, it's hard to feel motivated to do much beyond curling up on the couch with a stack of books and drinking endless cups of hot tea.

The equinox is past, though at times it is hard to see it.  It is still darkish when I head off for work, darker still when I arrive home afterward.

Saturday, there is a break in the weather.  It is cold, but clear.  And for once, I have no errands or chores that must be completed during daylight hours.  The walking trail beckons.  How long has it been since I last took a long walk?  A month?  More?  With the holidays, the wet weather, the dark, I've practically gone into hibernation.

My dog Cisco must feel the constriction even more than I do.  True, he has a big yard to run in, and I try to get out and play with him a bit when I can, even in semi-darkness.  He has other dogs to frisk with, if only through and along the fence.  But these things are hardly a substitute for a long walk on the trail, with new scents all along the way, the thrill of meeting others, countless doggie readerboards.  When I take his leash from the peg by the door, he goes ballistic: circling, bouncing, dancing; whining with eagerness.  I clip on his leash, tuck a small notepad and a stubby pencil in my back pocket, and head out the door.

The world along the trail has melted into itself since we last ventured out.  Leaves that lay in fluffy, colored piles a few months back have all but disappeared into the ground.  Miniature creeks sweep along through stream beds that will dry out by summer.  I stop a moment to watch and listen.  Cisco looks up at me, his face spread in a grin, his white-tufted tail held high like a banner.  He is nearly vibrating with joy.

Feather leaves

Around one bend in the trail, I come across pale-bellied leaves that look for all the world like feathers.  For the fraction of a moment, I think they *are* feathers, and my heart beats wildly as I glance around for the scene of slaughter that must be nearby.  Then I realize their true identity and relax.  I bend to look at them, struck by how beautiful they are.  They are a symbol not of death, but of renewal; of letting go so that the new may be embraced: a fitting reflection here at the beginning of the new year.  I want to capture the scene, but my camera is back at the house; I only have my phone, and I'm not used to the camera yet.  The picture is imperfect, but enough to remind me.  I take a few more shots along the way back: memories of one bright day.