Saturday, June 30, 2012

Index Card Lovers: See and Envy

I went to Goodwill today for the first time in forever. No typewriters (except the ubiquitous late '80s electric), but I did find this:

Index Card Cabinet

Now *that* is an index card cabinet. I don't exactly have enough cards to fill it yet, but really, for eight dollars, could I resist? Of course not.

Steelmaster's logo is pretty retro-cool! I'm not sure this is actually vintage, since Steelmaster still appears to be making filing cabinets, but the styling is classic.


And I particularly like these little spring-loaded slidey thingies. They allow for easy expansion.

Sliding index card divider

It stacks nicely, and will hold some of my smallish notebooks as well as index cards.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Favorite Eraser: Pentel Hi-Polymer


(Yes, seriously, a post about erasers).

NEWS FLASH: Pentel Hi-Polymer Erasers are TEH AWESOME.

1. When I first encountered the Mars Plastic Eraser a few years ago, it was a revelation. An eraser that actually...well, erased? And did so without leaving smeary crumbs like ye olde gritty pink erasers of yore? Whoa. There's a reason these are one of the benchmarks of eraserdom.

Since my eyes were opened to the possibilities, I've picked up a few other eraser varieties.

2. The Papermate Black Pearl (out sick the day the class photo was taken) is a great shape--if you use a sharp edge, you can get into pretty small spaces, but used lengthwise you can go to *town* with the thing. And being black, it doesn't acquire the of the white erasers. It does, however, produce more and messier residue than the Mars.

3. The Pentel Clic erasers get into small spaces and erase almost entirely--I think they're the same material as my new favorite eraser, actually. For things like math problems where you might need to erase one tiny character at a time, I imagine these'd be the way to go. Because they retract, they also can be kept pretty neat and clean--I keep one in my purse partly for this reason. But I like the solid, stolid simplicity of plain old block erasers, and (how shall I put this?) the way these sort of squish when you press down on them unnerves me.

4. Awhile back I picked up a Uni-ball "Boxy" eraser on a whim when placing a Jet Pens order, and this may be *the* primo eraser. Black, so it doesn't show graphite, and as you erase, the little shreds roll into a sticky little ball all by themselves, so they're very tidy. They also have that somewhat enigmatic little slogan: "The basic concept of Boxy always aims at a simple life style." Mmkay. Good to ponder. And, most importantly, wow they work well, even on dark and smeary pencil. They are, however, small, difficult to find, and rather expensive as erasers go. Also they are soft enough to damage by hard use if you aren't careful.

5. But the Pentel Hi-Polymer ZEH10 may be the Baby Bear's Chair of graphite erasers. Not only do they have a nifty '80s sort of style goin' on with the print on their little sleeve thingie, they're also large, long lasting, and work pretty much like the Boxy but are less easy to damage. As a bonus, they're available lots of places. I bought three of these bad boys for less than two bucks at Wal-Mart. I'm sold.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Type Tweet: A Brief Lesson in Driving Grammar

Driving Grammar

Without them, we can't quite be sure if you're starting or stopping or slowing down, or quite where you're going.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Our alphabet code, entered in a notebook when I was 12.

When I was a kid, back in the dark days before Encarta and Wikipedia and all that, we had a couple of sets of encyclopedias. They were great sources of knowledge, as well as interesting snapshots of a given period in time--one set dated from the 60s, another was slightly more recent, though still out of date, so the science items in particular were occasionally unintentionally comical. (You can imagine the example photos they had in the article about "Computer," for example...)

My brother John and I spent many a rainy day or winter evening with those books, either tracing themes from one volume to another, or just reading straight through. Sometimes I'd take a volume to bed with me and fall asleep reading about aardvarks and Albania and the Appalachian Trail. I also liked studying the very first page of those volumes, where they discussed the history of whatever-letter-it-was. most kids, we were also captivated by secret codes. Who wasn't? We came up with various forms of encryption, like the old standard of using a key word to come up with a 26 number alphabet code. Remember that? Basically, you'd pick a random word with no repeated letters, write that out, followed by the remaining letters of the alphabet, and write the numbers 1 through 26 by them. Unless the recipient knew the keyword, it was hard to figure out which numbers meant what.

Keyword Code

But like I said, I also found those historical predecessors to the current alphabet very interesting, and somewhere along the line, we hit upon the idea of using those to make a simple to use and intuitive "code" to use amongst ourselves. It was pretty easy to break, but easy to memorize and fun. Some letters had common predecessors or no very interesting variations, so we had to make up a few letter shapes, but most came straight from older forms. I kept journal entries in code some of the time back then, and even as an older teenager away from home used to write letters to my brother using these letters. Kinda fun.

Encoded - Journal Entry
I used to write portions of my journal entry in code, even if it wasn't really anything secretive...

What sort of codes have you played around with? What did you use them for, and with whom?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Type Tweet: Watch That Last Step

Type Tweet - Stairs

Only now I discover that true Tweets are actually limited to 140 characters *including* spaces...something I didn't know since I've never really done the true type of Twitter. I'll attempt further brevity in future.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 Pencil

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil

I have a number of well-liked pencil varieties...more than I should probably confess to. Many or most have been heavily reviewed elsewhere. So today...I want to stick in a plug for a pencil that's a bit of an underdog: the Musgrave Test Scoring 100, made right here in the US in Shelbyville, TN.

I'm only aware of a few reviews--here and here, for example. And I'll say up front, I'm not an experienced, competent reviewer like these folks. You should almost certainly trust their reviews (rather lukewarm or negative as they are) over mine. I take no responsibility for consequences stemming from my words here.

That said, I would like to go out on a limb and state another thing up front: I flippin' love these pencils.

I even love their appearance: that thin, somewhat chintzy silver-colored paint, for one. It warms the heart of anyone who has ever used silver spray paint to make cardboard robots or other such backyard crafts. It's so wonderfully tacky. And the unapologetically plain pink eraser and unpainted ferrule also tug at my heartstrings. The whole thing reminds me of some sort of homemade toy, which makes me smile. They're so ugly, they're adorable.

But it's a pencil: a writing instrument, first and foremost. How does it write?

Musgrave Test Scoring logo

As the little icony graphic surrounding the pencil's name illustrates, these pencils were designed to be used for filling in the little bubbles on multiple-choice tests: they are meant to make a good, solid, dark mark, easily read by those Scantron machines. And making dark marks is what they do. They are a little on the soft side, and slightly waxy. Some dark pencils can be a little powdery in feel, easily worn down and somewhat prone to crumbling. These are less so, and less prone to smearing as well, but if you look very closely at the dark writing, you can see a bit of texture to it. At a microscopic level, it may not cover the paper quite as thoroughly as the more powdery pencils.

Test Scoring writing sample
Hard to see from this scan, but it's actually somewhat darker than the Ticonderoga, but perhaps less sharp

Test Scoring Close-up, showing texture
Somewhat blurry close-up attempt to show the texture I'm referring to.

They do wear down a little faster than at least some HB pencils--they're more akin to 2B grade, I'd say--but aren't unreasonably fast-wearing. And I've had zero issues with lead breakage. Most importantly, I just plain love the way they feel on the page. They require very little pressure, and they are very smooth, yet...chewy. Chocolatey. I don't know quite how to put it. It's not the almost chalky smoothness of, say, a California Republic Palomino HB, but something slightly more substantial. It almost reminds me of the silky-yet-springy feel some mechanical pencil leads have, to my mind. Others have stated they found the lead scratchy, which makes me question my sanity...but what else is new? Another point in their favor: the leads have been perfectly centered in all I've sharpened so far--poorly centered leads being a serious pet peeve of mine. And the pencils sharpen easily and cleanly. I believe the wood is either cedar or basswood. They don't have a strong aroma.

Aside from the slight texture to the writing they produce, their other potential downside is the pointiness of the corners. Unlike vintage pencils, most pencils these days are actually semi-hexagonal rather than straight hexagonal: the corners are softly rounded off. Musgrave doesn't do this. These corners are straight cut. They aren't sharp, but they're definitely more cornered than your average modern pencil shape. This looks classy and makes them reassuringly grippy at first, but during long writing stints, you start to notice the edges, and not necessarily in a comfortable way. On the bright side, they will build up your writing callouses and help you feel like a serious old-school writer, if this is your dream.

Test Scoring Ferrule

The eraser is...your average rubbery eraser. It is no worse than most attached erasers: i.e. it will do in a pinch, but I vastly prefer my Papermate Black Pearls and Mars Plastic erasers. The ferrule is plain, unmarked metal.

From what I can determine, for standard consumers, these are most easily available via Pencil Things--either directly from their website at, or (in packs of three dozen) via their store on

Test Scoring Smear Test
Smear test--it does smear a tiny bit more easily than a standard Ticonderoga HB

And now, one of these days I need to get my hands on some Musgrave's HB pencils!

Sunday morning scribbling

Got up, went to church, had breakfast, now sipping good strong coffee (love my cheapie Melitta cone!) catching up on my journal, and working on a long-abandoned sci-fi story that got just a wee bit tangled up (read: the original plot got up and fled in protest).

Today's workhorses
Pencils. Plus coffee. Life is good.

Should work on the garden later, but waiting for warmth.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Blithering Re-entry

I planted some pretty flowers and they're not dead yet! See? Blithering, as promised!

For the last few months, I've felt like I've had nothing worth saying. Thus, I've primarily resorted to the site dedicated almost entirely to people with nothing much to say, and said a lot of nothing on Facebook. But lately, I've had so much nothing to say, I feel like saying nothing on a grander scale. So I'm back. Maybe. Kinda. Lucky you.

Aside from saying a lot of nothing, I continue to be obsessed with music. Along with playing with friends whenever possible, I'm still going to the Wednesday night Irish session at Tugboat Annie's in Olympia, WA most weeks, which is a blast. I'm still getting the tunes under my fingers, but have most of the most common tunes pretty well down, so long as we don't go to warp speed.

A few weeks ago, I got my hands on a tenor banjo.

My Alvarez Minstrel banjo, complete with groovy '70s orange fuzz lined case...

Tenor banjos differ from your average bluegrass or old time banjo in that they have just four strings (no short fifth string off to the side) and a shorter neck, and are played with a plectrum (or pick, if you prefer). For Irish music, tenor banjos are typically tuned GDAE: same as a mandolin or fiddle, but an octave lower, which means all the tunes translate over pretty much instantly, though the banjo has a much longer neck...quite an adjustment there!

It's also much louder than mandolin. This I like. I like a lot.

USA Gold plus dream scribble from journal

I'm also back in a pencil phase, after several months of pretty much not writing at all. Summer is a good time for carefree writing utensils! Currently-in-heavy-rotation pencils include the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 (I have a review for these I may post soon if I can get some satisfactory pictures taken) and a few varieties of USA Gold pencils. It's also almost that wonderful time of year: back-to-school sale season. Aren't you excited? Personally, I'm hoping for more 25 cent Norcom composition books, and maybe a chance to stock up on Papermate Black Pearl erasers.

As a final update, I remain utterly enamored of my Kindle Touch. I take back all the bad things I ever said about e-readers. I like the light weight, the flat "pages," the instant bookmarking--lots of little things I'm coming to take for granted. I'm also fortunate to live in an area with a good library system and access to about a zillion Kindle library books. Let me tell you, it's pretty awesome to be able to finish a library book at nine o'clock on a Saturday evening and be able to have a new library book in your hands in moments instead of waiting a long and miserable two days until you can get to the library after work on Monday.

OK, that makes me sound like a junky. But maybe I am, a bit.

Lately, I admit I've mostly been reading rather light fantasy/sci-fi novels (Tad Williams' Otherland series at the moment, and Terry Pratchett's Discworld books). Hey, it's summer, or as well as, though you'd be hard pressed to tell based on the current cold and blustery weather here in the Pacific Northwest. I do have some non-fiction and classics stacked up for later reading, though, plus a bunch of Mary Roberts Rinehart mysteries, plus I want to go back and read the flawed-but-interesting biography Kent Gustavson wrote about Doc Watson, a musical hero of mine to say the least, who passed away on May 29th. What a musician and man he was!