Archive for January 2014
As the crow (or seagull, or muscovy duck) flies, Indianapolis seems to be 776 miles from Lake Charles. While that’s further west than Cincinnati, it’s also further north. Google shows the drive at a bit under a thousand miles.
January started really cold in Cincinnati.
Luna wonders if her brother realizes he’s really bad at hiding.
There was ice on the Ohio River!
Can’t quite see it? I highlighted it.
This weekend, I set about taking a new profile picture for all my internet presence.
I got a couple options.
I kept goofing around with that…
…when Beso showed up.
Let’s face it: he’s cuter than me.
Luna also appeared, and I took a picture with her, too.
She was thrilled!
They wandered off. Luna checked out the snow.
Beso hung out on the bed, annoyed I was still taking pictures of him.
I try to pull out my camera once a week and take pictures. This was an interesting session, with fun results.
It’s 42° in Silver Grove, Kentucky. Not exactly the Gavia Pass in 1988.
A few years ago, I got a box from Lost Crates as a gift. Now closed, it was a neat concept: you put in some details about your style and likes and dislikes, and they would send you a box of stationary. In my box was a rollerball: a Kaweco Sport. Capped, its shape was a bit odd, but it had the advantage of being very portable. Capped, it was significantly shorter than most pens, but with the cap posted, was about the same size as a regular pen. These are attributes that I’ve appreciated in other pens, most notably the “Bullet” space Pen. Between a Black Friday discount and some gift certificates, I got a matching fountain pen last month. The portability is a desirable advantage, and is fairly unique.
As I mentioned, capped, the pen is smaller than most pens–it’s an inch and a quarter smaller than a capped Lamy Safari, and a full inch smaller than a Retro 1951 Tornado, though it is a bit longer than a capped Bullet Space Pen. This makes it a very portable pen. When I’m wearing a shirt that doesn’t have a breast pocket, it goes in the pocket of my pants easily. The pens do not have clips–for this application, it’s not a problem, and one is available as an add-on if that is desired. The cap screws closed, which reduces the likelihood of it coming open accidentally.
One disadvantage is that, when capped, I can’t tell the fountain pen apart from the rollerball. The rollerball is slightly heavier than the fount, but making that distinction (usually by holding one in each hand) is not always practical. Fortunately, for the times I can’t, I usually just want to make a quick note. I’m not picky about the mode.
With the cap posted, the Sport is the size of most pens, though I find it a bit top-heavy. The section is a bit on the small-side–the grip can be a bit awkward, and my fingers find the threads fo the cap. This can be a nuisance, though it really depends on how you hold the pen.
Like all ball pens, the rollerball is a fancy holder for a refill. It comes with a Schmidt cartridge, and it is the same size as the ones in the Tornado–I love it when things are compatible. It is a decent cartridge for a rollerball, though you can try different ones. Since Parker-style refills work in the Tornado, I suspect they will also work in the Kaweco Sport, though I have not tested that.
The fountain pen takes international cartridges, which are available from a variety of manufacturers. Give the size of the pen, it has to be the short size–this is the size Diamine, my primary ink these days, uses. However, it cannot take most standard converters. A mini-convertor is out there, but a special order. Standard converters can at least be used to clean the pen.
The fountain pen is a decent writer. Mine has a medium nib, and runs true to other medium nibs. though not as smooth as a Lamy (my gold standard for smoothness), it writes well. Overall, the flow is in the Goldilocks zone–not too wet, not too dry. My biggest quibble is that, if I am not holding it in the sweet spot, it can be a bit reluctant to start. I have seen this mentioned in other forums.
Overall, I think this is a good pen, but not a great one. It writes decently, but I don’t feel the urge to write with it. However, its portability means that I do not have to go without a fountain pen. It is moderately priced, with the fountain pen being available for as little as $25 online. I would not recommend it as a first fountain pen–the nib won’t “wow!” a new user, and it’s quirks take some getting used to. However, it is a great pen to add to an existing collection. It writes well once you get used to it, and the portability more than compensates for its quirks.
Mo Heim, one of my friends at Cat in Water, recently gave a TED talk about her project, and how being foolish led to the adventure she has had. It’s more than just being courageous; it is, as Mo says, “knowingly not knowing what you are doing, and deciding to do it anyway.” There are a lot of things in life like that.
I like to think I’ve been, in this sense, foolish and succeeded. For instance, I quit a job and moved to Cincinnati, not knowing what was in store fore me. Eighteen years later, it has proven to be the best decision I’ve ever made.
“Making the foolish choice might just be the best decision you can make.”
One of the great ironies is that, professionally, I work in Information Technology. My workplace is about as close to a “paperless office” as I’ve ever seen. As a standard, I keep my calendar online, so I can sync it among many devices, and let others (both coworkers and family) see and schedule things with me.
Yet I collect and use fountain pens, instruments that beg to be written with. At the end of the day, aside from my personal notes, I have little reason, on a day-to-day basis, to use my pen. I do keep a journal, which is definitely a step towards greater use. However, bottles of ink tend to last me a while.
This year, I’ve decided to participate in International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo). The idea is to write a handwritten letter each day during the month of February. It can be as simple as a postcard, or a full letter, and it doesn’t matter who it is too. This makes it a great excuse to use pens, ink, and stationary. It’s old school social media!
I have a small list forming of who to write, and there are forums as well. However, if you follow my blog, and want and hand written letter from me, email me an address–my gmail account is “mrguilt.” I promise: not showing up at your address in the middle of the night asking to crash.
If you are participating in InCoWriMo, good luck meeting the challenge!
I didn’t intend to work from home today.
The prediction for last night was that we’d have snow overnight, which woudl make for a “messy commute.” Two or three times a week, I try to get in a workout at our gym before work. This means getting up at 5:20, to get to the gym, do my thing, the back home to drop off my car and catch my bus around 7:30. Though I got my equipment ready for that last night, I suspected that the roads would be a bit of a mess, and it just wasn’t worth the risk and hassle. It was no surprise when my alarm went off that I reset it for another hour of sleep.
I went about setting up for a normal day, but putting on my boots rather than typical work shoes. While not necessarily the letter of the dress code, there is usually flexibility on snowy days, especially mine (which look pretty dressy). I set out to the bus stop, enjoying my feet sinking in two or three inches of powder. While I wouldnt want to start an arctic expedition in how I was attired, I was warm enough to wait ten minutes or so for the bus.
My bus stop is at the corner of US 50, just before it starts a great curve by Lunken airport. Westbound traffic, towards downtown, was creeping along. Eastbound, several cars had pulled to the side of the road. In addition to curving northward, the highway also climbs a pretty decent hill. The road was slick enough that rear-wheel drive wasn’t going to cut it. It made my decision to sleep in a bit see wise.
Fifteen minutes passed–I figured the slow traffic had the bus hung up.
At thirty minutes, I could feel my fingers and toes start to feel the effects of the cold. I stopped trying to pull out my phone to figure out what was going–it hadn’t told me much. My body shivered.
By the forty-five minute mark, I realized I probably stayed out longer than was truly safe. I hiked back up my hill, got inside, and ran water on my fingers until they felt normal. My wife wasn’t expecting me, and texted me. I went up and explained I’d be working from home today. I’m fortunate my job allows me that flexibility.
It turns out that US50, otherwise known as Columbia Parkway, was severely backed up, and cars were sliding everywhere. I saw mid-morning that it was closed to traffic.
I’ve been using the Cincinnati Metro for over thirteen years. On a few occasions, I got in when no one else did. This was the first time I was not able to get in to the office due to weather.
I’m impressed by companies that give good customer service. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to it: you see chains that have a reputation for superior customer service, and mom and pops that act as though they are doing a favor by being open. At the end of the day, it comes down to the culture of the organization, rather than size.
Social media has helped a lot more companies respond to their customers a lot more quickly. The other advantage, I think, is that the companies are getting better insight not just to large complaints that can make or break a company, but little annoyances that probably wouldn’t change the relationship negatively. Social media allows companies to interact with individual customers, and on issues that they may not feel the need to escalate to them. I’ve experienced it many times myself.
The first time was a few years ago, when I was having trouble with my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I made some grumbling on twitter–not that I saw it as Kitchen-Aid’s fault, but just an issue had to deal with. Within half an hour, I got a message from their twitter account asking for details. This lead to a phone conversation, which helped pin down what I was doing wrong. I don’t think I would have bothered to call on my own, and they wouldn’t have known there was an issue. But the fact that they could say “how can we help” definitely raised their esteem in my eyes.
This week, I had another incident. My disc-bound notebook is a blend of many companies’ products, thought the core is the Levenger Circa system. One Wednesday morning, I discovered the bottom-most disc had cracked in half. I have no clue how that happened, though I suspect it was somehow my fault. I noted that I’d need to go get a replacement, but, as is my way, griped about it on twitter.
Levenger noticed this, and inquired about it. I got the sense that it was a fairly uncommon occurrence. We exchanged a few messages, over the course of which they offered to replace the disc. By Friday afternoon, I had the replacement back in my notebook.
They certainly didn’t have to do that. They didn’t have to monitor twitter and respond to me. Any reasonable person could look at my broken disc and say that it was an accident that had nothing to do with Levenger. But the fact that they both monitor twitter, and were willing to replace my disc was definitely above and beyond the call, and makes me much more likely to do business with them in the future. I truly don’t think this would have come about in the absence of social media, and companies that know how to take advantage with it to interact with their customers on a one-on-one basis.
January 19 is a celebration of my favorite food, popcorn. Yes, it’s National Popcorn Day. As I’m sure you can imagine, at least one bowl will be popped in my household before the clock strikes midnight.
As the years have gone by (and I’ve become more careful about striking the right balance between a good snack and health), I’ve become increasingly snobby about my popcorn. For example, I stopped doing pre-packaged microwave popcorn. The dust has been known to cause problems for workers, and it just tastes somewhat artificial. Movie popcorn was a former favorite, but it has around twice the fat and calories of what I can produce in my kitchen. Between that and a good TV, we don’t feel the need to go to the theater as often as we once did.
These days, I have settled on my own popcorn as my personal gold standard. Popcorn is a seemingly simple thing to make: put some kernels and oil in a pot and apply heat. However, I’ve learned a few subtleties that I believe make a tremendous difference:
- The quality of the corn makes a difference.
- Oil choice makes a difference. It should have a high smoke point, and a relatively neutral flavor. While canola and corn do a good job, and olive oil is OK, my oil of choice is peanut oil. It can produce a crisp kernel and what flavor it introduces is pretty good. I’ve experimented with others, such as sesame oil, but while the flavor is welcome in an Asian stir fry, it doesn’t do as well in popcorn.
- This is one of the many situations where knowing your stovetop is important. My old stove would have to be at full blast during the whole cook process. My new stove was both more powerful than the old one, and likely the newness made it work better. Full blast for the full cook time meant that it would pop more violently, causing some of the unpopped kernels to get caught among the popped ones, resulting in more old maids. Now, I keep it at medium heat. However, if the popped corn fills the pan and I have to dump that out before cooking more, I’ll turn the heat up to help it recover from the time off the burner (and give extra heat to the ones that still need to pop).
- Shake the pan as you go to help any kernels that got up in the popped corn to get back down to the pan–again, to prevent old maids.
- Popcorn pops as the result of water expanding inside the kernel. This means a lot of steam will be present. unfortunately, this is the enemy of crispness. To combat that, I use as big and wide a mixing bowl as I have. This exposes more of the corn to air, allowing the steam to escape. If you can resist, give the popcorn a few minutes to rest before eating for this process to take place–I usually take the opportunity to wash the pan.
As I mentioned, I prefer homemade, and typically stovetop. However, I’ve experimented with homemade microwave popcorn. One method is to put some popcorn and oil in a brown paper back, seal it, and nuke it. I’ve had some success with that. Another method is to use a large microwaveable container (such as a large glass measuring cup
) with a plate on top. This will contain the corn while allowing steam to escape. Either way, keep an eye on the popcorn to make sure it doesn’t burn.
If you use healthful oils and skip the butter, popcorn can be a delicious, whole-grain snack. If you take the time to learn how to make it yourself, you’ll find it is both better and cheaper than any pre-packaged popcorn you can find at the store or your local movie theater.
You’ll always have me
and you’ll always have tea
So come on and pour that brew!