Wednesday, December 22

The Riddle of International Postage

Sorry I haven't updated in so long. To my dismay, I haven't actually done a lot of letter- or postcard-writing in the past two months! Postage is kind of expensive in Indonesia though postcards are cheap. Unfortunately, it seems like one company has a stranglehold on postcards throughout the Indonesian islands so they aren't very interesting--ubiquitously, they are the "image on white background" style, like a negative motivational poster, with the caption beneath. Also, they never seem to really reflect the street-level life of Bali or elsewhere, focusing instead on terraced farming lands or ancient temples. It's up to blogging to show my friends what life's really like here.

Also: I cannot figure out the Indonesian postal system. Seriously, what the hell? I went to a post office proper in Denpasar and got stamps for some postcards. Without question or options, I paid Rp. 25,000 (US$2.78) for postcard postage going to the US.

When I bought stamps on Gili Trawangan, a small island off of Lombok, the convenience store tacked an extra Rp. 1,000 per stamp, but they also insisted I needed less postage. When I had questions that bumped against our language barrier, they referred me to a bookstore that also dealt with all postal issues. They had a sign posted that explained the rates: Rp. 25,000 gets it there in two weeks, but Rp. 7,500 (US$0.83) takes a month at least to travel. Even with the convenience store's "convenience" fee, it's still less than half the previous rate.

And then I sent a bunch out from the Sukarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta, Java. The convenience store from which I bought the stamps again insisted I needed even less postage--Rp. 5,000--but also tacked on a 100% fee for each stamp! So what is the legal rate? I have no idea, but if you're in Indonesia, I strongly urge you to deal with a proper post office rather than any other service.

On the other hand, now I'm in Bangkok, Thailand. I wrote up a bunch of old postcards from Bali and Gili Trawangan and went out to a local mall, where there was a Mail Boxes Etc. office. Size doesn't seem to matter with postcard postage like it does in the States. There was only a moment of confusion when a clerk was inexperienced with sending mail out to the US, so she deferred to another employee, but otherwise it was simplicity itself: I walked up, handed them my missives, they calculated the postage and I paid it, around US$5 for four postcards and one letter going out to the US and other countries. Awesome.

I never actually used this Bangkok mailbox, I'm just including it because I take pictures of mailboxes in other countries. I thought it interesting that the front of it differentiates between "Bangkok" and "Other Places." Tells you something about the mindset of a city, like how California and New York like to dismiss everything between them as "flyover states."

Tuesday, November 16

Selamat Malam! Broadcasting from Bali!

Sorry, sorry! I know it's been forever (though I don't think many have been holding their breath for that long), but things have been so busy.

Did you know I'm in Indonesia? It's true! I've been here for over two weeks, living in Sanur and going to school at IALF Bali in Denpasar. The weather, of course, is stunning: hot, humid, and plenty of sun. I learned to surf the first weekend I got here, in the Indian Ocean, and I've slowly been acclimating to stronger and stronger peppers. Tonight we had ayam rica rica which means "extremely hot chicken" and it really tested our senses. Fortunately, Rebecca makes her own yogurt...

Anyway, this is a photo of a mailbox on Jalan Raya Sesetan in Denpasar. This is the first mailbox I've seen in weeks, and it stood before the wreckage of the former post office. Well, depending on whom you ask, the post office is still there: the front looks gutted and torn down, but the back may still be operational. I didn't confirm that tonight, even though I have six postcards waiting to be flung around the world.

Just wanted to let anyone reading know that I'm alive and well and trying not to giggle too hard about the snow emergency in my former home state because that would be rude. Tell you what, we've got a half day of school tomorrow, maybe we'll go swimming in Kuta to show our support.

Until I can post something useful about the postal system in Bali, please to enjoy 20 Obsolete English Words That Should Make a Comeback.

Monday, September 20

Ms. Clapsaddle of the New York Clapsaddles

How many of us know the name of Ellen Clapsaddle?

It's a lovely name. Good Lord, I don't know of many others as evocative of an era, of many others that so bespeak of a time and place as well as that of "Clapsaddle." It sounds comical, yes, but it also definitely sounds like it comes from somewhere, there's definitely a story behind it. There's some Old West to it, or maybe even some British tincture; there's definitely a career or two in the story of this surname.

I don't know that story.

I do know the craft of this Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle, however, and I'm sure you do too. If you've ever seen a cloyingly sweet, Victorian-era holiday greeting card or Valentine postcard, you've almost certainly seen Ellen's artwork. Every article about her describes her as "prolific," defining an era with her work. One entry even insists that she took the old, demonic-looking (by our contemporary standards) image of Santa Claus and made him the sweet, jolly old man we know him to be. This might not make any sense unless you've actually managed to get your hands on an old newspaper from the early 1900s and have seen their rendition of Santa Claus: far from jolly, he looked lecherous, murderous, and at the very least down on his luck, and if he were to break into someone's house in the middle of the night, leaving gifts under the tree would not be what the newspapers would have to report the next morning.

But certainly, this silly-sounding name was the signature behind an astonishing body of work, not just in how it characterized a span of time, like the Currier and Ives prints, but the sheer volume of produced work. It's important to bear in mind the names of the artists who shaped our culture, and Ms. Clapsaddle's pen truly originated much of how we perceive our modern holidays to appear.

Tuesday, August 31

Strengthen Your Vocabulary: WotD

I don't know how anyone measured it, but someone promoted the claim that William S. Burroughs had the largest working vocabulary of... well, I don't even know what the standard was. Of everyone? What a proud claim, and only the most undereducated of his most fanatic followers would suggest such a thing. Certainly, we could say he was among the most literate of his peers or of his contemporaries.

I don't bring this up to denigrate him, far from it: I think he's an icon of aspiration in this sense. It's a fun game to collect as many obscure words as possible, but it's also essential to remain abreast of far-flung vocabulary just to keep one's mind in prime shape. And who's to say which obscure word won't be on everyone's tongue tomorrow morning, or what once-handy term will next find itself camping out in the outskirts of popular culture?

Tuesday, August 24

When Things Will Pick Up

Namsan Tower, Seoul, South Korea
I hope my readers will pardon this increasing lull in activity here. Just tonight I don't feel hard-edged enough to plunge into picking off easy targets, i.e., grammar samples from my photo collection. Yes, I've been saving them up for just such a thing, but right now I'm not in the mood.

Please to enjoy this image of Seoul, South Korea. Why this picture? Soon, I'll be living there.

My wife and I both have entertained a dream of living abroad. I got to do that to some degree when I was stationed at Camp Carroll, Korea, in the Army. We had an agreement between ourselves: either we have children or we travel, because one makes the other very difficult. And given that there are already too many people on the planet, and considering the resources a child will use and squander between ages 0 and 18, and considering how grateful teenagers are for the parents' labors, and while our infrastructure will still support intercontinental travel and jet fuel is not prohibitively expensive, we decided to travel.

The easiest way to live overseas, we figured, would be to find jobs teaching English. For the past two months I've been instructing Hispanic and Somali students from basic to high-intermediate levels on everything from common nouns to modals and past continuous tense. My wife already has degrees in education but is also teaching students from many nations. In sixty days we take the next step: a 3.5-week intensive course in Bali, Indonesia, teaching English for our TESOL certification through Trinity College London.

That done, we will look for jobs in South Korea. We could easily teach anywhere for there's no question of demand, but I would actually like to find a work doing copy editing/proofing for a marketing or PR company anywhere in the nation. Doesn't have to be in Seoul: in fact, it might be better if not, just looking at it from a cost-of-living consideration. The best of all situations would see me at a video game company, maybe even one of those whose MMOs I play, helping to clean up the final edits on all outgoing literature and software. I'd even give English lessons over lunch break.

Once I'm overseas, I anticipate I'll have a brand-new realm of postal and maybe linguistic information to share. I'll try to post a couple things in the meanwhile, of course. I just feel bad about having attracted a few followers, buying a domain name, and then not doing anything with the blog. That will change, I assure you.

Thursday, August 19

The NYT Doesn't Realize They Should Be Hiring

I know, I know. Big-city paper gets all hurried and flustered, rushing out to make the scoop or whatever. Trusted journalist hacks out a quick tidbit about recent events, knocks it out in a few minutes, prints it out and rushes it off to print in the paper.

No one looks it over. No editor, no proofer involved in the process. Certainly, any spell-checker would not have caught this error in all likelihood.

Yet it stood out to me. I glossed over the article, idly perusing the New York Times while sitting at the table in my sister-in-law's house, and suddenly the running gait of my eyes tripped over a large obstacle. That's what spelling (even contextual spelling) errors do to me, usually. They stop me, they take me out of the reading process and a section of my brain lights up. It's the same section that believes in justice, I think, and maybe even seats the sense of a universal intelligence guiding us along, beyond the ken of mortal understanding. Because I believe in and work with these things, discrepancies and exceptions snag my attention as my conscious thought races past.

I dug out my Wacom tablet, selected an appropriately red color for my "ink," took electric pen in hand, and marked this up in nothing more or less ignominious than a recent version of MS Paint. Now that I know how to do that, and provided I always keep my camera on me, no homemade signage will be safe from my scrutiny.

Wednesday, August 18

Just a Small Complaint About the Old Way

This is just a little frustrating. I mean, I love the post office and I want to support it, but sometimes its failings are a little too glaring.

I've had cranky postal carriers before. One guy was very upset that I hung around while he was distributing the mail for my apartment building (we had a large bank of mailboxes that opened forward in one unit, into which he would drop our mail). I just wanted to walk past but he told me it was against the law for me to be in there with him while they were open. So I hung out nearby, patient as a tree, and he got flustered and told me to collect my mail and leave. Ever since then, about twice a week my mail would be returned to sender or mangled in its box. I had to buy a post office box to circumvent this prick.

I've also had a drunk postal carrier. One old guy who had a problem with written instructions: I left a note for him not to leave packages for me on the front step of my apartment (different building), and he kept leaving them out there and they kept getting stolen. I identified him one day, climbing into his mail truck, and saw two empty beer cans tumble out. He didn't bother to pick them up when he drove off.

But this... this is just a new carrier. He's not malicious, I don't think, he's just new. Has that new carrier scent to him, I like it. But he just doesn't pick up on certain things. The upper picture is of our mailboxes in this house, those of mine and my wife and of the landlord upstairs. Two mailboxes, two apartments, that's it. They're clearly labeled with our surnames and no other carrier has had a problem with this.

But where does this guy insist on cramming our mail deliveries?

There are two nonoperational slots on either side of the front door. They're brass plates that say MAIL on them, sure, but they're not labeled. They have no one's name on them, so how did ths mail carrier decide that one slot should get a certain person's mail? And why would be perform the delivery in a method as questionable as wadding it up and jamming it forcibly into a too-small space? Anyone might interpret that the wrong way or even question his competency.

But I love the post office. I don't want to rock the boat or anything.

Monday, August 9

The Erasable Sharpie

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I'm actually making plans to leave the country, and once I do my posts will either A) become very interesting or B) fizzle out entirely. I'm hoping for the former but you never know.

In the interim, here's an interesting new stationery development: the erasable Sharpie. As the video stresses, it writes like a pen and erases like a pencil. The package says it dries to permanence in 24 hours while the Sharpie corporate blog says three days--doubtless, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But before that time it seems to erase at least as cleanly as any pencil.

I would just want to feel it, how the tip drags across the paper, whether notebook or Clairfontaine, see where it's most useful. That's if I find I really want an erasable Sharpie, and generally I don't.

Thursday, July 15

Capitalization is the Least of Their Worries

Well, at the risk of coming off as "pedantic," I have to point this out, and I confess I'm gratified to do so.

This is a menu from TiGER SUSHi--the odd capitalization being their brand--in Minneapolis. Technically, this is TiGER SUSHi II, as the first restaurant opened in the Mall of America. We went to the Uptown location, and as Uptown is foggy with hipsters, the status of being almost as good as the Mall of America should hint at the calibre of Twin Cities hipsters.

Please to note: the desultory and patternless capitalization of various nouns, adjectives, and adverbs throughout the body copy. This could've been a strange and tedious cut-n-paste job from other texts, or maybe their writer just wanted to emphasize certain points. It's also possible the font they used lacked lowercase form for certain letters... no, that's not possible. That's clearly not true: it's just awful typing.
Abuse of Quotation Marks
Thai Basil "Tossed" Noodles suggests that not only aren't they genuinely tossed, but some other verb has been done to them that the staff euphemizes as "tossing." I have no idea what they're implying with their "stir-fry" style--imitating the facsimile of something resembling something else?
Alakan Salmon
Should be Alaskan Salmon, obviously. Or maybe "A Lacking Salmon," an honest confession of sub-par fish?
Chillaen Sea Bass
Wow, not only did someone not know how to spell "Chilean," but they had neither doubt nor curiosity as to whether they had gotten it correct.

Who Lives by Grammar, Dies by Grammar

Back in 1989, I was stationed at Fort Ord, California, serving as a radio operator in 127th Signal Battalion. Situated 53 miles away from San Jose, we still felt the impact of the Loma Prieta earthquake. We were standing in formation at the end of the day, the First Sgt. called us to attention just prior to dismissing us, and as our boots smacked together the ground began to dance. We heard mirrors and fragile objects falling and shattering inside the barracks, and soldiers fled the building clutching towels around their waists. Every single car alarm in the parking lot screamed in petulant attention-seeking. Eventually the rumbling stopped and we laughed nervously in our relief and shock.

That was my first real earthquake. It was exponentially larger than standing on a bridge while a huge, heavy 18-wheeler lumbers by. I regarded the event with a detached curiosity because I was unable to reconcile with what the ground was doing in direct contrast to what it had always done for the 19 years previous. Some remote part of my mind had the wherewithal to wonder whether the ground would, in fact, crack right open and swallow me whole.

Friday, July 9

Sealed With A Kissinger

Anna Chapman: part Mata Hari, part Tori Amos.
Image: The Guardian.
You know what's dead fascinating to me right now? This whole Russian spy ring that's recently emerged in the news. The FBI announced the bust of ten spies in "deep cover," after intercepting a surprisingly blatant and guileless missive from Moscow.

The Kremlin, of course, denied any such spies were in place and suggested this was a fabrication by the FBI to compromise the largely positive relations President Obama had recently been cultivating with Russia's third president, Mr. Medvedev.

And then the spies started confessing (those who hadn't fled). Their real names have been released to the public. Our two nations have organized and completed an honest-to-goodness spy swap. Very far from a ruse, this tableau feels more like a contrived Cold War plotline taken far too seriously by some department head not overly endowed with imagination or, no pun intended, intelligence.

But you know what this means for us postalaters? Do you know what relevance this bears to us, men and women of letters?

A new draft of postage stamps! It seems that Russia views quite positively any of her spies that have secreted any information out of the United States, and it is not at all uncommon to commemorate them on their postage stamps. I don't know how I feel about the ethics of honoring the qualities of deceit and manipulation, venerating underhandedness and duplicity... but I do know I'd be particularly excited to receive a letter or postcard with a Russian spy on it. I had no idea this was a practice at all, and how fascinating to know it's out there. There's always the potential that someone over there might send me a postcard with one such cultural luminary featured on it, thanks to Postcrossing.

Wednesday, July 7

Various Forms of Water

You know how things come in trends? Like, someone mentions an unusual word, and for the next two weeks you overhear it in conversation, catch it in a TV show or movie, or see it in print media?

"Water" has been like that for me. Certain expressions have been coming up and I started to get them confused in my head (if I was ever clear on them). For my own clarification, I just wanted to render these here so I don't get them mixed up again.
Remote or insignificant.
Reservoir of water welling up behind an obstruction.
(of the) first water
Of highest value or purest quality.
The Online Etymology Dictionary suggests the first term comes from American carnival slang, a contemptuous name for small, rural settlements that had no water tank from which to refill their boilers. Instead, they drew water from any regional creek or stream.

The second definition seems clear once you see it spelled out like that, yet I don't know how I would have ever come across this term in casual conversation. No one I know has ever been overly concerned with "the section which is influenced by the conditions at [a river's] mouth."

The third has a pedigree as rich as usage by Shakespeare, and it apparently refers to the clarity of a diamond. The purest diamond should be as clear as a drop of water, then an ordinal value is added to rank the diamond from "highest quality" to "colored stone."

Not included is "greywater," about which I am absolutely not confused. This is a catch-all term for dirty, used water produced by a domestic environment, everything from laundry water to what you flush down the ter-let.

Sunday, June 27

All On Board?

Stretching the "word origins" platform to its most tenebrous limits, I've got to raise a public plea:

Please stop using "drank the Kool-Aid" to mean "agreed to corporate policy" or whatever.

You're maligning the Kool-Aid brand, which had nothing to do with the Jonestown mass suicide: that was Flavor-Aid. When you use "drank the Kool-Aid" to sound hip and edgy, you only sound ignorant to people who know better.

Sorry for lashing out. I'm just tired of hearing people who should know better--you know, like, guests on NPR or whatever--perpetuating this mistaken and libelous phrase.

Tuesday, June 22

It's Not Quite a Postcard, and It's Not Quite a Garden, But Ma-a-a-a-an...

ZOMG, have you seen this yet? It's called Postcarden and it seems really cool!
Combining gift and greeting card, PostCarden is a fun and simple pop-out card that transforms into a mini living garden. 
That seems really cool to me! It's like this small box you mail out and send to someone, and they water it and it sprouts into stuff! You'll have to excuse me, but this strikes me as very cool.

Obviously it would be annoying to buy 20 of them and then have no one to mail them to since all your friends are lame and refuse to communicate in any way that does not involve a computer, a cell phone, or some combination thereof.

Likewise, it would be annoying to receive 20 of these, but I know that just because I said that someone's going to vehemently disagree with me. Yet if I'd mailed them 20 out of nowhere, they'd be seriously put out.

Thursday, June 17

Making a Fold-and-Mail Letter

I'm still working on this, a project in progress. I know there's a simple and obvious way to make a good fold-and-mail letter, but I haven't quite put it into practice yet.

Observe my crude pattern on the left. Ideally, the bottom half of it should fold up into the top half, and the flaps should not only enclose it securely but the corners should run flush against each other as well.

Can't say that happened exactly, though it was close. I'm making these as part of an interactive project from Facebook--actually, I probably mentioned it back in April. Too lazy to check right now. The gist was this: I posted a meme that solicited five people to sign up (who would also repost the meme). For each of these five people I had to create and send some kind of creative project, and since all I know is stationery, I thought I'd make some postcards and a fold-and-mail letter for them.

It's just that I didn't think this thing through. Each fold-and-mail item is one exterior and two sheets of paper, each sheet being half of one regular piece of paper. I glued in the sheets at the top, just below the large upper flap, so you could fold the exterior and the sheet-halves in their middle, then seal it down with the three flaps.

I think, to really help the folding and the edges meeting up nicely, one might trip about 1/8" off two perpendicular sides of the sheets of paper, but not the exterior. This should give the paper enough room to bulk up with the fold and not create extra space before the flaps can fold in.

But here's my pattern, if anyone else thinks they can use it. This isn't the cardstock envelope I promised back in December. I'm sorry about procrastinating on that thing, but I haven't forgotten about it, and maybe crafting and scanning my design for this project will motivate me to perfect and upload the envelope pattern.

Anyway, the flaps seal with double-sided window insulation tape. I trimmed it in half lengthwise to be narrow enough for the side flaps--otherwise, you can't beat it for adhesion. Leave the backing on for the letter-sender to peel off just prior to mailing. Better solution than sending everyone a glue-stick they'll use once and lose. And the address labels are my own design: I carved out the border in linoleum, stamped it onto parchment, then cut it out closely and glued it to the front of each exterior.

Thursday, June 3

An Extended History of Personal Correspondence

All right, if you're sick of hearing me go on and on about the wonder and miracle of Postcrossing, remember where you set your handbag down and finish your drink, because here comes some more.

I mean, seriously. It's so hard to find a good pen pal! My first was way back in first grade, when I wrote to my crush even though she was in my class and lived in the same town. The gesture was lost on her six-year-old heart and I believe I earned some mockery over it. The letter-writing process was educational on its own mert: in writing to grandparents I already knew I had very little to say (beyond "thanks for the Stretch Armstrong, I broke him already"), but in writing to Stacy Woods, the cutest girl I'd ever seen, I discovered I had absolutely nothing to say. I don't even remember what I talked about. Probably a moon rock I was convinced I'd found.

Then, when I was in middle school (Michigan) and was going to move to another state for high school (Wisconsin), I asked if I could write to my then-crush, Kim LaPlante. She agreed and I think we may have exchanged one whole letter. I wrote to her, she wrote back, and I wrote some stupid clueless drivel that was more my own mom's programming that she couldn't possibly be interested in me than any of the feelings welling in my heart for her. Never heard from her again. Yeah, I played that one wrong.

I did end up writing to my crush in high school as I went into the Army, and that only worked out because I was so reclusive in high school that when I opened up to her in letters I became a more interesting person. Kate was also very into correspondence and inducted me into the world of Friendship Books and Tiger Beat magazine, where people posted their addresses in the back so people with similar music interests could write to them. Our correspondence never turned into a romance, of course, but we are still friends to present day.

And once in the Army, plundering the resources Kate imbued me with, I spread my feeble, off-black tendrils around the nation I'd left behind (I was stationed in South Korea) and hooked up with three dozen gothchicks, all roiling in their own incurable depression, all nurturing their own impossible crushes on foreign band members. I got a lot of useful information out of those exchanges—all of it in music, none of it in how to foster healthful social relationships. Oh well.

Now, things are much better. I correspond frequently with my friend Angela, a DJ in Madison, WI; I trade postcards with Davide in Italy and Zatimi in Malaysia; and I just met this awesome character in the Netherlands. His postcard to me cracked me up, and everyone I've shown it to has insisted I need to cultivate him as a pen pal. I proposed the idea to him—proposed sending him some of my vintage stamps in exchange for his pre-Euro postage—and he wrote back:
It would be an honour, beste Christian, to receive a card from you, or clogs full of cards for my sake, with the stamps like you described. For a philatelist like me the promising lines which you wrote are like The Holy Gospel for the average Amish.
That's just his opening line. How could I not want this person on my side? He's a fun and able writer, the kind of person I need to keep in touch with. And I wouldn't have met him but for the Internet generally, but Postcrossing particularly.

Friday, May 28

URL Update:!

I just purchased, so anyone linking to this site may care to update their link.

The old URL will continue to work, of course.

Sunday, May 23

Carving a Pen Chamber in a Moleskine

I think I've touched on my Moleskine (pron. MOLE-eh-SKEEN-eh) love before, right? The little black notebook that comes with the onion-skin pamphlet explaining how the notebook this was modeled on was actually the favorite of, like, Michaelangelo, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Jackie Chan, the Dalai Lama, &c.?

Someone forwarded me an online article by Treehugger, featuring six "awesome hacks" for your Moleskine notebook. Granted, I could easily buy enough Moleskines to build a small cabin, but it never occurred to me to get one just to mess around with and deface. So my wife surprised me out of nowhere by buying me one expressly for this purpose. "Get silly with this one," she said. "This is your Moleskine to go crazy with." She knows that I revere the Moleskine as basically a perfect end-product, so anything I put into it has to be polished and notable, but she believes I should let myself off the hook and get stupid with this one.

I decided to start with the hack in which you carve out a small chamber in which to lay a pen. The idea, ostensibly, is that you always have a pen with you when you grab that notebook.

Firstly, I'm never without a pen. Usually I've got two or three in my pocket, and even more if I've got my SwissGear air travel bag. I'm more likely to forget to bring a Moleskine than to grab a pen when I start my day.

Secondly, I really didn't want to screw up a nice Moleskine with my amateurish efforts. I don't know how the guy in Treehugger did it, but I'm guessing a Dremel would've been handy, whereas all I have are a couple X-acto knives and a boxcutter around here somewhere.

But I did go ahead and try it out, and here's my advice for anyone who'd like to do the same.

  1. You can trace out the shape of the pen like I did, but now I'm kinda wishing I just went with a straight-line, right-angled rectangular box for the pen. I was thinking I'd create a more form-fitting chamber for my Slicci.
  2. You can start digging next to the spine (and expect the pages may be a little flimsy to turn) but I would recommend centering your chamber vertically. I started mine out too close to the bottom and the first six pages shredded down by where the cap is pointing. Too close to the edge, especially for a beginner like me.
  3. Use differential light to help with the cutting. You can see where your initial cut's supposed to go, because you've traced around the pen, but after that you're relying on the scratches that penetrated previous pages and those can be hard to line a knife upon. Set up a lamp to one side and, if you can, use natural daylight on the other side. Every contour and indentation will be much easier to discern.
  4. Dig a rut in one side: once you've made your cut, retrace it over and over to dig deeper into subsequent pages. If you just trace the pattern over each time you get to a new page, you increase the likelihood of imperfectly replicating the shape and misshaping the chamber. You really want this thing to be as tidy and homogeneous as possible, and you can achieve that by digging in the same spot a few times.

Oh, also: remember to pull that woven fabric bookmark out. When you get to the middle of the Moleskine you won't slice the bookmark, but its presence will mess up your careful efforts to retrace the chamber.

But most important of all...

Use a fresh, new blade in your X-acto knife. I used a dull blade almost all the way through this project and it was a lot of work and took hours. When I replaced the blade with a new one, I nearly wept over the difference. I could have shaved an hour off my time and done a significantly more precise job with less effort and fewer mistakes.

Saturday, May 22

A Pile of Out-Going Mail

Lots of letters going out this morning! I've been meaning to upkeep and address these pen pals I've had for so long, but I've been terrible at doing so. I can point to a number of factors that contributed to my procrastination (depression, job seeking, poor time management, &c.) but the end result is still that I haven't written in a long time.

Recently I have found the time and energy and I have this stack of letters and postcards to show for it. On the left are several fold-and-mail letters, enough to write a quick note if you write tiny, going out to France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and a couple points stateside. In the center are five custom-made postcards going out to people around the world through Postcrossing: it features me and my wife standing on the tracks of an old trolley still in existence here, running around Lake Harriet. Minneapolis used to have a network of trolleys hustling people from home to work and everywhere else, but of course that technology fell by the wayside (not in New Orleans, where people still ride these quaint vehicles for everyday business). And, like I write to every single person on the backs of these cards, despite living in this city for 13 years I still haven't managed to ride the Lake Harriet Trolley. Yet.

On the far right is a beer coaster printed by New Belgium brewery. It actually has space on the back for a destination address and a stamp, but I wonder how many people have actually mailed them out. I hope it's a large number, rather than... well, no need to cast aspersions here. I'm pleased to send out a large stack of mail and I hope this turns into a trend. I really want to cultivate these international pen pals and keep the mail flowing.

Wednesday, May 19

Illustrating the Distances

This was a great idea that never got off the ground: Google Map Envelopes.

Ideally, what you would do is write out an e-mail to a friend, then click the Google Envelopes button at the bottom of your text window. It would serve as an extension to your Gmail account (and it assumes you have entered your friend's mailing address).

"For a small fee" the program would print out your e-mail, fold it up, and insert it into an envelope that had been printed with a map of the distance between the sender and the recipient. Obviously, it would have to turn the map around most of the time, in order to make the sender's location always appear in the upper left.

Don't read the comments of the article in the link I provided, though. "Don't read the comments" is generally good advice wherever you read news on the Net, but it merits being mentioned in particular. I'll sum up: a bunch of people are very upset about the amount of paper that would be "wasted" on this project. Yet I doubt every single one of them is dedicated to recycling and mass transit, or even growing their own garden and storing solar/wind energy. They're just very judgmental of other people.

Personally, I thought this would have been a cute, fun idea to encourage people to send actual letters to each other. Yes, I hold the postal system to be particularly darling and I vaunt a little letter-writing above complete and total reliance upon online communication. And it's no secret I'm enamored of Google products, so I'm disappointed on a number of levels that this service never manifested.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of entries. Both my tower computer and my laptop crashed last week and I've been getting them examined. The tower is back home and running swell, but the laptop issued smoke out its rear ports and is pretty much cashed.

Monday, May 10

Artistry via Postcrossing

This is one of those cases that exemplifies or underscores what a delight it is to participate in Postcrossing.

(Yes, it's another Postcrossing post, sorry.)

I got this postcard in the mail today, sealed in an envelope with a print-out note, clean and understate European cursive on the outside. I don't mind receiving exposed postcards in the mail, as I like the traveled look and the cramped side (would that be verso? Or is the text always recto?) where stamps, address, and terse message fight for space.

The name of the artist was at the bottom, followed by "2007." The note was signed by the artist--she designed this illustration! I thought it was charming and, once I realized it was by a regular civilian who hasn't secluded herself in the ivory towers of professional artistic discipline, well-executed. There's a difference, to me, between artists you could run into on the street and artists who socialize only with other artists, publishing editors, and socialites at parties you will never, ever be invited to or even hear about. So even though I'm not an artist, it feels to me like the person who made this is someone a little more like me than the aforementioned aesthete in his/her rarefied atmosphere. This is someone I could run into on the street (were I in her nation). This is someone I could talk to without her taking offense at my presumption.

So best of luck, Marieke Lambermont, and thank you for the delightful postcard.

Tuesday, April 27

How To: Map Your Postcards Online

Would anyone be interested in learning how to chart their Postcrossing postcards in Picasa/Google Maps? If not, please go back and reread any of the delightful and highly informative entries with which this blog is liberally doused.

If so, this process I describe assumes four things:
  • You're using Postcrossing.
  • You're scanning in the postcards you receive.
  • You're using Picasa to store these images on your hard drive.
  • You're using Picasaweb to store and display them online.

You don't have to use Picasa: this process works in Flickr and any system that lets you attach a graphic image file to a map program.

1) a) When your postcard comes in, identify the sender's Postcrossing code. Register this in Postcrossing normally.

b) Go ahead and write a nice little note to the sender. It costs you nothing and means so much. It's such a slap in the face--to me, anyway--to hear nothing more than "THANKS" or nothing at all, but perhaps that's my fault for extending my identity schema too far into an online program.

2) When the card is registered, you are taken to a page that sums up the sender's profile and yours. If you've scanned the postcard, you can upload it here to add to your (and their) online gallery.

3) Click on the sender's name/handle--this takes you to the sender's profile. There's a little Google map labeled "Mailbox Location," click on Open in Google Maps beneath that image. This opens up a larger map with some detail as to the sender's registered location. At no time can you see their address through their profile, but if you visited the part of town indicated on this map, you probably wouldn't be far away from them.

4) In the Google Maps search bar (below the address bar in which you type URLs) you'll find a pair of coordinates. Highlight and copy this pair of coordinates. These are, of course, the latitude and longitude of the sender's registered location.

5) In Picasa, find the postcard in your collection and click on it once. Click on the Places button in the lower right of the Picasa window. Paste the coordinates into the search bar, at the bottom of the Places table. Click the magnifying glass icon to search, click OK to confirm the location.

When you view your online gallery, the right column will feature a world map with little red pegs indicating the locations of your postcards. Click on View Map beneath that image for a much larger map with little pictures of your postcards all around the world!

Zoom in, examine the postcards, cycle through your collection: this map is quite navigable and fun to play with. I know I get a little rush when I look at the sheer bulk of postcards from hundreds of nations.

Monday, April 26

Decisions, Decisions

Oh, the dilemma: two dashing suitors vying for her attention, each a world of pleasure and thrills in his own right, yet so diametrically opposed... and there was only room in her life for one.

Elegant and irresistibly demure, Audrey truly had the luxury of selecting any man she chose from a broad and teeming pool of options. Not wishing to crush any hearts, yet knowing she had to look out for her own best interests, she nevertheless whittled the roster down to the two most appealing candidates.

Cary, oh, Cary! Those eyes, that voice, the subtly amused smile that played about the corners of his lips while the rest of his expression gave away nothing... Cary! He melted her over cappuccino in that tiny bistro on Calle Larga San Marco, so near the action yet easily overlooked unless one were thoroughly familiar with Venice. It was his worldliness that won her over, this cosmopolite with the seductive purr who, admittedly, was old enough to be one of her father's younger friends.

And his spectral opposite, James: brash, unpolished, heady with restlessness and aimlessness. He almost put her off with his diffidence--after all, she knew her worth and was accustomed to being treated with an amount of deference. But the fact that he wasn't entirely available to her somehow enticed her, and it was on their symbolic trip from Independence (Missouri) to Junction City (Kansas) on a '41 Indian Chief that she started to fall for this unruly boy. It was one thing to have the world handed to you on a platter but quite another thing to have a small bundle of the Unknown dangled just out of reach. Especially when the Unknown hid behind lips like James'.

What was a girl to do?

Sunday, April 25

The Office Outfit

Can you imagine owning your own "office outfit?" I'm not talking about a nice tweed suit with Oxfords and a tasteful silk tie. I'm talking about this little thing: brown cardboard box and electric blue lid containing an entire set of stamps for making your own customizable rubber stamp. Multiples of each letter, upper and lower case, stored in a nice wooden rack, waiting to be arrayed in a wide, thin handle for printing.

What would you use it for? When would you use this thing instead of a typewriter? When would it be more economical to assemble your own line or two of typeset rather than contacting a professional printer?

I suppose it would be handy to confirm receipt of certain documents, though it doesn't strike me as the pinnacle of convenience to throw "Received by" into a rack and stamp it out for a few pages, then replace all the letters--and I'd put them back in alphabetical order, though some people would just put them back into storage and call it done.

It would also be handy for printing on unconventional surfaces, like, a label on a bottle or anything else that couldn't easily be fed into a typewriter. It could be handier to print on a porous surface rather than feed a sheet of labels into a typewriter or something, I suppose.

This was an artifact of my grandparents', when I went to visit grandpa's house in Idaho (grandma has been deceased for several years). In my last trip two years ago, it was very important for me to go through their office supplies and see what were the accoutrement of their day, what they found necessary or handy to have around. My grandmother was a high school teacher and my grandfather dealt in real estate, and they must've done some considerable business at home, based on two rooms that have been sequestered for an office and storage for office supplies.

Saturday, April 24

Cigars and Pens, All in One

Sorry about the prolonged absence from this place. I've run into a string of technical errors--not the least of which has been my laptop literally burning out (you'd call burning plastic and ozone a "warning flag," neh?) and developing workarounds for it (it will accept an external monitor, for one thing).

And now Blogger (or Blogger in Draft) won't let me upload photos! Each attempt yields a "Server Rejected": errormsg, so I'm not trying anymore. Workaround: I can upload images directly from Picasa on my hard drive to Picasaweb online, and then link to the photos from there.

That's what I've done. I'm listening to All Irish Radio (few things gladden and inflame my heart like Internet radio access) and backing up another blog with a separate online album--I truly enjoy online/computer geek-out campaigns like this one. But now I'm going to update this blog because I've been so remiss in my duties.

This is a pen case that was salvaged from my in-laws' former house. Rebecca's sister Rachel found it and asked me if I wanted it. When my face lit up and my voice failed, Rebecca said, "I told you, you should've saved it for his birthday." What is it? It's a nice brass letter opener with a wood handle, but the really cunning thing is the ballpoint pen disguised as a cigar. It has a great textural feel and the coloration is superb. The ink? Well, maybe I can modify a Mont Blanc refill to go in there or something, but it is a great-looking pen. Rachel associated it with me not just because of my predilection for stationery but my interest in cigars as well.

Tuesday, April 20

My History With Pipe Tobacco

The Volume Library, 1927
Lately I've rekindled my interest in a couple smoking varieties, namely, pipes and pipe tobacco. I started with pipes a few years ago because I had some money burning a hole in my pocket and happened to be walking by a tobacconist, Lewis Pipe & Tobacco, Mpls. The sight of a cabinet full of pipes took me back to walks with my great-grandfather, Dzia Romanski. Our family would converge on my grandparents' house in Olympia, WA, and at some point "JaJa" would take me for a stroll through the woods. He paused to light up an old, old pipe, pick up a twig, and we'd set out. I thought the twig was part of a magic trick: as we walked and talked, he would start whittling the end of it and when he had finished, there would be a huge, fat slug in the middle of the path. He would stoop to stab it with the sharpened twig and hurl it into the woods. That was just his way. (Years later, I realized that woods was thickly crawling with slugs and it wasn't a trick of timing the carving of his stick to coincide with conjuring a slug for impalement.)
Altered from Sp. tabaco, according to Oviedo, the name in the Carib of Haiti of the Y-shaped tube or pipe through which the Indians inhaled the smoke; but according to Las Casas, 1552, applied to a roll of dried leaves which was kindled at the end and used by the Indians like a rude cigar. Even before Oviedo's date the name had been taken by the Spaniards as that of the herb or its leaf, in which sense it passed from Sp. into the other European langs.: Pg. tabaco, It. tabaco (1578), tabacco (Florio, 1598), F. tabac, whence Du., Ger., Boh. tabak, Du. (17th c.) taback; Pol. tabaka, Russ. tabaku. The original forms tabaco, tabacco, were retained in Eng. to the 18th c., but gradually driven out by tobacco. Da. and Sw., and many Ger. dialects, have also tobak, Ger. 18th c. toback.
(Oxford English Dictionary)

Decades later, as I was wrapping up my Creative Writing degree at Metro State, I was in a design class that tasked us to create a PowerPoint presentation on any topic we wished. I chose the structure of a pipe and felt pretty proud of learning all the bits and pieces to the pipe, arranging them for convenient dissemination in a little lecture. I only gave the lecture to one other student, however, as we were paired up to evaluate each other's presentations. Hers was on female castration, replete with photos: this was still a practice in her homeland and a matter of some concern to her. By the end of it I was almost too humbled to bring up my frivolous presentation of an idle pastime.
1588, from Sp. tabaco, in part from an Arawakan (probably Taino) language of the Caribbean, said to mean "a roll of tobacco leaves" (according to Las Casas, 1552) or "a kind of pipe for smoking tobacco" (according to Oviedo, 1535). Scholars of Caribbean languages lean toward Las Casas' explanation. But Sp. tabaco (also It. tabacco) was a name of medicinal herbs from c.1410, from Arabic tabbaq, attested since 9c. as the name of various herbs. So the word may be a European one transferred to an American plant. Cultivation in France began 1556 with an importation of seed by Andre Thevet; introduced in Spain 1558 by Francisco Fernandes. Tobacco Road as a mythical place representative of rural Southern U.S. poverty is from the title of Erskine Caldwell's 1932 novel.
(Online Etymology Dictionary)

As a child, it never occurred to me that pipes had parts to them, that these parts had names, nor that tobacco could come in different flavors. Had I a little more wherewithal, I would have thought to ask JaJa what flavor tobacco he was smoking, though in likelihood he would have told me it was a terrible habit I should avoid. We never had that conversation, though, and I picked it up almost four years ago. I find it a very meditative practice, and I will sit with a book and enjoy a pipe on our porch or simply smoke on the front steps, focusing on nothing but the flavor of the cool smoke sliding over my tongue. I've got five different pipes for different purposes, including one bought from an antique sale and a long, thin, white clay pipe replicating what American soldiers were using at Fort Snelling over 200 years ago. Some pipes are reserved for the dark and bitter tobaccos and others for the more sweetly flavored classes. What intrigues me about the pipe is that it gets better with more use: layers and layers of smokings "season" it, in a way, like a cast iron skillet, until you're not only smoking the tobacco you just packed into it but also a little portion of every bit you've enjoyed throughout the pipe's life. On so many levels, this is a meditative practice.

Tuesday, April 13

Travel Stationery Mini-Portfolio

For my birthday, a friend made me a special gift. By "made" I do mean this thing was meticulously hand-crafted, as she is a very crafty person. She enjoys sewing and stitching with creativity and precision, and she has gifted my wife and I with her craft before. Prior to this, she made some super-strong grocery bags with two sets of handles: large loops that can go over a shoulder for large loads, or small handles for lighter trips. She chose especially attractive fabric for these, going for a travel/international theme.

This time, she made me something that blew me out of the water. It's a cute little travel portfolio for correspondence--she stitched "Correspondence" on the cover--that ties on one side or opens into three panels. The panels hold a medium-small Moleskine notebook, then a pocket for paper/cards and envelopes, a loop for a favorite pen, and then a smaller pouch for business cards.

I enjoy going over the details of this design, and I'm blown out of the water that someone would take so much time to construct such a device. I'll use it a lot, but for anyone else it might be quaintly archaic, and a more suitable gift would be an iPhone pouch. But this is perfect for me (she monogrammed the back to personalize it) and I'm still marveling over it. It's perfect, of course, and I haven't found anything in my online perambulations that could suffice with all this function. I've shopped online, see, and haunted the local art and office supply stores, but this travel portfolio (I don't know what else to call it) couldn't have been more suitable if I'd laid down the specifications myself.

So maybe some of my friends don't enjoy taking out the time to write a letter, like I do, and laugh at my need for postage stamps while they knock out e-mails that flash instantly across the globe. But this gesture shows me that someone appreciates my interest and supports it. My response, of course, is to plan something creative and demanding with which to rejoin. That's not a bad trend.

Saturday, April 3

Milestone Ink

Does this look strange? A picture of me getting a tattoo in this blog?

Note the tattoo: typographer's marks. I saw this image, arranged like a little man taking up sword in hand against the vagaries of those who would misuse and abuse our language, last year when I was made aware of National Grammar Day. This is a function of SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. Sounds light-hearted, but this is a cause in which I believe, so I got the tattoo on my right arm to guide my writing hand in the course of linguistic and typographic discipline. (My first choice was on the side of my neck, to underscore my dedication, but I wondered whether future employers would appreciate this.)

I thought it was a cool image and had toyed with the idea of getting such a tattoo but made no solid plans. Rebecca, my wife, had all along encouraged me to follow through but recently planned to surprise me with an appointment with The Ink Lab in Uptown. Ink Lab doesn't take appointments over the phone, so we did a walk-in instead. The gesture is intended to "mark" my 40th birthday, in four days.

But here we go! I've announced my dedication to defending the language, after four decades of life on this ball of mud, hurtling through the irradiated vacuum of space. Pardon my muddled and racing thoughts, I'm still on an adrenalin high (plus a lot of coffee).

Update: I brought this to the attention of Martha Brockenbrough, founder of SPOGG, thinking she should be cognizant of the homage. She surprised me with a prompt response, no few compliments, and extra special birthday wishes, plus a link to this site and a mention on her own blog! Rebecca may attest to the bout of giggling (in the style or manner of a little girl) this has induced in me.

Int'l Girl Aerogrammes

Just added a new link: International Girl aerogrammes. Check 'em out!

These are the fold-and-seal letters of which I'm so enamored. I've seen them in various styles and alternate themes, like the very fun Mr. Lunch series as well as Gumby & Friends, and then there was a crappy set that featured a talented French photographer, but when you folded them they never came out even and overlapped their edges or folds.

These look fantastic, and they come in various international themes, such as Chinese deco, Japanese kanji, Arabic birds, &c. You order them in packs of ten, which includes five motifs and two of each motif, and it comes down to US$16 (incl. shipping & handling). These look so interesting and exciting, I anticipate picking some up very soon.

I heard about these through the Postcrossing Web site: they've recently hit 4,000,000 postcards exchanged. I went back through their blog and discovered that Int'l Girl aerogrammes were the prize for the 3,000,000 postcard contest--users had to guess which countries would be the sending and receiving nations. Layers upon layers of fascinating information, for me.

Wednesday, March 31

Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!

More plundering of the in-laws' house has turned up this gem:

Amazingly, it fell out of a book I had intended to read. No sooner did I open the hard cover than it came sliding out, into my palm. On the back is stamped: "© 1970 KELLOGG CO." and it feels like it's made of a very soft plastic. Not quite rubber and not dissimilar to today's silicon products, it's at once sturdy and flexible.

This thing was manufactured the year I was born! (And yes, my 40th birthday's coming up and I'm pretty displeased about that.) Look at the difference between the toy surprise of yesteryear and the crap we get today. Four decades ago, a kids' cereal company thought nothing of crafting a complex stencil of its own breakfast mascots for the entertainment of children! Today, you get some doodle on a piece of cardboard or an injection-molded animal on wheels that don't work. (And let's not even bring Cracker Jack's inglorious fall into this.)

This stencil, being made the year of my birth and having survived twoscore years intact--indeed, nigh-pristine--I had no other choice than to mark an impression with the stencil onto paper. I found a nice, dark gel pen and tried to put it into the first sluice of Crackle's hat... and was blocked. The slits were far too narrow for a pen. I selected a long, thin pencil with a very slender tip and discovered this, too, was still too thick for the stencil. Any child who first attempted to utilize this "toy" doubtlessly met with the same mounting frustration and irritation I began to experience.

However, I have an unreasonable and desultory collection of writing implements. It was no effort to find a mechanical pencil and extend the lead too far for writing but just perfect for this stencil. When I completed Crackle's head, however, I decided this was too demanding an effort with too little kickback to merit completing the trio. Making sure every last tiny space and dot was filled up was tedious, and compressing the stencil rigidly in place with my other hand developed a burning cramp in my forearm. In the end I had a seat on the porch--our weather is currently lovely--and discovered the necessity for more than adequate lighting for this activity: many of the slits are so small and thin they cannot be detected in light any degree of dim.

My cat hopped up into the chair beside me and kept me company while I traced out these three friends. I heard an anecdote that these elfin figures represented three Depression-era immigrant groups, revealed by their costumes: Snap was some form of Scand (my memory is leaky on this point, and what nation wears both chef's hats and neckerchiefs?), Crackle was French, and Pop was German. However, I was completely unable to find anything to corroborate this theory online, the past having been rewritten. Anyway, ten minutes later I had my tableau.

It seems that the succession of faces degenerated, purely the fault of the stencil. I had some fun coloring in Crackle's hat, but coloring in Pop's entire eye made me wonder what had gone wrong. Perhaps nothing is meant to be colored in by the pencil: you simply trace the outline and then color it in? That sounds reasonable, though those lines are so freakin' thin, there's very little coloring to be done.

And, of course, they look nothing like their contemporary interpretation:

Friday, March 12

DIY Challenge

How exciting: one of my collage postcards has reached its destination! Well, all three of those I've sent have, but this is the first online documentation of receipt. I'm unfamiliar with the Multiply Web site, but I'm unwilling to start an account there: I already have online image storing facility and am part of too many communities as it is.

I'm on Facebook, and a friend of mine posted a little online challenge, I suppose one might call it. The friend in question manages Lunalux and the challenge was this: the next five people who respond to this will receive something handmade from me. Further, the respondents must post the challenge on their own profile and entice five more people to respond. I signed up for this and reposted on my profile, thinking no one would see it: I think most people have me blocked because I post so much crap with games there.

But five (technically six) did respond, and now I'm dreaming up what I'll send them. Stationery for sure: maybe some collage or personalized postcards, maybe some writing paper and envelopes, and maybe linocutting will be involved. I think the deadline is that these things have to be out by the end of April of this year. I'm encouraged by who responded and look forward to producing something for these people.

Thursday, March 11

Christian's Gold Cross

Today I'd like to highlight one of my favorite writing implements, a Cross fountain pen.

I don't know what model it is, and I can only guess it's around ten years old. It has survived considerable damage and wear-and-tear over the years, as evidenced by the picture on the left: the end of the pen just tore and pried off, right under that metal ring at the end, and I had to reaffix it with Super Glue. I don't know that it really affected the working of the pen, but it looks nicer with that smooth nub rather than a jagged maw of torn plastic.

Likewise, the pocket clip became bent--that is, bent away from the cap--and when I tried to reform it, it simply broke off. This isn't a cheap pen, I'm not saying that, I'm just saying that I've put it through quite a lot and yet it still functions as a reliable pen. Perhaps I'm so willing to keep it because it was my first really expensive pen ($80), or maybe it's just the emotional value it has for me now.

I bought this fountain pen as a replacement for another one. When I was in high school we hosted a German exchange student, Markus Meister, who was a senior when I was a junior. He was quite popular and I was quite unpopular: my schoolmates would wave hello to me as they came in to the room we were sharing and took him away to some party or another. I didn't hold their thoughtlessness against him, however, and he taught me a lot about not being such a social retard. When his parents received him at the end of the year, they gifted me with a very nice desk set: a pad of paper with personalized letterhead, a stack of similarly embossed envelopes, and a lovely fountain pen with my name engraved on the side. I believe it was a Parker, with an arrow for the pen clip, and it was a medium nib with cartridges. And the German ink cartridges were so clever: when you thought you ran out, you'd unscrew the body of the pen and simply tap the end of the cartridge wherein a reserve of ink was stored. This way you could finish whatever you were writing and knew you had to replace the ink soon! So clever. That was over 20 years ago and I've never seen this ingenious system replicated in today's ink cartridges.

Did I bring this nice pen with me when I left for the Army? I don't think so. I think I discovered it among my stored stuff when I returned home in 1991 and started taking classes at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Desperate for a touch of class in my formless life, I used this fountain pen whenever possible. And it was at ARCC where I was first introduced to the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen, in fact, which quickly became a favorite sidearm in my stationery arsenal. Bold lines of deep, deep black ink prompted me to buy a box of this pen all for myself.

But as it happened, I left my Parker behind in a Nutrition class one day. I don't think I forgot my books, but I was without my pen for the next class and I ran back to look for it and it had disappeared. Whoever found it didn't bother to return it to the name engraved on the side, and I imagine they just got frustrated with trying to make it work and threw it away: I stored it in my pocket and this caused it to snap in half. I could still use it, but I had to hold it a certain way to keep it from jack-knifing in my grasp, on top of the special way you hold a fountain pen anyway.

Years later, when I was temping in downtown Minneapolis--we can guess circa 2000--I passed a watch store in the skyway. On display was a rack of fountain pens. Having reached my third decade of age, I decided I should start behaving like an adult and part of that meant attracting the accoutrement of adulthood: I would have a nice, new fountain pen. Among those models, however, I was driven to select the least expensive and so I came away with this Cross. I call it my "Gold Cross" because of the tip, and with this pen I learned that I prefer a gold nib for smooth writing. Steel has too much drag for my liking, and the verdict's out on iridium.

I have other fountain pens: Kaweko, Lamy, Retro 51, another Parker. The Cross remains my go-to pen. I don't use cartridges anymore: I use the screw plunger to refill it with Noodler's or Mont Blanc ink. I read an article where the refillable fountain pen is a "green" solution over disposable pens, so I'm pleased to do my little part to reduce my carbon footprint with this lovely pen.

Wednesday, March 10

Straightening Things Out

I'm spending a happy evening updating my online postcard collection. I'm listening to Cocteau Twins, going through my Postcrossing postcard wall, and geotagging all the postcards in Picasaweb. Sounds tedious to most people, I'm sure, but I derive an amount of pleasure from it.

For one thing, I'm discovering that the collection of postcards on my hard drive is incomplete: my Postcrossing wall shows several cards that I never scanned in. Those were scanned in and uploaded to Postcrossing by the people who sent them, so when I registered the card, the image of it just showed up and I had no need to scan it in. Now I'm going through my postcard album and a large black box filled with old postcards, digging out the missing pieces of my collection and scanning those in appropriately.

I deleted my collection of postcards in Picasa because I just couldn't get the folder renamed appropriately. It was one thing online and another name on my computer, so that made it tricky to upload and keep in sync. I just did away with it by deleting all online albums, renaming the folder on my hard drive, and reuploading it all over again. Fortunately, geotagging the postcards in Picasa on my machine automatically geotags them in the online Picasaweb album. This is important because it cuts down on a step: when I go into Postcrossing and look up the postcards I've received and the users who sent them, there's a link to the users' hometown in Google Maps, and clicking on that provides me coordinates that I can feed right into Picasa. Now I can see a map of the world and an array of postcards from their nation and town of origin, and that's all I really wanted.

Next, I'll see how difficult it would be to link this to Google Earth, however it does that.