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.