Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Full-On Loafing

I'm on vacation, enjoying the final hours of 2014, and being surprised that we're in the final hours of 2014. There's no Christmas quite like one spent with a young child in the house, and there's no holiday quite like one spent after a rather stressful and anxious year. This was the year of gaining perspective. Next year: a new outlook on life. I'll write more about that in the months to come.

Now I'm loafing around the house like a complete champion, wrapped in blankets, watching too much TV and eating too many cookies, playing Small World and only occasionally being productive by pulling out my AlphaSmart due to persistent goading from certain nameless parties. I'll be back in adult society next week and slumping around online again and generally making a nuisance of myself.

Stay comfy, Typosphere, according to the meteorological dictates of your hemisphere. Put your feet up and enjoy a refreshing warm or cold beverage of your choosing. Say farewell to 2014, and I'll see you in the new year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rhodia Paper Project: Weeks 1-5

The fine folks at Exaclair, Inc. are the US importers of Rhodia paper products, and being the slavering fanboy that I am, I was very pleased to see them running the "Rhodia Paper Project" from their blog, whereby other fanboys/fangirls could sign up to get samples of their various products mailed to them on a weekly basis to test out, in return for comments and feedback.

This had the back luck to happen just before NaNoWriMo kicked off this year, and although I've been diligent about signing up each week via Rhodia Drive, I've been pretty slack about testing or commenting, because, you know, noveling. I'm digging out after my win now, and am making up for lost time...

Week 1: Your choice of grid

The contenders:

  • Rhodia Ice: white/grey/graph
  • Rhodia 80th Anniversary ivory/grey/graph
  • Rhodia Classic white/blue/graph
We start off by trying out the various forms of grid colors. I personally like using graph-style paper if it's available, especially for note-taking and NaNo plotting since I have terribly slop handwriting, and tend to drift all over without guidelines. I've got some notebooks old enough to have bluish grids, which I think Rhoida has since replaced with a violet ink (more eco-friendly sources, I gather.) My go-to ink color is blue for just about everything -- easy to tell when it's been photocopied -- so this week was about testing which ink I liked best against the three different grids and the paper colors.

I was predisposed not to like the ivory paper, which seemed a little faded or even dirty compared to the clean white of the other two. Maybe it's the grid talking, but it seems like the grid shouts "professional and serious" and the ivory paper says "quaint drawing room." I am also surrounded by white office paper all day, and use it in my meeting notebooks, so again, bias.
  • Rhodia Ice: white/grey/graph 
This was my favorite of the three samples, by far. The gray grid is very light on the paper, clear enough to see, but not clashing with any of the inks or pencils that I tried on it. The paper is the lighter of the two weights supplied (90g vs. 80g) but this is not paper you're going to send letters on, most likely. The grid says "serious" to me, and would be appropriate in a lab or classroom.
  • Rhodia 80th Anniversary ivory/grey/graph
My least favorite sample of the three, though the grid is subtle, and against the ivory paper, looks almost brown. I can't get past the color for this application, though. Clearly this is a personal moral shortcoming.
  • Rhodia Classic white/blue/graph
Second choice, and the one I already own in different sizes. In comparison to the "Ice" product, the lines are very visible, and especially when using blue ink -- the grid tends to clash more with my writing instead of fading invisibly into the background like the gray.

Week 2: Take a letter

The contenders: 

  • Clairefontaine Graf It
  • G Lalo Stationery (white)
  • Clairefontaine Triomphe
The second week is all about stationery, so the samples are unlined and plain. This is what you write your post-holiday thank-you notes on, and in that context, everything I said above pretty much goes out the window here. There really is a time-and-place for various papers, something I've not given much thought to before.
  • Clairefontaine Graf It 
Plain white, and with a slight, subtle texture on the surface. This is nice stuff, 90g, and was grippy enough to use pencil -- some of the regular Rhodia paper has a slickness that's welcome with fountain pens but disconcerting with a pencil. You need a little friction, and this has it. It reminds me very much of the bagasse (sugarcane waste) paper that I use for NaNo typing, with a little toothiness, but heavier than cheap old office paper. I would not be sad to own a pad of this with some ostentatious monogram in the corner.
  • G Lalo Stationery (white) 
Though this says "white," compared to the other two samples, it's a very light cream color. It has visible horizontal texture lines to it, and a subtle vertical line (watermark?) every 3cm. I was predisposed to dislike this entirely, expecting it to be grabby, toothy, and hard to use with my preferred pens. I'm pleased to say that I'm wrong on all fronts. Pencil behaves nicely even when writing lightly, and fountain pens give just the right amount of feedback. This is languid, letter-writing paper, and the color for this application is perfect. The clear winner.
  • Clairefontaine Triomphe
Of the three, my least favorite, though it's like trying to choose amount three very-good things. The same weight as the Graf It, but utterly smooth, like Rhodia pads, and as such, badly-behaved with pencils. Fountain pens skate all over the surface as expected, and the gel rollerballs I was testing with were so quick it felt like driving on ice. I would not say no to this if it were foisted on me in a dark alley, for sure, but if you're going to do correspondence, treat yourself and the recipient to one of the other two.

Week 3: The journal selection

The contenders:  

  • 5×8 Webnotepad Lined, (same as Webbie paper)
  • 6×8 Lined R
  • 6×8 Lined Rhodia 80g 
Week three is what I think of as the "journal selection." It's an odd size paper for my own needs, which tend toward the letter-size or A4 notebooks. These are all lined, with big broad spaces. Lots of room for inmost thoughts, I suppose. I don not have a rich inner life that requires documenting.

  • 5×8 Webnotepad Lined
  • 6×8 Lined R
 A tie this week, and mainly because the difference falls between if you want a little extra width as in the "R" pad, or rounded bottom corners as in the "Webnotepad." The "R" is top-perforated, like many of their notebooks, so it's entirely possible this is meant for less permanent writing. The other is not perforated -- the sample has clearly been torn out of a pad -- and if you're keeping a journal, that seems like it would be of more use to you. I have an unlined Webbie that accompanies me to back-to-school nights, kids' sport meetings, and other real-life/non-work situations where I need to jot down notes and numbers, and don't want to lose them. Both pages are 90g ivory, with the grey lines, and again, for this use, I can see it being superior to the white-with-blue.
  • 6×8 Lined Rhodia 80g 
Another choose-among-very-good-things, but this has a large red margin rule down the left side -- "large" here meaning 1 1/2" of space, which is a quarter of the page width. This feels really wide, and if you're even the tiniest bit OCD (ahem) it may bother you that so much "good" paper is going to waste over there, especially if you grew up with the cheap filler paper and spiral notebooks like I did, with the margin line dancing dangerously close to the holes punched in the paper.

Week 4: Colorful students

The contenders: 

  • 1 sheet of the 8×11″ Clairefontaine Pastel Graph paper
  • 1 3×5″ Exacompta Pastel Index Card
There are times when I regret not being a student again, because I've since learned quite a bit about note taking, organization, and the excitement of a well-stocked university bookstore. Then a come to my senses and remember the terrible food, crushing debt, and general lack of sleep, and am glad I'm gainfully employed instead. This week isn't so much a comparison as just a taste of products that I would totally send to student-version-me, once I get that time machine worked up.
  • 8×11″ Clairefontaine Pastel Graph paper
Normally I could give a pass on pastel paper, but this is pressing all my organization-nerd buttons: bound in a spiral notebook with perforations for easy removal. Heavy 90g paper with a grid on both sides. My sample was a light blue sheet, and the normal Rhodia purple grid looks fine against it. There's an index tab cut out of the side for indexing the notes, and I'm guessing this comes in a multi-subject notebook offering many sections of different colors. The grid is ideal for math formulas and structured notes. I wish I would have used graph paper all through my computing classes.
  • 1 3×5″ Exacompta Pastel Index Card 
Actually, two in my envelope: one green, and one yellow. Unlike cheapo index cards, the grid is on both sides, they are heavy paper (205g), and of course, pen-friendly. I used index cards to remember (i.e., cram) everything before exams. Past-student me would have certainly matched up the cards to the notebook colors, just because.

Week 5: Size does matter

The contenders: 

  • No. 8, (3 x 8 ¼”)
  • No. 10 (2 x 3″)
  • No.16 (6 x 8 ¼ “)
  • No. 19 (8 ¼ x 12 ½ “)

The best thing about Rhodia products -- aside from general pen-compatibility -- is that there's a size for every purpose. The worst things about Rhodia products is that there's a size for every purpose. The choice alone can be overwhelming, and in those rare cases when I am in a retail store that actually sells them, just spinning through the rack gets me a little dizzy... as in I could totally buy ten of these and use them for... I don't know what...

Like the previous week, these don't lend themselves to being compared with one another. They are all lined in violet on 80g white paper. The largest sizes have the same wide margin, and all are top-perforated.
  • No. 8, (3 x 8 ¼”) 
If you don't have a ruler handy, think "bookmark size" or "shopping list size." I own a gridded variant of this, and I use it for both purposes. It's just wide enough to get a decent list written down, and plenty long for use as a notes/bookmark. Consider using one to keep characters straight in your next Russian novel.
  • No. 10 (2 x 3″)
Almost comically small, just a little larger than half a business card. Small enough that you could keep one each in your pocket, bag, car, desk, stuck to the fridge on a magnet, glued to the dog, etc.. The lines are pretty well spaced apart given the amount of paper you're looking at here. Maybe for composing tweets offline? I struggle to find a use for this, other than as the ultimate tiny notebook when you need to jot down some critical fact, like, to pick a random example out of the air, the name of a piece you heard on the car radio, forgot, and then have spent a decade trying to remember. Just for example.
  • No.16 (6 x 8 ¼ “) 
See Week 3 for thoughts on this size. Tucked in with other lined samples, I can see this being most useful as the by-the-phone doodle and message pad, maybe the tote-to-a-meeting pad where you don't want to commit to actually taking a large number of notes, but don't want to get in trouble for staring at your phone the whole time, either. I personally find this size just a little too small for my writing needs at work, and too big to carry around casually.
  • No. 19 (8 ¼ x 12 ½ “) 
Ah, now we're talking. This is A4 sized, a little narrower and a little longer than a US Letter size, and the one I'm used to for my own meeting notes (I'm working through a backlog of old Black n' Red A4 notebooks.) The left margin is just as wide, almost wanton, but at least in the larger format, it can be used to call out points of interest: flagging to-do items is an obvious use case for me. I do like bringing paper to meetings, and having a whole year's worth of meeting notes in one place has proven invaluable to me, since I can flip back and reference old notes. The Rhodia is in a top-bound orientation, though -- like a legal pad -- and that I would find less useful than the spiral-bound books I use now. Of the four samples, though, this one has the most utility for me, and I could get past the top-binding pretty quick. I suspect the paper would hold up to disc binding very well if I needed to make an archive notebook. A future sample is slated to include their "meeting book" paper, which looks to be just about perfect. I think I'm ready to graduate beyond the simple lined-only books in the (sigh) five years when the Black n' Reds run out. Or sooner, if they meet an "accident."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Daughter is Kicking my Ass games, that is. My youngest child (age seven) is on some kind of massive board game bender right now. We don't have anything Hallmark-y like an actual Family Game Night or anything, but we do have numerous bookshelves, and at least one of those shelves is jam-packed with games. As the kids have aged, the selection has improved. I will be a happy man indeed, for example, if I never have to sit through another round of Candyland ever, ever again, and my eldest's much-loved Toy Story Monopoly Junior is buried in the back of the closet where it will hopefully remain out-of-mind until the heat death of the sun.

Gradually, gradually, we have been able to replace these games of chance with more strategic and less luck-based fare. Mancala is a great one, because the rules are dead simple, and it contains a good mix of surprise and strategy (sometimes with directed help from dad. "I'm about to take these pieces unless you move them...") I know it gets disparaged for being the token "wacky" card game, but all my kids honed their ruthlessness to a fine edge playing endless two-player hands of Uno during sibling soccer games. We pulled Sharp Shooters out of storage recently, which is basically Yahtzee with more visual scoring and the pleasure of being responsible for sixteen dice. And we've even been playing Sorry! quite a bit, once I learned that it goes from a boring luck-of-the-draw game to a ruthless slapdown simply by dealing out a small hand of cards to every player. It was a revelation. Castle Keep is quick and easy, when the dog doesn't decide to lay down in the middle of the playing space. There's little want for unplugged entertainment at our house.

When any of the kids seem to be having trouble sleeping, my wife and I joke -- not untruthfully -- that they must be in the middle of learning something. We saw this when they were infants, discovering their hands, and rolling, and learning to crawl. We saw it when they were walking, and "talking" with us via baby signs (yes, we are those parents), and we see it now and then when they're mastering the bigger concepts: multiplication, vocabulary for their Spanish class, some new piano piece. You can practically hear the gears turning in their little heads.

With the exception of my 5am NaNoWriMo ritual of me + typewriter + dog + weaponized coffee, I have been sleeping soundly. Not a peep from the kids at all, which is why this sudden turn toward games and gaming has caught me off guard. We've been spending hours lately, moving tokens, dealing cards, or hoping for a six in Catan: Junior (because a six lets you move the ghost pirate, duh.) It's becoming something of a mania with the child, and of course we want to encourage this. It's harmless, is probably honing some skill or the other, and it's good for her to learn how to lose gracefully, because if there's one thing I do not do, it's coddle the kids. Once we've put Plumpy and Mister Mint and Gramma Nut and all the other horrors back in the box, the figurative gloves come off. I may point out weaknesses in the defense... for a little while. I do not play Daddy's Little Princess checkers. You want non-competitive? Do a jigsaw puzzle (though I get the last piece.)

So not only has the youngest been playing ever single game she can get her hands upon, and asking about those she can't (Monopoly, garrrrgh), but she is completely kicking my ass. Either the dice hate me, or she's skimming from the bank when I'm not looking, or she's genuinely, actually good. Is it possible to be a prodigy at Uno? Any scholarship opportunities in this? I'm asking for a friend.

I'm not even talking about video games, where my dwindling reflexes and Lack of Caring render me helpless to all three of my spawn. (Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, I'm looking at you.) I'm being outclassed and outgunned by a person still waiting for her permanent molars to come in. She's learned a victory dance from her mother. It's brief, but it stings, oh, how it stings.

I couldn't be more proud.

Monday, November 10, 2014

One Third

NaNoWriMo Day 10: The End seems so far away from down here...

We're one third of the way into November, and the dreaded "week two Sucks" of NaNoWriMoare chipping away at the Typewriter Brigade. It's hard enough to stay motivated to write every day, but week two is when the realization hits home of just how bad a fast-written first draft can be. I've reached the point where I drop missing words into sentences after the fact, and then re-start the sentence again. Pessimistically, I'd say my word count is over-inflated by a third. Edits are going to be brutal.

In a more coherent time (i.e., October) I got contacted by the NaNo organizers about the Typewriter Brigade. I'm quick to point out that unleashing this thing on the world was not my doing -- blame is still laid at the feet of the one they call "Duffy Moon." But I have wheedled myself into being an annoying cheerleader of sorts, in this great beast-without-a-head that is the annual running of the Brigade.

I have a slight problem with self-editing, and the NaNo blog had limited space (I guess? It's a tumblr, so... bit conservation.) Here's the hit piece as published on their blog and below follows the original replies I sent them, less one "secret" question for the next interviewee, and with some answers I cut down for space before submission.

Despite being largely camera-shy, I am happy with the way the lead photo came out -- a selfie, no less, with everybody's favorite tiny rhino pal. Black and white photos really accentuate gray hairs, don't they? Hmm. Added bonus: the uncropped photo of my writing space, which shows the utter blandness and mild grubbiness of our coat closet. Enjoy.

# # #

Interview selfie

1. Tell us a little bit about the Typewriter Brigade and what makes it great. Tout it like crazy.

The Typewriter Brigade is a worldwide group of typewriter enthusiasts, smooshed together into a moderately dysfunctional noveling family. We offer advice on machine repairs and restoration, encourage impulse machine buying, and try to slog through a high-velocity month in low-technology style.

Occasionally we even get writing done.

2. What do you think is the best thing about noveling on a typewriter?

There are a lot of benefits, but the biggest one is no distractions. It's simply not possible for me to waste my writing time by fooling around on Twitter or the forums when I'm typing, and thank goodness. I have the attention span of a gnat.

Having no "Delete" key is a huge benefit, too, and because I'm such a poor typist, every typo equals a free word. The end-of-line bell is a wordcount cheerleader, and I've never managed to crash a typewriter or run low on battery.

3. What is your favorite typewriter model? Geek out a bit; we don't mind. We encourage it, in fact.

My personal favorite is the Olympia SM3, which is a portable typewriter from Germany built in the 1950s. It's built like a clock crossed with a tank, came in many colors, and is very stylish with lots of chrome. I own a few of these. My wife wishes I collected something smaller. For write-ins, I take a Smith-Corona Skyriter., which was designed to be portable enough to take with you on an airplane or use on your lap.

My main NaNoWriMo machine is a battleship-grey 1952 Royal KMG typewriter I call "the Beast." It's more work than using a computer keyboard, but I find it very satisfying, and once I find my typing rhythm, the words really flow. Since there's no delete key, every typo becomes a wordcount boost. This is a secret Brigade bonus.

Interview writing spot

4. Tell us a bit about where you, specifically, are writing from this year.

I'm in Pleasant Hill, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, just over the hills from the OLL. Go team East Bay!

The Beast and I set up in the family room, wedged behind the sofa and facing the coat closet. It's the most boring part of the house, and as far from the bedrooms as possible so I can get my writing in before the kids wake up and start demanding breakfast and rides to school and other selfishness.

5. Tell us about the novel you're writing this year, if you're writing one at all, in six words.

"Plucky orphans, nefarious villains, airship racing."

6. Introduce us to the NaNo Rhino!

He appeared one day when I said "NaNoWriMo" into speech-to-text software and the computer heard "Nano Rhino." He keeps hanging around, living in the typewriter, making plot suggestions and demanding strong coffee in tiny cups, gourmet chocolates, and frequent belly rubs.

Shockingly, many other Brigadiers have discovered Rhinos living in their typewriters, and pictures of them often show up in the forum. The Rhino is a combination good luck charm and grumpy muse. Nano Rhinos grow wings when their Wrimo caretaker reaches 50,000 words. They molt and come swaggering back every November wingless and demanding snacks.

7. What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?

It wasn't directed at me personally, but Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is one of the best books on writing that I've read. The essays on getting started and on first drafts are on my pre-NaNo reading list each year.

In general, I like reading advice from writers who sound a little neurotic and not entirely in control. This is the kind of help I can relate to.

8. What is one piece of advice you would give to a nervous novelist who may or may not be reading this post?

If you're not reading this post, go back and read this post! It's full of excellent words arranged in an entertaining manner.

If you are reading this post, my advice is: don't delete during November.

If you are unfortunately forced to use a computer for NaNoWriMo, remove the Delete key or glue a tack to it or do whatever it takes to not remove anything from your draft. Turn off the spell check and the grammar check and the Internet. Keep every sentence, especially the ones that you are sure are boring and useless and pointless.

I am often surprised to discover that the horrible, awful, terrible pages I wrote in November got much better when I was brave enough to read them again in December. You're too close to make good decisions in November: keep it all and revise later.

9. What is your weirdest writing experience?

I am usually a big planner, with outlines and index cards and plot figured out in advance. The weirdest moment for me -- and this happens every year -- is when my characters ignore all that hard work and do whatever they want to do, and change the story around. To a hardcore planner, this was very upsetting the first time it happened. What about the plan?! The outline?! Guys! Come back!

Now I've learned that this is normal, in a kind of hearing-voices-in-your-head way. It's a great feeling when the characters run things and I just copy it down. It's still weird, though, having them take over my brain.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Meanwhile, in the Barracks of the Typewriter Brigade

November dreaming

All right, you sorry excuses for novelists, time for a SPOT INSPECTION! Everybody fallllll in! Atten-HUT!

Rhino: Brigadiers! I have this here memo from HQ saying that I've got less than 24 hours to whip you into noveling shape! We have 30 days to take 50K Hill. Are you ready?

Brigade: Yes, sir.

Rhino: What was that? I can't heeearrr you!

Brigade: SIR, YES SIR!

Rhino: That's more like it. Private Pantser, front-and-center!

[Private Pantser slouches forward, rumpled and coffee-stained. A fine snow of post-it notes falls like leaves. Panster's fingertips are covered in ink.]

Panster: S-s-sir? I mean, SIR!

Rhino: Just look at yourself, soldier! And in heaven's name, WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS?

Panster: Just enjoying the breeze, SIR!

Rhino: All right, then. You're going into this battle unprepared, unorganized, and direction-less, is that correct?

Pantser: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: You will turn whichever way the wind blows, writing whatever pops into that little precious snowflake of a mind, won't you?

Pantser: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: Now, Panster. I don't want to hear any stories about you being riddled with doubt and uncertainty, do you understand? They are the enemy!

Panster: Yes sir! The enemy!

Rhino: If you write yourself into a foxhole in the middle of the month, what will you do?

Panster: Write my way out by any means necessary, sir!

Rhino: Cor-rect. Now tell me, soldier, do you see Private Planner over there? How would you describe the good Private?

Pantser: Sir! Neat and trim, sir! Slightly smug, sir! Alphabetized and organized, sir!

Rhino: Exactly what I see. And does this make Planner a better writer?

Panster: Sir? No... sir?

Rhino: You're damn tootin' it don't! Private Planner has just as much chance out there as any of you! Erase that doubt! What is doubt, soldier?

Pantser: The enemy, sir!

Rhino: Right again. You'll do fine, Private. But for heaven's sake, put down a towel when you sit.

Pantser: I shall, sir! Hygiene shall be my watchword, sir!

Rhino: All right, dismissed, Pantser.

# # #

Rhino: Private Planner, front-and-center-on-the-double-I-mean-it!

[Private Planner marches forward, chin up, knees forward, ramrod straight. A tidy file is tucked under each arm. Color-coded index cards are neatly rubber-banded and in each hand.]

Planner: Sir! Yes sir!

Rhino: So, Private Planner... looks to me like you have every contingency mapped out, don't you?

Planner: Sir, yes sir! In triplicate!

Rhino: You're a real go-getter, aren't you, Private? A real big thinker?

Planner: Sir! Don't want to fail the unit, sir! Eliminating all doubt as it is the enemy, as you rightly pointed out, sir!

Rhino: Pretty organized, I'll give you that. But let me paint you a picture, soldier. Let's say it's the 16th of November, and you're on the downhill side of your wordcount. All according to plan, right?

Planner: Sir, yes sir! Conflict resolution expected in five days, sir! Denouement in seven, and done early in time for pie, sir!

Rhino: I see what Pantser means, soldier, you *are* a little smug. But novels can get ugly, and they can get ugly fast! What happens when you discover that the cable guy is actually the protagonist's sister's ex high-school sweetheart who was supposed to die in that hovercraft accident but instead washed up ashore at the Buddhist temple with his memory gone, only to be nursed back to health where he regained his memory at last?

Planner: S-s-sir? I don't think I have a cable guy in my notes...

Rhino: Doesn't matter, soldier! Your characters can turn on you at any moment! You need to be prepared... to pants it! An outline's all nice and tidy in the forums, but when it's just you and the keys, you need to be ready! Ready to wing it, for the good of the novel!

Planner: Sir! Yes, sir!

Rhino: Now tell me, soldier, you see Private Pantser over there? Just look from the waist up.

Planner: Sir! yes, sir!

Rhino: Pantser would laugh off the unexpected cable guy, wouldn't you, Pantser?

Private Pantser: Sir! And would make the Buddhist monks ninjas as well, sir! Just for color, sir!

Rhino: You see what I mean, Planner? You can be careful and you can make a plan, but novels are messy! Dangerous! Unexpected! You won't know what you'll find until you write it! Be flexible, Planner!

Planner: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: Remember: there's no hole you write yourself into that you can't write back out of. Maybe you have to detour a little. Maybe your chapters come out of order. But you get yourself up that Hill no matter what it takes!

Planner: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: All right, Planner. Dismissed.

# # #

Rhino: Now then, Typewriter Mafia... falllllllll in!

[Typewriter Mafia comes to a loose semblance of order. A few are carrying mysterious laptop-shaped bundles under their arms.]

Mafia: Sir! Yo, whadaya want, sir!

Rhino: Now it says here that many of you folks are over on this end of the barracks on account of "mysterious typewriter accidents" and "circumstances outside of your control." Do I have that correct?

Mafia: Sir! What's it to you, sir!

Rhino: Now I'm no stranger to being a victim of life circumstances. I know some of you fine folks are like Pantser or Planner over there, keen to get started, but having to associate with the... lower elements of life. Laptop users. Hand-writers. Alphasmarties.

[A shudder ripples through the barracks]

Rhino: Steady, Brigade, steady. Now all of you, look at one another! Take a good, long look! Yes, even at Pantser over there. Any of you could be on the other side at any time! This is NaNoWriMo, people! Your machine could throw a mainspring and put you into the Mafia! Or, you could find a machine at Goodwill and bammo! You're typing again!

Mafia: Sir! Ain't much for philosophy nor hypotheticals, sir!

Rhino: All right then, I'll keep this simple. Any of you, and I mean *all* of you, are in this here Brigade, whether you're typing or not! And we are going to take 50K Hill together!

All: Sir! Yes sir!

Rhino: What's our battle cry?

All: Sir! Coffee-extra-strong-with-cream-and-two-sugars, sir!

Rhino: What's our *other* battle cry?


Rhino: You're damn right. I'll be honest with you, Brigadiers. All of you will be facing Doubt and Uncertainty this month. There's a little bit of the enemy in all of us! But if you start to waver, if your courage starts to fail, just remember: old General Rhino is right there behind you, to give you what you need. And what is that, Brigadiers?

All: A sharp poke in the butt, sir!

Rhino: Correct! You're an inspiration, all of you. Now! Line up in time-zone order, get your machines at the ready, and I want to see you come out writing! Is that clear?


Rhino: Where are we going?


Rhino: When are we going?


Rhino: All right, then, Brigade. Dissssssss-missed! Get out there and WRITE!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014


So have you seen the Hemingwrite? Here's a rendering:

 In a nutshell:
  • "Mechanical" keyboard (meaning using switches like the coveted IBM Model M)
  • e-ink screen
  • Aluminum body
  • Aiming for 6-week battery life
  • Magic hand-waving about saving to the cloud (Google Docs, Evernote?) over WiFi
Knowing my gadgetry predilections, my well-meaning family keeps emailing me stories about this mockup/prototype/thingus.

My honest take: I don't like it.

Or more specifically, I don't like what it touts itself to be: some kind of a return to the "simplicity of a 90s era word processor" (their words.) Really, I think it's just trying too hard, like the highly-priced reproductions of vintage technology from Restoration Hardware. It's just so... twee. And I remember the word processors of the 90s, and they were far from simple. Disk drives, endless functions and modes and styles and so on. Hateful things.

But why stop at the 90s? Why not go back another decade or so? What's that old quote about failing to learn from history?

Tandy Model 100

Cambridge Z88/Sinclair Z88

And of course the modern incarnation, evolved from decades of being in the single-purpose device market. A market that has shrunk drastically, alas.

Neo Rhino

This is a well-worn path, and I'm just a shade skeptical of the Hemingwrite, if it ever comes to pass at all. Six weeks of battery life, you say? Yeah... maybe. The Neo claims about 700+ hours on AA batteries, with no WiFi on board. Oh, and it's light, durable, and dead simple.

But maybe Hemingway would have thrived on a more high-tech typewriter? Ruben Bolling speculates...

(click to read on Boing Boing)

Thursday, October 23, 2014


First: NaNoWriMo starts in ten days -- less, actually. So I'm freaking out, because of this year's pledge to Lack a Plan and just to Go With It Come What May.

I'm drowning the panic in tasty snacks...

Planning versus pudding

and getting the Beast in its usual spot...

NaNoWriMo: the niche

...and for some reason, this year, I have decided that a board game needs to be designed, allowing the hapless reader to re-live the dramatic point of the plot when [REDACTED], which I'm sure you'll agree might be kind of interesting. And this means that I need to archive a link to this hex graph paper PDF generator. Because, you know, it's not like I'm going to be writing a novel or anything during this time.

So this is how my brain rewards me for joining the "Team Pantsless" crowd this year. Yay brain!

Monday, October 13, 2014


Holy crap this year, guys. It's just been... and then this summer... I have no words. Honestly.

Normally this is the point of the year where I humblebrag about outlining and plotting and prepping for NaNoWriMo. It's become something of a thing.

This year? Nothing. I really have nothing at all. The muse? She is silent.

I have no outline, no notes, no cards. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I'm fully and squarely in the Pantser Club this November for the first time ever. Even my inaugural year way back in 2007 had a loose outline cobbled together on Halloween night. Never mind that I rapidly diverged from it and wound up skipping whole sections when I got stuck. I'm older and wiser now.

Older, anyway.

The forums are reset, the Typewriter Brigade rises again...

...and I've got a set of "Rory's Story Cubes" that my kids gave me some years back to provide impromptu inspiration.

Rory's Story Cubes

This could go well, this could go horribly, but I need a little crash of rhinos this year (or a crash of little rhinos.) Who's in?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Magic Redux: A Gift from the W.W.W.W.W.W.

The "witchbox" project came to a close this morning, as my youngest tore into her stack of presents. Front and center on the table was the gift in question, which my wife and I denied all knowledge about. You learn very quickly as a parent that lying and messing with your child's head are two simple, but deeply satisfying joys. So let's follow the deception train to from start to finish:

If you read the post from the start of the week, you'll know that my wife and beloved co-liar were informed recently -- in the matter-of-fact way that six-year-olds have -- that my daughter, was, in fact, a witch. As she kept scavenging scraggly, splinter-laden sticks from the yard to wave at us and her siblings, we figured this was a fad that was going to stick for at least a little while. Since she's been using the laundry soap cups to mix up sand-and-leaf "potions" in the yard, and since we're tired of sand-and-leaves in the laundry, we set out to make an inexpensive witches kit for her birthday. We pulled this together in about a week and a half, with inspiration nearly completely stolen from Dante's Wardrobe and her excellent faux package projects.

Step one was sourcing replacement bottles for the potions. Assorted bud vases from local thrift stores supplied these:

Bottle assortment

Tip: the more exotic-looking the bottle, the better the effect. That tall white bottle with the faded gilt (?) designs was the hit of the day.

Since they are secondhand, and some are a little past their best days, I had the idea that these would be a gift from a real witch, made up of some of her leftovers. Co-conspirator was tasked with finding a box big enough to hold all these, which she did with excellence:

Box and such

It's difficult to tell but this is a decorative book-shaped box made from heavy cardboard. She also picked up some fancy tissue paper and ribbon, and raided the papercrafting aisle and our own craft supplies for more items to include. Here's what it looked like last night, minus the bottles, which are off-camera.

The withbox, pre-assembly

For wands, we have a couple of pieces of leftover dowel rod from the garage, sanded down a bit and sprayed with scrapbooking sealant containing glitter. Clear plant marbles went into an old bag we had around. Given her steadier hands, the missus volunteered herself to fill up the tiny glass vials of "potion ingredients" (glitter, flakes of paper, tiny beads) while I worked on wrapping and packing up the bottles, and the small mortar and pestle that's packed up here in cardboard and tape.

I brought all my Tetris skills to bear:

The withchbox, bottles, balls, and wands

...while a lot of careful funneling and filling happened next to me...

A few potion/spell ingredients

Pack into the open space with some remaining tissue, and add a few feathers... "phoenix down," suggested my middle child, a Harry Potter fan. Better than my suggestion of "squished owl."

The witchbox complete

And seal it up with some more ribbon, which we were surprised to discover was two-tone:

Witchbox ready for delivery

To provide a cover story for this assembly, and because I always relish an excuse to play with pens, there was a letter enclosed (click for more readable size):

Letter to a witch, part 1
Letter to a witch, part 2

My only regret with this letter -- beyond my penmanship -- is that I did not include "Wizard" in the organization name, because seven W's in a row is just that much funnier than six.

The unboxing was a great success:

The witchbox revealed

Grizelda's letter was read aloud by the recipient, and I'm pleased that she both laughed and said "ew" at all the right places. Clearly, my target audience is seven-year-olds.

Our goals for this project were do amuse and delight, on a budget, and to get nature out of the laundry room. Did we succeed?

Amusement and delight are a huge yes. As I was packing up for work this morning, youngest was already preparing to mix up some concoction in the back yard. I expect we'll be finding gold glitter and mysterious purple powders in our lawn for years.

On a budget
is an optimistic maybe. There were a number of new items in the mix, like the glitters, the box, ribbon, the tiny bottles. Everything purchased was on clearance or came from a discount or thrift store. Some of the items were things we had around the house. That tall white bottle that was so awesome cost all of 25¢  Kids of this age don't care.

The old adage about "time is money" applies here, too. If we had started sooner, I bet we could have sourced more of these things at lower cost. Those tiny vials arrived about 10 hours before the package was actually opened, for instance... but they are the same bottles for sale at the craft store across the street, which I could have snagged with a coupon. Admittedly, it's hard to plan around the whims of a 6 year-old, and who knows where we would have hidden everything in the meantime.

In general, though, I'll say we got far more for our time and money than the standard pink plastic playset. It's easy to pick something off the shelf and hand it to your kids, and I will be the first to admit that we've done that on more than one occasion. We are not a Pinterest-type household. But I also see the worth, and yes, the magic, in doing a project like this, especially an open-ended one that encourages imagination. Already we're wondering how to write a thank-you note to a witch.

I'm certainly glad we did it, and I don't even feel a little bit like a liar.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I woke up early this morning to something that's too rare right now in California: the sound of rain, draining down the downspout outside my bedroom window. This is our first serious rain of the season, one that's been anticipated for a week at least. I never had an appreciation for something as simple as rainfall until I moved here. The climate in the areas where I grew up were known for their general unpredictability (standard joke: "Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes.") Nearly two decades a Californian now, I've gotten complacent about weather in general, and tend not to have as much awareness of the passing of the seasons. This isn't meant as a brag, honestly! Despite the autumnal equinox arriving this past week, my days are the same as they were in April, or June, or August. Only the early darkness belies the fact that time is, in fact, advancing. Thanks to the ongoing drought, the hills and trees around me are in a permanent state of late summer: withered leaves and dried grass (we say "golden" to make ourselves feel better.)
The tempo of the rain just picked up, it's delightful. It's complacency-shaking, too. A reminder that change can and does happen, and that it happens whether or not we're ready for it. Now a rumble of thunder: this is a rare storm, indeed! Of course everyone along my morning commute route will also be shaken up. Californians are notoriously bad drivers, tops in many polls, and the rain brings out a special degree of incompetence. I'll need to be on my guard, as I take my future driver to school this morning. There's nothing like driving in the rain to summon Fatherly Judgment about everyone else on the road. ("You call that a turn signal?!" "Hey, headlights on! It's the law!" etc.)
Of course I'm also going to summon the spectre of NaNoWriMo in this post. We're under a month away from October, and whether it's due to new management at the Office of Letters and Light, or whether it's just blue-car syndrome because I'm unprepared, there seems to be a lot of discussion about planning and preparation this year. My initial reaction is one of the California driver, faced with the first precipitation of the season: lose all common sense, and veer wildly. "Write? Plan? I can't do it! My God, it cannot be October already."
My second reaction is that of the seasoned vet. This will be my seventh(?) foray, and all but one of those years in the Typewriter Brigade. I know I can generate 50K words in the allotted time, though let's not talk about the quality or editability or the future of those words. Like many vets, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo to prove that I can. The challenge isn't the thing any longer, and honestly hasn't been since year two.
Quite frankly, at this time of year, I'm just parched. Sapped creatively from a long development project at work, from the daily grind of drives to school, stops at the grocery, and kids' sports on weekends. I wear the same clothes every week, and do the same tasks, and attend the same meetings. It takes something like NaNoWriMo to break up the sameness. To water the mental grass, to mangle a metaphor. I have tried writing and editing on a daily basis, but the inertia of my daily life is strong, and it's hard for me to get motivated to change my habits.
When the improbability of November rolls around, though, the herald of the end of the year, and long nights, holiday plans, and other demands... somehow that's just right. I do subscribe to the philosophy of "when you have a million things on your plate, what's one more?" And NaNo is finite . By definition, it won't last forever, it makes no demands after the thirty days, there are no obligations or even expectations. A month of cutting loose, talking typewriters, photographing toy rhinos -- occasionally even writing. It's a welcome shower of weirdness on thirsty soil.
This year has been particularly withering, and I've got a lot of low-level stress that's chipping away at me right now. I'm not anywhere as prepared as I like to be for this, attempting to craft a whole novel, with my little story point milestones all typed up on notecards. Frankly, I'm a mess this year. But I'm also not going to miss out on the chance to play in the rain.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

That Magical Age

20140921 typecast pt1

Bottle assortment

20140921 typecast pt2

Box and such

20140921 typecast pt3

Typed on a very Muggle-ish 1952 Skyriter
Smith-Corona Skyriter c. 1952

It's alarming to me how out-of-practice I've gotten at typing. Typos, dropped words... you'd think we were in the middle of NaNoWriMo. Which, incidentally, is approaching at an alarming pace: even faster than my kids are growing, it feels like. I hope to get some more limbering-up typecasts in during the next month.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Watch Out

I have to admit, I felt pretty clever. I'd rigged up my tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard into a pretty workable solution, and with the addition of an Ikea table and our broken-in sofa, I had a surprisingly ergonomic little editing setup. I'm still lacking actual *time* of course, and it's in the throes of the fall youth sports and annual project cycles at work that I wonder how I ever manage to carve out any spare time at all in November. (Secret: sleep deprivation, in the name of creativity.)

The best thing about my new setup is that it is fairly portable and easy to set up. Just about any location will do. And with a WiFi connection (strong on the sofa) all my changes would be backed up, trouble free in the magical Internet Cloud, where I could pick up the next day during a break at work, or on our home PC in the kitchen. Better editing through technology!

The Edit Zone
Textual Purgatory

Of course, there have been rough patches. No adoption period is completely smooth. I misunderstood the new Google Docs at first, for example, and assumed that a plain text document that I was editing on the tablet would see its changes blitted out into cyberland. In fact, I should have taken the trouble to convert that plain text into a "Docs" document first, because all those hard-entered changes were, quite simply, lost. It was with a Biblical level of frustration and some very un-holy language that I swore at my own stupidity, accepted that hour of writing as Really Truly Lost, and rewrote again. And maybe it's a little better for the experience, though a part of me still thinks that some of those lost sentences were gold.

Now flash ahead two weeks or so, and another editing opportunity opens up on a Sunday afternoon. I sequester myself in the bedroom with the door shut, flip the tablet into "Offline" mode after taking care to download the fragment I'm rewriting, and set to it with vigor. The words, they are flowing. The prose, it is prosing. Progress is being made: sweet, sweet progress. And eventually, when the kids and pets are demanding meals, I set the whole thing up on the table, click on the WiFi, and wait for the magic to happen.

Needless to say, the magic failed to happen. In fact, I was greeted with the unhelpful "Opening document failed" message for upwards of an hour or two, interspersed with random app crashes. Checking the document online on a different computer was just as discouraging, since it showed the pre-edited state from the morning, with a recent time stamp -- implying that Yet Again, all those newborn words were slurped into the ether, or whatever purgatory awaits the otherwise unsaved. The unholy vocabulary vented forth again.

This does, surprisingly, have a happy ending. After contemplating Deep Mysteries for a good long while, the tablet manage to send the text up into the 'Nets, though to this day it still cannot actually open the offending document. And I have come away properly humbled and chastised for daring to do the evidently unthinkable act of editing while not connected to the perpetual umbilicus of Internet connectivity. I dared to go offline and create, and I was punished for it. Those of you in the 'sphere doing your own voluntary de-Googling are welcome to smile at my hubris and the soul-crushing that followed.

So, ha ha, Google. Fool me twice, and all that. I've dug out the Neo, and what it lacks in superconvenience it more than makes up for in reliable simplicity. I'm back on the sofa again, typing this up, and I fully expect to retype the other chapters of this draft in this very spot. The Bluetooth setup will henceforth be reserved for idle forum posting or Twitter or the occasional remote access for work, where the text is transitory or unimportant or both. You don't get to hold my creative output hostage any more. I can't spare the time.

Old Faithful

* * *

And speaking of time, today was the generally-anticipated announcement of the latest Apple gadgets, including their first generation take on a Smart Watch. It sounds pretty slick, if you're the right sort of market. I'm certain that I'm the wrong sort of market, since I don't receive nearly enough calls to justify a buzzing reminder on my wrist, or if I need to -- send a doodle to someone? I'm sure it's going to prove invaluable to some market niche, and I'm perfectly satisfied not fitting into that niche. Surrounding all the hype and glory are all the unspokens, too: details like battery life, and the workability of the device when removed from the communications cloud emitted by its master device. I've had the unpleasant experience of watching my own personal technology have a mini-meltdown when it was isolated from the rest of the connected world for an hour or two. I can't imagine the anguish this poor device might experience if the wearer were to leave it in another room or (horror of horrors) turn the damn thing off now and then.

* * *

Multi-faceted technology can be great, I suppose, if your life is suited to it. But complex technology is like the teeth of a key, and it will only mate to a similar lock. If you depend on your watch (I depend on mine) and your watch depends on your phone, then maybe you adapt your behavior so you always always always carry both. Now you worry about charging both nightly. Now you protect your investment with cases and covers and carriers and pockets and pouches. Maybe you'll hold off on that hike or that bike trip, because the signal is so weak out by the reservoir, or you're not sure if everything is waterproof, and God, what if it slipped out of your pocket?

Watch out, is what I'm saying. The smarter the gadgets, the more they shape our behavior. The more the teeth of those keys will bite. I wouldn't wish those hours of textual uncertainty on anyone, and I certainly won't live them again. I'll write where I like, and I'll tell time by the old reliables -- my kids demanding food -- and I'll keep my habits my own.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Noises Off: Sounds in the Newsroom?

I contemplated posting this on Typosphere, but I try to keep the really grumpy/cynical stuff out of the way. I don't know if you've seen the piece, but it's bouncing around my "typewriter" newsfeed just about as fast as the Hanx Writer story did:

The Times' newsroom set to ring with the sounds of typewriters once more

And with a little digging, one finds a tweeted pic of one of the speakers in question.


On the one hand, I can actually see some benefit. My kids and I all find it easier to work with some kind of background noise going on. I got into the habit in college of packing my trusty Walkman, a couple of cassettes and some spare batteries and camping out in the library to recopy notes. (My wife is the lone dissenter in the house, and can't so much as read with the radio on.) Public typing aficionados in the 'sphere have reported favorable responses to the sound, too. ("I haven't heard one of those in years.") As a kind of productivity susurration, perhaps the recorded drone of a flotilla of typewriters will have the intended effect.

But what is the intended effect here? It feels more like cheap manipulation to me, like the old saw about piping in the scent of vanilla at amusement parks. It's like a sensory trick, isn't it? Wouldn't this get old after a while? Unless the sounds are truly randomized, I can see this being something of an aural assault. I hope that it's not just a single sound effect layered and looped upon itself, like an early Steve Reich tape composition. There is a point at which a wave of noise can be too much. Even I had to stop every now and then and flip the cassette over.

What nobody's pointing out, though, is that this is being played in a newspaper office. Not exactly the best place to work right now, given that the readership is almost certainly carrying around the latest news on a device in their pockets. A very, dark cynical part of me says: if they play it loud enough, they can't hear progress coming.

I will be the first to confess that there is certainly a lot of romance in the sounds of a typewriter, and as any type-in attendee can avow, a roomful is even more special. I don't know if piped-in sounds have the same impact, but if they do, I hope all the divisions at the Times get to choose their legacy-tech background music, otherwise the Times' web team will be stuck listening to the harmonies of a hundred screeching modems.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Public Service Message for Amateur Videographers


Before you film that adorable child/pet... remember!

A friendly courtesy

Bad video aspect ratios are the greengrocer's apostrophe of the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Onegin Off Again

Eugene Is Off

Eugene the typopigeon is winging his way to his next destination: stay turned for his further adventures.

A little birdy says that he's wanted and welcomed in Australia. Perhaps a trip across the Pacific is in his near future? Can one kickstart-fund a pigeon delivery? How does one begin to declare this sort of thing on a customs form ("Contents: One well-traveled squab, plastic. Charming.")

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I may have mentioned once or twice that I'm a little pinball-crazed. Crossing my newsfeed today is this item about a group working to recreate in the physical realm a popular pinball machine that formerly only existed in the digital. There are constraints to the project, not the least of which are budget and the laws of physics. The availability or practicality of parts, for example, are utterly unlimited in a digital realm, and I own some games that simply cannot exist in any physical form. And there are some that lie vaguely in-between the realms of "physically possible" and "batsh*t cukoo" (and get criticized for basically being tables that play themselves.)

The Timeshock! table, though -- and the other virtual tables produced by this studio -- all appear to have just enough grounding in reality to make them practical, and that, in my opinion, is a large part of their charm (I have two of the other titles they list in the article.) They're challenging and yet predictable: simulating reality in a convincing fashion is sufficiently difficult, and I'm sure that goes two ways. I like the idea, though, almost as if the idea of pinball retreated to a digital cocoon during the lean years of the 1990's, only to re-emerge reborn and metamorphosed.

Of course, I'm still rooting for the creation of digital simulations of some of my favorite tables, too. Farsight did a decent recreation of the classic Haunted House table for their Pinball Arcade app, and they're promising a Kickstarter campaign to bring over The Addams Family, the top-selling table of all time, and (not coincidentally) the one that appears to be requested the most. I'd love to have a playable version of this machine around, as it contributed in part to my delinquency in grad school and made me weigh the importance of truly having clean laundry vs. setting aside a few quarters for a game. (Hint: laundry did not win.) As I've pointed out before, pinball machines are in top form as they leave the factory, and then are devoted to a life of being bashed and battered around from the inside-out. Care and upkeep is much easier on a tablet than a table.

All the same, I'm pretty excited. I hope this digital-to-analog port happens, and I hope to give the game a try in person if it does. It's not too often something digital gets to insert itself into the analog realm, and I think it's noteworthy when it does.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pen Review: Namiki Vanishing Point

Time again for some pen geekery...

Namiki Vanishing Point

Maybe not a full review, since I've only had it for about 18 hours now, but at least a first-impressions review. tl;dr: I'm very happy with the choice.

20140805 pencast

I have no great love for eBay and I can usually pass up some of Levenger's more esoteric or expensive options, but I am known to haunt their online outlet store. They have famously excellent customer service, so when the listing said "like new, appears to have never been used," they weren't joking. I'm not sure who received/bought this originally and returned it, but thank you. The blue is just sedate enough to look professional, and just happens to be my preferred color. Well done.

Namiki Vanishing Point - Closed

The mechanism on the vanishing point is pretty clever: this little chromed tailpipe has a tiny flap inside that the nib pushes open when the pen is engaged. The barrel of the pen is serving more like a sheath. The downside is that you're limited in refilling options, since the whole writing mechanism is being moved around in there, so there's no practical way to also add a piston or snorkel.

Levenger helpfully included a cartridge, squeeze converter, and a piston converter. I already have other Pilot/Namiki pens about, too, so care and feeding is covered.

Namiki Vanishing Point - Open

I've heard that new nibs can sometimes squeak a bit when they're first used. I haven't encountered that. I'm not sure if it happens every time or if I lucked out, or if my pre-inking ritual of flushing out the works with water did the trick.

You can see the slightly indented sides on the clip where your fingers are supposed to rest. I don't find this obtrusive at all when I'm writing. It's a subtle tactile guide to holding the pen properly with a triangle grip. Supposedly the tinier nibs can run a bit toward the dry side, so I've read about VP owners choosing a fine enough nib to conserve ink vs. picking a nib that's smooth and not scratchy. I'd personally recommend the Medium, and you can see that it's shading nicely on my scratch pad of sugarcane (bagasse) paper. Just don't wander too far from a bottle of ink or supply of cartridges. There's no window for checking ink levels.

Why go capless? Both because of the sheer coolness of the thing and the convenience. I don't post my pens when I write, that is, I don't stick the cap on the back of the pen. Partially this is out of a desire to keep it looking nice and not scratch up the barrel or crack the cap. Also, it's a good way to ensure that your pen comes back home to you when you let someone borrow it: keep the cap in your other hand. :-) For meetings, or quick notes, or one-handed writing situations (e.g., standing up), a click pen is convenience itself. I will say, though, that the argument that a VP keeps the nib pointed upright ("No leaks!") is just silly. Regular capped fountain pens should be stowed nib-up in your pocket or a case. It's nothing special or unique to a capless pen. Most fountain pen owners who value their wardrobe learn quickly to keep them upright when not in use, and not shove them into a pocket nib-end down. Gravity: it's the law.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Eugene the Typopigeon's visit is drawing to a close. To celebrate the nearly-simultaneous birthdays of my daughter and father, the family -- and Eugene -- made what's becoming an annual trek into Alameda to the Pacific Pinball Museum.

Eugene was entranced by the lights and activity, though we had to work on his etiquette a bit...

Bird's Eye View
Kind of blocking the view there, buddy...

Making it a bigger challenge
Barely better

Luckily, the PPM is very family- and flock-friendly, and offers numerous stools to boost up the vertically-challenged players. He was intrigued by the promise of "Slick Chicks", though I had to break the news that these chicks were of the non-Playboy-infringing sort, not the feathered type.

Wrong kind of chick?
Resisting the urge to make a "stool pigeon" joke here.

You may notice Eugene is sporting a new fashion item: a red-and-black scarf patterned after a typewriter ribbon. My girls were concerned that the cooler Bayside temps might ruffle his feathers, and insisted he be dressed correctly. This seems about as reasonable a transition as I can muster for taking a picture of him atop the Dr. Who machine, his preferred perch location for maximum heckling.

His fashion inspiration
Eugene having a Fourth-Doctor scarf moment

He enjoyed the day immensely (as did the human members of our party) and I'm sure Eugene will always be welcome in this palace of the silver ball.

Touring the museum

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Turf and Surf with the Typopigeon

As threatened, the temperatures today were what I call one hundred and stupid outside. We're generally spoiled in this part of California because we lack the smothering summertime humidity of other parts of the country, such as those where I grew up. Still adapted to the dry Arizona climate, though, Eugene did as the natives do, which is to cower inside behind heavy curtained windows and try to keep cool.

My youngest made off with him to read him a number of books, but soon they both appeared and requested that I dig out the marble-run game, a favorite indoor activity. Eugene quickly found himself in the middle of things...

Run Pigeon Run

Eventually, though, our thoughts turned to fresh air and sunshine, and so, properly sunscreened and be-toweled, we headed off to a neighborhood pool. He quickly made friends with the natives...

Making Friends Poolside

...and then enjoyed a fine afternoon in the water. I don't know if pigeons are natural swimmers, but Eugene took to the water like a pro, showing us all his "hang six" surf technique.

Pigeon Afloat

Friday, July 25, 2014

Eugene Onegin, Bird About Town

(For Adney the Younger)

Noble typopigeon Eugene is settling in nicely for his visit to Northern California. Today he accompanied me on my regular Friday lunchtime trip to the local branch of the library.

Concord, California is home to Dave Brubeck, honorary typospherian Tom Hanks, and is a sister city with Kitakami, Japan. We did go past "Brubeck Park" on the way to the library, and Eugene nobly volunteered to represent Mr. Hanks and the rest of the typewriter crowd as we paused at the small garden outside the library.


Concord/Kitakami, are you ready to coo?

We paused briefly, I should say, as we're entering one of those weeks where temperatures shoot up into triple digits. We retreated indoors to bask in air-conditioned comfort and check out the selections. Eugene made himself at home...

Properly Catalogued

...and settled in with some light reading while I scoped out the CDs.

Amazing Bird(s)

Today's selection was an Erik Satie compilation, something to mellow out with at the end of a busy week. Eugene had a few problems with my noise-cancelling headphones, and neither of us were entirely clear on where a pigeons' ears are actually located. This, however, did not seem correct.

The Headphone Incident, Part I

A little quick Google-fu got us sorted out, though, and with the aid of some office supplies, Eugene was soon able to enjoy the lyricism of Satie, as realized by Reinbert de Leeuw.

The Headphone Incident, Part II

Personally, I find Satie rather sad, and I suppose it had a similar effect on Eugene, so far from home. Clearly he is a creature of the wind, and even a glass-walled cage is not the same as feeling the breeze flowing beneath your flight feathers, or finding a half-eaten hot dog next to the sidewalk. (I cannot deny Eugene's urban tendencies.)


What was he thinking of? He wouldn't say, maintaining his usual stoic silence. Daydreaming about Japan, perhaps, or simply thinking about that book ("What makes owls so amazing?")

Tomorrow is Saturday, though, and both Eugene and I are released from office obligations for a few days.  I know my youngest is already making plans.