December 18, 2006

LOTR: A New Christmas Tradition?

Posted in Pipes, Uncategorized at 12:53 am by a11en

Well, tonight I happened across TNT on the Sat. It turns out that they were playing at least two of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It has prompted this small post. I completely love LOTR and Tolkien’s amazing work. Of course I also love the work of Lewis. But, we’ll talk Tolkien today…

Have you found that reading or viewing the LOTR movies/books has become a new Christmas tradition? Since the movies were out for the past 3 years or so (they weren’t out last year if I remember correctly), I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed the LOTR movies along with having my Christmas Tree up. I received the extended versions each Christmas they came out. I also re-read the books at least twice now. Amazing books after each read. Luckily, the gal who’s quickly stealing my heart away also totally loves the stories. Unfortunately, she has yet to read my nice leather bound copies. Each year I try to shove one in her hand and explain that the books are even better than the movies. I think their size is daunting to her.

It was a bit of a surprise to me that LOTR became a part of my Christmas. Certainly it deals with many topics that a Christian would be interested in, as well as many other non-Christians. Such a wonderful story. Tolkien was a master at his art. Creation of races and languages. It’s a joy to read about how Lewis and Tolkien shared their thoughts on mythology and fantasy. They felt that fantasy stories could be made more “adult” and that it was a shame they were not already. Their work together was an attempt to bring out their loves of the early mythologies and the way those stories were told into readable stories that adults would love. While Lewis didn’t spend most of his adult life creating worlds in which to explore this aspect, he did spend a considerable amount of it doing so, and we find his wonderful works for us to enjoy in his Space Trilogy and Narnia series. [Darnit, I said I was only talking Tolkien, eh?] Lewis and Tolkien were dear friends, however, and often shared each others’ stories and thoughts on them with each other. So, it’s very difficult to separate the two.

I have found in my experience, enjoying LOTR beside the gilt and old world charm of the Christmas tree and it’s baubles, has heightened the joy of this season. Curling up with a book in my lap and a venerable Briar weed in my pipe has brought the warmth of an English library to me during the colder winter months. Imagining the struggle across the land towards Mordor, and the goodness of the small Hobbits… thrown into peril completely unknown, completely out of their thoughts, and how they rise to the occasions required of them, to be a great joy to read. It’s no wonder that this great literature has spawned such a new and strong following. And it’s to Jackson’s credit that a whole knew generation is finding LOTR that might have passed it by- a wonderful making of the books. However, there is so much left out… and to those who have not yet read these fantastic stories, I strongly urge you to do so. Tolkien’s mastership of langauges and story-telling is apparent immediately.

On a more productivity minded note- since some of my readers may be in this mindset more frequently… I find that I am often a “Steward of Gondor”… seeing the battle coming to my door on the plains near my stronghold, I often turn in fear, throw up my hands and start the funeral pyres. Woe is me! Never to accomplish my goal in the face of the onslaught surely to come. That my friends is not what heros are made of. The heros of this wonderful tale are much shorter than you or I, have come from small hobbit-holes that were comfy, and where 2 square breakfasts could be had before Elevenses and Luncheon. Not to mention a never ending supply of Long Bottom Leaf. These 4 adventurers were asked to complete a challenge they didn’t even know the depths of. They rose to that challenge even during horrible peril on the backs of Orcses or beneath the stomachs of Oliphants during battle. Even when they didn’t think they would have what it would take. They didn’t turn from the path that laid out before them. The small and meek accomplished much when asked. In many ways they were better stewards than all the Stewards of Gondor combined. They did it all not knowing what the outcome would be, or where the future would lead.

In many ways, this is our experience in life. We don’t know our futures, or how they will turn out before they arise. We each hold something dear to us, even if it is intangible. The question is, when we see the battles awaiting us, how will we respond? Funeral pyre, or meekness and humility in facing the tasks before us? “Woe is me,” or “maybe I can’t do this, but it must be done.”

September 12, 2006

Maigret and bookstore musings…

Posted in Books, FountainPens, Pipes, Rants at 2:00 pm by a11en

I have a confession to make- I love books. I love books so much that I have a number of books currently being read in parallel, and often a large number of books on my shelf that are wanting to be read, taunting me, asking me to open their covers… There are a number of things I’ve figured out about books, and I’ll spare you a good deal of them in this post.

Allow me to digress slightly into the land of ex-girlfriends. I promise we will find ourselves out on the other-side of this digression back in the land of book-talk. I have to tip my hat to an old girlfriend of mine, Sigrun. She came around at a time in my life when she was desperately needed. I had finished a very crazy relationship with a very troubled, but wonderful, woman who is still in my prayers (as is Sig of course). Sig, however, was like a ray of blinding light coming through a recently swept-aside bedroom curtain after a 4 year storm. The darkness giving way, Sig was my therapy. Among other wonderful things, she showed me simple kindnesses I had forgotten that were a part of a good relationship based upon mutual love and respect. For that she will always be a dear friend, no matter where she travels. Another wonderful thing Sig taught me, was that there are actually places where old books go to find a new home: used bookstores. I can almost guarantee to you, the reader, that there is at least one used bookstore near you- possibly two or three. They are wonderful safe-havens for books that, as I will describe shortly, have been lost to some, but remain available to be found…

A lot of these wonderful and lost books can be found at libraries (another great invention). I, however, figured out a long time ago that libraries are wonderful things, but not if you read books like I do. I have the tendency to make them draw on for ages- and having the ability to set a book down, and not feel under the gun to finish it, allows me to have numerous “friends” on my bookcase that aren’t yelling at me to get them back to their Dewey-allocated shelving units before the guillotine drops.

And so- I brave the world of crazy old houses turned into used-book-safe-havens with rickety steps and crazy soft-spoken (and obviously way too peaceful to be human) cash-till-attendants, who somehow manage to remember which books they have on their shelves even when a good portion of them are actually in piles on the floor. I rummage around through covers of sometimes faded lettering, and funky 70′s pinks… all on the elusive hunt- that book which the major sellers no longer stock or print. Or at least, can no longer be found in town. And there, my friends, is the rub…

For a book, being good and old often isn’t enough for you to get printed much. Even if you are printed, being good and old often isn’t enough to find yourself on a shiny bookstore shelf awaiting the ipod-toting masses. [Peace, friend, I too tote an iPod.] Now, you may be able to suggest that there are so many good books, that it’s impossible to keep them on the shelves at all- by sheer mass and volume issues. Ok, I’ll agree a bit here… but what I hate, is that I know I’m not into esoteric authors, and often, a book I’m looking for isn’t to be found anywhere in town! So often, that I’m wondering why in the world I even go to the bookstores, when there is Amazon. (Granted, with it’s own problems.) The most hilarious thing in the world to me is when the “fill-in-name”-bookstore attendant says: “Well, sir, it looks like we don’t carry that book, but we can order it for you.” I smile the smile I’m sure they’ve seen a hundred times that day- “No, that’s ok. Thank you.” Why the hell would I want them to order it for me, when I can get on average 10-30% off on Amazon and often with no shipping if I lump my orders together? (I can even get groceries at the same time.)

But, then, I’m reminded that Amazon, as well as allowing you to get groceries, also puts you in touch with a seriously large used-book marketplace. See, I told you a used-book store was near by! ;) Personally, I like to hold and examine the used books I buy, so I tend to not use this option. I have had friends who have purchased books that I’d swear weren’t used and were in excellent condition.

What authors have I had a Dicken’s of a time finding of late? (sorry for the (oliver)Twist-ed pun) Why the musings? Lately it has been the great author and apologist, G.K. Chesterton. On my first search, I was on the hunt for The Everlasting Man. C.S. Lewis, another apologist, perhaps most important of his century, said this particular work baptised his intellect as George MacDonald baptised his imagination. He called it the best popular apologetic he knew. So, we can surely say the work influenced one of the greatest authors of the time. Can you find it at any local bookstore today? I bet you can’t- I certainly couldn’t. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in my local used bookstore haunt! So, I will have to get a new or used one from Amazon. Now, don’t go getting the idea that Chesterton only wrote about Christianity. Not at all. His Father Brown mysteries are fantastic stories. I did find one of them at one of the locally-owned bookstores, and snagged it. So far the stories have been very enjoyable, and I have another compilation of more of the Father Brown stories waiting for me in my bookcase that I snagged from the unusually-peaceful used-book-store attendant. [Seriously- he's EXTREMELY PEACEFUL- it's disconcerting... take Garrison Keillor and slow him down a notch or two... and perhaps lower his volume by half, and you can see what I mean...]

Speaking of mysteries, another very important mystery writer is very hard to find these days. Only a few of his books are available recently: Georges Simenon. An amazingly prolific writer, Simenon’s work includes nearly 200 novels, 150 novellas, and numerous other writings. The most memorable, perhaps is the great pipe-smoking superintendent of the Police Judicaire, Commissaire Maigret. Many of the Maigret stories are nice short mystery novels, which to me harken to Sherlock Holmes in length and enjoyment. Many times I enjoy the Maigret novels more than Holmes, perhaps because I’ve read too much of Holmes all in one sitting. I have to admit, the knowledge of pipe-smoking that Simenon has lends very well to his pipe-smoking character Maigret, who is almost never without his pipe. One memorable scene even has Maigret enjoying a much needed bowl of tobacco to help him think and relax while bed-ridden with a nasty cold during one investigation. His covers were up to his neck, while his wife was out on an errand; just the pipe sticking out. (Of course after being told he was not allowed to have a pipe that day.) When I can find the Maigret novels, and can afford them, I snag them up like they were candy. Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this secret… on second thought- Maigret sucks horribly- you’ll do yourself an injustice if you buy any of ‘em, so just pass them by, thank you very much…

Talk of Holmes brings us around to one of the most well-loved mystery writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here again, we find that a few of his books have at least up until very recently been extremely difficult to find in bookstores as well. In fact, Doyle’s Sherlock mysteries were outsold by a non-Holmes book in England: The White Company. The White Company is a truly heraldic tale. Taking us back to the days of knights and chivalry, it’s easy to see why young and old minds alike loved the tale of the White Company, headed by the great Sir Nigel (whose stories are available separately). The book was a great refreshing read after not finding much like it in popular writing. Reading the White Company gave me a very serious respect for Sir Doyle’s work. Wonderfully written, and much more descriptive than the short stories of Holmes that were published in The Strand. The White Company is definitely worth a read, even if you were unsure of Doyle after a long bout of reading Holmes.

Don’t be afraid to dig a bit to find those old books, perhaps even used books that are hard to find on the shelves of the mega-book stores these days. Very often, they’re superb but are in the public domain and don’t make a serious amount of money for the store. It’s harder for them to sell these just because they’re not being made into movies, or not very well known. I’m finding wonderful gold-nuggets in my digging, and just felt the need to share ‘em with you. (Not to mention buying a book for $2 is a seriously fun experience.)

Added benefit: A good portion of these works may have been written with fountain pens!! :) He he he.. (ok, I know, I’ve got a problem)… certainly the writers used fountain pens at one point, perhaps not to write their novels. Speaking of fountain pens- here’s a beauty that I snagged at Levengers for a steal- a Pelikan 400 tortoise I believe (some call it “Honey”). Beautiful white plastic accented with gold trim and a dual-tone irridium accented gold nib. Piston filler of course- has a fantastic ink capacity, and will surely last for a very long time. If you haven’t tried any Pelikans, I highly recommend them. Excellent writers, and the piston-fill system is wonderful to use. The picture below is from my huge Miquelrius notebook which is used for my research notes. Ink is Noodler’s Legal Lapis available through Pendemonium.

Pelikan 400

Oh- one last thought: The Harvest. Every year when this season comes around, I’m reminded of how wonderful fresh food straight from the farmers/orchards are. We have in my fridge at the moment, some fresh green beans, fresh super-sweet corn, a half-peck of Honey Crisp Apples, and a bunch of freshly picked ripe from the tree peaches. It’s amazing to me that too many of us have settled with store produce. It is certainly important to us, that’s a given, but to taste fresh fruits and vegetables- one wonders why in the world we eat anything else! When an apple or a peach makes you a bit weak in the knees (and you have no other serious medical conditions) you have to be thankful for the harvest-bounty. A friend of mine has shared his fresh oranges, grapefruit and tangerines from Florida in the past. I used to never really crave any of these things- that is until the day I tasted his family’s tree-ripened fruit. Oh man- I hate to say it, it’s a bit cliche- but as I bit down into a tangerine- I thought- hell, this should be “adult-only” it’s so damned good. When things calmed down a bit, I realized it was just good fruit! :) When your oranges taste like orange-sherbet but juicier, you know you’ve got it good. So, my hat’s off to all the growers out there. I’m very thankful for harvest season- and I’m doing my best to enjoy it while it lasts!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful week, and I hope to be back soon with productivity oriented snippets to share. I’ve been swamped a bit, so the blog has taken a bit of a back-seat, my apologies!

August 8, 2006

Update on FP’s, Wet-Shave, Now Habit, future posts…

Posted in FountainPens, Mac Software, Pipes, Procrastination, shaving at 7:37 pm by a11en

Well, a post has been long over due. I try to ensure that I don’t post nonsense here, so that those who visit will visit often, and get something out of reading my insane ramblings. :) Maybe I’m hoping for too much. I’ve been incommunicado, as I’ve been concentrating on work, as well as somewhat unsure how to tackle my little hack. I’ll call that my “Book Underline Liberation Hack” or BULH… uh… well, you get the idea.

About my “BULH” (pronounced as Bull-@#$@?) hack: My biggest problem in posting a how-to on this, really, is that it utilizes a number of programs that you guys/gals might not be too familiar with. Some surely are, but some may not be. So, I think I’m going to start it as a series. I’ll talk about each program separately, point you to appropriate interesting links that may be of use to you, and then bring everything together in the end. Since it’s a bit of a crazy hack, and I haven’t made any scripts to help you in the hack, a lot of you guys may choose not to use it. But, hopefully the series will help some of you (who may not have decided to install some of the programs before). My ultimate goal is to give you a way to liberate and utilize all those great underlined sections in your books. I find they’re useful when I do re-reads, but often I don’t re-read, and would love to have those sitting where they’re visible to motivate my work. I think the first program up on the block will be Growl. Before this, let me brain-dump a few items of interest. I’ll work on my post on Growl over the next few days.

Fountain Pens

My strong suggestion for anyone who wishes not to get trapped on a slippery slope- is don’t ever try a nice fountainpen. I recently stopped by a local antique store. After looking around a bit, I ask the proprietor if she has any fountain-pens. She says: “Yes, but they’re not out and ready for sale yet…” She digs a bit… out pop some interesting older pens, nothing too exciting… as I look over them and tell her about my limited experience with FP’s, she digs some more, and out pop some big-dogs. We talk for around an hour, and all of a sudden, she says: “Would you be willing to help me?”… “If you help me figure out what these are worth, I’ll give you your pick.” I’m floored… I think on it for a day, and decide to help. So, in front of me sits the following after a stint of hand-polishing (there are more of lesser value as well):

  • Parker “51″ Vacumatic, Third-quarter, 1947 (T47), gold-filled cap, straight line pattern, blue-diamond GF clip, black body
  • Parker Vacumatic Junior, Maxima size, Brown Pearl laminate, 1947
  • Shaeffer’s Snorkel Saratoga, green body
  • Conklin with nice green striated celluloid body, sac-filler
  • Cartridge Shaeffer’s yet to be determined
  • Epenco little sac-filler with wonderful marble celluloid body

Just those three pens on top of the list there were a joy to come by in the wild. There of course a lot of questions- one of the more important for the owner of these, is: Is it better to spend the money on repairing/refurbishing, or is it better to sell them as-is. Being a FP-fellow now, of course I’d love to take a crack at them, or send them away- they’re much easier to buy without being repaired. ;) Any and all comments regarding this, please chime in!

The Wet-Shave Update

Finally got an amazing shaving brush. I purchased a Vulfix Super-Badger brush with a nice knot-size. Price was reasonable- larger than I’d ever spent on shaving accoutrements, but, reasonable. While walking through Marshal-Fields this weekend, I came across a small “The Art of the Shave” shop on the first floor. Talked shaving equipment with the salesman there for a bit. Turns out their smallest super-badger (silvertip) was double the price of the Vulfix brush I purchased a week ago. The brush was at least half as large as mine, to boot. Amazing price difference.

I have to admit that the brush is awesome. I didn’t need much soap on the bristle tips to get a fantastic lather on the face. Incidentally, I’m using that Lavendar soap by Taylor of Old Bond Street mentioned previously. Great soap. Now, I just need to find an after-shave moisturizer that fits nicely with the lavender. The brush hopefully will last me for many many years. I finally actually look forward to my shaves, instead of wishing I didn’t have to do it before heading to work. I’m starting to realize that money spent on things of luxury are often worth it, if they can be enjoyed for many years to come, and you aren’t neglecting an important expenditure. Oh, and that 12-hour 5′O-clock shadow procrastination I mentioned earlier- it’s true. I’m getting a closer shave just by changing to the badger brush and soap. Amazing. Highly recommend a good brush, and a good soap. [Incidentally, the soap looks like it's gonna last me for a couple years as well!]

Now Habit Update

I need to spend more time on this in the near future. Some wonderful things found since I last discussed Fiore’s book. Unfortunately, keeping them in mind often is difficult. I’ve experienced a truth too often: No matter how late I stay up, there’s no way to add more time to my day. Important items often will slip by if I am not more conscious to choose to do them first. Fiore’s book explains the idea of the “unschedule”. It’s quite simple really- schedule your time for everything *but* your work. Sleeping, eating, playing time- showering, tooth-paste time, etc.- when this is accomplished, you see all too clearly how much time there is for work. Often there’s not much time to do your work, so realizing this helps you to make proper decisions about that unscheduled time you have. As well, you should commit to yourself to only do 30 minutes of work. That’s right… 20 hours total a week tops. 30 minutes of focused time. The reason is that if you attempt to do all the time you wish to accomplish in your head (say 18 hours a day, is what I’d love to be doing)- there’s no way you’re going to actually do it. In fact, because you know you should do 18 hours a day, you’ll find it *very* hard to start. Instead, 30 minutes of extreme focus without distractions often gets more done. It’s all a matter of starting. All projects get done just by starting, and starting and starting… over and over again, until the project is finished. Little starts of focused time.

Oh, a bit of a tip, as well- it appears that the infinity journal (both the normal and the mini) from Levenger will fit the Miquelrius journals that I find at Pendemonium and Barnes and Noble. So, if you’re looking for a real leather cover, and a ribbon book-mark for it, the cover will likely fit. Nice to know incase the one that comes with it, runs out. :)

Tobacco And The Sea

After a trip to Levengers at Fields, I walked over to the oldest family owned business in Illinois- Iwanries & Co. Paid for a pipe I had money down on, and perused their tobacco. Lo and behold- I find tins of Murray blended Dunhill blends!! I couldn’t believe it! So, I snagged a number of London Mixture tins. Happy with my surprise find, I walked down to the warf to pay a call on an old friend- The Abegweit. She’s now the Columbia Yacht Club club-house. A number of very kind club members talked with me about the old ferry, and invited me and the family back at a future date. I was floored at their kind offer. As a kid, I leaned over the Abegweit’s bow watching the ocean race by on my way to my grandmother’s house in Prince Edward Island. It was great to see the boat being well-loved.

As I walked, with my pipe in mouth, enjoying the tall-ships that came that weekend to Chicago, I was reminded of how the sea and tobacco were often the two things that most stirred man’s imagination in the days gone by. The days of shaving-brushes, and lavender soaps, wooden ships, and pipes…

July 18, 2006

The “Wet” Shave

Posted in FountainPens, Pipes, shaving at 3:55 pm by a11en

So, for ages I’ve been toying with the idea of doing wet-shaving. A bit of background as to where this was coming from…

Something about the old way of things intrigues me. Perhaps it’s just my limited experience:

  • Pipe smoking is just fantastic- if you’re gonna smoke, for the love of God, please smoke a pipe- everthing else is just ick (or a cigar- both of these are much much better for you than smoking cigarettes into your lungs). I’ll have a page on pipe-smoking in the future when I get some time. (For now I’ll assume that most of you won’t be interested in this.)
  • Handkerchiefs- ok, before you guys go ape-crazy and say: “That’s disgusting!”- have you ever pulled a tissue out of it’s box and seen particles fly all over the place into the air? When the voices in my head talk to me- they say that this is all part of the grand scheme to make me purchase more tissue, ’cause I always sneeze after using ‘em. ;) Normally, I figure it’s just too expensive to keep the powder out of the box during manufacturing. Let’s just say it’s so much better to use cloth than powdery paper. The trick is to buy lots and change them out every single day, so you’re always with a fresh hankie that isn’t nasty as hell. ;) ‘Cause honestly, without a cold, how often do you use a tissue?
  • Fountainpens- are smoother and more enjoyable to write with than any of the ballpoint pens, gel ink or not. Not to mention there’s a huge array of amazing ink colors, and even the option to scent the ink for writing romantic love letters to your muse. Don’t even get me started on vintage pens, and proper paper…
  • Hats as umbrellas- Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, we’ve missed wearing hats. I don’t wear mine all the time, but to keep the sun and rain off your head, out of your face, a hat is an excellent thing. I’ve been in downpours, and between my hat and my teflon-coated barn-jacket, I’m dry as a bone. Everyone else is running for the hills when the rain starts. I just mosey down the sidewalk enjoying the rain: cool mother nature’s shower.

So, the things of old appeal to me for some strange reason. Weird, I know, because in the past I loved everything super-tech- hell, I have a Roomba for gosh sakes. ;)

Now, where was I?- Oh yes- If you think of luxury in a man’s bathroom, you have to somewhere see the badger bristle brush for shaving. It’s a classic. What person hasn’t seen a man’s brush and mug used in a movie for a shaving scene? So, for a long time I’ve been thinking about the “wet-shave”. When I saw a Burt’s Bee’s man’s shaving soap on sale one day at Wild Oats, I snagged it, and shoved it in the back of my cabinet. Then finally this week, I was purchasing some items for Chel at the local Walmart of all things and saw a “natural” bristle brush for like $5. Now, this is definitely not a badger brush- likely it’s boar’s hair. Luckily, a natural bristle is better than plastic bristle. So, I’m up there, but down in the fact that it’s gonna be a very rough brush and not hold as much water as badger.

So last night, I tried it out. I started by moistening my beard- did this by using a washcloth with hot water, held to the face for at least a minute… then washed my face with a good soap. Next I moistened again, and started my work with the brush. With a light hand and circling the brush on the soap, I could work up a nice lather. Definitely wetter and lighter than normal foam shaving cream. I worked the brush in little light circles on my beard, and ensured I had a nice lather on my face before shaving. With hot water in the sink, I proceeded to shave. I have to say it was an interesting experience!! I noticed the difference immediately. I got a very close shave. Much closer than I normally do. I tend to use higher-end cream shave foam and it just didn’t even come close to how smooth my face was when this shave was over. This afternoon, my face is as smooth as it normally is when I shave with a shave foam/gel. So it appears I got an extra 12 hours on my shave. Time will tell, however, if this is true, but, I’m sold. Next up is to try and find a great badger brush and try out some wonderful lavender soap. I’ve heard some wonderful things about Vulfix brushes, and being that some of my relatives were from the Isle of Man, I suspect I’ll be getting one sometime very soon.

For more info on the wet-shave:

Finally, some thoughts: I’m starting to wonder if in the race to achieve bigger, better, faster- we’re slowly losing sight of doing things “well”. Or perhaps Pirsig would say, doing things with “Quality” [2]. We’re so hell-bent on getting ink to paper, that we neglect our handwriting and enjoyment of nib on paper, use pens that lack a range of color that used to be standard, and come in throw-away plastic tubes ready for our consumption. We run from place to place in the rain instead of donning a hat, we don’t share a clean hanky with a lady who might need it as a gesture of care, and we don’t really care how we get the job done of shaving, as long as it’s quick and painless ’cause “we’re late for work.” We’ve also lost a bit of that old politeness that seems to take so long these days. I’ve heard all sorts of stories (from friends) of children disrespecting adults (especially surrounding the smoking issue)- horrible behavior completely foreign just 30 years ago. Now, I know it’s dangerous to yearn for the days of old, especially since they lack air-conditioning <yikes>, but- I think we’re loosing sight of some of the good things. Surely we can have both time saving devices and good things? Perhaps a few of these old good things that take time will actually help us slow down and enjoy our lives a bit more? :) Maybe we can regain some of that “now-ness” for the things we’re about in our day to day lives: reminding us that living is a good thing- that we should enjoy it. What better way than to start our day with a bit of luxury in a wet-shave?

May 21, 2006

Mac fixes itself, GTD, and FP updates…

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Mac, Pipes at 9:10 pm by a11en

I have a few interesting tales to relate, and wish I could spend more time, this might spill over into two posts instead of one.

Macintosh Weirdness

Recently I've been experiencing a frustrating thing with my PB, 15", high-res: lack of battery charging. So, my batteries drained, and I had to work on a power cable constantly… and anytime I pulled the power, it would shut down… this became quite frustrating to say the least, but I still had my work, and still could work. Not as bad as it could have been. So, I read and post on the Apple Discussion pages, and I'm sad to learn the problem is most likely what happened to my Wallstreet, a faulty DC/Sound-In board. I run the AHT side of my install CD, everything checks out. That's good. But, the DC-board is dumb, and apparently the Logic board is semi-dumb. So, the logic-board is only half-out of the woods as the problem. Anyways, I start to track it down… I try another adapter (only a 45 watt- not enough to charge it possibly), it doesn't charge the battery, I now don't really suspect my powerbrick… I buy and try a new battery… no charging… hmm… most likley it's the DC board. On an off-chance, and to help ensure my batteries stay good, I enlist the help of a fantastic gal, Abby. She has the same computer as I do, and I assure her I'll pay for any problems this test might cause. She takes my old battery, and tries to charge it. A week later, we meet up for some coffee to talk about various things (among them Morgellons disease), and my crazy computer woes. She says: "I'm sorry, the battery doesn't charge, Allen." Darnit. Maybe my computer fubarred the battery… out $116 easy… perhaps $116×2 as I have been using the new battery. I vow to take my computer into the university apple techs that day. [time passes, and my readers wonder why they're still reading...] I head to the tech center after a great apple-tech has assured me that she won't have to steal my computer from me for 3 weeks <whew>. She takes the machine back (before I got the battery back from Abby, she had told me that she couldn't charge it, and so I had stopped using all batteries)… she plugs the thing in… power, good… she plugs the battery that Abby tried in… And the thing FREAKIN charges!!! I'm amazed.. jaw drops… the tech laughs… We leave it for a while (worried it was a fluke, and wasn't charging)… and low and behold, it is charging! Numbers going up, charge holding… she drops the battery out and puts the new battery in. Charging. :) I'm amazed. So, I ask her what sort of voodoo do you do… ;) and she laughs. She explains that one of Apple's suggestions with batteries when there are problems, is to take the bad battery, and throw it in a good computer, and then throw it back in to the bad computer… bammo things work. Excessively strange. So, she checks for a few loose connections, says things look good so far, and says to call her on Monday if there are problems. I now have a working computer again, and all thanks to Abby's computer, who by some freak viral-software has fixed my computer. Weird, but, Excellent.

GTD goodies – Levenger's Ballistic Pocket Briefcase

I've ordered a few things from Levenger recently, and I have to say that even though I really wanted to hate their products because they're the price of a small slave-boy from Madagascar, or at least a hand-tanned, hand-sewn, personalized leather satchel made by slave boys who live in Madagascar… I have to say I freakin' love my new Ballistic Pocket Briefcase [2]. I've toyed with the 3×5 hPDA input device, and have to say it harkened to being useful… my back-pocket Moleskine and Cahier never really worked… the Cahier was flexible, but I destroyed it quickly… the Moleskine was hard-backed, but it made me sit sideways in my chair and I looked a bit more crazy than I actually am, (and it hurt a bit after a 12 hour day)… so, enter the Pocket Briefcase. I print my calendar out on 3×5 cards from iCal (see other post in this blog), and I also print out my kGTD (see mac software on the right hand-bar) lists onto 3×5's… so it all slides into my pocket briefcase. As well, I keep blank cards available for notes or inputting new items into my mobile inbox. Best of all, it has gorgeous leather, and easily bends with my fine butt… well, ok, some say is nice… so I don't look like a freak sitting sideways. Add to the mix a Jimi wallet, and I'm now much less frustrated with items in my back pocket.

GTD- Miquelrius and FP's

Right around Mother's day, I was talking with Mom about fountain pens, and we hit upon some pens she had forgotten when she was a girl. Apparently she was given Esterbrooks and hankies when she was a girl for her birthdays and various other events. She said she used to love them a lot, and used to do crazy things with them (like take out their nib and sac and squeeze the sac with her fingers). I was able to find one in town at a local antique store, but unfortunately it needed some minor repairs. I paid a bit more for it than I should have due to this, but since it was only a day away, and I needed something, this was near-perfect. That night I spent some time polishing it with some excellent plastic polishing compounds and cleaning out the old ink from the nib, feed and barrel, etc. She loved it.  I just finished the repairs on Sat., and the pen writes really well.  I had to alter the J-bar sent to me, but other than that the repairs were fairly straight forward.  :)  A ton of fun!

The nice thing about Esterbrooks is that the nib is replaceable and there are a ton of nibs out there for them. [I just wish one had some serious flex.] So, I ordered items for it's repair from Pendemonium, and they came in recently. Amongst them was also a Miquelrius [2] notebook I had ordered. Wow, is this thing huge. A5 format with 300 pages. Gridded (perfect for graphs or data tables etc.), and absolutely fantastic paper. No bleeding at all with my FP (major problem with Moleskines), and smooth as silk with my polished Pelikan m150 Fine nib. This notebook is so very large, I have no fear of reaching the end before I have everything in it that I need to. So, it is now designated as my notebook for thesis studies. When I read a book or journal article, I will now have this guy with me, and the input will go into a table-of contents in the beginning. I'm so very happy with the purchase. I strongly suggest you trying out the notebooks if you are an FP user.

Pipe Goodness

Visiting the local shop in the last few days, I picked up some Samuel Gawaith Squadron Leader. Absolutely fantastic simple and coherent English blend. The latakia is superb in the blend, and it is excellent for an all-day English with a bit more passion than some of Dunhill's old blends. I'm still gonna love my Namasté from Russ O, but Squadron Leader is a nice little change. Doesn't have the orientals that Namasté have, so it lacks that sweet citrus room-note, but is still quite excellent. The tin art is wonderful as well. Excited about my end-of-semester gifts as well. A Pete System Deluxe will soon be paid off, and my ASP pipe-lighter will eventually come my way after another 45 are ordered or so. A good way to celebrate the end of the semester.

Wishing everyone a fantastic start to their week!

April 27, 2006

“Personal” of Personal Productivity…

Posted in GTD, Pipes, Work at 9:44 pm by a11en

Personal Productivity. Only two words here; however, the concepts and scope are quite large. At its simplest, are the two words in the phrase: Personal… and Productivity. ;) (Sorry, I know we're not in elementary school here.) Let's simplify here for a moment… For me, often the most important issue, in terms of improvement begins with the "Personal." This is where growth and psychology meet the world of personal productivity.

As mentioned below in the blog, I've read a *bit* of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. While this is *not* a productivity book, it is a personal growth book. To me, becoming productive can only be successful when one follows general basic psychology and self-improvement practices. To highlight this for you, let's look at your New Year's Resolutions. How many of us have made resolutions, only to never keep them? This is a prime example of how successful self-motivated changes to your productivity will be- or not so much. ;) Unfortunately, most of us are very unsuccessful.

Steve Pavlina's blog discussions on Self-Discipline merged with Peck for me in numerous ways. At the heart of these types of discussions is personal truthfulness, or accountability, and change in our own personal action based on these truths. This is critical to moving oneself forward. If we can't be truthful with ourselves about our ability to accomplish the tasks we set for ourselves, we will always find ourselves losing the personal productivity battle. I don't care how many productivity systems or packets or 3×5 cards you shove in your back-pocket… unless you are truthful and mindful of your actions in these areas, you're bound to have a rough time of things.

Recently, I've begun a small little list of the day's accomplishments. What I am trying to do is highlight what's been done on any particular day so that I can be honest with myself about what is not getting done, and if I'm falling short in my time spent on particular work. I don't know how successful this will be, but I feel that if I can shed some sort of light upon my work ethic, instead of fooling myself internally, I will be forced to be honest with myself about how I'm falling short and where I'm falling short. Then, when I can see the dirty grubby underneath of things, I'll be able to properly motivate myself into action. Truth will only help to motivate ourselves.

For me, this step is personal. Don't share it with the boss, or with anyone else… it may hurt your truthfulness level. Share it only with yourself. You are the one micro-managing yourself… no one else is. To be a proper self-manager, you must properly evaluate yourself and your abilities here. Once you highlight areas that are problems, then you can move forward with goals which are reasonably achievable, and then reward yourself when you accomplish them. [This reward step is very critical.] For some of us, the procrastinators, this may be as simple as the (10+2)*5 hack or the dash… essentially, you want to ultra-focus on one task on your to-do-list, for 10 or 20 minutes. No other distractions, no e-mails replied to, no phone-calls accepted. You're there to accomplish your task. [Set a timer.] Then, when you've worked 10/20 minutes, and the buzzer goes off, chill out… take 5 (or 2), and surf away to a cute website or run down the hall to grab a pop, or a bit of a nice pipe and tobacco.* The point is essentially to know you're going to get a break. It's not the 10 hours of work you know you need to get done this very second… it's the 10 or 20 minutes of starting the work with a predetermined break close at hand, that will help remove the scary frustration of how much you have to get done. So, when that timer hits, take a small break. [If you don't feel like breaking, that's ok... but be honest with yourself... if the task at hand is extremely frustrating, it might be better to take a break before you burn out... then you'll be able to keep going for longer periods of time...]

So, start with honesty. Be honest with yourself. Where are you in your work? How well are you doing at staying on task, and hashing out the plans you've set for yourself? "To Do" lists will only be lists until you actually use them! [To improve your success with ToDo's and day to day ability to accomplish your tasks, I highly recommend David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD).- more on this in future posts] A small aside: Stephen Covey's mission-statements are really an attempt for you to highlight where you want your life to be headed… and in a not so obvious way, to be honest with yourself about where you're headed. Reviewing your goals will help you to keep your mind on task, and help you to be honest about whether or not you're doing what you wish you were doing. – You do wish you were doing it, right? Then why hasn't it been crossed off your list recently?

Wishing you all a productive week's end!

[*- May I recommend Russ Oulette's Louisanna Red? Or, if you're an English/Balkan smoker, try some of Russ's Namasté, a bit like Dunhill EMP (Murray's version), but crossed with a wonderful balkan for some citrusy, light and sweet overtones. It truly is a fantastic all-day blend.]

April 14, 2006

Speed of replies…

Posted in FountainPens, Pipes, Rants, Work at 5:31 pm by a11en

Have you noticed that our lives are now so sped up and connectivity is so great that most people require replies within a half-day if not faster? If they don’t receive one, they assume either (1) you’re dead or (2) you don’t care about them at all and are ignoring them. Thank God we don’t live in the fountain-pen and parchment days of old, eh? Hell, it took months to get replies back and forth across the ocean. Today, we can control a robot in Austrailia in less than 30 seconds. So, every communication becomes critical. “Why didn’t you write yesterday afternoon?” [Perhaps because I was fulfilling other duties which were required? Not everything needs to be about *you* (or *me* for that matter).]

Interestingly, we now no longer worry about proper grammar, handwriting, or appropriate discourse. We have lost the homage paid to the reader and the politeness which used to prevail in the handwritten note days. I’m the first to admit that I can type way way faster than I can write. As well, I am constantly bereated for my poor script. I hope to correct this in the coming years. We’ll see how that goes. ;) But, today’s world thrives with notes back and forth over e-mail that can be lost in the blink of an eye, and trust placed in systems which constantly loose our data. [Just yesterday I had to explain to a prof. how a slew of grades inputted into the "fandangled" new online grade-book system got lost over the course of 24 hours. Thank God for backups kept by yourself in safe places, eh?] Now, I don’t want to go backwards, but perhaps a mixture of both would be appropriate? What would happen if a pinch went off in our towns? That’s one reason that the internet world has been the focus of so much attack in the recent past. Don’t kid yourself, if we don’t strengthen our networks and have backups, we’ll have trouble. Ham Radio operators (I am one) have been for years relaying messages back and forth for various reasons (contests, or communications from our troops home) by word of mouth across the country; as well many operate on emergency power for fun. We have a huge network of communication which can be tapped at any moment the alarm is called… all built on the backbone of amateur radio operators who do this just for fun. Many of them realize that they may easily become a critical path for communication in emergencies; in towns that are storm-ravaged, they often do.

So, my point? Life sometimes is slow. Things take time. Today’s world is hell-bent on making things faster. In many industries, time=money. But, often, in the pursuit of speed, we loose quality[2][3]. We no longer expend our time to write to our friends in our own hand (certainly not with a pen you had to fill with ink yourself), or communicate with them via old-world means (voice communications over land-line). I’ve found that in general, with each stage of disconnection in communication (Face to face, voice to voice, letter to letter, e-mail to e-mail), there is an increase in possible misunderstanding and frustration which can arise from the lack of inflection in the voice, or lack of pen-speed on the paper, etc. This is why emoticons are so prevalent in our online writing. It’s our only way of smiling these days.

As a pipe-smoker, I’m quite familiar with those who want it fast and now. They’re my cigarette smoking brothers and sisters. They need their fix, and their only interest is that. A pipe-smoker on the other hand may take up to 1 hour to finish a pipe (and sometimes longer). The selection of the tobacco (and drink/coffee/tea on the side) to suit your current taste, the selection of the pipe to suit the tobacco, the packing and lighting to ensure a good smoke through the bowl and finally the slow and relaxed deliberate enjoyment of the flavor of the fine tobacco during the enjoyment of a good book, or contemplation of those great men who have influenced your life. That is the way of the epicurean; not the fixated now-focused person. Those who doubt me, pick up a pipe (every-day last-forever pipes are generally in the $100 range… those who have money to blow, you can spend $3,000…), learn about the types and regions of tobacco manufacture and their extreme variation of flavor (cigar smokers, you are missing out here), and learn about the pursuit and art of pipe-smoking. [To my brothers and sisters who enjoy their tobacco in any form, I offer my hand in the fight against those who would remove our liberties for the pursuit of extreme protectionism built on the backs of pure fabrication.]

Things seem to take 5x as long for me, as for someone else. Whether it’s researching some minutea in my research work that I didn’t learn because I switched fields, or doing something abnormal with my data because it’s the more appropriate way to analyze it (2D -v- 3D fitting functions), I seem to take longer with everything. This generally comes back to bite me in the butt later on. Fun, eh? :) Oh well. I fear this is my fate. Couple this with severe procrastination (ADD?) and you have a mix of problems. So, I’ll watch over my focus, try to speed myself up to cope with the interest in fast -v- good, and we’ll see if we can’t pump out some serious work this month. [Don't let the above fool you, often my work is just good enough, and should be better. The horror is that it would take much longer!]

My thought to summarize- ask yourself if perhaps a written letter to a friend or loved-one may not be a nice thing to do for them in this day and age of easily deleted emoticon-laden e-mails. Oh, don’t worry it may take a bit of time. Hell, write it twice to make sure you know what you want to say. I guarantee you it will make a big impression. My Love just informed me that my little notes I sometimes slip into her lunch-bag often get left there on purpose for days and days because they make her smile. :)

Oh, and those who haven’t tried out a fountain-pen: please get one and create a bit of joy in your writing by hand again… you’ll thank me for it. [The frugal should look into the Lamy Safari and it's siblings for an excellent bang-for-the-buck pen. Be sure you get the converter so you can fill it with your own ink. Of which I strongly suggest you try Noodler's- Tardiff's inks are pushing the envelope on fountain-pen ink in a world gone mad with the lack of touching the pen to the page... archival quality, pH neutral inks, hell, he even makes an invisible ink...] (BTW, isn’t paper a renewable resource? A few of my students kill me, because they attempt to write on a single side of a single sheet of paper… then they claim they’re doing it for the ecosystem. Well, my liberal use of red-ink is for the advancement of your internal ecosystem. ;) )

Earworm: “This Place Is A Prison” performed by The Postal Service from the album Give Up

Just found this post by Jason, a kind fellow who liked some of my insane ramblings… don’t lump him into guilt by association here, friends. He has an excellent post put up a few days ago entitled: “The Professionalism of Communication” which touches a bit on the subject matter above. Excellent thoughts, Jason!

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