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Archive for October, 2012

Scaredy Cat

Posted by Dirck on 31 October, 2012

That title really has to go to our now-long departed big blue cat, who was so retiring that most of our friends thought we were pretending to have a cat.  I, however, am making some in-roads in that direction, and I’m curious to find out why.  Let me count my fears and compel them, in hopes of in some degree dispelling them.

The lesser fear is connected with a freedom granted by the Regular Job; one may wear a costume today, should one incline.  My response to someone asking if I was going to participate was lukewarm.  There was a time in my life when I would have said, “Hell, yes!” so this is odd.  I put it down to not having a great investment in the people at Regular Job; it is not a definition of me, and the people there are no more than acquaintances.  This fact leads me to hesitate to set myself up as an object of fun; “oh, dear,” says the sad creature I was in my early teens, who still dwells within, “what if they point and laugh?  What if they go on pointing and laughing for the forseeable?”

For much of my adult life, I’ve been self-possessed enough to not attend to the ghost Bluebottle of the past.  Am I slipping?  I still dress, on a regular basis, like a weirdo; if pointing and laughing were to occur, it would already be underway, so this is a mere vapour.  As a committed Ambivalent Rationalist-Buddhist Pagan, I accept the underlying reason for the Hallowe’en costume, the disguising of one’s self to avoid being found out by creepy things during the thinning of membranes, and thus should be all over looking not like myself.  The fear under this fear– am I using the fear of derision as a cover for becoming self-important?  Eugh!

The greater fear is in fact a phobia.  I’m not going to reveal it, lest my own personal Moriarity turn it against me, but it’s a new development.  I was reading something on topic yesterday, and the imaginative process put me into about the same state that I’d be were I actually in the situation.  I have not previously, at least in adult memory, felt literally helpless with fear, but I had a couple of minutes of it and it was no fun.  “Fear”, though, is a very weak word indeed.  The thing that had climbed into my head was absolute, almost cosmic, terror, and it was almost impossible to form a thought around it.

This brief brush with such a sensation reminds me of the opening quote from “The Repairer of Reputations“:

Ne raillons pas les fous; leur folie dure plus longtemps que la nôtre…. Voila toute la différence.

…which we may take as “Don’t belittle the mad; their lunacies just last longer than ours…. There’s the whole of the difference.”  The thought I was having trouble forming in that state was this; if you keep this up, you may forget what it’s like to not feel like this, so start with the kittens and uplifting slogans right damn now.   I really wish I could work out why, now, after decades of the basis of the irrational fear being proven as not something I ever find happening this has suddenly appeared.  Sudden notions of mortality?  Changes of brain chemical?  More to lose, there being a son to consider?

There are only two things I currently take from the experience; that I am very glad that I live in a part of the world where the situation of horror is extremely unlikely to be possible, and I can usually see it coming and avoid it, and that I dispair of ever imparting a tenth part of that sensation in any eventual readers of my fiction.

For the record; I’m wearing a Max von Sydow costume.  I leave it to the readers’ imaginations to decide what that means.

Today’s pen: Noodler’s Ahab (boo!)
Today’s ink: Herbin Perle Noir (eek!)


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Reading Suggestion for a Creepy Night

Posted by Dirck on 30 October, 2012

Even as I type this, I’m listening to a discussion of one of M.R. James’s cracking yarns and looking out the window at some extremely uncommon fog; it’s not unseasonal, but it’s been there for hours, and we just don’t do that here.

I’m going to be very brief today, for want of any real inspiration of my own (as far as this enterprise is concerned; I’m almost crawling with little bits of fiction that need to be slotted into the various stories I have on the bubble).  All I really have is the titular suggestion, and a brief agrument for it.

The suggestion is a story I’ve known of for ages, but was finally moved to look at by a series of thematically-linked movie reviews at one of my favourite sites for that sort of thing.  The thematic link, which won’t last once he updates again, is films based in a greater or lesser degree on Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”.  Most of these movies are from the 1960s, a time of increasing creative liberation, and the reason for the confluence of time and tale is the purported undercurrent of, if I may be briefly indelicate, HAWT girl-on-girl action!! in the source material.

…which, as I’ve seen none of the films, may be present in them.  I suggest the story itself not on this basis; while I’m not a prude, I leave it to seekers of HAWT girl-on-girl action!! to discover it for themselves, and a moment of reflection will suggest that a story published at any point during the lifetime of Sheridan Le Fanu (d. 1873) is unlikely to be the kind of thing which that sort of seeker is going to be at all interested in.  Indeed, having now read it, I will reassure my own readers that the undercurrent, while perceptible by a willing mind is hardly present enough to give even Her Imperial Majesty Victoria a moment’s pause (assuming the one I looked at hasn’t been bowdlerized, which I doubt).

I recommend it because, when Le Fanu finally gets down to business on the vampirin’, it is some really good vampirin’.  There’s no sparkles, there’s wasting away, there’s unnerving imagery, and while there’s also a hint of romantic tragedy it doesn’t cloy.  It is, in fact, very damn creepy, and makes for nervous glances into dark corners of the room.  Exactly the sort of thing one wants at this time of year.

If you want a look, here’s the link.

Say, that wasn’t so brief after all.

Today’s pen: Wahl 326AW
Today’s ink: Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun

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Hot Dead Guy

Posted by Dirck on 29 October, 2012

I lift a notion from the remarkable Madame Weebles today (while she’s distracted by the Great Storm Confluence of The Year 12).  She’s been showcasing hunks, smolderers and diverse other men of interest who have shuffled off this mortal coil.  I’m going to add a chap she’s not yet looked at:

When he was younger, he was said to make women swoon with the power of his eyes. Honest.

Conrad Veidt, the man who was almost Dracula and the man who made The Joker, and a guy who you probably should appreciate.

I think I hear some confused contradiction.  “What’s this ‘made The Joker’ stuff?  Wasn’t that, depending on which retelling one considers, Batman’s doing?”  I grant this stance, but if we step outside the fiction for a moment, we will find that Bob Kane was behind both of them, and he’s occasionally admitted that The Joker’s genesis came from one of Veidt’s films from his first round of work in Hollywood towards the end of the silent era.  Here, have a look, decide for yourself.

Veidt as “Gwynplaine”, melodramatic protagonist

The Joker, comic book antagonist

“OK, fine.  ‘Almost Dracula’?”  Well, here’s one of life’s ironies.  Lon Chaney, the most unrecognizable man in Hollywood, was on the hot seat for the title tole in the 1931 Tod Browning film.  Chaney, though, went and died in 1930, something which even his considerable talent couldn’t work around.  Who, the studio pondered, might fit?  Veidt had a long history of playing in horror (a genre that was almost specifically German in the 1920s), and was asked.  He declined, as it was to be a talkie, and he feared his imperfect mastery of English would hinder the film’s popularity.  The way was thus opened for Bela Lugosi to learn the lines phonetically.

That, however, is sort of aside the point of why he should be appreciated, as he spent more or less the last ten years of his life working against the Nazis.  That does indeed mean that he started in 1933; he was married to a Jewish woman, and thus had a pretty firm grip on the way the new regime in Germany was headed from the beginning.  Most of the money he didn’t need to live on went to either a pro-refugee or anti-Nazi effort, and once the war got underway, he more or less typecast himself as Villainous Nazi Officer in an effort to get the movie-going public into the habit of really hating those guys.

The picture above, by the way, is in my house.  It was my wife’s primary birthday present, the thing I did this past weekend I didn’t mention on Friday.  She has a big fat necro-crush on the chap, which I can live with and even encourage as he and I are unlikely to come to blows.  I am thus bragging a little at having bought my wife a very nice present as a central motive for posting like this; the fact that the majority of Veidt’s output is properly Hallowe’eny is a mere side benefit.

Oh, one last thing.  He died while golfing.  If any more proof of golf’s wicked nature were needed, I can’t think of it.

Today’s pen: Parker 180
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis (the same colour as my toes; turn up the heat, Regular Job!)

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“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”

Posted by Dirck on 26 October, 2012

Rather than bore you all on Monday with what I did over the weekend, I think I shall rather bore you all with what I intend to do.  This being the weekend before Hallowe’en, when the spirits are about (and being consumed in great quantities by college freshmen wearing either Fred Flintstone or Sexy {insert profession here} costumes), and even we firmly stick-in-mud long-married couples have a sense that, damn it, some fun needs to be had.

Of course, being what we are (and not just the preceding description), our notion of fun is not quite what others might follow.  We might, but for a paucity of sitters, be almost like others; some friends are hosting a Time Traveller party which would be right squarely up our alley.  The situation being what it is, sitting quietly about the house and watching creepy films is about the size of it, but what a bounty of creepy films we have on tap!  We have cheated ourselves a bit, having already watched something that is just on the edge of “OK with the kid in the room”, which I hint at in the title (name it in the comments and earn the admiration of others; name the somewhat-old which sampled it and gain extra lauds), but good old Turner Classic Movies is really pushing the boat out on Saturday with a solid eighteen hours of largely Hammer horrors, and what’s not Hammer is just as much fun.  If nothing there suits the moment, we’ve things on disc tame enough the tiny tyrant, but with sufficient subtle terror to see us happy.

During the day, I will probably play at least one of the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre discs I’ve got.  They’re extremely cunning simulations of 1930’s radio dramas, without any winking modern irony, and all of them do at least as good a job at offering the shudders of cosmic horror as the written works they’re adapted from; in one case, certainly, even better.

Sunday night, I am going to suggest an abandonment of electronics (Walking Dead being something we definitely can’t watch with freedom); we have occasionally had reading nights, and it’s about time we had another.  There’s a couple of M.R. James’s stories that shouldn’t panic the son, who will no doubt go and pursue his hobby of staging little wooden train crashes after a couple of minutes in any event.  Stodgy?  Perhaps… but if you read “Count Magnus” with your imaginator engaged, you are apt to be amazed at how graphic it is.

At some point on Sunday, my wife and I will no doubt also have a great roaring debate, as much as ever we do, over the making of popcorn balls to hand out on the night itself in lieu of teeny chocolate bars.  She sees it as a waste, I as both a savings and a nod to a more traditional Hallowe’en.  Should the kids not be slightly afraid of the free candy they got?

Today’s pen: Sheaffer 300
Today’s ink: Organics Studio Manganate V

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Bullies, Redux

Posted by Dirck on 25 October, 2012

I find that I must be away at other duties over this lunch hour.  Those at leisure might wish to read something uplifting, and then contemplate how less measured their own response in the face of such provocation might be.  I suspect the author will still get called a terrorist by the person he’s responding to.

Today’s pen: Parker Challenger
Today’s ink: Herbin Vert Empire

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Going Grey

Posted by Dirck on 24 October, 2012

I had thought of a “Shades of Grey” variation as a title, but that’s a bandwagon I don’t even really want to be on the same street at.

I stuck my head in yesterday at a forum discussion of  long-term ink usage.  The initiator of the discussion, finding his ink use limited in terms of colour and brand, pondered whether it were possible to get a life-time supply of ink.  My immediate thought was…

It outlasted the original purchaser, at least.

…it used to be. Others mentioned that Pelikan has liter bottles of it, and Noodler’s can be had by special arrangement in up to 32 ounce flasks (that’s just 946 ml, or 66.6 UK Tablespoons), and given that the 62.5 ml Regular Job bottle of ink, put into service at the start of this year, has only just passed the half-way point, either of those modern gargantuas will last a very long time.

There is, however, a potential problem with that.  Ink is a liquid.  Organisms of all sorts think liquid is a great place to set up housekeeping.  There are chemicals in ink to deter them, but those are not always successful, and they you’ve got something that’s rather too chunky to pass through a pen.

Even if that unhappy development never eventuate, there is still grim Entropy to consider, and her local attendant, Oxygen.  When using ink, the bottle has to open.  Unless one has a sealed glove-box and a tank of nitrogen to devote to the effort, the opening of the bottle and the removal of ink sees common air and its freight of oxygen enter.  Have a look at this nice, fresh, Lamy blue-black:

Fresh Lamy blue-black

And then compare it to a bottle opened a couple of years earlier.  I think you’ll find the alteration pretty obvious:

Wilted Lamy blue-black

One of the modern notions of a blue-black ink seems to be an attempt to make something new that looks like what the old readily reactive versions, which in their day would have been rather more like the first Lamy sample, have become over decades of slow oxidation.

Waterman, 1940s



Pelikan modern; “heavy” being an indication of the change a damp pen makes



Reeves, 1950s, as decanted from the preceding bottle



Skrip modern


…so you see that the idea of clinging to ink indefinitely is a foolish one.  This sort of degradation is not inevitable, and this specific form of it is less likely to affect non-ferrotanic inks, but I look at the relatively pale blue both my vintage blues are, and I think that they’ve probably lose something to the march of time. 

I’m saying this as a bow to both Entropy and my old dance partner, Irony, since as I’ve been mulling over this entry, I’ve also been enthusiastically, nay with wild avaricious abandon accepting a kind offer to send me a baker’s dozen of ink samples.  Take heed, self of a couple of weeks from now, who is opening a parcel full of variously coloured delight; you need to use those.  Don’t hold onto them for something special, you silly man; fling ’em about with abandon.  You’ve got plenty of others, and none of them are getting any younger, either!

Today’s pen: Sheaffer 300
Today’s ink: Organics Studio Manganate V

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Mulled Whine.

Posted by Dirck on 23 October, 2012

I find myself unable to focus on any of the usual topics I digress upon here, as I’m on the horns of a bit of a dilemma.  We’re having an election tomorrow, and I have yet to sort out who I dare to vote for.  It’s a civic election, and given a city of under a quarter-million inhabitants, one might be forgiven for yawning and pulling the covers up until the whole thing is passed, but the frequent reader will know that I take my franchise seriously.

We are constantly told that the local economy is not only firing on all cylinders, but has been replaced with a carefully restored Merlin 130.  Which should mean the livin’ is easy, right?  Well… the tangible benefits are a little hard to point out, and the downside is surging costs of living (still low relative to many places, but wages are not keeping up as they seem to be pegged to the more sedate national numbers), infrastructure that’s not able to hold together under the demands being placed on it (the roads don’t do well anyway, given the sub-soil ’round here), and a failure of policy to keep up with reality (loads of people moving here = school closures).  Given that many of the problems that can be addressed at a municipal level are the result of having a city council made up of an amazing proportion of real estate agents and the attendant although evidently non-actionable conflict of interest which arises from setting local land use policy and handling local land transactions, I’m fairly interested in putting my vote in the right place.

Alas, there are no parties at this level of politics.  This is generally a good thing, in that there’s no party discipline forcing foolish behaviour (vis, the shouts of “If he says up, we say down!” heard from the US capitol these last four years), but come time to cast votes it makes getting a real grip on candidates a chore, since one can’t just say, “Ah, the Baby-Eater party; not for me… hmmm, Nihilist-Lumber party hasn’t really got a sound platform….”  Like party-based politics, the talking points are all very similar, and one loses the handy livery to know how to interpret the noise.

…and then there’s the stadium.  How dare one mention the stadium?  I’ve commented briefly in the past on how mad on sports the local population is, with certain holdouts like your correspondent.  The old-style open-air arena in which The Big Game is held every damn weekend from April through November is getting long in the tooth, and there is a move afoot to spend HYYYOOOOOGE! amounts of public money on a new place to play, with a magic roof and fairy-warmed seats and so forth.  My wife has aptly described this exercise as buying a 90″ TV and all accessories for a house with a dodgy floor and half the shingles blown off.  There are a couple of candidates for mayor who have had the bravery to say similar things… but one of them appears to blame the Assyrian Empire for some of our troubles, and the other (honestly) suggests that some of that money would be better spent on a motorsport track.  We’re probably stuck with it, but I’d like to complain with a clear conscience when the inevitable cost over-runs appear and we’re told we have to give up public transit and street lights.

So, you see why I’m having trouble thinking about pens, handwriting or obscure early 20th century weird fiction today.  Heck, even the release of the TWSBI Mini has gone to a back-burner for the moment.  I need to consider platform statements… again.

Today’s pen (a relatively easy choice): Parker Challenger
Today’s ink (hardly considered for a moment): Herbin Vert Empire

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Still Chewing That Bone

Posted by Dirck on 22 October, 2012

Apart from battening the outside of the house against the manifest onrushing of Winter (no snow, but the air had this taste…), the main enterprise of the weekend was making some pens write properly.  These were not my own pens, but those of a friend/correspondent/client who decided to take advantage of my recently admitted-to powers of exorcising lesser demons from points and feeds.  With only one exception, they’re all made by manufacturers with whom I’m unfamiliar, and they’re an interesting bunch.

Five pens, all wanting their points looked at.  Mainly drier than the owner would like, but there were also issues of scratchiness and discomfort in writing.  Looking at them closely, the problems were easily understood.  The corners of the tipping on a cursive italic left entirely unrounded, for example, which will of course catch on paper; while a cursive point has relatively sharp edges, there is still a bare minimum of rounding needed to prevent catching on the fibres of the paper.  Or, in the case of the most offensively dry pen, the slit compressed so tightly that ink couldn’t hope to flow down it.  Easily diagnosed, under magnification, and if not easily then at least readily sorted out.

I’m not going to name names just at the moment, because I suspect there’s a little bit of sampling error going on; one example of each, out of however many hundreds or thousands of each model have been made, and collected in one place precisely because that one example has something amiss.  I am going to cast some aspersions, but I’m going to keep them non-specific.  It’s not just because I’m afraid of the kind of lawyers a well-funded pen company might lay on.

Oh, yes, well-funded.  With one exception, none of these pens are in any way the sort of thing I would have the money loose to buy myself.  That one exception, a mere starveling available for less than $100 retail, is a bit of a pauper in the company it arrived in, as removing it puts the average cost of the bunch as something above $500 each.    That’s a shocking amount of money to spend on a pen that’s not writing well.

In the case of the very very dry pen, I think I can see some sense in it; it stopped being dry when one put the sort of weight on it that a habitual ball-point user would apply.  The slit opened up, ink came out in a reasonable torrent, and there’s your functional pen.  The others, with their grabby edges and misaligned tines, don’t have that excuse.  Three of them are Italian, and there is something of a tradition in Italian manufacturing to go for the looks rather than the function (at least, that’s my deeply misinformed notion), but bowing to the foolish bigotted pre-conceptions of stupid foreigners like me is hardly an excuse for charging a pile of money for a badly finished pen.  It’s troubling.

…and it gets back the the largely unanswerable question of “Is it worth it?” that I mirrored the asking of a couple of weeks back.  When one brushes up against such troubling examples of the pen-maker’s art gone sideways, it becomes harder to say “Yes.”   The percentage of the pen’s whole cost that someone like me asks for to make it work properly goes down with every extra zero at the end of the price-tag, yes, that’s true.*  However, it’s still adding to what is already a vast sum.  People will balk, and rightly so.  I take comfort in the notion of coicidental sampling error, because I might start to question my faith in pens otherwise.

The silver lining; now that they’re doing what they’re supposed to, they are rather nice.  Intermittent vicarious pen richness is a real treat.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer 300 (cheap, and worked properly right out of the box)
Today’s ink: Organics Studio Manganate V

*A couple of people have asked how my weekend went at The Regular Job, and the vast heap of wealth this pocket-full of pens represented was mentioned.  “Gosh,” said each of them separately, “don’t you charge more for the expensive ones?”  No.  No!  I charge for my effort, and that doesn’t really vary as a function of the cost of the pen (one of the really expensive ones was shockingly easy to get sufficiently apart).  If there’s an extra charge put on nice pens, it’s that non-monetary aspect I mentioned at the end; I get to experience an expensive pen without paying for it, and the client doesn’t lose anything for however much I gain from the experience.

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Leave Those Kids Alone

Posted by Dirck on 19 October, 2012

My Friday abdication of responsibility is some extra reading.  Before you all start moaning, let me say that it’s not only an entertaining exhibition in the use of one of English’s most-used and most-exported words (so, don’t read it near the young’uns nor the boss), it’s a fine example of the way I think most people should feel when the notion of bullying bobs pass their field of vision, never mind the actual practice.  So, go forth and read.  You’ll be a better person.

Today’s pen: Baoer 388
Today’s ink: Diamine China Blue

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I (Write) Like Ike!

Posted by Dirck on 18 October, 2012

As so often before, I lie with my title.  A couple of days ago, I was examining a blog in passing, and I fell to a come-on in the sidebar which said:

I write like
St. Ralf Mendax

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

…and I went off down the link to discover who a piece of possibly well-found software written by any number of anonymous persons of unknown literacy thinks my writing style resembles.  What could possibly go wrong?

The idea behind this thing is that you copy a section of your writing, paste it into the site’s box, and it will taste and judge it.  Being the devotee of science that I am, I thought that a single sample wouldn’t give an accurate result, and so I went to work lifting ten samples from diverse entries here over the last couple of months.  Not surprisingly, the results were not entirely consistent.  The first sample I gave it was like, it thought, Mary Shelley.  Since I’m not too concerned about gender identification as far as writing goes, that’s cool.

Mary Shelley, though, I write only somewhat like.  I apparently write as much like her as like Cory Doctorow, an assessment I’ll also happily accept, but out of the ten samples I got H.P. Lovecraft three times, producing a small warm glow of delight, and four times I got David Foster Wallace.


Here I reveal my insular ignorance.  He is, I discover through the power of Teh Intarnetz, a highly regarded and well received novelist, of the same age as me.  However, apart from “published” and “critically acclaimed” points of difference, there is also the point that despite the fact he’s the same age as me, he was born four years earlier; we might add “successfully suicidal” to the mix.  I’m neither of those last bits, and I’m not convinced that the previous ones are worth the trade-off.  I’ll happily put off publication and adulation of the literati in favour of not being dead.  Lovecraft didn’t last very long either, but at least that wasn’t his choice.

Overlooking for a moment the unhappy end of the man’s life, the comparison is extremely flattering.  I will cling to this as a wrestle with the last paragraph of a short story that simply will not bear the weight of what goes before it, regardless of how I come at it, and I will hold it up as a goad when the free-time choice of “Work on the novel”/”More Plants vs. Zombies” hangs before me.  It’s a huge ego-booster, if one dares believe the results.

I should address, before I wrap up, the hanging question of “what could possibly go wrong?”  I’ve only reported nine of my samples, you will notice.  What could possibly go wrong is the unreported sample.

Dan Brown.  “Suicidal” sticks its unlovely head around the corner, smelling despondency… if one dare believe the results.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer TRZ
Today’s ink: Diamine Syrah

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