March 31, 2014

Finished Tattoo & Artwork

This is a follow up to a post I made about my new tattoo. The tattoo has been done for a while now, and I'm really happy with it. The color is awesome, the design is exactly what I wanted, and all the elements flow together. I just wish that I could get a decent picture of it. For now, the best I could do is this selfie:

I like this tattoo. The design and rendering of the electric eraser and the orange slice are top notch, and the amount of detail is impressive. I am trying to schedule a touch-up appointment with the artist (Craig Driscoll) so that he can smooth in the color of the translucent green french curves. Other than that, I wouldn't change a thing.

As is customary, the artist gave me his original working sketch as a souvenir. I love the artwork, so I asked him to create a color rendering for me. Using the sketch as a guide, Craig created an awesome original piece for me, along with several archival quality prints for my sisters. The original drawing is just as impressive as the tattooed version.

 I framed the original artwork and it now hangs in my office. I am super stoked on the work that Craig did for me. I'm sure that Dad would have liked it, too. 

March 18, 2014

Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica: Bling-Bling Pen!

I recently placed an order with one of my favorite online vendors, and needed to buy a little something extra to get free shipping. A few minutes and US$2.50 later, this gem of a pen was added to my order: Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica (Blue-Black color).

Backstory . . . I'm a big fan of the Hi-Tec-C pens. I was really liking my Hi-Tec-C Coleto pen until I discovered that the refills don't behave nicely if they don't get regular use (I assume that the tips dry out and get clogged). I only have one traditional Hi-Tec-C pen, but its 0.3 mm tip is too fine and scratchy for me. So, when I saw this Hi-Tec-C variant for sale, my goal was to buy a 0.4 mm version to replace the 0.3 mm pen. The excitement of buying a new pen must have been too much to handle, and I suffered a major shopping cart failure.

I accidentally ordered a 0.3 mm version of the Maica pen. Of course, it writes just like my other 0.3 mm Hi-Tec-C, which means I don't like it. As luck would have it, my daughter loves this bejeweled Hi-Tec-C, and she doesn't mind the needle tip. So I gifted the pen to her.

The Maica really is a pretty pen. It has aristocratic script on the body, a shiny colored body that matches the ink color, and a clear cap. Just look at the faceted gem-like flair that resides at the top of the cap:

OK, I can see why some uber-masculine writers may feel threatened and challenged by this sparkly writing instrument. Understood. That said, the pen IS rather handsome and it has an elegant design to it. The grip section is a little thicker than the standard Hi-Tec-C, which creates a better fit for large manly hands. The grip section also featrues some plastic knurling, which sets it apart from the standard Hi-Tec-C grip.

By the way, the pen uses standard Hi-Tec-C refills, which means there are a million colors and tip sizes from which to choose. The next time I place an order, I'll be careful to select a 0.4 mm or 0.5 mm version, with extra bling if available.

February 11, 2014

Inexpensive Acquisition: Gear Tie Thingy

This is just a quick blurb about something stupidly simple, but awesomely useful: Nite Ize Gear Ties. These gear tie thingies are glorified twisties; you know, those annoying wire ties that keep loaves of bread from escaping their bags. The Nite Ize product is more durable, rugged, strong, and colorful . . . but it's still basically a bendy wire. OK, it's a thick bendy wire wrapped in a pretty rubber sheath.

These gear ties come in various lengths ranging from 3 to 64 inches. I have a handful of the 3-inch size and a couple of the 6-inch size. I use them for my charging cords, speaker wires, LAN cables, and headphones. You'd be surprised at how useful they are. Really.

Not much more to say about these gear ties. The instructions are straightforward and very easy to understand: "bend it around something". You owe it to yourself to check these out. All the cool kids have them now.

February 2, 2014

Sennheiser PX 100-II Portable Headphones

I like headphones (good ones) because they are a relatively inexpensive way to experience high quality audio playback. I prefer the sound of open headphones, but there are times when I am forced to use closed headphones (e.g., late at night to avoid bothering others or when it's necessary to block environmental noise). I used to own a great set of open headphones by Grado, but I replaced them with a set of closed headphones by Sony.

I recently had an epiphany and determined that I must acquire another set of open headphones for casual use around the house. Simply put, there are times when it's extremely important to hear things in the surrounding environment when listening to personal music (pizza delivery, hard boiled egg timer, angry bear charging from behind, etc.). I didn't want another set of Grados, and I really wanted a portable design having a short cord and a carrying case if possible. So I hit the Internet, did some research, and decided to get a set of Sennheiser PX 100-II portable headphones.

Sennheiser PX 100-II
These headphones are great for what they are: inexpensive, lightweight, small, and portable cans that are primarily designed for use with laptops, tablets, and digital media players. I didn't buy the "i" version, which includes a microphone control on the cord for use with iPhones.

Open Back Design
The open back design means that sound leaks in both directions. If you play music at eardrum shattering levels, then you will annoy people sitting near you. Conversely, outside noise can and will be heard through the earpads. Speaking of which, the earpads are rather small because they are designed to sit on your ears (not around them). Lack of sound isolation doesn't bother me because I only use these headphones in certain situations where isolation is unimportant.

Easy to Fold
I like how the headphones can be folded into a neat and compact configuration. The earpads twist inward, and the two arms fold upward and lock together as shown above. This makes them easy to carry in a backpack or messenger bag.

Easy to Store
The PX 100-II headphones come with a soft carrying pouch. It's a nice touch, but the pouch provides absolutely no structural protection. It would have been great to have a hard shell case in addition to (or instead of) the drawstring bag.

How do they sound? In my opinion, they provide an awesome audio bang for the buck. They cannot compete against the megabuck offerings from Sennheiser, Grado, Beyerdynamic, Audeze, and others, but they are at the head of the class in their niche category (open, portable, inexpensive). If anyone is interested in more detailed reviews, browse over to Head-Fi. I'm sure that you'll find many pages of comments, reviews, and user critiques there.

January 20, 2014

Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook (Revisited)

This is just a quick follow up to my previous post about the Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook. After writing that post, I purchased and used other "good" fountain pen friendly paper, including a Rhodia Webnotebook. I'm no paper expert, but I've found that the Leuchtturm1917 paper works better for me than Rhodia and Clairefontaine paper. Don't get me wrong, Rhodia and Clairefontaine paper products are great, and I like using them. However . . . Rhodia and Clairefontaine products are expensive, and the paper used in those products can be too smooth and impenetrable for some of my fountain pens. As a result, some pens skip when writing on Rhodia/Clairefontaine paper. In addition, ink takes forever to dry on those papers.

In contrast, the paper found in Leuchtturm1917 notebooks seems to hit a sweet spot such that the paper is absorptive enough to prevent skipping, while also being smooth enough to accommodate pleasant fountain pen writing. OK, I admit that these characteristics may also result in slightly more ink spread, feathering, and show-through than other premium paper. That said, the combination of all those minor downsides pales in comparison to the occasional skipping that I experience with the competing paper. Seriously, I can't stand it when my flowing words of written wisdom get abruptly interrupted by Mr. Rhodia saying "let me stop you right HERE so that you can appreciate my glass-like surface, which limits ink distribution to within a submicron range."

Some folks may retort with comments such as "you're doing it wrong" or "you need to send your pens to a nibmeister and have them all tuned up" or "have you tried using ink X" or "you suck and I hate you" or "I'll bet you live in a dry climate, and that you have hard water, and that you don't eat enough fresh fruit" - fair enough. I suppose I'm just glad that the Leuchtturm1917 paper allows me to write with all of my fountain pens in a consistent and expected manner. Just saying.

January 8, 2014

Qi Charger

I picked up a Motorola Droid Mini phone a while ago. After tinkering with it for a short time, I discovered that it has native support for wireless charging (compliant with the Qi inductive charging standard). For the geekspeak challenged, "inductive charging" = "charging without plugging your phone in" (some people call it "wireless" charging, but that's not technically true because the Qi charging pad must be connected to a power source using wires, a cable, a cord, coat hangers, twisted tin foil, or the like). For the pronunciationally challenged, "Qi" = "Chee" (as in Kim Chee or Cheetos).

There are many Qi chargers available on the market now. I acquired the Koolpad charger shown here:

The charging pad came with a micro USB cable (no power adapter is provided). The USB cable allows the charging pad to be connected to any powered USB port or to a wall adapter that has a USB port. I simply used my Motorola wall adapter to connect the charging pad. I did not have to modify my Droid Mini at all (no additional hardware, no app downloaded, no settings tweaked).

The Qi charger works like a charm, and it was one of my best acquisitions of 2013. I keep it plugged in at the office, where I spend most of my time during the week. I simply place my phone on the pad whenever the battery drops below about 50% to top it off while I work. The charging pad automatically recognizes the phone (or vice versa?) whether or not the phone is on. The magic begins with a beep emitted from the pad and a confirmation generated by the phone. The green indicator light (shown in the picture) changes to blue when the phone is charging, and reverts back to green when the battery reaches 100%.

Qi charging takes a little longer than usual, but that doesn't bother me at all because I usually have several hours of desk time during each workday. I don't mind charging at a leisurely pace. If I need to charge my phone faster, I simply remove the charging pad from the USB cable and replace the pad with my phone. Easy peasy.

I highly recommend a Qi charger for anyone who is lucky enough to have a phone that already has a Qi power receiver built into it (I have no opinion regarding phones that require modification or retrofitting). In fact, by the time I unleash this post, I'll probably have a Qi charger at home, too.

December 26, 2013

Pilot Decimo Fountain Pen: Capless Wonder

I usually begin a post with a catchy phrase like: "I recently acquired _____________, and it's awesome." I can't do that here because my Pilot Decimo fountain pen came into my possession more than six months ago. Unfortunately, it will be tough to write about "first impressions" because my memory sucks and I've been using the pen almost daily since I got it. On the plus side, I'll be able to reflect on six months of consistent use.

The Decimo is one of Pilot's capless fountain pens. For those wondering . . . "capless" = "retractable" in this context. The capless mechanism is identical to that used in the well-known Vanishing Point fountain pen by Pilot. I acquired a dark blue version with silver (rhodium) trim; ordered from an online vendor based in Japan. I've seen these offered on the Internet within the range of US$120 to US$260, and I can't explain the price variation. I suspect that the lower prices may reflect a product with a lower quality nib component, that the higher prices may reflect a limited edition version, or both.

I'm glad that I ordered the dark blue version. The blue is deep and slightly shimmery, without looking cheesy or tacky. The silver trim is brightly plated, and it matches the plating of the nib. If I'm being honest, I think a satin silver or nickel trim would look better with the blue body, but then the exterior trim wouldn't match the nib. The fit and finish of this pen is very good, and I have no complaints in that regard.

I chose the Decimo over its famous cousin (the Vanishing Point) because the Decimo is a little more compact in size and I thought it would be a better fit my child-like hand. I don't own a Vanishing Point and, therefore, can't do a hand-by-hand comparison, but my online research (which is always 100% accurate because everything found on the Internet is the truth) indicates that the Decimo is, in fact, less bulky and thinner in the grip area.

Speaking of the grip area, the pocket clip is attached to the nib end of the pen so that the nib doesn't leak during pocket carry (unless the carrier likes to walk on his/her hands, is a trapeze performer, or is an astronaut). Some users complain that the clip interferes with their fingers, but the clip doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I like how the clip also serves to align the pen in the hand such that the nib is properly oriented for writing.

The retractable nib mechanism is an engineering marvel. OK, it's not up to par with the Hoover Dam, but it's still pretty slick. The Decimo works just like a typical clicky style ballpoint pen: click once to extend the nib; click again to retract it. This is great for use at work, where I often jot down quick notes and annotate documents. In that typical workplace scenario, it's a hassle to frequently uncap and recap a traditional fountain pen to prevent it from drying out.

The following picture shows the business end of the Decimo with the nib retracted. The picture doesn't reveal the trap door thingy that covers and seals the nib inside the body of the pen. The door really works well . . . the nib has never dried out on me (although I haven't let the pen sit unused for more than a week).

A click of the button causes the nib unit to advance, which causes the door to open, which in turn allows the nib to extend into its locked position. Simple.

After doing extensive research, I decided to get a fine nib. My choice was influenced by the fact that I do most of my office work on standard copy paper and cheap notepads, both of which exhibit a fair amount of feathering and ink spreading. I also read that there is a considerable increase in nib size when stepping from fine to medium nib units. In hindsight, I'm glad that I got a fine nib. It works great for my routine office work.

Speaking of the nib . . . the nib units of Pilot's capless pens (including the Decimo and the Vanishing Point) are interchangeable, and are offered by several vendors. I might obtain a medium nib unit if $70.00 magically appears in my wallet some day. The nib unit includes the nib, the feed, and a tube that accommodates Pilot ink cartridges (which only fit Pilot fountain pens) and certain Pilot ink converters (Pilot's CON-70 converter does not fit). The pen also comes with a metal sleeve for use with ink cartridges. The sleeve protects the cartridge and provides support for the actuation mechanism.

Nib Unit + Ink Cartridge Sleeve
I've used the Decimo with Pilot's CON-20 squeeze converter, Pilot's CON-50 piston converter, a Pilot ink cartridge, and a Pilot ink cartridge refilled with different ink. The converters work fine, but I found myself refilling them too often. Pilot's cartridges hold a little more ink, and it's easy to refill them with my own ink (using an ink syringe).

After more than six months of almost daily use, I can honestly say that I love this pen. The nib is rhodium plated 18 karat gold, and it has a little bit of give. I can't say whether or not it is "soft" per se, because I've never written with a truly soft nib. I do like the feel and smoothness of the nib, and the unusual shape/size of the nib has little to no impact on the writing experience. The performance of the nib is right up there with my other "good" fountain pens.

Moreover, the size and weight of the pen is nearly perfect for me, and the retracting mechanism works as expected and without any problems. I don't have any legitimate complaints about this pen, other than the high price. If it were less expensive, I'd already have another one for my home office.

Here are some writing samples that I created soon after I received the Decimo:

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
And here is a nice parting shot of the pen.

This will probably be the last post of 2013. Happy New Year!

December 16, 2013

Christmas Lights: Second Place = Loser!

I was the first one on my block to put up lights this season . . . they went up the weekend BEFORE Thanksgiving. I actually planned to merely lay out the new lights and do some pre-wiring, but the project gained momentum and I went ahead and set up everything. As I mentioned here, I wanted to step things up and try to catch up to my neighbor, who is the clear leader on the "Best Lights on the Block" list.

I admit that I was rather pleased with my lights after firing them up. The modern LED light strings and the sheer number of lights are quite impressive. In fact, I was the block leader for eight days. The next weekend, however, I was put to shame by my neighbor. I think he added a few items to his arsenal from 2012, and my light display is still deep in the minor leagues relative to his big league arrangement.

Oh well, this is only a friendly competition that we both hope will encourage other neighbors to light things up. I wasn't planning on adding anything else this year, although I had been considering how best to improve things for 2014. In fact, I actually went out and bought an extension ladder to measure the roof line and eaves for next year's light strings, and recorded all of the pertinent dimensions last weekend. While taking the measurements, I noticed that my neighbor was adding more stuff to his house. He obviously knows that I'm trying to catch up, and he's intentionally upping his game just to see me sweat! It's really tough to keep pace with the guy.

So, I'm writing this post because I terminated my delayed 2014 light deployment plan this morning. While drinking a tasty cup of Ethiopian coffee, I stumbled upon this website devoted to LED Christmas lights. The website isn't very polished, but it lists some items that I had been considering for next year, and the prices are decent. One thing led to another and my shopping cart was full before my coffee cup was empty.

Impulse Purchase
Today's acquisition will be used to adorn the upper roof line of the house, and to replace some of the old dim lights that I've been using. In my opinion, lights on the upper deck really separate the serious players from the run of the mill amateurs. It's time to join the ranks of the ridiculous. I'll still be in second place by a huge margin, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

I know that pictures would be nice, but I'm not about to take pictures of my neighbor's house and post them. Moreover, my point and shoot camera sucks and doesn't like to take pictures at night. I'll try to take some pictures of my lights after the aforementioned products arrive and get installed.

December 14, 2013

Quick Update: Too Much Going On!

I haven't set aside enough time to write more posts. I have a number of items teed up, but things are a little hectic with the holiday season and everything. I'm waist deep in a couple of "projects" that have kept me in the cycle of researching, wish-listing, over-analyzing, and rethinking. Once I get out of this rut, I'd like to blog about the projects. As a preview, I've been dealing with my 2013 Christmas lights and some audio/video gear. And some work getting done to the house. Let's not mention holiday shopping.

Stay tuned for details!

November 29, 2013

5.1 Channel Music Titles

I absolutely love listening to my favorite music, preferably by way of decent audio reproduction equipment. Unfortunately, due to finances, the lack of space, and self-imposed restraint, I haven't had a decent playback system for many years (I was an early adopter of home theater gear and DVD playback, but I got rid of my home theater rig a long time ago and haven't replaced it yet). That said, I have some decent portable music players, some great headphones, and a very nice computer-based 2.1 channel setup at the office. But nothing worth listening to at home . . . yet.

My Awesome Home Theater System
My place is undergoing a minor remodel to add a "bonus" room for everyone to enjoy. In this context, "everyone" includes me, so I've planned accordingly. At first, I wanted the room to accommodate a pool table, some old school pinball games, a dart board, a hi-fi rig, a shuffleboard table, a shooting range, a trampoline, and a poker table. The reasonable voice in the household scaled my plan back somewhat, leaving me with a small "hangout" and home theater room. Oh well, I'll take it.

My Awesome Media Room
So, I'm currently looking at various home theater equipment to outfit a room that doesn't even exist yet. Moreover, a good friend of mine (who happens to be a true audiophile and a big fan of quadraphonic music) recently gave me a demonstration of his awesome quad system, and I was instantly hooked. We listened to some Pink Floyd and King Crimson in high resolution 5.1 channel DVD formats, and the surround sound experience was something to behold. Suffice it to say, a new acquisition disorder set in that day, and I've been collecting and wish-listing various multi-channel audio titles since that day. This disorder is particularly troubling because I don't even have a compatible playback system yet. I do have a Blu-Ray disc player, but it's merely hooked up to my TV speakers. Unimpressive non-surround sound to say the least.

Here's the problem: it's not easy or fiscally painless to acquire 5.1 channel music titles. There are a number of reasons for a lack of new and used inventory. First and foremost, there is little demand for surround sound audio because most people listen to MP3 files on the go these days. Does anyone actually sit down and listen to music anymore? Second, rapidly evolving and competing surround sound and high resolution audio formats have made it difficult for content providers to sustain sales. For example, 5.1 channel music can be delivered on a standard DVD, on a DVD-Audio disc (which may be incompatible with some DVD players), on a SACD, on a Blu-Ray disc, etc. At present, Blu-Ray audio is the newest vehicle for delivery of high resolution multichannel audio. Unfortunately, this means that it's becoming increasingly difficult to score out-of-print titles that are only available in older "obsolete" formats.

What does one do about this? One gets addicted to hunting down multichannel audio discs. Thankfully, there are some old SACD titles that can be had on the cheap due to high inventory and little demand. There are a handful of newer Blu-Ray titles on the market, but they can be rather expensive if the disc that you seek is only available in a special anniversary deluxe collectors ridiculously priced edition.

Nothing To Hear Here
This post is not intended to be a "look at my collection" ego booster, and I know that my inventory is small compared to serious collectors. I'm not really collecting for the sake of ownership or investment; I'm simply trying to find my personal favorites before they go completely extinct so that I can enjoy them on my nonexistent home theater system in my nonexistent media room.

Speaking of ridiculously priced exclusive collectors editions, my stack of items includes the "Immersion" box set of Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon", which includes a Blu-Ray disc that is chock full of audio goodness. The Blu-Ray disc includes a high resolution 5.1 audio version of the album - that version is currently ranked as the best surround sound title on the QuadraphonicQuad site. For this reason, I'll probably listen to Dark Side first. I regret that the picture does not include anything from Tool, Radiohead, Isis, Explosions in the Sky, or The Beastie Boys, but I'm pretty sure that 5.1 audio titles from those bands are not commercially available. No such luck.

Perhaps I'll post some comments about my listening experiences if and when I am able to actually play the discs. Until then, I'll continue in my attempt to acquire more titles (if anyone want's to unload their DVD-Audio version of Deadwing by Porcupine Tree, just let me know).