February 25, 2013

Office Pen Quest is Over (For Now)

Pen Acquisition Disorder swept over me while I was trying to find good general purpose pens for daily use at the office. I tried a bunch of gel pens, some ballpoint pens, and even the famous "Mont Blanc refill in a G-2 pen" hack. I tried capped pens, retractable pens, multipens, etc.

After trying many different brands, colors, sizes, and styles, I decided that I prefer the retractable Pentel EnerGel pens the best. I like the 0.5 mm needletip version, which is offered in blue, black, and red (the three standard colors used at the office). However (there is always a "however"), I'm not a fan of the fat barrel and gaudy design of the retractable EnerGel pens that are commonly available in the United States. Although the alternative design of the retractable EnerGel pens are easier on the eyes, they still suffer from fat-barrel-itis. Fortunately, I've found that the refills used in the retractable EnerGel pens also fit and work in at least three other pen bodies: Pilot G-Knock; Pilot G-2; and Uniball Signo DX RT. I wrote about the latter in this post.

The above picture shows four pens that all work with the EnerGel 0.5 mm refills (LRN5 is the product code for these). From top to bottom: the ugly Pentel EnerGel retractable; the better looking but still undesirable Pentel EnerGel retractable; Pilot G-Knock; and Uniball Signo DX RT.

I bought the red "alternative" EnerGel retractable in a delusional moment when I thought that perhaps maybe possibly the barrel might be narrower than the barrel of the blue "standard ugly" EnerGel retractable. I don't own (and didn't want to buy) a caliper, but the two barrels look and feel about the same to me.

The Signo DX RT body looks pretty cool and it fits the needle tip of the EnerGel refill perfectly with no play or wobbling. The G-Knock body merely looks OK, but I like the grip section better than the grip of the Signo DX RT body. Although not shown here, the EnerGel refill also fits the standard Pilot G-2 pen body. I like the grip of the G-Knock body better than the grip of the G-2, too. Functionality and ergonomics won out here, and I chose the G-Knock body as my preferred EnerGel refill receptacle.

Winner On The Right
So . . . I now have black, red, and blue Pilot G-Knock bodies, all loaded up with EnerGel 0.5 mm refills. I think this is a great combo for me, and I'll be able to order the Pentel LRN5 refills as needed. This combo will be my new standard office pen until something displaces it.

February 20, 2013

Rage Comic Fun! Spot On. Exactly.

My good friend has more creativity in his pinky fingernail than I will ever have. I was pleasantly surprised this morning when he sent me this rage comic, which probably took only two minutes of his time to create. It captures the point of this blog rather nicely. Enjoy.

February 16, 2013

3Sixteen+ 721BSP Jeans

Black is the new black. Headbangers have always rocked the black. Punk rockers wear black leather, black All-Stars, and black makeup. Metallica's "commercial breakthrough" album? The black one. (OK, put the Metallica fan club pitchforks down, I know that their black album is considered to be a sellout album, and I personally prefer And Justice for All, Master of Puppets, and Ride the Lightning better, but this post ain't about Metallica's back catalog and, besides, The Unforgiven, Nothing Else Matters, and My Friend of Misery are pretty epic songs from the black album; admit it).

Back to black: last year I acquired a pair of raw black denim jeans. More specifically, I bought a pair of the 721BSP jeans, made in Japan by the brand 3Sixteen+ (which happens to be based in the United States, go figure). These jeans are made from super heavy material . . . 18 ounce denim to be exact. I believe that 18 ounces refers to the weight of one yard of the raw material, but that fact in and of itself is meaningless unless you know the width of the material. Whatever. So, I'm told that this black denim material is also unsanforized, unsinged, uncalendared, low viscosity sulfur dyed, and low tension slack weaved. I know that "unsanforized" is roughly equivalent to "shrink-to-fit", but I'm too lazy to look up any of those other terms. I do know that the 721BSP jeans were very black when new, and that they have held their color quite well since I purchased them. As Nigel Tufnel (lead guitarist for Spinal Tap) said: "There's something about this that's so black, it's like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black." Exactly.

These jeans have some interesting details that most people won't notice: gray stitching (see the picture above); six belt loops instead of the traditional five; leather patch without stitching on the vertical edges (which allows a belt to be passed under the patch); black stealth colored donut hardware for the button fly; and red + sparkly gold thread used in the selvedge.

The selvedge detail is intriguing. Although I don't usually cuff my jeans, I think you are supposed to roll them up to show off the awesome selvedge seams. Note that there is also a little piece of the same selvedge material in the coin pocket material. Nice touch.

Anyway, these jeans are very comfortable even though they are made from heavyweight denim. Although marketed as a slim fit, they are roomy enough in the "top block" (a new term I've recently learned) and are not too skinny in the legs. I probably should have gotten a size 30 instead of 31, but oh well.

I haven't worn these long enough or in enough extreme conditions to develop any interesting fading patterns or contrasting characteristics. I may follow up with some additional pictures if and when there is something interesting to show.

February 11, 2013

Mont Blanc + G2 Hack: Use With Caution

I learned about the Mont Blanc + G2 hack soon after I became interested in pens and other writing instruments. This hack is very popular, has been around for years, and many others have written about it (see, for example, here and here). I succumbed to the peer pressure and tried a black Mont Blanc rollerball refill (fine) in a Pilot G-Knock body, and a blue Mont Blanc rollerball refill (medium) in a Pilot G2 body.

Mechanically, both pens worked as advertised. I especially liked the feel of the additional weight of the Mont Blanc refill. Initially, both pens worked well and wrote smoothly, and I really liked the color of the blue refill. The medium blue refill was actually a little too wet for my liking; it would bleed through my standard office paper. Both pens performed in an awesome manner for a couple of weeks.

Why am I using the past tense here? Past tense is appropriate because both refills are no longer with me - they both started to dry out and skip on me after about two weeks. I admit that I didn't use the pens on a daily basis, or even regularly. That may be why they both started to dry out. I don't own a real Mont Blanc pen, but I suspect that they are capped to prevent the rollerball refills from clogging. I seriously doubt that both refills actually ran out of ink . . . my theory is that the tips just got all gunked up due to lack of use.

I enjoyed the pens while they lasted, but I won't be buying more Mont Blanc refills unless I can use them in a capped pen. I'm not certain that they were designed to be used in a retractable pen that leaves the tip open to the air.

All of that said, if you only use one pen at a time on a regular basis, then the Mont Blanc + G2 combo might work well for you. If not, then proceed with caution!

February 6, 2013

Spyderco Native5 Knife

I was perusing my Amazon Wish List awhile ago and was surprised to find a couple of pocket knives near the bottom of the list. I tend to populate my Wish List in an ongoing manner whenever something of interest grabs my attention (which happens far too often). I must have added the knives to my Wish List a long time ago when I was suffering from a bout of Pocket Knife Acquisition Disorder, and before I purchased my Cold Steel Tuff Lite. The knives I found lurking deep in the bowels of my Wish List were both Spyderco knives: the Delica4 (ZDP-189 blade steel version); and the Caly3 (carbon fiber version).

Seeing those awesome Spydercos again triggered my Add-to-Cartitis, and I made up my mind to acquire one of them. I struggled with my choice, so I did a search for "Delica4 versus Caly3" and spent the next day or three reading and watching far too many reviews of both knives. I deleted the Delica4 from my cart after convincing myself that the Caly3 looked better and appeared to have a more modern design. I was about to pull the trigger on the Caly3 when I read a review that mentioned a knife that I had never heard about before: the Spyderco Native5.

Spyderco Native5
I can't recall where I read the Native5 review, but I do remember that the writer considered the Native5 to be an improvement over the Caly3. I think it had something to do with the lock and/or the pivot design, but whatever it was, I was sold (because I believe everything I read). It didn't take long for me to delete the Caly3 from my cart, navigate over to Blade HQ, and buy the Native5 (G-10 version).

The Native5 gets its name from the fact that it is made in the United States (Golden, Colorado to be exact). This knife is beautiful, and it has the best fit and finish that I've seen thus far, which really doesn't mean much because I haven't seen many knives and I only have a very small collection at this time. This is my first knife with G-10 scales, and I really like the material. G-10 is not as high-tech or trendy looking as carbon fiber, but it still looks awesome, it has a great feel to it, and by all reports it is very strong and tough.

G-10 Scales
The brushed/polished steel and black colorway is impressive, and it makes the Native5 look more like a "gentleman's" blade rather than some radical steroid-laden tactical knife for use in hunting honey badgers. The machining of the parts and the assembly tolerances are nearly perfect. Check out the next picture, which shows the back lock mechanism and the edges of the steel liners; it's tough to distinguish the liners from the back lock:

According to Spyderco, the blade is made from CPM S35VN steel (by Crucible). Don't ask if that is good or bad, because I'm not really sure. It sounds impressive, though. The blade is three inches long, which is exactly the size that I was looking for. The blade is flat ground, it has a nice finger choil on the bottom and jimping on the top, and of course it features the obligatory Spyderco thumb hole.

The knife is weighty even though it features "dual skeletonized liners" for strength. The Native5 employs a pivot bushing and is assembled using Torx screws so that adjustments can be made if so desired. Even the pocket clip is designed well: it is polished nicely; it has the little spider icon engraved on it; and it can be installed in four different positions (right-handed, tip-up carry for me, thank you very much).

To be honest, I use my knives to open boxes and envelopes, slice pizzas and burritos when in tactical gastronomic situations, and to cut an occasional string or thread. I admit that any decent butter knife could probably satisfy my everyday cutting needs. That said, I DO appreciate high quality steel, nice blade shapes, and knives that hold sharp edges. I feel that the Native5 is more than satisfactory in this regard. Moreover, the Native5 looks and feels better than any other knife that I currently own. This knife will spend more time in my pocket than any other knife in my current collection. No contest.

February 1, 2013

Seven Ways To Brew My Coffee

I've been drinking coffee for decades. Every day . . . one cup, two cups, an entire pot, etc. . . . good coffee, bad coffee, mediocre coffee, and (recently) really good coffee. Many years ago I started buying whole bean coffee and grinding it at home with a spinning blade grinder, but I stopped doing that after a short while for some reason - probably to save time and avoid the hassle. I would still occasionally buy whole beans and grind them at the supermarket in a half-assed attempt at brewing better coffee (you know, those stale beans that sit in the transparent gravity-fed dispensers for far too long before sliding into a self-serve bag). At other times, I'd splurge and get some beans ground at the local Starbucks or Peet's store. All of the above = rookie moves.

I had a caffeinated moment of clarity several years ago when my mother-in-law made me a great cup of coffee using a French press. The coffee itself wasn't super premium grade stuff or anything (far from it, actually), but the drink was pretty damn good nonetheless. I realized that, as a daily coffee drinker, life is too short to drink lousy coffee. I told myself: "if you're going to drink at least one cup of coffee a day for the rest of your life, then try to maximize the enjoyment and enhance the experience." I've tried, believe me.

After spending far too much time online here and here (and sometimes here), I learned that freshly roasted specialty or artisan coffee beans are a must. I also learned that ground coffee begins to degrade and go stale within ten minutes. So the old "grind the beans at the store" routine is fatally flawed, and the best practice is to grind the beans immediately before brewing.

Coffee brewing. Over the last few years I've acquired and used a variety of coffee making devices and systems, and have experimented with a number of different brewing techniques. All of this effort devoted to the goal of making that perfect cup of coffee. The following is a quick summary of what I have at the moment (listed from the oldest to the newest apparatus):

1. Cuisinart automatic drip coffee maker. This is a decent, well-made machine, even though it has a few annoying design defects. It has a thermal carafe (with a lid that inhibits the outflow of the last bit of coffee), it's easy to use, and it looks nice. The wife uses this every day during the week. I use it on the weekends to make coffee for the wife (after pressing the "Brew" button on the Cuisinart, I'll make myself a cup or two using one of the preferred methods mentioned below).

Old School
2. Melitta Ready-Set-Joe filter cone. The Ready-Set-Joe is a tiny plastic dripper that takes standard "1" or "2" sized cone filters. Inexpensive, virtually indestructible, and easy to clean. If you control the coffee grind size, select the right water temperature, and learn a proper pour-over technique, then you can make an awesome cup of coffee with this.

Melitta Dripper
3. Bodum Chambord french press. Ahh, the classic french press design. I've actually had a few of these over the years because the glass breaks easily. Although I still take out the french press from time to time, I'm not a big fan of the sediment that it leaves in the cup, and clean up can be a pain. That said, many coffee drinkers swear that french press is the best brewing technique because: (1) the grounds get fully immersed in the hot water; and (2) the oil from the coffee does not get filtered out.

Bodum French Press
4. Aeropress gizmo. This contraption was invented by the same guy who invented the Aerobie flying ring! The Aeropress is fun and easy to use, is super easy to clean, and can be used as the foundation for many brewing experiments in the lab (Dr. Svengold, adjust the grind size! Dr. Johansson, heat the water to 96.345 degrees Celsius! You, over there - initiate the timing sequence at precisely 6.3 seconds after we pour the hot water into the brewing chamber!). When I first got the Aeropress, I used it according to the product instructions, but found that I was consuming far too much coffee and the results were somewhat inconsistent. I now use the Aeropress in accordance with one of the many published "inverted" brewing techniques (look it up), and like the results. You can find a ton of Aeropress recipes and tutorials on the Internet, and Aeropress experts gather once a year in an international competition known as the World Aeropress Championship. Not kidding.

5. Hario V60 filter cone. Hario is a Japanese company that makes stellar coffee and tea equipment. Although Hario makes a lot of different items, it is very well known for its V60 dripper cone, which comes in ceramic and plastic versions. Unlike many drippers, the V60 has a huge outlet hole at the bottom of the cone and special spiral features on the interior surface of the cone. These features are intended to promote free flow of the coffee as it brews. Thus, a certain amount of skill is required to make a decent cup of coffee with the V60. For example, the grind size must be carefully controlled and the water must be poured in a particular way to ensure that the brewing time is neither too long nor too short. In addition, care must be taken to ensure that hot water does not flow down the side of the cone without passing over the bed of coffee. Although I love the design of the V60 and the precision brewing concept, I find that making coffee the right way with the V60 is too tedious for me. Maybe I'm just a V60 rookie, but I can't seem to make a consistently great cup of coffee with it.

Hario V60 Dripper
6. Beehouse ceramic dripper cone. The Beehouse dripper is fundamentally very similar to the Melitta Ready-Set-Joe dripper. The Beehouse differs from the Melitta in the following ways: the Beehouse is made in Japan, it has a much nicer design, and it has two drip holes rather than one. The two drip holes mean that the flow of coffee through the Beehouse dripper can be better controlled via grind size and pouring technique. I really like the Beehouse dripper because it's easy to use, easy to clean, and it seems to make a consistently good cup of coffee regardless of the type of bean.

Beehouse Dripper
7. Clever Coffee Dripper. The Clever dripper is basically a combination of a french press and a filter cone. The ground coffee is fully immersed in the hot water for the desired amount of time (about 3-4 minutes) to get the benefits of french press brewing. Then, a valve at the bottom of the dripper is automatically opened when the dripper is placed atop a mug or a cup; this allows the coffee to flow through the filter. The end result is a clean and sediment-free cup of coffee that has been immersion brewed. In this regard, the brewing methodology is similar to the "inverted" Aeropress technique. I don't have much to say about the Clever dripper because it is my newest coffee making toy, and I'm still experimenting with it. Thus far, I'm happy with the results.

Clever Dripper
The Clever's Valve
So there you have it. Making coffee at my house is serious business. It's no laughing matter. If you ask me to make you a cup of coffee, you will be interrogated about brewing techniques, grind size, water temperature, dwell time, and water-to-coffee ratio. Be prepared.