Wrapping Some Books

I just finished wrapping some children’s books for my friends’ children and I really like what I got out of some brown wrapping paper and Posca paint markers.

The books are all by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre and they’re a delight that’s fun to read even as an adult (the mark of a good children’s book in my opinion).

Can you guess which book is under which wrapper?

Currently Inked: Things Are Getting Out of Hand

I just finished logging my currently inked pens on the wonderful fountain pen companion and I was a bit shocked to discover that I have 30 fountain pens inked up (each one with a different ink). This is of course the result of the Inkvent madness and my insistence on actually filling pens with the samples in the calendar instead of just using a dip pen.

I’ve written Solar Storm (day 4) dry and I’ve dumped Spruce (day 3) because of the smell, but I’ve kept Pick Me Up (day 15) despite the smell, because of the rich chocolate shade that it has. Since creating this list I’ve also written Jingle Berry (day 8) dry and Spiced Apple (day 5) is about to join it. I’m likely going to be forced to dump and clean out some of these pens, but my goal is to try and write and sketch as many of them as possible dry.

Weekly Update: Taking My Content Back

I have been thinking a lot lately about the content that I create and my ownership of it. It’s come as a result of the mess that is Twitter right now, the way that Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and their algorithms work, and yes, the mess that is D&D’s OGL 1.1 (and I have seen Wizards fold. It is the fact that they thought that could grab user created content so easily that makes me stop in my tracks).

Photo from today’s morning 10k

So as I’m still planning out my year (I’m struggling very much with planning ahead, as part of my PTSD, and it’s been getting worse, not better, over time. So if I manage to actually do any planning for the year ahead, it’s going to take a lot of time and a whole lot of intense effort), I started to consider if I really want to continue publishing things on these platforms.

I haven’t been using twitter for a long time, well before the Musk era. I just discovered that I don’t really need it as a source of news and noise any more, and the only thing I do there now is auto post links to my blog, and find relevant articles to read after hematology conventions, because the search option on ASH’s site is unhelpful.

As for the other social networks, I’ve already started to change my posting habits there. This year will just be me doubling down on the “my site comes first” principle. If it’s something that even remotely belongs on this site, then I’m going to post it here first, with cross posts elsewhere. Here I have an audience that is mine, that isn’t been manipulated by algorithms, and that I want to invest in.

The possibilities of a free deck, clear skies and perfect running weather.

One of the first changes I’m making is no longer posting reviews on Goodreads, but rather posting them here and linking to my blog from the Goodreads site. I have much better control of the format of the review, and I can cross link reviews and do more interesting things with them over time (I have a lot of ideas and not a lot of time).

That’s enough of that, here’s a bit more about the rest of my week:

Reading

I finished reading two Agatha Christie Poirot classics, The Murder on the Links, and Murder on the Orient Express (which I have read several times before and still find enjoyable). She is a master at her craft and it’s nearly impossible to put her books down, despite her more old school pacing.

I’m now reading Aubrey Gordon’s “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and it’s just as good as her wonderful Maintenance Phase podcast with Michael Hobbes.

I saw the Tournament of Books short list for 2023, and decided to opt out of it this year. There are a few books there that I’m interested in, but a few that I really don’t want to read, and so I won’t.

Journalling, Planning and Pens

My PTSD has been getting worse in one of its many manifestations (the others are under control for now). My brain refuses to acknowledge that there is a tomorrow to be had, and so I am allowed to plan for it. Where before I lived in bursts of two weeks (as that was my chemo regiment and that’s how my brain learned that I’m supposed to live), it now only allows me to envision my day a day or two in advance. I can put things on my calendar until the cows come home, but my brain refuses to acknowledge that they have anything to do with me, because who am I to assume that I’ll be alive next week? I know that it’s illogical, but that’s why it’s PTSD and not healthy brain function.

The realities of this are many, but one of the most pressing and annoying ones is that I can’t plan ahead. Planning used to be something I really enjoyed and excelled at, and now it’s something that I have largely lost access to. I am working on it, and as a part of working on it I decided to reflect on past planning systems that I’ve used, what worked and didn’t work in them, and what I can perhaps take from them for the future.

I’ve built a few quick lego sets lately, and the Vespa is one of my favourites among them.

I have changed my journalling notebook from a Moleskine to a Stalogy in an attempt to jump start my journalling post a lot of journalling inconsistency due to travel. It’s also going to allow me to use the very large amount of fountain pens (almost 30 I think) that I have inked up due to the madness that is my Diamine Inkvent reviews. I’ve only now started to log the inks and pens that I have in use in the Fountain Pen Companion, and I’m starting to clean out a few of them.

Have a great week, full of planning, journalling, reading and whatever brings you joy.

Ghosts of Planners Past: Chronodex

As I’ve been struggling with planning ever since I received a cancer diagnosis in mid 2021, I’ve been reflecting on the many planner systems that I’ve used over the years. Most of these systems didn’t stand the test of time for me, but I think that there’s still something to learn from their failure. So while I’m working out how planning looks like for the new, post-cancer treatment me, I thought that I would write down my reflections on each system that I have used.

Image by Patrick Ng from Scription

I love planning, I’ve always loved planning, and together with many analogue systems I have tried quite a few to do apps over the years. Analogue planning systems, while sometimes cumbersome, always worked better for me, which is why that’s what I’ll focus on in this short series of posts.

I first discovered Chronodex, Patrick Ng’s gorgeously visual planning system, when he first published it in late 2011. It immediately appealed to me because it was so visual, and I’m a visual thinker, and it was so very different from anything else that was going around in the planning world at the time. This was well before the days of various bullet journal tracking pages, in the heady days of GTD and the Fountain Pen Network. The Rhodia Webnotebook was new and exciting stuff, and the Traveler’s Notebook was all the rage.

Patrick’s Chronodex was meant to be printed at home, 6 months of planning pages at a time, and then folded and cut to size to fit a Traveler’s Notebook. I tried to do that at first, and failed miserably. Home printers are terrible, and the result was unusable and just a waste of a lot of paper and inkjet ink.

Since I still really wanted to give the system a try, I went to the office supply store next to my job and bought a circle template ruler. Using that, a Rhodia Webbie and a Pilot Hi Tec C Coleto I created hand drawn Chronodex pages for a few months. I was a team lead at the time, I was overwhelmed with work and meetings, and I thought that visual time blocking as offered by the Chronodex would be the solution.

I really insisted on getting the Chronodex system to work for me, because I was so aesthetically enamoured with it. I pushed it until it broke and then I kept dragging it on for weeks before I finally realised that it was time to move on. The Chronodex wasn’t for me.

The system works on time-blocking, as drawn on a circular 12 or 24 hour template that is supposed to mimic a watch face. If you are a visual thinker you will immediately see the appeal. If you like pretty planner pages, you will also love the Chronodex’s elegant beauty. But planning for me has first and foremost got to work on a practical level, and the system faired poorly there.

If you have relatively few things to do throughout the day, or if your day is already time blocked (i.e. you are a student or a teacher) then the Chronodex could work well for you.

If, on the other hand, you have a lot going on, or you tend to have to jump around between tasks, or if your days aren’t so easily well defined in time blocks, then the Chronodex is likely not for you. It becomes too cluttered to be readable if you try to splice your day into small time blocks, and if your day is fluid and not well defined in advance, you aren’t going to be able to to time block it until you start to actually do the thing. The Chronodex isn’t a Pomodoro substitute, it’s the equivalent of having an old-school day planner with the hours marked on it, and chunking out your work and meetings in advance in your planner. It’s a great system for students, and for people who have a high degree of control and certainty about their day.

What I did take from Chronodex is the option to stop and visually time block my day when things are getting out of hand in terms of my expectations versus what I can actually do in the time at hand.

If you are at all curious about the system, I encourage you to visit Patrick’s beautiful site and maybe print out a page or two to try it out. Another option is to draw out the Chronodex circles yourselves, just to see if there’s anything in the system for you (don’t do it long term, though, as it takes ages). A third option is to go Etsy and search for Chronodex. There are dozens of stamps for sale with the Chronodex template on them.

Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie

“Murder on the Orient Express” is justifiably one of Christie’s most famous and well-regarded mysteries. I’ve read it several times before, seen more than one adaptation of it, and still it fascinates me how she got such a complex and outlandish idea to tick.

Christie created the perfect setting, both mundane and exotic, one that is designed for constant movement and yet is at a complete standstill, a small and confined location that is at the same time expansive and cosmopolitan. Here duchesses and servants mix, and Poirot moves deftly among them, not as his pompous self, but as a man in his element: efficient, kind, sharp and thoroughly enjoying himself. He is on his own, cut off from any outside information or help, with only his “little grey cells” to aid him, and he performs magnificently and with great heart and great human understanding.

If you are starting your Agatha Christie journey, this little gem full of dozens of well placed and well considered details is a good and very satisfying place to start.

Book Review: The Murder on the Links, Agatha Christie

Last year I bought a few Agatha Christie mysteries on sale for my kindle, mainly to serve as travel reading books. I love Agatha Christie, despite her outdated politics and attitudes and her slow pacing (relative to more modern authors, particularly mystery writers). She has the power to evoke a scene and a character with very few words, to weave fantastically improbable circumstances into believable narratives, and she is very readable and entertaining.

There are authors whose work I pick up whenever I really want to get my mind off things, and Christie is forefront among them.

“The Murder on the Links” is a Hercule Poirot novel, his second appearance after “The Mysterious Affair in Styles”, and the Belgian detective is here at his best. He is pompous, he is fastidiously neat, he is arrogant and manipulative, and yet he is a warm and kind person, much like his counterpart Marple.

This is not a golf book, despite the name. The Links here are almost an afterthought, and the plot largely doesn’t take place in them. A wealth man tries to hire Poirot to help him deal with a secret in his past, and yet as Poirot and Captain Hastings arrive to the man’s French coastal villa, he has been found murdered and the local police are investigating. There are several generational battles going on here, and Christie cleverly intertwines them: the young, coarse and cocky French detective Giraud of the Sûreté against the aging, polite and equally cocky Poirot; the older actors Paul and Eloise Renauld, Madame Daubreuil, Captain Hastings, against the younger ones, Jack and Marthe, the mysterious “Cinderella” and her equally mysterious sister. The plot revolves a lot around chance, as many of the genre do, but it revolves more around the pairing and contrasting of these characters, of the past to the present.

It’s a fun and light read, entertaining without being too problematic to modern readers. One of the Christie mysteries that survived the test of time pretty much unscathed.

Parker Vacumatic Shadow Wave and How I Look at Vintage Pens

Our local fountain pen brick and mortar shop is closing down at the end of the month, and it’s a crying shame. There’s been a steady stream of collectors visiting the store to say goodbye and stock up on supplies, and on Thursday I joined them. I bought a few bottles of ink, a few fridge magnets with reproductions of old fountain pen adverts (most of them for Parker, of course), and there was a single tray of vintage pens.

“None of them work, I’m afraid,” the proprietor’s daughter said.

But I saw a Parker Vacumatic Shadow Wave among the lot, and I have a very hard time leaving Parker Vacumatics and 51s behind. I picked it up and took a quick glance. It was clearly a user grade pen, but I didn’t care – it was a speedline Vacumatic, which meant that it was fairly easy to fix. I asked her if they could perhaps be mistaken, and was there a chance that the pen worked. She brought out a cup of water and tried it out. It didn’t seem to hold any water, and she showed it to her dad, the proprietor and a well known pen repairman. “Oh, I can fix it, no problem. It just needs a filler swap”.

So today, in the midst of a rainstorm, I went to pick it up after its repair. It’s still a user grade pen, because it’s full of little nicks and scratches, and it has a well worn name engraved into it. But that’s part of what I love about vintage pens, and it’s something that I just can’t get with modern ones. I got a gold nibbed pen with a unique filling system and lovely material (that allows you to see the ink levels through it), in a classic design, for less than $130. And I got a bit of history, as this little workhorse has been around since the first quarter of 1938, and it’s still doing its job. Finally, there’s the mystery of it: puzzling out the model and the date code, maybe trying to find out about its previous owner (in this case, a Mary Thompson. It’s part of why I have no problem with engraved vintage pens), imagining what it’s been through over the decades. This pen is almost 85 years old. It’s a Junior Debutante, so it isn’t surprising that it belonged to a lady. It was likely a gift, and one wonders for what occasion and who the gift giver was. It was at the cusp of a world war that would change a lot of things for women. Was Mary Thompson starting out at her first job? Had she graduated from college? Did the pen pass to her children? How did end up in a pen shop in Tel Aviv 85 years later?

Yes, there’s a risk when buying vintage pens. There is also always a story, and a chance of a greatly rewarding experience, not to mention the possibility of getting a pen with a nib that writes like this (it’s a fine italic nib with nice amount of spring to it):

Diamine Inkvent 2022 Day 25: Best Wishes and Closing Thoughts

It’s the final day of Inkvent, and so it’s time to both review the final, 30ml bottle of the set, and review the calendar in its entirety.

Door 25

Day 25’s ink is a larger, 30ml bottle. It’s called Best Wishes, and it’s a very dark and saturated green with green shimmer and a lot of red sheen.

Best Wishes 30ml bottle

It’s quite a dramatic combination, the dark green base being almost black, the red sheen being very prominent and the green shimmer on top. More Halloween appropriate perhaps than Christmassy.

Col-o-Ring swab

My camera had a rough time photographing this ink. It’s the combination of the shimmer and the dark ink maybe that made it a bit blurry. In any case, the base ink is so dark that you can hardly tell that it’s a green at times.

52 gsm Tomoe River paper sketch

Here it is from another angle:

52gsm Tomoe River paper sketch.

This ink takes ages to dry, because it’s so saturated. I smudged the sketch above and this writing sample took a good long time to properly dry. If you’re left handed, I’d steer well away from Diamine Best Wishes. If you like the drama, then maybe it’s the ink for you. Personally I would have preferred a lighter or more interesting green with a chameleon effect and no sheen.

Writing sample on 68gsm Tomoe River paper

It’s summary time! Looking at this year’s Inkvent, I’m very pleased with the selection of inks, the spread of ink properties amongst them, and the overall value of this experience. I like that we got new chameleon inks, and I appreciated that there were less red inks in this year’s edition, and quite a good number of uniquely coloured inks. Reviewing the whole 25 inks involved, I think that Dusted Truffle, Memory Lane, Solar Storm, Ghost, Olive Swirl, Arctic Blast, Deck the Halls, and One More Sleep are the stand outs for me. Olive Swirl, Memory Lane, Dusted Truffle and Deck the Halls are inks that I plan on buying full bottles of once the green edition bottles come out. Ghost and Arctic Blast might join them too. If you like red inks, the Spiced Apple is fantastic. There are other great inks to have here, depending on your personal taste.

It was quite an endeavour, to fill fountain pens 25 times with ink and write, sketch and post a review of an ink a day. I don’t know if Diamine will create a 2023 Inkvent calendar, or if I will be able to write another set of reviews like this, but it was a wild and fun ride creating these reviews for the blog this year.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. I hope you got some cool pens and ink under the tree.

Diamine Inkvent 2022 Day 24: One More Sleep

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate! It’s day 24 of Diamine Inkvent.

Door 24

Day 24’s ink is Diamine One More Sleep, a standard grey blue ink.

One More Sleep bottle

Diamine One More Sleep is a lovely grey blue with a lot a shading and a hint of lavender in the background.

Col-o-Ring swab

I love this shade of ink as it works well for sketching and for writing. It’s also a calm and relaxing colour, very appropriately named.

Sketch on 52gsm Tomoe River paper

Today’s writing sample is a little melancholy, as I reflect on the wave of well established pen shops that are closing down by the end of the year. This ink colour seems to encourage reflection, something I find myself doing more often since I received my cancer diagnosis a year and a half ago. If you don’t have an ink in this bluish grey light purple shade I recommend getting one, whether it’s Diamine One More Sleep or something similar by a Japanese or Korean maker.

Writing sample on 68gsm Tomoe River paper