Book of the Notes

Through my years of school, university, working in journalism and simple personal writing, I’ve gone through a few notebooks (or journals for those of you that don’t like the moniker ‘notebook’). By a few, I’m guessing between four and five hundred. Working for various newspapers taught me more about paper than I ever thought I’d want to know. After all these years, I also know what I like and what I don’t. These are my thoughts on the various journals available on the market today.

And before we get too far, yes I have a fountain pen (a Mont Blanc) and I do not use it. Ever. Sure, they’re elegant and an old-world work of art. But they’re fussy, a monolithic mess and a general pain to use. Transporting them in a bag or jacket is a recipe for disaster, in most cases. So none of my observations are from the point of view of using a fountain pen. Ballpoint, pencil, gel ink or rollers are my usual tools of the trade.

Journals have to tick a certain number of boxes for me. They have to have a certain quality of paper. They must hold up well over time and extended use. Craftsmanship has to be at a fairly high bar, particularly when compared to the price (value ratio). I prefer a hardbound book for larger journals, or ones with page counts over 150 or so. I absolutely prefer a stitched binding, even with soft covers (as opposed to staple bindings). And I won’t use a spiral-bound notebook for all the rice in China… no matter how well it’s made.

Moleskine used to be my go-to brand. They were consistent, the hardback journals were very well made, and I never had any issues with them year after year. Then, something happened. I don’t know if it was profit margins, or if it was their rise to popularity driving demand that was hard to fill, or what. Maybe they sold out when they went ‘mainstream,’ or whatever. The craftsmanship started to falter here and there. The paper quality definitely fell a few notches, particularly with their smaller (as in, size as well as smaller page-count) books. That’s a real shame, as their trio-pack of Cahier journals was one of my absolute favorites. They had 80 pages, which was just enough, and the card stock cover weathered nicely over the course of using it. By the time the 80 pages was filled, the cover was about to the point it was distressed without being beaten up.

But as paper quality is my main focus of a journal, the Moleskine has fallen from my grace.

Field Notes are decent enough, but they never took hold of my heart. Granted, they are made in the U.S.A. (and, there’s something to be said in that for me). But the books are staple bound, which I find to not hold up as well as heavy thread over the time it takes to fill the 96 pages of a Field Notes book. The covers were thinner, and as such they didn’t fray and weather as nicely as the Moleskine. There was something I didn’t like about the paper feel, and it would bleed with some of my pens (meaning, the lines weren’t crisp – they got fuzzy as the ink soaked into or on the paper while writing). I do have their birch storage box that I admire and use constantly, however. I wish I liked their books more than I did.

Leuchtturm1917 is another journal I’ve tried. Their quality is really, really high. Paper is very nice with no bleed or show-through. And, the two I own have shown themselves to be true warriors of time with sturdy covers that have lasted and the binding showing no signs of breakdown. Pricing is very reasonable considering what you’re getting for your money (maybe a dollar or two higher than a comparably sized Moleskine). So winner, winner, chicken dinner, right? I wish. The A5 sizes (just smaller than a standard piece of copy paper) are simple to find, but it is shockingly hard to find the smaller pocket size. Like, I have to wonder if there’s some sort of conspiracy regarding the sale of the things…

Rhodia I’ve not had the chance to try, yet.

My current daily driver is the Midori Traveler’s Notebook. Granted, it’s more of a modular system: the leather cover is your permanent home and you add or remove various notebook inserts as desired. The size is a bit odd – narrow but long, almost like a pamphlet or brochure. I generally don’t mind since I know it’s Japanese, and their traditional writing was vertical. Yes, the notebook inserts are staple-bound, but the paper quality so far has seriously impressed me. The leather cover will surely hold up to time well, but I don’t have enough miles on the inserts to make a call.

But for a great pocket notebook, I’m still searching.

Featured image used under CC license from Pexels.


Ghost in the Future

I didn’t go to the theater to see the new release of Ghost in the Shell, nor will I. My abstention has nothing to do with the white-washing boycotts involving casting a Caucasian actress into an Asian role (though, there is a metric ton written about it online, if you care to partake). Rather, my economic voting merely involves not pandering to Hollywood for gutting and monetizing a masterful, philosophical manga/anime as a dumbed-down, lowest common denominator cash grab. I’ve watched Ghost in the Shell anime for the past 25 years (including spin-offs such as the re-write Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie that came out in 2015 also as an anime, and Ghost in the Shell 2 – Innocence anime that came out in 2004).

The original Ghost in the Shell goes into deep questions regarding artificial intelligence, technology, ethics and morals, and racism as a growing problem as society develops into the 21st century and beyond. The answers to these questions are left to time as much as the audience, and I’ve noticed my thoughts on the movie(s) change over time as I see technology develop as well as corporate and governmental adaptation and control over it.

Part of the issue is that human existence is no longer limited to the human body, and thus an individual’s existence no longer ends when the body dies. This has been the case for some time. Ever since we could store data, we have transferred memories to computer and digital storage. Thoughts, ideas, photographs, desires… it’s to the point now that people put account longevity clauses or terminations into their end of life wills: Twitter, Facebook and other online accounts, etc. This extension of the human mind is currently at stake with government and corporate invasion of privacy with cloud storage, browsing history, encryption, et al. Do a person’s rights end with their human body, or their existence? Do their final wishes laid out in a legal last will and testament allow for continuance of digital existence in online or digital storage?

If we can’t even answer these questions and get them right, how are we as a society to govern and control artificial intelligence?

The short of it is this: we as a society aren’t ready for AI. Sure, baby monitoring systems or cars with advanced safety features are beneficial. But the human influence over AI, if the government, daily news broadcasts of violence and crime, and weekly scandal of corporations are any indication, would prove to be a tainted seed the likes of which programming could not overcome. We aren’t civilized enough yet as a civilization to create artificial life.

But none of that is going to stop the shareholders from pushing tech beyond our limits …


Featured image Laughing Man logo copyright Bandai Entertainment and Manga Entertainment from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, designed by Paul Nicholson after reading The Laughing Man by J. D. Salinger, using a quote from The Catcher in the Rye (also by J. D. Salinger)… did I cover everybody?!?

Just. Stop.

*** WARNING *** 

The filters have come off completely for this post. The editors have been shackled, bound, gagged and shipped to spend 10 to 15 with The Gimp. This is the result of climbing atop a soapbox and then launching the Sputnik straight into the stratosphere. Full-on rant mode. You have been sufficiently warned. Proceed with caution.


The more I see the state of the world today (various economies around the world, corporations trying their level best to profit-monger on anything and everything, snowflakes and the general inability of independent thought, governments stooping to all-time lows of morality and ethics, Congress selling personal information like browsing history*, and the general death of the Constitution), the more I want to eventually buy a sailboat and ride off to the Sovereign State of Fuck All, population two. (I’m not leaving my cat behind, and she counts as a populous…. heck, she has to pay Pet Rent at our apartment, so I figure she has some rights.)

The Internet and this prevailing wind of instant gratification has birthed an unending stream of bile, bullshit and bat-shit insanity. Most music these days is garbage (no, not Garbage – they were a fairly decent act from years ago), pop culture is obsessed with who/what can be the dumbest (apparently), and technology seems more interested in quantifying people like rats in a maze for monetization rather than, I dunno … actually improving the quality of life. It’s enough to make someone want to start kicking ass. (“Who’s Tony Romo now…?!? UPRIGHTS.”)

Granted, I’m generalizing. There are exceptions and moments of pure and endearing brilliance. But the world at large has drug itself to the precipice of total stupidity and, not having sufficiently quelled this self-imposed dare to see how far it can go, flung itself spread-eagle right over the edge.

Could we all just stop? Stop buying all this crap. Stop believing all the lies. Stop thinking we’re all entitled or better or immune. Stop letting others (corporations, the government, advocacy groups, anyone) think for us? Stop being so busy we think that’s an excuse or a means to an end? Just stop for a minute, and think. Think about what is opinion and what is fact. Think about what those facts tell you. Think about how those facts make you feel. Think about what needs to change.

Then, start making those changes yourself and not waiting for someone else to do it.


*Okay, so Congress isn’t technically selling your browsing history. They only voted approval for all ISPs to sell it… and I daftly wonder if any of those extra revenues of selling people’s lives like slaves will wind up back in the coffers of those same clowns in Capitol Hill as ‘campaign contributions.’ The statement above marked with an asterisk merely cuts out the middle man (the ISPs) and calls the situation as it is.

Down (to) the tubes

A week ago I got a Blackstar Fly 3 practice/mini amp, which sounds great if you approach it with the full and clear understanding it’s a battery powered, plastic-enclosed 3 watt solid state amp running though a speaker the size of a Cuties tangerine. It’s not a full 4×12 stack, nor is it ever going to sound big like one. What’s remarkable to me, however, is how good solid state amps sound now compared to when I started playing in 1984. Go figure, right? Shocking what 30 years of technology can do…

It’s been so long since I’ve owned a solid state amp, I’m reminded of what a proper, royal Pain In The Ass tube amps can be. Turn it on … wait for the tubes to warm up. Wait for the tubes to cool before turning it off. Wait for the tubes to fully cool before moving the amp. Different brands of the same size tube have different tonal characteristics, so you have to try different ones for your particular amp to find what sounds best to your ears. Heck, even same brands of tubes with different shelf age can sound different. And replacing the tubes when they start to wear out or fail. And rebiasing the amp when you put new tubes in. Dealing with roughly 450 volts of electricity in the amp when you’re biasing it (you can’t bias an amp that’s off)… that kind of power isn’t something you want to aimlessly tackle with a fork in each hand, kids.

With all that maintenance and extra cost, do I still prefer tube amps? Yes, yes I do. To my ears, they sound richer. You play the amp just as much as you play the guitar: depending on the pick angle on the strings or force striking the strings, the amp reacts differently without touching any of the knobs. Roll back the volume knob on the guitar, cutting the signal to the amp, and the growl of the distortion will equally roll back and start to clean up. A solid state amp will keep that same growl, just at a lower volume. Tube amps are more organic in that regard. They react to how you’re playing at that exact moment. But they’re also finicky and far less tolerant to weak or fluctuating current that solid state amps. I’ve played some places that had poor electricity and my tube amp sounded thin or weak in its distortion.

Do I think solid state amps, or digital amps, will ever be able to fully replicate the sound and nuance of a tube amp? Sure, given enough time and technology. But until then, I’ll stick with my Marshall tube amps and manual transmission car and safety razors and other Old Style ways.

Featured image used under CC license from .tungl

Deuces, 2016

Out with the old… and the bath water, and maybe even the baby.

The year draws to a close, mercifully. Smoking is now defunct, as promised to my little guy. Coffee has replaced soda, though I’m still uncertain if the Chemex or Press is my favorite. Razors are now like my guitar – from the 50s. Debian and Kali are still my two favorite distros, and my Sirius seems to stay on Chill more than 80s lately.

If none of the above makes any sense to you, that’s quite all right.

Spoiler-free thoughts on Star Wars: Rogue One. We enjoyed it in the theater, though it was surprisingly grim to be a Disney-fueled flick. The beginning 30 minutes or so are rough… really rough. As in, what the #$&@ is going on rough. After the auspicious start, it seemed to find its footing and becomes an enjoyable tale. Thankfully, it doesn’t follow the same, tired plot road map of usual Star Wars fare. And even more thankfully, there’s no Jar-Jar-type nonsense in this one. The flip side to that coin is there’s no lovable sidekick. I’d pay to see it again, if that says anything.

My cat hasn’t managed to kill her pet fish, so there’s that, at least.

Here’s looking to 2017, Cowboy Bebop in HD (yeah I know, I’m a bit late to that party) and Nier: Automata. And stiff middle fingers to Oxford commas. AP style and Grove Street…