Friday, April 14, 2017

Star Wars VHS releases on the occasion of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer

In celebration of the release of the excellent new Star Wars The Last Jedi trailer (here), I'm posting my small but historical collection of Star Wars VHS tapes:

I love the original poster art cover on the one on the right.
Luke is wearing some really clunky 80's moon boot and Leia? I guess she doesn't need shoes because she is barefoot.

I hadn't planned on collecting these, I just sort of stumbled into it. They were 99¢ cents each at different thrift shops about 18 months apart. Each time, my internal 11 year-old self saw them and wouldn't allow me to just pass them by. So I rescued them and brought them home.

The one on the right is older, note that it just says "Star Wars" rather than the retitled one of the left "A New Hope".

Some information on the web suggests that the older release on the right is from the mid-1980's release of the series, a few years after the original trilogy was released in the theaters. I know that is not correct in my case, because the tape itself has a 1992 date on it. So this release would be from the 1990's re-release of the entire trilogy on VHS. The New Hope release of the left is from 1995, with Lucas' re-mastered THX sound.

Most importantly for me is that these VHS tapes contain the original movie before Lucas released his so-called "Special Editions" where he used CGI to make changes to the movie. So Alderaan and the Death Star (I) simply blow up in smithereens and don't have those added CGI rings that the later releases have and, of course, these movies prove that...


Thursday, January 26, 2017

@ScoutBooks "Big Ideas Start Here" Limited Edition Mega Notebook + Horse & Hare bonus! @horseandhare1

Just after the new year, one of my favorite notebook companies, Scout Books sneak-peeked a new addition to their Artists lineup:

Thank God for Facebook!

This post was a welcome ray of sunshine at a dark time, shadowed by the passing of so many cultural icons that seemed to pile up at the end of 2016 and (for some of us) the foreboding event looming on the 20th of the month. The naked joyousness of the cover was both reminiscent of an innocent childhood and also a paean to more hopeful days ahead.  I had to have one. Now.

I went to their online store but I didn't see it. I contacted Scout Books through their Facebook page and was told that while it wasn't in their store yet, they would send me one. Perhaps Chloƫ from Scout Books could sense my desperation through the drift of the Internet and was throwing me a lifeline. In any case, they were as good as their word and the notebook arrived a few days later.

Big Ideas mega notebook size compared to their pocket notebook size.
I've been a fan of their pocket notebooks for awhile, and I didn't realize that the Big Ideas was actually in their Mega notebook line.  But clearly, Big Ideas deserve a bigger format and the 5"x7" inch size of the Mega Notebook fits the bill nicely.  Basically, the Mega notebook is like the little brother of the large Moleskine cahier notebooks: dimension-wise it is almost as wide but 1-1/4" inches shorter, skinnier at 36 pages versus the Moleskine's 80 pages, and plays better with others with Scout's thicker 70# paper made of 100% post-consumer recycled materials.

So much to look at and nicely balanced color-wise.
This notebook makes me happy every time I look at it. The artist, Jordan Sondler, has somehow captured every doodle I ever drew whiling away my time in high school. (Except for the guns. Boys tend to doodle guns. And tanks.) It looks like a five-color application over a kraft cover with blank innards, as to not impede the flow of big ideas.

One thing that I just noticed, despite using the Scout notebooks for a couple of years now, is their indicia tucked away in the spine of the last page:

I checked my other Scout notebooks and it was on all of them.
The "Big Ideas Start Here" notebook is now available in their shop here, if you need a little pick-me-up! Thanks to Scout Books for making my 2017 better!


Like I said, I'm a fan of Scout Books. Here's another Mega notebook with custom silk-screened cover from the wildly talented folks at Horse & Hare:

I felt a little self-aggrandizing buying this for myself, but...Vader!

I'm not sure, but these seem to be made-to-order at the Horse & Hare online Etsy shop.

And finally, here's a gratuitous shot of the Scout pocket notebooks I've used in the last year:
As you can see, I don't respect the covers and abuse them quite a bit.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Review of the #StarWars Millennium Falcon Stationery Gift Set #12parsecs #KesselRun

Living in Hawaii has its obvious perks, but one of the downsides is paying confiscatory rates for shipping when ordering online. It is often cheaper to add more stuff to the shopping cart and qualify for free shipping than to buy just what you need and pay for shipping. After creating an order for some pencils at, I was poking around to find a few more things for the cart when I noticed this Millennium Falcon Stationery Gift Set.   A bit of online research showed that the manufacturer was the UK-based Pyramid International, and the set was not available in the US. Well, I popped that checkout button and in less than 12 parsecs the set was in my hands.

The shipping box looked like it had gone through the Clone Wars, but thanks to the copious bubble wrap supplied by CultPens, the set arrived undamaged. The stationery items are packed in a shrink wrapped aluminum tin that is about 15" inches across the longest part and is debossed and printed with the an impressively detailed drawing of the "fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy."

What it looks like in shrink, like a large candy box
The bottom of the tin has a sticker showing the contents
Opening the tin reveals a variety of Falcon items that would set any geek's heart aflutter, including an intriguing A5 sized notebook with a wide elastic and a metal ornament.

The view when you open the box. Note the metal ornament on the elastic of the notebook.
Starting from the left, the keychain is a flat metal disc, die cut in the shape of the Falcon. The black drawing is merely printed onto the metal rather than embossed or etched, so I think in short order, the printing would quickly rub off.  Also, it is rather bulky for the pocket at about 2-1/2" inches across but still it makes for a nice display piece.

The black is only printed (silk screened?) on the metal, not etched
The ballpoint pen is nothing to write Yoda about, basically your standard medium width ball point. It twists to extend and retract and there is a mushy rubber stylus tip on the other end. The printing on the barrel tells us that the Millennium Falcon is a YT-1300 Light Freighter.

The printing on the pen is actually better than seen in these pictures. 

The notebook is the major draw for this set.  Its covers are handsomely decorated with various views of the Millennium Falcon from The Force Awakens movie (the rectangular rather than circular dish on the top of the Falcon is a dead giveaway). Anyway, the boards of the cover feel a bit softer and have more give than the firm, solid covers of a Moleskine. Perhaps that was to make it easier to emboss the resistance logo and Millennium Falcon title into the front cover as can be seen along the top in the picture below.  In any case, it means the covers do feel rigid but a bit spongy at the same time, like walking in Dagobah, which gives the covers a more tactile feel.

Love the different views of the Falcon
The back cover has an enlarged view of Falcon, with the Star Wars-The Force Awakens logo embossed along the bottom.  The notebook also comes with a pen loop and wide elastic band to hold the covers closed.

A larger version of the same drawing found on front
It was the paper quality inside, however, that was most disappointing.  I didn't bother testing the paper because I'm pretty sure it is straight 20 lb. text paper, the kind of thing you might find in a copy machine.  I didn't really buy the notebook to serve as an everyday journal, but it was still pretty disappointing.  In the bottom corner of each page is a Millennium Falcon logo that is suspiciously similar to something you might see in one of the Disney theme parks. The pages are edged in blue ink that matches the page marker pretty well.

Pretty typical page marker and a Millennium Falcon logo I've never seen before
Like most notebooks of this type, the inside back cover has a pocket. The inside front cover is adorned with a fantastic illustration of the Falcon doing what it does best: fleeing from something.

Inside front cover
I wasn't sure exactly what an A5 size meant, so I compared it to a standard hardcover Moleskine and found out that while the height was nearly identical, the A5 is slightly wider, by about 1/2 an inch.  So, it will fit fine in shelves or boxes where a standard Moleskine would fit.

Comparison of A5 notebook and a standard Moleskine
The last item in the set is the small Millennium Falcon pin. It is identical to the ornament that is on the elastic of the notebook, except for the pin back.  The white areas are actually recessed with the silver areas raised. I'm not sure whether it is enamel or just paint in the recesses, but it is a well-designed simple rendering of the Falcon that is easily recognizable. The round body of the Falcon is about the size of quarter.

The pin that is the same as the ornament on the notebook elastic.
There are only a few places you can buy this set, and all of them were in the UK.  I got mine at CultPens for 30 pounds, which is about $42 in the US.  Was it worth it?  It depends.  I thought so because I've always loved Han and Chewie's ride with its asymmetrical design and importance to the original trilogy. I have t-shirts and mugs of the Falcon, so this set with the tin was something I couldn't pass up. I probably wouldn't have used the notebook anyway, so I'm not that bothered by its deficiencies.  However, if you are looking for a study notebook and are particular about paper and use a fountain pen, then perhaps this set would not be for you. An accidental bonus was found on the bottom of the tin, under the plastic packaging that holds all the pieces.  There is a die cut illustration of the Falcon that is in the same blue that they use throughout the set. It would make a good framing piece.

Added bonus on bottom of tin!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Notebook Discovery: Tokyo city personal guide book

One of the joys of being a notebook user is rediscovering a notebook you thought was lost or had completely forgotten about. As a male, it may be the closest I ever come to knowing what the joy of giving birth is like: looking down and discovering a fully formed entity, the annoyances and pain of its months-long creation forgotten in the joy of its beholding. In the days of smartphones, I’m sure this “found notebook” feeling is increasingly rare, which explains why my recent discovery was greeted with little more than a “huh.” And no one wanted to see what was inside the notebook. 

Thank God for this blog!

In 1998-2000 I lived in Japan.  I didn’t speak a word of Japanese, so I carried three books at all times:

  • A Japanese to English dictionary
  • An English to Japanese dictionary
  • A small notebook for important items
All of these have been replaced by smartphones.

Somehow, in my move back to the US, this notebook got lost in the flotsam of stuff that accompanied me through five more moves until fifteen years later when I uncovered it in a neglected box. Wasuremono in Japanese.

For a cheap notebook, the binding has held up really well.
It’s a small APICA notebook, approximately 2.75” x 4” inches, just perfect for keeping in the front pocket of my messenger bag. By the back cover, it looks like I paid 60 yen for it, about 50 cents at the time.  I’m sure I must have bought it in a multipack at the ¥100 yen store at the train station.  

I can see now, it was my practical life line for gaijin survival in Japan. The inside front cover contains all the emergency information I might need and necessary phrases a non-native should know:

Pager numbers!
Lessons learned the hard way at the Kikuna Post Office and local stores/yasai-ya where no one spoke English:

Being able to ask the question doesn't mean you will understand the answer.

Also, it seems the urban Japanese can live with a minimum of street signs or numbered addresses. So finding anything again can be a hassle, better to write it down right away (such as awesome sushi place, lol). Or if you were lucky enough to find someone who could speak some English at the Apple Mac repair place better write down their names too (Hamada-san):

Directions were oriented around it’s location from the nearest subway exit with questionable directions:

When billboards stop at underpass, cross the street?
But I have to say that Japan has great stores for used camera equipment, the condition of the equipment is superb.

Lastly, the back of the book contains the most important information: a shopping guide to the types and bottle label from the best sake in Japan:

Nothing better than ice-cold high quality sake.

Thanks for indulging my ruminations. In my zeal to record and document my days, I probably spend too little time enjoying the journals of my past, which is where the real value in the notebooks lie.

Friday, March 18, 2016

@FieldNotesBrand Expedition Edition vs. @RiteintheRain in Papua NewGuinea

The Field Notes Expedition Edition is truly a specialized beast. This past summer, I decided to put it to the test.

First a bit of Background

My wife is a Field Biologist (herpetologist variety) who has a large field project studying the micro frogs in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea (PNG). She and her five students will stay as long as three months in PNG, traveling from rain forest to rain forest capturing, recording, and surveying the myriad of frog species which live there. My wife was introduced to Rite in the Rain (RR) products by her Ph.D. advisor and has been using them in the field ever since.

The kind of cute frogs they are studying.
(photo from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum tumblr)

I, however, as a non-scientist, liberal arts-type, am mostly useless. Nevertheless, she let me accompany her for almost a month at a plumbing-free, electricity-free, vehicle and road-free, native village on the edge of an untouched rain forest on the island of Normanby, PNG.

It was so wet, the staples started to rust
What this means for our tests is that the Expedition Field Notes (FN) and the Rite in the Rain (RR) All-Weather notebook No. 135 was subjected to extremely wet conditions. By extremely wet, I mean it was not unusual to work in continuous rain (imagine standing under a shower head) for four continuous days. When not raining, humidity was often at 100%. Writing conditions were mostly at night in streams or deep in the bush, with only headlamps or flashlights as illumination.

Tough covers

Initially, I thought that the Rite in the Rain covers were better since they were made of plastic. I thought they might provide a better handheld writing surface. In actual use, however, I found that I preferred the FN covers. I didn’t really need the rigidity of the RR covers. In addition, the rigidity interfered with the gear I was carrying in my pockets. I preferred the softness of the FN soft cover. It was more comfortable to carry and store with the field equipment. The Expedition covers did not absorb water, nor did it get wrinkly or puffy, like I thought it might.

Winner: Field Notes

Rite in the Rain notebook with pencil notations
Usability While Wet

The two manufacturers have two very different approaches to water.  FN’s Yupo paper is very “glossy” for lack of a better word. The paper has a very slick feel so water literally slides off.  RR’s paper has a “matte” feel. Water does not slide off so much, as it needs to be shaken off or wiped away. After four weeks of continuous use, the RR paper is almost always lightly damp. The RR paper seems to absorb just a bit of water, the tiniest amount that keeps the paper pliable and usable.  But once that happens, the paper retains that “moist” quality almost indefinately.

In actual, use FN Yupo paper was a disappointment. The paper, while impenetrable, stuck together when wet. That is to say, instead of 48 pages, I got clumps of pages. Maybe eight of the pages would stick together in a big mass, and be virtually unusable. Once the pages stuck together, they would stick together the entire time I remained in that environment. So the notebook was mostly unusable for me in the bush, as I didn’t have the time or a free hand to separate the pages and wipe them off.  The RR pages however, remained separate.  The pages did not clump together.  I could access each page individually. That made writing in the field more efficient.  So the RR notebook was the one I took in my pocket on our nighttime trips into the bush.

Winner: Rite in the Rain

(Note: After 29 hours out of the bush and into less humid weather, the FN dried out completely and returned back to normal after wiping each page once. It was like the pages were never stuck together. In fact, it is sort of remarkable how fresh the pages look and feel. The RR notebook retained it “damp” feel for several weeks after I got back to the USA.)

Ballpoint ink from the FN ballpoint
Paper Preservation Qualities

I’ve always had an issue with RR papers and pens. I’m not a fancy pen guy who has a bunch of different pens for different purposes. In fact, on this trip, I did not have time to think about which pens to bring, so I just grabbed a mechanical pencil, and two FN ballpoint pens. I lost one FN pen quite promptly, a day or two into the bush. RR paper has a toothier quality and does not take ink well for me. It seems that lines that I write or draw into a RR tend to be very thin, sometimes almost non-existent.  Pencil in RR has always been light as well, and very hard to see at night. FN Yupo paper takes ink very well.  Even when I was using it to write in the rain and immediately had to wipe the rain off the page, I was surprised at how well the ink adhered to the paper. It goes down very dark, like regular bond, and does not wipe away even after immediately wiping.

Because RR writes so lightly, there is not usually any worry about transfer onto a blank facing page. I was afraid that the FN Yupo paper, especially with a regular ball point, would transfer to the blank page, especially when wet.  I’m happy to report that it hasn’t happened yet. So for clarity, readability, and long term preservation, I prefer the way the FN Yupo takes and holds the ink.

Winner: Field Notes

It was pouring down rain as I was writing this and watching two guys build
a table for the outdoor "lab"


I have to say that both FN and RR have their advantages and disadvantages. For my wife and her students who are taking measurements and notes in the field, exposing their notebooks to downpours for the 5-7 minutes it takes to record the data each time, maybe 20-30 times a night, they prefer the Rite in the Rain despite the occasional too light line which results in the inevitable, “What did I write here?”  For me, I write a lot of reflections, narratives, I guess, in less wet environments, with only occasional forays into very wet environments. I prefer the Expedition Field Notes. Also, the quality of the Yupo paper to keep and preserve the ink will keep me using the Expedition, despite its lackluster performance while completely drenched.

As a side note, my FN ballpoint pen came in very handy as a general purpose field tool.  In addition to writing, I used the pen:
  • As a lever to pry apart two lashed branches of a temporary structure;
  • As a flip-flop repair tool, to reinsert the toe strap part back into the sole;
  • As a mud remover in a recessed screw hole to access the screw head;
  • As a makeshift lever to turn on/off my headlamp after the button on the head lamp fell off.
I ended up giving the FN pen to a PNG student who was using just the insert of her Bic stick:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The worst Darth Vader Ring Ever! #starwars #TheForceAwakens

Okay, I know Star Wars Episode VII (aka, The Force Awakens) has people excited, but there is really no excuse for this ring:

It looks like Vader AFTER he's been on that funeral pyre at the end of Episode 6.
Not only has Darth Vader been the victim of a shrunken head, but he also looks lobotomized with that helmet just cut off like that.  Truly, this ring might make a better Dark Helmet:

Spaceballs, anyone?

It's cheap, though.  $.84 each here. But I don't think it is even worth that. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

#Ebay watch: James Thurber memorabilia? Shipping Box for his cremated ashes!

Looking for that special gift this Christmas for the the literati that has everything? I bet they don't have this:

For a mere $499 (starting bid), you can purchase the shipping container that once held the urn and cremation remains or cremains (today's lesson in portmanteau), of noted New Yorker writer and American humorist James Thurber. Seriously.

But wait, there's more! Not only will you receive the OEM shipping box and label, you will also receive the cotton batting that cradled the Thurber urn during shipment:

Alas, the auction makes sure to state:

You are NOT Receiving the Ashes of James Thurber; they were interred at Greenlawn Cemetery on the west side of Columbus.

So this is your only way to get up and personal with the really dead James Thurber. My favorite picture of the auction is this:

Which, I guess, is the seller carrying the box out of the funeral home in Ohio. I imagine the mailman who actually brought the cremains and urn in this shipping box to the funeral home carried it in much the same way 54 years ago.

Shipping is a bit pricey at over $50, but what do you expect? It's a wooden box that weighs almost seven pounds.  Returns are NOT accepted, so you need to be sure you really want this because at 13.5" inches tall, I don't think it will fit under your bed.

Still interested? Click here:  Genuine JAMES THURBER Cremains Shipping Box from Columbus Ohio Funeral Hoime RARE

You can't win if you don't bid!

P.S.  It's true that I am a big fan of James Thurber, but don't ask me how I found this auction.