Mini Review – Pen + Gear Blank (3×5) Index Cards

I’m not sure I need to explain the usefulness/necessity of index cards to you. I’m also not here to try and figure out what the best index cards in the world are (does Clairefontaine make any? If yes, then they’re probably the best). But WalMart does sell reasonably priced index cards under their in-house Pen+Gear brand (which is a poor name, but that’s not relevant, and I’m here to take a look at whether or not those are worth purchasing if you’re just looking for some (whichever) index cards.

(Note: I got blank cards, so I can’t remark upon anything concerning the ruling)

The dimensions of the cards themselves seem to accurately reflect the labeling, which is a good start. The paper is a bleached-white with a slightly pulpy texture that makes me think that over time or in sunlight these will become yellowed and brittle faster than your average paper products. This texture does make for a pleasant writing experience that is mostly smooth with a hint of feedback. Its ability to take ink and potential damage from eraser is about what you’d expect. Permanent markers, alcohol markers, and fountain pens will all bleed through, while even thicker fineliners (felt pens) don’t show through, and erasing doesn’t cause significant damage. If fact my only real gripe (though it is a big one), is that they are quite floppy for being “cards”. They’re flimsy, flappy, and easy to tear if handled frequently, meaning they would work poorly if one wanted to use them as say… index cards. Not only does this lack of stiffness detract from their main purpose, but it negates so many of the other things that index card were useful for in the past, like being structurally integral parts of craft projects. (Unfortunately, this can only knock the product down so far as, recently, I haven’t seen a brand of index cards that maintains the proper rigidity, so the best bet there is to make your own from card stock, I guess).

If you’re looking for small cut pieces of paper for various reasons, like taking quick notes, testing swatches of ink or paint (though they may buckle), or organizing recipes that you don’t handle often, these will work just fine. And even though they won’t really work for maintaining a card-catalogue (who even has those?) they aren’t exactly anything less than I expected for the price.

 

Review – 25-Piece 1” Foam Brush Pack (Walmart)

I’ve been experimenting with some new (to me) “craft-y” techniques using paints and glues and such. Since I’m simply performing tests and I wanted an inexpensive way to acquire enough brushes for my purpose that didn’t necessarily need to stick around (not that foam brushes are known for quality or longevity). I quickly solved this problem at my local Walmart with their large pack of 25 one-inch foam brushes, and really there isn’t much to say beyond that description.

These brushes are a ¼” wooden dowel of the cheapest and lightest variety, with a poorly stamped “not for lacquer or shellac” “warning” on the side, that are attached by a plastic tongue to a sponge too delicate for kitchen work with a wedge on one end. Since the price is only a few dollars for two dozen, none of the materials here are of notable quality, but they do hold together long enough for one to get a few uses out of the things. I’ve found that after 3 glue applications (uses, not individual coats) and subsequent washes, these brushes begin to disintegrate, but this doesn’t affect how they work for at least a few more washes (and paint is obviously a little less harsh on them than glue). Even with foam brushes not being the highest quality at the best of times (where would one even acquire “high-quality” foam brushes?), these do seem to break apart fairly quickly, though not more than I would expect for the price.

I don’t see much of a reason to fuss about which foam brush set to pick up. The nature of foam is that they are inexpensive and allow for easy application of media in exchange for their own durability. This set is a cheap way to get a lot of brushes that will get the job done. If that’s what you need, they’re easy to find in most places.

Review – Muji Bunkobon Notebooks (Thin/Regular)

I’ve had a couple Muji notebooks in the queue to review for quite some time now, and ironically it’s the product that I have most recently purchased that’s making its way to my metaphorical “review table” first. Muji has a reputation of being both minimalist and high quality, and Japan in general is often seen as being more focused on a good writing experience, but do Muji’s inexpensive Bunkobon notebooks live up to the expectations?

When looking at aesthetics, the exterior is about as minimal as one can get: a brown “craft” paper cover with a smooth (not glossy, but definitely coated) finish wraps the whole book, only interrupted by a barcode sticker on the back. Inside, the pages are blank with no additional features (no name page or back pocket) save a red ribbon bookmark.

The paper is a pleasant off-white with a very smooth texture. For how thin it is, it does a very good job of holding up. Almost any mark you make has “show through” where it can be seen from the other side of the paper, and with pens this quickly renders the reverse side unusable (I never use it anyway), but in most cases this doesn’t result in “bleedthrough” where marks appear on the next page. Gel and fountain pens work fine, but Sharpies and calligraphic pens are too much for it to bear (though only barely, it seems). The actual experience of writing on the paper is also quite pleasant, it’s got just a little bit of tooth to remind you that you are indeed writing, but most pens just glide across. For me personally, it sometimes feels a bit slippy or like I’m losing control, however, I have the same problem with the gel pens that everyone else in the world loves.

The book comes in two (very reasonably {but not proportionally} priced) sizes, regular with 144 sheets, and slim with 50. And the larger size would excite me more if I didn’t have a few issues with durability. These 4 1/8 x 5 ¾ book’s covers are only a piece of slightly thicker paper, and on the top this overhangs a sixteenth of an inch beyond the one side of the book with a deckled edge. This quickly creates bent corners and a curled-in top area (I unsuccessfully tried cutting this excess off my slim, and it now looks like I’d imagine it would after a little while of constant use), which might be overlooked if the cover itself wasn’t so fragile and easily bent. Even I, a man who is very careful with all of his possessions (because he doesn’t like them to look worn) bent and tore the cover while the bookmark unraveled itself. While the binding is very solid I don’t feel like the cover of this book will adequately protect it over a longer period of time or through rigorous use (so it’s out for frequent traveling), and I think that this problem will get worse with the larger size.

For the price of a couple dollars this is a very good notebook to write in. While there are some problems with cover and bookmark it makes a fine office or school notebook, or, if you aren’t a stickler for aesthetics, it’s a nice convenient size to carry around (though larger than that average pocket). If you’re looking for an inexpensive notebook upgrade or are just tired of people putting words or logos on your writing area these are nice, minimal and well crafted books.

Video – Why buy a Deck Builder’s Toolkit? (Winston Draft)

As mentioned in the video my original “cut” was about 13 minutes of me not getting to the point quickly enough. At times it seems I am a chronic over-explainer and at the time it Continue reading

Book Review – Meditations (By: Marcus Aurelius)

Four years ago I started reading some of the great “classic” political and philosophical works. I finished The Prince and moved on to Meditations (both really threw off my “date written” graph, which is the main reason I mention it). Unfortunately, then life got in the way, and Meditations was much more… “boring” than the previous works I had finished. With my workload intensifying I wasn’t in the right state of mind to read a journal of stoic philosophy, so it went away, and when my workload went down I read “more exciting” books, but this one stayed in my mind, and in my “to-read” pile. Three and a half years later I finally resolved to “really finish” it, and, even though it took me a month, I did (now I just need to get back to On The Road and Europe Central {they don’t have anything to do with this either, really}). Now, does my resistance to finishing it mean that it’s a bad book? Or is it something worth getting through?

There are no high quality versions of my cover.

I actually started by reading the introduction this time, but not getting through all of it. It gets a bit boring (as introductions tend) but I think the first few pages are a very good… well, “introduction” to what the text is about (The translator’s note is also good reading, and might be a bit better of an introduction in my version: the Penguin Classics from 1977). And after that I caught up to my bookmark, still there on page 2/3 (36/37), which shows you how devoted I was to it starting out. I didn’t exactly pick up the pace on this reading, either. The book is dense and difficult to read, for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious is that it was never meant to be a book that someone read. The fact that the text was originally a series of journals titled “to Myself” (in Greek) demonstrates this. There are few transitional phrases or sentences and the ideas themselves don’t always follow a nice logical order; everything is dense and clunky, like how you would write down ideas in a notebook. Its only attempt at explaining the philosophy it is about is for the benefit of the author, who was supposed to be its only reader. It flows like a book of introspective quotes about life that is curated well enough to make you stop and think about most of them, and this delays the reading. It’s hard to focus on the next paragraph when the previous is still working its way though your mind, and you’re still analyzing whether you agree with it, or how it relates to your life/perspective, or whether it’s changed your mind. It feels like you need to remember every word for future reference.

And of course there’s also a bit of a language “barrier”, since the book was written close to 2,000 years ago in Greek, at a time when English hadn’t even developed as a language, there are going to be some places where words’ meanings have changed or are difficult to translate. But there are many universal feelings that can still be conveyed; when Aurelius mentions a desire to retire by the beach, or stay underneath warm blankets in the morning (both poor decisions in his mind) you might, as I, be struck by the idea that people have been having these same thoughts for two thousand years. That amount of time can be dehumanizing, and being able to look and see that they weren’t “that” different from us is a useful tool. (Interestingly, I interpreted this as humans battling the same unproductive urges for millennia, but my brother viewed it more as a legitimization of those feelings) Still there are other linguistic oddities that need to be explained, my favorite being “a better thrower down”, which is a saying that I absolutely must now shoehorn into my English usage. And the original context for “cynic” and “stoic” might take some getting used to. (In the text of my copy the translator mentions a joke from the time “How do you tell a stoic from a cynic? … He wears a shirt”, which would still work in modern contexts if you add “Boom! Ancient Greek philosopher joke!” or something to that effect).

I find the whole thing hard to do justice to. I have read some people’s opinions who think the book is an angsty diary that was only kept because it happened to belong to an emperor. And there certainly is some of that there; this book is easily proof that people from all walks of life can find reason to be unhappy. And its cosmic talk about how the body replaces itself (which, when paired with the idea of a spherical earth might mean that Aurelius had more scientific knowledge than some people today), or one’s “soul” won’t endure forever might be seen as the worst parts of a teenager’s stilted nihilism. Still, there is an optimism in it, and it feels wise at the very least in the way a student who has not reached enlightenment but can parrot the master is wise (and Marcus claims to be no master). I suppose the best I could really do at this point is to show you a few quotes from the text, as I’m not going to be getting better at explaining it.

“You can not reprimand chance, or impeach providence.”

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”

“The Pride that swells beneath a garb of humility is of all things the most intolerable.”

“Think of your many years of procrastination; how the gods have repeatedly granted your further periods of grace, of which you have taken no advantage.”

“Living and dying… riches and poverty… are equally the lot of good men and bad. Things like these neither elevate nor degrade.”

“Treat with respect the power you have to form an opinion.”

“Take no enterprise in hand at haphazard.”

“Life is opinion.”

“What is no good for the hive is no good for the bee.”

“If the crew took to vilifying their steersmen; or the patients their doctor, is there any other they would listen to instead; and how would such another be able to ensure the safety of the sailors or the health of the sick.”

“When men are inhuman, take care to not feel towards them as they do towards other humans.”

“Soon you will have forgotten he world, and soon will the world have forgotten you.”

It’s a difficult book to read, and I wouldn’t recommend you necessarily read it like any other book. Meditations is a good bedside book, or rather a good “wherever you put books that you’ll occasionally pick up and read a few paragraphs from” book. It’s interesting and insightful but dense and clunky. It isn’t exactly a master’s work on stoic or proto-Christian philosophy, but it is an interesting distillation that can deepen your understanding as a reader. It’s not a book for everyone, and knowing what it is and what it isn’t when first starting will likely be important to how enjoyable one finds the book (fortunately they go out of their way to provide this context in many prefaces). It’s not a book to be read lightly, or without care, but when finished, it’s one that is nice to have bouncing around in your head.