Review – Exceed 5×8.25 Hardcover Dotted Notebook

I’ve previously talked about the Exceed brand and the increase in quality from generic Walmart notebooks, so when I saw a standard sized notebook from them in hardcover (my favorite style) with dot-grid (my favorite ruling), I had to pick one up. From a distance the book is almost indistinguishable from a Moleskine (in their standard size), but comes at a much lower price-point. Are the two comparable? And which is a better value?

The size listed on the packaging is 5×8.25 inches, dimensions which reality bears out with the addition of a 5/8 inch spine (slightly thicker than that of the standard Moleskine). I chose the black cover, which is a nice “matte” pleather with a very fine grain, though it feels a bit rubbery and the cardboard structure is noticeably flexible. On the back there is a simple embossed “Exceed” logo which is nicely subtle, and the attachment points for the secure-but-dangly elastic closure band. Inside, there is an ugly page with several lines to write down your information and another “Exceed” logo at the bottom. This is followed by the 120 sheets of dot-ruled paper. Bound to the spine somewhere along the way is a flimsy, thin, black ribbon bookmark that nevertheless doesn’t have a propensity to unravel. Attached to the back cover of the book is your standard (at this point) pocket which… works, fine.

The paper inside has a classic 5mm dot layout with no additional formatting, and a pale-grey printing that moves into the background even under pencil lines, while still providing a neat and versatile guiding structure. The paper is a noticeably yellow-ish off-white and is thicker than your average notebook of this size (which accounts for the differences with a Moleskine book while having the same number of sheets). The increase in quality that this little bit of thickness allows (at least, that is my assumption), is well worth it, though. While it might not be the best for fine-writing instruments (the texture can best be described as “toothy”), it is opaque enough to allow for writing on both sides with basic utensils such as ballpoints and pencils. Furthermore, technical pens, brush pens, fountain pens, rollerballs, and even practice calligraphy pens all usually result in only minor show-through (at the cost of some feathering). However, alcohol-based Copic markers, Sharpies, and many felt-tip markers are too much for the paper, sometimes bleeding through entire pages. And there’s no guarantee of archival quality.

One could easily go out and find notebooks that are worse than this one. When compared to a Moleskine the paper and binding are superior, but it feels a little cheaper and there’s an increase in thickness. This isn’t an artist’s main book, it’s not archival and the paper feel isn’t inspiring. But it is a durable, inexpensive and widely available option that accommodates a wide variety of writing utensils. If you’re looking for a budget alternative in the “black-book genre”, these are definitely ones to check out.

Cadillac Craftsman Zippo Tape Measure – In the Collection

I like items that confuse me at first. Like many, I enjoy figuring out the puzzle of their story. When I first saw the words “Cadillac” and “Craftsman” engraved on an item with a laurel in a font similar to the Craftsman Tool logo I assumed it was some strange crossover of the two. And I became more intrigued when I discovered the item was a stainless steel tape measure made by the Zippo company.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a three-brand crossover, but it is a fascinating thing. Cadillac Craftsmen were a group that was sponsored by the Cadillac car company and certified to have a certain amount of knowledge and experience working on Cadillac vehicles. As a reward for being up to the company’s quality standards, those certified also received a bunch of cool swag, which seemed to change from year to year. And one, or a few, of these years they were given an engraved Zippo tape measure.

I never knew Zippo made tape measures, which they still do, in several versions: the main one looking nothing like this, and the promotional version (available only as such, it appears, like the Bic Clic) which is very similar to this one. This 6’ (180cm) (though the feet aren’t marked, only inches and cm) model has a brushed stainless steel body quite similar in dimensions to the bottom half of your standard Zippo lighter, and a plastic base bearing the company name. The tape is nothing special: it’s white, and 3/8ths inch thick. Mine’s a bit dirty and the action is kinda gummy after what I assume is years of use, but it’s still readable and retractable.

I hope that items like these have led long and useful lives. It’s a well-built tool that was presented to a workman and I’d like to believe it performed admirably for many years. I probably won’t be nearly as hard on it (as I’m not wanting for tape measures) and it’ll now likely be able to mostly retire into my Zippo collection having done its job well.

Review – Faber-Castell 033 Ballpoint Pen

I recently received a box of things my brother got for me on his trip to Peru. Inside were several pens that seemed to be commonly available there. Indeed, they are more common there than in the US, because all of the information I could find on them was in Spanish, or Russian (Ukrainian? Cyrillic of some sort). And they do say “Product of Peru” in Spanish. So let’s get to it and look at the first type I received, the Faber-Castell 033 ballpoint in black.


The pen has a very classic octagonal design, and it’s made with a plastic that feels much like the plastic that older pens and mechanical pencils were made out of, except it is much lighter and feels more brittle and thinner as a result. The faceted barrel is capped on the back by a step-down plug of a light grey color that allows the pen to be neatly posted, and the cap on the front is a very simple, if unsightly, ribbed design. The clip is molded in and works, but is quite filmsy, and I wouldn’t trust it. The cap does fit securely over the section, which is a simple taper in the barrel to a larger-than-normal metal cone, at the end of which is the ball. As far as I can tell, this tip is not removable, and thus the pen is not refillable. Stamped in gold on the side is just enough information to identify it, but not much more.


Writing is surprisingly smooth for a ballpoint, but it does have occasional startup issues and more blobbing than I can get past. The ink is comparable to inexpensive Bic ink. It’s suitably dark and black, but it’s got a bit of a red sheen, and upon close inspection under a bright light it looks like a very dark purple. It’s still on the warmer side of things, though. It dries fast (except for the blobs), but with certain types of paper I wouldn’t try it left-handed. And its blobbing might cause it to smear for left-handers anyway. It is suitably waterproof like most ballpoint inks. I haven’t tested lightfastness, but in general even cheap black inks do well, but it isn’t archival quality.

Overall it’s a well-working, inexpensive pen. As far as super cheap pens go it isn’t the best, but it’s far from the worst. It writes well, but not perfectly. The body is simple with no frills and holds together despite being cheaply made. And there isn’t much more to it than that. I wouldn’t be going out to import them, but I would (and will) use them if I ended up with them (which I obviously did).

Blog 11-3-15 – Things are late, and unfortunately will continue to be late

Hello followers and viewers. I value my schedule highly, and I believe I have done a good job over the last long while of keeping up with that schedule. That being said, if you view my content with any regularity you will have seen that I have been late the past few weeks on a few things, and have unfortunately exceeded previous records of my own lateness. This is especially not fun for me with my comics, which I consider the core of my online content.

Now I don’t want to just make excuses, but I have had a few things happen recently that have made progressing more difficult. I moved into a “limbo” situation that has not gotten resolved as quickly as I had hoped, and makes my work and living environments undesirable from a “getting things done” or “moving around comfortably in clear spaces” kind of way. I’ve also had to change jobs to one with irregular hours that prevents me from being in “work mode” for my various comic and article writing/drawing. And finally I have a large project I’ve been working on with a very hard deadline that is very behind schedule. I’ll talk about that more as it nears completion.

So with all of those things I was still able to be on top of things for a while, but it wasn’t going to last. And it looks like things will be problematic for a little while longer. I hope you can bear with me while I work this out, and I hope to have all of the items I have been late on and caught up to all of the new content by the end of November, but it might end up closer to the end of the year. I hope you enjoy the content regardless and I hope your holiday season is less stressful than mine is going to be.

Best Wishes,

Austin Smith

The Failure of Targeted Ads

Now, if the some of my past Articles/Blog Posts are any indication, it seems to have become increasingly clear to me that: a) no one in the tech industry has any idea what they’re doing anymore, and b) tech companies are innately a dumb kind of evil. And no matter how many times Google says “don’t be evil” at me it is still obvious that it’s a vampire that feeds on people’s souls through data collection.

But, as I’ve talked about before, for as much data as Google collects, as wide a range as its audience is, and as powerful as its (self-driving cars, and painting computer) technology becomes, it is still really bad at doing things. I’ve talked before about how bad their various interfaces are, and it’s pretty accepted that most hacking is most easily done through ones Gmail account. But even the one thing that they are supposedly doing really well, making tons of money with targeted ads, doesn’t really work for me. As a matter of fact I would say that the Google ad system, as I’ve interacted with it, is broken to the point of being unable to convince me to but a product.

I do recognize that part of that is due to my more sporadic and oddball nature. I do recognize that the things I like are on the fringe of society, and that perhaps people who in general like more popular stuff would be more susceptible to Google’s methods. But I have never once had a “targeted” ad be for something that I was looking for, or rather, something that predicted the item I was trying to buy. I have had some ads that give me photos of items I had looked at several hours ago from the same site in the ad, which, if anything, made me want to purchase it less. I’ve also gotten many more ads from sites I’ve already signed up to, as opposed to ones I hadn’t heard of but were interested in.

Because I’m in Texas, and sometimes near the border, I’ve gotten ads for a salon in Spanish. Not only can I not understand what is being said, I really have no use for a salon at all. I’ve gotten information about services I don’t use, in languages I don’t speak, from my city, and a whole number of random things that are “popular” that I care about not at all.

In short, I’d never consider advertising with Google, because they have done such a poor job of advertising to me. I consider the targeted ads of today a failure, but I don’t really want them to get better. I’m fine figuring out what I like on my own, because “don’t be evil” is relative.