Stretch's 2015

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Stretch's 2015

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Edited: Dec 21, 2015, 11:17am

I'm back again, hopefully won't fall off into an abyss this year. I have many book commentaries to catch up on and a couple of pencils to review from 2014.

Currently Reading:


Books Read

The Bees by Laline Paull (2/4/15)
Evidence of Things Unseen by Mairanne Wiggins (2/19/15)
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (2/21/15)
The Submission by Amy Waldman (2/25/15)
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke (3/22/15)
Burning Angel by James Lee Burke (3/24/15)
Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (4/2/15)
Lamb by Christopher Moore (5/6/15)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (6/12/15)
The Martian by Andy Weir (6/18/15)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (6/30/15)
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (10/25/15)

The Perfection of the Paper Clip by James Ward (5/12/15)
What if? by Randall Munroe (5/19/15)
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (7/2/15)
Monkey Girl by Edward Humes (8/6/15)
Rebels and Redcoats by Christopher Hibbert (11/9/15)

Pencils and Sharpeners Reviewed:

Forest Choice HB graphite
Mongol 482
Dixon Ticonderoga
Dixon Ticonderoga Black
Papermate Mirado
Carl CP-80
General's Cedar Pointe
Staedtler Norcia 132 46 HB
Palomino Prospector
Mitsu-Bishi 9850 HB
Palomino Golden Bear
Musgrave Test Scoring 100
Staedtler Noris school pencil
》 General's Test Scoring 580

✗ Books off the TBR as of 1/1/15
✓ Books Bought in 2015
Percentage of Books read off the TBR pile = 1%

Edited: Dec 31, 2014, 11:29am

Almost forgot I still have quite a few pencils yet to get to:

1. General's Layout
2. General's Semi-hex
3. Palomino Blackwing
4. Palomino Blackwing 602
5. Palomino Orignal
6. Tombow 2558
7. Write Dude's USA Gold
8. Helix Oxford
9. Calepino No. 2
10. Staedtler Full HB
11. Staedtler Wopex
12. Lee Valley
13. Chung HWA 615
14. General's Test 580
15. The Bullet Twist

Edited: Apr 10, 2016, 12:42pm

Musgrave Test Scoring 100

Technical Stuff

Wood: Incense-cedar
Core: A very Dark HB
Shape: Hexagonal
Finish: An even coating of silver paint
Ferrule: Unadorned Aluminum
Eraser: Soft pink rubber with noticeable flakes of pumice
Markings: Scan-tron boxes surrounding the words “Test Scoring” then 100 followed by Musgrave Pencil CO. Shelbyville Tenn.; in black paint
Origin: Shelbyville, TN

The Musgrave Pencil Company has been manufacturing quality pencils in the same Shelbyville Tennessee factory for nearly a hundred years. Today they mostly make the colorful round barreled pencils used as rewards for good attendance or outstanding citizenship. However, they still have on of the finest HBs' in their arsenals. The Test Scoring 100 was originally designed to be read the early Scan-tron machines. The ubiquitous technology of standardized tests and utility bills started out as an attempt to digitize all human made marks using both pen and pencil, really the first OCR technology, a big undertaking considering the computing power of the early 1960s. Mark Sense was the first major project undertaken by IBM to develop such an automated system. These early machines had some difficulty reading plan graphite or ink so IBM developed the iconic IBM Electrograph*. The Electrograph pencil was infused with luminescent and electrically conductive particles to darken the mark to increase the chances the early machines would be able to pick up the markings. They later worked out the kinks to the system and specialty pencils were no longer needed, however the myth that only No. 2 pencils that can be read by the scan-tron stems from IBM documentation recommending that No. 2s be used because of their dark mark and erasable. IBM was worried about the error rate they were getting with the early machines when the marks from No.1 or softer pencil were used since there was some residue left from mistakes. That's no longer an issue with the modern machines, but the recommendation persists. As the popularity of the scan-tron technology grew, other pencil manufacturers started making there own versions of the Electrograph. The Test 100 is Musgrave's attempt.

The Test 100 is one the few (two) versions of the Electrograph still manufactured. The Test 100 is a wonderfully cheesy pencil. The silver paint is thin but sticks to the wood well, the black wording rubs off, the simple aluminum ferrule and pink eraser lack the flash of its more premium cousins. The test 100 frankly looks cheap and ugly, and I love it. The silver paint is an immediate love it or hate it reaction and the flaky black paint makes most people seek out other alternatives. To me the paint and its cheap feel adds a bit of character to what would otherwise be a pretty boring pencil.

Test scoring pencils aren't to be judged by their appearances alone, the core is what has to separate them from the herd of standard No. 2s. The Test 100s marks are hands down one of the darkest lines available in the cheap HB realm today. Not only is it super dark but it is also buttery smooth. I don't know how Musgrave was able to achieve such dark and smooth lines and yet keep the HB point retention so solid. There's virtually no smudging, chipping, or inconsistencies to be found with this lead. This writes so well it can play with the ultra premium pencils and not break a sweat. It truly is a fine core wrapped in gorgeous incensed cedar.

Another deceiving aspect to the Test 100 is the seemingly simple pink rubber eraser. The eraser at first glance seems like the typical pink pearl, but on closer inspection visible flakes of pumice (or glass) can be seen embedded in the eraser. I've never actually seen visible bits of grit on any pencil ever (without a hand lens). And this thing more then gets the job done. It leaves almost nothing but dust behind. Sadly, the erase probably won't make it the life the pencil. The pencils point needs so little sharpening that the eraser is usually long gone before its half used up.
I love this cheap looking no thrills pencil, even the packaging is cheap (a clear plastic bag). I think there's a lot of character in this pencil and with its core, eraser setup there isn't much that can compete in its price bracket.

*The IBM Electrograph was one of the beloved pencils of John Steinbeck, along with the Backwing 602 and the Mongol of course. A cult following grew up around the Electrograph.

Jan 2, 2015, 2:07pm

Your knowledge of pencils is simply staggering! And your reviews are much fun to read, this latest being no exception.

Jan 4, 2015, 9:53am

>4 Poquette: It's fascinating what can be gleaned from a few obsessed minded folks and a hand full of hours of research. I'm glad you enjoy them, at least it isn't a complete waste of time. Just for the record I to think it's ridiculous that I wrote 800+ words for something that costs about 30 cents.

Edited: Jan 4, 2015, 12:37pm

Some more catchup from last year:

My Sister Chaos by Laura Fergus

My Sister Chaos is about the relationship between two sisters who have escaped an unknown civil war (I imagine it's an Eastern Bloc country for some reason) and how they choose to deal with the chaos that surrounds. One sister is an obsessive compulsive cartographer who is on a mission to literally map her life in the most minute detail. For most the story she is stuck just mapping the sparse room where drafting board sits. The other sister is bohemian artist type that goes with the flow and is searching for news about the loved ones she lost back home. She for the most part doesn't care about her current situation and seems to long for the old life. The sisters aren't particularly close to one another, but are bonded to each other by blood and circumstance. These are deeply damaged people.

This book is not for everyone. The consternation of the Cartographer over the best approach for mapping the rooms floor is liable to drive most people nuts. For me I sort of identified with how she reacts to her sisters “chaos.” Especially when that chaos is fundamentally changing the way she pictures as her own place in the world. But then again people call me fussy.

Origin: Australian
Date Published: 2011
Pages: 204
Rating: ★★★★

Jan 4, 2015, 4:52pm

>3 stretch: I'm in serious awe of your knowledge of pencil history, components and performance. My tiny contribution to the world of pencil-chat this year will be a trip finally to one of the pencil stores (not too far from me) mentioned in How to Sharpen Pencils.

I'm pleased (but concerned??) that you're still in-process with Evidence of Things Unseen. I liked it while reading and love it in retrospect.

Jan 4, 2015, 6:17pm

I just grabbed a quick "look inside" at Amazon because My Sister Chaos seems to present an interesting situation. Based on a quick skim, I think I'll add it to my wish list, even though I probably won't get to it anytime soon!

Jan 4, 2015, 6:21pm

>6 stretch: The consternation of the Cartographer over the best approach for mapping the rooms floor is liable to drive most people nuts. Sounds like it didn't drive you nuts stretch, enjoyed your review.

Jan 4, 2015, 8:46pm

>7 detailmuse: I like Evidence of Things Unseen. My travel schedule has been hell so I've been leaving it at home and just reading off my Kobo on the road. By the tie I get back to it I've forgotten where I left off so I start it all over again. I think I've read the various ways to cook a catfish five or six times now. At this point I think I have most the 1st hundred pages memorized.

>9 baswood: Being surrounded by scientist and engineers all day every day has prepared me well for just that kind of conversation. I've had hour long conference calls about the size of the map points versus the accuracy of the instrumentation used to collect those points.

Jan 5, 2015, 11:19am

In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000-Year History of the American Indians by Jake Page

This book deserves a more detailed write up but I’ve lost my notes.

Separating fact from fiction in an unbiased manner when it comes to the history of America’s native populations is a nearly impossible task. In the Hands of the Great Spirit, Jake Page, has tried to give a dispassionate overview of Native American history of the United States from the earliest migrations from Asia to the early parts of the 21st century. Page doesn’t’ apology for the more egregious acts of the European settlers or later the American’s pushing American Indians from the lands promised to them through treaties. Nor does demean the American Indians culture to the point of caricature to make a political statement. Page does a very good job of presenting the events of history as the happened without judgment, letting the reader decide for themselves whether or not the outcome was just. Considering how contentious the interactions of the Native American and the people wishing to exploit their resources have been in the past, it is really admirable to attempt to remain in the middle of the road. At the same time Page paints the American Indian culture as being far more complex and less homogenous then is often portrayed. American Indians were not and are not passive inhabitants of the land. They exploited the resources available to them, used and fought with other tribes and communities to their advantage, and modified their ways of life readily to deal with the changing times. Tribal life may have afforded them a different understanding of property and ownership, but they were in no way less sophisticated than their European counterparts. Their struggles and victories are well documented in this single volume work. Certainly there are more detailed accounts available but they would be hard pressed in presenting a fairer overview than In the Hands of the Great Spirit.

My one and only grip about the book is the last chapter, where Page attempts to cover some of the current events and possible political future of the American Indians. This is the worst thing a well written historic account can do. Any predications based on current information of human behavior are bound to be wrong. In this case they weren’t too far off, but only scratched the surface of the issues faced by American Indians. Page even acknowledges the flaws of such a chapter, but goes ahead and throws in his own predictions. These sort of chapters should be left out.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2004
Pages: 480
Rating: ★★★★

Jan 5, 2015, 6:14pm

Enjoyed your review of In the Hands of the Great Spirit Sounds like a good place top start if you want an overview of the history.

Jan 5, 2015, 6:22pm

That sounds like a fascinating book -- if a very big job to accomplish in even a longish book.

Jan 5, 2015, 8:54pm

Great review on In the Hands of the Great Spirit, definitely going on the to-read list.

Jan 6, 2015, 7:05am

I'm glad you're continuing with the pencil reviews. I look forward to them. My current favorite is the Staedtler Wopex.

Jan 6, 2015, 8:41am

Excellent review of In the Hands of the Great Spirit, Kevin. I hope that you will post your review on the book's work page.

Jan 16, 2015, 5:34pm

Both My Sister Chaos and In the Hands of the Great Spirit jumped onto my wish list. Dangerous thread here!

Edited: Jan 31, 2015, 11:08am

Pencils ahoy! Enjoyed your reviews so far - keep 'em coming. I like the sound of My Sister Chaos. The thought of an obsessive-compulsive cartographer appeals to me.

Starring your thread again.

(ETR rogue apostrophes!)

Jan 31, 2015, 10:50am

While part of me wants the cartographer to be obsessive compulsive while working on maps and charts I will actually use, the other part loves those wonderful maps with sea monsters and dragons. My Sister Chaos sounds like a good one.

I see you are reading Reporting Vietnam, which I have been reading off and on for quite some time. I should just settle down and finish it, but it doesn't seem to go with any of my other current reading. Maybe next time I go on a Vietnam or American politics binge.

Keep up those pencil reviews. I always enjoy them.

Jan 31, 2015, 12:01pm

The phrase "obsessive compulsive cartographer" reminded me I had this in my wishlist. But when I went to find it, I couldn't. I finally found the relevant book, but it is Trust Your Eyes, and my comment about it to myself mentions a "map-obsessed schizophrenic" ... which also still sounds good!

Jan 31, 2015, 4:01pm

I had missed your review of In the Hands of the Great Spirit, a book i had not heard of. I'm about to put it on my wishlist.

Feb 7, 2015, 9:13am

So today I was at a stationary store in Tokyo looking for a notebook and a good pen for studying Japanese. My friend started testing these and then immediately started erasing his pen marks. I was amazed! Using the friction of the eraser to create heat to "erase" the ink was genius. I'm super excited to use this for my Japanese studies as it's perfect for erasing a character if I don't write it correctly. (Although I would never use this pen for official documents, for obvious reasons.) Anyway, it made me think of you and your pencil reviews.

Feb 11, 2015, 3:29am


i haven't seen any fake one's in China, so far .....

Edited: Apr 21, 2015, 6:17am

Sorry y'all I have fallen behind yet again. Work just won't let up. Thanks for all the kind words. I promise to get back to the books eventually this year.

>22 lilisin:: Color me jealous, Japan has some of the greatest stationary stores ever. I've only ever been to the Muji shop in San Fransisco once as a kid. It's like a candy store, so many pencils and pens and innovative to boot. The handwriting is strong with Japan.

Edited: Feb 23, 2015, 3:09pm

The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees is a fairly straight forward story a simple bee bucking the rigid caste system that governs a bee’s life from the day they are born until the day they die. Even the means by which they die is governed by their place within the hive. Differences and deformities are not to be tolerated; conformity is of the highest order to the hive to preserve the Queen’s love. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, the lowest rung of the hive hierarchy, but born with the ability to communicate with bees of higher castes. Normally she would have been executed immediately, to cleanse the hive of a deformity. For some reason she is spared for curiosities sake. Over the course of the story Flora 717 moves up and down the caste system learning the ins and outs of the hive and discovery hidden abilities hiding in all her sisters. As outside events push the hive to the brink of collapse, Flora 717’s purpose becomes better defined.

This whole novel felt like a short story with a lot of padding. Much of it was repetitive and for a play on the ugly duckling story was simply too long. By the time the climax of the novel came, I was relieved not because of the dramatic build up but because it was coming to an end. I think this could have been much better with a little more brevity.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2014
Pages: 352
Rating: ★★½

Feb 23, 2015, 3:09pm

Thanks for reviewing The Bees. I keep seeing that book everywhere and the cover is attractive, but now I won't be tempted to pick it up.

Feb 23, 2015, 4:01pm

Debut novel I would guess. Sounds like one. Hopefully the author will find a better way to use her talents in the second one. Or find a good editor that is not afraid to say that a novel is actually a novella. :)

Feb 23, 2015, 8:04pm

>25 stretch: I felt like you did about The Bees. It really should have been a short story or novella. The idea was kind of clever and the parallels to human dystopian stories were striking at first, but then it just gets tired. I was really ready for it to be over at least 100 pages from the end.

Feb 24, 2015, 10:02am

>27 AnnieMod:: I think there are quite a few books that could use a good trimming.

>28 japaul22:: Totally agree. It was great at first but it just wore on to no end.

Feb 24, 2015, 10:08am

The Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins

Evidence of Things Unseen is love story between two people as the negotiate life through the 20’s, the depression, and World War II. It’s not a romantic love that burns bright but a more commonplace love, a love that lasts. At the certain of this story is the relationships between people and how they grow and change as time unrelentingly moves forward. The history of the Tennessee valley from the 20’s to the end of World War II plays out on the very same pages and pushes the couple down paths of life they never expected. There is plenty of tragedy as there was plenty of tragedy in rural Tennessee. But the characters of this story are able to adapt and change with the times. The love of light or more adeptly radiation ties the story together from the beginning to the end. A perfect circle.

What I liked most about the story is that these people are flawed, not seriously flawed, but flawed in an ordinary sort of way and that they are still capable of caring for one another despite the flaws. Everything about this story seems real. The struggles of an ordinary couple doing their best to thrive in a rapidly changing society and pursuing their simple dreams. How Wiggins perfectly integrates science and history into the story is just icing on the cake. She has a true appreciation for the science and history she has incorporated into the story. As the 1st story comes to an end and a new love begins to blossom, I was ready to take the trip with Wiggins all over again.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2004
Pages: 400
Rating: ★★★★★

Feb 24, 2015, 10:54am

Some great reading here. I am particularly intrigued by Evidence of Things Unseen.

Feb 24, 2015, 11:46am

Oh, that sounds very good. I'll look for the Wiggins book.

Edited: Feb 24, 2015, 12:30pm

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

It’s weird to go from the truly excellent book that seamlessly intricate science-y stuff like the Evidence of things Unseen to a book that makes such an utter hash of the science it sort of becomes unintentionally comedic in the Age of Miracles.

A basic run down of the Age of Miracles: a coming of age story of an awkward young girl, set in a dystopian not-so distant future of the Earth rotation slowing down and the days becoming longer. It’s science fiction. But a more of a ripped from the headlines sort of science rather than one with at least some sibilance to plausibility. The slowing of the Earth is unexplained, which is fine, not everything in science fiction has to be unexplained. Anyone with a background in physics/earth science could fill in a sudden-increase-in-mass-altering-gravitational-consent-tidal- friction-slowing-Earth, but the mystery is more than enough to sustain a novel. It’s the effects of the slowing cause a break with my suspension of disbelief. When the birds start falling out of the sky for no real reason that it reminded me of the scene in the core that were birds suddenly start flying into objects, buildings, and people as if with the change in gravity they lost their eyesight as well. I could forgive the lack of understanding why most plants can’t grow above the artic circle (tundra is a little higher on the list than light or the lack of light), the stranding of sea animals on the beach, even the bird thing was forgivable, but I just couldn’t abide the dramatic passage of the Earth making its 400 billionth trip around the sun to show that the universe is apathetic to the slowing of the Earth. I mean come on did no googling occur while writing, editing, or reviewing this book. The earth is 4.5 billion years old and the universe is 13.7 billion years old by current estimates. At that point this became a comedy. Science written by yahoo answers board. At the end of my book Walker in an interview boosts how she had an Astrophysicist review the science in the book to make sure it at least could happen, and how they only came back with some minor notes. Seriously! Minor notes, I’d hate to see what she got wrong if this is considered right. Also, the discussion on whether to remain on clock time versus real time fails to understand our time is arbitrary construct that only has meaning because we chose to give it meaning. Or that the sun rises and sets a slightly different times throughout the year, so the gradual slowing would probably gone largely unnoticed for months by the general public.

All that being said I was entertained. In that bad Hollywood science fiction sort of way. I found it to be hilarious in places that were probably meant to be more poignant. And there really is a very good coming of age story buried in this story that many if not all could identify with.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2012
Pages: 288
Rating: ★★

Feb 24, 2015, 3:10pm

>33 stretch: Ha! I think you're even harsher on the science in that book than I was, and I thought I was being unkind. :)

Feb 24, 2015, 4:10pm

>30 stretch: oh wonderful to feel like I'm in this book again! I gave it to a friend or would begin a reread today.

>25 stretch: Saw an article on books that the reviewer abandoned in 2014 and The Bees was on her list. Interesting to see that it's along the lines of Watership Down though, which I want to read.

>33 stretch: {astrophysicist} only came back with some minor notes
Well maybe minor in length? "This couldn't happen."

Feb 24, 2015, 4:19pm

>35 detailmuse:: lol, we could only hope.

>34 bragan:: I tried be kind at first but decided that wasn't as much fun as the rant. She crossed a line that couldn't be undone at 400 billion. It was italicized to boot.

Feb 24, 2015, 6:19pm

What's a couple zeroes here or there?

Nice catching up with you a bit.

Feb 25, 2015, 9:10am

>37 dchaikin:: It's really a good news, bad news sort of thing. Bad news: Had to get through them. Good News: Lower rates help smooth out my ratings bell curve which sooths the inner OCD.

Apr 10, 2015, 10:02am

The Submission by Amy Waldman

In this novel Amy Waldman explores how something like a memorial design can bring out the very best and worst in people. When a man with a Muslim heritage is chosen by a blind committee to design the 9/11 memorial the reaction is ugly and sometimes brutal. Hard lines are drawn on both sides of the debate and compromises are the last thing on any one’s mind.

The Submission was a good book for the most part. All the characters felt real and had complex motivations for their positions and actions. Except maybe the subplot about Muslim widow who lost her husband in the attack, her first few chapters felt more like an afterthought and telegraphed blueprint for a plot twist. Without her the story would have been just as strong and would have made the main plot more cohesive. There was a lot to like about this well put together story and the emotions that can surround our differences, but the ending while fitting to the story was somehow unsatisfying. And left me feeling a bit cheated.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2011
Pages: 320
Rating: ★★★½

Apr 10, 2015, 10:04am

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead and Burning Angel by James Lee Burke


Both of these books were listened to on a cross country drive as audiobooks. The follow detective Dave Robicheaux and {insert generic female partner with troubled past here} as they solve a series of increasingly grisly murders in southern Louisiana. Burke’s language is uniquely “Louisiana” and his characters names are fantastic. But his characterization is pretty wooden. You can pretty much substitute one generic baddie for another without much change to the story. Dave’s wife might as well be a cardboard cut with an apron. The war of northern aggression seems to be common thread through Burke’s novels. The Electric Mist was better than Burning Angel. Burning Angel had an incalculable number of bad guys, all more than ready and willing kill each other without much input from the police. And yet Dave Roubideaux still somehow gets suspended for what literally amounts to picking up the phone a couple of times and letting the bad guys shoot up half of Louisiana. To say Robicheaux does nothing in the Burning Angel would be an understatement. Both were not bad ways to pass the miles, but I don't think I'll be going out of my way to finish the series.

The Electric Mist-
Origin: USA
Date Published: 1993
Pages: 402
Rating: ★★★½

Burning Angel-
Origin: USA
Date Published:
Pages: 464
Rating: ★★½

Edited: Apr 3, 2018, 12:54pm

Staedtler Noris School Pencil

Wood: Incense-cedar
Core: B
Shape: Hexagonal
Finish: Yellow and Black striped with a white and black end cap
Ferrule: None, but some models do have a ferrule and eraser
Eraser: None
Markings: Staedtler logo with Trojan Head; “Noris School Pencil” and a blocked B in gold foil
Origin: Germany

It has always been my impression that the Staedtler Noris is the typical wood case pencil of Europe. I could be totally off base with this assumption but I would equate the Noris with Dixon Ticonderoga here in the states. I’ve wanted to try a Noris for the longest time, however, being in the United States, makes getting Staedtler’s more iconic products from Europe has been cost prohibitive. I did get a hold of a sampler pack and will be reviewing the B grade because I want to keep the HB for the collection.

One the most striking aspects of the Staedtler Noris is its yellow and black paint scheme. It is instantly recognizable as a Noris. It’s really a yellow pencil with two hexagonal panels painted black and two thin black lines along the remaining panels. The paint itself is immaculate with very little bleed through from the bright yellow. And the gold foil adds a lot of class to what should otherwise be a basic school pencil. Since the Noris is sans eraser each pencil is capped by plastic cap shrink fitted to the pencil. The color scheme for the caps varies from grade to grade. The B grade end cap is black and white, while the HB is the classic Staedtler red and white. Shrink wrapping the end caps while fast and cheap can be flawed. Because its plastic it can be folded or dented in the process and the paint can be chipped off with rough handling. Overall I think the Staedtler is beautiful pencil for what is considered a standard school pencil.

Outside of looks the Staedtler is a little less than remarkable. The core of this pencil feels more like a compromise than something fitting of Staedtler’s reputation. At times the lead is incredibly smooth at others it is super scratchy. For a B graded core I wasn’t expecting just how scratchy this lead can become. It’s also doesn’t leave a very dark line. European lead grades do tend to run a shade or two lighter than their American and Asian counterparts. This isn’t necessarily a drawback, just something to keep in mind when comparing pencils.

A feature or a lack of a feature that is figuratively driving me nuts is the missing eraser. Without a ferrule and eraser the pencil feels unbalanced. I also can’t stop myself from flipping the pencil around to erase a mistake only to be frustrated by a sudden lack of rubber. Some habits are hard to kill. I can’t seem to make a routine of reaching for a separate brick eraser when I need it for even the most minor of mistakes. Still find it surprising the European manufacturers never really took to attaching ferrules, seems like a no brainer.

Overall I think the Staedtler Noris is a solid middle of the road pencil. The core is not perfect but it is more than serviceable especially for something marketed as a school pencil. For me, I don’t think I will ever be incorporating the Noris into my daily rotation. This is no fault of the pencil, but my preferences just aren’t going to ever align with European tastes.

An aside: There are the Staedtler Rally’s available in the United States at some of the Big Box stores. These are white and blue striped and complete with erasers. They are not German made and by many trusted accounts are pretty much junk.

Apr 11, 2015, 4:57am

Germans do seem to prefer using a separate eraser. It's uncommon for a pencil to have an attached eraser. None of the odd assortment in our pen/pencil jar have one. And we have a Noris, a wopex and a few faber-castell grip 2001s in there now.

May 4, 2015, 10:48am

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Mars is the second installment of Robinson’s Mars trilogy. Terra Forming has progressed to the point of no return and native Maritains have started to come of age and stretch their political power. The relationship with the Earth is tense to say the least after the first failed revolution. Most of the leaders are underground and events are on a crash course for another conflict. Factions are formed things come to a head and the Maritain population throws off the shackles of the powers from Earth.

Green Mars is much more political than the first in the series Red Mars. There is still some science, especially on the terra forming side of the equation, but this book is much more about putting together a coalition of diverse groups into a successful revolution. I was hesitant to read this, it took almost two years for me to pick this book up. I thought there was no way for the second to be nearly as the good as the first, but I was wrong. Green Mars while different is just as well put together and everything while messy makes sense, like most things in politics I suppose. Weird part I’m now incredibly hesitant to read the last book in the series. Because the expectations have only increased and there is no way that Robinson can keep this going.

On problem that I think Robinson has walked himself into, is the main characters longevity. The treatments for the drastic increase lifespans is both a major catalyst for driving the story forward but it is also a hindrance the complexation of the population of Mars. The first hundred have a powerful hold on the opinions of the Martian population, one that is so powerful of a complex society that it’s also a bit unrealistic. The hold the first hundred have on the younger generations doesn’t allow them to grow into themselves. They will always have a babysitter class and never get the chance to lead themselves and form their own distinct identities. Also, every character in the story is incredibly old for revolutionaries to hold to such naive ideals. Someone who is in their fifties and sixties probably realizes the futility of committing violence against a highly organized military force and think that the population will overwhelmingly flip to your side. It just makes some characters just cardboard caricatures. The lengthening lifespans has become a corner that is getting harder and harder for Robinson to get out of and may become a sticky issue for the younger generations.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 1995
Pages: 640
Rating: ★★★★½

May 4, 2015, 2:25pm

I enjoyed catching up with your thread. Evidence of Things Unseen looks very good.

Edited: Dec 21, 2015, 11:15am

So with some personnel awfulness this year, I have been remiss at posting and following things here at CR. My reading hasn't been all that bad this year considering. So hopefully a few shorts will get me back on track for next year. There are some really great books that deserve longer write ups but I just don't think I can find the motivation or time to put in the effort right now so these will have to do:

Lamb by Christopher Moore

This was a classic Moore title. Fun little back story, full of humor and cheap punchlines. Not my favorite of his works, but was not bad for a very quick read.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2002
Pages: 444
Rating: ★★★★


The Perfection of the Paperclip by James Ward

The history of invention of some the most common stationary items. Very interesting stuff, very much in the Henery Petroski vain except nowhere near as detailed. Recommended only to the desk obsessed.

Origin: UK
Date Published: 2015
Pages: 304
Rating: ★★★★


What If? by Randall Munroe

Scientifically explained absurd hypotheticals from one of my favorite nerdy webcomics. Breezed through this in a matter of hours. Only flaw not enough scenarios, left wanting more.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2014
Pages: 320
Rating: ★★★★


Crooked letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Thought this was really good at the time. Can't really remember much about it, is that a bad thing?

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2010
Pages: 288
Rating: ★★★★


The Martian by Andy Weir

Loved this book. Checked very science fiction nerd box. Mars; check. Exploration; check. Disaster; check. Optimistic protagonist; check. Technical science and engineering; check. Some random cursing; check.

A tailored made book. Ending was a little to neat and tidy, but whatever, dude was awesome.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2011
Pages: 387
Rating: ★★★★★


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandell

Dystopian Future, both tragic and uplifting in the maybe there's a chance kind of way. Deserves all the hype.

Origin: Canada
Date Published: 2014
Pages: 352
Rating: ★★★★½


Packing For Mars by Mary Roach

It's Mary freakin' Roach. Everything she touches is turned into awesomely funny but respectful retrospectives. Space exploration is no exception to this rule.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2010
Pages: 334
Rating: ★★★★


Monkey Girl by Edward Humes

The yearly science vs. nonsense read. Because I like to punish myself. Very informative and fair take on the Dover ttrial and its meaning. Not as frustrating as I had hoped, didn't quite live up to the punishment aspect. Much too enjoyable.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2008
Pages: 400
Rating: ★★★★½


Wintersmith by Terry Prachett

Forgot where I left off in the series, may have read this before, still remain uncertian on this point. Still love the Discworld, but maybe not as much as I use to.

Origin: USA
Date Published: 2008
Pages: 400
Rating: ★★★½


Rebels and Redcoats by Christopher Hibbert

The American revolutionary War from a British prespective. Pretty shallow historical overveiw, but good at outlining the reasons behind the British failures
during the lead up and actual war. Lots of names get bounced around and uses a lot of primary source material in the body of the text that is both jarring and somewhat repetitive. Could be hard to follow for someone unfamilar with the events and people of the war.

Origin: UK
Date Published: 2008
Pages: 412
Rating: ★★★½

Dec 21, 2015, 1:33pm

Nice to catch up with your reading Kevin.

Dec 21, 2015, 2:00pm

Happy to "see" you back. Loved your thoughts on Monkey Girl.