What I'm Listening To

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I'm late to the podcast game. While technically savvy people have been listening to the format for years, I never quite found a set of shows that compelled me to listen. I could catch This American Life and Radiolab on my local NPR station, and I had only so much space on my phone, and I tend to go on broad musical explorations that wander from female-fronted symphonic metal to contemporary classical to dubstep to the complete works of Mahler to the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording.

Lately, though, I've been on a podcast kick. I listen to them in the car on the way to and from work, and I've managed to find just the right mix of shows so that I neither fall behind nor run out of content. If the length of my commute ever changes, I'm screwed. In the interest of sharing, here's that mix, with some comments from me:


This first set of podcasts are ongoing series comprised of self-contained episodes. You can jump in anywhere, listen to them out of order, or skip a few, and you'll only miss out on the awesomeness of each individual episode.

Note to Self

Manoush Zomorodi is your charmingly eccentric, slightly anxious, incredibly smart friend who's a blast to hang out with and who always has a great story to share. She also happens to be an excellent journalist who has a podcast about what it means to be human in our increasingly technological world. That podcast is called Note to Self, and it comes from WNYC studios.

Lore

If Stephen King wrote Wikipedia articles about folklore and then narrated them in a style characterized by a love of unnecessary pauses rivaled only by Christopher Walken and William Shatner, you'd have the Lore podcast. If the previous sentence appealed to you, you're probably downloading it now. If not, you might want to move on to other shows in this list.

Mystery Show

Starlee Kine was a producer for This American Life. Starlee Kine is charming. This is a show about Starlee Kine being charming whilst solving the mysteries of everyday life. One episode in the far-too-short first season featured Jake Gyllenhall. Another a belt buckle. Would you believe that the belt buckle episode almost made me cry?

Only Human

Only Human is a show about health told in an easily relatable way, covering everything from the state of the American healthcare system to the search for immortality to people with amazing medical conditions. Their tagline is "...every body has a story." It's the second of three shows from WNYC on this list.

Radiolab

If you're not listening to Radiolab, you're doing life wrong. Listen to Radiolab. This is the third of the three shows from WNYC on this list.

Surprisingly Awesome

The Adam who founded the Planet Money podcast and the Adam who directed Anchorman and Taledega Nights spend each episode trying to convince each other that topics that one finds boring (e.g. mold, interest rates, and broccoli) are actually really interesting. Surprisingly entertaining.

Esquire Classic

David Brancaccio, host of Marketplace Morning Report, examines some of the most popular non-fiction pieces from the Esquire magazine archives. He places each piece in its historical context while talking with other guests about the creation and impact of the piece. It's a very well produced examination of journalism throughout the twentieth century, in addition to re-telling a series of very interesting stories.

Criminal

In the same way that the Only Human podcast is about health, Criminal is about crime. Specifically, it examines the effects that crime has on the people who perpetrate it, are victimized by it, and fight it. The host, Phoebe Judge, has one of the best voices in podcast-dom.


The following three podcasts are serialized docu-dramas that have an ongoing storyline. You'll need to start at the beginning to make sense of them, but each started recently enough that it is still easy to catch up. Just plan to spend a week binge listening.

The Black Tapes

Host Alex Reagan investigates cases of the paranormal with the assistance of the enigmatic Richard Strand, a noted skeptic, and head of the Strand Institute. The series gets progressively creepy and esoteric as it progresses, but still remains well within the bounds of mainstream paranormal activity. One of the highlights of the show is the Mulder/Scully-esque relationship between Alex and Strand. They just launched season two, so now is the perfect time to binge on season one.

Limetown

Take the Serial formula (you did listen to Serial, didn't you) and apply it to the investigation of a mysterious town where every inhabtant disappeared overnight, and you have Limetown. The show manages to dial the creepy up at just the right rate to overcome suspension of disbelief issues and, while it goes slightly astray in the middle of the first season, finishes exceptionally strong. I listened to about half of season one on a flight to LA. I'm looking forward to season two.

Tanis

I'm hesitant to recommend Tanis. It's produced by the same production company as The Black Tapes, but it's overly ambitious, attempting to tie every possible conspiracy theory into one of their own creation. The host, Nic Silver, who is a producer on The Black Tapes, comes across as mostly out of his element in tracking down the mysterious Tanis. What is Tanis? A place, a thing, a force of nature? Nobody knows! Maybe the acerbic-but-charming, near-omniscient, mysterious hacker MirKatnip, who I'm certain has a dragon tattoo, can figure it out for him.

Also, the dialogue is exposition heavy, and mostly written using the following template:

"Blah, blah, blah, important term."

"Important term?"

"Yes, blah, blah, blah, second important term."

"Second important term, you say?"

And so on. Yet, I keep listening. It's currently in the middle of its first season, and I really hope that sticking with it will pay off in some way.

 

Ink Review: Kaweco Ruby Red

I'm a big fan of red ink. Red is my favorite color - I'm drawn to its vibrancy and dynamism. If the color red has a drawback, though, it is the quality that makes it so interesting: the high degree of contrast that makes it stand out from the crowd. In nature, red is an attention getting color, sending one of a number of messages depending on the organism in question: I am poisonous, I am ripe, I am dangerous, I am delicious. Unfortunately, all the extra stimulation that our brains must endure when dealing with the color can cause red ink to be fatiguing to read over a long period of time.

To find a regular spot in my ink rotation, then, a red ink's aesthetic qualities have to outweigh the burden of use. Some colors capture my imagination: Diamine Red Dragon is magical and J. Herbin Rouge Hematite is spectacular while Iroshizuki Momiji is sublime. Kaweco Ruby Red, though, is more prosaic: it's a pragmatic magenta red, and it makes no pretense about being more. It exhibits low to moderate levels of shading, depending on the width of the nib, and provides very high levels of contrast on white, off white, and cream colored paper.

As with the rest of the Kaweco line, Ruby Red is a dry ink that behaves well across all paper types, from the super-smooth Midori MD to the cheap, feather-prone, low-grade copier paper found in most offices.

Paper Dry Time Bleed Through Show Through Feathering
Copier 1 second Low Moderate Low
Bagasse 3 seconds Moderate Moderate Low
Rhodia 10 seconds None Low None
Midori 15 seconds None Low None
Canson 10 seconds None None None

In the water test, Ruby Red showed no resistance at all. The smear test, in which I rub a wet finger across the page, resulted in a red smear that then lifted completely from the page when blotted. The drip test exhibited the same behavior: the ink lifted easily after a drop of water sat for a few seconds. The soak test, in which I run the paper under water, washed away the ink completely.

Each of the Kaweco colors behaves similarly with regard to water resistance: they have none. As long as you keep this in mind, it shouldn't dissuade you from using the ink - just make sure to limit your use to applications that don't require it.

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Kaweco ink comes in two forms: cartridges and 30ml glass bottles, which is the format I used during testing. The bottles themselves are pleasantly designed, and the labels accurately reflect the color of the ink inside them. I have no real complaints about the bottle, other than I had to tip it to the side slightly in order to create sufficient depth to fill my test pen properly.

Ruby Red is a fine red ink - it's well behaved and moderately priced - but it fails to capture my imagination. I don't think it will find its way into my regular rotation for that reason. However, if you are in a position where you need a vibrant ink and you are stuck working with low-grade paper, it could be a very reasonable choice.

Kaweco Ruby Red is available from:

Review notes: the handwritten portion of the review was created on 160 gsm, acid free, mixed media paper from Canson’s XL line. All lines, broad and thin, were made using a Pilot Parallel pen with a 3.8mm calligraphy nib.

A bottle of this ink was generously provided by Kaweco for review purposes.

Words Matter

Words matter. More so than self awareness, tool use, and opposable thumbs, language is the characteristic that best defines humanity. We are a species that has words and knows how to use them: to hurt and to heal, to communicate and confound, to define ourselves and others. On a global scale, wars have been won, lost, and waged over words; religions founded and fractured based on the interpretation of words; cultures cultivated and sustained through the repetition of words. 

Humanity uses words to record its history, its discoveries, its fumbling and stumbling attempts to make sense of its place in the great, infinite, star-speckled universe in which it finds itself. Humanity uses words to write haiku and Herculean epics; to write the Bible and Qur’an and Bhagavad Gita. It yells and whispers and demands and hates and loves and gives through the use of words. 

Hobbes wrote in Leviathan that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short. Humans may have gathered together in those early days of civilization in order to pool their labor, but it was the words that they developed that kept them together. Like Virgil, words guide us out of the gloomy wood and elevate us from a life of brutish survival to a life of discovery and purpose. 

We use words to write the narrative of our lives – the stories that we tell ourselves and which we consequently tell others – so the words that we choose become our lives. Yes, we are cells and plasma and bones and hair and microbiomes, but we are so much more than that. We are our words. They are we and they are us and we are they, and because we matter, because we all matter, they matter. Words matter. 

Ink Review: Kaweco Royal Blue

I began my review of the eight Kaweco ink colors with Pearl Black, though Royal Blue was the first bottle I actually opened. Any manufacturer's version of "ballpoint pen blue" is usually a safe bet - it's like trying the crème brûlée at a new restaurant, or the pale ale at a new brewery. It's a known quantity with minimal variables that provides an easy avenue for comparison.

In my collection, Kaweco Royal Blue is most similar to Lamy Blue, but with a more intense color. Like the other Kaweco colors, it has low saturation, moderate to low shading, and a very dry flow. It produces a thiner line than a wet-flowing ink like Iroshizuku Asa-gao when used in the same pen. It behaves very well on cheap, absorbent paper, and dries relatively quickly on premium sized paper, which, as far as I can tell, was a deliberate choice on the part of whomever engineered the line.

Paper Dry Time Bleed Through Show Through Feathering
Copier 1 second Low Moderate Low
Bagasse 3 seconds Moderate Moderate Low
Rhodia 10 seconds None Low None
Midori 15 seconds None Low None
Canson 10 seconds None None None

Royal Blue holds up to water the same way that the other Kaweco colors do: it doesn't. On the smear test, in which I wipe a wet finger across the page, the ink was wiped completely out, and readily lifted from the page when I blotted it. The same happened on the drip test, where I let a droplet of water sit on the page before blotting. The ink lifted completely away. You can see the same behavior on the soak test, where I hold the paper under running water for a few minutes - no ink remained.

If there is a silver lining, it's that I imagine, though I have not tested, that Royal Blue should clean up easily from other surfaces, like desktops and shirtsleeves. This is an "inside the envelope" ink, certainly not one you'd want to use on the outside.

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Kaweco ink comes in two forms: cartridges and 30ml glass bottles, which is the format I used during testing. The bottles themselves are pleasantly designed, and the labels accurately reflect the color of the ink inside them. I have no real complaints about the bottle, other than I had to tip it to the side slightly in order to create sufficient depth to fill my test pen properly.

After evaluating all eight colors, I've concluded that Royal Blue is the best all-around color, especially if you prefer not-black. the other colors have their place, though, which you'll see in the coming weeks: Palm Green has the best shading and Caramel Brown has a lovely sepia-tone quality, for example. If you're looking for an all-around, ballpoint-blue ink to use in an office environment where cheap paper abounds, then Kaweco Royal Blue is a good bet.

Kaweco Royal Blue is available from:

Review notes: the handwritten portion of the review was created on 160 gsm, acid free, mixed media paper from Canson’s XL line. The broad lines were made using a Pilot Parallel pen with a 3.8mm calligraphy nib. The fine lines were made using a Visconti Homo Sapiens fitted with an EF palladium nib.

A bottle of this ink was generously provided by Kaweco for review purposes.

Inkventory: 2015

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 Three years ago, I took stock of my ever-expanding ink collection. It feels like it's time to tackle that process again. Here is the full list of ink bottles that I own, most of which are pictured above:

De Atrementis

Diamine

Everflo

J. Herbin

J. Herbin 1670

Kaweco

  • Caramel Brown
  • Midnight Blue
  • Palm Green
  • Paradise Blue
  • Pearl Black
  • Royal Blue
  • Ruby Red
  • Summer Purple

Lamy

Noodler's

Parker

Pelikan

Pelikan Edelstein

Pilot Iroshizuku

Platinum Pigmented

Private Reserve

  • Chocolate
  • Orange Crush

Roher & Klingner

Sailor

Waterman

  • Florida (Serenity) Blue
  • Purple