Yesterday I got three dozen pencils from General Pencil Company, one of the few remaining pencil manufacturers that still make their pencils in the United States. My favorite pencils had been Dixon Ticonderoga’s, but they’ve moved all their production to foreign countries, including China. Most people probably don’t think much about pencils, but there’s a big difference between a good pencil and a bad one. The crap they sell at office superstores have uneven graphite, poorly centered lead, small erasers, thin paint, are commonly made in China, and probably don’t use sustainably produced wood for the case. Mechanical pencils stay sharp and are refillable, but they just don’t feel as good as a wooden-cased pencil, and I think the environmental impact of a sustainably produced wooden pencil is lower than all the plastic and packaging of mechanical pencils and their supplies.
I got three dozen “Semi-Hex,” #2/HB pencils (number 492-2/HB). I’d never seen a General’s pencil in the store, and never (as far as I know) used one, so this was an experiment to see if I’ve found an American-made replacement for the Ticonderoga. Since it’s baseball playoff time, I tested them out by scoring yesterday’s playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and the California Angels (or whatever they’re calling themselves this year). In this year’s playoffs I’m rooting for the Cubs and Phillies in the National League and the Rays in the American League. But I’m primarily an A’s fan, so a loss by the Angels is always a win for this A’s fan.
The game was a good one (especially since the Angels lost), with a reasonable amount of scoring, and a very exciting ending. And the pencil was fantastic. The lead is very even, with none of the little hard bits you’ll find in a poorly made pencil, it makes a nice dark line, and isn’t so soft that it smudges easily. With the Ticonderoga, I’m torn between the #2 and #2/HB because the HB is just a touch too soft, and the #2 is too hard and doesn’t write well outside because the paper gets softer when it’s humid. The General #2/HB seems slightly harder than the Ticonderoga HB, so I was able to make it through the whole game on one sharpening. I think I’ve found a winner.
Hopefully when I’ve used all three dozen, General will still be making pencils in the U.S.
I’m sitting here on the couch watching baseball (Yankees v. Red Sox again) admiring the view out all our large windows. It was supposed to be cloudy today, but thus far it’s been clear and sunny. Makes me feel a bit guilty to be sitting here.
The panoramic image from where I’m sitting was stitched together using hugin. Despite making no effort to control the exposure on my little point-and-shoot camera and a pretty casual shooting technique, hugin really made it easy. You load the images into the program, select control points between adjacent photos, and it warps and manipulates the images so they fit together. If you click on the image to view the full size version, you can see some of the blurring and idiosyncrasies, but for very little effort, I think the results are quite impressive.
From left to right, you can see the front door and east window which looks out over the deck and the Creek. On the south wall is a bookshelf in the corner, the kitchen table and large south facing window overlooking the dog yard, DVD cabinet, TV and stereo, and the sliding glass doors that lead out to the deck. Piper is sitting in front of the door looking outside. The west wall has a second bookshelf, a side table (which is blocked by my laptop next to me), another large window overlooking Dog Island and the slough. To the right of the window is our heater and the baby gate that blocks off the stairs. The corner of the blue wall behind me shows up on the right of the image.
Might have to give this tool a try outside…
The following comes from The Millions blog about David Halberstam's passing (two of his best know works are The Best and the Brightest about the war in Vietnam, and Summer of ’49 about the 1949 pennant race between the Red Sox and Yankees). I think it's a great commentary on why people watch and enjoy sports.
There is something to the notion of sports as a balm for citizens suffering from war fatigue. They are soldiers abroad gathered in a tent in the desert somewhere to watch the Super Bowl on television, and they are children bypassing front page headlines that scream death and destruction in favor of the sports section and the box scores of games that they were forbidden to watch because of woefully premature bed times. Sporting events bring people together in celebration of achievement, rather than in protest of failure, and are thus both a distraction from the duty of citizens as witnesses to history, no matter how grim, and at the same time real and not insignificant demonstrations of the values of a free society, complete with overpriced cotton candy, and (today) overpriced athletes. Athletic competition, so often couched in terms of battle when described, transcends violence. It is an elevated and, I would argue, rather sophisticated form of human interaction.
When I saw that the game on Sunday Night Baseball was yet another Yankees and Red Sox matchup I complained to Andrea about how often the major media outlets show this particular matchup. It was the game on Fox Saturday Baseball this week, and guess what? It's the game on Fox Saturday Baseball next week too. Haven't we all seen enough Derek Jeter?* It seems like three quarters of the games I can watch on TV or listen to on the radio are Yankees / Red Sox, Cubs / Cardinals or Giants / Dodgers games. What about everyone else? It might be fun to see all the young talent in Tampa or Miami, or see a game televised from the new ballpark in Pittsburg. I'm a Giants and A's fan, but I still like to see the rest of the league play once and awhile.
Baseball is baseball, though, so I grudgingly listened to yesterday's game. And what a game it turned out to be! One of the great things about baseball between any two teams is that there's always something interesting going on, and in last night's game the Red Sox hit four consecutive home runs off the same pitcher. That's only the fifth time in Major League history that a team has hit four in a row (last year's Dodgers did it in a late inning comeback), and only the second time in history it's been done against the same pitcher.
And even better than that, it was a tight game featuring the Japanese phenomenon Dice-K Matsuzaka (he didn't pitch very well, but got the win), and ended in the top of the ninth with the go-ahead run at the plate in the form of Alex Rodriguez striking out to Jonathan Papelbon.
In Alaska, winter seems to turn to spring very quickly. That's especially true this year because we've had more than six weeks of well below normal temperatures. Suddenly this weekend, it's above freezing, the snow on the roof is starting to melt into the gutters, and the deck is dry for the first time since the baseball season ended last October.
Right on the heels of the warm spell is the start of the baseball season. We've been so busy this winter with dog mushing that I haven't actually missed baseball that much, but listening to tonight's game between the Mets and Cardinals at New Busch Stadium brought the game, it's intricacies, and the excitement back. The game wasn't a nail biter, with the Mets scoring two unanswered runs in both the third and fourth innings, but there was plenty of defensive excitement to go around. Some spectacular double plays, a perfect strike from center field to nail David Eckstein at home plate, and a great pitching performance from Tom Glavine was a great way to start off the 2007 season.
Tomorrow the A's start their season in Seattle without Barry Zito, but hopefully with an improved offense and some better luck keeping players healthy. A full season of Rich Harden and former Alaska Goldpanner Bobby Crosby should go a long way to another AL West title.