Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Unchanging Tastes

Several days ago, I was running errands in my city's downtown. The morning was chill, and, as I passed by a Peet's Coffee & Tea, I decided to stop and get a drink. Noticing their winter seasonal offerings, the Winter Solstice blend caught my eye. A mixture of black tea, vanilla, and spices, it sounded very tasty and like the perfect cup for that morning. After placing my order and receiving my beverage, I continued with my errands.

An hour later, I was enamored with the flavors of the Winter Solstice. They were so enjoyable that I returned to the shop and purchased a tin of the tea in loose leaf. Happy with my purchase, I carried on with my day.

At home, I eagerly opened Steepster to log my purchase in my inventory and to record my thoughts on the tea. Much to my surprise, I found that I had already tried this tea, once, two years prior. Just as now, I had loved it! Rediscovering old favorites often provides an interesting look at past tastes and how they have changed...or not changed.

If the Winter Solstice blend sounds appealing, I highly suggest that you try it. It can be purchased in loose leaf or bagged form from your local Peet's or from their website, here. (This is an entirely unsolicited recommendation.)


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fret not!

More Lego, fountain pen, and tea posts will be coming soon!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy American Thanksgiving! To all of my readers, I am most thankful for you!
(and perhaps my fountain pens as well...but mostly all of you!)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Review of The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide, 2nd Edition!

I have been given the amazing opportunity to review yet another awesome Lego book and share the details with you all! The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide, 2nd Edition is a new book by Allan Bedford, recently released by No Starch Press.

My first impressions of this book were that it was immensely packed with information! The 200+ pages all contain tip-after-tip for learning to build with Lego, improving Lego building skills, or just getting ideas for building. When I first received this book, I flipped through it quickly and was struck by the thought that this could easily be a textbook for a Lego building class, if such a thing exists. (If it does not, it ought to exist, and I would love to be the first to sign up...especially if this book were to be used!) Quite frankly, this book is awesome.

The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide begins by covering the very basics of Lego building before continuing to a discussion of scales in Lego (minifigure scale, miniland, microscale, etc). Chapters are then devoted to such topics as sculptures, mosaics, conceptualizing a Lego design (deciding on things like shape, color, proportion, and repetition), and other things to do with Lego (such as creating custom building instructions or making games). Interspersed among the chapters are step-by-step instructions for small projects related to the chapter. These projects are well-explained and help solidify the point being made in the text. The author has chosen the examples well, and the inclusion of a myriad of pictures lends descriptive power.

A train station for which instructions are given to illustrate design techniques
The final two sections of the book differ slightly from the others. The first is called the Brickopedia. This visual encyclopedia of Lego brick shapes/styles gives a lot of information (such as name, part number, and notes for usage) for each listing. The selection of bricks is massive, and yet, by the author's own admission, it contains only a fraction of the total Lego piece catalog. All of the bricks are separated by category, and there is also a section of special Lego elements, which could be very useful in creating new models. The second slightly different chapter details the use of design grids in conceptualizing and designing Lego models by using what are essentially Lego blueprints. A link is provided, so that readers can download and print their own design grids for personal use.

In conclusion, I found that The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide contains a lot of technical Lego knowledge. While this book may not be the right choice for someone looking to get inspiration for a new model, it should certainly provide them with the techniques for building well-constructed and excellent-looking models. For new Lego builders and experienced designers alike, this book is a worthwhile purchase and a worthy addition to the Lego-building table or bookshelf.

The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide, 2nd Edition may be purchased here from No Starch Press or here from

Images used with permission from No Starch Press.

Platinum Preppy Eyedropper Conversion

This is a semi-detailed guide on how to perform an eyedropper conversion on a Platinum Preppy! If you have already read my previous guide, performing an eyedropper conversion on a Pilot Penmanship, much of this information will be redundant, as the two guides are nearly the same. The other may be more detailed than this one, but, as always, questions submitted through the sidebar or the comment box will be answered as best I can!
To start, collect your materials. In the photo above, I have my Platinum Preppy, semi-cleaned (a full cleaning is a good idea, if it has already been used), my o-rings (link will take you to the purchase page), silicone grease for sealing, and a syringe for filling the converted pen. I have also chosen ink, Diamine Blue-black.
If you have not done so already, go ahead and disassemble your Platinum Preppy.
Take a single o-ring and fit it onto the section.
Roll the o-ring across the threads until it is flush with the larger, grip portion of the section.
Add a very thin coating of silicone grease to the threads for an increased seal.
Using a syringe or eyedropper, fill the body of the pen with ink to just below the threads. The Platinum Preppy has a sealed body with no holes, but on some pens there may be a hole in the end of the body, which will need to be sealed in order to convert it to an eyedropper-filled pen.
Note: The approximate ink capacity of the converted Preppy will be 3ml.
Carefully screw the section and body together, and the eyedropper conversion is complete! Ink should start flowing within a short frame of time.
Congratulations on successfully completing the Platinum Preppy Eyedropper Conversion! I must include a shameless plug (for which I am not being compensated), here, for those who are interested in buying and converting a Platinum Preppy. The Goulet Pen Company (to whom I have no affiliation) sells a combination package that contains everything you need to convert a Platinum Preppy to an eyedropper (one Preppy, silicone grease, o-rings, and syringes for filling). These components are all usable for multiple conversions (except the single pen). Having extra o-rings and silicone grease for refurbishing your conversion is never a bad idea. As this package price is discounted from buying these components separately, it is truly a great deal, and it can be purchased here. I, personally, purchased all of my components separately, but this comprehensive kit would be perfect for someone new to conversions!
Please, feel free to leave comments or questions below. Enjoy!

Platinum Preppy Nib Flaking

As was typical, I was looking into modifying my Platinum Preppy, long before the review was properly completed (a post that will be coming soon). After only a month of use, albeit very heavy use, I saw that that colored coating on the nib, which makes the Preppy iconic, was beginning to flake.

It has not affected the quality of the writing, but I felt that the flaking was strange, as I do not put any undue pressure on the nib. That said, it does not seem as though even the roughness of daily pocket-carrying would or should cause this to happen. 

It is unfortunate that this happened. Now that this Preppy has been converted to an eyedropper, it will remain safely at home, hopefully free of further flaking. Has anyone else had this same "problem?"

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sponsorship! Help keep the bricks, ink, and tea flowing

Hi there!

This is just a brief plug for this blog and the desire to share more great Lego, Fountain Pen, and Tea content with the world! While I may have a huge passion for these topics, my budget does not always match the size of my enthusiasm.

That being said, if you are a company or individual, and you wish to see your product reviewed and promoted here on "Built from Ink and Tea," please do not hesitate to contact me by clicking, here. Likewise for those who may have a product they wish to see featured here.

Thank you very much. We now return to our semi-regularly scheduled awesomeness!

A Review of Noodler's Nib Creaper Piston-Fill Rollerball Pen

First Impressions (8)
Not a bad looking pen, but it is nothing fancy. The ink capacity looks to be quite large, and I like that it is a piston-fill.

Appearance (9)
Upon closer inspection, I realize that this pen really is classier than it initially appeared. The simplicity of the design actually lends beauty to the pen, and its smooth lines give this pen a feeling of greater cost than it actually is.

Design/Size/Weight (9)
The pen itself is quite lightweight, even when fully filled. The cap screws on (much appreciated), and the clip is thin and strong. The grip of the pen is a hard, black plastic (quite the contrast to the transparent remainder of the body). The blind cap over the piston grip fits well with the body.

Nib (7)
The tip of this rollerball is a nice fine point and quite smooth. I would say that it is less scratchy than the Platinum Preppy rollerball.

EDIT: After some time of use, I have found that the tip will leak ink in large drops, possibly on account of changes in the weather, even when the pen is sitting on a desk and more than half full. The nib score has been lowered from a 9, and the Conclusion score has been lowered from a 9.

Filling System (9)
With a large ink capacity and a nicely-hidden piston-filling system, this pen fills very easily, drawing ink into the chamber from all around the nib.

Cost and Value (9)
For $14 retail, this pen appears to be a worthy workhorse that will serve its user well with many hours of smooth writing. Plus, using a refillable rollerball is quite a bit more cost effective than purchasing disposable pens.

Conclusion (8)
Overall, this is the best fountain pen rollerball I have yet used. This is not saying much, as I have only the Platinum Preppy to which to compare it, but it will definitely hold a special place in my daily carries for quite some time.
While my initial impression was not high, I believe this pens un-presumptuous nature increases its attractiveness.
EDIT: If it were not for the nib leaking issue, this pen would be nearly perfect.

This pen may be purchase from Amazon, here, or from the Goulet Pen Company, here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Review of the Noodler's Piston-fill Resin Fountain Pen

First Impressions (8)
This pen looks slick! For a pen that only costs $14 retail, it looks and feel as though the construction is solid and quality. There are so many threads that can be seen through the clear body, the only non-threaded bit is the ink chamber!

Appearance (8)
Except for the metal nib and chrome accents on the section, cap, and clip, the pen is entirely clear. The metal does accent the transparent body. The pen appears thin, slim, and classy.

Design/Size/Weight (9)
The cap of this pen screws on to the section with narrow threads that hold it tight. The pen’s clip appears thin, yet solid. Despite the light weight of the pen, it feels like a firm tool in my hand.

Nib (8)
The medium nib actually seems to tend toward a fine. It is moderately smooth and has a good bit of variation in the width, depending on the angle at which it is held.

Filling System (10)
The piston filling system is incredibly easy to use. Screwing back the piston away from the body, it moves smoothly and fills with a single twist back to the body. The ink capacity, too, is large and excellent. As an alternative to using the piston-filler, the nib and feed may be removed, and the pen may be filled with a syringe.

Cost and Value (10)
The build of this pen is more than worth the $14. Enough said.

Conclusion (9)
I personally love demonstrators, and this probably endears this pen to me further than if it were another color or opaque. This is definitely an excellent investment.
NOTE: As I actually purchased this pen used, the ink chamber is a bit darkened/stained.
EDIT (On December 5, 2012): I fear I must amend my comments, a bit, on the Noodler's Piston-Fill Resin fountain pen...I have been primarily using it for taking notes and short bursts. Today, I had an exam that was entirely handwritten. Half an hour into the exam, using this pen, I found that the slimness of the grip was becoming a bit uncomfortable, so I opted to switch to a Lamy Safari. This is really the first and only issue I have had. For those with small to medium hand sizes, this pen should pose no problems for extended writing trials.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Getting Started with Tea, Part 2

The second in a two-part series containing information from an article that I wrote several years ago on getting started with the wonderful world of tea.

Green Tea
Green tea is famous for its high level of antioxidants. Green tea is by far one of the most popular tea styles, with thousands of incarnations of it, ranging from fruity green teas to spicy green teas. It is less oxidized than black and oolong teas, and care must be taken in the steeping in order to not scald the leaves.
Water temperature: Not quite boiling. You want the water to be fairly hot, but not boiling. Boiling, or just-boiled water will scald the delicate leaves, giving you a bitter tasting cup of tea. If you boil the water, do let it cool a bit before preparing the tea.
Steep time: Much like black tea, the length of time the leaves are left in the water varies by personal taste. However, steep times for green tea, on average, will be longer than steep times for black tea.

White Tea
White tea, while less famous than green tea, in fact has the highest antioxidant count of any tea, primarily coming from it being the least oxidized of any tea. The leaves are extremely sensitive and tender. However, a well made cup of white tea should be quite smooth and refreshing.
Water temperature: Hot. If you see small bubbles form in the water as it is heating, it is definitely hot enough.
Steep time: White teas typically have long steep times. Some, in fact, can be left in the brewing vessel indefinitely, like oolongs.

Rooibos, or rooibus, is not technically a tea, containing no actual tea leaves. Instead, in contains leaves from the African red bush. Rooibos come in a very wide variety of flavours. Naturally sweet, it is often consumed for its antioxidants or as a refreshing midday drink. Rooibos typically goes quite well with lunch.
Water temperature: Boiling.
Steep time: Indefinite. The leaves can be left in as long as desired with no danger of a bitter cup.

(Yerba) Maté
Maté is another non-tea, instead being the leaves of a South American plant. It has a high caffeine content and is drunk many places in South America as an alternative to coffee.
Water temperature: Boiling.
Steep time: To taste. Various mates taste better stronger. It is usually an experiment, to find the optimal taste for optimal steep time.

Containing no tea at all, these are typically blends of flowers, spices, fruits, and other herbs. If you can think of it, it has probably been turned in to a tisane, the name for a blend that is infused in hot water to make a beverage.
Water temperature: Boiling.
Steep time: To taste. It is hard to mess up making an herbal. If it tastes too strong after you have steeped it, add more water. If it is not strong enough, steep it longer. There is really no limit, except your own personal preference.

I hope you enjoyed this brief primer on tea. Please do not hesitate to comment with any questions you might have. Feedback is also appreciated.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen

The wonderful people over at JetPens have created this amazing guide, which is perfect for those, who are interested in getting started with fountain pens, and is a fun read for those, who are already invested! It can be read here at JetPens Blog.

A Review of The Lego Adventure Book, Vol 1!

Some time ago, an author from No Starch Press emailed me about being featured in a book that he was writing. The topic was a feature on adult fans of Lego (or AFoLs, as they are called). More than happy to contribute to a book about Lego, I sent him the requested information and thought nothing more of it.

Fast forward several years. Last autumn, I finally saw the result of the author's labor, come to life in a book, called The Cult of Lego. This was definitely an awesome, coffee table-style book, all fancy in hardback, big pictures, and a plethora of information.

Then, a month ago, No Starch Press (the publishers of The Cult of Lego) contacted me again, asking if I would be interested in seeing and reviewing several of their latest offerings to the Lego community. One of these books, The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 1, was what I chose to present to you today.

The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 1: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs, & More! is the title of this lovely, large-size, hardback book, and this book is AWESOME. Okay, now that I have that very important bit out of the way, let me tell you more.

Written by Megan Rothrock (truly an AFoL), The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 1, takes the reader on a clever, Lego-illustrated journey through a myriad of Lego creations. The format is comic-like, slightly reminiscent of scenes from the Lego Magazine, where still images are brought to life with the addition of speech bubbles and simple storyline. On that topic, the photography in this book is wonderful. The pictures are clear, crisp, and well-taken - definitely a plus for a book about Lego, where readers may want to see details or attempt to emulate the models.

The story begins with the author's Lego character (sometimes called a "signature figure" or "sigfig") telling the reader about a concept for an "Idea Lab." The reader is then drawn into the story, as instructions are given for the creation of the author's headquarters for building-adventures.

These initial instructions definitely drew me to the book. Below the surface, what was presented was more than the "Idea Lab." It was a very versatile building with unique features in its construction, which could open the door to a whole world of possibilities - just from this first section of the book! Truly, it could be used for a nearly-infinite number of creations.

Instructions for a simple, yet completely customizable, vehicle follow those for the "Idea Lab." By this time, I am not yet a quarter of the way into the book, but I am inspired to build with Lego, even as I read! (I restrain myself, for the sake of this review.) The instructions themselves are clear and easy to understand. Most of the time, they begin by showing pictures of all the necessary parts, separated by color (though the book emphasizes substituting your own color choices, if you lack a certain colored part or want a different design). Each step visually highlights the addition of pieces, in order to make the steps easy to follow. The addition of special building tips helps to clarify or present valuable shortcuts for the instructions.

As the book progresses, the author highlights a number of Lego builders, presenting it as an adventure story to introduce these Lego enthusiasts and their creations. Each of them is presented with a specific genre in which they specialize, along with many pictures of their work and at least one set of instructions. The genres, through which the author takes an adventure, include Lego town, hot rods, miners, planes, science fiction (from buildings to starfighters to mecha), medieval buildings, dinosaurs, Lego dolls, the ever-iconic trains, and steampunk.

Directions from the Dinosaur section

In all of my experience with Lego, the Lego dolls were the one genre in which I was not really interested. However, this section actually impressed me the most, as it included instructions on how to build floor mosaics for Lego buildings, which could be used in any creation, as rugs, tiled floors, or courtyard patterns.

The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 1 concludes with a special look at some creations by Daniel August Krentz, a retired Lego designer and the creator of some of the most iconic Lego sets ever produced. This was truly a special treat and made for a fitting ending to the book. While I do wish the author had ended with her own implementation of some of the ideas, this book remains an amazing piece of work. For all fans of Lego, I cannot recommend this book enough. The photographs and instructions are certain to spark the imagination and flood the mind with ideas for the next Lego building project!

The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 1 is available from No Starch Press and Amazon.

Happy Building!

All images used with permission from No Starch Press.

Coming Soon!

New Lego content will be coming soon!

Getting Started with Tea, Part 1

The first in a two-part series containing information from an article that I wrote several years ago on getting started with the wonderful world of tea.

Water is important in making tea. It will literally make the difference between a tea tasting good or not. If at all possible use bottled or filtered water.
As far as heating the water, stovetop or electric kettle is preferable, but the microwave will do, if necessary. Temperature is important, but the specific water temperature for each tea will be in that tea’s section.

Bagged tea is easy. Bagged tea is cheap. Bagged tea usually tastes terrible once you have had loose leaf, especially one of good quality. But it will suffice in a rush. Also, there are a great number of herbal blends that are only available bagged, and these are perfectly fine bagged. The difference between bagged and loose tea lies mostly in the actual quality of the leaves from the tea plant that are used. Herbal blends often do not contain any tea leaves at all and are simply called “teas” because they are blends that are steeped in hot water to make a drink. The general rule for how much tea to use is one bag or one teaspoon of loose leaf per eight ounces of water. Most loose leaf can be re-steeped at least once. It is best to simply try re-steeping, to see if the leaves/bag still have any life left. Now, on to specific types of tea.

Black Tea
Black tea is the most oxidized of all teas, the most caffeinated tea, and the tea with the least antioxidants. In general, the more oxidized a tea is, the more caffeinated it will be, and the fewer antioxidants it will have. This is not to say that it does not have any antioxidants; it simply has fewer than, say, a white tea.
Steeping black tea is super easy…but also can be complicated.
Water temperature: Boiling. Go ahead, this part is easy. Just boil the water, and then steep the tea. Because the leaves are so oxidized, they cannot be scalded by the very hot water.
Steep time: This is totally based on personal taste. Steep times vary, but you must be careful to not steep the tea too long or you will get a bitter/astringent brew. Always go for less time than you think the leaves will need. You can always put the tea back in for a short time longer, if it is not strong enough for you.

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea ranges in oxidization somewhere between a green and a black tea. The taste, however, is more akin to a green tea, though it is certainly unique. Oolong is brewed to be strong, and, thus, it is quite simple to just put the leaves in the brewing vessel and never have to take them out, simply refilling the vessel with hot water for repeated steeping. In fact, most oolongs get better after the first or second steeping. Unlike other teas, the flavor of oolongs evolves through multiple steepings.
Water temperature: Just boiled. Boil the water, and then leave it for about a minute, then steep. Because of how oolong is made, the chance of scalding the leaves is low.
Steep time: Leave the leaves/bag in the steeping vessel for multiple steeping. There is no need to pull them out. After pouring the initial water over the leaves, it should not be more than a couple minutes before the first infusion is ready to be consumed.

Feel free to leave any questions or feedback in the comment section!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fountain Pen Day!

A very happy, first annual Fountain Pen Day to you all! What are you doing to celebrate?!