Subscription Boxes

I haven’t written much about hobbies lately because there really hasn’t been much time to devote to hobbies. That’s probably not one hundred percent true, but that’s how it feels.  It hasn’t stopped me from thinking about my hobbies.

On YouTube, I have seen two things that always struck me as interesting, but not overly applicable to me. The first was a subscription service for Japanese candy.  You pay a fee every month and they send you candy from Japan.  The second was those “lucky bags” in Japan where, depending on the store, you pay a price and get a mystery bag of stuff that is supposed to be worth more than you paid.  This is a once a year deal in Japan, but the idea sounds interesting enough.

Little did I know, this idea has really taken off. There are literally hundreds of mystery box subscriptions in a large number of areas.  There are ones for makeup.  There are ones for health.  There are ones for comic books.  There are ones for young adult books.  There are ones for coffee or beer.  There is even one for bricks–I can’t say Lego because there are a lot of different bricks out there these days.

The price for these boxes seems to start at $20 and climb from there. I have seen ones that were more than $75.  Nonetheless, It would kind of be like Christmas every month.  Some months you’d get the gift from your cool uncle and other months you get the gift from the grumpy family member.  What I mean to say is that some months you would probably be thrilled while other months you might be a tad disappointed.

In some cases, the stuff you would get would probably be things that didn’t sell well, or were over produced. Still, it might be interesting.

Does that mean I am going to subscribe?

So far, the one that I have found to be the most interesting is one that introduces a new hobby to you every month. It seems kind of interesting, but I could imagine that I won’t like every hobby.  I know I love a lot of hobbies….but I know there are ones that are not really interesting.

What I would like to see are subscription boxes in the following areas:

  • Trains.  (Either N scale or HO scale) The subscription service could fill a box with a car or two, a building or two, some scenery stuff, a book, and maybe even some paint, or some 3D printed stuff.  It could also have some stickers, or other railroad material inside.
  • Plastic Models. There are so many plastic models that probably don’t sell that this would be the perfect idea to lighten some inventory loads.  Again, books, paint, accessories, tools, and other goods would all fit in well in this box.
  • mini cars. A service that gives you cars from all over the world.  Sounds awesome to me.
  • Robots. Every month could have accessories and modifications to your previous build.

If anyone subscribes to a hobby based subscription box, I would love to hear from you. I am curious and I want to know more.  Also, any positive or negative feedback about subscription services would be nice.  If I can’t find what I want, I may have to start one up.

After publishing this post

I decided to search if WP to see if there was a topic on his.  I found it under subscription.  I will also look there while waiting for your replies.

A Review of The Squared Circle

squared

In my life, I have watched a lot of professional wresting. I grant that most of it hasn’t been in this millennium, but in sum total, I have seen a lot. Most recently, I have watched quite a number of “shoot” interviews about wresting that have popped up on YouTube.

Prior to that, I had read a number of books written (or ghost written) by some wrestlers from my youth and early adulthood. I found books like Mick Foley’s to be absorbing and hilarious. It was in that spirit that I decided to read The Squared Circle by David Shoemaker.

Overall, I can only give the book a 50 percent approval rating. I have no complaints about the writing because it was solid. The prose flowed well and there were no obvious clichés or bad puns or nudge nudge wink wink supposedly inside jokes. The real difficulty for me was the content. There were parts that were great, but there were parts that just did nothing for me.

The beginning of the book does a great job explaining how we got from hours long legitimate bouts to the high energy soap operatic sports entertainment of today. This part of the book was fascinating and insightful.

The book also touched on a lot of interesting topics which are only given cursory glances in other books. Things like stereotyping and the use of ethnicity and foreignness as a creator of enemies, racism (not just new to Hulk Hogan) nepotism, women in wrestling, and unionization. The inclusion of these topics, and its critical take on a lot of this, makes those sections of the book exceptional.

The other half of the book is a series of biographies of wrestlers who have died. A morbid topic, but obviously an important and popular one if YouTube view counts are to be believed. These are well written, but not particularly enthralling. Perhaps it is because I have become somewhat numb to this, or because the biographies are too brief and too slight to warrant any enthusiasm. Without any real context for what drove these people to seek their fame in the squared circle, how can I adequately measure the causes of their deaths.

If you are a fan of wrestling (especially from its earlier days) you will enjoy the book, but you will probably go looking for more. If you find it, let me know.

Hobby Inspiration from an Unusual Place

It is weird where hobby inspiration comes from.  I get the itch to start a new hobby quite easily.  Often it is from talking to people.  When someone is passionate about something, then you can’t help but be intrigued.  Often it is from television.  Exposing the masses to something will certainly catch some people’s interest.  Most recently for me, it was from a book.
 
Looks pretty and organized.
I started reading Lawrence Block’s Hit Me on a recommendation from a friend.  He had recommended another series by Block, but I couldn’t find them in the library so I settled on this one.  The basic story was that of a contract killer who loves….. wait for it…not alcohol.  Not fast cars.  Not loose women……stamps.
 
The character (his name is Keller) had such passion for stamps.  He also had a lot of knowledge to impart on this impressionable reader.  He detailed the equipment and literature, as well as quite a lot of historical information about stamps.


When I was young I shared a stamp collecting hobby until that person took it over and became obsessed with it.  I don’t even know what became of it afterward–probably someone benefited from it.  Either way, I do remember looking at the stamps and thinking of exotic places.  I loved the themes–trains, cars, paintings, space travel, …. the ideas were endless.  For some countries, it is really interesting to see what they value enough to put on stamps.  Of course, for some countries, they are hoping other people from foreign countries will value them enough to collect them–hence the Disney stamps produced by some countries–I guess some country has already produced a Frozen stamp.  I wonder if that is a big part of their GDP.  (note…I checked, and yes, a stamp already exists)



I would love to have this one.

As for me, yes, there is an itch….but I won’t even scratch this one.  There is just too much out there.  Too many stamps from too many countries.  While the tool collector in me loves the idea of all those specialist tweezers, there is just too much involved.  On top of that, since I really am more interested in the pictures than the collecting aspect, I would be better off buying a full colour catalogue.  I could enjoy the hobby is a much more confined way.

As for the novel….I enjoyed its episodic nature and reading about stamps.  It was entertaining and certainly made my commute more enjoyable.

I Finally Found It

Despite being into model trains, I really don’t know a whole lot about them.  I have learned a lot in while pursuing this hobby, but I am nothing like the people I meet at the hobby shop.  These people are way into the hobby.  They quote rail lines and dish out engine numbers like I could recite comic book characters.  They have a name for every part of every car.  It amazes and astounds me.  Granted, sometimes it makes me feel rather uninformed.  It also makes me feel that I just don’t take this hobby as serious as other people.  I have to admit, that doesn’t really bother me.

Nonetheless, I do want to continue to educate myself.  I participate in online forums, search the web and do a lot of reading.  If you have seen my other post, you will know that I have amassed a library of interesting books.  Here is a link to that post.

 
Unfortunately, one book has eluded me.  I considered it my white whale (thanks Melville).  Since I started this hobby, I have wanted to read The Model Railroaders Guide to Freight Cars.  The problem was that the book was no longer in print and the prices people were asking for existing copies was rather astronomical.  We’re talking over $300 in some cases.  I wanted to read it….but not at that price.

I have scoured hobby shops, hoping that a stray copy was lurking in an overlooked bin.  I have gone to flea markets, train shows, and even hoped that some unlucky hobbyist’s wife or husband had decided to put their copy into a garage sale.  I have gone so far as to contact the publisher to see if they had a copy or if they ever planned to reprint the book.  They didn’t even bother to respond–Thanks Kalmbach.  I have had the book on my favourites list at Amazon for quite a number of years.

Luckily, I continuously check my lists, because someone decided to part with theirs for a price I deemed reasonable (profitable for sure, but nonetheless reasonable).  It arrived yesterday and I couldn’t be happier.  This seller will no doubt get a five star rating from me.

I haven’t started reading it yet, but after leafing through it, I feel quite happy with my purchase.  I know, most of this information (if not all) is available online, but I like books.  I like sitting on my deck (when it isn’t bitterly cold outside or snowing) and reading.  There is just something so satisfying about the tactile experience. If I feel the need, perhaps I will do a review of the book.

All of  this got me thinking….is there anything out there that you consider your white whale?  Is there something you are on the lookout for?  I imagine it could be an original Star Wars figure still in the package, or Wayne Gretzky’s Rookie card, or ….. who knows.  I would love to hear what you are looking for.

As for me, next on my list is either a 1:12 Mustang convertible model kit, a book on the history of the Starlost, a collection of Park tools for my bicycle, or…… I had better stop before I say too much.

Reading Can Be Hard

 
 
 
What makes a book a hard read?

With some books I just blast through them like a manta ray cutting through the water.  Other times, I am a salmon swimming upstream.  Some books are gone in a day or two while others take weeks.  In the following paragraphs, I consider some of the obstacles to fast reading.

Physical Characteristics

Some books are just longer.  Dickens couldn’t seem to write anything shorter than a phone book.  His shortest novel probably still comes in at over 700 pages.  Granted, he was selling his stuff one or two newspaper pages at a time.  Whatever the case may be, some books are longer, so they take longer to get through.

Some fonts are hard to read.  You know how most books these days contain a little blurb about the typeface.  They all glamorize their choice of typeface, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect.  Some are just plain difficult to read.  They look dense and really clutter up the page.

Dialogue versus Description

Dialogue is much easier to read than long paragraphs of explanation and description.  I imagine a 300 page novel that is all dialogue probably won’t take more than an hour and a half to read.  This is especially true when they stop writing the he said, she said parts and just have the people ping pong back and forth.

Depth

A deep book.  A book with a lot of meaning and symbolism, as well as self referencing will require slower reading.  The book I am currently reading (Ghostwritten by Mitchell)  is a book like that.  All the stories are connected, but only with great subtlety.  It requires careful reading, and re-reading.  One does not always want to miss what’s going on.

The Reader

I have been horribly sick, and concentration has been hard to come by.  I should have read two or three books in the time I took on the last one.  I blame the cold.  On some days, I just didn’t want to read.  I was too busy hacking and coughing (not to mention shaking and sweating).

My Thoughts on the 50 Book Challenge

In the past two weeks my Facebook friends have inundated me with book requests.  It seems they have joined something called the 50 book challenge.  Okay, they haven’t inundated just me, they have probably inundated everyone.  I don’t want to discourage reading, but there are a couple of things that rub me the wrong way.

The goal is, obviously, to get people reading.  As well as being an important goal, it appears to be a necessary one.  I say this because another post claimed that a large number of people haven’t read a book since high school, or that the average family hasn’t been to a bookstore in years.  Since no mention was made of the library, I will take these “statistics” with a grain of salt.

If you fall into one of the above categories, I feel pretty confident in saying that 50 books seems like a lot.  I am a daily commuter, and therefore, have plenty of time to read.  A book a week isn’t really a challenge–unless someone is talking too loud on their cell phone or the crossword puzzles are particularly difficult that week (I do those too.)  I certainly wouldn’t want someone to read 25 books and feel like a failure.  Twenty-five books should be as equally celebrated an accomplishment as 50 would be.  Heaven forbid someone only reads 49.

I understand this is part of that New Years Resolution deal.  As someone who has resolved to lose weight every year, and not always reached that goal, I know how disheartening that would be.  However, if this is the way you motivate yourself, I hope it works out.

As I said, I don’t want to discourage reading.  I love reading.  I just don’t want this to turn people off reading like some high school English teachers have obviously done.  Please enjoy reading your books at whatever pace you manage.  If you don’t get through a book a week, relax.  If you enjoyed your read, it doesn’t matter how long it took.

I had never heard of this challenge before, but a quick online search reveals that this is not a new challenge.  It has been going on for years.  I wonder why it has gained so much momentum this year?

For people taking this challenge I would like to offer some advice

v     If you feel yourself behind schedule, there are lots of quick reads out there.  You can sacrifice some of the “classics” you have chosen for some guilty pleasures.  Quick read choices for me include Robert B. Paker, Barry Eisler, and Patrick Robinson.  You can blast through these in a day or two.

v     Don’t neglect your library.  Supporting writers by buying books is great, but taking trips to the library is also a  good way of developing a habit–which is an unstated goal of the 50 book challenge.  I am a big supporter of the library because I just don’t have enough shelf space for books I have already read.

v     Don’t read too many books of the same author in a row.  It can get tiresome.
If you are going to proceed, I would like to offer you a short list of wonderful books.  I have mostly not included a long series of books (such as the phenomenal Ian Ranking detective series).  I have tried to wait before putting this list together because I am sure that I will think of ten more just after I post this….but one has to know when enough is enough and just get the thing out there.

I welcome any comments on this blog, or on my Facebook page if that is where you found the link to get here.

Recommendations

Waterland–Graham Swift
A Prayer for Owen Meany–John Irving
The Crying of Lot 49–Thomas Pynchon
Slaughterhouse Five–Kurt Vonnegut
Barney’s Version–Mordecai Richler
Bluebeard–Kurt Vonnegut
The Sun Also Rises–Ernest Hemmingway
90 Day Geisha–Chelsea Haywood
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–Stieg Larsson
JPod–Douglas Copeland
Hitching Rides With Buddha–Will Ferguson
Fear and Trembling–Amelie Northomb
Lost Girls and Love Hotels–Catherine Hanrahan
A Separate Peace–Knowles
Pattern Recognition–William Gibson
The Quiet American–Graham Greene


Good Luck Everyone

 

2013: A Year in Hobbies

The most popular place in Tokyo to spend New Year’s Eve–in Nanoblocks (fitting isn’t it)
 
 
Despite what people might think, Christmas is not necessarily the greatest time for hobbyists.  Yes, Christmas brings the potential of much wanted presents for the hobbyist.  It might also bring a good boxing day sale (as it did in my case) but that doesn’t mean there really is time to actually do anything.  Christmas is so full of stuff that the real hobby season may not begin until the start of the new year.

I know there are people out there who had planned and executed their Christmas shopping and preparation by September.  Those people probably have had lots of time to play with trains or build model cars.  Based on what people on my favourite train site are saying, there seems to have been lots of time to improve their models and run quite a few trains.

I have not been blessed with too many vacation days–yes, I am that guy.  They guy you see marching off to work like some lemming every morning while you are still in your PJs enjoying that first cup of coffee.  While this may sound like sour grapes (and at times it is) I was still better off than the people around here who didn’t have power until Christmas day.  Even if those people had the day off, they couldn’t have run trains or powered an airbrush.

 

The new year is upon us, and I should take stock of the –in terms of hobbies.  Life has been pretty full, but I’d rather focus on what this blog is supposed to focus on.

  • I have enjoyed blogging and while this blog’s readership has been growing slowly, the blog that I set up to help my students’ English has done remarkably well.  I have even done a good job of preparing and working ahead, so I don’t need to panic the day before a lesson is supposed to be published.
  • I have reconnected with the Nscale.net website and have enjoyed their advice and stories as part of my effort to build my n scale train layout.
  • I have built and painted several models, and can feel good about my improvement in these areas.
  • I have spent time running trains and have reignited my passion in this area.
  • I have come to love Nanoblocks, but hate that they aren’t as readily available as their big brother Lego.  While they are popping up at toy stores, they soon sell out and restocking seems to take months.
  • My passion for reading allowed me to read 44 novels this year.  While this is by no means a record for myself, I think it isn’t too bad since for a quarter of the year I had my head buried in ESL methodology books.
  • I found time to do a few Jigsaw puzzles, but wonder what to do with them after they are built.
  • I have watched far too much YouTube, but I am happy that the few things I have posted have seemed popular.  Though, honestly, I am not sure why unboxing the Statue of Liberty Nanoblock kit is so popular.  Maybe one of you could watch it and let me know.
  • It hasn’t been a stellar year for practicing Japanese, but I still feel good about my ability.
In my next blog, I will look ahead to the coming year and what joy it may bring.   Thanks for reading.