Christopher Merle

Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, but first I need more coffee.

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In the summer of 2004 my wife and I went to the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, Switzerland. It was one of the most moving places I’ve ever been. If real compassion can be said to institutionalized and embodied in an organization it is the ICRC. The only place more moving that I’ve visited is Kilmainham Gaol in the summer of 2006.

ICRC never reveals the contents of their reports to anyone except the country’s government who is holding the detainees or prisoners. This is a book based on that report. How it was acquired is unknown.

Book Cites Secret Red Cross Report of C.I.A. Torture of Qaeda Captives

The Red Cross does not release these reports to anyone except the government holding the detainees or prisoners. It’s so they can continue to have access to them and work to improve humanitarian conditions and effect their release. However, that does not prevent officials from releasing or leaking those reports. I highly recommend a visit to the Red Cross Museum in Geneva. Few places can show you the best and worst humanity is capable of.

Note: I wrote the draft of this post on 11 July 2008 the day the article came out. The original link was to the International Herald Tribune which appears to have been purchased by the New York Times, so the link goes to the same article on NYT. Also, we weren’t married yet in 2004.

On Refilling non-refillable fountain pens (and non-refillable cartridges)

In the past few years I’ve become a fan of fountain pens. I was actually looking for a way to write quickly and a lot on my iPhone. To no avail. I even tried the Swype keyboard once it became available to iOS, but still I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Someday, I hope to learn how to write quickly on my mobile devices (other than a laptop).

I’ve been writing in notebook since high school. I’ve never kept a formal diary or journal. In fact I tossed a large number these notebooks in 2000. About seven years ago I upped my game when I bought a moleskine on a lark. At first I used a regular ink pen, but eventually gravitated to fountain pens when I started reading on how to improve my handwriting (see whole arm movement or muscular movement).

My first fountain pen was a Pilot Varsity that my wife had amongst our pens and I started to play around with it. I eventually bought some more from an online retailer as I had no luck finding them in a local office supply store (though I didn’t check art stores). I suppose I could write this as a piece of article marketing and link to the online retailer where you can buy these pens and earn a pittance for directing you there. And maybe I will, but I’ll be up front about it. The idea isn’t to think of ways to earn money then write an article, but to monetize an idea.

And by that I mean, if you want to write with an fountain pen, you’ll need to buy materials, and I can make recommendations on what I’ve used and where I got them, I’m sort of giving free advertising to a retailer, and I may sort of earn a little money on the side from those recommendations, but it is all in the service of sharing my joy of writing with a fountain pen.

Technology shapes how we do things. Fountain pens lend themselves to writing in cursive.

Anyway, back to the Varsity. It is “non-refillable” unless you know what you are doing. This post shows you how, but it is missing one critical step. The author says how much ink he used and if you can measure it, great, but what if you need to eyeball it and just keep putting in the barrel until it’s full enough. Where do you stop? I looked at how far the nib goes back into the barrel and remembered where it stopped. It’s easy to see there’s a line where the barrel widens just a bit to fit the nib, so I used a straw which was narrow enough to fit inside the barrel and I dipped the straw into my ink bottle, put my finger over it, then lowered the straw into the pen barrel and removed my finger. I repeated this process about 3 times with the last step only getting a third the amount of ink, the first two put plenty of ink.

I don’t know if this is going to work. I put the nib back in with my Leatherman. It clicked. I turned the pen nib down to make sure no ink dripped out. I used an old newspaper and paper towels to catch and clean up any ink spillage or drips. I put the cap back on and letting the pen sit for a few minutes nib down to let the ink fill it, and I’ll give it a test. It could take several hours before enough ink gets to the point where I can write.

How to refill your Pilot Varsity


I wrote this post about three years ago and left it as a draft. Forgot about until now. Decided to update and publish. Once you start buying fountain pens you can use converters and refill them with ink, but you can also take the non-refillable cartridges and refill them with a blunt needled syringe. Just make sure you wash the cartridge before using them.

Second Addendum

If you want to try out fountain pens, I’d recommend getting a Platinum Preppy with some of their proprietary cartridges. For less than $10 you can decided if you like them. And if you do, you can prepare to spend a lot more on pens, inks, and paper. A lot more. You can get decent pens under $30 but don’t be surprised when you see them going for $200 or $500.

Armistice Day

Fun fact: Up until the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, soldiers were still shooting and killing each other until the moment The Great War (aka World War I) ended. Thank’s to the punitive surrender conditions, it helped to lead to the even more devastating World War II.

Today it is known as Veteran’s Day. When that change took place, I don’t know. I’m too lazy to look it up at the moment, but a number of people including Kurt Vonnegut it should still be Armistice Day. Veteran’s Day should be a different holiday. We should be commemorating the end of a war. Veteran’s Day means we need will continue to create new veterans. The best thing we can do for Veteran’s Day is to stop creating veterans.

When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut. 1973


Let That Be Your Last Duncan Idaho

About that title*

After giving it much thought and research, I’ve decided to go ahead and read Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune and that’s it. I’d read up to God Emperor of Dune, didn’t really care for and decided long ago to get rid of all Dune books except Dune. 

I know that Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson wrote a ton of books in the Dune-iverse and never had much interest in reading them. Chapterhouse: Dune ends on a cliffhanger. Frank Herbert had planned to write one more novel, but death intervened. Brian and Kevin wrote a bunch of prequel books and then wrote Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune to finish out the original series. Allegedly based on notes left by Frank Herbert. No one has seen these notes. They may exist but we cannot compare them to what they actually wrote.

I thought, well, okay, they won’t be as good, but they complete the arc, and I’ll read those, just those. But upon reading further commentary, people were saying you need to read the Bulterian Jihad books before reading those two. I thought, wait, what? You shouldn’t have to read any prequel books. Only the first six should be necessary.

Brian and Kevin may be good writers. I saw Kevin as a guest at a local convention and he was interesting and a good panelist. I even bought a graphic novel he collaborated with Neal Peart of Rush on (they’d become good friends before he died). He’s a prolific writer and has lots of fans. Commentary says their writing isn’t as good as Frank’s and they focus on different things. That may or may not be a bad thing. I’m inclined not to read them. There’s a long tradition in fantasy and sf of writers writing in other authors universes or writing in a shared universe or even finishing series the original author wasn’t able to (I’m looking at you George RR Martin). When J Michael Straczynski announced a reboot of Babylon 5, he said you cannot cross the same river twice. You change and the river changes. So even if another author finishes someone else’s series, it won’t be what the original author would have written. It’s probably why Zelanzy’s son hasn’t let anyone else write more Amber books even though Roger had notes for more books in the series. Though I think there are a few authors that could do justice to the series.

Some of the comments were more even handed, suggesting I read Chapterhouse: Dune and then decide if I want to read the BH & KJA books. That others are saying I need to read some prequel books gives me pause before reading them, means they went in a different direction than Frank would have. I thought about just reading some summaries and then reading HoD and SoD. There are some things that end up as cliffhangers and that’s it. I watched a sci fi TV series, Space Island One, whose season 2 finale was a cliffhanger and that was it.

What prompted me to go ahead with the final to Frank books? I recently watched the new Dune (part 1) adaptation and decided to read Dune again and thought about the series and the prequels. I don’t plan to re-read the other Dune books. Of the three adaptations, I think this one is the best. Looking forward to part 2.

*If you are a fan of the original Star Trek and have read God Emperor of Dune, you’ll get the title of this post, though you’ll probably still get it even if you you’ve only read GEoD.

Duocon 2021 (and my language goals)

Duolingo just hosted Duocon (virtually). It’s an event they’ve started doing two years ago. You could think of it as one long infomercial. Duolingo is a great way to get you started learning a language, but you won’t achieve fluency with it if that is your goal. You’ll eventually need to find other material and tutors to get you there.

You can watch all the talks here. Patton Oswalt kicks it off.

So the video at the top is all of Duocon and watching it reminds me so much of the HBO series Silicon Valley’s Pied Piper.

It is interesting. I wasn’t aware of Duolingo’s English Test which actually seems to be a good and affordable service available to the public for foreign students wanting to get into universities that require such a test.

I’ve been watching the full Duocon video a little bit at a time and it’s more impressive, interesting, and enjoyable than I thought it’d be. At the same time it reminds me more and more of Pied Piper from HBO’s Silicon Valley. The most surprising thing is the use of AI for the voices. They use voice actors, but then they manipulate the voices for the characters for the lessons.

What’s interesting they align their lessons with CERF. Their goal is to get people to B2, but if you get to level 5 of a language it’s equivalent to A2.

I started off with German for the first six months and then I added in Russian. A few months ago after I finished the German tree I started Spanish. German keeps adding stories, so I go back to those. Spanish also has stories and podcasts. Russian doesn’t have either feature. I do have some background in all 3 languages. I took 1 year of Spanish and 2 years of German in high school. I have a minor in Russian from college. I am not fluent in any of these languages yet. I’ve forgotten most of my Russian, but I can still read and pronounce it. I’ve been doing Duolingo for 18 months now, but I haven’t done it exclusively. I added in reading, listening, and video material mostly to German. My goal is to be fluent in one language before tackling another. I should say tackling fluency in another language. I probably shouldn’t be juggling three languages.

Here’s a list of languages in chronological order of starting to learn more of and how much I’ve learned if I can quantify it.

Spanish 1 year in high school, Duolingo for 6 months
German2 years in high school, Duolingo for 1.5 years, lots of German language YouTube videos, German graded readers.
Russian3 years in college, Duolingo for 9 months
Japanese1 semester in college
Gaelic4 years of self-study + immersions (and a few weeks of Irish because it’s a closely related language)
French3 months of self-study
Cherokee1 month of self-study + 2 sessions

I’ve decided that I have no real interest wanting to learn more French at this time, but really want to be able to speak German well. Considering how much time I invested in Russian I feel I ought to achieve a level of fluency in it as well, but that could be the sunk cost fallacy. I was going to have an opportunity to speak Russian on our now cancelled 2020 Baltic cruise which is the reason I started using Duolingo along with German. I knew more Russian so I didn’t feel like I had to brush up as much to be a tourist as I did for Germany. There may also be a bit of a sunk cost fallacy in learning Gaelic too, though I am quite proud it was the first language I learned mostly on my own.

I want to speak Spanish better because it’s such a practical language to know living in Tucson and being so close to Mexico (though I don’t want to visit while their murderous drug wars continue). German was and is my first foreign language love. I have German ancestry. I also want to learn Cherokee because I have Cherokee ancestry and I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I want to learn Gaelic because I love Scotland. It’s the one language I actually had a short conversation in.

I won’t start a fourth Duolingo language until I’ve completed the tree of at least one other language. That would be Russian because I’ve done more and it has less material than Spanish.

There are a few other languages I’m interested in. Latin, Greek, and American Sign Language. Here are my current languages I want to learn and in order of importance:


Spanish is probably the most practical of all the languages. The one I’m likely to use most in my daily life or that I could use. I don’t plan to seriously tackle other languages until I’m satisfied with my progress in German.

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