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Archive for May, 2010

Why We Fight (Metaphorically)

Posted by Dirck on 31 May, 2010

I mentioned last week that I’d been put off my stride by a couple of encounters on the walk I take prior to sitting down at this endeavour. In an effort to exorcise the vestiges of this event, I’m going to ramble a bit.

The first of these encounters was purely observational. Some young chap was yelling at a similarly youngish woman (early 20s, let us say) in front of the access to a shopping mall. I’m not given to eavesdropping as a habit, but there was no avoiding hearing the harangue. He was apparently upset with some mutual female friend, who had spurned him in favour of some other fellow– he seemed to blame the young lady he was yelling at for not convincing the object of his desire that she was making a mistake.

So far, this is unhappy, but not unpleasant. The unpleasant aspect comes from the language in use on both side, which I will describe evasively as “salty”. Why do I care? Because occasionally I take my toddler son through that very door. Because other parents do the same. Because it’s just plain rude.

The other encounter involved me directly as I was crossing the street. I stepped onto the street at the change of the light, and by the time I was halfway across, a car in the far curbside lane had crept almost entirely across the crosswalk, and as I kept moving, so did he, the nose of his car actually sticking into traffic. Rather than walk into moving traffic while my back was to it, I amended my course to pass behind the goof, and said to him (as still he crept), “The light’s still red,” in what I’ll admit was a somewhat harsh tone.

The response I Bowdlerize as, “So what?” There you have it, folks– civilization in the very act of crumbling. I will blame media to a certain extent, for it is but a reflection of the do-as-you-like attitude that had developed since… the 1970s, perhaps? The roots were in the ’50s and ’60s, but I think the ’70s is when the brakes really came off. I am, as I’ve previously mentioned, a realist, and I don’t think the massive social constrictions that this letting off of brakes is a response to was that great, but there is a middle ground to be had. I don’t want to be in a position of being able to say to someone, or have said to me, “Mind your station!” but I’m also not a great fan of the current standards of public scatology. It doesn’t to anything but elevate the blood pressure and lower the possibility of a mutually satisfactory conclusion to any discussion. I’m not the only one who feels this way, and the problem is now afflicting the way we govern our nation.

For the moment, I will do no more than try to be a good example and to raise my son to some kind of standard. I can curse like the proverbial sailor, but I chose not to except in suitable contexts (because, “Say, you have parked your car on my foot. Bother, that stings so,” is deeply unsatisfying). I think it’s important to understand that one can be civil without being servile.

Today’s pen of well-considered statements: Sheaffer Valiant TM touchdown
Today’s ink of reason: Diamine China Blue (which is indeed very Delft-ish)


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Posted by Dirck on 28 May, 2010

It being Friday, and I having a regular time constraint, I am going to have a very brief entry (longer than yesterday’s disappointment, though) and then lazily link to someone else’s work. That link has a lot of meat on it, though.

I have some time past mentioned that I’m a little baffled by people who complain about the messiness of fountain pens. I repeat once again that they are not a quivering cylinder of stain, ready to burst, and emitting at the slightest jostle a fog of ink like an incontinent octopus. Someone with reasonable control of their limbs can go a long time without besquirting themselves.

However, there are many windows for disaster when the time of filling a pen comes. A recent discussion on the Fountain Pen Geeks board is pondering what pen offers the smallest opportunity for entropy to dash in and disorder one’s ink. Apart from time with the lid off, one also needs to consider how much of the pen interacts with the bottle and in what way. A very long lever filling pen, such as my choice yesterday, can offer some disasterous torque vectors. A modern pen with a piston converter has so little purchase for the fingers that rubbing the top of the ink bottle is hard to avoid. So many roads to becoming marked!

Which brings me to the link– the clever person down the far end of this link had put together a pump filler out of various parts one can lay hands upon without a lot of effort. Not only does it keep the hands well out of the bottle, all the action is in line with gravity. Also, like a Sheaffer Snorkel, it can drag the very last drops of ink from a bottle, a trick few pen fillers can manage. It’s worth a look, and if you are likewise clever you mightbe able to make one of your own.

Today’s relatively perilous pen: Parker Vacumatic
Today’s contained ink, biding its time: Herbin’s Vert Empire

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Posted by Dirck on 27 May, 2010

I’ve had a couple of decidedly unpleasant encouters on my lunch walk, and I can’t shake the effects. Rather than spread the grief, particularly as it is entirely unconnected with pens or books, I’m going to forego any more than the most cursory of entries. Perhaps if I get my mental feet under me I’ll return to a contemplation of the current nature of and response to civility. Right now it just makes me sad.

Today’s moping pen: Waterman 52
Today’s sulky ink: Lamy blue-black

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Getting along with Esterbrook Well (?)

Posted by Dirck on 26 May, 2010

I have today only a few observations today, regarding my current experience with the Esterbrook 444 Dip-Less desk well. Don’t expect the secrets of the universe.

I should start by mentioning that I am not one of the world’s greatest fans of Esterbrook’s pens. For the most part they’re very sturdy objects, and pleasant to look at, but the performance is not great. I am not a pen snob by any means, as I will use and enjoy pens which normal people, at least those below the age of 70, have never heard of and for very good reason. Packard? Remington? Champion? Cheap, cheap and cheap, but I rather like them. I suppose it’s the mere fact that Esterbrooks do have such a fan base that makes me expect a little more out of them. An unused point works reasonably well, but the used points seem to be profoundly used.

Such was the case with the pen I got for this well, which is fitted with a 5550 (fine firm) point. It needed a quantity of work to remove a sharp point it had developed, which would dig into the paper alarmingly. I can only ponder how long it will be before that point redevelops.

That aside, I do enjoy the fact that I can just sit down in the morning, yank it out and write without any nod in the direction of priming the point. This is a trick which even the Parker “51” full of blue ink can’t quite manage– it writes, but it’s a little thickened and sluggish. The Estie, by contrast, is writing at the first stroke with the ink at the appropriate degree of saturation. This is not a situation which I am utterly certain will continue, as there is not a seal as such between pen and well, and so inevitably there must be some evaporation happening. Until that becomes an issue, though, I don’t foresee the starting problem that infrequent use and goofy colours imposed on my previous high-lighting pen.

If evaporation isn’t a large issue, then it will be a very long time indeed before I need to refill the well. I get about 300 words to the dip (I write small) and seldom go that far as this pen is devoted to mainly check-marks and small notes which demand attention (“This is WRONG!”). The dish holds, I discovered through careful application of a graduated syringe, 30ml of fluid, which is coincidentally exactly the amount of ink in one of the little Herbin bottles. For those who remember and care, that’s about half as much as that Sheaffer box’o’ink I’ve got can take, which means Sheaffer was expecting their users to write a lot.

I have also discovered that getting the lid off for refilling, an effort I experimentally made, is less fraught than I’d expected, although one would like a very absorbent object on an impermiable surface to rest the lid on while pouring in the fresh ink. I had both hands to devote to not dribbling, as refilling wasn’t called for.

My personal and small dislike of the point aside, I’m generally pleased with this visitor from the past. I can, in theory change the point, but there is one other observation to make– while the threads are the same on all the Esterbrook points, the smaller Renew-Point units meant for the fountain pens don’t seem long enough to dabble in the ink. A 1550 (technically the same point, the first digit merely indicating which line of points it belongs to, but much shorter overall) remained high and dry until unscrewed to the point of nearly dropping from the holder, while a 9556 was adequate to the task. It’s not a big issue, but one should be aware that not ALL Esterbrook points will serve.

I see that lunch hour is over, so it’s time to go back down the well.

Today’s portable pen: Parker 45 Flighter (with an XF gold point fitted)
Today’s ink: Pilot Iroshizuki Fuyu-Syogun

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Make Hay While the Son Doesn’t Shine

Posted by Dirck on 25 May, 2010

I’ve commented previously that one of the various things which slows my progress towards absolute mastery of pens and book-binding alike is the portmanteau of pressures known as family life. My son is one of the largest items in this collective anchor. I don’t want to give the impression that I do otherwise than dote upon him, but impends upon his second birthday and is even by the standards of his age extremely energetic, which means that getting anything accomplished other than attending to him is really hard.

This state of affairs was in effect this past long weekend (happy birthday to Her Late Majesty Victoria, by the way), in what seemed an enhanced manner. My wife makes jewellery and one of her sales was slated for Sunday, leaving me to do the parenting duties unassisted (which, I hasten to point out, is her lot for a little more than eight hours each week day– don’t take this as a complaint). Sunday was thus, from my perspective, a bit of a loss.

It is worth noting, however, that Sunday’s festivities started at 7:00am, which is rather earlier than the lad regularly gets up. He only got to bed that night a half-hour prior to his usual time.

…And fell into a coma. Wife and child both stayed asleep until very nearly noon yesterday, and I made some serious mileage out of it. A few pens resacked, and a couple of new web pages run up, including one for today’s pen. This is not, I’ll admit, a huge leap forward in the aforementioned pursuit of mastery, but given how little I can accomplish most weekends I’m pretty pleased.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Imperial IV
Today’s ink: Diamine Majestic Blue (which I wouldn’t have returned to so soon, but I couldn’t resist having Imperial and Majesty in the same place right along side Victoria Day).

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Corroboration and Opposition

Posted by Dirck on 21 May, 2010

I have found a more thorough statement regarding the impending advent of Noodler’s Pens, which I mentioned rumour of not long ago. I will be low, and simply link to the announcement on Jet Pens (which is also a small enterprise which, like Noodler’s, gives the appearance of largeness).

There is an irony in this, as I’ve been engaged (to over-state the effort ) in a debate with another person on the Fountain Pen Network. The debate was founded in someone’s scandalized discovery of the current suggested price on the one of the uppermost pens in Waterman’s lineup, the semi-eponymous Edson (the second name of the company’s founder), which has intruded into lower four-digit territory. I mooted that the cause was likely the corporate overlords of Waterman, who in keeping with a stated plan to move the brand into a “status” footing (like the rather overpriced Mont Blanc) probably figured multiplying all the price tags by a set amount is all that’s required– if most people can’t afford it, then it’s a prestige pen, regardless that the materials remain unchanged. My opponent declared that this is more likely the overlords trying to wring a final vestige of profit out of a brand which is doomed by the advance of technology, which is the fate of all writing instruments in the face of things like iPad and functional voice recognition software.

Leaving aside for a moment why someone who holds these views is hanging out at FPN, I will cry hooey. The demise of writing has long been held up as just around the corner, and while it has lost some of the official support it once had, in so far as it’s being dropped or de-emphasised in school curriculums, people still write stuff down. People still want to write stuff down. People appear to be very impressed when something someone else has written down is legible. The fact that there’s an app for that doesn’t mean that applying a marking device to a sheet of paper will vanish entirely, any more than the fact that you can read things on a screen abolishes books, or that the potential for “paperless” offices has actually brought them about.

I can believe easily that the masters of a multi-faceted corporation would let themselves believe such nonsense, even if the nonsense is composed of “rich people will buy it if it’s got a big enough price tag” rather than “let’s make some extremely expensive hay before the sun ceases to exist.” Corporations are pretty short-sighted creatures, given to oddly magical thinking. The big collapse of 2008 was predicated on it, and frankly the whole notion underpinning the modern global economy that all things can and should grow forever is rather creepy and thermodynamically unlikely.

One of the other FPN inmates weighed in with some actual statistics that… I was going to say “support my position” but that’s too strong; they deny the collapse of the analog writing market, at least. Allow me to lift what he wrote: “The Writing Instrument Manufacturers Assoc. reported fountain pen sales of 12 million in 1998 rising to 17 million in 2004 and remaining steady through 2007, the last year figures were available.”

There we are. Plenty of call for fountain pens. I am not clinging foolishly to something as likely to hang around as the steam-powered Zeppelin.

Today’s pen, defying rumours of its demise: Sheaffer Craftsman Balance
Today’s enduring ink: Noodler’s Dumas Tulipe Noir.

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Issue ink.

Posted by Dirck on 20 May, 2010

As the previous couple of days’ notes show, I’ve received my shipment from Diamine Inks. Sent along with the two bottles I ordered was a bonus– a box of cartridges filled with diverse colours. This was a mixed joy for me, as I’m not a great fan of cartridges, but a crowd of different and unfamiliar inks is not to be sniffed at.

The first of these experimental inks was yesterday’s brown. I am not going to disparage it out of hand, although I think it’s a little funny that “Dark Brown” is one of the lighter browns in the lineup (have a look, see if I’m wrong). I was not entirely pleased with it in terms of performance, but that is not necessarily the fault of the ink.

A frequent point of discussion for loonies pen fanciers like myself is the strange and only semi-explicable way in which inks and pens will interact. Some pen manufacturers insist that only their ink be used in their pens, which is in part a miserable effort to lock people into dependency, but there is also some truth behind it. Most inks will run through most pens in an entirely satisfactory way, but some inks have a reputation for being dry or wet, and some pens will consistently shun certain inks. This is not an effect I’ve been very provoked by until yesterday.

The Waterman Phileas is generally a smooth, well-behaved pen of a middling dampness. Yesterday it was dry to the point of being scratchy, stingy with the ink, and just not happy at all. This pen is, it seems, not a fan or Diamine Dark Brown. Or vice versa. I’m going to have to try the cartridge in another pen to see if it’s a general issue with the ink or just the interface of the two.

This is the sort of thing which people like me find interesting. You may shake your head in pity and wonderment.

Today’s freely-flowing pen: Parker Duofold
Today’s slightly-dry ink: Pelikan 4001 black

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The Ink Spots

Posted by Dirck on 19 May, 2010

Who doesn’t like doo-wop? As much as I appreciate the contributions of the musical group of this name to the popular culture of the twentieth century, I am unsurprisingly more literal in my contemplation of ink spots today, and while I’m not altogether happy with the outcome, I can say that my heart is not actually broken.

My son, it seems, has discovered the joys of the fountain pen. My wife keeps a few Sheaffer No Nonsense models on hand for her writing, and the lad will exert himself mightily to get at them. His own crayons don’t move him, the markers we bought him are of only passing interest, but the fountain pens are a constant draw. We have, for the most part, kept him from really accomplishing much– usually he finds himself standing with a cap while one of us holds the actual inky object out of sight.

You can, I think, being to see where I’m going. Last night I came home to find my son sitting happily on the floor, drawing his favourite letter, O, with a marker, and displaying a vast blot of Poussière de Lune on the sole of his right foot. I found another couple of marks on his thigh latter while attending to diaper issues, which makes more sense than the foot, although the sole-stain is strangely reminiscent of something my wife inflicted on herself a couple of months ago. I wonder if there’s a history in her family of getting ink on one’s feet?

I also found a shirt with a stain on it, hanging in the bathroom, and as I found it I noticed that I also had an ink spot on my own clothes– low on my shirt pocket. This is not the first time this has happened, but it is always unexpected. The good news– while Diamine Majestic Blue appears to be even more anxious than most inks to escape its confinement, it is quite susceptible to removal with simple ammonia. Poussière de Lune is a little less inclined to depart from fabric. I’m not going to worry about it unduly, though, for into each life, some rain must fall (1944, with Ella Fitzgerald).

Today’s pen: Waterman Phileas
Today’s ink: Diamine Dark Brown (about which I will comment more tomorrow)

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Small joys.

Posted by Dirck on 18 May, 2010

Yesterday I was kept from relating the weekend’s tiny triumphs by one of life’s unlovely chores– having tires changed on the car. “It’ll be done by noon” apparently means “If you get here at 12:15 you’ll have to stand around for twenty minutes or so.”

Let us now cast our minds back, pretending that Monday was but a dream. The weekend included not only some authentically magnificent weather that brought out some tardy tulips in the garden and a fresh display of dangling prowess by my son in his gymnastics class, but there were pens!

I was able to bring back to function a couple of Vacumatics sent by a client, one of which had the early “lock-down” fillers. I am a big fan of the lock-down, as it’s made entirely of metal and so lacks the nervous-making little plastic cup to hold the diaphragm pellet. To those who don’t know what the insides of a Vacumatic looks like, and feel that I’m speaking a bit obscurely, I offer a link to step-by-step instructions which reveal the mysteries of Parker’s big technology of the 1930s… although in it’s 1940s expression, with the terrifying plastic parts.

Wife and son came along to an antique sale, at which I found… a pen! It was not, I hasten to mention, a valuable pen. It was, to be perfectly blunt, a rather new pen. I had a good look at it, established that it was made at some point in the past ten or twenty years (and so, by my way of thinking, brand new)– plated steel point, modern piston filler, brand name no one has ever heard of… well, I’ve never heard of it, and I try to pay attention to that sort of thing. Ero is the make, and I find a couple of references to a German company that may be the source of this item. In any event, it was in quite good shape (as it ought to be) so I bought it.

A pleasant looking piston-filling pen for $12? Of course I bought it. Part of my motivation is the psychopathy I have regarding pens, but there is also a notion that if I buy it at that price, I’m saving someone the embarrassment of trying to “flip” a supposed vintage pen they got for far less than they think that sort of thing is worth. I, knowing that it’s a pen that is frankly worth about $12, am content, and the dealer is likewise, having got his asking price.

I don’t make any secret of my willingness to enjoy a cheap pen. Yesterday’s item, which should have capped this particular story, is a perfectly nice little pen that was never anyone’s idea of a splendid prize. The Parker 21 I used last week was likewise the means by which someone with a hankering for a 51 and not the budget could be brought to give Parker his money. A cheap pen can be a perfectly fine pen. I’m pleased that I’ve got another reasonably good pen that I can give away if mood strikes (ideally to someone who might be drawn into mannenhitsu-do).

The best things in life, I’m told by a song, are free. It stands to reason, then, that some pretty good things are at the low end of the cost scale.

Today’s pen: Waterman Crusader
Today’s ink: Diamine Majestic Blue (a case in point– great colour, and very low $/ml)

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Posted by Dirck on 17 May, 2010

I’ll explain myself tomorrow.

Pen: Parker 15
Ink: Lamy blue

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