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Archive for July, 2010

Here’s Mr. Mopey!

Posted by Dirck on 30 July, 2010

Being that I am a bearded fellow over six feet (1.83m or 4 English Cubits) tall covered in muscle, I don’t feel I have much to prove in the manly department. I am, therefore, occasionally open to accusations of being a great girl’s blouse* with displays of emotion. Just last night I was nearly in tears at the sight of my son enjoying the simple fact of holding a helium balloon. As I am neither driven by the cultural norms of ultra-manly behaviour nor a Vulcan, I don’t have any problem with this sort of thing…

…for the most part. The problem is this– if one allows for extremity of emotion, then one is open not just to peaks of joy but to depths of woe. Explaining that one’s cheeks are wet because of the charming antics of one’s own child is one thing, but seemingly random lamentation is another.

I’ve been hit with the twice in the past couple of days, leaving aside my whining yesterday. One of these excursions is pen-related, and is a lesson in the pitfalls of curiosity. Some of the pens I’ve got are personalized, you see. Ones like today’s, with simple monograms, are fated to remain a mystery; the world may never recall who J.D.W. is. Others have full names, and occasionally I’ll see if the mighty powers of the internet can reveal anything about the pen’s past owners. This week’s efforts on a recently arrived pen turned up a likely previous owner, of the correct age… who is on the internet because of the obituary they appear in. Not theirs, which I could face with good Buddhist stoicism, as death must come to us all. No, it was their grandson. Death skipping a couple of generations, acting out of turn as it were, does me in. Always has, and all the moreso since I’ve become a father. It may be a while before I investigate the identity of previous owners.

The other event is work-related, and since I want to keep The Regular Job a bit of a mystery, I’ll give very few facts. The course of my work has brought to my knowledge that a gentleman within 400 kilometers of where I’m sitting now has recently lost his wife, Teeny.

Yes. Teeny. If not the name given her by her parents, the name she’s gone by long enough for it to claim right of eminent domain on some official paperwork. I find it unspeakably sad that someone named Teeny is lost from the world. I never met her, never knew of her until after the fact, and yet I’m having trouble pressing on to the end of this entry because the lack of her is nigh-overwhelming. This is, I think I might state without benefit of a doctorate in Psychology, a disproportionate response.

Still… I get the dizzying highs as well. It ends up being worth it.

Today’s pen, doing it’s best to cheer me up: Parker Duofold
Today’s ink, not particularly jolly: Noodler’s Walnut

*referring to yesterday– yes, this is sexist language, but consciously chosen and as it’s reflexively used less offensive.

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Mad (Wo)Men

Posted by Dirck on 29 July, 2010

I hesitated to write this down, but I have permission from one of the participants.

Picture, if you will, one member of a couple inviting a couple of friends over for the evening. While one spouse stands in the kitchen, sharing drinks with the guest, the other attends to their slightly unruly child. The party at no point becomes unruly, but is slightly ribald, with sexists comments about short-comings of the opposite gender and rampant objectification of various people in the entertainment industries– the latter accompanied by epithets like “eye-candy” and “yummy”. The whole thing wraps up only when Junior’s bed-time rolls around and a certain level of quiet is necessary in the house. The guests depart, full of merriment and apparently unaware of having said anything that the child-watching parent could possibly have taken amiss.

I will not be surprised if you picture something very like an episode of Mad Men, with a trio of well-groomed louts in narrow ties, drinking martinis or beer, while a woman in a dress with a slightly stiff skirt and extremely stiff hair-do pursues the child. It’s an obvious setting for this sort of grim, unconscious sexism. I have mentioned in various previous entries that as much as I’m a fan of the styles of the early and mid-twentieth century, I’m not particularly big on some of the underlying oppression, and this is exactly the sort of thing I’m quite set against. I actually sort of agree with this fellow, who worries that the popularity of Mad Men is somewhat underlaid by a popular desire to be able to oppress someone.

However, if I suggest to you that you should be picturing a modern house, and that the party-goers are all women, the youngest in her twenties, the oldest in her forties, and that they’re drinking tea… what’s that do to your image? The “yummy” actors are in a couple of current vampire-theme TV shows. The spouse doing kid-duty is a bearded chap with a Sheaffer Imperial in the pocket of his light summer shirt.

So, is it less of an issue if women are making unguarded sexist comments, and it’s a guy who feels slightly smaller in the world? I hope you said no. People are people, after all, and we do not build a good society by making some members of it feel small. I don’t blame my wife unduly for her participation, as she was not an instigator and apologized almost instantly when the guests left and she had a moment for reflection– one can get dragged along by the way a group is thinking, and regret it bitterly when the group dissolves– but I am surprised that such a thing could develop amongst people we actually like. It’s not even that there was sexism, but that is was so clearly unconscious. I will admit to having thoughts sexist, racist, and various other -ists drift through my head, but they’re always followed by the thinking part of my crying out, “Where the hell did that come from? You just go sit in a corner of the parietal lobe until you’re ready to play nicely!”

I guess my point for the day is that one should be aware of their actions. I encourage a freedom of choice (given the way I dress and the strange hobbies I pursue, I’d better), but I also call for self-governance. I’m fairly certain that my mode of dress or means of writing are not actively offensive to others. If they were… I hope I’d amend them. Hermits and castaways have absolute freedom to act as they wish. The rest of us have to take into account that there’s people around us. It’s no more wise to declare sexists or racist notions aloud than it is to whirl a knife around on the end of a string– you can get away with it if there’s no one around, but with an audience someone is bound to get hurt.

Well. I see the soapbox still works. I hope to not need it again any time soon.

slightly later– I should also mention that as with an experience as a visible minority while teaching in Korea, there is an element in me that welcomes the whole experience. While I was somewhat crabby during the events of last night, as soon as I hit on the Mad Men analogy, I though, “Ah, this is why the late ’60s where so filled with unrest! I get it now!”

Today’s gender-neutral pen: Parker 50 “Falcon”
Today’s ink that means no offense: Diamine Majestic Blue

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Freedom! Hideous Freedom!

Posted by Dirck on 28 July, 2010

I was looking at an entry on the Quo Vadis blog yesterday which has been preying on my mind. E-books are apparently taking over the sales of big sellers who sell both physical and virtual books. Text is being freed of its papery bondage, and being ejected into the swirling aether of the electronic age!

This troubles me deeply. It may just be an effect of age, but I take nothing like the pleasure in reading a book that I do reading from a screen, nor I suspect quite as much information. Reading is, yes, a visual activity, but reading a book gets more sense into the act. Let us examine the act of opening a book on an electronic reader– poke a button, wait for the booting process, and away you go. Whee.

Compare this to a real book. You take up the weight of the book, listen to the rustle of the pages as you leaf to the right place, run a finger down the valley to flatten the book at your chosen place, perhaps sniff the odours fair and foul the book may have collected over its life. Sight, sound, smell, touch and, if you’re a very strange person you can work taste in there as well. I suppose that the e-reader can also stick a corner of the device in his gob, but that’s apt to be unrewarding.

The other superiority of the actual book is as a reference source. Oh, yes, one can do a search in one’s reading device, but that’s predicated on knowing the search string. Versus this, there is the capacity of a book to just fall open at a frequently perused point. You can stick bits of string and leaves into a page if lacking a bookmark. You can write notes to your future self in the margins.

You can also, if driven to a frenzy of rage by what you’re reading, fling the book into a far corner of the room. When the passions cool, the book can be retrieved and likely be entirely legible– try that with a Kindle or an iPad. A book will also not run down its battery just as you’re getting to the good part.

There’s room for both in one’s life, of course. My mother, who is planning a vacation in the near future on which she intends to read and does not wish to carry a portmanteau crammed with novels, is getting a Kobo and larding its circuits with ephemera. She is the person mainly responsible for my love of books (I share with Norman Bates only a high regard for my mother and an interest in peeking into the shower stall of Janet Leigh of 1959), and I know she’s not going to abandon actual books to this new object.

I do worry somewhat that this is a step on a road to seeing books into the terrible limbo in which fountain pens have been drifting the past couple of decades. Not vanished from the world, certainly, but seen by the producers as more and more of a lost cause at anything like a popular price, but a vehicle to hang precious metals and jewels from that render it possible to charge orders of magnitude more than the actual value of. Books as a plaything for the rich and the driven collector.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’d rather perch a prospective grandchild on my withered, arthritic knee in decades to come and not be panicked at the urchin vomiting on the thing I’m reading to him from, based either on the notion that it cost as much as a new car or that if the battery gets wet the warranty is voided.

Having gotten that out of my system, I’m going to take up my Dell 1966 printing of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (cover price fifty cents), and see if it tastes smells like my parents’ basement.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Imperial IV
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Tulipe Noir

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The Tale of the Cursed Shirt

Posted by Dirck on 27 July, 2010

But first… where did all you people come from?! This blog has had as many hits in the past three days as in its first two months of existence. The super-secret stats page suggests that it’s a combination of a link from what I must assume is an amazingly popular blog kept by someone else, and an uncommon entry of my own. I might take a lesson that a large and thoroughly illustrated entry makes for popularity… but that seems silly.

In an effort to return some equilibrium to the statistics page, I have a very uninteresting thing to relate. Some time ago, I mentioned that my son had caused a pen to stain a shirt. Guess what happened last weekend? The pen in this case was my early model Touchdown-filling Valiant, which is a little shorter than the Thin Models, so when it got free of the cap it almost instantly went sideways and emptied its load of ink into the corner of the pocket.

The cure as related in the previous entry worked again, so the shirt is once again in the rotation. The real lesson of this event is that one must not carry a boisterous toddlers and a screw-top pen of a loose nature at the same time; the Sheaffers of the 1940s and 50s with a threaded metal collar rather than the threads cut into the barrel verge on notorious for coming undone. Since I’m an irrational being, I am going to avoid wearing this particular shirt on weekends when I’m likely to have to carry the lad. There’s entirely too much sympathy between its fibres and ink.

Today’s pen, cap very firmly in place: Lamy 2000
Today’s ink, released only on parole: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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How is a Pen like a…

Posted by Dirck on 26 July, 2010

…Computer?

I’ll bet that you thought I was going to reference Lewis Carroll’s joke, eh? Well, not this time.

I bought my wife a tiny computer this past weekend. She felt that it would make her life a lot easier to have something portable for her craft sales, and we’re in an economic place where the very nearly cheapest computer with a somewhat recognizable brand name is actually approachable. The experience of buying it was interesting, in that it was somewhat like what I imagine buying a pen in the heyday of pens (let us say 1938, to avoid wartime considerations). What do you intend to use it for? What colour would you like? This is the limit of your budget– two or three day’s salary? Well, here’s what should suit.

I suspect that the pen salesman of yesterday would also get under the skin of the well-prepared purchaser, just as the poor commission-hungry bugger at [Big Box Electronics Store] got under mine with the efforts to upsell on bumpf and foofahrah. No, I do not wish a case. Yes, I have software/ink I need. No, I won’t pay extra for an almost-impossible-to-act-upon extended warranty. Actually, this last item likely wasn’t an aspect of the historic transaction, as the manufacturer’s almost-impossible-to-act-upon warranties were pretty all-inclusive.

When we got it home, though, and started to use it, we found that it was not really like a pen. Please stop rolling your eyes– I mean in non-obvious ways. A pen, once you get it out of the box and get some ink in it, is set to go. The set-up time on a computer, even with all the O/S and various drivers pre-installed, is a tedious effort to get underway (even Apples, although brisk compared to Windows machines, are not instant).

What really got on our nerves was the operating system. Our budget didn’t extend to something Apple-y, so we bought a PC-style thing. It comes with Windows 7 built in! That appeared to be good news, for while the ads are quite obnoxious and seem to think the potential customers are even dumber than advertisers usually do in the way they talk down, I haven’t heard anything like the lamentation that Vista caused. Ah, but, a closer examination reveals it’s Windows 7 Starter edition. What? A quick look at the Microsoft website, once Firefox was installed, reveals that Starter is a crippled, half-blind idiot relative of the actual Windows 7 which in Victorian fiction would be concealed in an attic room. I’m still working out whether to upgrade to Windows 7 Non-Moron is worth the $90 Microsoft wants, but I can’t say the situation has made me any happier a camper.

There is also a plethora of games built into the machine. Except they’re all trial versions that lock up after four plays and demand you pay for the privilege of continuing. That is to say, pointless clutter on the hard drive.

This differs from a pen greatly. One does not get a pen home and find that the reservoir only fills to 20% of normal capacity unless one sends a ransom to the reservoir maker. There is no premium which must be paid to use other than black ink. If I spend about three day’s pay on a pen, I’ve got a completely functional unit, not something that can eventually be put right.

Hoorah for technology. Huzzay for progress.

Today’s pen of Ludd: Parker Moderne (oh, the irony of the name!)
Today’s ink, permanent without further payments: Lamy blue-black

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Blasts about the Past

Posted by Dirck on 23 July, 2010

I was looking at a blog lately appeared in the world, and find a fellow traveller in on the path of sartorial excess– a very easy road to get onto, given the current level of average male dress, but a hard one to hike for reasons of public distain and kit costs. Seriously, I’d love a pair of good-looking boots for the coming winter, but I can’t think where to lay hands on the $2000 they might cost.

In a one entry, the enigmatic Nemo runs across the notion that only an elderly man can dress well– in it, an actual nigh-centenarian spotted on the beach prompts him to buy a Panama hat (a delight on a hot day, let me tell you), and in a post-script, a acquaintance long out of contact upon seeing him again declares “…with your dandy get-up and your fountain pen, have become a gentleman in his eighties.”

I count that as a win, frankly. I’ve mentioned previously that I’d be quite content to dress in the mode of David Niven (b.1910), particularly the mid-20th century version thereof. There is that money thing getting in the way, along with a general difference of shape… but I digress. Nemo’s confrontational acquaintance seems to think that dressing in such a fashion is a terrible thing. I suppose, when in the 1960s people were flinging off their jackets and hats, the fact that it was all de rigeur rendered the style of men’s dress oppressive, but in this modern age where do as thou will has become the sumptuary law, the choice to embrace the past is just as valid as the choice to embrace the t-shirt.

Of course, just because one is old does not mean that one will dress decently. Everyone can make their own choices, no matter how disastrous.

Today’s pen: Waterman 52 (yesterday’s being brand new, I thus choose the past today)
Today’s ink: Pelikan blue-black (looking very much like what appears in my wife’s grandfather’s army paybook, c. 1943)

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Diamond… Mine!

Posted by Dirck on 22 July, 2010

Today (and also some of yesterday ) I’m doing an uncommonly full review of a pen. This is the first product of a new pen maker, TWSBI, which has as part of their business model been sampling the brains of the Fountain Pen Network. This must be a frustrating effort, because a nuttier squirrel academy to seek opinions from is hard to imagine– we are very certain about what we like, but we all like very slightly different things.

What they have come up with is, to avoid hyperbole, utterly amazing. I’ve made up a little photoplay of what you get in the mail when you order one of these things. After removing the outer wrapping, there is the exterior box with the company logo printed on it. I can’t decide what that logo reminds me more of, an item of Imperial blazonry from Star Wars or a biohazard warning:

This is as much as a Lamy Safari gets for a box– there’s nothing wrong with that, and Lamy is fairly clever about it, but in this case, this is just the first layer. Within the cardboard, the actual plastic box is further protected by foam and a thin-film wrapper:

Once you’ve fought your way past all that, you find the pen suspended in a little cradle in the plastic shell. This, I imagine, is what they expect you to get to see in the display shelves of any store than might carry this pen. You will notice a couple of design award markers cluttering up the otherwise minimal interior of the box. The Golden Pin is apparently a thing instituted in Taiwan (whence TWSBI) simply to pat upon the back any product their Ministry of Economic Affairs thinks is cool, but the Reddot is an actual big international deal, which has also been given out to heavy hitters like Apple:

Having released the pen from the box, you’ve got a jolly big pen, with extremely good finish. It is slightly larger than the Pelikan M600, and has much the same internal mechanism (the Pelikan, by the way, costs about six times as much as the Diamond). The barrel of the pen is faceted, a reflection of the pen’s name, in alternating triangles and lozenges, which are not only decorative but also help to keep the pen from rolling to briskly off a desk if put down without the cap attached at either end. That’s not something I do a lot of myself, but it’s a nice little feature all the same:

I refer again to the Lamy Safari, because this pen costs about the same as that German product, which is frequently suggested as an entry-drug for the prospective pen addict. I don’t want to run down the Lamy, which is a good pen, but the little bits of trim on the Diamond elevate it to something rather more wearable than the wire-clipped school pen so many of us enjoy. The point is made for TWSBI by Schmidt, a firm which specializes in making parts for fountain pens; it’s imprinted with the same slightly sinister logo and the maker’s initials, with no claims of German origin in sight. This is not as firm a point as that found on the Lamy—it’s not flexible in any sense of the word, but there is the springiness associated in modern pens with the higher-class gold point.

I should mention that the haziness of the section is a result of having test-filled the pen with water and then emptying it before taking this picture. It’s just condensation, not something inherent to the pen.

What really makes this pen is what lies beneath it… literally. In the space under the box is a very detailed instruction sheet, along with some maintenance items– a spanner and a tiny bottle of silicon grease:

These items are a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because they make it clear to the average user that this is something that is not inherently disposable. The maker has provided the tools to keep the thing in operating trim, so why not maximize the return on your investment by giving it a little attention now and then? A curse, because it encourages idiots like me to take the thing apart every twenty minutes. In fact, I hadn’t had it out of the wrapper that long when this happened:

Now, it’s not wrong to do this. It is encouraged. But it is also unnecessary… sort of. This is one of a pre-production set of 300 released to FPN members (if the writing on the wrapper has any meaning to it, this one is number 231). While they were in transit, the maker put a public announcement out that some of the piston seals, the little black object at lower left, are not quite up to the correct tolerances, and may allow ink through to the “dry” side of the barrel’s interior. Part of the public announcement was a request to be informed of the problem developing, so a replacement seal could be sent. How’s that for customer care?

I should mention at this point that I don’t altogether recommend completely undoing the filler mechanism as I’ve done here. It’s a bit of a Chinese puzzle (if I may be facetious) to get it back together again, not in as much as getting the parts to cling together, but in getting them aligned in such a way that the piston has the correct length of travel. Happily, if you’re one of the folks awaiting the replacement seal, you don’t have to take it that far apart—until the blind cap is entirely unscrewed from its base, and the base is the part that the spanner serves to remove from the barrel, the filler remains a contiguous unit, and the seal can be replaced without the full strip-down seen above.

I haven’t had this pen long enough to be able to recommend it with a straight face– heck, I don’t know yet whether mine has one of the bum seals, and I’m as yet aglow with the happy sensations of a new pen. Demonstrator pens are a bit of a conundrum for me in general– while one is entirely aware of what is going on within, which negates a lot of the crummy surprises a pen is capable of springing, it is something like a hairless cat in that you’re seeing stuff that’s not always appealing, with every blemish and thumbprint manifest. I am reasonably sure that when the honeymoon ends I’ll still like it, and will certainly offer a link to their English-speaking online store if for no other reason than to help them become known in the world of pen enthusiasts. At very least they’ve managed to make a pen competitive in performance with pens twice its price.

On the subject of becoming known– TWSBI? That’s a lot of letters, isn’t it? The maker’s representatives on FPN suggest “twisbee” as a pronunciation, the first part as “twist” without the final letter, and since it’s their name I won’t suggest otherwise (despite an inclination to assume something with that many consonants must be Welsh). “Bi” is pen in whichever flavour of Chinese language holds sway in Taiwan, and the remaining letters are for “San Wen Tang”, the meaning of which I’m unclear on and the reasons for the inversion remaining obscure.

Future developments for the company include diverse colours of barrel for the 530 (all, for the moment, transparent), and more interestingly a projected vacuum-filling pen, which promises to be a lot more service-friendly that the Sheaffers of the 1930s and ’40s, and hopefully a little less dear that the Conid pens out of Europe. I think I mentioned previously that there are some signs of the writing instrument pendulum swinging back from cheap’n’dreary, and TWSBI is certainly a hopeful indicator in that direction.

much later: Ah-hah. It is one with a duff piston seal, and I do recommend it with a straight face all the same.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Diamond 530, on its maiden flight.
Today’s ink: Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun (although I now think a more festive ink would have looked better)

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Man at Work

Posted by Dirck on 21 July, 2010

As threatened yesterday, I’m applying some actual effort to an entry soon to appear. While I’m at that, I’ll leave you with these brain teasers:
– A search result leading here which reads “cleanout plug in side of house”;
– A link leading here from a facebook departure address which to all appearances should take the reader to an article about a drug rehab clinic. Perhaps my infrequent mention of the addictive nature of pens?

Today’s pen: That Parker “51” demi which I mentioned some time ago.
Today’s ink: Diamine China Blue

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Threatening Mail

Posted by Dirck on 20 July, 2010

I found something extremely frightening in the mailbox yesterday:

USPS Horrible Letter Containment Vessel

The letter so terrible in its power that it cannot pass through the postal system except in a hermetically sealed vessel!

That was my first impression, at least. Very carefully picking up the affair, I read an extremely contrite message from a (if not the) Postmaster, explaining in a first-person voice what the situation is. The letter within was not snarling at nor otherwise frightening postal workers, despite being on Hellboy stationery, and require restraint. It was “inadvertently damaged in handling”, and thus “forward[ed] to [me] in an expeditious fashion.” The fact that the message was not written for an eighth-grade reading level moved me towards forgiveness even before I opened the outer casing.

The damage was essentially invisible from the outside. The inner sheets revealed that water had entered the life of this letter– the inadvertent damage was something along the lines of a fumble into a puddle. A puddle of… *sniff*… very likely water. Irony lies in the fact that the correspondent reveals that, at the time of writing, there wasn’t a great deal of rain about in her part of the world.

I don’t hold this against the US Postal Service, its agents, heirs and assigns, as this sort of thing happens to everyone– the world’s best juggler will occasionally drop the pepper grinder. Also, the letter within is written with a Noodler’s ink which, while not one of their Bulletproof or Eternal lines, is pretty water resistant. The intended messages are all legible, and the slight staining only serves to slightly enhance the creepy factor of the pre-printed images.

The other item of note which arrived in yesterday’s mail calls for several more pictures and a certain amount of actual thought… I may miss posting tomorrow in favour of actual thoughtful composition.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Javelin
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Poussière de Lune

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I Usually Don’t Like Peas

Posted by Dirck on 19 July, 2010

An item of loot from online auctions arrived here on Friday. For a change, it was not a pen….
A naval pea-coat

It’s not precisely summery, is it? Well, winter is never far from the thoughts of a sensible person in this part of the world. That aside, why would I buy a pea-coat, and why would I be particularly excited about it.

On the first point, one of the various holes in my wardrobe is a shorter winter coat. I have a coat which comes down very nearly to my ankles, with a removable liner which means it’s not only for winter but a good rain-coat was well, but it does happen that one occasionally finds a long coat inconvenient. Something shorter like this is exactly what I need to replace the rather modern bomber jacket I’ve got, as it looks rather better with the rest of my clothes and won’t expose my kidneys to the winter’s blast if I happen to bend over.

Why the excitement? Oh, that’s simple (in many meanings of that word). It is an authentic item of vintage clothing… which fits me! Size 52! I might well have bought a cocktail dress made to accomodate my dimensions, so to find something that’s not inherently unattractive and has some actual practicality to it makes my head swim!

Today’s giddy pen: Waterman Crusader
Today’s ink trying to keep a straight face: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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