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Archive for August, 2010

Al Dente?

Posted by Dirck on 17 August, 2010

In a previous entry, I ponder the relative merits of Noodler’s ink.  The regular reader will notice that I am a frequent user of the stuff, and I do indeed find that qualities outweigh the perils.  I have, however, decided that I will avoid the “Baystate” line of inks, which are somewhat more intimidating in their nature– they’re meant to emulate the furious inks of the past.  I am curious, as indeed I am about fire-walking, but while my feet may heal on their own, pens don’t.  The other Noodler’s inks, though, are by most reports as safe as houses and a delight to look upon.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I have a sudden issue with a Noodler’s ink.  On the 6th past, I was intent on doing a little writing in the evening, and picked up the Sheaffer Valiant filled the previous Wednesday with La Couleur Royale.  I took the cap off, poised the pen over the paper… and all the ink fell out of it.  Not briskly, which I am grateful for, but irresistably.  Once I cleaned up the mess, I opened up the pen and found that the sac was turning to goo, to the point that it was falling apart around the nipple.  The sac was cooked.

Now, here’s the bit where I panic a little.  Did the unspeakable Baystate Death Juice find its way into a bottle labelled otherwise?  Is the formulation of La Couleur Royale close to that of Baystate Blue?  A little bit of unmanly gibbering happened as I cleaned out the feed.

After the panic, though, we have a little bit of rational thought.  I know it’s not fashionable, but I do engage in it from time to time.  Heck, I even try to fall back upon Science once in a while.  Theory:  Noodler’s ink attacked the rubber of the sac, causing it to disintegrate.  Prove by replicating conditions and reproducing the result.  This is the experiment I mentioned last week.  I used a syringe to introduce some of the ink in question to a fresh sac, sealed the top of the sac, and flung it into a warm, dark place.  If the ink were to blame, by Monday I should have a puddle of rubber.

Results: nothing.  I’ve got a small reserve of ink in a perfectly intact sac.  In my panic, I assigned blame in the wrong direction.  It is possible, I suppose, that the sac came undone because of an interaction of ink, pen plastic and the shellac that holds the sac in place, but that’s a bugger to replicate in an easily observed place.  I prefer an alternative explanation offered by one of my fellow inmates at the Fountain Pen Network– a bad sac.  Once in a while, the ingredients in a batch of sac rubber aren’t quite right, and it goes funny.  There was a large batch some years ago that shocked the pen world with its sudden failure.  It is likely that I got one in a similar state.  I’ve had a look at some other pens with the same filler mechanism which I resacked about the same time, and there’s no evidence of failure there.  A thermodynamic miracle of a small and annoying sort, in effect.

To sum up then:  Noodler’s inks do not cook sacs.  No matter how mushy the sac may be, look elsewhere for your culprit.

Today’s ink, tried and found innocent:  Noodler’s Couleur Royale
Today’s pen, willing to overlook accusations:  Sheaffer Balance Craftsman

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The Modern Age of Communication

Posted by Dirck on 16 August, 2010

I freely admit that fountain pens are not at the forefront of communication technology. They are a mature technology, of course, but they are firmly founded in the 18th century. For a modern communication technology, one needs to push electrons around rather than ink.

This past weekend, my wife and I bought an entirely modern communication device.

Northern Electric Uniphone No. 2

It’s a telephone!  If I’ve done my research properly, it’s a Uniphone No. 2, set up for a wall-mount.  The cool thing is that someone else has already gone to the trouble of rigging with a wire that connects to the current telephone jacks.  We picked it up at an antique store, and as the local antique stores’ sense of “patina” could be uncharitably interpreted as “covered in filth”, it will want some cleaning before we press the handset up against our faces.

I am quite looking forward to setting it up, as not only does it have actual bells to alert you to an incoming call, it lacks entirely # and * keys, so it is proof against temptations to respond to tele-scams.

We were showing off this new purchase to her parents, and we fell into a round of reminiscence about telephone technology changes in our lifetime.  Both of the in-laws grew up in a house with the crank-driven party line sets.  We were all, despite the differences in our ages, rather excited at the appearance of touch-tone phones in our lives, and equally upset at the passing of the more mechanical innards of telephones.  I think my first incidence of turning against my childhood stance as an early-adopter was the bell-free telephone which I heard ringing for the first time unexpectedly– the goblin-warble of the modern phone made me cry out in alarm, which is something a guy in his mid-teens has trouble forgiving.

As ballpoints heralded the advent of rather sucky pens, the non-mechanical phone ringer seems to have announced a down-turn in the quality of telephones.  I don’t know about elsewhere, but here it co-incided with a change in telephone company policy.  Previously, one could only rent the device from the company, and it remained their property.  I have to assume that the major phone companies had plenty of clout (and in the case of Bell Telephone, owned their own phone-making subdivision), there was little interest in built-in obsolescence, so those old phone lasted like iron.  Once we were freed to buy telephones, while a bewildering variety of decorative shapes were available (if one could speak thus of a phone shaped like Garfield) the quality plummeted.  The concept of a broken telephone was essentially born in the 1980s.  A possible social good developing out of this was an effective end to the telephone handset as a means of bludgeoning– they just wouldn’t stand up to it.

This little number we’re got was built in the 1930s or ’40s, and like the pens of the time, is still going strong.  Bakelite and steel, oddly enough, seem to have better durablility than polystyrene and… some other petroleum-based plastic.  I look forward with indecent glee to the day a house guest asks to use the telephone, and is momentarily befuddled by the rotary dial.

I am not a Luddite, mind you.  What Luddite would be so pleased with bringing a new item of technology into his home?  I’ll just thank you to maintain a very broad interpretation of the word “new.”

Today’s high-tech pen:  Pilot Vanishing Point
Today’s traditional ink:  Noodler’s Walnut

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Casual(ty) Day

Posted by Dirck on 13 August, 2010

Yesterday I was writing about a green pen with white trim (the jewel holding on the clip, not visible in the picture).  I was at that time surrounded by people dressed in green and white.  It was casual day at The Regular Job, to allow people to support the local team who were playing that evening.

I was wearing a light grey Oxford shirt, medium grey twill waistcoat, black trousers and a dark blue silk tie, plus a Panama hat when outdoors.  There being sufficient naturally-occurring pointless tribalism in the world, I refuse to participate in the artificial sort which calls itself Team Pride.  I expect that one day I will be chased down a street by a jersey-clad mob, all chanting, “Not one of us!” 

Of the various horrors of modern clothing, I find football (in the North American sense) sportswear particularly unhappy.  Like the surcoats of the middle ages, the main purpose of the stuff is to help people at a distance know who’s who.  It is invariably strident, and not calculated to please the eye near-to.  Also like the surcoat, it’s not meant to be worn without something substantial underneath.  When not worn by an actual football player engaged in his task, but rather hanging about the torso of a notably non-athletic standard person, it just looks silly.  There are those who wear it as the entirety of their upper costume, in which case there are glimpses of pale flesh through the weave.  Others wear another shirt beneath, which hides their shame but does nothing for the strident’n’shapeless nature of the garment and has the added but dubious benefit of bringing it closer to the level of sweatiness which sportswear and surcoats share.

I have previously mentioned that I’m more or less in favour of personal choice in matters of dress.  This sort of thing adds offence to mere modern sloppiness by being a commanded look.  Offend your tribe not by dressing you each alike!  At best (!) it’s herd mentality, which at very least impairs judgement.  At worst, it’s being played for suckers in an unusually obvious way by advertisers.  I’m not a big fan of people looking like idiots, but I’m really against people allowing themselves to be made to look like idiots.  I don’t aim this merely at my co-workers, either.  On game day, it seems 3 of 5 people in the city are dressed as if they expect to be called out on the field.

While I phrase my concerns in a sartorial vein, I have a real worry at the panem et circenses tone of a lot of modern entertainment– the greater the spectacle, the nearer the fall of Empire, right?

I am, I suspect, over-reacting to yesterdays example of mass foolishness as it co-incided with my being shown The Laws of Human Stupidity by a friend.  It’s a chilling document, but one that should be widely known.  Stupidity is the great enemy of civilization, and as one who enjoys the trappings of civilization (bathing, central heat, very low incidence of random cannibalism) I’d like it to last as long as possible.  Read and be warned.

As a cure, or at least a reassurance that modern society has been able to survive this particular ill for a while, I made a point of watching The Male Animal last night.  Between that and remembering that my mother-in-law, a team booster if ever there was, is still able to find fault with goobers near her seats at the stadium despite their shared livery, I may be able to avoid despondency.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer 800
Today’s ink:  Lamy blue

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MiG vs. Phantom

Posted by Dirck on 12 August, 2010

So, who remembers the Cold War? If you’re one born later than 1984, any memories you have are pretty much academic and you’re probably not so interested in fountain pens. For those of us who are older, the Cold War between the communist east and the capitalist west (which we westerners, in our innocence, called “the free world” as if capitalism wasn’t just as much of a trap as Marxist Leninism) was sort of the context and background of everything. And, let’s be honest, when we were thinking of “The Commies”, we were thinking more about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with China as a bit of an afterthought. China may take offense if it likes, but consider who’s got the big economic shoes on now.

One of the things which we western types pointed out as the folly of the Soviet system was the command economy, in which (so far as we knew) a factory would shift from churning out vast numbers of tractors one year to mountains of baby carriages the next, each with much the same level of care and finish. We were also convinced that all the stuff they made was simply a crude copy of something developed by brainy western folk who were unfettered and creative and blah blah blah.

There is some truth to this. The Lada, which saw some export (to Canada, at least), was an acknowledged copy of a rather crummy Fiat.  However, there were also some surprises, such as the unexpected effectiveness of the MiG-19 and -21 in the conflict in Viet Nam.  Sticking to militaria, the relative merits of the AK-47 and the M-16 are frequently debated (although the AK was really a development of a German rifle from the end of World War II).  So, in theory Soviet industrial output is somewhat primitive, but may in practice have some merit.

So… what’s all this got to do with pens?  Look what I got in the mail recently:

Soyuz pen

This is a Soyuz pen (Soyuz is the first C of CCCP, as well as the name of a Russian spacecraft– it means “Union”).  Does it look… familiar?  Something like a Parker “51” perhaps?  Well, mostly.  The clip is more like that on a 1940’s Waterman, but the rest of the pen is VERY like the Parker.  Everything under the hood is, frankly, a crude copy of a Parker “51”, very similar to the guts of a Hero 616.  Inside the barrel, things are a little different, though, as the filler is a length of thick accordioned rubber, worked by a clear button.  The same action as a Vacumatic “51”, but with a lot less machining required.  Crude, perhaps even primitive… but also durable.  Were the Cold War still on, I’m sure some chap from Minsk would take me to task for even suggesting that the pure originality of Soviet writing instruments was copied from an inferior and decadent American plan, but in this post-Cold War setting, I think may say that the genesis of the Soyuz is very obviously the drafting table of the Parker company, with certain concessions to the limitations of a washing machine production line.

The cap worries me.  The relatively complex clutch of the “51” is replaced by a simple friction ring, and the plastic of the cap doesn’t strike me as particularly durable against the constant pressure.  The point is also a source of concern.  It’s made of… metal.  Some kind of metal, certainly not gold (decadent western trappings of corruption!) but I don’t think it’s steel, either.  It’s a funny matte grey with a sight tint of yellow, which makes me think of bronze.  The only markings on it are “5-9” which really doesn’t get me anywhere, assuming they are in fact numbers and not Cyrillic letters which I’m misreading.

Like the iconic battles between MiG and Phantom in the air over south-east Asia, the competition between Soyuz and Parker tends to favour the technical sophistication of the American contender.  It’s a lot smoother, and has a higher level of trim.  The Soviet though, for all its low-tech nature, gets the job done pretty well.  I imagine it didn’t cost a mint to make, either, putting it within reach of the common worker.  After all, putting the means of production of marks on paper in the hands of the masses is what the Soviet Union was all about.  I may not be a fan of Marxism, but I am a firm supporter of marksism.

Today’s bourgois pen which taunts the working classes:  Parker “51” Aerometric
Today’s capitalist in-ink-uity:  Pelikan 4001 blue-black

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Sinister Ambrosia

Posted by Dirck on 11 August, 2010

I was going to fill in today with the description of an experiment I’m conducting to determine whether I have a problem with a particular shade of Noodler’s ink, but it occurred to me as I began to compose that until I’ve established if the problem indeed lies with the ink, it’s unfair to both Noodler’s and the general ink-using public to go into any depth. So, look forward to a future installment when I will no doubt declare myself a panicky idiot.

Thus, as rather more stream-of-consciousness entry than usual. I will not go into my dreams, hooray, despite having had one involving a bunch of pens so damaged in transit that some were flat. Terrifying! Hopefully non-prophetic, too.

I found myself looking at the stats page for this enterprise with a stunned expression on my face this morning, as there were two baffling items pretending to enlighten me. Appartently there was only one traceable search that brought someone to this site, and it’s a stunner– “what is good ambrosia portal or sinister”. I don’t quite understand what the person might have been searching for. I hope it’s not the fruit salad that is popular in some quarters, and I can’t see how it would be someone interested in the food of the ancient Greek gods.  I know that I have no interest in seeing sinister ambrosia, whichever way it’s meant.

The other poser is a series of incoming links, all of which come from Facebook, which are that page which warns you you’re about to leave Facebook for a non-Facebook page.  This suggests that someone has put some kind of reference to me on Facebook… but who?  I suppose, given a few minutes, I can probably Google up some answers, but as is so frequently the case, no knowing seems like more fun.

Well, that’s lunch fled.  No sight of marshmallows in a gelatinous base… which, now that I think on it, is a pretty sinister concept.  Perhaps if I delay cleaning out my desk well long enough, I’ll find something along those lines have developed in it.

Oh, one last thing– a merry, somber, and/or reflective Ramadan to the Moslem portion of humanity. Being outside the faith, I’m not quire sure what the thrust of the month is, but I hope it goes well for you.

Today’s pen:  Sheaffer 5-30SR
Today’s ink:  Herbin’s Vert Empire

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Greasy Kid Stuff

Posted by Dirck on 10 August, 2010

Another unexpected lunch with the Regular Job staff, so I must be brief. Referring to the TWSBI pen and its potentially leaky seal, there is an interim solution while awaiting the replacements being sent out by the maker.  I mention that the pen comes with its own little supply of silicone grease, but what I do not mention is that this is an extremely high-quality liquid manifestation of the material.

What I more generally use is a slightly lower grade grease that is in texture much closer to petroleum jelly than anything else (but never use the latter in place of the former– they are not interchangible).  The thicker texture of this stuff acts as a much more effective barrier than the super-good grease supplied.  A erring in favour of quality has proven, briefly, to be an error.

This is not my idea, but that of one of the other inmates of the Fountain Pen Network.  I’m just reporting my results.  As soon as the replacement seal arrives, I’m switching back to the good stuff.

Today’s pen:  Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink:  Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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Contaminated Well

Posted by Dirck on 9 August, 2010

In addition to the strange psychic link I mentioned a couple of episodes ago, there is another occasional esoteric element to my exercises here. I seem to be able to, without great effort, cause a manifestation of the Spirit of Irony.

Last Wednesday I mentioned the importance of keeping pens clean. Even as I finished writing that, I cast an eye upon the Esterbrook well on my desk, and thought very nearly aloud, “What do you suppose the proper cleaning routine is for that thing?” I let the thought go almost instantly, comforting myself in the notion that these things would stand for months and years in banks and public offices with no more maintenance than occasional refills.

This morning, as I was completing the opening chores at The Regular Job, I was arrested by a smell, initially thinking that I’d somehow missed a cat’s-mess in one of my shoes through a half-hour of wearing them. I set down my pen, had a good sniff of my feet, and found nothing objectionable. That left… the Esterbrook dip pen I had just been using to highlight some material. Oh, dear.

I was able, a few minutes later, to pull the lid off the pen. I was suddenly reminded that the container of the 444 well is very similar in shape to petri dish. Little alien dots of something all over the inside of the lid and across the plastic maximum-level indicator ring.  An extremely nasty discovery, and one that smells rather like a urinal.

So, how does this happen, when as I mention previously these things would have much longer cleaning cycles in their original incarnation? Better living through chemistry, I imagine. Modern inks are a lot less likely to kill the manufacturer’s staff and give the casual user long-term health problems.  There’s some terrible stuff in the old inks, stuff that was more or less intended to kill things, although the things intended to be killed were micro-organisms.  I am not pointing and laughing at previous generations, either, as we’ve traded carcinogenic additives in ink for triclosan in pretty much everything else.  It’s just a different kind of stupidity.

In my own case of stupidity, I think the solution is to give the well a good cleaning– scrub it out with soap, fill it with straight ammonia for a few days– along with the pen that accompanies it, and then fill it with some ink that I know has an anti-fungal agent in it.  This agent goes under the name Sterilink, and comes from a pen-friendly company named Tryphon.  What’s in it?  I have no clue.  Probably deadly poisons.  I trade stupidities once again.

But at least my ink well won’t smell like a litter box.

Today’s cleanly pen:  Cross Century II Medalist
Today’s ink, not for sipping:  Cross black

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Victory Delayed (Still Counts)

Posted by Dirck on 6 August, 2010

A more than usually constrained Friday entry, so I’ve only just time to mention that the recalcitrant Sheaffer from the Tuesday entry has seen the error of its ways, and had been rewarded for this repentance with a brand new o-ring in its tail.

Which, if one’s not right up on the context, sounds a little naughty. Oh, well.

Today’s pen: Parker 88 Place Vendôme
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Poussière de Lune

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Posted by Dirck on 5 August, 2010

I’ve mentioned in diverse places the slight tinge of Luddism which affects many fountain pen users. It contributes to the mixed feelings I have about this item, which against the failure of the link I will describe; a pad of paper, printed to look like an iPad, which a correspondent of mine put me onto.  I should be entirely behind it, as the tone of the advertising might almost be lifted from my own works– “No plugs. No batteries. No charging.”  Sounds like me, doesn’t it?  Moreover, such a low-tech knock-off of the highest of consumer tech is inherently amusing and deserving of applause.

And yet, I’m cool towards it.  Why?  A couple of reasons.  The first is that the notion of trying to fool people into thinking that you’re carrying around a high-powered piece of technology rather than a pad of paper is the height of pretence.  Be proud of your pen and paper!  There’s nothing to be ashamed of!  This is similar to the efforts of some pen makers back in the day trying to make their pens look like rather better pens, and it will bear similar fruit.  People who don’t care won’t really notice (something we practitioners of mannenhitsu-do are constantly baffled by as we flourish our pens about), and people who do care are as likely to feel a tremor of pity as an urge to murmur, “Hey, cool.”

The other reason is even less reasonable.  The pads come packed with “your favorite writing instruments”.  Really?  Sharpies, rollerballs, mechanical pencils and crayons.  I’m not seeing my favourite, am I?  This is especially vexing as the rollerballs are stable-mates to the Pilot Varsity, a highly regarded (if sadly disposable) fountain pen.  Would it have killed them to stretch out a little to include the most mature writing techology of the age with their fake technology?

Thus, I cry “Humbug” and turn away.  I know I’m being a senseless reactionary, if not an outright curmudgeon.  So be it.

(Pauses to make a note to himself on the octavo-folded piece of copier paper which serves him as a pocket-book to pick up some chain oil to deal with the rattling noise his Sense of Humour, dead these seven years, is apt to make when it comes to announce to the need to change ways before the next April Fools Day.)

Today’s dour pen:  Lamy 2000
Today’s ink, secretly cocking a snook:  Mont Blanc Racing Green

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A Hygiene Reminder

Posted by Dirck on 4 August, 2010

I was reading a post on the Fountain Pen Network written by one of the luminaries of the pen repair business, in which he reminds he readers of the importance of keeping one’s pen clean. He included pictures, but as I haven’t asked permission to use them, I will describe them. He has a Mont Blanc 149 reduced to its component parts, showing the clogs in the feed and reservoir. Now, “clog” is a pretty bland word, so let me emphasize– if you’ve seen the original 1971 version of The Andromeda Strain, recall to mind when Stone and Hall are making their way through the devestation of Piedmont, and one of them experimentally opens a victim’s vein to discover why there is no post-mortem lividity. Remember that stuff that poured out? The pen was full of much the same sort of thing.

By the way, if you haven’t seen that film, it’s available in a widescreen DVD.  It’s about the best thing Michael Crichton ever had his thumbs in.

How does this happen?  Well, ink is just water with stuff in it.  Every time you take the cap off, some of the water evaporates, leaving the stuff behind.  The stuff is dye, which tends to crystalize if it dries out.  Most kids have at some time been exposed to the science of saturation through hanging a string in a jar of sugar water– at length, enough water goes that it can’t support the dissolved sugar and suddenly you’ve got a string encrusted in huge sugar crystals.  Scale down the crystals, replace “string” with “feed”, and you have the same process going on in the pen which is never cleaned.

I was once an offender of in the item of not caring for the passages of my pens, and there is no zealot like a convert.  Keeping your pen clean is not a great chore.  I touch on it on my site, but I’ll repeat myself here.  If your pen has a built in filler, fill the pen with water.  Empty it.  Repeat until the water is pretty much clear.  If your pen uses cartridges, you can hold it under a tap until it runs clean (it’s better if the tap is not running too fast) or go to the drug store and get an ear syringe, and blow a load of water though the pen.  You need only do this once a month, or even two months, to keep the pen’s inner workings relatively pristine.

The alternative is a pen in serious trouble.  No one wants to be carrying one of those around in their pocket.

Today’s hygenic pen:  Sheaffer Valiant TM touchdown
Today’s unclotted ink:  Noodler’s La Couleur Royale (highly saturated inks are more likely to cause trouble, so be cleanly!)

p.s.– I notice as I set up my links that my site isn’t responding to my efforts to look at it.  I’ll see what I can do about that….
p.p.s.– Just the rickety, steam-driven servers of The Regular Job, I guess. Never mind.
This entry’s postissimus scriptus– I wonder if the psychic link in evidence here is one in which I am a powerful transmitter or he is a powerful reciever. Like many parapsychological questions, I don’t imagine we’ll make any real effort to resolve.

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