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Archive for September, 2010

Year of the Tiger?

Posted by Dirck on 30 September, 2010

I don’t have the heart for much of an entry today.  Miranda, the cat whose health was a large component of the entries for the end of August, was in at the vet yesterday to get her teeth looked at, and about an hour after yesterday’s posting I got a call about her.  What looked like the puffiness of an abscess turned out to be a well-advanced maxillary tumour.  She’s unlikely to last a fortnight.  I am not in the mood for jolly banter.

I do want to pose a largely rhetorical question before shutting down for the day– what was it in 1998 that predisposed cats to an early end?  The other cat we lost this year was born in that year, as was the one who passed away at my in-laws house last week of the very same sort of malignancy which afflicts Miranda.  That’s not any more than middle-aged for cat, and they were all well-coddled cats as well, kept indoors and on a reasonable diet which as far as I know was free of pitchblende and radium.  I don’t expect an answer, any more than one should to the usual, tearful, “Why?”

My wife was quite shattered yesterday, but is more or less back on her feet today.  The Regular Job, happily, is quite understanding, so when three hours before close of business, I rolled the top of my desk closed, returned my pen to its well, and called “Cat emergency!” as I put on my hat, nothing was said other than condolences.  It may not be the very thing I want to be doing, but there’s far worse places to work.

And now I’m rambling.  That’ll do.

Today’s pen: Wahl 326
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Tulipe Noir


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Full Disclosure

Posted by Dirck on 29 September, 2010

Sometimes you have to admit defeat, and I do so in this case with at least the clarity of conscience not having utterly destroyed the pen allows.

Hm.  Er.  Yes.  Quite.  I did say that, didn’t I?  Well, my conscience climbed down off my shoulder moments after I posted that and had been kicking me in the kidneys ever since, so it’s time to reveal an ugly truth.  In the very same weekend which saw the setting aside of a recalcitrant Remington, I damaged a rather more grand Sheaffer belonging to another client.

The pen in question is a 790, or at least so says the collective wisdom of the Fountain Pen Network.  It is one of the protean and mystifying Imperial/Triumph line of the 1970s, rather like the 440 but with a gold point and gold-plated cap in place of steel– upon reflection, I think I’ve neglected to take a picture of it for my album in my panic over The Incident.  Like the 440, it is a cartridge filling pen, and it arrived in my hands with an older metal-bodied converter stuck in it.  The sac on the converter had let go, rendering the pen unusable until converter was freed.

“Stuck” is hardly the word for the problem.  “Seized”  might be closer to the point.  Perhaps even “contact-welded”.  Soaking, heat, various solvents of increasing risk, nothing would budge the thing.  My initial goal was to get the converter out and see whether it wasn’t possible to fit it with a new sac, but as options dwinded I realized that getting the pen at all operational was probably going to see the destruction of the converter.  Which, in my books, means the client isn’t going to pay for the “service”, since attacking a pen with a pair of pliers is not what we might call “skilled labour”.  The client assented to the plan, and I brought forth the pliers.

At this point, the whole affair takes on some of the character of battlefield surgery in the early 19th century.  The thin metal of the converter gave under the pressure of the pliers, and it looked like a good tug would set things free.  However, the joining of one metal to the other was so complete that the long metal collar on the back of the section actually cracked under the strain before the remains of the converter came away.  I’ll append a picture of the thing when I’ve got a chance, having two representatives of the tribe in my hands to act a models, so I’ll not decribe the collar in great detail– it acts to hold the cartridge in place while the pen is screwed together, and the forward part is threaded to receive the barrel.  It’s not a trivial part. (EDIT: Here’s a picture that will serve; its the one on the right)

Luckily for me, in as much as luck came visiting on this case, the crack stopped at the threaded portion of the collar.  I could turn to the barber-surgeon’s great friend, the saw, to remove the damaged bit, and still have a functional pen.  Which is what I did. Truncated, but functional.

Part of the lateness of this confession is the combined work of shame and vanity.  However, I also wanted to wait until the client knew what was happening with his pen, or rather pens, as two others had been travelling with it (a snorkel Statesman and an Imperial II).  All are on their way home even now, and the deal I’ve presented him with is that he’s not to pay me until he’s had a chance at inspection– I told him what the total would have been had the damage not occured, and said that he’s free to pay any amount between that and nothing at all.  Since pen people are, with some small foibles from one individual to another, a reasonable bunch, I expect fair treatment.

There’s a lesson in this, too.  Something “simple” can present the greatest difficulties.  The snorkel was, in relative terms, a dawdle.

Today’s penitent pen:  Waterman C/F
Today’s apologetic ink: Diamine China Blue

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Bitter Sweet Spots

Posted by Dirck on 28 September, 2010

Yesterday’s pen was, as indicated, one of my wife’s.  She has what one might call a collection of that sort of thing, but it’s realy more in the line of an assortment.  It pleases her to have several pens on the go at any given time, and this particular shape of pen is one she enjoys.  The fact that they’re also dead cheap and (until lately, at least) quite functional helps a lot as well.  A thing about my wife, though, which I don’t quite understand and frequently run up against– she prefers doing things the hard way.

All of her pens are italic points.

“So what?” says the passing reader.  Well, the thing about italic points is that they have a remarkably small sweet spot.  The same rhetorical person will call out, “What’s that?” and I will oblige with explanation.

Fountain pens work by capillary action.  The ink climbs down the point from the reservoir in an increasingly small channel, and is held at the tip by surface tension.  Touch the surface of the ink to paper (or a shirt, or anything marginally absorbent) and that surface attaches to it, and the ink marches out.  Here’s an illustration from my site to make the concept clear:

The “sweet spot” is the part of the tip which provides best flow, allowing the smoothest writing as the ink provides lubrication between tip and writing surface.  The size and shape of this spot is a matter of real art for those who shape the nib, and you mustn’t think of this (entirely) as the point of contact between the tip of the pen and the paper.  It is rather an envelope of function.  Consider a pen as operating in the same attitudes as an aircraft,  which I can illustrate by litfing some graphics from a Wikipedia page




Yaw is really neither here nor there for a pen, but pitch and roll are the defining factors of the sweet spot.  A small sweet spot means the pen greatly prefers a specific angle of pitch and almost no roll whatever, while a big sweet spot means vast variations in both are tolerable.  In very general terms, a rounder tip has a bigger sweet spot than a flatter one.

An italic point, the “calligraphy” pen, is entirely flat.  It will take a lot of pitch, but any roll at all separates the ink and the paper, and the thing stops writing.  This is the vexation of many a new calligrapher, of course.

My wife feels that the broader line makes her writing look neater, and I suppose the need to attend carefully to the roll of the pen will help with letter formation.  Still, this is her preferred tool for writing, and compared to writing with… well, a writing point, it’s a lot of effort for the amount of reward.  More astonishing is the degree of ambidexterity with these unforgiving pens which she developed while nursing our son.  As I said, she doesn’t mind doing things the hard way.

I decided to use another similar pen today, although this is a slightly more accomodating point, a cursive-italic point.  I used to be a fair calligrapher, and it occurs that I shouldn’t let those muscles go entirely to pot.  The broad, flat points also have this to recommend them: neater or not, the writing certainly looks fancy.

Today’s pen, hoping to avoid clear-air turbulence:  Pilot 78G
Today’s ink, wishing for a smooth flight:  Mont Blanc Racing Green

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Does Incomplete Victory Count?

Posted by Dirck on 27 September, 2010

I’m sure the majority of people with access to the internet today will have at some point in their life stumbled upon Sesame Street.  A regular feature on the show in my day (although from a few recent viewing I wonder if this is still the case) was the song “One of These Things.”  With that song in mind, lets have a look at some pens:

Shall we play? All are fountain pens, of course.  All are the sort of piston-filler in which one simply hauls on a stick to fill and empty, like a syringe.  No two are the same colour, and only two are Remington brand.  All ridiculously long blind caps to house the piston-stick.  All have a transparent barrel, so the level of ink is obvious at all times… although the fact that one of them is very hard to see through is a difference, and a hint to the difference I have in mind.

The difference you can’t see– the one at the top is mine, and I didn’t work on it this weekend.  The other three belong to clients, and as noted last week one of my goals for this weekend was to use some newly-purchased sheet silicone-rubber to fashion fresh seals.  In the Red Dot at the bottom of the picture, you can actually see the new seal, a somewhat redder item in the picture than it is in real life.  In this, I had some success, as you can see from the water visible within Red Dot and that lizardy green chap near the top.  It’s not an entirely straightforward process, as some shaping is needed after the circle is punched out of the sheet (and in the case of Red Dot, some thickness reduction), but it’s not too challenging.  Especially when the son is asleep.

However, to install a new seal in the pen, you do need to be able to get inside the thing.  This sort of pen was as close to a disposable as the popular concept of pen would allow in the 1930s, so they weren’t necessarily made with repair in mind.  The points are generally made of gold-plated steel, and it seems that the idea was that by the time anything else wore out, the ravenous inks of the day would have found a way trhough the plating and reduced to point to a useless hulk.  The sections were thus frequently fixed permanently to the barrel, indicating that whatever was used to join them (acetone, perhaps?) was even less expensive than shellac.

When I took the red Remington from its owner, I was very confident.  My own version of this pen came apart quite biddably, and I didn’t foresee any trouble.  After a couple of weeks of efforts to free it, culminating in a great combative struggle yesterday, I have sent a note to the client essentially asking permission to retreat.  I can’t think of a non-destructive way to get the section free.  Given that the room was starting to smell like a cough-drop factory, I was clearly flirting with the ignition point of the celluloid, and that’s a degree of excitement I’d like to avoid.  Sometimes you have to admit defeat, and I do so in this case with at least the clarity of conscience not having utterly destroyed the pen allows.

The other two are doing nicely, though.  If we want to really finish the game, there is one more way in which one differs from the others.  Can you see it?  It’s right there in front of you– of the four of them, only the green one isn’t trying very hard indeed to pretend to be a Sheaffer Balance.

Today’s easily opened pen:  Sheaffer No Nonsense (a red one of my wife’s heap of No Nonsenses and Viewpoints…)
Today’s ink:  Diamine Majestic Blue (…which turns out to be a colour she doesn’t like much, so I’ve been invited to help write it empty)

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It’s the Muse’s day off.

Posted by Dirck on 24 September, 2010

I might as well have spent the past day in a stasis tube for all I’ve got to contribute today.  I’ll mention that the weekend will see me applying some of the new piston-rubber I’ve mentioned to needy pens, assuming I can convince them to give up their sections, and that it’s sunny for the first time this week.  Perhaps it’s the sudden appearence of vitamin D in my system that’s got me confused.

While I pull myself together, why not read a little item about the modern age of distraction, as a distraction from the modern age?  I’ll try to return my synapses to firing over the weekend.

Today’s largely idle pen:  Parker 51
Today’s placid ink: Pelikan 4001 blue-black
…which is exactly what I was carrying on Tuesday, and it didn’t see a lot of use then, either.

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Fobbed Off

Posted by Dirck on 23 September, 2010

I have mentioned time and again in this rambling document my one-time love of modern technology and futuristic living, and the growing disenchantment with the same as my life takes me ever further into what the fiction of my childhood declared was the dazzling future.  As the 2010 equinox passes without any sign of a joint US-Russian manned expedition to examine an alien artifact in orbit around Jupiter, I find another example of domestic technology which is simultaneously an example of the fact that we’re living in the future and of the future’s failure to quite reach expectations.

They’ve changed the locks at The Regular Job.

How is this a source of the bi-phase experience above?  Well, the locks which are going are either the sort of pin-tumbler keyed type which have been current since the late 1800s or the five-button combination lock one frequently sees in industrial settings.  They are being replaced with electronic gizmos of modern science, a little black box on the door frame commanding the door to open to friends and remain shut in the face of strangers.

How does it tell who’s who?  I will quote from the e-mail we were sent (being careful to make sure no corporate secrets are revealed):

The new system is a series of proximity locks.  These locks are designed to open when either a preprogrammed fob or card comes in proximity of a door installed with the technology.

Well, doesn’t that sound neat?  Very Star Trekkish indeed!  When I got my “fob”, it promised to live up to the billing, being an angular thick plastic oblong the size of a finger-joint.  It looks, in fact, very like a prop for the film Aliens.  My inner conspiracy theorist wonders whether carrying this thing through the building renders my movements trackable (and a boring surveillance that will be– “He’s on the move… to the file cabinet, again“), but the neat-o aspects of the affair put that on the back burner.

The system came active today.  With a sense similar to that of a child about to disrobe a Christmas parcel, I walked toward a door.  The little black box stared at me with a single square red LED, but did nothing.  Closer.  Nothing.  I gripped the door handle.  Nothing.  Taking my key-ring from my pocket, I moved it ever closer to the receiver… and at last the light went green.  The lock was released silently.  “Proximity” apparently means a distance of 10cm or less, which means either getting the fob out of your pocket or getting very intimate with the door frame.  Bah.  That’s not Star Trekkish.

I spoke to one of the IT folks in the wake of the disappointment, since the central guidance of the system is in their hands.  I was told that to have a system which acts as I’d expected, the reciever would have to be the size of a hat-box, or at least its lid, and cost a mint of money.  Really?  In a past episode of Top Gear, a prank is played predicated on the fact that a similar set-up allowing access to and ignition of a modern Dodge muscle car– while Hammond was in a diner, Clarkson got into his car and drove some distance before it noticed it wasn’t anywhere near its key.  I rather suspect that this vehicle’s cost is not based on the size of its security system reciever.

This isn’t a personal issue, of course.  It inconveniences everyone here equally, and I suspect the IT department, who are often passing through doors with awkward bundles, are as cranky as anyone else.  Future Shock was expected and braced for.  Future Rash?  Future Chaffing?  All around us, and no sign of a useful ointment.

Today’s pen of proven technology:  Conway-Stewart 106
Today’s soothing ink:  Herbin’s Poussiére de Lune

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Diamond Seal 1.5

Posted by Dirck on 22 September, 2010

Gosh, that title sounds like some kind of game sponsored by Tom Clancey, doesn’t it? Mentioned in yesterday’s mad flail of an entry, I got something neat in the mail…

Little pieces of rubber! Oh, boy!!

The reason this is exciting is that they are the replacement seals for the Diamond 530, which in its big splash appearance here in July I mentioned as being in need of. Here sits the pen with the new parts and a nice little free bonus– a TWSBI button.

As you can see, I replaced the Fuyu-Syogun that was in it in July with some Herbin Violet Penseé, being more festive.  You will also see that there are two of the new seals.  Why-for?  I speculate, but I think in the nature of TWSBI, there was an urge to make up for any disappointment the bum seals (version 1.3, it seems) may have caused.  More stuff is generally thought of as better, so here’s two triple-tested and ready for action, along with an odd item of pen ephemera.  There is probably also an understanding that may people are afflicted to a greater and lesser degree with fumblefinger, and sending two means the pen owner can get back to writing without serious delay even if the effort includes seeing a seal vanish into a heating register or go down a cat.  If, as in my case, no mischance befalls the replacement, there’s one on hand for the distant day when regular cycling of the filler eventually wears the seal out.  The little plastic tube the seals came in is just small enough to store in the understory of the pen’s box, along with the rest of the maintenance kit.  Magna cum laude for wise planning, TWSBI.

A quick close-up of the actual problem with seal 1.3 is in order, too:

You see how the ink has slunk in around the pointward part of the seal.  While there are only a couple of reports of the tailward seal also letting ink through, it is rather nervous-making.  Seal 1.5 has a much wider contact pad at both ends, the front one appearing though the wall of the pen to be 1.5mm across, which is rather more than double the width of the one in the picture.  It doesn’t sound like much, just a dime and a half, but the effect on one’s comfort level while carrying the pen is orders of magnitude greater.

Installation is dead easy, too, so if you’re still waiting for your 1.5 to show up, you can relax in the knowledge that it’s the work of perhaps 10 minutes to get it in place, including the cleaning out of whatever ink you might have been using.  I’m not just speaking as a guy who has regular spasms of pen repair, either.  I think most people with full command of their thumbs will have little trouble with this.

Since I seem to be arrogating myself a role as unpaid advertiser for TWSBI, I’ll add a link to their blog, which an item of paperwork in the envelope mentioned.  This will be a permanent feature in the side-bar, too, for those aquiver to find out when their vacuum filler is going to appear.

I am contemplating staging a give-away of that button– in my pre-teen years, I was a bit of a button collector, which may prove that collecting as a general behaviour is a predisposition… perhaps it’s time to think about that Psych masters’.  Currently, however, I’m not too hot on buttons (yes, that is a sad pun.  Please don’t point), and yet another item of clutter in the house is not very welcome.  I hesitate because it is an item of ephemera from the very earliest days of what promises to be a cracking good pen manufacturer, and I’d hate to do the equivalent of idly throwing out a Waterman watch fob.  A few days of contemplation won’t do the matter any harm.

Finally, a semi-rhetorical question for the physiologists in the room– how is it that sitting for eight hours in a somewhat uncomfortable chair makes one’s knees hurt?  I understand why, after yesterday’s seminar, my hips and back might hurt, but my knees?  That’s over-egging the agony batter, frankly.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Diamond 530
Today’s ink:  Herbin Lis de Thé (not as festive as the Violet, but I’m less hesitant to take it out in public)

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I told you yesterday…

Posted by Dirck on 21 September, 2010

…although I will mention that a bunch of interesting stuff arrived in the mail yesterday– that piston-seal material I mentioned a few entries back and something I’ll go into more fully tomorrow.  Ooh, a teaser!

Today’s wandering pen:  Parker 51
Today’s off-site ink: Pelikan 4001 blue-black

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Low Power: Expect Interruptions in Service

Posted by Dirck on 20 September, 2010

I got just over four hours of sleep last night.  I may share a birthday with Winston Churchill, but I do not have his capacity to ignore the demands of Hypnos (I believe I speculated earlier that that worthy fellow replaced sleep with gin, a trick I’ve not learned).

Unlike most of my recent sleeplessness, this instance is not the product of my son’s irregular nocturnal schedule.  I simple awoke for no observable reason almost exactly half-way through my usual slumber, muzzy but unable to return to Slumberland.  I suspect that there is some effect from worries which I am having over the state of a client’s pen.  The pen in question, which is a somewhat grander, more gold-laden version of this one, has a converter stuck firmly in the section.  The converter is one of the older press-bar types with a metal body, and it is unclear whether the sticking is caused by old ink or corrosion. Because it’s a metal converter, I really can’t just heave the whole thing in the ultrasonic cleaner and let it be mumbled upon until something gives– getting moisture up inside it is not something it is likely to thank me for.  There is also the question of how much time in an ultrasonic bath an inlaid point will face before it jumps ship, which means an effective destruction of the pen.

 It is also very thin metal, with a big cut-out in one side to allow access to the press-bar, which means that there’s little to grab for tugging upon, and the vector of tugging has to remain very clearly along the centre-line of the whole assembly.  Torsion or lateral strain will deform the housing all too easily.

I actually sent a letter to the client this morning explaining that I am approaching a point at which I will have to consider the converter a lost cause if there’s to be a functional pen in the end.  A couple of minutes with a carefully positioned pair of pliers should see the little bugger out of there.  This will see a dramatic reduction in the charge for the service, alas, as it goes firmly against the “do no harm” principle I follow– converters may be an optional part of a pen, but they still cost money to replace.  I have a couple of more avenues I want to investigate before giving up full preservation.

“Want to investigate,” in the future, because I was not able to put this sleepless period this morning to good use.  I am probably not suffering pangs due to my apprehended failure with this pen, as I’m not the only one who rose unseemly early today.  It’s not his doing that I’m a semi-vegetable now, but my son did wake up at about the same time as I did.  Perhaps the Reticulans were a little ham-fisted slipping us back into bed.  In any event, rather than semi-productive efforts, the bleariest time of the day was spent making sure the lad didn’t make too much noise nor try to turn one of the cats inside out (he appears to be moving from physics to biology, although flinging things to observe their behaviour is still on the menu).  There’s few things as vexing as losing the use of lost sleep.

Not an interesting entry?  It was written almost entirely without the use of the frontal cortex– how interesting could it be?  It is, however, rather more interesting than tomorrow’s, as The Regular Job is sending me away to some kind of training seminar for the day.  If tomorrow morning follows a more natural pace, I’ll try to at least let the world know what the day’s pen and ink are.

Today’s Pen (assuming I’m not dreaming it):  Parker Vacumatic
Today’s ink: Pelikan 4001 black (because I was well away from the house before I realized that I’d forgotten to fill the pen, and that’s what’s on my desk)

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Can We Blame Wikipedia?

Posted by Dirck on 17 September, 2010

I was at a rum-tasting last night– eight tiny glasses with several drops worth of expensive and relatively exotic rum in them, a score sheet, and… an oppressively long lecture on the history of rum.  Well, not rum so much as sugar cane, the triangle trade and the English navy’s role therein, and some minutiae of distillation.  Apart from demanding 45 minutes of attention while rum sat beckoning, the whole talk was poisoned by one item of historical interest– we were informed that sugar cane was introduced to Haiti by Christopher Columbus in 1643.

If you’re having trouble seeing why that undercuts the validity of all else that was said, I will suggest the lightest examination of the last link in that paragraph, or indeed any book of reference including the chap.

So as not to leave for the weekend on a sour note, I will do another referral for a local business– today’s post-rum breakfast was blueberry scones from Koko Patisserrie, one of the various hints that our little prairie city is starting to get tolerably cosmopolitan, and they were utterly delicious.  The prices are slightly higher than the average for baked goods, but they’re quite worth it.

Today’s pen: Pilot Elite
Today’s ink: Skrip blue-black

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