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Archive for January, 2011

Resolution Report

Posted by Dirck on 28 January, 2011

Friday’s short entry, and a look at how I’m doing with the resolutions.  The earlier, reducing the number of pens used each week, is working out very well– being able to go from one to another keeps me from feeling constrained, but is depressurizing the needs for selection and cleaning.  You may see a week of three pens, but expect two to remain the norm.

The latter resolution imposing purple ink hasn’t been thoroughly tested, but this morning I was looking at a monthly calendar of Regular Job notations today, and the Pelikan purple most recently used was not standing out particularly.  I think I may have extinguished this unfortunate habit of thought.

Today’s pen,: Lamy 2000
Today’s ink:  Wancher Matcha (green)


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A Little Behind Time

Posted by Dirck on 27 January, 2011

I am not referring to my diverse anachronisms.  I am rather considering the foolishness of preparing a wish list a month after Christmas.

I don’t have much on my mind today, relative to pens, books, or slightly fuzzy social philosophy, so I thought I might devote a few minutes to writing down what pens I don’t have and would like to.   I commented at some point in the past that I have hit some point of criticality in the mass of pens I’ve got, and don’t have the fever to grab ’em with both hands.  There are some, however, that I’d like to get and which I’ve been kept from mainly by finances– either they’re new and expensive, or old and rare and expensive.  However, if I write them down and put the list where it can be seen, wandering philanthropists with a burden of pens might see it and take pity on me, or alternatively say to themselves, “Well, I’ve got three of those, and he’s got a couple of thing’s I’d like, so maybe a trade is in order.”

So, rather than sit here thinking about it, I’ll get on with the doing.  Watch for a new tab at the top of the page in the near future.

…but before I go, I’ll mention that thanks are in order to the kind author of Whatever, who has apparently suckered a ton of folks into looking at my work with a link or two, and thus increased the chances of a wandering philanthopist looking in.  Check out the back issues, folks– I am sometimes slightly more interesting than this.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Valiant vacuum variant
Today’s ink: Wancher Imari

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On the quarterdeck of HMS Ravens March, A.D. 1807

Posted by Dirck on 26 January, 2011

I have once or twice referred to my admiration for the nautical yarns of Patrick O’Brian.  I have come to realize in the long wait for the latest dawn that having a toddler in the house is very similar to serving in the Royal Navy in the early 19th century.  Observe:

  • there is almost no time in a day not filled with duties for those who are attentive to their position;
  • infrequently, the regular course of duties can reduce you to stark terror (in the modern example, consider the phrase, “How did he manage to climb up on that?”);
  • four hours of sleep starts to become the norm;
  • many unexpected diseases arise;
  • one becomes somewhat less nice about fresh food, clean clothes, and the smell of human filth (no, no– it’s the diaper pail);
  • the noise sometimes emitted by your charges is apt to make you deaf;
  • time loses some of its meaning;
  • despite the hardship, one becomes very attached to the way of living.

Since I’m not quite clear on the pacing of the nautical day, I may be incorrect in saying that I got to sleep almost the whole Middle Watch last night.  Pass the rum and never fret the weevils in the biscuit!

Today’s pen, a touchstone of modernity: Lamy 2000
Today’s ink, from the far side of the world:  Wancher Matcha (green)

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On Paper.

Posted by Dirck on 25 January, 2011

I have spent a deal of effort in the past speaking of pens and inks, but I haven’t really addressed paper.  I realy oughtn’t address it, either, as I’ve not really made a study of it, but as this is the internet I will adopt the licence in which the urge to comment equates to scholarship.

Most paper the modern person is apt to run up against is, to be blunt, dreadful rubbish.  Loosely composed, it entices ink to feather, which is shorthand for “make a much thicker and fuzzier line than you’d like,” and to bleed through, which is shorthand for “well, I guess I’m only using one side of this page for my notes.”  Part of making paper, in the industrial sense, is running through great rollers to press it flat.  If it’s just lightly pressed, it costs less to make, and the profits can be higher.  Likewise, the less attention the initial fibres get, the cheaper.  The old pulp magazines got their name from the horribly cheap paper they were printed upon– loosely compressed and chunky of fibre.

Modern mass-market paper gets away with being cheap because ball-points don’t particularly mind it that way.  Using goop rather than ink, there’s little worry about feathering or bleedthrough.  In this, I will grudgingly admit that these modern things have a slight advantage over fountain pens, although a pencil is still the better way to approach a crossword or sudoku in the newspaper.  To a fountain pen, there’s not a lot of difference in a cheap paper and a sheet of paper towel.

This is not to say that expensive papers are necessarily the very thing for a fountain pen.  I’ve got some evidently quite nice 100% cotton paper which has been specially prepared for ink-jet printers, the effect of which is to all but stop the flow of ink out of my pens– every stroke is like the very last bit of ink left in the feed.  What got me onto this line was using a Rhodia notebook a couple of nights ago, and discovering that the Wancher ink in today’s pen was sitting atop the paper, not quite drying.  I’ve seen this in some other coated papers, but it was interesting to find it in what is widely considered the best sort of paper for the fountain pen user.

I know I’ve mentioned previously the need to get pens and inks to agree.  Paper is less pivotal, but is none the less an important part of enjoying the writing experience.  I’ll finish with a couple of recommendations, one of which is slightly costly, the other less so.  The former is G. Lalo stationery, some of which is produced by a 400-year old subsidiary, and which is an absolute delight to write upon.  The latter is Fraser Paper’s Magna Carta, although in looking for a link I find they’ve been bought out so this may be a suggestion to seek out the remaining reams in your local Big Box office supply store.  Alas.  For note taking, the bagasse lines at Staples (no link for you, gargantua) is generally quite good, too.

Today’s pen:  Sheaffer Valiant vacuum variant
Today’s ink: Wancher Imari (the blue one)

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Deferred Satisfactions

Posted by Dirck on 24 January, 2011

It is, of course, an age of instant gratification.  I’m sure there are some that would hold that not only is patience not a virute when awaiting a desire’s fruition, it is outright perverse.  I can even bring myself to understand that position (recalling the tiny willpower show in the face of a mound of chocolate derived from some fattening holiday or another).  However, sometimes the timing is out of one’s hands, and sometime it is just one’s inclination the suggests a lacuna between itch and scratch.

I have to think my father is in the latter camp.  I delivered his shiny new birthday pen a week ago last Saturday.  I discovered on arriving from the big family Sunday dinner that he had only just that day put any ink in it.  He and my mother were alive with admiration (yet more fans of the TWSBI product), so the long build-up did not produce any kind of disappointment through over-inflated expectations.  This is a trick I’m sure legions of Star Wars fans wish George Lucas could have pulled with Episode One, but as I don’t actually know how it was achieved in the instant case, I’m not in a position to offer advice.

I find myself forced into a position of not merely delayed gratification, but a protracted delay with a marked element of teasing.  A couple of weeks ago I ordered a pen from a well-reputed online source, taking advantage of the relative strength of the Canadian dollar and the fact that I still had some Christmas mad-money in hand.  The pen was a Waterman Carène, a very swoopy and stylish pen, the owners of which seem to be mad with delight about.  To further my efforts at enjoying pens with other than a fine point, I asked that the supplied medium point be replaced with a stub.

On Friday, the pen arrived, its ultramarine laquer finish glowing in a way pictures didn’t hint at… and medium point in place.  A great internal debate ensued, a conflict between the desire to have what I had asked for, the urge to use this confection right now, and the highly traditional Canadian inclination to suck up disappointment, take what we’re given, and apologize for having expected otherwise.  Strangely, the first of these elements won out.  Over the weekend, I made arrangements with the seller (who I do not refer to by name, lest the pessimists in the audience take this small lapse of attention as an indictement of a very fine fellow) and the typing of this entry started only after seeing the pen into the hands of Canada Post for a return to France.

Two weeks going.  Two weeks returning.  Patience is a virtue.  I am in no way an idiot for not having given in to the temptation of immediate use.  Right?

Today’s pen (which, I reflect, was also a while between “I want” and “I’ve got”): Lamy 2000
Today’s ink (also had to await delivery… interesting co-incidence):  Wancher Matcha (green)

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Disturbing Signs.

Posted by Dirck on 21 January, 2011

The physical plant of The Regular Job is of an age to have a fire hose cabinet on each landing of the main stairs.

Today we find hand-lettered “Out of Order” signs taped to them.  I do hope an insurance scam isn’t taking shape.

Today’s pen, ready for the alarm bells: Sheaffer 800
Today’s ink, of insufficient volume to deal with structural fires:  Noodler’s van Gogh Starry Night

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Cabin Fever

Posted by Dirck on 20 January, 2011

This is a little earlier than one likes to feel the onset of the Winter Dysphoric Syndrome, but only a little.  February is, traditionally, the spikey, injurious tail in the dinosaur which is The Dark Season, dealing a few final insults as the brute is lumbering away.  January is the stomping feet, though, and if you’re not paying attention you can get very badly hurt.  -33 leaving the house this morning, with a wind chill of -42.

The effects are interesting to ponder.  My son, for whom the winter to day counts as ten percent of his lifetime, is clearly going mad from the confinement.  It’s a jolly, Jack Nicholson style madness, but that sort of thing is really only entertaining when the perpetrator is on the far side of a movie screen.  We don’t have any axes around the house, so he’s no more than tiring.  His parents are mainly just mopey and anxious for some sunlight, apart from the parenting exhaustion.

We are trying to buoy one another up under the effects of the season, mainly by trying to shoo the other one off to engage in hobbies and passtimes while shouldering (frequently quite literally) the burden of our wee lunatic.  Last night it was my turn to get the benefit, and it was a very productive hour– pens cleaned, pens resacked, and I finally came to terms with the Fountainbel Triumph Point Remover.  This is not a gizmo so much as a set of gizmos meant to get the strangely-attached point off of a Sheaffer vacuum-filling pen with the Triumph point.  My practice object has been an apparently pedestrian black Statesman with damage to the ends that makes one think that an armless person was holding it in his mouth and trying to drive in nails with the cap– I couldn’t do much more damage to it.

Having at last succeeded in getting the point off, I find that the body was so full of ink I could not tell that it was a rather more interesting striated body, having the black plastic alternating with clear as in this open-point model.  Now I want to try and recover not just the function, but the cosmetics.

Cabin fever, in my case, takes the form of  (yet more) obsessive behaviour.

Today’s pen, whispering tauntingly about the warmth of summer:  Parker Duofold
Today’s ink, even now considering recreational cannibalism:  Herbin’s Lis de Thé

…and just for fun, the forecast is for -4 (that’s minus four!) overnight, with a noon-time temperature of -15.  Even the weather itself has gone a little astray in its wits!

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Carry Permit

Posted by Dirck on 19 January, 2011

There has been a bit of a discussion over at the Fountain Pen Network which started out about why pens leak, but diverted a bit into the “correct” way of carrying pens.

Let me start with why one leads to another.  One of the participants rightly points out, every fountain pen in the world leaks.  It is, however, a controlled leak.  A fountain pen is in essence a tube of ink with a tiny hole at one end, which hole is called the feed.  The engineering of pens is aimed at regulating the speed with which ink can escape, and here’s where the diversion got started, since there are certain assumptions about the conditions a pen will face during this regulation.  High among these assumptions is that the vector of acceleration in line with the feed will be almost exactly one gravity, and under one atmosphere of pressure.  Want to get a lot of ink out of a pen fast?  Flick it!  The ink will likely go places you’d rather it didn’t, but it will come out.

Where you carry a pen can subject it unexpected conditions.  Expected conditions for a pen in carriage are those found in a gentleman’s shirt pocket, sitting at a desk or perhaps walking along the street.  Take that as the baseline, and if a pen is disgorging ink while thus carried, it’s not quite right.

A strangely popular place for new pen-users to carry their pens is in the front pocket of the trousers.  Apart from the dangerous stresses which might occur when sitting, the leg is rather more directly connected with moving about than is the chest.  There’s more jarring when the foot strikes, swinging,  jostling from the passing arm– it’s not an ideal place for a pen to rest, and it is apt to make its opinion known by filling its cap with ink.

Some will clip the pen to the neckband of a t-shirt.  This is not a terrible place for it, very like a shirt pocket, but there’s a couple of things to watch.  If the pen lies inside the shirt, personal chemistry may do the finish on metal components some mischief.  Also, if the pen happens to work its way free of the cap (which the frequent visitor here will know is possible), the lack of a supporting pocket-bottom will see the pen drop either to the floor or to the waistband, which can be very bad for the pen and the wardrobe.

A lot of fountain pen users will get a pen case of some sort, and deposit that in a pocket or in a bag or briefcase.  The case, if it segregates its contents, will protect the finish of the pen, but won’t keep out gravity.  A pen case in a trouser pocket will still have the sudden tides caused by the owner’s movements.  If a bag containing the pen is dropped, the pen will experience the effect in much the same way was someone in an elevator will the collapse of the building– a sudden stop at the end that may cause some fluid to escape, depending on how long the drop was.

There are also the pen pockets found on the arms of some utilitarian garments, like Big Box employees’ polo shirts, or pilots’ jackets.  These are actually just about as good as the shirt pocket, although one is more likely to accidentally bang one’s arm against an injurious protrusion than one’s chest.  In the case of the jackets, you have to also mind the outside temperature, since ink will expand as it freezes.

Notice that I’m not saying “DO NOT!” at any point here.  I don’t encourage the trouser-carry, but it’s allowable.  Just don’t blame the pen for “leaking” if you make that choice, any more than you’re allowed to blame someone you’ve forced onto a roller-coaster for vomiting.  You make a choice, you face a consequence.  The choice of a fountain pen carries with it the responsibility for thinking about how you treat it.  A ball-point pen grants more freedom in this regard… but imposes a legion of woes when actually writing.  In the end, you are permitted to chose your own limitations.

Today’s pen, relaxing in a nice cotton shirt:  Sheaffer 800
Today’s ink, staying contentedly in the reservoir:  Noodler’s van Gogh Starry Night

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Two Spaces Good.

Posted by Dirck on 18 January, 2011

I will not set up to be Lawgiver, nor a writing-style Moreau himself.  Strunk & White get enough flack for that.  However, I do occasionally get up upon my hind legs when I see efforts to introduce even more slackness to written communication.  The current source of my snorting is an article from Slate which I will synopsize thus: the long-standing practice of pressing the space bar twice after a period is a pointless artifact of the typewriter, and sticking to it in this age of WYSIWYG word processing and in-machine “typesetting” is not only pointless but in fact obnoxious as it introduces unnecessary white space into one’s document.

The synopsis is, of course, less weighty than the actual article, and I’ll allow that the author’s argument is well enough laid out.  However, I am unconvinced, and will persist (as I have since 1984) in period space space at the end of each sentence.  Why?  Because I’m not that concerned about the mere visual weight of the paragraphs I’m writing.  I’m rather more worried about encoding the data of language as it’s rattling around inside my head into a form which another person will comprehend in nearly the same  way as I did when I strung it together.

The author of the Slate article quotes someone else in his defence:

“If you get a really big pause—a big hole—in the middle of a line, the reader pauses. And you don’t want people to pause all the time. You want the text to flow.”

Actually, I do want a pause.  That’s what the period is all about, or so I thought.  If speaking rather than typing a sentence, I take little pauses by as I go, be they for breath or for emphasis, parenthetical tangents, or other rhetorical purposes, not long enough for the person to whom I am speaking to insert their own oar, and once I get to the point of the sentence I’ll take a slightly longer pause to show that I have more or less wrapped up this particular thought.  Commas and periods rather than breath control in this form, yes?

Reliance on the period alone, and this was the point made to me in first year university when I was first invested in the mysteries of double spacing, leads to some confusion.  If, for example, I’m writing about a law case, a double space makes it rather more clear when I stop writing the title of the action R. v. Mr. and Mrs. J. Average.  See how confusing that might be?

I hope you see.  I fear autocorrect may be taking my choice of spacing away from me; not here, yet, but it’s certainly afflicting me in some other web fora.  If we start worrying about nothing but visual weight and flow, after all, wemayfindourselvesinthissortofsituation.Noteasytoread, is it? 

I’m sticking with two spaces on the keyboard.  I hope the vast gulfs of white space between the sentences you will consider as inoffensive waypoints, and not offensive hooks upon which your eyes might hang.  I may not present any big ideas here, but I don’t see any point in compressing them.

Today’s pen, concerned with transmitting meaning:  Parker Duofold
Today’s ink, in an interplay with white space to allow for meaning:  Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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Posted by Dirck on 17 January, 2011

I’m arriving at work just before the end of the lunch break, as we had to take my son to an appointment with a speech therapist this morning.  I only have time for a little note, but I promise tomorrow a protracted gibber about a current issue in written style.  Useful things I might share with the world:

– Smart parents can slow down a child’s language development; if he doesn’t have to explain what he wants (which is the case if you sort it out from subtle gestures and glances), why should he learn to talk?

– Injunctions against using baby-talk with your child are not wrong, but must be understood correctly.  There is a difference between baby-talk (“Izzums wan’ oo binkbink?”) which does not really help with language acquisition, and Tarzan-talk (“Son want blanket?”) which trims a certain amount of intimidating flourish out of the spoken language without messing up either basic grammar nor vocabulary, and actually helps get the speaking ball rolling.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer 800
Today’s ink:  Noodler’s van Gogh Starry Night

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