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Archive for April, 2011

Near Disaster

Posted by Dirck on 29 April, 2011

There was a discussion on the Fountain Pen Network started this week on the subject of pens shedding their clips.  As I’ve noted in the past, this is the sort of thing I should keep my beak out of, as it seems to attract the attention of Irony.  In my defense, I said nothing in the bragging line about not having lost any clips, as this is not at all true, but merely commented upon the roll played in the phenomenon by materials choice and engineering.  At one point, I said that Sheaffer made a rather better job of the simple tab-mounted clips than a lot of others who used them.

I will let you ponder for a moment what sort of clip the Sheaffer Junior I was using yesterday has.

Panic not, though, because what happened to the clip is mysterious and now fixed.  The end of the clip is hemispherical, the domed part being what grabs the pocket.  Somewhere between leaving work and arriving home, this terminal portion of the clip was bent up, so the dome was well out of contact with the pocket-  at least 20 degrees out of alignment with the rest of the clip.  With much sweating and prayer to the forces that moderate fatigue cracks in metal, I have managed to return the clip to its previous shape, but I am seriously going to look into the purchase of some kind of pen case for it to ride in.

Today’s pen (a Friday treat, you might say):  That Sheaffer Sovereign mentioned Monday of last week
Today’s ink:  Skrip blue-black

post scriptus– the pen choice for today is nothing at all to do with the wedding in London.  I wish them well and hope the Monarchy prospers as a constitutionally necessary entity, but this is a purely coincidental selection.


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Posted by Dirck on 28 April, 2011

I was recently reading a book on the topic of stoic philosophy.  This was not an academic work, but rather a suggestion for practical application of the philosophy to enhance one’s interior life.  Among the recommendations it contained was one that seems a little counter to the very notion of an enhanced existence– do something uncomfortable.

Last night I was helping a friend get her taxes in order (for my US readers– a longer tax deadline is how we balance out only having three downs in football).  An inherently uncomfortable prospect, but my role was mainly that of cheerleader and on-the-fly proofreader, in the “that number goes there” line.  My friend, you see, is not very at home with the maths.  Numbers intimidate her.  At one point, her pen broke, a rather cheap button actuated ball-point, so I went to my Bad Pen Containment bunker to get her one she could use– she’s a left-hander, and fountain pens elude her, so I had to bring out one of the few ball-points we’re got about the place.  The paper of the tax returns also militates against a proper pen, lying somewhere between newsprint and grade-school paper towels.

Eventually, the mere transposition of numbers from calculator to paper wore her down, and I offered to finish up for her.  Using the ball-point.  A pretty good one, a Parker IM (if you want, you can check their website for it), but still a ball-point.  It was all that I’ve complained about in the past from that species, and had I not read the book referred to above, I’d likely be complaining right now.

Doing something uncomfortable, from the stoic viewpoint, is a way of maintaining perspective.  A good stoic motto, I suspect, could be “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?”  A consciously chosen unpleasantness reminds you of how things could in fact be worse, in a much more direct way than merely sitting and toying with the notion ever can.  Using a ball-point, I was not only reminded of why I don’t like the damned things, but I found that I was starting to take fountain pens slightly for granted.  Today I have been marvelling at smoothness, shading and line variation in a way I’ve not done for some time, in a way I’d not have done but for a half-hour’s labouring with a goo-filled stick last night.  My joy-ometer got an adjustment, and I find that stoic practice pays off.

…but don’t look to ever see the daily pen notice to include “Papermate Flexgrip Ultra”, as I find in The Regular Job’s supply cabinet.  I’m not that dedicated a philosopher.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Junior
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire

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Greatly Exaggerated

Posted by Dirck on 27 April, 2011

While I am not infatuated with them to the nigh-clinical degree I am with fountain pens, I have a rather soft spot in my heart for the noble typewriter. I have two in the house, one a “portable” from the 1940s with its own cast-iron carrying case and the other (a gift from a friend) lying under a dust-cover emblazoned Dominion of Canada, on whose keyboard the 1/! key is replaced with a £/® key– for those who wonder how a government could operate without the initial digit or exclamation, I will mention that for a typewriter the difference between l and 1 is purely one of context and that government documents tend towards the unemphatic.

It was therefore with some sadness that I saw a link from a Facebook cohort which declared:
Last Typewriter Factory in the World Shuts Its Doors

Isn’t that a sad thing?  Won’t the Typosphere be beside itself with grief?

However, a short time later, what should drift past my face but…
Relax, They’re Still Making Typewriters

Relief!  The typewriters in question are, of course, electric, and thus lack the charm of the all-mechanical artifacts of steel and rubber.  Still, they’re not gone from the world.

The lesson I (re-)learn here, and am anxious to share with the world is that the internet is a mere tool, one with awkward handles and hinges in unexpected places, and must be used with care if alarming and misleading results are to be avoided.

THE ONLY PEN LEFT ON EARTH!!! Parker Challenger Slender 
The poison juice from inside a golf ball: Wancher Imari

post scriptus– I wonder, on reflecting, whether the factory in the intial story wasn’t making mechanical rather than electric machines, and if the story might not, in a limited way, be true.  I’ve neither the time nor the resources to shake the trees of fact-checking to find out, alas.

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Posted by Dirck on 26 April, 2011

I am about to dive into some extremely fiddly minutiae.  You’ve been warned.  Let’s have another look at yesterday’s pen:

Sharp eyes will detect the loss of gold plating on the end of the clip, and on the rings, especially the one closest the mouth of the cap.  Note that I do not say “brassing,” the term most commonly applied to this sort of evidence of age and experience in pens.  The term comes from the most common metal used to form the furniture on pens, but that metal is a distinctive colour.  These items are not that colour.

An interesting (for a very limited range of people) conundrum, then.  It is not brass.  What else was typically used?  Well, during the Second World War, brass supplies went largely into making cartridges of firearms great and small, and US pen manufacturers started using silver.  Silver, while technically a precious metal, was not considered particularly important for the war effort, and it’s nothing like as precious as gold and was thus a better economic choice that just casting all that hardware in solid gold.

One of the reasons silver isn’t so popular for these purposes, though, is that it tarnishes.  That tarnish can actually appear on top of the plating, and is frequently a give-away that a certain pen was made during the war.  This stuff, however… doesn’t tarnish.  Also, while Sheaffers and Watermans (yes, that is the correct plural) put one to some trouble in working out their age, Parker was extremely accomodating to the collector and stamped the pens with obvious and unambiguous date codes.  This one was made in 1939, sometime between October and December.

The war started in September of 1939, with the invasion of Poland.  Therefore, tarnishing oddity aside, silver makes sense.  Problem solved!

Well, no.  From the perspective of the US, and therefore of this pen, the war started in December of 1941, when this pen was two years old.  Brass was plentiful and even less expensive than silver.  The question is still open.

…and remains so, for the moment.  I’m comfortably certain it’s not pewter.  I doubt it’s steel (note for later– try a magnet).  I don’t really have the mass spectroscopy set-up required for a definitive answer nor the will to use it.  This pen may hold its secret for some time to come.

Today’s less mysterious pen:  Sheaffer Junior
Today’s ink (could be made of anything): Herbin’s Vert Empire

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The Mysterious Planet X

Posted by Dirck on 25 April, 2011

I don’t think any long-term reader of this web-based semi-thematic journal will be surprised to find that I am a fan of science fiction its more diffuse guise– I’ve mentioned yetis, Godzilla and flying cars with a fairly straight face in past installments.  One of the contrivances of mid-20th century sci-fi was Planet X, a place that was not inconveniently distant (relative to the means of travel the story offered) but extremely inconvenient to pin-point.  It might be perpetually eclipsed by Jupiter, or running around loose, but it was always there, offering managable doses of mystery.  Today, it hardly appears at all, apart from some sad efforts to make something out of the recycling point of the Mayan calandar.

So, imagine my surprise when last Thursday brought me a package from Planet X.  The first clue that it was from an interplanetary distance was the vast amount of postage on it:

…not to mention the amazing effects of cosmic rays upon the address label.*

Within, in the tradition of anything from Planet X having a similarly alphabetic name (although a certain well-known monster was assigned a digit rather than a letter), I found myself in posession of an X-Pen!  Not to be confused with the X-Men, the X-Pen is not a mutant with unexpectedly useful attributes, but rather one of the by-products of Waterman’s disintegration in the 1950s.  The company apparently saw Parker’s new capillary-filling “61” as the sort of appeal to convenience that could save them, and sprang this little number on the world:

One might be forgiven for mistaking it for a Parker, too, given that front end.  That front end is where the action is, and I think the ultimate reason that this pen did not save the company, at least in its American incarnation.  Want to write?  Apply the front end to some paper.  Want to fill?  Apply the front end to some ink.  This is a sealed unit, with a slot for the point and a little hole in the forward face of the section to admit ink to the fabric reservoir.  It is as simple a creature as a fountain pen can well be, but there is a definite problem produced by that simplicity– you can’t clean the damn thing.

The Parker 61 at least allows access to the back of the reservoir, and one can with a little bit of special equipment force a lot of water through it to eventually clear trapped ink.  While “sealed” is not quite right, as there’s a couple of little vent holes toward the tail (it was pointed out to me by a wiser pen-man that even capillary-fillers need air exchange if ink is to flow), there’s really no way to get fluid of any sort into the pen other than by the same hole it comes out of, rendering cleaning a very gentle and slightly useless process.  I suspect that these same vents will allow the pen to dry out if left out of use too long– not, as I’ve commented before, something that pen designers of the time were very worried about, but certainly replacing the inconvenience of the various other modes of refilling with that of slavishly regular feedings.

For me, though, this difficulty of cleaning means very nearly instant gratification, even moreso than last week’s Sheaffer offered.  I left this thing beak down in a small glass of water overnight, and it now writes with some kind of blue ink, meaning that while the inside remains rather dirty it is at least still willing.  I’m curious to find how many rounds of water filling it will take to make the blue indistinct.

Today’s pen:  Parker Challenger Slender (a 1939 model with triple narrow bands)
Today’s ink: Wancher Imari

*Whimsy aside, there is an 8-year old philatilist in my make-up who is absolutely dumb-struck with glee at this bounty of foreign stamps, and I thank the sender by keeping his or her address hidden from the strange people of the internet.

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Posted by Dirck on 21 April, 2011

I’m not talking pens nor any of my other usual hobby-horses today, but rather about the act of being online.  A wretched meta-entry.

I’ve hinted here and there that I’m planning on doing a pretty substantial upgrade of my rickety old website, as I find the ease of banging together page using the Bleriot-Babbage-Fulton software I’m currently using is not longer outweighing the want of flexibility in the presentation.  Against the efforts to make my online presence less antique (except by conscious effort, or course) is the fact that I don’t have a ton of time to devote to learning new interfaces.  I had some great time ago mentioned trying to accomplish this feat via the iWeb software that came in my wee Macintosh, but that is a fine proof of the power of having no time to prevent forward motion.  I think it might be a good way to tap out a website, but the amount of time I have to put into it leaves me with a sense not really improving things and it takes a lot of threats and weeping to convince it to post the results anywhere but an Apple-owned server.

A little while ago, my brother suggested that I have a look at… WordPress!  This was very promising, given the amount of online support, the open-source nature of it, and the fact that thanks to the piles of entries I’ve made right here I’m at least passingly familiar with the interface.  Last weekend I downloaded the software, thinking that if I’m improving the state of the photographic art I might as well try to get an entire makeover in hand.

And hesitated.  I was, I think I’ve said, an early adopter.  I had one of the first calculator-watches the 1980s offered.  The past decade or two, though, I find myself less in a hurry to embrace newfound technology, as it seems a form of the sort of crazy French girlfriend one sees in some films who rushes intermittently into one’s life promising ecstasy only to set fire to one’s wardrobe before running off with an equally deranged Spanish dance instructor.  I hesitated.  It was not a coherently-considered hesitation, although it has given me a chance to get a new exterior hard-drive to back up my site and computer’s files before any headlong diving.

I therefore found myself breathing a sigh of deepest relief when, asking why I couldn’t get at my brother’s WordPress-based commercial site, I was told that the enterprise had collapsed in a pretty catastrophic way because the host’s servers had some kind of issue with WordPress.  Not the sort of thing I wanted to experience for myself, frankly, and although brother reassures me that my site (which he arranges the hosting for) is in different and less stumble-prone hands, I’m glad to have waited for the Great Backing Up.  I am, in fact, reminded of a joke on the subject.

The Great Backing Up is set to proceed tomorrow, it being a holiday (and, if you’ve looked at the joke, a rather appropriate one).  The next entry will come on Monday.

Today’s pen: Waterman Crusader
Today’s ink: Diamine Rustic Brown

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The Hazards of Parenthood

Posted by Dirck on 20 April, 2011

My son is having… night-time disruptions of some sort.  I hesitate at “nightmares” because he’s not able to explain the problem.  I certainly wouldn’t say “night terrors” because whatever it is, it’s not actually waking him up.  It may be eczema flare-ups.  Whatever it is, it moves him to make enough of a noise of infant dismay to bring his parents to consciousness, and for long enough that we can’t say, “Oh, heck, he’s gone back to sleep,” and actually drag ourselves into action to see what the problem is.

The upshot:  very very little sleep last night.  How this affects your life is that all I can think of as a topic for today’s entry is the decanting of some J. Herbin inks from their bottles which seem to oppose pen-filling into other manufacturer’s ink bottles.  I am alert enough to be aware of exactly how interesting a detailed description of pouring coloured fluid from one vessel to another is, especially when the effort is completely unopposed by man, beast or the Fates, and will say no more on the topic other than to mention that there’s a good reason to hold onto old ink bottles if you fancy Herbin inks.

Nine hours until I can reasonably try sleeping again.  No assurance that the same results won’t obtain.  Oh, dear.

Today’s pen (and thank goodness I’m not trying to make that selection daily any more): Sheaffer Junior
Today’s ink (not one of the transferees): Herbin’s Poussière de Lune

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Freedom of Choice

Posted by Dirck on 19 April, 2011

I was listening to an audiobook version of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot this morning as I was getting ready for the run to The Regular Job, and I forced into a bit of a meditation on the choices available to consumers.  In the bit in question, the protagonist is offered a beer by his doomed girlfriend’s doomed father.  The positive response pleases the father, as had the protagonist declined he would have showed himself for a pot-headed hippie art-fart.

My contemplation began with, “Say, I’d have been in some trouble, there.”  Let me disclaim status as pot-head, hippie, or (within certain proscriptions) art-fart.  No, my trouble would arise because I would not present a simple yes/no response, but rather a question of my own– “What kind of beer do you have?’

The thrust is not to establish which brand name of otherwise indistinguishable ultra-pale nearly-pilsner-style industrial lager is applied to the bottle, but to establish the subspecies of beer. It is a lager or an ale?  Pilsner (a proper one), porter, stout, imperial stout, oatmeal stout, tropical stout, pale ale, india pale ale, bitter, special bitter, extra special bitter, wit, hefewit, helles, barley-wine, Belgian red, Belgian blond, English brown, Irish red, gueze, bock, double-bock, trappist, trappist quadrupel, or perhaps something from Budwiess?  Some of those I like, some I’m not much of a fan of… but I am excited to find myself living in a time when so many styles are available.  Were I standing in Maine, or any other part of North America except possibly New York City, of 1976, I would have said quite truthfully, “No, I find beer unappealing, much like thoroughly-watered skunk juice.”

…which brings me at last back to pens, because the lack of readily available choice to consumers is something that leaves me wondering what people would write with if they were aware that there was more to life than “ballpoint, roller, or felt?”  I’ll admit that there is somewhat more variation amongst ballpoints than between the various brands of industrial nearly-pilsners, but it pales into insignificant when one looks at the variation in a single model of fountain pen.

Today’s pen, for example, one would have in ten different points (five widths, all firm or flexible) and choose between an open or hooded “Taperite” point.  Even a modern pen, losing the option of flexibility, can be had in a lot of different points– the Lamy Safari, for example, has at least 14 possibilities (if one includes both colours) of which I only have five.  In a very early entry here, I also mentioned the fact that each model is different, either subtly or radically, from every other model, too.

I guess, since I should really wrap things up, the point is that those who aren’t looking at fountain pens are constraining themselves as thoroughly as those who stick to a single type of beverage.  If you don’t look around at the possibilities, how will you know if what you’ve got is actually the best choice?

Today’s pen: Waterman Crusader  (I didn’t mention the two different shapes of unhooded section, did I? Yet more diversity!)
Today’s ink: Diamine Rustic Brown

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Posted by Dirck on 18 April, 2011

Some years ago, The Rolling Stones complained at some length and to great popularity that they (or at least frontman Mick Jagger) could not get satisfaction.  Well, we have yet another point at which I am unlike The Rolling Stones– the best I’ve managed to date is to have the same regard for dress as Charlie Watts.

My weekend was crammed with satisfactions, most of them reasonable and small.  I won’t enumerate all of them, but by way of example– if you have a copy of The Joy of Cooking about the house, check out the basic pancake recipe.  In it, if you replace the common all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour, you will find that the pancakes come up very fluffy and have an improved depth of flavour.  That’s what I had for breakfast on Saturday, cooked on a cast-iron pan seasoned to the point that it is as non-stick as any Teflon implement without the menace of introducing weird polymers into the food.  That’s satisfaction on several levels.

The main head of satisfaction for the purposes of this forum, though, is an item which arrived in the mail.  I purchased a Sheaffer via eBay, which had rather fuzzy pictures and not a huge description.  What arrived was something that needed only a little bit of cleaning and a fresh sac installed, rewarding me with this item:

Is that not pretty?  The only thing to reveal its age is that there is a little plastic shrinkage in the cap.  Smooth plastic, unbrassed hardware, and an ink window only slightly off the original clarity (it’s a pleasant green, which may come around with a more attentive cleaning).  It has been a very long time since I got an eBay pen that I could turn around to functional in under 48 hours.  The model, for those who care, is Sovereign (for those who really care, it’s a Sovereign II).

If the temperature would only climb above 10C, the world would be a splendid place indeed.  Satisfaction need not be ecstatic– it can be a quiet thing.

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

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Don’t Do What I Done Did

Posted by Dirck on 15 April, 2011

I’ve mentioned eyedropper pens previously, but neglected to mention the possibility of turning cartridge pens into eyedroppers.  Any plastic-bodied cartridge pen has this potential; so long as there’s no metal down the inside of the barrel that wouldn’t normally be exposed to ink, you can get away with it.  Sheaffers of the cheap sort are well adapted to the purpose, and I’ve recently done the trick without any trouble– it’s just a matter of applying some silicon grease to the threads at the joint to keep the ink from creeping out.

Last night I thought I’d try it with a Pilot Petit, which has most of the attributes of an easily converted cartridge pen– all plastic, no vents in the barrel, and a happily complex feed to buffer expansion.  The big difference between this and, as it turns out, successfully converted pens is the nature of the threads at the joint.  They’re very coarse, unlike those on the Sheaffers.  Despite lashings of grease, I found this morning that ink had made its way right out of the pen.  It’s not impossible, I think, if I can find an o-ring of correct diameter, but as it stands all I’ve got is a rather mucky pen.  Other Petit owners, beware.

Today’s non-leaking pen: Sheaffer Cadet
Today’s ink: Wancher Matcha

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