What's up at Ravens March.

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Archive for March, 2012

Steady Hands

Posted by Dirck on 30 March, 2012

Following yesterday’s demonstration, I though the Friday slackness might be a display of serious calligraphy:

I can’t help but wonder at the paper being used there; that great quivering dollop of ink that serves as a dot on the i, just sitting there without a sign of feathering.

Today’s pen: Parker “51″
Today’s ink: Diamine Syrah

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Call an Inspector

Posted by Dirck on 29 March, 2012

Something I got up to in an idle moment at The Regular Job:

"Calligraphy is the physical manifestation of an architecture of the soul."

This is attributed to Plato, but the wording is from Patrick O'Brian

I guess this means that my own architect is still revising the blueprints; it’s not horrible, but it’s not what one might call entirely regular.  Better than I might have done a few years ago.

Today’s pen, at play above: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink, surprisingly dark in this example: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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Return of the Creature

Posted by Dirck on 28 March, 2012

I mentioned a little while ago “the clever and/or deeply idiotic re-laying of the family’s finances“, and how I was anxious to replace both our Windstar (currently a Windredgiant, shedding vapourous wisps of its own substance, on the verge of becoming a Windwhitedwarf) and our couch.  The couch’s departure makes me rather sad, as it was a fixture of my childhood, lying in my maternal grandparents house since rather before my birth.  I look somewhat askance at my brother, who on the emptying of that house of fond memories had sufficient space to accept the couch in his House of Science, an Edwardian rental he shared with several other young men and site of many furniture-crushing parties.  That it survived in our house the seven years it did is as much of a testament to our desperate poverty as to the sturdy construction of quality furniture of the 1950s.  My son and the swarm of cats he terrorizes administed a sad, slow coup de grâce, and the gradual presentation of the business end of the springs can be thought of as a self-defensive act.

Yesterday, its long-awaited relief arrived.  In anticipation of its trip to the dump, I put on some industrial grade rubber gloves and rummaged in the internal spaces of the couch to make sure that it wasn’t taking anything important with it, like bits of Lego or coins of 25¢ or greater.  I found several of both, and in the final pass, looking in amongst the springs themselves, I found… a pen my wife lost.

I call it a creature, as it is the current version of the Sheaffer Viewpoint, is thus not a great pen, and is now bearing some slightly hideous scars.  You can see it in this old posting, in which I castigate it somewhat.  It vanished about nine months ago, and had apparently been sat upon since.  I may have to moderate my statements about it, since it is still functional, and for a wonder still had some moisture about the point after this long exile; that is something of a testament to the powers of the cap/section interface in the Viewpoints, something about which I certainly had my doubts.

I will, it seems, be able to update the Viewpoint page without having to buy another of those things.  I just hope that it doesn’t go on the common creaturesque rampage before I have a chance to get the photos.

Today’s pen, non-elusive: Parker “51″
Today’s ink, the same colour as the departed couch: Diamine Syrah

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Revenge of the Vacumatic

Posted by Dirck on 27 March, 2012

This past weekend, I fixed a Vacumatic.  Again.

The pen in question had been in my hands about a year ago, for a general restoration to function.  I won’t say “Easy peasy,” since it was actually somewhat resistant to my efforts to break into it, but it wasn’t much more challenging than the average Vacumatic.  New diaphragm, a bit of a cleaning, and home it went.

A couple of months ago, the owner contacted me and said, “Um… it’s not filling right.”  A long-distance diagnostic is tricky, but I thought that either the breather tube had come loose or the diaphragm’s pellet had gotten loose from the mechanism.  I could conceivably disclaim responsibility for the former, but I would absolutely be on the hook for the latter.  With a little direction, the owner got the section off, and confirmed that there was something askew with the diaphragm.  My problem!

I spent the time between this email exchange and the pen’s arrival in a bit of a desolation of self-doubt.  Did I mess up the mounting of the diaphragm?  How?  With the older version of the mechanism, the pellet cup is a sturdy bit of metal rather than the later brittle plastic objects, the possibility of messing up (once the filler is properly removed) is extremely low.  So, where did I go wrong?

I can now report that, happily, I did not go wrong.  The diaphragm came out looking very like a lump of gum, and since I know what I did during installation I know I didn’t cause it.  If I’d used smelly baby powder, then I could find fingers pointed at me, but I use only the purest talc.  I also don’t think the owner has a role in it; I know he uses Aurora inks, which are appropriate, and there was not evidence of anything inappropriate going into it.  No, I think we have another instance of spontaneous rubber failure; sometimes, for no evident reason (but probably down to a small error in formulation), the latex goes gummy, if not goopey. I had this happen once before, and rather more dramatically, and while upsetting it’s not what we might call a regular occurrence.

I still take the responsibility for putting it right, so I am out the return postage on this pen.  However, since this gave me a chance to take a decent picture of it for my Vacumatic page, I look on it as a balanced event.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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Death Sentence

Posted by Dirck on 26 March, 2012

It’s soapbox time, once again.  Apart from urging letter-writing in a little while, I’m completely off-topic today.

So, who here likes film and television?  I will answer this apparently obvious rhetorical question with a somewhat surprising, “Not the government of my province.”

Years ago, the provincial government decided to extend a tax break to producers of video entertainment, in hopes of attracting a somewhat more diverse industry base to this extremely resource-based, somewhat agrarian-centric part of the world; there was at the time a bit of an economic malaise in California and film-makers were looking for cheaper places to grind their grain.  Last week, citing what they characterized as a failure to flourish, the provincial government (in the hands of an entirely other party) announced the end of this tax break.

And a large part of the provincial population went completely insane with rage.

The rage is based on several heads, of which I will enumerate only three.  Those in the industry point out that with the removal of this tax break, which is currently being offered by just about every other place in North America, the plug has effectively been pulled on production here, and they are faced with the choice of not pursuing their craft (on which more in a moment) or deciding where to move to.  Those only peripherally or entirely unconnected with the industry point out that even with this occasionally-dubious bastion of culture, this province is considered somewhat backwards and (ho ho) provincial, and the official declaration that “we hate art” is only going to enhance that image.  Some, approaching from a political/economic viewpoint see it as a mere lashing out at something put in place by a previous regime, and that in this lashing out the current ruling party has managed the tricky act of simultaneously shooting themselves in the foot and cutting off our collective nose to spite our face.

I find myself in all three of these camps, since my wife has occasionally made some rather good money out of it (look for her in “The Accidental Cleanist” episode of Corner Gas), I kind of like our slowly-developing metropolitanism, and I both dislike the current party in charge and can do simple math.  On that last point, one of the more damning items comes from one of the current government’s own documents, in which we find this passage:

The total average provincial investment in film projects supported through the SEFTC [Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit] is 17.4 %. . . . This means 82.6 % of total production financing is leveraged from other sources. . . . For an annual provincial investment of $6.5M, $37.5M in SFETC production volume is generated including $23.5M in direct Saskatchewan spending. This brings $17M each year into the provincial economy that would not come without the industry being active and competitive enough to access these funds.

I don’t know about you, but if I found an investment that routinely returned, depending on which numbers one focusses upon, either six times (the amount of raw economic action, which the truly rabid keep pointing to) or roughly two and a half times (that last sentence, which I think is the more reasonably point to chase) the investment, I would nurture it as the hope of my retirement fund rather than work to see it destroyed.

A large part of my anger comes from this being phrased as a move which in some way enhances the local economy through not “wasting money”.  I mentioned above the people who pursue their craft in the making of films, and I should add to that “ply their trades.”  The tax break is phrased in such a way that it can only be applied on the people in the production who actually live here.  We are not throwing our tax money to draw hither whatever the current version is of the Liz & Richard Travelling Circus, but rather to see to the gainful employment of a pile of people who will then be in a position to pay taxes back into the process.  Even if one views any degree of acting a mere avoidance of real work, there are still the legions of non-actors to be considered.  Have you ever watched the credits at the end of a TV show?  There’s a lot of people involved in even a very simple one, including non-airy-fairy folks like electricians and carpenters.  If this industry goes, these people go with it or are cast onto unemployment; either way, the local economy sees a good patch of money disappear out of it, and that seems the opposite of the declared result.

I will also point out, in the interests of fairness, that sometime the job description of “actor” not infrequently includes “standing neck deep in very cold water for seventeen hours,” lest we think it’s all complimentary caviar and foot-rubs for the on-camera crowd.

Those who believe this is a massive mistake are urging everyone in the province to write a letter to the Premier expressing this feeling.  I’ve just finished the first draft of mine (and you’ve just read it), and I join in the urging.  Here’s the contact information:

The Honourable Brad Wall
Premier of Saskatchewan
226 Legislative Building
Regina, Saskatchewan
CANADA S4S 0B3
Telephone: (306) 787-9433
Facsimile: (306) 787-0885
E-mail: premier@gov.sk.ca

If you live in Saskatchewan, you should be mad about this, even if you don’t like movies and TV, because it is going to loosen the wheel-bolts of the provincial economy.  If you are mad, you might as well let him know now, because the whole industry will be well and truly dismantled by the next election.  For those outside the province, you might like to send a note along as well, thanking him for contributing to your local economy at the expense of ours.

Today’s pen, about to be wielded in cold anger: Parker “51″
Today’s ink, same colour as I’m seeing: Diamine Syrah (although this means the final draft will likely be with another pen loaded with a more conventional colour… probably a blue-black)

…and here’s a few other links one might enjoy in this connection:

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Grinding My Teeth

Posted by Dirck on 23 March, 2012

In a long-ago posting, I made certain noises about the tendency in people to seek to modify the points of their pens.  Would I be laying myself open to a charge of hypocrisy if I were to now reveal I’m considering it myself?

I offer as defenses that I am not at the moment inclined to amend any of my current pile of pens, nor that I’m looking about for someone to do that work for me.  I am starting to think, though, that having the skill myself would be a good thing.

I can smooth a point with a fair degree of success, but I don’t have either the confidence not the practice to properly tune a point.  Since I’ve always disclaimed these powers when someone asks if I can help their pen along, I’m not engaged in confessional here, unless it’s a confession to a small but growing sense of inadequacy.  I have in the past turned some sadly broken points into straight italics, so I know that it’s something I can do (unlike, say, dishing a helm top, which I seem proof against learning), and it seems to be something that lots of people want, beyond the mere addressing of a “baby-bottom” nib, which I can do only well enough to be willing to attempt it on my own pens.

I might as well try it.  It’s not like I have dozens of other things begging for my time, right?

Today’s pen:  Mabie, Todd & Co. Blackbird
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Pousièrre de Lune

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Going My Way

Posted by Dirck on 22 March, 2012

It has been a while since I’ve turned from my usual focus of pens to my efforts to dress in what I’d call a passable manner.  Those who recall past delvings into these efforts will recall a great deal of complaint having to do with not being able to find anything but shoes which fit me well; I’ve got a giant head and I’m build like a somewhat underweight gorilla.  Today, though, no complaints, or at least no serious ones.  Today, I am turned out to the nines, for no more reason than the male counterpart of “sometimes a girl just wants to be pretty.”

The real joy of today’s kit is that every stitch above the socks and below the hat as is visible to the passer-by has been made specifically to fit me.  The suit, a dark grey pinstripe, is the result of my father having some sort of brain spasm late last fall and shouting to his offspring that we both needed a decent suit.  For me, it’s two weeks’ wages worth of wool, so I will not question the largesse.  It is, alas, not something I can pursue with any regularity, so I have to reserve it’s wearings for relatively special occasions.

The shirt beneath it is another matter.  It’s not cheap, but it is attainable, and it is so highly customized as to be the next thing to personally tailored.  Some time ago I stumbled upon Shirts My Way, a website which offers to produce a shirt to your specifications.  This is the sort of thing I’ve been wondering about the paucity of; if there are printers capable of plopping out busts of Stephen Colbert, surely there should be some kind of accessible clothes-generating engine.  Well, there is, and I’m wearing the tangible fruits of its semi-virtual loins.

It is, I will mention, imperfect.  The body length is not quite there, and the shoulder seams are a little far outboard, but the general fit is miles ahead of the usual off-the-rack shirt which costs very nearly as much; I can sweep my arms from hip-side to armed-robbery without the body of it moving a hair, and the collar is a model of comfort.  Those imperfections that exist can be addressed with a slight tweaking of a few of the many, many measurements I provided them with.

I suspect I am a little ahead of the game, having a wife whose degree was in part composed of how to take clothing measurements, so I won’t urge everyone to go forth and order a whole wardrobe worth of shirts from these guys.  But I am sufficiently impressed to say it’s worth a try.  I will also mention that I can’t vouch for the speed of delivery the site mentions; my shirt took a lot longer to arrive than posted, which the customer service line there assures me is largely because I missed a notice about a local holiday.  I can see some of the delay stemming from that, and more from the customs office pondering the parcel, but I would still suggest the 15 working days estimate is a touch optimistic.

I have, I believe, mentioned in previous installments that I still hold patience as a virtue.  Its reward is not being cranky about when this nice shirt arrived, but rather being pleased that it’s here at all.

Today’s flashy pen: Parker “51”
Today’s richly-coloured ink: Diamine Syrah

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Polar Blues (oh, what a giveaway)

Posted by Dirck on 21 March, 2012

The weather continues unseasonable warm, snow has fled even the shaded parts of the yard, and a robin has been sighted.  And yet… I have the polar blues.

Polar Blue blues, to be precise.  I loaded a pen with the stuff for purposes of signing important documents last week end.  That pen, a Parker “51”, is usually a good, reliable item, and yet it was dry and hard to start from one signature to the next.  We add to this the fact that I’m not really a great fan of the colour, and the total is; I’ve got about 87ml of ink I don’t ever see using.  I’m not one of these polarized love it or hate it folks on the topic of Noodler’s ink, but in this specific instance… ick.

In an effort to dispel my blues, I think I will disperse the Blue.  I’m giving the stuff away, and I’ll cover the postage, too.  Having just declared my reasons for not liking it, this may seem a gift somewhere between a monkey’s paw and a bag of bolts with non-standard threads.  However, like blancmange or sushi, some people find repellent that which others view as a treat, and I’m assuming that the continued sales of this formulation mean that there is a demand for it and that I’m just off to one side of the applicable bell curve.  If you’re on the other side of the curve, or you’re completely unfamiliar with the stuff and want a chance to try it out, opportunity knocks!

There shall be no skill-testing question.  You need only leave a comment on this post indicating desire, and you will be in the pool of potential recipients; that pool will be randomly drawn from, assuming there’s more than one person in it, and thence will it go.  In fairness to those who don’t make a daily habit of looking in at this thing (an assumption I make based on irregularities in its stats), I will leave selections open until 31 March.  That makes ten days for people do decide they want in, and my posting schedule means that the announcement will not be on April Fools’ Day, but the following day; I’d hate for people to think I was joking about wanting to pass this stuff along.

Today’s pen, warm to the touch: Mabie, Todd & Co. Blackbird

Today’s ink, flowing well: Herbin’s Pousièrre de Lune

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Show Me The Money

Posted by Dirck on 20 March, 2012

As studiously as I avoid Tom Cruise references, this one is too appropriate to avoid.  I am, at last, getting onto the Dark Parker Secret that I’ve been making noise about, and I figure that I’ve over-hyped it just enough to make it really disappointing.  Oh, wait, did I say that out loud?

To the point.  Last week I got a bit of a gift from an admirer, who shall at request remain anonymous.  It was not an extravagant gift by any means, but it plugs up a bit of a hole in my Parker wall; the second pattern of IM.  This follows precedent for that model, as the first pattern was a gift from my parents who were faced with the ugly response to “What would you like brought back from Europe?” of “Oh, a fountain pen would be nice, but not too expensive.”

The newer IM struck me immediately as a rather grander object, coming as it did in a more elegant presentation box, and generally giving less impression of being a Vector that’s been dressed up for a big date.  However, a moment’s contemplation of this new pen brought a new realization to me.  I was being reminded of something else…

One of these things is not like the other... but it's rather hard to tell, isn't it?

The object on the right of this slightly blurry photograph is the newly-arrived IM.  The one on the left is that non-fountain pen Ingenuity which I was given for review purposes.  There are some subtle differences, but on gross examination, they’re extremely similar.  The box for the Ingenuity is rather more posh, with its hinged lid and greater breadth, but the little mattress is the same under each pen is of the same material and thickness.

Once they come out of the boxes, we find that there is even less to tell between these two pens.

Obviously, these are rather different pens when the caps come off.  Even without the shenanigans at the front end attracting attention, the Ingenuity is a bigger pen and apt to pull the eye.  However, if the kindly observer will allow for the slight variations in light level I seem unable to fully manage, the similarities begin to outweigh the differences.  Bright chrome and a smooth black finish on a metal body.  Clips that are less likely to upset the fabric of the pocket than you’d think from looking at them.  They also feel much the same, at least as far as texture goes, since the Ingenuity is heavier than the IM by far more than the size difference quite accounts for.

And here is my small problem.  I want to call out “Fraud!”, because the trim levels are so nearly the same, but one pen costs not less than $100 more than the other.  I’ll not go into the enforced replacement of the writing portion of the more expensive one, as that’s aside the point.  It seems that Parker is asking people to pay more for a pen mainly on the basis of weight, and my initial reaction is to climb the side of my cage and rattle the bars.

But then I allow my thinking portions to moderate.  Let’s look at a couple of other pens:

I offer a couple of other Parkers, contemporary with one another, of which one is slightly smaller than the other and costs an order of magnitude less.  Here, the differences are at least manifest in terms of materials.  The “51” and the “21” weigh about the same, but one is far more likely to survive a short drop, and one has some gold involved in its making.  However, the principle appears to be much the same, and even moreso if one skips ahead a few years to the Super 21.

I now need to try and decide whether I make a big stink about Parker using some dubious practices to shake extra money out of people by means mainly of applying a different name to a not-very-different product, or do I want to revel in the notion that the impecunious can experience much the same joy in writing as the idle rich?  I may try to hold both positions at once, as they’re not entirely mutually exclusive, although I suspect I’ll get a cramp.

This is not, by the way, something only Parker has ever gotten up to.  The most obvious other example is Sheaffer’s mix’n’match routine with the various members of the TM line, and it’s only the waning of my lunch break than prevents me from offering more.  I suppose that it’s why we urge caveat emptor so frequently; the evidence is right there before us, and it’s mainly a question of our own individual vanity and estimation of value.  Like the great flappy sleeves of the houppelande, sometimes the reason for buying something is simply to prove that one has the means to do so.  For my part, I’ll stick with the more manageable sleeves of a well-cut suit-jacket, and with actual writing performance rather than label.

Today’s pen that proves me something of a hypocrite: Conklin Signature
Today’s ink at a democratic price point: Diamine Emerald Green

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Pinpoint

Posted by Dirck on 19 March, 2012

Did I say something last week about divulging a dark secret of Parker pens?  The threats preventing me from following through are not those of the hired goons of Rubbermaid (and if you’ve got the same mental picture of that as I; it is possible to injure yourself through laughing) to my person, but rather those of my family to my time.  My son’s sleep schedule was grossly out of whack for the past couple of weeks, and we made an effort to reset him this weekend through something like simulated jet lag; fun for the whole family!  There was also a nephew’s birthday devouring the better part of Sunday and the sadly inconclusive visit to the banker on Saturday; the bank is done, but some papers need to pass through some of the less sympathic works of government bureaucracy, whose mills in grinding fine go slow indeed.

So, having not gotten the pictures I wanted, I will speak of something else I don’t have quite as much photographic evidence as I’d hoped.  I have decided to honour the sun’s recrossing of the equator with a change of desk pens.  Until the middle of last week, I had thought it was going to be the amazing rocket-pen.  However, I recieved some more of the strange bounty of the internet; a desk base to fit my early Touchdown pen.  This pen is the one I mentioned on 23 January as having been bought not for immediate use but merely to preserve it from those demented with gold-fever.  I kept an eye out for a home for it, and rather briskly stumbled upon a nice Mexican onxy 5-22S with a colour-matched tulip; this information will help those of you with a 1949 Sheaffer catalogue, and it is because I’m aware just how many of you that is that I regret not having gotten a picture of it.  The fact that this base was both astonishingly inexpensive and in like-new condition is just icing on the cake.

The picture of the pen in the base will, of course, be put off until the whole apparatus returns home, which will probably be about the time of the summer solstice… but may be sooner.  I am not certain I’ll keep it up for the full season. You see, in replacing this:

…with this:

…I have traded thick and thin in both directions.  The pictures don’t really show the greater girth of the brown pen to advantage, and it is a matter of only a couple of millimeters, but that slight increase in size makes for a rather more comfortable pen in the hand.  This, one would think, would clinch the deal and ensure a long run for Brownie.

There is, however, the other trade off.  The black snorkel mounts a fine point.  The brown TD carries an accountant point.

“So what?”

So, a fine point makes a mark of somewhere around 0.3mm to 0.4mm, while the accountant produces a ridiculously thin 0.1mm.  In absolute terms, that doesn’t seem much, but consider them relatively; the one is thrice the size of the other, and it’s not just the line width, but also the contact surface.  The difference is similar to that of trading a mountain bike for a racing 10-speed; one is relatively indifferent to riding over a storm drain, while the other vanishes down it, and even on a less perilous surface, there is rather less cushioning for the rider.  This new pen is falling into the spaces between paper fibres.

In the past, I was a great champion of the super-fine pen, but I am apparently going soft with age.  The uses I put my desk pen to allow for either width of mark, but in terms of daily use the needle-point pen may fall somewhat wide of the mark.  If I find myself growing cross with it, I’ll not embroider the error through prolongation, but will apply the stitch in time that we hear so much about.  I use fountain pens to knit my ravelled sleave, not to cause recession of my hair-line.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Diamond 540 (courtesy of my son’s early rising today, as I didn’t have time to ponder what I really wanted to use, and this was right on hand)
Today’s ink: Pelikan Royal Blue (just like in the desk pens!)

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