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Archive for June, 2012

Understanding Dawns

Posted by Dirck on 29 June, 2012

Some of what the past week has been pleased to call labour has been the preparation for my son’s birthday.  The birthday boy himself  has been undoing some of these efforts through his habit of lifting containers full of toy cars, or wooden railroad components, or small buildings, and gently tipping them out from head-height.  While this is only about a meter, it’s sufficient to strew things in great foot-injuring swathes about the floor.  My wife and I have thought that this has merely been a larval interest in either physics (lookit ’em bounce!) or psychology (gosh, the parents persist in the unrewarded labour of collection).  However, a big deal about an impending centennial shines new light on his behaviour.

This is the sort of thing one knows without connecting; obviously as a resident of this city for almost my entire life, I’ve been aware of the great Cyclone, and taken some pride in usually remembering its date… roughly.  Usually, it’s just the year that people wonder about, so it had not previously occurred to me that the day itself is the same as that of my son’s birth.  But there it is– the day before Canada Day (or, as it was in 1912, Dominion Day) is both the anniversary of the worst disaster to befall this city and of my son’s birth.  Little wonder, then, that he flings trains and buildings about, and gives onlookers the sense that he is an unstoppable energetic phenomenon.

The sensible reader will of course decline to accept any connection between a freak of the weather and the inclination of a small boy to wreak ruin and destruction to his parents’ house.  My reasoning portions agree; little kids, and apparently little boys in particular, are simply given to rampages, and these rampages result in a broad-cast field of toys and their components, and the aftermath of quivering, nervous people and livestock (cats, in our case) is the mere side-effect of child-rearing.

However, it has been observed that humans are deeply irrational creatures, and we are readily convinced by coincidence.  The fact that, after a great deal of parental effort and a very little opposed filial effort, our living room looks rather like this…

…merely reinforces the notion that my son is an avatar of one of nature’s greatest weapons, before which the works of Man are hard-pressed to stand.

I could live with that, I suppose, if it meant that we’d have Boris Karloff around to help clean up the place.

{Pens and inks as previous entry; I’m a boring chap when on vacation and hip-deep in rubble}


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Relaxing Nicely

Posted by Dirck on 22 June, 2012

I am not entirely vacant on my vacation, but the fibres of my being are unstringing rather well.  I’m even getting some things I’d wanted to accomplish moved over to the DONE column, and that includes some pen repairs and some items that will lead to site updates.  On the latter… I’ll have to proof-read after the effects of the bath-tub (sized) gin and tonic have waned somewhat.

This week’s pens (and, I should think, next week’s as well): TWSBI Vac 700 and Hero 100 (one for around the house, one for mowing the lawn)

This week’s inks (since I have no one to impress): Pelikan and Sailor blue-black, respectively.

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More of the Same

Posted by Dirck on 15 June, 2012

Today’s excursion to Youtube is a video by the recent guest of the FP Geeks, in which he coincidentally expands on my theme yesterday.  His actual point is the utility of introducing calligraphy into your life, as a means of mastering pens in general.

Today’s pen: Cross Century II
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Royal Blue

Oh, and I should mention that today is the last before a two week vacation.  If something demands attention, I’ll look in here to make a noise, but it will otherwise be alternating between efforts to clean up the Empire of the Spiders (the far side of the basement) and courting sunstroke in the garden.

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Napoleon’s Terrible Secret

Posted by Dirck on 14 June, 2012

At one point in the less-than-distant past, it has come up here that I engage in a little fictional correspondence set in the early part of the 19th century, a literary role-playing exercise. Despite, or perhaps spurred on by, the very nice comment on the linked post, I spend a great deal of mental energy on trying to get the thing to look right.  How, I am constantly asking, would the handwriting of a person in Regency England look?

…and of course, because I’m a product of my time, I allow myself to be seduced and misled by Hollywood.  Elegant copperplate with a quill pen, my inner voice shouts back.  Go mug a goose for a couple of feathers, the park’s full of ’em.  I’ll bet right now every non-paleographer reading this is picturing writing somewhere between the Declaration of Independence and a wedding invitation.  Me too.

We are, of course, forgetting that really nice writing was the province of people whose lives were devoted to writing really nicely, just as it had been from pretty much the invention of writing until even this present day.  Scrivener, scribe, clerk, penman, whatever you wish; professional writers of quality text.  Those who were just cranking out the content were generally content with mere legibility, as many of us are today.  What reminded me of this was an item of news recently, about the sale of a letter written by that Napoleon fellow we hear so much about, which he’d written to his English teacher (for those who praat geen Nederlands, there’s a story in English here, but the pictures aren’t as good).  I’ll grant that “Corsican-born General writing in a second language” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “good example of the writing of the time”, but even notable writer of English words Jane Austen wasn’t a lot better.

The Napoleon letter lacks all but a small hint of any flex in the tines of his implement, which was almost certainly some kind of feather-based object; this suggests that while he might have been a little heavy-handed in his approach to Austria, he was an extremely light touch with the pen.  You’d hardly know, if you weren’t told and the sepia tones weren’t a giveaway that it wasn’t a modern document.  But it is legible, and so I can allow my occasional lamentations about the state of modern written communication stand as not entirely exploded by evidence.  However, the point I’m chewing on here is that even in an age in which handwriting was the primary means of communication at distances beyond the utility of shouting, extreme elegance was not a strict requirement.  That’s something we should all keep in mind, especially those of us attempting to counterfeit two hundred year old correspondence.

The gloating egomaniac in me, who is generally not allowed a say, gleefully notes that in my own efforts at counterfeiting, my d is shaped just as it appears in Napoleon’s letter.  I suppose a little egomaniacal gloating is allowed, now and again.

Today’s non-fowl-based pen: Noodler’s Nib Creaper
Today’s ink, not derived from copperas, sea-creatures, nor walnuts: Diamine Majestic Blue

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A Sticking Place

Posted by Dirck on 13 June, 2012

Usually, when I have a title like this, I’m being clever, and one might expect a little tirade about the evils of chewing gum, or… well, something much like yesterday’s whine about incorrect adhesives.  Today, though, I’m actually thinking of Lady Macbeth’s pep-talk, as ill-advised in the long-term as it was.  I may not have found the sticking place, I am definitely making use of a sticking place as a convenient courage-hanger.  The rest of this entry is mainly commercial announcement, though, so if you’re here for entertainment, I may have shot my bolt.

Here’s the point of the matter; I have publicly admitted that I can offer some basic pen-point reconstructive surgery.  Not the radical reshaping that might eventually earn one the appellation “nibmiester” (and which I do have as a distant goal) but the simpler putting right of gross deformity.  Well… not too gross.

Why now?  Well, apart from having just about turned blue from not speaking up on a forum when someone was seeking a wetness reduction in their pen from a Canadian source, I’ve finally done enough of the work covertly with good results, both on my own pens and those of others.  The real tipping point, I suppose, was an Osmia 64 (which will be profiled soon) repaired for someone who lives locally enough to have picked it up in person.  While wrestling with the “51”s which occupied the first couple of entries this week (both of which needed a little work in this department), I was also banging the Osmia’s rather flexible steel point back into alignment and scraping down the sharp edges of the flat “foot” the point had gotten through decades of being held at a consistent angle.  I was able to get direct feedback on my effforts, and it was positive enough to overcome my own apprehensions about my abilities.

The arrival of the pile of Proper Tools For Job hasn’t hurt, either.

Enough practicing, then; I enter into active practice as a barber-surgeon of nibs.  It’s now something I can get stuck into, and probably won’t get stuck on.

Today’s pen: Cross Century II
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Royal Blue

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A Note to the Past

Posted by Dirck on 12 June, 2012

Before I leave of consideration of yesterday’s clone attack, I want to mention one of them specifically.  The middle child, the one from 1951, who is indeed in the middle of the picture.  The astute reader may have examined my statement about having my own member of that forest-coloured clan still in use when the others arrived, and said quietly, “That’s not adding up.”

Indeed, the visiting pens were visiting rather longer than I’d hoped.  This is not on the basis one usually desires guests to be away (disordered towels, extra cycles of the dishwasher, trying not to sound artificial when saying “Oh, no, please have the last one” even when you mean it), as generally speaking pens are the most innocuous of house-guests.  Rather, I was both aware of the anxiety of the owner to have them back and I was eager to not appear slack in my movements.  Delay there was, though, and the delay lay in this inward parts of Mr. 1951.

At some point between 1951 and 2012, the pen had a repair of some kind.  I’m not sure what exactly.  The breather tube (here’s an anatomical reference, for those who haven’t committed such things to mind; it will be useful for much of this paragraph) certainly hadn’t been replaced, as it was silver, badly corroded, and broken off.  The point’s production date matched the barrel, even to the quarter, which is actually mildly surprising; there’s frequently disagreement between these items as to what year the pen was made.  And yet, I know the pen had been opened, because the hood resisted a great deal of effort to free it, and when it was free there was horrid residue stuck in the lower vanes of the collector.  Someone had used rubber cement, and rather a lot of it.

Rubber cement is great stuff… for mounting photographs in albums.  It is, however, not really ideal in any way for use in pens.  I’m assuming in this case that there was a little acetone in the mix; not enough to seriously damage any of the pen parts, but enough to get a very weak solvent-weld established between the hood and connector.  Happily, it was weak enough to give in when enough heat and torque was applied, before too much of either was present to do irredeemable harm to the fabric of the pen.  It was… not fun, I shall say, to get the chunks out of the collector, although they were mere rubbery boogers rather than welded-in amendments to the material, so it could have been worse.

My note to the past, which is a repeat of a note from the past which I’m too lazy to link to, is a general one to the self-directed pen-fixers of bygone days, and also to the chap who is most likely to have inspired them.  If Frank Dubiel, honour to his name in most things, spent any time in a faith-appropriate purgatory (it goes by various names, but even Buddhists have one) it is probably connected to his suggestion in “Da Book” that rubber cement was a viable sealant in pens.  Take note, past people; the rubber cement is not a benign nor reliable pen sealant.  Leave it alone.  Go get some shellac; it’s almost as cheap, and less likely to cause a mess.

Today’s pen: Noodler’s Nib Creaper
Today’s ink: Diamine Majestic Blue (which is still a great misery to clean out of a pen, but this one is fairly simple in its innards)

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One of These Things…

Posted by Dirck on 11 June, 2012

The Sesame Street song which starts that way is often called to mind around our place.  Our Prime Minister in a photo-op with the Dalai Lama.  A sensible car in a swarm of one-ton pick-up trucks, as so frequently happens at red lights in my home town.  US Presidential canidates.

This past week, though, I was confronted with a need to amend the lyric slightly.  One of these things is much like the others…

The 1943 Comedy Relief Guy will now say (in a manufactured Bronx accent), “Holy Cats! I’m seein’ triple!”

How’s that for confusing?  The left-most is my own, which was still in use when the other two arrived from a client.  The trick for me was to keep all the parts from getting stirred about.  It probably isn’t so important, but I know I’d get very knocked about finding a point from one pen had suddenly swapped bodies.

So, how’d I do it?  The first notion was to make careful notes of the distinctions between the two pens.  You can see the damage on the tail of the right-hand one, of course.  It also lacks a date code and has a slightly shorter clip (which is appropriate to post-date code “51”s).  The other has a 1951 code, and the clip is somewhat brassed.

That worked about as well as you’d expect, although I managed to avoid actual confusion.  The brush with (fairly trivial) disaster made my thinking parts start spinning, and I came up with the two-headed solution.  The first head was fairly easy; a little bit of masking tape on the major assemblies, marked 1 or 2.  Simplicity itself, and I’m pleased to give the credit to Kevin Bacon’s character in Apollo 13

The other head took a little more mental effort to follow through on.  I had to abolish the notion of production line from my thinking.  It’s my frequent habit, when working on several (distinct) pens where there’s no serious complications to do each step of the procedure to all of them before carrying on to the next.  Remove sections, extract old sacs, fit and trim new ones, shellacking, powdering, reinsertion– it’s easier to not have to set down the tool for one step just to take it up again a short while later, and I am willing to believe this makes this go quicker.

In this case, though, that would leave me with a bunch of parts that are hard to differentiate lying in adjacent trays on the work bench, and I know that I am not focussed enough to not grab the collector from one tray and the hood from the other.  So, I did all the work on one, then all the work on the other.  Less efficient… in my mind… but also less likely to stir parts between the pens.  The whole effort passed with the ease of convenience swapped for the comfort of certainty.

…and yet, I was within a hair of swapping the caps during the final fluid-tightness testing.

Today’s pen, not like those others: Cross Century II
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Royal Blue

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Posted by Dirck on 8 June, 2012

Slightly thematic Friday Film this week, as I’ve just (through the kindness of a complete stranger) been able to add an interesting image to my page for the Parker 50.  That pen is called “Falcon”, and there’s another Falcon which came up this week through the kindness of an old and now entirely Facebook-based friend.  It’s a Japanese Falcon, rather than an American one:

There are a couple of things you should know before rushing out to get one of these; it has had its flexibility augmented by the talented John Mottishaw, and the person pushing it about has clearly been practicing.

Today’s pen: Parker VP
Today’s ink: Quink Washable Blue

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Economic Shenanigans

Posted by Dirck on 7 June, 2012

I am deeply troubled by the current economic news.  Various economists {SFX: jungle drums from a 1930s film} have commented that the three great drivers of the global economy, the US, Europe and China, are all having a bit of a stumble– the last largely because the first two are becoming less able or willing to buy the manufactured stuff the latter’s surge these past few years has been predicated upon.  This is attended by our hideous automaton of a Prime Minister saying publicly that there may be some rough stuff ahead for the Canadian economy.  His response to the big 2008 global conniption was more or less along the lines of, “Hey, I don’t smell any smoke,” so the admission of the existence of any possible trouble, even while shouting “It’s all Europe’s fault,” is disturbing indeed.

Apart from my small role as a member of the northern hemisphere’s consumer legions and holder of a mortgage, this all gives me a tremor for the possible effect on fountain pens.  I’ve mentioned in the past and elsewhere that the current upswing in the fortunes of fountain pens is in part founded in their casting themselves as a luxury good.  Now, while big economic down-turns don’t decapitate a capitalist economy (it’s not the top 1%, of whom so much has been said lately,  that throw themselves out of high windows, but the second 10%… and they land on the lower percents), the total luxury-goods market is apt to contract.  I don’t know that the renaissance of the fountain pen can stagger along through some serious dust-bowlish years, and I’d be very sad to see the clock turned back to the 1980s.

Apart from having a rather bad day yesterday and thus being a little low in my spirits, this grim little line of thought is fueled by news that Pelikan is turning up its prices in the near future, despite having done so quite recently.  If it is, as I fear, an attempt to lay in more cash reserves ahead of an apprehended desert, it’s probably not going to work; it’s certainly not how the big pen makers which weathered the 1930s did the trick.  The best they can hope for is pricing themselves out of the market for us normal mortals, without opening up much more of a market with those well-heeled enough to consider Mont Blancs and Yard-O-Leds (which, as an aside, I hear has customer service in keeping with the cost of its pens; the prospective Mont Blanc owner might want to look towards England), with subsequent extinction or purchasing by some dark conglomerate.  I have an irrational attachment to Pelikan, and I hope they see sense before the windows of the 23rd floor begin to look like a good exit.

I now have to decide it the ING savings account I have labelled “Pelikan 600” might not be better spent on long-lived staples.  I don’t even like lentils that much….

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Valiant
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Walnut

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Eye of the Beholder

Posted by Dirck on 6 June, 2012

Beauty is a deeply subjective thing, is it not?  One person’s “attractive” is another person’s “meh” and a third party’s “Dear God, what is that thing?”  And yet, there are some things that are so broadly appealing that we might almost allow for a notion of universal, objective beauty.  For example…


…the girl herself may not be what sets your particular world alight, but the painting is a pretty good effort.

I’m a little concerned about beauty in modern homes.  Certainly, there’s any amount of Vermeer posters or reproduced statuary available, but the things we use in our daily lives seem to be getting rather too Bauhaus.  Actually, that’s unfair, as Bauhaus is at least a conscious effort at something, and what appears to be drifting away from modern life is the conscious artistic touch.  What got me thinking down this path was a little artifact in my mother-in-law’s basement.  Standing beside some modern sewing machines is something just slightly less ornate than this:

There’s a lot of unproductive baroquerie on that thing, isn’t there?  Once again, subjective, but even someone who decries the style will have to admit it’s more interesting than  a modern sewing machine.  Why’d they bother?  I assume because someone at the time said to themself, “This thing takes up a quantity of real estate in someone’s house; let’s try to make it visually pleasing.”

Compare the major appliances of today with those of the past; refrigerators used to have curves, stoves threatened to take wing, televisions… well, I have to admit I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the cabinet television, but the purely rectangular objects of today, even when filled with an interesting programme, are a little deadly.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the rise of steampunk aesthetics is a backlash against this trend to undecorative devices.

I won’t, by the way, entirely exclude pens from this rant.  There are some pretty bland fountain pens to be had today, but since the point of the modern fountain pen is at least in part to be a form of jewellry, there’s a little more art being thrown at them than other consumer devices get.  Watch this video, and imagine how unlikely a silicone skin would be for an iPhone with similar treatment….

Today’s subtly decorative pen: Parker VP
Today’s slightly pedestrian ink: Quink Washable Blue

Post Scriptus, and non sequitur– I find I’m mentioned on a blog whose authors I am envying deeply, as they’re planning a big trip across the UK.  I can’t help but be charmed by the fact that the mention of my little effort is juxtaposed with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who honoring the writer of Jekyll.  Zowie, there’s some illustrious company!

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