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Archive for February, 2013

Quality Quontrol

Posted by Dirck on 28 February, 2013

One other item of pen-repair achievement from the previous weekend.  The friend I mentioned having recently given a Hero 001 to came around for a visit, and she brought her pen with her.  Broken.  Not working.  Can I fix?

The first step is diagnosis, which calls for a lookin’ at.  She told me that she was pressing down to get it to work, and with any other pen that would be the big “Ah HAH!” moment, but with this pen is merely suggestive.  There was clearly something askew with the tipping, and when I applied magnification the askewness came clear; one of the four tines was bent.  How’s that happen?

Since the mechanism didn’t instantly appear, I went to work on the symptoms.  It took very little work to get all the tips back together, but when test-writing to check on the trueness of the alignment, that same tine jumped up.  That’s not so good, and it took some studying.  To explain what I found, let me turn to geography.

My own personal "You Are Here" arrow is around the back.

My own personal “You Are Here” arrow is around the back.

When looked at head on, the tipping of a Hero 001 should look something like a globe with only the equator and the prime meridian showing.  This particular example was OK in the longitude department, but the cross-cut was more sub-tropical than equatorial.  When I’d tested the pen prior to giving it, my habit of light-handedness hadn’t uncovered the problem, but the friend had not hitherto used fountain pens.  A steep angle and the pressure of a habitual ballpoint user got the necessary purchase on the paper, and the weak high-latitude tine peeled right back.

The solution then became easy, although it’s not quite in line with the sort of things I managed in the entries at the start of the week.  I simply hauled unscrewed the section from another I’d bought to have on hand as a Johnny Fountainseed hand-out, after peering though the magnifier to check on balanced cuts, put it into the barrel of her preferred colour, and off she goes, although I don’t think she quite believed my insistence that it was not her fault that this had happened.

I don’t want to be too harsh on Hero, either, since this model is one of their cheaper offerings.  I’ve seen Watermans and Parkers, and even some vintage examples, with the slit a little bit astray.  The fact that the wandering cut in this case was in the same plane as the metal of the point was unfortunate, but understandable.  There’s a task-master in me who is in a bit of a state, as he agrees with this only up to the point that the pen was assembled and put out into the world… and I can also see his point.  I guess this is the sort of price we pay when we buy cheap.  If there were someone tasked with making sure this sort of thing never got mounted into a pen going to market, the cost would inevitably go up on the pens that got sold.

Heck… it might even double.

Today’s pen, double-checked at the factory (or so the maker claimed): Eversharp Skyline
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Racing Green

post scriptus: InCoWriMo ends.  I’ll probably do a debrief (oooh!) on Monday, but for the moment I will merely say with some smugness that I’ll be putting in a request for my Certificate of Achievement.


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Not Quite in the Pink

Posted by Dirck on 27 February, 2013

As it happens, I do feel a little bit like I’m coming down with something, but I’m speaking a little more literally than the usual use of the phrase.  Even as I’m writing this, if I understand the daily schedule at home properly, my wife is preparing to shove our son off to his afternoon of formal education dressed in a pink shirt.  I could have staggered off to The Regular Job in a similar state, but I chose not to.

…and for those who aren’t up on this manifestation of public awareness, let me explain.  A few years ago, a couple of high school seniors responded to the hurling of hurtful imprecations at a younger student who had made the mistake of wearing a supposedly gender-inappropriate shirt– “A boy, wearing a pink shirt?  Haw haw haw!”– not by visiting physical violence upon the hurlers, but by appearing, along with as many of their peers as they could kit up, in pink shirts.  This one-off event got reported, and turned into a movement, as so many things do in this age of instant communication.

Now, I’ve mentioned previously my opposition to bullying.  I’m strongly opposed to it, and I hope I can keep my son from joining the tribal mindset that leads to it… but I’m not absolutely certain that I’m in favour of making it a regular, yearly event.

Point one of the uncertainly is that saying, “We devote this day to that thing!” tends to make us all get slightly blind to that thing for the rest of the year.  Christmassy goodwill-to-all, Remembrance Day’s contemplation, Valentinian tender regard… some of us can keep these things in our hearts all the days of the year, but for most of us there’s the terrible temptation to say, “Hey, I thought about that very hard once this year, don’t bug me about it in the middle of Here Comes Honey Booboo.”  Since the bullying is sort of a 365.25/24/7 effort, making a stink about it only once a year is worrisome.

Point two, and this is more of a personal vapour, is that in creating a nice big Anti-Bully tribe, complete with colours, there’s an opportunity for a new and socially-allowable sort of bullying.  Have a look at the image made up for the event:

We're here to stop your reign of terror through mob rule!

We’re here to stop your reign of terror!  Face the power of mob rule!

Big bully picks on little kid, stopped by an assortment of other kids.  Laudable.  It’s the way I keep hoping the UN will act.  I’m right on side with that.  But… here we all are, filing into school in our pink shirts, filled with righteousness and a sense that we are part of The Good Guys.  And there’s some kid wearing a green shirt, trying to get something out of the water fountain.  He’s not of the body!  Let us gather around, point fingers, and chant “Greenie likes bullies!” in the well-known schoolyard rhythm.

Kids are great at generating irony, but I’m not sure how good they are at perceiving it.  I remember from my own days of golden youth the willingness to be on the pointing, chanting side of the equation when opportunity arose, hopeful that this would last and I wouldn’t ever go back to being the pointed-at other.  There are, I suspect, damn few of us that are wholly guiltless in the bullying department, precisely because there are damn few of us that didn’t get some of the treatment, and that the best we can offer is latter-day remorse for youthful stupidity.

This retrospective awareness comes with the realization that the people who worked me over were for the most part doing so for the same reasons I participated, or were suffering from far worse at the hands of monstrous adults in their lives.  My final problem with this movement is the sad knowledge that it can’t really work, because it is addressing symptoms rather than causes.  That’s not altogether a bad thing, of course; I won’t deny that applying a topical ointment can make an itch bearable, but it doesn’t put an end to mosquitoes.

None of which is to say that I’m going to prevent my son from being in the pink-shirted majority, so long as this effort persists.  I certainly won’t thrust him into the role of Greenie in my little drama, and I can hope that the authentic good of the effort against bullies gets into his head– the necessary remaking of society might be born out of little kids being thus programmed, after all.  But I’ll not feel bad about wearing my non-pink shirt… no matter how the other kids point and chant.

Today’s pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s ink: Herbin Lis de Thé

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Still Making Stuff Up

Posted by Dirck on 26 February, 2013

Carrying on with yesterday’s promises, I shall answer the question posed in The Princess Bride (albeit Wesley was a couple of layers deep in rhetorical usage at the time and not thinking of fountain pens at all).  That thing…

Just in case you'd forgotten the graphic horror.

Just in case you’d forgotten the graphic horror.

…is the mechanism of a Big Ben, a pen whose age I can’t pin down very well, and which apparently tried to sneak into the UK market by pretending not to be Swedish.  The big black cylinder screws into the tail of the barrel, the silvery shaft drives up and down, and the two remaining bits of seeming charcoal are the seals that render a piston-filler functional… if they’re not made out of charcoal.  The fact that there are two sealing items makes this quite interesting; evidently the forward cap is there to keep ink off the shaft and to keep the annular seal in place.  This latter aspect is important, as the mechanism relies on the pressure of the seal against the barrel to actually work.  There’s no guide inside the mechanism, which if you look at this old Lamy you’ll get a sense of; the piston has flattened sides, and the hole it passes though in the spacer is also oblong.  Without that guide, and without the friction of the seal, the shaft of this mechanism just spins in place.

Unlike yesterday’s feature, there’s no commercial replacement parts, and the Big Ben brand is odd enough that finding spare parts in any better shape seemed unlikely.  A very kind Great Name in pens offered, on a forum we both look in at, to recommend the right specification of O-ring if I sent along the diameters of shaft and barrel, but that would then require me tracking down a source of O-rings.  Yes, yes, the internet can provide, but there’s delays… and I have a big sheet of extremely ink-resistant silicone rubber right at hand, some punches, and a drill-press.  That makes for speedy resolution!

A litteral

It’s not much less mystifying when it’s all back together, is it?

The problem– my sheet of silicone rubber is not as thick as necessary for the upper cap, so I had to get three pieces to serve in place of two.  The upper two take the role of the cap, and the foremost is a cap indeed.  The drill-press was used to put a partial-thickness hole into the material, and a secondary ring was cut of half-thickness to make up the space.  The forward two are, as you can see, rather narrower than the rearward seal, since I wanted there to be no risk whatever of them catching on the barrel and getting dragged out of place.  The rear seal was actually a good deal wider when it was cut– the drill-press also got forced into the role of a lathe, so I could turn the seal down and round it out a bit.

You’ll also see that the forward two parts are shiny.  In an effort to keep them in place and keep ink from penetrating, I gave them a very literal as well as a figurative shellacking.   The real test, the drawing up and maintaining of ink, was passed, and I sent the pen back to the client with instructions to keep the barrel regularly greased.

Finally, I will now reveal the secret of using a ballpoint pen without guilt.  The secret is easy… attack it with a knife!

I find myself with a growing collection of Vacumatic mechanisms with a damaged pellet cup.  Since about half of that sentence is obscurely technical, I’ll beg you to bear with me, and if you’re really interested, read the whole tedious explanation of how to refit a pen with that sort of filler.  It was discovered, happily, that the all-important pellet cup happens to share some internal dimensions with the front end of a really cheap Papermate ballpoint.

Rich old man meets unwilling organ donor; say, isn't this an episode of CSI?

Rich old man meets unwilling organ donor; say, isn’t this an episode of CSI?

There’s even a very convenient step on the outside, which the Vacumatic cup has as a landmark.  The only problem is that the metal component of the ballpoint dismounts out the front, while the goo-containing reservoir tube is drawn out the back of the needed part.  I still have a slightly discoloured finger from the effort of cleaning out the ichor.  Once those bits are out, it’s time for the choppy-chop.

Off with his head!  And everything below a certain point!

Off with his head! And everything below a certain point!

I don’t want to think too hard about the stack of coincidences that led to that ballpoint section having two different interior diameters that correspond so exactly to those of the pellet cup.  In the final picture, the pellet-receiving hole is a little fuzzy; an artifact of filing the cut off to a rounder profile.  Purely cosmetic, and since it’s not only down the inside of a pen but also covered in a fold of rubber, who cares?

One of these things is, once again, very much like the other.

One of these things is, once again, very much like the other.  Functionally identical, in fact.

Unlike the original instructions for this conversion, I fixed the cup in place with shellac (again).  Superglue would probably last, hygroscopic though it is, and epoxy certainly would but since there are starting to be sources for commercial, after-market pellet cups, I’m a fan of easy reversibility.

The pen that the newly-fixed filler went into is another fabrication, a fantasy indeed, although it’s not of my making:

Japanese scientists have apparently done this to a breed of frogs.

It looked like my best chance to get a double-jewel version.

That’s a Kullock “Fantasy Demonstrator”, and apart from wanting to show off a little, I’d like to ask the passing throng; does this belong on my “51” profile page?  It’s not made nor endorsed by Parker, so there’s a strong argument for exclusion, but I’ll bet any web page looking at the Lincoln Futura will mention the Batmobile.  I’m in a quandary about it, and I welcome the internet’s opinion on the matter.

Today’s pen: Eversharp Skyline
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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Utter Fabrications

Posted by Dirck on 25 February, 2013

Sometimes, it’s very satisfying to make stuff up.  While it’s not the sort of thing we can indulge in all the time, the occasional fabrication keeps the mind agile and will occasionally impress people as a sign of cleverness.  I’m about to brag about several fabrications….

First, the one that I mentioned last week.  A client had a Parker Duofold which came to him in an entirely gutless state; no sac, nor any of the bits that would cause it to fill.  The sac was straightforward enough, and some of the mechanism was on hand as well– there are commercially-available button-filler pressure bars.  The button’s absence took a bit of chasing to track down, but I was able to lay in a score from the pen equivalent of a wrecker’s yard.  Easy then, except for one thing.  The Duofold in question used a hanging bar; rather that the simple form of button filler, in which the bar grounds out on the inside end of the section, the later models (relatively; the latter part of the original 1921 – 1933 run) had a slip-in section rather than a screw-in type, and to avoid poking it out when filling, the bar was suspended from an extra bit of metal that clings to the button-hole itself.

Rather than scour about for a used part, I thought to try and make my own.  The problem with seeking this part is that it’s the sort that tends to disintegrate; it’s inside the pen, with the sac and the ink, which sometimes don’t stay in the correct relationship of container and contained.  The excess of buttons is in part down to this.  One might eventually find the part, but in this case it’s better to increase the number in the world.  A little bit of experimenting, and we are left with:

An original, eighty-year old example is at the top.  Not, I suspect, that you needed to be told....

An original, eighty-year old example is at the top. Not, I suspect, that you needed to be told….

I’m quite pleased with the result.  This is, I’ll admit, a Mark II since my first run used brass stock that was rather too thin, and unbent when one tried to work the mechanism; this was the potential problem I hinted at last week, come to fruition.  This iteration looks to stand up to as much service as the original.  No one will mistake it for an original, either, but since it’s generally hidden away inside a pen, that’s not a big deal.

Good heavens, look at the time.  We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out how I turned a ballpoint pen to the side of Goodness and Decent Writing, and to learn what exactly I did with this horrifying collection of chunks:

To quote The Princess Bride:  Dear God, what is that thing?

To quote The Princess Bride: Dear God, what is that thing?

Today’s pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s ink: Herbin Lie de Thé

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Twit (a reflexive noun)

Posted by Dirck on 22 February, 2013

This morning, I had a brief look at my long-neglected Twitter account, and found that almost exactly at the time the neglecting began, I got a most unexpected greeting from a noted calligrapher.  I mention this because the look coincided with me thinking, in a nervous tone, “Gosh, what am I going to put up as the Friday film?”  I may be a negligent twit, but I will also accept inspiration when it leaps across my path.

Today’s pen:  Parker “51″ (the same burgundy ’49 lodged in the mid-’50s gold-filled cap)
Today’s ink: Organics Studio Cobalt

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Joining a Collective

Posted by Dirck on 21 February, 2013

Why not?  I signed up with a co-operative from which I buy fuel and groceries, and thus share in the profits of having done so, so why not a collective?

…apart from wanting to be able to, in Daddy Duck style, gather my pens to my bosom and shout, “MINE MINE MINE!”  No, it’s not hippy living I’m considering today, but rather collective nouns.  One of the really fun things about English, and one of the things that makes me occasionally weep for the paucity of modern expression through their lack of use, is these nearly pointless terms for groups of things.  Bunch, herd, and heap all get plenty of press, but one seldom hears these days from the others.  One may suffer from an unkindness of ravens (for which I take no personal responsibility) groaning outside one’s window, keeping up the din which the hooting parliament of owls began the night before.  One may be distressed to find a nest of vipers in the closet… or worse, a sleuth of bears.  I should speak of the glaring of cats we have at home, since only one of them really has the fuzziness to be a contributor to a clowder.

What gets all this going is a stray filament on a discussion thread regarding the impending new TWSBI 580.  Like any other pen company, TWSBI has its fans (of which I’m one, although in this regard I’m quite promiscuous), and so there are several participants in the discussion who have multiple pens; not just examples of each available model, as I would if I had cash and any interest in the Micarta, but several of the same model.  This led to the question: what is the collective terms for a quantity of TWSBIs?

Candidates include troop, tribe, throng, and tingle, although I have to admit as a contributor to that list that none of them seems quite right.  I’d like “troop” disqualified, as it’s used for lots of things (cavalrymen, baboons, dogfish…) and “tribe” would just get arguments on the line of “Is it PC?” started.  The field is open, though, and I wonder that the inclination to date is so bent upon alliteration.  One could have a clarity of TWSBIs, given the company preference for transparent barrels.  A slosh of TWSBIs, since most have rather high ink capacities?  So many possibilities.

Of course, one would have to then develop collective terms for other makers.  A dabble of Pelikans.  A striation, or maybe a circularity of Sheaffers.  An nosey of Parkers.  A ripple of Watermans.  An extravagance… no, a hoard, I think, of Mont Blancs.  And what of pens themselves?  Do I have a vast scribble of pens in the my bunker?  A huge scratching?  A thriving delineation?

It’s an interesting pastime, and one that could give employment to a whole worship of writers….

Today’s pen: Italix Parson’s Essential
Today’s ink: Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue

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A Father’s Lament

Posted by Dirck on 20 February, 2013

I think I’ve mentioned that my son is in a preschool that aims to provide remediation for autistic and other special-needs kids.  Did I?  Well, I just did.  The format of the school is to combine a half-dozen of the aforementioned sort of tots with a half-dozen “normal” youngsters with excellent social skills to act as models.  I can’t, as an aside, begin to imagine how the latter group is recruited.   Apart from a really high teacher/student ratio (1:4, plus an on-site speech therapist!), the daily activity of the school is not much different from that of a Kindergarten.  Indeed, the point of the process is to make sure that when the kids are of an appropriate age to start in Kindergarten, the whole routine will be just that from the point of view of the special-needs part of the team; think, you Big Bang Theory fans, how well Sheldon reacts to sudden change in his environment.

Included in the curriculum is getting familiar with numbers and letters.  For my son, this is pretty old hat; he has been interested in text since he could focus his eyes, and has been reading the titles of Thomas and Friends segments at us for about a year as they flash past on the screen.  He has, however, been somewhat disinterested in the productive side of literacy.  He will watch daddy writing in journals and letters, but when invited has lost interest after the second stroke.  Pencils, you see, are for making large swooping circles covering the whole of the page.  The only way to get him to make anything legible was to hold the pen and ask him to help by pushing the parental hand around, as was done to the delight of all grandparents with the Christmas tags this past December.

Of course, working with various mark-making devices is something school includes (still).  So, in recent weeks, we’ve been getting things that he’s drawn with his own autograph on them.  Joy! Admiration!

I asked him, over the weekend, to write his name for me, offering him a handy pencil.  Stunned amazement out of dad at this point, as I watched him adopt… an alien grip!  The tail of the pencil pinched lightly between thumb and fore-finger, the body of it slanting down across the finger-tips, to rest between the pads of ring and pinkie fingers.  And then, the huge, little-kid letters.

My wife is interested to see him adopt what is more or less an artist’s brush-holding posture.  I am too, in the academic way in which a biologist will gaze down a microscope at something nondescript; is it a pathogen, a sybiont, or something neutral and of neither use nor danger?  It argues somewhat for the retention of past lives, since this is neither an instinctive posture for writing nor one he’s ever had modeled.  But, as a powerful promoter of fountain pens… it troubles me slightly.  I’ve given it a try, and while cursive writing is possible with a pen held thus, I’m not sure how protracted that writing can be.  It will certainly make the “THOU SHALT HOLD IT THUS!” portions of his Griffix and abc pens somewhat useless, if not actually oppressive, and will incline him towards longer, slimmer pens.

It’s early days, yet, of course.  There’s plenty of room to undo any habits that look like they’ll be a problem, which some may read as “stifle his natural inclinations” (to which I may respond with a fallacious parallel in which toilet training has the same label).  If I could undo some habits of letter formation which were in place for decades, surely I can let him enjoy holding a writing instrument how he pleases for a few months more, so long as he is, at last, adding writing to his reading.

I gotta learn to relax.

Today’s pen (held in the relaxing Classical Tripod):  Parker “51”, which in an anti-February effort I’ve stuck my burgundy ’49 in the extra-decorative mid-’50s gold-filled cap– very fetching!
Today’s ink: Organics Studio Cobalt

post scritpus– on the subject of relaxation, I’ve managed to almost undo the backlog I got under InCoWriMo-wise, through application, judicious rescheduling, and a savage suppression of the urge to prolixity.

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King Me!

Posted by Dirck on 19 February, 2013

H.G. Wells has already quite brilliantly exploded the old saw which runs, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king,” and I’m tempted to stop immediately after urging you to go and read his story.  However, the saw retains some teeth, and while I did not spend the weekend in the kingdom of the blind, I did spend it largely in the grip of a migraine which left me with one functioning eye.  It’s not that the other stops working, really, but if I try to use it, it wanders around like Homer Simpson’s when he’s posed a question of high-energy physics and then starts trying to bite its way free of the socket.  Not a lot of fun.

It also reduces productivity immensely.  I managed, before the problem descended, to get some fresh stuff published on my site, and then as incapacity grew I turned to getting client pens squared away before the multiplicity of them becomes an authentic backlog.  Some success there, hoorah, including some interesting forays into parts making which I’ll report on when the exercise proves successful.  However, what I couldn’t apply myself to, since migraines render me almost incapable of speech as well as enjoyment of life, was InCoWriMo.  Can I catch up?  I have some serious doubts.  Since my son has come down with a case of Gargling Awfuls, the next couple of evenings don’t look too hopeful.

I’ll finish my whine by noting that the fine weather has broken, and February has remembered it’s duty to be as cold and miserable as possible.  Good thing it was a long weekend, eh?  Anyway, I’m going to try getting some letter-writing accomplished to convince myself there’s potential for recovery.

Today’s pen: Italix Parson’s Essential (in part because it’s heavy, and I need extra ballast in the face of the gales of wind)
Today’s ink: Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue (which does actually cheer a guy up– such a jolly blue!)

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Well, Well, Wellsian….

Posted by Dirck on 15 February, 2013

When the day starts with a headline reading Meteor strike injures hundreds in central Russia, you know it’s going to be an interesting day.  One wonders, indeed, what the Winder of The All-Clock has against Russia, and is it (hopefully not) the same grudge once held against the Yucatan peninsula.

Then, this interesting footage appears from near the new crater:

What do you mean, April is more than a month away?

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Balance Craftsman
Today’s ink: Skrip semi-vintage blue-black

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Seasonal Affectionate Disorder

Posted by Dirck on 14 February, 2013

If I ignore you for a short time, does it mean I love you any less?

I’m not speaking rhetorically, as I so frequently do.  Nor am I addressing pens which like a notable dweller of R’lyeh may eternal lie.  I’m about to abandon you folks, not because I have lost regard for you, but because in any competition for my interest, the inverted precedence must be:

  • People living at a great distance who are interested in pens,
  • Pens,
  • Extended family,
  • Nuclear family.

So, I’m taking these few minutes to write a mash-note to my wife, something I’ve not done in a while.  Those with a significant other at hand, I suggest a similar application; not because of the day, particularly, but because it’s good for maintaining mutual significance.  Those without, I will offer this sop on the soppiest day of the year; not only is it unclear how many Saints Valentine there were, at least two stories of his/their life end with him being clubbed nearly to death before his beheading.  Romantic!

Today’s pen: Parker Duofold
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Couleur Royale

…but also the Stipula Passaporto because a mash-note written with an Italian pen must be more effective, and De Atramentis Elderberry ink because it’s a good colour for this sort of stuff.

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