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Archive for March, 2013

Easter Bunny

Posted by Dirck on 28 March, 2013

It isn’t entirely Easter-shaped, but yesterday’s talk of head transplants and the transformative nature of the earlier pagan observance suggest this week’s (I’m not at work on) Friday film.  The title, strangely, is also appropriate

Happy egg-flinging rabbit/tomb-fleeing prophet day, everyone.

Today’s pen: Esterbrook LJ with a 2284 point
Today’s ink: Quink black

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A Quickie

Posted by Dirck on 27 March, 2013

Ooh, that sounds titillating.   The very thing to add entertainment to a bland Wednesday afternoon.  Now, let me adjust the lighting a little, and introduce a low but inescapably creepy glissando from the string section*….

A quickie transplant!

Bet that made you jump.  The subject of the operation, the survivor who tells the tale, is not some hard-partying frat boy who creeps home from spring break with a new scar on his back and slight frostbite from an evening spent in a bathtub full of ice.  Last week in mentioned in the manner of a footnote that I’d swapped out my desk pen with the (purported) start of the season.  The newcomer is an early version of Sheaffer’s Touchdown line, one of the “fat models”:

Not visible; inherent wickedness (specific to the individual, rather than the model)

I last used this pen the previous summer, and if I were to do a certain amount of work with archive.org’s Wayback Machine, I could probably prove to myself that the previous visit was truncated.  Why? Because this is a very naughty pen.  Sheaffers, and all the moreso Sheaffers with a foot in the golden age of fountain pens, are generally paragons of smooth writing and easy flow.  This example was not.  Were it, like Dicken’s Ghost of Christmas Present, to throw back its robes to reveal two ragged figures crouching at it’s knees, they would be named Scratchy and Scanty.  I got mad at this pen the last time I used it, and put it in the Bad Pen corner of my Pit of Correction (this is not, by the way, what they’re labelled on the map).  The night before it was brought in for the swap, I remembered why it was in the Bad Pen corner and gave it a little bit of a going over.  A tine misalignment was poked at.  Slit-flossing was done.

Scratchy and Scanty still dwell within it.  This is the sort of admission that’s apt to cost me business, but I can’t figure out its problem.  I could have brought in a different pen again, but I like the feel of this one, and the base is pleasingly different from the others I’ve got (a big rectangular slab of brown onxy) and I wasn’t ready to relinquish it.   Happily, a solution was at hand.

I had, thanks to… well, not John Gray, but to a transaction similar to those he conducted, an unmounted section of this sort of pen.  Not as cosmetically handsome as the one in the picture above, but that’s not unknown in decapitations.  The plating on the tines is a little translucent, and the ribbing of the section somewhat smooth.  However, a quick glance at it on Tuesday night showed that it had a wider slit (thus, almost certainly, more flow), and wider tipping (I’ve another Sheaffer with a super-fine triumph point which is a dream of smoothness, but tiny tips don’t help when there’s a problem of this sort).  I got it cleaned up before retiring, and yesterday I took the pen home for a good ol’ mad science head exchange.

And that’s the quickie transplant.  At 7:00 pm last night, this pen was all original parts, and worked miserably.  By 8:00, it was decapitated and the useful viscera separated.  By 8:30, shellac was lashed about not only to attach the sac, but to address a loose threaded ring and a point that was wandering on its mounting.  The pre-dawn gloom saw me lurching into the Pit of Correction to check that everything was set and to repack the viscera into the carcass.  8:21 this morning and the pen was filled and writing brilliantly.  Zip!

I’ve kept the other head, of course, in a preserving jar.  Science may one day find an answer to its problem, and on that day it too will be reattached to an appropriate body.  I may be mad, but I’m not wasteful.

Today’s pen: Pilot Vanishing Point
Today’s ink : Diamine Sargasso Sea

*my wife and I quite enjoy the aspect of reality TV which sees teams of “normal” people thrust into supposedly haunted places with some recording equipment, but find our enjoyment blunted when one of the folks on screen calls out, “Sh!  Dude, did you just hear that?!” and all we heard was the deeply unnecessary sound-track.  Producers of such shows, take note; we don’t have to be reminded that it’s meant to be an eerie setting.

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Random Events

Posted by Dirck on 26 March, 2013

My father is a massive generator of random behaviour.  The current example is a telephone call at 11:52am:

Are you busy for lunch?

Not I.

Come to that Chinese place.

…and so I went, not wishing to deny myself his company nor a free lunch, and a free lunch not composed of a granola bar and some yogurt-covered raisins at that.  Time usually spent here in composition was instead applied to conversation and mastication.  And that’s why this entry is very short.

Today’s ink: Parker 75 Insignia
Today’s pen: Herbin’s Vert Empire

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Return of Nemesis

Posted by Dirck on 25 March, 2013

Well, what an odd weekend.  I’m not quite sure how to react to it, frankly, because it’s left such an unfamiliar sensation.

I got stuff accomplished!

Hard to believe, isn’t it?  Despite yet more snow (although not a lot), and a son who bounded out of bed hours before his usual time on Sunday (leading to enjoyable but not super-productive Lego construction), I got very nearly though all the client pens I have in hand.  The two that remain are nearly done, but each presented a confounding point that I couldn’t overcome in the time available.

The interesting one, which has nothing to do with the title, came to me with a point deformity of an unusual sort.  Unlike the problems at either end of this image from my site…

…the slit was rounded; if held sideways, it resembled a sleepy eye.  To address the problem, I had to burnish the point in the specialized anvil for the task, and that took a full tear-down to accomplish.  I was somewhat at a loss to figure out the mechanism of the deformation, but laid it into the portmanteau of Mysteries Lost in Ages Past.  Problem fixed, point and feed re-mated in section, sac reapplied, and (eventually, once the shellac set) tested.  A surprisingly smooth and flexible pen it is!  Sweet!

Cue the problem.  The cap felt funny going back on, and for the first time I had a good look up inside it.  Ah… that’s how the point got deformed!  It’s not that there’s something hiding inside the cap, either.  It’s that there’s nothing hiding up inside the cap.  I’ve previously examined the role of the inner cap, but mainly with an eye to how it seals pens.  There is another role it fills– it is a brake on the cap, keeping it from crushing the point.  Happily, I noticed the problem before undoing my previous labour.  Unfortunately, I have to now fabricate a new one, without the back-pressure it provides, the cap won’t really stay on at a depth that’s safe for the point.

The other pen I was having trouble with was instantly recognizable in its problem.  The point was skewed several degrees to one side, but is was also rather filthy with…  India Ink! Let me reprint something I typed some time ago, and which still reflect my opinion quite clearly:

I should like to press for an international convention in labelling requiring India ink to carry NOT FOR FOUNTAIN PENS warnings in several languages, and arrange to have it come into effect in 1932.  It would have saved a lot of tears over the decades.

This ink had been put in a long time ago, it had been used a lot, and there was a vast concretion of it around the point and feed.  Fortunately, the section in question was one I could with clear conscience put into an ultrasonic cleaner for several cycles.  Unfortunately, this only released the point; the feed remains inseparable.

A few more rounds of the ultrasonic cleaner, and that feed’s channels are clear enough to, I think, return to proper function, but I’d be a lot happier if I could actually scrape the smaller passages out.  Curse you, misused India ink!  Curse your dark heart!

Today’s pen (not clogged): Sheaffer Statesman Snorkel
Today’s ink (non-clogging): Skrip Turquoise

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Product Placement

Posted by Dirck on 22 March, 2013

I am not a huge fan of flogging merchandise to kids.  I think Coke or Pepsi machines in school lunchrooms are abominations, in-school “newscasts” sponsored by any corporate entity are tantamount to brainwashing, and generally think kids to be sold only math, science, literature, art and (ideally) vigorously eye-opening social studies when they’re in class.  They get enough ads crammed down their mental gullets outside the schoolhouse.

Which then makes my affection for today’s film yet another marker of my all-too-human inconsistency, if not abject hypocrisy.  The product placement is, at least, subtly handled, and there’s no outright declaration that one can’t get these results with any other pen of the day.

Heck, they don’t even mention the name of the simple jeweler in Iowa who develops the lever-filling mechanism.

Today’s pen: Pilot Vanishing Point
Today’s ink : Diamine Sargasso Sea

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Number Crunching

Posted by Dirck on 21 March, 2013

While Mother Nature is celebrating the start of spring by closing most of the roads in the immediate area, I am having a quieter observance.  I’m swapping my desk pen, and (with some lamentation over the lack of brass instruments and old fellows in ermine robes) retiring the Official Regular Job Ink Bottle.  This is the Pelikan Royal Blue that I made such a meal of tracking down somewhat over a year ago, which is not, in fact, quite empty but which is close enough for starting a fresh ink with the fresh pen.  For those who are concerned, the new Official Bottle is Diamine Denim, which is why I went with the link to that particular bunch of ermine robes above rather than some Pope-related item.

This change-over gives me a data point I hadn’t really been thinking about, and I’m going to use it to hang myself.  Just at the moment (although, for reasons to follow, an editing is in the offing), I have this to say under the heading of why one wants to use a fountain pen:

They are also an efficient use of money, if you aren’t driven by vanity to spend a pile of money on a flashy pen.  I’m not the only one to suggest this, but a fountain pen well looked-after holds its value.  In terms of use, let us consider a $40 pen and the ink it requires– which we may call $2.50 each year for moderate amounts of writing and non-boutique ink.  In twenty years, you’ve spent $90 on writing, and still have the pen you started with.  If you decide you don’t like it any more, you can sell it (although you might not yet call it “vintage”) and get between $20 and $40 dollars for it– a pen that has been looked after resists depreciation quite well– and thus have spent perhaps as little as $50 on ten or so bottles of ink over two decades of writing stuff down.  Call it 5¢ a week if you sell that pen, 9¢ a week if you hang onto it… but that will drop over the next twenty years.  Combine that with the previously-mentioned advantages of fountain pens (feeding the spirit and keeping the joints in a state where writing continues to be possible), and it’s hard to defend not spending the money for a fountain pen.

…which was written using the famous internet technique of “making up numbers out of thin air”.  Now, however, I can make up some numbers with at least a little bit of reality for leavening, some definable bits of meat amongst the bread-crumbs and saw-dust of wishful thinking.  I’ve put a tiny hint of foreshadowing in to spoil the rhetoric of this question, but shall we see if I was anything like correct?

I will start, though, with a bit of an estimate to throw off the utility of what follows.  I have, if we include idle weekends and vactions (which have been balanced out by occasional making-away-with of some ink in other pens) 444 days of use out of the current bottle.  Given how much is left in it, for the comfort of calculation, I will estimate now that day 500 would see the bottle empty and the last drop of ink either on paper or inextricably caught in the feed of a pen.  It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough for current purposes.

500 days on an $8.99 bottle =1.7¢ per day on the ink.  That’s also .0125 ml of ink per day, or 0.000 003 gallons, which means that I’m getting pretty good mileage.  In my “makin’ it up” example, I’m looking at weeks, so doing the multiplication gives 11.9¢/week on the ink.

Pens vary, but lets use $60 as the average if I’d found one and stuck to it.  The desk pen I’ve had the longest I’ve had for 7 years, so $8.57/year so far, 16.5¢/week, 2.4¢/day (and yes, there is some rounding off happening; we’ll all have to live with it).

Oops!  Rather than the 9¢/week I’d previously estimated, I’m up to slightly under 30¢.  I’m happy enough with that, since there’s the intangible aspect of doing my work writing with a fountain pen; greater (or more protracted) than the joy I derive from a chocolate bar, which are up above $1 each, and not as likely to occlude an artery… especially since I can’t picture having only one chocolate bar in a week.

But that’s just a year.  Let’s try that 20 year cycle from my example, and see what happens.  I’m going to adjust my numbers a little; one of the reasons I chose Diamine is because the bigger bottle is also a more efficient purchase ($8.99  /62.5 ml = 14.4¢ /ml for Pelikan, versus about the almost exactly $11/80 ml of Diamine shipped direct from England = 13.75¢).  So a week of Diamine will run me roughly 11.4¢.  Twenty years of that is $118.56 and we’ll thank Mr. Inflation to keep his seat.  We know you’re here, sir, but you complicate things too much.

Ink mounts up, but pens amortize.  That $60 pen over twenty years gets all the way down to 5.8¢ per week, so I’m still high on my weekly conception– 17.2¢ a week rather than my 9¢.  Still, factor in that contentment element, the potential to sell the pen along and get back that decades long string of nickels, and I’m still of the opinion that the fountain pen is far and away the best buy in the writing game.

You mileage may vary, of course.

Today’s pen (which, if a newer example, is down to costing about 1/10¢ per day looking at the original purchase price): Esterbrook LJ with a 2284 point
Today’s ink (oh, enough numbers): Quink black

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Posted by Dirck on 20 March, 2013

I don’t get to look in at FPGeeks as much as I’d like.  This is largely due to my own habits and amazing powers to forget the existence of common things, and I’m sure with a little application I could fix the problem.   I’m delighted to find, therefore, that the thing I saw there yesterday and want to react to is quite recent.

That thing, entitled Why I Use Fountain Pens, is itself a reaction to an entry elsewhere, with the highly inflammatory title Why I Don’t Use Fountain Pens.  I find I want to react to both of them, largely because of the effects of cabin fever.

Let me first turn to TonyB’s baffling declaration, which is helpfully laid out in enumerated reasons–

1. Fountain pens are distracting.

…When you use a fountain pen, it’s all about the pen. You have to always be conscious of how you’re holding the pen, how it’s moving, how the ink is flowing. If you let the fountain pen get out of the correct position, it won’t work. You’re forced to focus on the act of writing itself, rather than on the writing.

Well… yes.  I agree with the heading, at least.  The specifics I diverge on, since what he’s complaining about there are things that come under the heading of “use makes master”.  I don’t find myself thinking about all that stuff, any more than I really think about how to work a clutch in a standard transmission.  Once, perhaps, when these were new and unfamiliar things, they were problematic; I know the transmission was, for a while, but since there was no training given nor available when I started on fountain pens I may have just fallen into it naturally.  I was no more dogged about gaining skills of that sort than the average kid.

Distraction is a danger, though, as the various sensual aspects of the pen (which I know I’ve written about at some point in the past) can take over from the act of composition.  Gosh, the pen is just so pretty, the light twinkles so on the ink as it tumbles onto the page, the sigh of the point across the paper is both a sound and a harmonic in the fingertips…. Yes.  Distracting… but so enjoyable, I can’t see why one would deny it but from some kind of “pleasure = bad” puritanism.

2. Fountain pens are too much work.

Look, I already have enough to worry about between car maintenance, taking care of the computer equipment I use to make a living, keeping up with little repairs around my apartment, and the general minutiae of daily living.

Fountain pens have to be cleaned carefully after use, stored just so to prevent damage or leaking, filled before use. I’m not interested in having to worry about my writing instruments like that on top of everything else. It’s just unnecessary hassle and, for me, takes all the fun out of pens.

Again, I can’t say I completely deny this claim, although it is being made to sound a good deal fussier than reality.  Indeed, I contemplated it briefly in the past, examining the different sorts of work represented by fountain pens (acute, maintenance) and ballpoints (chronic, shoving the damn thing across a page).  So, yes, but no.  I’ve made my choice, and I’ll defend it with every ounce of effort I’ve saved in not having to shove a ballpoint across a page.

3. Fountain pens are too expensive.

As I’ve said before, my absolute favorite pen to date is the Pentel EnerGel, especially now that it comes in so many different variations. Not one of them costs more than about US$10.

I know that there are good fountain pens to be had for under US$50. But, let’s be honest, most of you are spending hundreds of dollars on fountain pens. Maybe I’m just cheap because the idea of parting with that kind of cash for a pen makes me cringe.

My recent purchase of a Pelikan M600 has rather shot my counter-argument in the foot, but I can still cling to the idea that the amount I spent on that fountain pen was less than some Mont Blanc ballpoints.  This is not, I’ll freely admit, a very good argument, and my Bolshevist spirit sags in dismay that I have to trot it out.   For the most part, though, I’ve not been spending hundreds of dollars on individual pens– yesterday’s Snorkel, repairs included, cost rather less than the $50 mentioned above.  And while I’m a big idiot who keeps on buying fountain pens, that’s not really the point.  He’s relying on a manufacturer being consistent in making many of the same model of pen in a variety of colours all with much the same performance, and on that manufacturer not deciding to discontinue the model, because once one of those EnerGels runs dry, it’s done.  Any single pen I have, if I like the performance, I can keep coming back to it, applying different colours, and never really care if it’s long out of production (like yesterday’s or today’s pen).  There is also an economic argument, which I’m setting up to make in a few days, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

Like Dan over at FPGeeks, I’m never going to say TonyB is wrong nor wicked for what is a subjective choice, especially one that is reasoned out and, one hopes, based on having tried it and not liked it.  Dan’s response is, though, not without some things I want to pick upon too.

1. Fountain pens are a reflection of their owner.

I’ve always liked my possessions to be personal and unique. Fountain pens offer so much more personalization than any other writing instrument. The number of materials, colors, and sizes fountain pens come in is staggering. Then there’s the theme pens that honor people, events, or locations around the world.

Add to that custom made pens, the possibility of nib grinds, flexible nibs, and bottled inks in every color you can imagine, and the fountain pen starts to become more like a fingerprint that uniquely identifies you.

Actually, I have no issue with that whatsoever, but apart from some of the more specific custom modifications (one will never make a medium stub Bic Stic) I don’t think this is unique to fountain pens.  Someone who uses only fuscia sparkle gel pens is definitely making a personal statement.

2. Fountain pens bring people together.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m not very personable. But, I can’t count the number of times someone has started a conversation with me because they saw me using a fountain pen….

I can.  Seven.  There have also been a couple of declarations of disinclination which apparently were meant to indicate to me that I was doing something wrong, but the primary response I get to using a fountain pen is blank indifference.  Perhaps this is geographical, and the people of Iowa are more given to admiring decent pens than the people of Saskatchewan (we can be a reticent bunch), but I wouldn’t put this down as a bit plus for using pens.  To a certain extent, I might call it an impediment; how does one get any writing done with hordes of pen-admirers flocking about?

3. Fountain pens offer the ultimate writing experience.

…Like a Ferrari or McLaren, vehicles that are able to get you from point A to B, you can’t fully appreciate them until you get them on a track, filled with race fuel, and taught how to drive them.

I tend to shy away from use of “ultimate” since it can also be used in the sense of “last” or even “fatal”, but this does accord somewhat with the point about distraction that I made earlier.  The examples of high-end cars is misleading, though, since it implies less expensive examples are less fun on the track.  My Pelikan is a sublime pen, but it is not as much better than a Sheaffer No Nonsense as the difference of carness which lies between a Ferrari coupe and a Ford station wagon.  A fountain pen has to be a bad example of the breed indeed to fall down in the performance category.

I’ve tried living life on the ballpoint side of the tracks.  It’s not for me.  Like any convinced zealot, I’ll pity those who can be satisfied with the other lifestyle, but unlike rather too many convinced zealots, I’ll not call for their destruction.  Baffling though ballpoint use is, it’s not immoral.


Today’s high-perfomance barn-burner: Parker 75 Insignia
Today’s easily-swapped ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire

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Posted by Dirck on 19 March, 2013

I’ve lately been seeing a lot of threads about the durability of ink.  People seeking blues to impress generations yet unborn, greens to outlive the oceans, blacks to remain legible at the moment of the universe’s heat-death.  Apart from pondering whether this is some reverb from the failed and entirely made-up Mayan Apocalypse last December, I enjoy a tiny laugh at this desperate and likely hubris-laden pursuit.

That is not to say that I deride the notion of archival materials.  There are some things, usually in the line of art, which one wants to see last.  Certain documents are also in that category, but not many in the current age.  I’d be somewhat concerned if the various mortgage-related documents I’ve put my hand to became illegible, and all the moreso since the provincial government started looking at privatizing the Land Titles Office.

I also accept that some inks are a dead loss for the purpose.  Quink and Waterman blue-blacks, if indeed they are still different fluids, jump instantly to mind as bad bets for future perusal, and many makers’ blues go a little feeble after sitting on the paper a while.  But those to aside, I think there’s a lot more concern about the fading of ink than is quite in keeping with the threat.  While I used the phrase “Stupid modern inks” in connection with the phenomenon when considering documents from just before the start of the Second World War, I am with reflection, and caveats about the afore-named inks, moderating my stance.  Inks last well enough.

They last, if you pay attention to the storage of the paper.  If the paper’s happy, the ink’s apt to last.  The example up that last link has crept through the decades being kept in indifferently ventilated basements.  My wife has her grandfather’s army paybook, with entries in some very whimsical colours (who’d have thought an army doctor would use bright green?), and it was neither made of great paper nor treated like a treasure.  Even when using notionally archival materials, storage can make a lot of difference between a document remaining clear for 700 years, or getting a rather obscure after a mere 250.

In my own archives, to which I repaired when the notion for this entry struck me, I found some entries in my earliest surviving journal (a habit which only became truly habitual about ten years ago, but which I strove to adopt since childhood– it was Captain Kirk’s fault) dated 1995.  Perfectly legible, and I know exactly what ink I was using then.

Quink black.  Cheap.  Not the darkest black known to humankind.  But apparently good enough to last.

Flipping through, getting into what we might nearly call contemporary entries, the same thing.  Even common blues, so long as they’re not “washable” remain and the Quink blue-black may have bottomed out.  So, if it’s just a matter of being able to re-read what you wrote a few years, or even many years ago, don’t panic.  Chose a decent ink and some halfway good paper, and all will be well.

Oh… but don’t use a ballpoint.  That first surviving journal, which encompasses nearly a decade of infrequent entries, includes my shameful dalliance with ballpoints.  Bic black, it was, and now it’s Bic indistinct purple-brown, sinking into the paper to make the other side hard to read.  Sometimes, what we’re recording is the reason behind out prejudices.

Today’s long-lasting pen: Sheaffer Statesman Snorkel
Today’s ink, which I harbour some doubts over: Skrip Turquoise

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The Lost Weekend

Posted by Dirck on 18 March, 2013

Alas, I was not out getting profoundly drunk with Ray Milland… although I was also left out of the screaming DTs associated with that sort of diversion, so perhaps “alas” isn’t quite the word.  However, it was about as productive as if I’d been out on a cinematic and drama-rich bender.

How did this happen?  Largely, it was the weather.  We got something like 20 cm more* snow from last Friday through to last night when it finally knocked off.  More shovelling, leading to exhaustion, forgetfulness, and shaky hands, none of which really help with what I consider useful activity.  The best I managed was to polish a couple of new pages pecked out over the preceding week and get them published on my site, and that was the pre-dawn Saturday part of the weekend.  The rest of the weekend… little progress.

Yesterday was also my wife’s first craft sale of the year, meaning I was lone parenting and that definitely keeps a man and his pens (and moreso pens of others) apart.  The Amazing Leap-Lad learned a painful lesson about not picking up toys, from which he got a band-aid around a toe, which means that so long as the lesson takes the day was not altogether wasted.

Apart from that publication, I did get two things accomplished.  I established the first three (of, I believe, five) pens in the New Rotation, which will be revealed as the week develops.  The fact that I didn’t get the whole things figured out is a mark not of my indecision, as it would usually be, but of how much other stuff I had on my cognitive plate.

I also finally sat down to read Atlas Shrugged, as part of a self-flagellant act of intellectual honesty. I am inclined to make fun of the philosophy laid out in it, but I should actually read it if I’m to do so.  What I’ve learned so far is that this is going to be extremely hard sledding.  I’m on page 16, which given the tiny typeface involved means I’m about 75,000 words in.  It’s 1067 pages.  Eep.

Today’s pen: Pelikan Future
Today’s ink: Diamine Oxblood

*we’ve apparently set a record of an unofficial sort; the official snow measuring point in the city was shut down in 2007, but in a location of similar blusteriness, the count is up to 184 cm (18.1 hands, or roughly 1 klafter) .  Which is my own height.  The previous, official and apparently now unbreakable record was 171 cm from the winter of 1956-’57.

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I’ve Got a Feeling….

Posted by Dirck on 15 March, 2013

In honour of the raging blizzard we’re enjoying a week ahead of the equinox, I bring you for this week’s Friday Flake-off Film some rational science with an excellent accent attached.

If you’re like me, you had to work a little during that to not fixate on “feelie” being what Huxley had replacing a “movie” in the distant year of 632AF.  Also, if you’re like me, you cringe at the prospect of extremists on the “knock it off” side being just a loopy at their opposite numbers.

Today’s pen (the fruit, I note, of a perfectly civil international Etsy transaction): Sheaffer Sovereign Snorkel
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Bleu Myosotis

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