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Archive for June, 2013

Oooooh, I Love a Parade!

Posted by Dirck on 30 June, 2013

In honour of my son’s and my nation’s birthdays (today and tomorrow, respectively), a grand parade!

US viewers can also believe it applies to their upcoming day of national fireworkery.  Fun is best when shared.

Today’s pen: Parker Frontier Flighter
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Nuit

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A Postcard…

Posted by Dirck on 26 June, 2013

…to let you know we’re all have a sufficient amount of fun on the vacation, despite the transition from Sunday to Monday being marked by a distressing and prolonged migraine.  What a treat to not have to go to work three hours after the concluding emesis!

But the real reason I’m here is give you all a present I’ve brought back from my travels– a link to a maker of profoundly retro kitchen appliances (or, as auto-correct was suggesting mid-word, kitsch appliances).  If there were cash reserves sufficient to restore our kitchen to its initial glory, that’s the place a lot of the budget would go; we kept the robin’s egg tone of the original paint, and there’s fridge and stove to match!

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Admiral
Today’s ink, almost all gone through catching up on letter writing: Diamine Prussian Blue

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Hiatus, Hopefully No Hernia

Posted by Dirck on 21 June, 2013

My usual two week summer absence from The Regular Job commences at the closing bell today, and as is ever the case my looking in here is apt to get a little spotty.  Since I don’t have plans much more ambitious that “clean the eaves-trough” and “render dining table visible”, I may well get in here more than I usually do during such events.  However, since my son is also undistracted and will be working to drive my wife to distraction, I may well have other things on my plate than showing up here and venting brain-steam.

Today’s film, while reflecting a substantially more aggressive vacation plan, is suggestive of the energy requirements of just hanging out with the lad.

I find myself wondering occasionally, given that Bogart was under contract to Warner, whether that’s actually him doing his voice.  In this case, it would have been easy enough to lift the lines from another sound-track, but in “Slick Hare” he’s rather more interactive with Bugs and Elmer.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Balance Sovereign
Today’s ink: Herbin Vert Empire

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The Curious Case of the Contrary Cartridges

Posted by Dirck on 20 June, 2013

Could today’s pen step up to the front, please?

I din’t do nuttin!

Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble. In fact, I owe you an apology.  But let me tell the story behind Monday’s… well, big lie.  Today’s pen was not really Monday’s pen in any more than name, you see.  When I took it out to use, the first time since I’d loaded it the night before, I found an ugly surprise indeed.  The section was covered with ink!  The cap was crammed with it!  My fingers were all besmirched!

I said some immoderate things at and about the pen at that point, reflections upon its nature and utility.  I set it aside after mopping it with a tissue, and took up the Hero 616 I keep at the Regular Job desk as a trap for those who borrow pens unbidden.  That was the actual pen of the day, at least until I got home and took up the next day’s TWSBI.  It wasn’t until the sunny mood of yesterday that I felt up to taking the Waterman out of its paper and discovering why it had gone so wrong.

The culprit, as it turns out, was not the pen at all.  I’d grabbed one of my empty long Waterman cartridges to put the ink in;that ink came to me in one of the little Goulet Ink Drop sample tubes, and getting it out with a 1ml syringe was by far the easiest route.  This cartridge had not sealed firmly to the section, as there was a crack in it.  Not a little, easily overlooked crack, either, but something nearly a full centimeter long, running from the mouth of the cartridge down the wall, just where you’d think someone who was squirting ink into the very same cartridge would notice it.  That’s obviously not going to seal, and the pen can’t be held responsible for failure to commit an physical impossibility.

What casts my title into the plural is the canvass of my other Waterman longs revealed.  I don’t have a bunch of these empties, being disinclined to using that mode of ink storage, but what few I had all had the same crack in them, and all were as useless as the one that had negligently sloshed ink around a perfectly blameless pen.  Not, as I mentioned, a subtle deformity, and I can’t image how I’d missed the problem when rinsing them out.  I spent a few minutes shining a bright light  up the back ends of my modern Waterman pens, and while I can’t say I discovered which were boys and which were girls (the action being much like the sexing of chickens, but quieter and less likely to draw a pooping-on), I also can’t say I found any purpose-made cartridge wrecking apparatus.  Happily, whatever possessed them in this didn’t spread to the other cartridges in the box, as the loss of old C/F patterns and mostly-full Sheaffer slenders would be rather hard to keep a level head about.

This does nothing to move me closer to adopting cartridges into regular use.  The loss of my entire pitiful stock of Rohrer & Klinger Verdigris is softened by the discovery that it is an extremely easy ink to get off of humans with only a little water and soap.  Today’s pen got bumped back into duty somewhat earlier than it may have, so that I could show my contrition for Monday’s hasty words, and it seems that forgiveness is in it’s true nature.  As for the cartridges, though, the mystery remains.  They were not very old, nor regularly applied, nor ever abused.  I suppose further comparative examination might eventually wring the truth out of them, but I’ll leave that investigation for the rats at the dump.

Today’s pen: Waterman Executive
Today’s ink (in a converter): Wancher Imari

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The Wealth of Nations

Posted by Dirck on 19 June, 2013

A few months ago I undertook to read Adam Smith’s oft-mentioned treatise, just to get a grip on this apparent foundational document of the modern model of restrained economics.  I’m not going to go into my discoveries in depth here, apart to mention that he has some surprisingly bolshie notions– as examples, the government should be hip-deep in infrastructure, and merchants should be kept well away from the levers of the economy because what’s good for them is bad for everyone else.  Ain’t that a caution?

My current contemplation merely reminded me of that and prompted me to lift the title.  My walk had me pondering the notion of wealth, and my own relationship to it.  Am I wealthy?

Those who take from Smith only the chant “Let market forces sort it out!” would say I’m not, since I don’t have any particular heap of capital at my command.  I am similarly not “rich in pens” in that vein, since I could get… oh, with a willing auction crowd, possibly as much as three months’ pay out of the whole collection, and my rate of pay is far from lordly (from a North American viewpoint; by the reckoning of many nations, I’m rollin’ in clover).  However, if one takes a more expansive view of the notion of wealth, one will find that viewpoint as mistaken as thinking Adam Smith was axiomatically against interference with a free market.

I’m generally healthy, and thanks to (hopefully persistent) socialized medical care and some evidently vigourous genes, I’m apt to remain so.  I have had an extremity of luck in terms of family, nuclear and extended, and have no want in the areas of love and emotional support.  I’ve mentioned before the quality of the friendships I’ve stumbled into.  A recent discussion of the supernatural on the Fountain Pen Network has indicated to me that I’m in a fortunate philosophical position, straddling as it does (and without undue discomfort) a willing acceptance of science and its methods to one side and notion of Mystery on the other, which whisperings that there’s more to the whole affair than physics will ever quite describe; thus life is kept ever interesting.  I am indeed rich in pens not because they’re worth a lot of money, but because they (usually, when not resisting repair) give me little portions of joy every time I turn to use them.  I feel free to pepper my informal writing with parenthetical nonsense (even to the point of overdoing it), as I suffer under no editor but my own conscience.  I dress in a manner that pleases me pretty much every day.

The answer, then, to “Am I wealthy?” is a hesitant “yup,” as wealth is just another word for freedom, and there are few constraints upon me.   I wouldn’t mind having a garage-volume of high-denomination bills, because that particular aspect of wealth would help grease some of the more obnoxious skids of modern life; I have enough to at least keep those skids from digging into my hull.  The rest of it makes life tolerable, skids notwithstanding.  I’d like both, but if made to chose, I’ll take what I’ve got.

Isn’t it amazing what a little fine weather can do for one’s outlook?

Today’s pen (which, on reflection, was free): Franklin-Christoph 27 Collegia
Today’s ink: Pelikan 4001 violet

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Knock It Off

Posted by Dirck on 18 June, 2013

One of the pens on my bench at the moment is not a product of S.T. Dupont, makers of stuff you probably can’t afford since 1872.  Nor, happily, does it’s owner labour under the misapprehension that it is such a creature.  “This being a Chinese knockoff,” I was told, “I’d like the point amended into a big flat italic.”  I’m still not officially doing that sort of stuff, but that’s not a complex amendment so I took on the brief.

And then the pen arrived, and I was brought up short.

Do I have a witty caption for this?

Say, that is a big, well-made pen… from this distance, at least.

Because I’m currently well engaged with the class of person who only admires Dupont pens from afar, and because past examinations of their work has left me with a benign indifference to their designs, I’m not a great spotter of knock-offs, and the general feel of this thing wasn’t crying out that it was an imposter.  The only instant tip-off for one of my ilk is the setting of the little gem on the clip– which is not a gem at all, but a short black rod which protrudes slightly out the back.  Until I spotted that, I was as I say brought up short, wondering if somehow a bait and switch had been mishandled and the client had unwittingly come away with the actual item.  Second looks confirmed the truth of the pen’s nature, though– that odd hemi-demi-semi-hood over the point is something one almost expects to find on middling Chinese pens, and the means by which the cap snaps on is a little low-grade.

Low-grade relative majestically expensive pens, that it, as the whole story told by the interior of the cap is one of a pen makers entirely capable of making a quite decent pen.  I’ll go so far as to say that if it weren’t pretending to be a Dupont pen, this would be a fantastic alternative to the Sheaffer 300; the size, weight, fit, finish and function are all quite on par with the Sheaffer, apart from that slightly clumsy clip decoration.

The works of the pen are also surprisingly high quality for a fake pen.  Usually one expects to find bits of tin can and rusty ball-point springs in a knock-off pen, but the point and feed of this pen are as good as any I’ve found in a modern pen, and that includes some moderately expensive items like Montegrappas and Edisons.

Now about thissun?

This is not the exploded view I though I’d down-loaded.  Since I can’t fix that immediately, here’s a close view of the point, showing the rather good two-tone masking but not quite showing the mendacious 18K~750 impression which is a hair-line laser etching.

It almost seems that there’s an effort to console the incautious buyer.  “You didn’t get the pen you expected.  But you did get a decent pen.  Life could be worse.”  If one spent half as much as one expects to on a Dupont, that will be little consolation indeed, but… if is was 10% of the real price, it’s not too bad a price for what you got.

I’ve since had a look at Duponts, and I think this might be meant to emulate an Elysee Diamondhead.  Seen side-by-side, the differences are apparent and profound.  Knockers-off rely on the buyer not having one at hand to look at, and also upon the buyer adopting his own greed as a blindfold to avoid spotting the wrongness.  I am thus not, despite the notes of praise I’ve struck above, suggesting that this is a pen to seek out– counterfeit goods are a general evil, as seen by diverse tainted food scandals in the past few years, and those who perpetrate them are not to be encouraged.  My real point here is a caveat emptor alert, which has become mixed with a sort of baffled wonder; if you can make a pen this well, why not just flog it at an appropriate price under your own banner?

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700 (a pen made in east Asia, of moderately good quality and marketed under it’s own banner– see?  It’s possible!)
Today’s ink: Diamine Syrah

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Earth vs Martians vs Martians vs Devlerlich

Posted by Dirck on 17 June, 2013

To start what is apt to become a long series of quasi-reviews of films and partial responses to film critics, I’m starting with far too much to really attempt all in one go.  The critic I’ll be leaning on today is El Santo, a self-confessed fan of genre and exploitation film and a remarkable scholar of same; there are films I have no interest in watching that I’d still sort of like to see, thanks to his reviews.  He is, in fact, just about my favourite film critic.

Film favourites also appear here, although we may play a few bars of the old Sesame Street song and sing quietly, “One of these things is not like the others.”  Because speaking of one is difficult without speaking about the others, the unchewable lump I’m gnawing on today is composed of War of the Worlds, Mars Attacks, and Independence Day, and those links will take you to El Santo’s elegant reviews of each if you’re unfamiliar with them.

War of the Worlds, if you’re unwilling to click that link, is the 1953 original film version, not any of the differently-terrible ones which have appeared since the most recent turn of the century.  I’ve seen two of them, and I wish the period one had been better in some way (acted, written, funded) because that’s the one I wish Spielberg had made.  The one he was attached to very nearly overcomes the presence of Tom Cruise (pause for a shudder), as during the whole flight from the Martians his portrayal of a panicky, worried Joe Lunchbucket dad who is monumentally out of his depth is believable to the point that one almost forgets the terrible pre-Martian segment where he’s established as a Joe Lunchbucket dad (with amazing teeth).  Once the flight ends, and your warning for this is the appearance of Tim Robbins, it turns into a stupid action movie, with a Joe Lunchbucket dad who hasn’t eaten properly or slept in a couple of days performing heroics with hand grenades, pointing out the unnoticed but obvious state of the attackers, and generally getting a spotlight shone upon him.

The 1953 film is, in common with the Cruise object, rewritten for a contemporary setting.  This is, as El Santo points out, fair enough since the original story was also contemporary to its day.  The whole point of the ending is that humanity’s technology is orders of magnitude short of the challenge posed by the invaders, and as much as I wish for a good period movie version I accept that the average audience won’t be as moved by the sight of lancers, horse artillery and ironclads being swept aside as they will by the current cutting edge military technology being shambolized.  Since 1953’s cutting edge included the unspeakably unstable YB-49 Flying Wing I’m just as pleased because there’s a ton of stock footage of the thing in action.  The updating also brings in atomic power, and that allows for my favourite unintentionally funny part of the film, in which our hero Dr. Clayton Forrester hauls out a Gieger counter to examine the “meteor”; the blocking of the scene and the relative heights of Gene Barry and Ann Robinson make it look like he’s got a very accurate bra-detector.

Mars Attacks and Independence Day are both, in essence, remakes of War of the Worlds.  The former is a much looser interpretation but much more open about its lineage to those who know what to look for– the Martians’ ray-guns produce two different colours of blast and make a very specific noise.  El Santo points out that the main reason for the success (artistically) of Mars Attacks is that the director both understood and loved the old films upon which it was based, of which War of the Worlds is merely the foremost.  I’m not a wall-to-wall Tim Burton fan, but I agree whole-heartedly with El Santo that he nailed the required tone throughout Mars Attacks.  There are plenty of nods to both the original bubble-gum card source, the most startling of which is the initial scene, and to science fiction films of most ages; I’m reminded as I write this that The Andromeda Strain was technically an alien invasion story.  While the most obvious touchstone for the saucers is the vessels run up by Ray Harryhausen for Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, there is also a little tip of the hat from Burton to the studio that was backing him– when they deploy their landing gear, the subconscious makes an effort to apply a set of enormous black canvas high-top sneakers to them.

Independence Day on the other hand, while sticking a little closer to the storyline of War of the Worlds, strays from it in exactly the wrong ways.  Let me tinker a synopsis that will fit both films (beware the dread spoiler): aliens appear, begin to destroy things shortly thereafter, prove human military technology is helpless against them, and resist nuclear bombardment; some captured technology proves to be of limited value in discovering a means of defeating the invaders, but an infection turns the tide at the last moment.  Sounds about right?  It was the near shot-for-shot similarity of the nuclear attack in Independence Day that made me realize what I was looking at, and once the realization was there, I was even sadder about watching the damn thing.

El Santo castigates it properly for having a very small percentage of the running time given over to the actual blowing up of stuff, but there are some pretty long stretches of square-dancing, running to and fro, and slightly unlikely science chatter in War of the Worlds too.  I suspect if one examined in percent terms the alien on-screen time of the two films, Independence Day wouldn’t lag that far behind… but it’s a much longer film, so the relative similarity is overtaken by the absolute yawning immensity of Independence Day‘s empty bits.

For all the bad science and protracted dullness Independence Day offers, though, I think the concluding deus ex machina is the stake in its heart.  I join not only El Santo but legions of like-minded SF buffs in deriding the whole computer virus solution to the problem the aliens present, demanding as it does the deeply unlikely combination of humans piloting an alien vessel (and the aliens seem to have a lot of prehensile somethings when Will Smith punches one out), alien operating systems accepting any code from an earth computer, alien ATC not realizing they’re admitting a Trojan horse, and the crew of said horse getting out alive, but I add an extra note to that polyphony of raspberry.  Independence Day‘s greatest sin is to entirely reverse the conclusion of War of the Worlds— Wells and his sensible followers showed the helplessness of human ingenuity in the face of such a foe, but Independence Day proclaims that human ingenuity is quite sufficient to defeat a force which can cross interstellar gulfs, built artificial objects the size of moderate moons, decline the demands of gravity, generate forcefields which are impenetrable in one direction, and generally do feats of engineering we’re all but forced to call magic.  Since all of the preceding had been, as in the other two films, an excellent case against human ingenuity’s chances, it’s eventual triumph is less a come-from-behind win than a poke in the audience’s eye.  “You believed all that stuff we were saying? Chumps!”

Looking at box office success, we find that the little green gremlin which afflicts so many real-world efforts to visit Mars may also have a brief in the sabotaging of films about the red planet.  War of the Worlds is one of three films of the 1950s which El Santo credits with slamming the door on big budget sci-fi films until Stanley Kubrick pried it open at the end of the ’60s, and Mars Attacks grossed more than it cost but not the multiples of its cost that Hollywood seems to think is required to count as a success.  I wasn’t around to see how War of the Worlds was received in the theatres, but I did get to Mars Attacks in its first run and of the three dozen people in the showing my wife and I attended, only ten of us seemed to get the jokes; this does nothing to encourage my view of humanity as a whole.  I could say the same about the relative success of Independence Day at the box office, since it did make back several times its cost, but I seem to recall that it did most of its business in the first week or two, before disappointed word of mouth had a chance to circulate.  Alas, unlike War of the Worlds’s effect on A-list sci-fi in the 1950s, there is no sign of Independence Day having done any harm to the notion of gigantic brainless blockbusters.

Creepy, inhumanly shaped, and it made horrid noises too!.

Creepy, inhumanly shaped, and it made horrid noises too!.

How the hell did they get Edith Head to stand still for this picture?

How the hell did they get Edith Head to stand still for this picture?

To wrap up, I want to take issue with El Santo himself, who says “the creature costumes {in War of the Worlds} are not nearly as good as the model war machines or the optical effects associated with them….”  I beg your pardon, sir!  While the behind-the-scenes interviews on the DVD suggest that the Martians had a very limited ability to hold together under the influences found on a film set, it was still a profoundly alien piece of work.  We’ve done better since, of course, but for the time, I think the creature stands up to what scrutiny the film provides every bit as well at the machines.  After all, they could have gone a much different route….

Today’s pen: Waterman Executive
Today’s ink: Rohrer & Klingner Verdigris
Pens spotted in the films: Nothing I could readily identify, although I want to have another look at the lab scene in War of the Worlds when Forrester brings in the captured technology.

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ADHD, The Musical

Posted by Dirck on 14 June, 2013

To put a cap on yesterday’s silliness, how about a Golden Oldie?

…and when I say “Golden Oldie”, I can be taken to mean “New Wave”, “back in the days when videos were new and sort of creative”, or  “hey, this is a tune from my high school days… oh, god, I’m getting old.”

Today’s much older pen: Sheaffer Admiral
Today’s highly focussed, exteremly sensible ink: Diamine Prussian Blue

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ADHD, Me, and My Hat

Posted by Dirck on 13 June, 2013

A serious digression from my usual and/or projected course today, as I pick up my long-neglected psych degree and blow off some of the dust to regard it more closely.  I wonder if it still runs?

I’ve mentioned at some point my son’s diagnosis with not-quite-but-sort-of-in-ways-autism.  I’ve also mentioned at various points in the past his profoundly physical nature; he was carrying four litre jugs of milk at age 3, and as he approaches his fifth birthday views chin-ups as a fun pastime.  For his parents, these aspects of his nature can be a little tiring, especially when one is carrying dishes to the kitchen and he swarms up one’s back; he can’t be deflected and he’s difficult to discipline.  Since my desiccated, powdery degree has little bearing on my current life, I am more given to declaring this sort of behaviour as “he’s four” rather than seeking a clinical definition of it.  My wife and I are disinclined to the latter anyway, since we’ve long viewed the medication of children for rambunctiousness as an indicator of parents not willing to shoulder their responsibilities (not in all cases, certainly, but enough to make the practice disreputable in our eyes).  However, some evenings when the lad is running around the room in all three spatial axes, one’s thoughts turn in that direction.

Yesterday in a free moment I was looking at someone else’s blog, and they mentioned having taken an on-line ADHD assessment.  The previous night had been particularly tiring, so the notion was in my head, and I was tired enough to let the notion run in the direction of heredity.  Why not give myself a look, I thought with a strong tint of irony, and see if he might have the genes for it?  The result:

...and apparently my head is on fire as well.

…and apparently my head is on fire as well.

I cry hooey.  If this bit from the first page is correct…

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) Test

Based upon the DSM-IV criteria
and other screening measures for ADD/ADHD

…then I begin to cry hooey on the venerable and somewhat North America-specific Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders itself.  I’m given to concentration.  My primary joy as a child was hiding in the basement and assembling plastic models.  I replace this in adulthood with such mad-cap and distraction-tolerant pursuits as bookbinding and fountain pen repair.  I split my attention for external reasons.

The fault is more likely in the test.  After all, to answer “never” to something like 2. How often are you easily distracted by something in your environment, like a noise or another conversation? is to either self-deluded or a different kind of mentally abberant, and to say one “often” 14. How often do you begin to answer a question before it’s done being asked? is merely being rather good at the home version of “Jeopardy”.

We live in a distractable and distraction-filled age, but to occasionally give into the distractions is not a sign of a need for treatment.  There’s a story one finds on Buddhist sites (although I can’t, today) of a Zen master who regularly directed his students to do one thing and attend to it fully.  One day a student spots him reading while having his meal, and inquires whether that isn’t a contrary to the master’s own directives.  “Not at all,” says the master.  “I’m totally engaged in the act of reading while eating.”  If he can make a virtue of minor distraction, DSM-IV should lighten up a little and I decline the accusation of ADHD.

Which reminds me– I’m so very happy the season for my Panama hat has finally arrived.  Stephen Fry’s dismissal of this sort of lid aside (which may be connected to his diagnosed bi-polar disorder), it is the favourite of my hats.  When I retrieve it from the little shelf it rests upon at The Regular Job, the shape of it’s crown makes that retrieval a graceful rolling gesture ending with a hat properly planted atop my head.  The other hats are good, but they don’t lend themselves to this sort of quotidian expression of physical art, and of course in the hot weather a well-ventilated hat is a must.

Wait… SQUIRREL!

Today’s pen: Parker 75 (and you may ponder; “obsessed with” or “frequently distracted by”?)
Today’s ink: Diamine Sargasso Blue (which I’ll clean out before the weekend, however much I like the pen)

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Tinkering

Posted by Dirck on 12 June, 2013

I’m slightly absent today, in part because I want to devote some effort to a longer than usual post for the near future and in part because I want to lift the hood on WordPress and find out if I can do a certain thing.  This is, in fact, the sort of thing I warned might happen at the end of a post having nothing to do with the tools of writing a few days ago.  I’m making good on a threat/promise!

Today’s pen: Waterman Executive
Today’s ink: Rohrer & Klingner Verdigris

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