January 6, 2008

Lost art of writing…

Posted in 7 Habits, FountainPens, Paper at 12:10 am by a11en

Apica Wire-Bound Notebook

A recent TED lecture was just posted. I’m a sometimes TED watcher, often disagree-er, but often agree-er as well. [Sorry for the mangled english- sometimes making up words is just more easier than using real ones.]

The lecture was short and sweet. In the lecture, Lakshmi Pratury discusses the legacy her father left to her. The interesting thing, is the legacy he left wasn’t monetary. It was his written word. [Apparently wordpress hates TED embedded video... so here's a link: Lakshmi Pratury on why you should write.]

You see, her father passed away and left her a journal and letters he wrote to and about her. He tried to convey to her his thoughts on things, especially on her (how to improve and I’m sure what not to change). In this manner he left her something tangible and intangible at the same time. Something of his own hand, that she can now hold, and something of his own thought, that she can turn to when missing him.

That is an amazing example of what the written word can do. Touching ink to paper can mean much more than just a half-hour of your time to address a loved one. If you’re like me, you have so much going on in your life that often doing just that is the last thing on your mind.

I implore you to take out that stationery, that fine fountain-pen, that special “Haute Couture” ink, and spend a few moments writing. [I will do the same.]

November 25, 2007

PaperPhilia- Midori Japan’s Traveler’s Notebook

Posted in FountainPens, Paper at 12:40 am by a11en

My love of fountain-pens (FPs) has produced side-effect loves that I never thought would happen when I first put ink into my first serious FP. The side loves have included excellent ink and excellent paper. I’ve discussed the effect of ink and paper on writing experience in the past (FPs -v- BPs). Molly, from whom I purchased my first Japanese notebooks (Apica), sent me a journal to get my opinions on it. I have to admit not being sure of this journal at first, but a bit of digging and using has solidified some things about it, and I wanted to share them here. I’ll have to devote a different post to discussing the Apica notebooks (as I’ve fallen hard for them). I’ve reviewed the Apica on the FountainPenNetwork’s forum in the recent past, so I’ll wait on that review for another time.

Midori Traveler's Notebook

(More images and my review after “more”…)

Read the rest of this entry »

October 27, 2006

Tacticity: The Fountain-Pen -v- Ballpoint

Posted in FountainPens at 7:40 am by a11en

A post today regarding some of my thoughts about Fountain-pens and Ballpoints. When someone moves from a ball-point (which most of my generation have been using their whole life) to a fountain-pen, often their comments range from “smooth” to “better feel” to “more responsive”. Another item that short-term users of FP’s experience is that of paper-quality. As I mentioned before, I never realized how bad paper quality had become in this country until I picked up a fountain-pen. Besides the mere ink/paper combination issues, there is also a tactile issue with the FP nib points. A sharp fine (F or XF) fountain-pen nib is what many call “toothy” on rougher paper. I’ll come back to paper briefly towards the end of this discussion…

The Mechanics and Tribology Of A Nib

In specific, about the tactile feel of a fountain-pen: The nib is comprised of two tines which have a very small vein running between them. This vein in conjunction with the feed and collector is what gets the ink from the pen’s reservoir to the nib-point. Often (especially in the more expensive pens) the nib is made from a single sheet of 14k or other similar type of gold. Gold is quite soft, and coupled with the length- the tines become something reminiscent of a cantilever. Since these are semi-flexible cantilevers, we can expect a response from the nib which is softer and more responsive to paper topology. Now, FP users are probably screaming at me- I’m not describing what we call “semi-flex” or “flexible” nibs here. I’m merely pointing out that there is a flexibility difference between the ball-point and the fountain-pen nib.

As well as the cantilever like tines of a nib, we also have the difference between what I’ll call one-dimensional writing and two-dimensional writing. If you have a ball handy, snag one- anything will do a golf-ball, tennis-ball, a squash-ball, whatever… actually-not everything will do… a football, being non-spherical won’t work. Put your hand flat on the ball, and move forward, backward, etc… rolling the ball between table/floor and hand. Watch the contact point of the ball with the surface you’re rolling against. If you were to start the ball on a logo for instance, the logo moves when rolling, correct? As well, at any point in time, the ball is in contact with the surface at (for all practical purposes) a single point. This point moves- eventually coming back in contact with your hand as you roll past 360°. What you have just observed is how a ball rolls around on a surface. This is exactly how your ball-point rolls around as well! The ball is merely encased in a point which allows the ball to roll, and allows ink to coat the surface of the ball. [Those of you with finger-paints, coat the ball and then roll it around - preferably on a hard-wood mahogany floor... Just kidding!] A fountain-pen is seriously different than this. Imagine taking a tube- say a toilet paper tube or a straw, and cutting one end of it at an angle. This is a very crude approx. of a fountain-pen. Those of you who know your math will know that the end of this tube will be an ellipse- that is, non-circular. I’ll get to that in a second. Now, place that flat cut edge on the same surface as your ball… and drag it around. Left, right, up, down… anything rolling? nope- anything changing contact with the surface? nope! What you have there, my friend is a large area of contact that you are sliding across a surface. Did you notice how much harder it is to slide if you apply the same pressure you did on the ball as on the tube? [Especially easy to notice on a carpet...] The tube grabs and snags the surface sometimes, unless you use a smooth surface and a light touch! This is exactly like the difference between a ball-point and a fountain-pen. Crude, yes, but similar.

Now back to the ellipse of that cut-surface… it’s not exactly the same width as height, right? If you’re unsure of this, snag an ink-pad, or perhaps some ketchup, and dab it into the ink- and then on a piece of paper. You don’t have a circle, because we cut it at an angle. Now, when you drag, you’re dragging the length or the width across the page (or something in between). Since the length of these are different, depending on how you drag it, you get different widths of lines! Interesting, eh? Remember back to the ball… no matter how we rolled it, the contact area of the ball always stayed the same… with your little fake fountain-pen (tube) this is *not* the case! In the extreme cases- Calligraphic fountain-pens, this difference is very pronounced. That is why some lines in characters made with them appear as skinny lines, while others thick. [There's another way of doing this, but I won't discuss that here today.]

How Paper and Ink Plays a Role

Now, a few comments about ink and paper. We have already noticed that the tube sliding across a rough surface is harder to work with than a ball rolling across that same surface- hence, we know that a smoother paper is going to feel better with a fountain-pen than a rougher paper. But, there is also differences in the ink. In a fountain-pen, the ink needs to flow readily from the reservoir to the feed to the nib-point. It must be very very smooth and very liquid. In a ball-point, you want the ink to stick to the ball so that you can get it onto the ball, and roll it onto the paper. Something a bit like paint on a paint-roller. If the roller were as smooth as a ball-point’s steel ball, and the paint was as liquid as water- you’d never get anything on the wall, as it would all run down and off the roller. The same goes with the ball of a ball-point. If the ink is sticky, it’ll stick to the ball, and then to the paper. Remember, we’re not actually sliding anything onto the paper (like a paint-brush)- we’re rolling it on… so it must be sticky. [This is not the case with a roller-ball... which means I have some more thinking to do here.] This sticky thick ink is even more pronounced in the new gel-ink pens. Ever see the ink moving in the ink cartridges? Nope! It’s quite thick, and I suspect (without busting one) quite sticky. So, a fountain-pen’s ink is liquid like. Who cares? Well, the paper cares… if the paper was like glass, do you think the ink would get anywhere? It’d just sit on the surface (if it came out of the fountain-pen at all). To get a nice line, you need to have a slightly absorbent paper. Too absorbent, and the line thickens (draws more ink out of the nib than you want). As well, if the paper is made from rough fibers, without any refinement (try a newspaper), you’ll get lots of ink running along these fibers, making your writing look “fuzzy”… this is called “Feathering”. Since ink from a ball-point doesn’t really flow that much if at all, we don’t have to worry about ink-”flow” into the paper fibers, or along the paper-fibers… hence we can often write on surfaces that aren’t very absorbent, and also on paper that is very rough and very fibrous. Of course there are limits to everything, but this is the general gist of things. So, a fountain pen really wants a smooth paper, with mild absorbency. As well, the lubricity of the ink plays a roll in the tactile feel as mentioned above. Sliding across the page, there is a liquid layer of ink that buffers the nib-point from the topology of the paper… lower the viscosity, or add surfactants, and you have a slippery ink- which will lay a smoother line. Of course there are tradeoffs in formulations, which I can only speculate on…

So, we’ve seen over this post, how a fountain-pen provides more tactile feel on the page. As well, visually the ink will act differently on the page, giving more visual feed-back as to paper absorbence. Ink flow plays a major role as well. Finally, the contact-area of the nib to the page provides not only tactile feel (topology) but also line-width variation- all of which I like to call two-dimensional, or even three-dimensional writing. [Topology will provide a third dimension here.]

All of this above provides the user with a more expressive and tactile experience when using a fountain-pen. In this article, I also haven’t touched on pen-designs, the beauty of a gold-nib, variation in ink-color, type, and even scenting. All of these add to the aspect of using a fountain-pen to write. Visually, the color is immediately noticed as different than a ball-point. Many users of fountain-pens utilize various colors of ink, as well as often mix their own ink colors. This leads to another level of personalization and expressiveness to the simple art of writing – creating a much more complex and enjoyable experience for the writer.

October 11, 2006

Penmanship – the lost art…

Posted in FountainPens, Rants at 11:39 pm by a11en

I wanted to comment on something we are losing these days- the days of point and click. I myself am a victim. You see, I type faster than I can ever hope to write. I can almost dictate and type in the normal qwerty keyboard. Now, this would not be so bad if I were able to write fast but the truth is that I write horrendously. Which is why I am slowly attempting to improve my handwriting.

There was a period of time when proper handwriting would ensure you a stable job. In fact, there was a time when being an expert in penmanship was actually a full time profession. It appears this is no longer the case. I find this downfall quite interesting, as all these little letters on the screen have a history- they were all written by hand at one point in time- their shape cast by convention and by authors of styles of handwriting, interested in legibility and form. These old pen-masters helped to form the shapes we use even now.

(speaking of masters…) I also find it intriguing that, for followers of Zen, calligraphy (shodo [2]) is one form of artwork which many specialize in. It marries the art made by man’s brush, with spiritual meditation. I believe strongly that this link is not to be laughed at… when one is stressed, sad, or happy, one’s handwriting is influenced. The idea that the heart, brain, and hand are connected is not to be disregarded. In fact, many studies on handwriting in the school system, have shown that students who take more handwriting instruction increase the structural complexity of their sentence creation. With the recent SAT’s requiring a hand-written essay portion, with those who print obtaining a lower average score in comparison to those who write in cursive, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the recent handwritten lo-fi movement arising from the geeky high-tech sector. (Being a geek isn’t necessarily bad. ;) )

When you have a computer- who needs a pen?

An interesting thing I’ve noticed, is that the computer allows my brain to throw more thoughts on a page… but this is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, since I can throw more thoughts on a page (my poor readers) this generally equates to lack of well-thought out sentence and paragraph structure. Mostly due to the more then helpful “Cut and Paste” and Mr. Delete. When asked to write by hand (lets say the computer is getting it’s logic board replaced for the third time), I notice this downfall of my writing immediately.

Now, don’t get me wrong here- our whole world has been helped by the advances that came from computing, and most of us couldn’t possibly produce manuscripts without the help of a computer with a typesetting program (small jab there at Word users…). However, even though we are helped, we must realize in some ways we are also hindered; this is where the new lo-fi movement is coming from. People are throwing out their PDAs for Moleskines. They are ignoring their mice (poor things) more frequently now, and picking up their Parkers. The reason? I strongly feel it’s disconnection driven. By “disconnection” I mean that there is a disconnection between well-thought out, well planned-out, phrases and our writing. The first thing I noticed as I forced myself to write letters on excellent stationary (Triomphe) was that I didn’t want to throw it out frequently. This meant that each sentence was thought about, more so than if I were writing on the computer. As well, each time I formed my words, since I was trying to write them legibly, I slowed down, and paid attention to form. All these things I ignore if I’m writing fast, or writing for myself, especially on the computer.

I have been contemplating these things on and off when I’m not working on my fast-approaching deadline at work… In particular, I’ve noticed that with increased speed of communication, and increased technology used, there is also more disconnection between the parties communicating. Disconnection leads to communication difficulties. I’m sure we’ve all experienced an e-mail discussion degrade into anger from misunderstanding one’s sentences etc. Hopefully, it was resolved… more than likely it needed to be resolved by lowering the level of disconnection- be it by using the phone or talking in person, etc. In person we have body lanuage and facial expressions that we lose when we move to phone communication. In phone communication, we have voice inflection, speed, and tone, which we lose when we write by hand. When writing by hand, we have we have cramped letters, fast and uncaring writing, or we have expressive characters, large movements, good spacing, pauses where ink seaps into the paper a bit- all things we lose when we e-mail. E-mail itself is quite disconnected. We no longer have that body language, voice inflection, expressive handwriting to tell us how the communicator is feeling. So, if we have poor sentence structure in e-mail, or ambiguous meanings which may be construed into personal attacks- communication breaks down quickly, and tempers flair.

Yes, we are improving the disemmination of information, and the speed of communication. But we are also creating lack of connection (either between well thought out words and paper or between the communicators). It’s this lack of connection- this sense of “black-box” filing (is my document here or there? or anywhere?) that is causing a backlash in our generation. We are now picking up the fountain-pen and nice little personal books, where our lowly little grocery-store lists, or our hopefully enjoyed, yet esoteric, rants fill their pages in expressive handwriting.

Related Links:

post-script: I also believe that there is something to be said for the difference in writing implements. A future post may deal with the ball-point -v- fountain pen issue so many of us have experienced lately. I for one will come down on the side of the fountain-pen, but I’ll save our discussion for another time. ;)

September 18, 2006

OmniPlan – Gantt Outlining & GTD

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 5:31 pm by a11en

A quick tip of the hat to the OsX software producers OmniGroup for tackling the Gantt chart project planning in their new beta-product OmniPlan. But first, some discussion of one of the difficulties in GTD the way I implement it…

Sibling/Children Tasks in GTD (a difficulty?)
One of the things about David Allen’s Getting Things Done which has been slightly off-beat for me, is that it’s somewhat difficult for me to determine related tasks (especially when resorted into context views). Now, don’t get me wrong, GTD is absolutely fantastic, and it’s changing the way I deal with my work and projects. For nuts and bolts of how to organize and think properly about tasks, GTD is where it’s at. Currently I’ve been using Kinkless’s kGTD to do my sorting etc., of my tasks, and printing them out onto 3×5 cards for use in my Levenger‘s Ballistic Shirtpocket Briefcase. I love the flexibility of 3×5′s, and the ability to take my hi-Fi to my lo-Fi world is nice. [Going the other way is a bit more difficult, just to warn you.]

I find that in my simple task or project view, in kGTD and surely other apps- it can be somewhat difficult to understand children/sibling tasks when viewed all in a single context. In other words, in one project I may have @research, @lab work, @analysis on a microscope, and finally @writing in regards to the research done. All these may lay under a project tab- like “Determine 3D plane of grain-boundary 1.” Nice- it’s in a project, so they’re related, and it’s in a subproject (my thesis), etc. Now, the good thing about GTD is having a task list based on context- i.e., @lab-work. So, I page over to my @lab-work task list. All the labwork I need to do is there. BUT- what it doesn’t show me, is the fact that in the real-world, I need to do my @online/library research first before going into the lab. So, technically, that task of “grow bicrystal @lab” shouldn’t be in my task-list yet- as the library research hasn’t been completed. So, when moving between context lists, I tend to loose some serious information- the order and pre-requisites or parent tasks.

I strongly suspect some sort of pending task indication in kGTD or other GTD implementations is needed. Perhaps context lists should be only current actionable items and not include any of these parent-pending tasks. In GTD words, the context lists would include only “next actions”… not all actions, as kGTD currently is setup. This in itself may solve this problem.

I highly value GTD for freeing up my mind (I’ve slacked a bit lately, but I’m getting back on the horse with organization). So, I am grateful to D.Allen [2] [3] for his work. As well, as to S. Covey [2] [3] for his work. I’m just wondering if we’re missing another level of mind-stuffing information here: namely the proper order and relation of tasks. In my current mode of organization, I seem to lose this information, or am required to remember it. In the project view, usually I have things organized in such a way that I can see this natural parent/child relationship, but when contexts are used, my brain must remember these things- which seems to go against the basic tenant of GTD. At least *I think* it does. [Lord knows I'm not an expert here.]

Gantt Charts, Procrastination and Tasks
Back to our discussion of Gantt charts. A long time ago I found Gantt charts. Even though they are painfully structured (not loose in scheduling or linking etc.)- they do allow you to very quickly see the tasks required to complete a project. In some ways, producing even a Gantt-Chart fake (structured todo list with fake times), you can see/walk through a project’s progression to completion more clearly. It’s very easy to see sibling/child/parent relationships in Gantt views. So, it intrigues me that OmniGroup chose a task-list and a Gantt project view for their OmniPlan application. Their app appears to be more focused towards small business or units within an organization, but it may prove to be interesting for personal project planning as well. So, I will begin to play with it a bit and see what can be determined. If I find it good or bad, I’ll let you know!

BTW, the Gantt project view may be useful for those of you working through the Now Habit. The idea of the reverse-schedule works quite well with Gantt planning. Starting with the required completion time, and working backwards through tasks to complete, you get a better feel for how much time is required for a project, its related tasks, and what needs to get done in a timely manner to achieve your goal. I’m not sure OmniPlan is good for GTD. I’m still playing. As I find out more, I’ll be sure to post.

GTD Evangelism (sic)
In describing GTD to my brother (the consummate devil’s advocate at times) he asked me: “Why- how has it helped?” The one comment that gave him pause was when I mentioned the ability to leave a project alone and jump back in right where you left off. It’s true. One of the great things about GTD, is that when you have your tasks and projects all in the system, and all the items are properly filed, you now can flip over to your project list/folder, and see what needs to be done immediately. Even if it’s been a month since you last got to that particular project. This is a serious benefit, as usually project switching requires you to spend quite a bit of downtime determining what needs to be done next. The methodology of filing/processing items from your projects into next actions and reference material means that you have all the necessary tools for completing your project at your finger-tips. Even if you leave it for a short time period to work on another necessary project. So, those of you who find it difficult to flip between various items when left for periods of time (almost a weekly event in grad-school), may find implementing GTD to be helpful.

Fountain-Pen Friendly Notebooks
A quick blurb about fountain-pen friendly notebooks: Barnes and Nobels has spiral bound Miquelrius as well as the faux-leather journals. Miquelrius paper is fantastic with fountain-pens! Love it- love it. My m400 has been writing so well lately, and on Miquelrius paper, it’s a dream. :) (almost as good as Clairfontaine for smoothness)

I hope your week turns out to be great!

September 12, 2006

Maigret and bookstore musings…

Posted in Books, FountainPens, Pipes, Rants at 2:00 pm by a11en

I have a confession to make- I love books. I love books so much that I have a number of books currently being read in parallel, and often a large number of books on my shelf that are wanting to be read, taunting me, asking me to open their covers… There are a number of things I’ve figured out about books, and I’ll spare you a good deal of them in this post.

Allow me to digress slightly into the land of ex-girlfriends. I promise we will find ourselves out on the other-side of this digression back in the land of book-talk. I have to tip my hat to an old girlfriend of mine, Sigrun. She came around at a time in my life when she was desperately needed. I had finished a very crazy relationship with a very troubled, but wonderful, woman who is still in my prayers (as is Sig of course). Sig, however, was like a ray of blinding light coming through a recently swept-aside bedroom curtain after a 4 year storm. The darkness giving way, Sig was my therapy. Among other wonderful things, she showed me simple kindnesses I had forgotten that were a part of a good relationship based upon mutual love and respect. For that she will always be a dear friend, no matter where she travels. Another wonderful thing Sig taught me, was that there are actually places where old books go to find a new home: used bookstores. I can almost guarantee to you, the reader, that there is at least one used bookstore near you- possibly two or three. They are wonderful safe-havens for books that, as I will describe shortly, have been lost to some, but remain available to be found…

A lot of these wonderful and lost books can be found at libraries (another great invention). I, however, figured out a long time ago that libraries are wonderful things, but not if you read books like I do. I have the tendency to make them draw on for ages- and having the ability to set a book down, and not feel under the gun to finish it, allows me to have numerous “friends” on my bookcase that aren’t yelling at me to get them back to their Dewey-allocated shelving units before the guillotine drops.

And so- I brave the world of crazy old houses turned into used-book-safe-havens with rickety steps and crazy soft-spoken (and obviously way too peaceful to be human) cash-till-attendants, who somehow manage to remember which books they have on their shelves even when a good portion of them are actually in piles on the floor. I rummage around through covers of sometimes faded lettering, and funky 70′s pinks… all on the elusive hunt- that book which the major sellers no longer stock or print. Or at least, can no longer be found in town. And there, my friends, is the rub…

For a book, being good and old often isn’t enough for you to get printed much. Even if you are printed, being good and old often isn’t enough to find yourself on a shiny bookstore shelf awaiting the ipod-toting masses. [Peace, friend, I too tote an iPod.] Now, you may be able to suggest that there are so many good books, that it’s impossible to keep them on the shelves at all- by sheer mass and volume issues. Ok, I’ll agree a bit here… but what I hate, is that I know I’m not into esoteric authors, and often, a book I’m looking for isn’t to be found anywhere in town! So often, that I’m wondering why in the world I even go to the bookstores, when there is Amazon. (Granted, with it’s own problems.) The most hilarious thing in the world to me is when the “fill-in-name”-bookstore attendant says: “Well, sir, it looks like we don’t carry that book, but we can order it for you.” I smile the smile I’m sure they’ve seen a hundred times that day- “No, that’s ok. Thank you.” Why the hell would I want them to order it for me, when I can get on average 10-30% off on Amazon and often with no shipping if I lump my orders together? (I can even get groceries at the same time.)

But, then, I’m reminded that Amazon, as well as allowing you to get groceries, also puts you in touch with a seriously large used-book marketplace. See, I told you a used-book store was near by! ;) Personally, I like to hold and examine the used books I buy, so I tend to not use this option. I have had friends who have purchased books that I’d swear weren’t used and were in excellent condition.

What authors have I had a Dicken’s of a time finding of late? (sorry for the (oliver)Twist-ed pun) Why the musings? Lately it has been the great author and apologist, G.K. Chesterton. On my first search, I was on the hunt for The Everlasting Man. C.S. Lewis, another apologist, perhaps most important of his century, said this particular work baptised his intellect as George MacDonald baptised his imagination. He called it the best popular apologetic he knew. So, we can surely say the work influenced one of the greatest authors of the time. Can you find it at any local bookstore today? I bet you can’t- I certainly couldn’t. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in my local used bookstore haunt! So, I will have to get a new or used one from Amazon. Now, don’t go getting the idea that Chesterton only wrote about Christianity. Not at all. His Father Brown mysteries are fantastic stories. I did find one of them at one of the locally-owned bookstores, and snagged it. So far the stories have been very enjoyable, and I have another compilation of more of the Father Brown stories waiting for me in my bookcase that I snagged from the unusually-peaceful used-book-store attendant. [Seriously- he's EXTREMELY PEACEFUL- it's disconcerting... take Garrison Keillor and slow him down a notch or two... and perhaps lower his volume by half, and you can see what I mean...]

Speaking of mysteries, another very important mystery writer is very hard to find these days. Only a few of his books are available recently: Georges Simenon. An amazingly prolific writer, Simenon’s work includes nearly 200 novels, 150 novellas, and numerous other writings. The most memorable, perhaps is the great pipe-smoking superintendent of the Police Judicaire, Commissaire Maigret. Many of the Maigret stories are nice short mystery novels, which to me harken to Sherlock Holmes in length and enjoyment. Many times I enjoy the Maigret novels more than Holmes, perhaps because I’ve read too much of Holmes all in one sitting. I have to admit, the knowledge of pipe-smoking that Simenon has lends very well to his pipe-smoking character Maigret, who is almost never without his pipe. One memorable scene even has Maigret enjoying a much needed bowl of tobacco to help him think and relax while bed-ridden with a nasty cold during one investigation. His covers were up to his neck, while his wife was out on an errand; just the pipe sticking out. (Of course after being told he was not allowed to have a pipe that day.) When I can find the Maigret novels, and can afford them, I snag them up like they were candy. Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this secret… on second thought- Maigret sucks horribly- you’ll do yourself an injustice if you buy any of ‘em, so just pass them by, thank you very much…

Talk of Holmes brings us around to one of the most well-loved mystery writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here again, we find that a few of his books have at least up until very recently been extremely difficult to find in bookstores as well. In fact, Doyle’s Sherlock mysteries were outsold by a non-Holmes book in England: The White Company. The White Company is a truly heraldic tale. Taking us back to the days of knights and chivalry, it’s easy to see why young and old minds alike loved the tale of the White Company, headed by the great Sir Nigel (whose stories are available separately). The book was a great refreshing read after not finding much like it in popular writing. Reading the White Company gave me a very serious respect for Sir Doyle’s work. Wonderfully written, and much more descriptive than the short stories of Holmes that were published in The Strand. The White Company is definitely worth a read, even if you were unsure of Doyle after a long bout of reading Holmes.

Don’t be afraid to dig a bit to find those old books, perhaps even used books that are hard to find on the shelves of the mega-book stores these days. Very often, they’re superb but are in the public domain and don’t make a serious amount of money for the store. It’s harder for them to sell these just because they’re not being made into movies, or not very well known. I’m finding wonderful gold-nuggets in my digging, and just felt the need to share ‘em with you. (Not to mention buying a book for $2 is a seriously fun experience.)

Added benefit: A good portion of these works may have been written with fountain pens!! :) He he he.. (ok, I know, I’ve got a problem)… certainly the writers used fountain pens at one point, perhaps not to write their novels. Speaking of fountain pens- here’s a beauty that I snagged at Levengers for a steal- a Pelikan 400 tortoise I believe (some call it “Honey”). Beautiful white plastic accented with gold trim and a dual-tone irridium accented gold nib. Piston filler of course- has a fantastic ink capacity, and will surely last for a very long time. If you haven’t tried any Pelikans, I highly recommend them. Excellent writers, and the piston-fill system is wonderful to use. The picture below is from my huge Miquelrius notebook which is used for my research notes. Ink is Noodler’s Legal Lapis available through Pendemonium.

Pelikan 400

Oh- one last thought: The Harvest. Every year when this season comes around, I’m reminded of how wonderful fresh food straight from the farmers/orchards are. We have in my fridge at the moment, some fresh green beans, fresh super-sweet corn, a half-peck of Honey Crisp Apples, and a bunch of freshly picked ripe from the tree peaches. It’s amazing to me that too many of us have settled with store produce. It is certainly important to us, that’s a given, but to taste fresh fruits and vegetables- one wonders why in the world we eat anything else! When an apple or a peach makes you a bit weak in the knees (and you have no other serious medical conditions) you have to be thankful for the harvest-bounty. A friend of mine has shared his fresh oranges, grapefruit and tangerines from Florida in the past. I used to never really crave any of these things- that is until the day I tasted his family’s tree-ripened fruit. Oh man- I hate to say it, it’s a bit cliche- but as I bit down into a tangerine- I thought- hell, this should be “adult-only” it’s so damned good. When things calmed down a bit, I realized it was just good fruit! :) When your oranges taste like orange-sherbet but juicier, you know you’ve got it good. So, my hat’s off to all the growers out there. I’m very thankful for harvest season- and I’m doing my best to enjoy it while it lasts!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful week, and I hope to be back soon with productivity oriented snippets to share. I’ve been swamped a bit, so the blog has taken a bit of a back-seat, my apologies!

August 8, 2006

Update on FP’s, Wet-Shave, Now Habit, future posts…

Posted in FountainPens, Mac Software, Pipes, Procrastination, shaving at 7:37 pm by a11en

Well, a post has been long over due. I try to ensure that I don’t post nonsense here, so that those who visit will visit often, and get something out of reading my insane ramblings. :) Maybe I’m hoping for too much. I’ve been incommunicado, as I’ve been concentrating on work, as well as somewhat unsure how to tackle my little hack. I’ll call that my “Book Underline Liberation Hack” or BULH… uh… well, you get the idea.

About my “BULH” (pronounced as Bull-@#$@?) hack: My biggest problem in posting a how-to on this, really, is that it utilizes a number of programs that you guys/gals might not be too familiar with. Some surely are, but some may not be. So, I think I’m going to start it as a series. I’ll talk about each program separately, point you to appropriate interesting links that may be of use to you, and then bring everything together in the end. Since it’s a bit of a crazy hack, and I haven’t made any scripts to help you in the hack, a lot of you guys may choose not to use it. But, hopefully the series will help some of you (who may not have decided to install some of the programs before). My ultimate goal is to give you a way to liberate and utilize all those great underlined sections in your books. I find they’re useful when I do re-reads, but often I don’t re-read, and would love to have those sitting where they’re visible to motivate my work. I think the first program up on the block will be Growl. Before this, let me brain-dump a few items of interest. I’ll work on my post on Growl over the next few days.

Fountain Pens

My strong suggestion for anyone who wishes not to get trapped on a slippery slope- is don’t ever try a nice fountainpen. I recently stopped by a local antique store. After looking around a bit, I ask the proprietor if she has any fountain-pens. She says: “Yes, but they’re not out and ready for sale yet…” She digs a bit… out pop some interesting older pens, nothing too exciting… as I look over them and tell her about my limited experience with FP’s, she digs some more, and out pop some big-dogs. We talk for around an hour, and all of a sudden, she says: “Would you be willing to help me?”… “If you help me figure out what these are worth, I’ll give you your pick.” I’m floored… I think on it for a day, and decide to help. So, in front of me sits the following after a stint of hand-polishing (there are more of lesser value as well):

  • Parker “51″ Vacumatic, Third-quarter, 1947 (T47), gold-filled cap, straight line pattern, blue-diamond GF clip, black body
  • Parker Vacumatic Junior, Maxima size, Brown Pearl laminate, 1947
  • Shaeffer’s Snorkel Saratoga, green body
  • Conklin with nice green striated celluloid body, sac-filler
  • Cartridge Shaeffer’s yet to be determined
  • Epenco little sac-filler with wonderful marble celluloid body

Just those three pens on top of the list there were a joy to come by in the wild. There of course a lot of questions- one of the more important for the owner of these, is: Is it better to spend the money on repairing/refurbishing, or is it better to sell them as-is. Being a FP-fellow now, of course I’d love to take a crack at them, or send them away- they’re much easier to buy without being repaired. ;) Any and all comments regarding this, please chime in!

The Wet-Shave Update

Finally got an amazing shaving brush. I purchased a Vulfix Super-Badger brush with a nice knot-size. Price was reasonable- larger than I’d ever spent on shaving accoutrements, but, reasonable. While walking through Marshal-Fields this weekend, I came across a small “The Art of the Shave” shop on the first floor. Talked shaving equipment with the salesman there for a bit. Turns out their smallest super-badger (silvertip) was double the price of the Vulfix brush I purchased a week ago. The brush was at least half as large as mine, to boot. Amazing price difference.

I have to admit that the brush is awesome. I didn’t need much soap on the bristle tips to get a fantastic lather on the face. Incidentally, I’m using that Lavendar soap by Taylor of Old Bond Street mentioned previously. Great soap. Now, I just need to find an after-shave moisturizer that fits nicely with the lavender. The brush hopefully will last me for many many years. I finally actually look forward to my shaves, instead of wishing I didn’t have to do it before heading to work. I’m starting to realize that money spent on things of luxury are often worth it, if they can be enjoyed for many years to come, and you aren’t neglecting an important expenditure. Oh, and that 12-hour 5′O-clock shadow procrastination I mentioned earlier- it’s true. I’m getting a closer shave just by changing to the badger brush and soap. Amazing. Highly recommend a good brush, and a good soap. [Incidentally, the soap looks like it's gonna last me for a couple years as well!]

Now Habit Update

I need to spend more time on this in the near future. Some wonderful things found since I last discussed Fiore’s book. Unfortunately, keeping them in mind often is difficult. I’ve experienced a truth too often: No matter how late I stay up, there’s no way to add more time to my day. Important items often will slip by if I am not more conscious to choose to do them first. Fiore’s book explains the idea of the “unschedule”. It’s quite simple really- schedule your time for everything *but* your work. Sleeping, eating, playing time- showering, tooth-paste time, etc.- when this is accomplished, you see all too clearly how much time there is for work. Often there’s not much time to do your work, so realizing this helps you to make proper decisions about that unscheduled time you have. As well, you should commit to yourself to only do 30 minutes of work. That’s right… 20 hours total a week tops. 30 minutes of focused time. The reason is that if you attempt to do all the time you wish to accomplish in your head (say 18 hours a day, is what I’d love to be doing)- there’s no way you’re going to actually do it. In fact, because you know you should do 18 hours a day, you’ll find it *very* hard to start. Instead, 30 minutes of extreme focus without distractions often gets more done. It’s all a matter of starting. All projects get done just by starting, and starting and starting… over and over again, until the project is finished. Little starts of focused time.

Oh, a bit of a tip, as well- it appears that the infinity journal (both the normal and the mini) from Levenger will fit the Miquelrius journals that I find at Pendemonium and Barnes and Noble. So, if you’re looking for a real leather cover, and a ribbon book-mark for it, the cover will likely fit. Nice to know incase the one that comes with it, runs out. :)

Tobacco And The Sea

After a trip to Levengers at Fields, I walked over to the oldest family owned business in Illinois- Iwanries & Co. Paid for a pipe I had money down on, and perused their tobacco. Lo and behold- I find tins of Murray blended Dunhill blends!! I couldn’t believe it! So, I snagged a number of London Mixture tins. Happy with my surprise find, I walked down to the warf to pay a call on an old friend- The Abegweit. She’s now the Columbia Yacht Club club-house. A number of very kind club members talked with me about the old ferry, and invited me and the family back at a future date. I was floored at their kind offer. As a kid, I leaned over the Abegweit’s bow watching the ocean race by on my way to my grandmother’s house in Prince Edward Island. It was great to see the boat being well-loved.

As I walked, with my pipe in mouth, enjoying the tall-ships that came that weekend to Chicago, I was reminded of how the sea and tobacco were often the two things that most stirred man’s imagination in the days gone by. The days of shaving-brushes, and lavender soaps, wooden ships, and pipes…

July 18, 2006

The “Wet” Shave

Posted in FountainPens, Pipes, shaving at 3:55 pm by a11en

So, for ages I’ve been toying with the idea of doing wet-shaving. A bit of background as to where this was coming from…

Something about the old way of things intrigues me. Perhaps it’s just my limited experience:

  • Pipe smoking is just fantastic- if you’re gonna smoke, for the love of God, please smoke a pipe- everthing else is just ick (or a cigar- both of these are much much better for you than smoking cigarettes into your lungs). I’ll have a page on pipe-smoking in the future when I get some time. (For now I’ll assume that most of you won’t be interested in this.)
  • Handkerchiefs- ok, before you guys go ape-crazy and say: “That’s disgusting!”- have you ever pulled a tissue out of it’s box and seen particles fly all over the place into the air? When the voices in my head talk to me- they say that this is all part of the grand scheme to make me purchase more tissue, ’cause I always sneeze after using ‘em. ;) Normally, I figure it’s just too expensive to keep the powder out of the box during manufacturing. Let’s just say it’s so much better to use cloth than powdery paper. The trick is to buy lots and change them out every single day, so you’re always with a fresh hankie that isn’t nasty as hell. ;) ‘Cause honestly, without a cold, how often do you use a tissue?
  • Fountainpens- are smoother and more enjoyable to write with than any of the ballpoint pens, gel ink or not. Not to mention there’s a huge array of amazing ink colors, and even the option to scent the ink for writing romantic love letters to your muse. Don’t even get me started on vintage pens, and proper paper…
  • Hats as umbrellas- Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, we’ve missed wearing hats. I don’t wear mine all the time, but to keep the sun and rain off your head, out of your face, a hat is an excellent thing. I’ve been in downpours, and between my hat and my teflon-coated barn-jacket, I’m dry as a bone. Everyone else is running for the hills when the rain starts. I just mosey down the sidewalk enjoying the rain: cool mother nature’s shower.

So, the things of old appeal to me for some strange reason. Weird, I know, because in the past I loved everything super-tech- hell, I have a Roomba for gosh sakes. ;)

Now, where was I?- Oh yes- If you think of luxury in a man’s bathroom, you have to somewhere see the badger bristle brush for shaving. It’s a classic. What person hasn’t seen a man’s brush and mug used in a movie for a shaving scene? So, for a long time I’ve been thinking about the “wet-shave”. When I saw a Burt’s Bee’s man’s shaving soap on sale one day at Wild Oats, I snagged it, and shoved it in the back of my cabinet. Then finally this week, I was purchasing some items for Chel at the local Walmart of all things and saw a “natural” bristle brush for like $5. Now, this is definitely not a badger brush- likely it’s boar’s hair. Luckily, a natural bristle is better than plastic bristle. So, I’m up there, but down in the fact that it’s gonna be a very rough brush and not hold as much water as badger.

So last night, I tried it out. I started by moistening my beard- did this by using a washcloth with hot water, held to the face for at least a minute… then washed my face with a good soap. Next I moistened again, and started my work with the brush. With a light hand and circling the brush on the soap, I could work up a nice lather. Definitely wetter and lighter than normal foam shaving cream. I worked the brush in little light circles on my beard, and ensured I had a nice lather on my face before shaving. With hot water in the sink, I proceeded to shave. I have to say it was an interesting experience!! I noticed the difference immediately. I got a very close shave. Much closer than I normally do. I tend to use higher-end cream shave foam and it just didn’t even come close to how smooth my face was when this shave was over. This afternoon, my face is as smooth as it normally is when I shave with a shave foam/gel. So it appears I got an extra 12 hours on my shave. Time will tell, however, if this is true, but, I’m sold. Next up is to try and find a great badger brush and try out some wonderful lavender soap. I’ve heard some wonderful things about Vulfix brushes, and being that some of my relatives were from the Isle of Man, I suspect I’ll be getting one sometime very soon.

For more info on the wet-shave:

Finally, some thoughts: I’m starting to wonder if in the race to achieve bigger, better, faster- we’re slowly losing sight of doing things “well”. Or perhaps Pirsig would say, doing things with “Quality” [2]. We’re so hell-bent on getting ink to paper, that we neglect our handwriting and enjoyment of nib on paper, use pens that lack a range of color that used to be standard, and come in throw-away plastic tubes ready for our consumption. We run from place to place in the rain instead of donning a hat, we don’t share a clean hanky with a lady who might need it as a gesture of care, and we don’t really care how we get the job done of shaving, as long as it’s quick and painless ’cause “we’re late for work.” We’ve also lost a bit of that old politeness that seems to take so long these days. I’ve heard all sorts of stories (from friends) of children disrespecting adults (especially surrounding the smoking issue)- horrible behavior completely foreign just 30 years ago. Now, I know it’s dangerous to yearn for the days of old, especially since they lack air-conditioning <yikes>, but- I think we’re loosing sight of some of the good things. Surely we can have both time saving devices and good things? Perhaps a few of these old good things that take time will actually help us slow down and enjoy our lives a bit more? :) Maybe we can regain some of that “now-ness” for the things we’re about in our day to day lives: reminding us that living is a good thing- that we should enjoy it. What better way than to start our day with a bit of luxury in a wet-shave?

July 14, 2006

Parker “51″ finally purchased…

Posted in FountainPens at 6:30 pm by a11en

Finally I have the pen which is possibly the most lauded pen in history: a Parker “51″. (the quotes are part of the copyrighted name) The Parker “51″ was introduced into the USA for sale in 1941. Original pricing was at $12.50. Nice price eh? Hell, I’ll buy 50 of ‘em… oh wait… that was 1941. In today’s economy, the pen’s base-price (without frills) would be approx. $165.00. Now, that’s not cheap!! The Parker “51″ was not the everyday man’s pen. The Esterbrook was much more the common-man’s pen. A great pen in its own right. I’ll have a post in the future on Esterbrooks. [Historical currency calculator.]

The design and implementation of the “51″ was a step beyond most pens of it’s era. Starting with the barrel of the pen, made from Dupont’s new Lucite material (polymethylmethacrylate), the same material adorning the canopies of World-War II’s fighter planes and bombers, the pen was a departure from most common designs. A hard and easily polished material, the Lucite material allowed Parker to place a highly volatile (and somewhat corrosive) ink into the pen. As well, with a covered nib and enclosed collector section, this volatile ink was kept inside the pen effectively, allowing for the excellent ink-capacity to stay put. The volatile ink allowed for an immediately useable paper after writing.

A number of parts on the “51″ are machined (likely by hand?): the clutch band- a nice slim three-banded ring right above where your fingers hold the sleek pen, the inner lucite threads that hold the pen together, and the finned internal collector (surely there are more, these are just the ones I know of). The nib also used more 14k gold than most of the nibs on the market. Even the cap was an innovation: the clutch system ensured the cap would not fall off, and the inner-cap sealed to the tip of the pen when capped, ensuring that the ink would not evaporate. The result was an easily capped pen, which was very secure and ink-safe.

One of the advantages about the “51″ in terms of vintage users and collectors is that they sold very well. They’re quite easy to find, but prices are climbing a bit as collectors are re-finding this great pen of their father’s or grandfather’s age. As well, a newer version of the pen, beginning in 1948, the Aerometric filler (or Foto-fill) system was so good that often vintage Aerometric “51″s rarely need much to get them working. A good water-wash, and you’re in pretty good shape. After 55+ years, finding a fountain-pen that works almost immediately is, quite simply, amazing. (A note to those who may not have heard of them yet- Pelikans often are in as good a shape- their piston fillers last for a very long time.)

The “51″ that found its way to me, is a first-quarter 1949 Mark I Aerometric filler with black-body and “Lustroloy” cap (modest- likely the lowest priced “51″). Interestingly, my mother tells me that both my grandfather and my great-grandfather used the “51″ all the time. It’s the pen she remembers them with. A gold cap and perhaps also an all-gold model (which is somewhat of a rarity, actually). So, I have a later/less-expensive version of something that was used daily by my relatives. As well, the pen was around when my grandfather on my father’s side was alive. (He passed at a young age after coming back from WWII. He was a POW for over 3 years in the same camp as the great-escape [1] [2] [3].)

My “51″ has a much finer point than my Pelikan (it’s likely an XF), and writes a bit dry and was toothy, but with a little bit of work, it’s writing much better than when it first arrived. I’ve got it filled right now with a dark black Noodler’s Bullet-Proof Black to match the black pen-barrel.

Here are some links for Parker “51″ information:

I’m learning how great it is to enjoy fountain-pens, and how much fun it is to work with them everyday- it makes you sit down at your desk and write much more than before. :) Just remember: it’s not the coffee-cup, it’s the coffee. Now, go and start Getting Things Done!!

May 21, 2006

Mac fixes itself, GTD, and FP updates…

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Mac, Pipes at 9:10 pm by a11en

I have a few interesting tales to relate, and wish I could spend more time, this might spill over into two posts instead of one.

Macintosh Weirdness

Recently I've been experiencing a frustrating thing with my PB, 15", high-res: lack of battery charging. So, my batteries drained, and I had to work on a power cable constantly… and anytime I pulled the power, it would shut down… this became quite frustrating to say the least, but I still had my work, and still could work. Not as bad as it could have been. So, I read and post on the Apple Discussion pages, and I'm sad to learn the problem is most likely what happened to my Wallstreet, a faulty DC/Sound-In board. I run the AHT side of my install CD, everything checks out. That's good. But, the DC-board is dumb, and apparently the Logic board is semi-dumb. So, the logic-board is only half-out of the woods as the problem. Anyways, I start to track it down… I try another adapter (only a 45 watt- not enough to charge it possibly), it doesn't charge the battery, I now don't really suspect my powerbrick… I buy and try a new battery… no charging… hmm… most likley it's the DC board. On an off-chance, and to help ensure my batteries stay good, I enlist the help of a fantastic gal, Abby. She has the same computer as I do, and I assure her I'll pay for any problems this test might cause. She takes my old battery, and tries to charge it. A week later, we meet up for some coffee to talk about various things (among them Morgellons disease), and my crazy computer woes. She says: "I'm sorry, the battery doesn't charge, Allen." Darnit. Maybe my computer fubarred the battery… out $116 easy… perhaps $116×2 as I have been using the new battery. I vow to take my computer into the university apple techs that day. [time passes, and my readers wonder why they're still reading...] I head to the tech center after a great apple-tech has assured me that she won't have to steal my computer from me for 3 weeks <whew>. She takes the machine back (before I got the battery back from Abby, she had told me that she couldn't charge it, and so I had stopped using all batteries)… she plugs the thing in… power, good… she plugs the battery that Abby tried in… And the thing FREAKIN charges!!! I'm amazed.. jaw drops… the tech laughs… We leave it for a while (worried it was a fluke, and wasn't charging)… and low and behold, it is charging! Numbers going up, charge holding… she drops the battery out and puts the new battery in. Charging. :) I'm amazed. So, I ask her what sort of voodoo do you do… ;) and she laughs. She explains that one of Apple's suggestions with batteries when there are problems, is to take the bad battery, and throw it in a good computer, and then throw it back in to the bad computer… bammo things work. Excessively strange. So, she checks for a few loose connections, says things look good so far, and says to call her on Monday if there are problems. I now have a working computer again, and all thanks to Abby's computer, who by some freak viral-software has fixed my computer. Weird, but, Excellent.

GTD goodies – Levenger's Ballistic Pocket Briefcase

I've ordered a few things from Levenger recently, and I have to say that even though I really wanted to hate their products because they're the price of a small slave-boy from Madagascar, or at least a hand-tanned, hand-sewn, personalized leather satchel made by slave boys who live in Madagascar… I have to say I freakin' love my new Ballistic Pocket Briefcase [2]. I've toyed with the 3×5 hPDA input device, and have to say it harkened to being useful… my back-pocket Moleskine and Cahier never really worked… the Cahier was flexible, but I destroyed it quickly… the Moleskine was hard-backed, but it made me sit sideways in my chair and I looked a bit more crazy than I actually am, (and it hurt a bit after a 12 hour day)… so, enter the Pocket Briefcase. I print my calendar out on 3×5 cards from iCal (see other post in this blog), and I also print out my kGTD (see mac software on the right hand-bar) lists onto 3×5's… so it all slides into my pocket briefcase. As well, I keep blank cards available for notes or inputting new items into my mobile inbox. Best of all, it has gorgeous leather, and easily bends with my fine butt… well, ok, some say is nice… so I don't look like a freak sitting sideways. Add to the mix a Jimi wallet, and I'm now much less frustrated with items in my back pocket.

GTD- Miquelrius and FP's

Right around Mother's day, I was talking with Mom about fountain pens, and we hit upon some pens she had forgotten when she was a girl. Apparently she was given Esterbrooks and hankies when she was a girl for her birthdays and various other events. She said she used to love them a lot, and used to do crazy things with them (like take out their nib and sac and squeeze the sac with her fingers). I was able to find one in town at a local antique store, but unfortunately it needed some minor repairs. I paid a bit more for it than I should have due to this, but since it was only a day away, and I needed something, this was near-perfect. That night I spent some time polishing it with some excellent plastic polishing compounds and cleaning out the old ink from the nib, feed and barrel, etc. She loved it.  I just finished the repairs on Sat., and the pen writes really well.  I had to alter the J-bar sent to me, but other than that the repairs were fairly straight forward.  :)  A ton of fun!

The nice thing about Esterbrooks is that the nib is replaceable and there are a ton of nibs out there for them. [I just wish one had some serious flex.] So, I ordered items for it's repair from Pendemonium, and they came in recently. Amongst them was also a Miquelrius [2] notebook I had ordered. Wow, is this thing huge. A5 format with 300 pages. Gridded (perfect for graphs or data tables etc.), and absolutely fantastic paper. No bleeding at all with my FP (major problem with Moleskines), and smooth as silk with my polished Pelikan m150 Fine nib. This notebook is so very large, I have no fear of reaching the end before I have everything in it that I need to. So, it is now designated as my notebook for thesis studies. When I read a book or journal article, I will now have this guy with me, and the input will go into a table-of contents in the beginning. I'm so very happy with the purchase. I strongly suggest you trying out the notebooks if you are an FP user.

Pipe Goodness

Visiting the local shop in the last few days, I picked up some Samuel Gawaith Squadron Leader. Absolutely fantastic simple and coherent English blend. The latakia is superb in the blend, and it is excellent for an all-day English with a bit more passion than some of Dunhill's old blends. I'm still gonna love my Namasté from Russ O, but Squadron Leader is a nice little change. Doesn't have the orientals that Namasté have, so it lacks that sweet citrus room-note, but is still quite excellent. The tin art is wonderful as well. Excited about my end-of-semester gifts as well. A Pete System Deluxe will soon be paid off, and my ASP pipe-lighter will eventually come my way after another 45 are ordered or so. A good way to celebrate the end of the semester.

Wishing everyone a fantastic start to their week!

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