Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last Minute Gifts

Still rushing around on Christmas Eve, trying to find that last-minute gift? May I suggest the gift of writing. If you are near a bookstore, you will likely find Moleskine or other brand journals in various sizes and colors. The small journals make great stocking stuffers!

Pens make great gifts, too. A nice quality writing instrument is not only practical, it can become a family heirloom. (I still use a Mont Blanc my father passed along to me a number of years ago.) Check out some of the office supply stores - the nicer pens are usually kept separately from the standard issue pens. But hey! If your budget doesn't allow you to purchase an expensive pen, consider a Pilot Varsity or Lamy Safari to nudge that special someone into writing with a fountain pen. For the stocking, how about a multi-pack of Pilot or Uni-ball gel ink pens, or perhaps an assortment of Sharpie markers!

But whatever you do, better get moving!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Go-to Writing Tools of 2009

Looking back on 2009, it's interesting (to me, anyway) how I have gravitated toward certain tools for writing. My selections were not planned in advance, instead, they came about because of overall utility (portability, affordability, quality, and consistency). So, with no further fanfare, here are my go-to writing instruments for 2009:

Fountain pen: Lamy Safari. In fact, I currently have three that I keep in constant use at my desk. Sure, I have other (and more expensive) fountain pens that I use, but my first inclination is to grab one of the Safaris. They write smoothly and they fit my hand well.

Pocket pen: I do not usually carry a fountain pen in my pocket. Instead, I go for a smooth-writing gel-ink pen. This year, my go-to pocket pen has been a Uni-ball Signo 207. (Sorry Pilot G-2, you ran a close second!) I love the Signo for the smooth lines I can lay down and for the tamper-proof ink.

Pencil: Truth be told, I seldom use a pencil. I'm one of those that does cross-word puzzles in ink. Still, there are occasions where a pencil is required and I grab a Rotring Mechanical pencil that my wife gave me several years ago. It has a nice, heavy feel, with my name engraved on the side. What's not to like?

Small notebook: I started the year alternating between a Doane Paper notebook, a Moleskine Cahier and the Field Notes memo-book. As the year progressed, I began to carry the Field Notes memo-book exclusively. (Maybe the new cover colors pushed it over the top?). I love the paper that Field Notes uses - not too heavy, not too light. Plus, it tends to stay closed on its own where the Doane Paper notebook would spring open and the Cahier simply lacked personality.

Large notebook: I have filled four Moleskine lined hard cover notebooks. Yes, I have tried and like similar offerings by Quo Vadis and Piccadilly. Why did I stick with the Moleskine? I can't give you a clear answer. The paper isn't superior to the other offerings, nor is the cover better or the elastic binder of higher quality. Maybe in this case I'm just a traditionalist, set in my ways. Or perhaps I've simply bought into the whole Moleskine marketing mystique. Meh, probably not.

Day planning notebook: I really, really tried to like the Moleskine planner. I read several reviews and hacks that intrigued me. There was a lot I liked about it (one in that it made a nice "partner" to my Moleskine notebook), but I guess I've been in the Franklin-Covey camp too long to change. I have remained with my spiral bound Franklin-Covey Compass day planner. At least I bought a new (actually used)tan leather cover to update it a little.

Do I anticipate any changes for 2010? That's hard to say. I already have my Franklin-Covey 2010 planner ready to go and a good supply of Field-Notes memo books. Still, there are always new and intriguing possibilities . . .

How about you? What were your go-to writing tools this past year?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day

For those of you who have served in our country's armed forces - Thank you.
For those of you who wear the scars of battle - Thank you.
For those of you who have lost sons and daughters, husbands, wives, or parents as they served our country - Thank you.
For my father who served in the Pacific Theater as a young sailor during World War II - Thank you.
For my father-in-law who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War - Thank you.

Have a happy Veterans' Day!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

National Coffee Day

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to announce that today is National Coffee Day. I invite you to join me in raising a mug of coffee (in my case, Community Medium Roast) in honor of this auspicious occasion.

Thank you. We now return you to whatever you were doing before I interrupted.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's in Your Desk?

Every now and then, I get the wild notion to clean off my desk and reorganize my desk drawers. I know, I know . . . crazy talk. Still, it makes for an interesting archaeological expedition as I dig through the strata of detritus (Huh! Where did that sandwich come from?)

It has been quite a while since I tackled the main desk drawer - the wide one that's front and center. I keep my good pens in a holder and my not-so-good pens in a not-so-good holder, so the middle drawer is the home of other office (and not-so-office) supplies.

Here's a list of the items that I found, in no particular order:
* A Radio Shack solar-powered calculator I bought in 1986. It quit working just a few weeks ago. :(
* A travel toothbrush and some Crest "Clean Cinnamon" toothpaste.
* A $5 bill! (Lucky find - now in my wallet)
* A Tide instant stain remover pen (Very handy!)
* A tube of Levenger "Aero-clips" (fancy paper clips - I forgot when I bought them)
* Some lemony moist towelettes
* A discount card to some area restaurants, tire stores, etc. (expired)
* Six keys that go to ???
* A few golf tees
* A cherry cough drop, firmly affixed to the drawer.
* Numerous business cards (now in the circular file).
* Paper clips galore. I think they're multiplying.
* An empty Altoids box I've been saving.
* Some dental floss - waxed, minty
* A non-working penlight
* Sticky-note pads from several vendors
* A couple of old wallet-size family photos
* My fishing license (expired)
* two AAA batteries (expired in 2006)
* Assorted pre-inked stamps (faxed, received, file copy)
* an empty tube of Chap-Stick
* Some unidentified meds (now discarded)
* Several cellophane-wrapped toothpicks
* A package of Pilot Fountain Pen ink cartridges (blue)
* A jewelers screwdriver (so THAT's where you've been hiding!)
* A box of chalk. Chalk?
* Numerous scraps of paper, old coupons, highliters, a steel ruler, pencils and dust.

So, what's in YOUR desk?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mea Culpa!

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Here's a list of reasons why I haven't written any reviews or made any comments lately . . .

1. High humidity is causing ink to run on paper, spoiling review results.
2. Hot summer temperatures causing writer's cramp - difficult to test pens.
3. My dog ate my homework.
4. Someone switched out my regular coffee with decaf. Now suffering from narcolep . . . zzzzzzz
5. Huh? Sorry, I must have dozed off.
6. Accidentally mailed last review through Post Office rather than post on-line.
7. Spel annd grammmer chek funcshun fayled, makkin postes unreeduhbul.
8. Can anyone say, "Vacation?!"
9. Missed Lent - gave up posting for Summer Solstice instead.
10. Trying to minimize my carbon footprint by typing reviews into computer with power off. Epic fail.

Okay - they're all lame excuses. Real reason? Just busy with work at church and other "stuff." I do plan on posting a review of Private Reserve's "Orange Crush" ink in a few days . . . once I can find my camera, that is. ;)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Diary of a Sailor

I had a nice visit with my 84 year-old Dad yesterday, (Memorial Day) and had the chance to see some of his mementos from World War II. Of special interest was a diary he kept along with several old black and white photos and a few yellow sheets of V-Mail (Victory Mail) - correspondence between Dad and his girlfriend (later to become his wife - my mother).

Dad joined the Navy in 1942 as a 17 year-old. He had never traveled more than 50 miles from his home in the Mississippi Delta before boarding a train for boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility. From there, he served a stint at the Naval Hospital in San Diego with the Shore Patrol before shipping out on a Liberty Ship in 1943 to "island hop" along with the Marines. It was at a base exchange in San Diego that Dad picked up a cloth and cardboard bound journal with a gold anchor embossed on the cover. Technically, it was a violation of wartime regulations to keep a journal in a war-zone, but apparently it was a rule seldom enforced. I enjoyed reading through Dad's old journal, it's navy blue cover somewhat faded, and the pages dog-eared and yellow. The old blue fountain pen ink in Dad's workman-like handwriting still looked sharp, though moisture had caused some feathering on a few pages. Dad said it was hard to keep stuff dry when a ship is caught in a storm - even below-decks.

It's almost surreal to read the accounts from my Dad written when he was only 17 or 18. He wrote of rough seas, bad food and sleeping on the open deck to escape the cloying heat below-decks. Once he wrote of the ship behind them in the convoy going down after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. I was amazed at his ability to put down his thoughts so clearly in such a stressful situation.

Many of the entries were humorous. While stationed on one of the Gilbert Islands, he drove an ambulance - transporting wounded Marines to a base hospital. He wrote of a time the ambulance got away from him on a steep down-grade and how he accidentally ran the base commander's Jeep off the narrow road before he regained control. Fortunately for Dad, the Captain never learned who drove the ambulance.

The photos were an added bonus, filling Dad's old journal the way Dr. Henry Jones "Grail Diary" was filled with drawings and notes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Dad even kept an old rubber band around his journal (though the original rubber band gave up the ghost long ago.) The photos depicted Dad in cut-off khaki shorts and combat boots. He was bare-chested and dark from the tropical sun. Usually he sported aviator sunglasses. I had to smile at a shot of Dad, by himself, dressed in his tropical attire while guarding a group of Japanese prisoners. Dad had struck a fanciful pose, cradling his M-1 Carbine, while the incarcerated Japanese soldiers behind the barbed wire mugged for the camera. Dad said they were happy to be out of the war.

The few surviving pieces of V-Mail are interesting. Most are generic letters from Dad to Mom about how he was doing, etc. Military censors would cut out references to location, weather, ship names, etc., so much of his writing was simply asking Mom about how things were back home. He showed me one V-Mail letter, barely legible, that had been recovered from a cargo plane that had been shot down over the pacific.

When Dad passes on one day, I'll inherit these archives of his past. I hope he realizes how meaningful the old journal and the V-Mail are to me. They give a glimpse into my father's life that I can pass along to my own children. It's a reminder that when we take time to write down our thoughts, we do more than pass the time - we leave a legacy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pelikan Tradition-Series 200 Fountain Pen Review

I recently purchased a Pelikan Tradition Series 200 Fountain Pen from Goldspot Pens. The pen normally retails for a little over $100, but I was able to purchase it for $80 on sale.

I've wanted a Pelikan pen for a long time - the German company has a long and storied history of producing quality writing instruments. The 200 series seemed like a good place to start - a quality pen at a reasonable price.

My pen arrived quickly from Goldspot, packed in a very nice presentation box with instructions in several languages. The pen itself has a black acrylic resin barrel with gold plated accents. The nib (I ordered a fine point) is stainless steel with gold plating. Medium and broad point nibs are also available. Of course, the iconic Pelican bill clip is present.

These pens come equipped with a built-in plunger mechanism, precluding the use of cartridges. That suited me fine, as I like to try different brands of ink in different colors. This time, I decided to try Noodler's Nakahama Whaleman's Sepia, based on an excellent review on Unposted. Filling the pen was simple - simply submerge the nib completely and slowly twist the end of the barrel. You should see bubbles in the ink as the plunger forces air from the chamber. Then, slowly twist the end in the opposite direction to fill the pen. The lower part of the pen is translucent, allowing you to see the ink level in the barrel. The pen wrote smoothly enough after a brief break-in period. The fine nib produced a steady flow of the Noodler's ink, though it was just a bit scratchy - even on the excellent Doane Paper I used. I imagine it will smooth out more with continued use.

The Pelikan is very light and compact. It is considerably shorter than a Lamy Safari but not so small as to be unwieldy for writing. Some might find the pen almost too light. The compact size allows it to fit easily in a shirt pocket - the cap screws on for a very secure fit.

All in all I really enjoy this Pelikan. It writes well, looks classy and has a built-in plunger mechanism. This is a pen suitable for casual or dress attire. If you're looking for a classic fountain pen at a very reasonable price, I can highly recommend the Pelikan Tradition-Series 200.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fooled

It's April 1st - you know what THAT means.

Yep, it's a license for people to pull inane practical jokes that tend to get stale by, oh, say 8:30 AM. (Hey - your shoe's untied. MADE YOU LOOK! April FOOL! Bwahahahahaha!)

Oh boy, you got me. Whoo-ha. Good one.

To be fair, I have engaged in this national (global?) nonsense too. My favorite was the annual scare-the-wife-with-a-bug gag. (Hey, is that a spider on you? . . .) Yeah, it wore thin with her, too.

I must confess, I gave consideration to at an April Fool's post for Coffee-Stained Memos. I even made an attempt - sort of. To say the effort was a dismal failure would be, well, accurate.

My plan was to do a "retro-writing tools" post with an homage to President Lincoln. Why? You may ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I got out a shovel from the shop with the intent of reviewing it as a notebook. (Surely you remember that old Abe did his homework on the back of a shovel? And George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and threw it across the Potomac? Or paid someone a silver dollar to do it for him - my memory fails me.) Anyway, back to the shovel. Lacking any handy coal, I tried a piece of charcoal and attempted to write, "Abe was here," on said shovel. I quickly learned that charcoal may be an acceptable writing medium on paper, but it's a total FAIL when it comes to a grime-covered digging implement.

Not to be deterred, I tried burning the end of a stick to create a rustic writing implement. Unfortunately, the stick was either too green, too wet or some combination that rendered it nonflammable. By this point, I was providing entertainment for our Border Collie but accomplishing little else. I considered and rejected the notion of trying a fountain pen, and finally decided on a Sharpie. So . . . with all this preliminary stuff out of the way, here are my findings:

Shovels are not the best available writing materials. They have the upside of being durable and weatherproof, but these small advantages wane compared to the overwhelming downsides.

Shovels do not lie flat when writing, they are difficult to fold and nigh impossible to fit in a pocket. They are cumbersome, do not take ink well (even a Sharpie proved only minimally legible) and lack an elastic closure. Writing space is limited as a shovel only offers the equivalent of four pages (okay, maybe eight if you're used to a pocket-size notebook.) In short, if you need something on which to collect your thoughts, keep a to-do list or do your homework, the shovel is probably the last option you should seek. Okay, rakes may be worse, but you get my point.

I'm beginning to think someone was pulling my leg about this whole Abe Lincoln homework on a shovel story.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Bic ReAction Gel Pen

Bic pens - they bring back memories of the ubiquitous Bic Stic and the Bic Click - cheap ballpoints sold by the millions as far back as I can remember. I used Bic Stic pens in high school, with their thick, gloppy ink, scratchy point and the ill-fitting caps (which I tended to lose). They got the job done without syle or fan-fare. I do have a soft-spot for Bics, particularly the Bic Click, but I wouldn't list them as go-to writing instruments.

I was looking at pens at Target, when a pack of Bic gel pens caught my eye. A four-pack for $5. "Why not?" I thought, and bought a pack to test. I have to admit, I was intrigued by the claim on the packaging: "Shock absorbing spring system" for smoother writing. Shock absorbers? I wasn't planning on taking the pen off-road, but if it made the pen write smoother, sure!

The pen has a nice feel, tapering to a wider diameter at the grip. It felt firm and secure in my hand, but the barrel lacks any sort of padding. That wasn't an issue for me, but for anyone who suffers from writer's fatigue or arthritis, this pen might not be a good choice. Quality wise - it was okay, but not on the same level as a Uni-Ball or Pilot.

The pen is a retractable, which is the type of pen I prefer. I noticed that when I started writing, there was a definite rattle in the body of the pen. When I retracted the point, the rattle disappeared, even when I shook the pen. I tried another pen from the same pack and again experienced the rattle. Apparently the shock absorber spring is loosened when the point is extended.

As to the writing experience, I was well-pleased. The pen wrote in a fairly smooth manner, laying down a nice, dark line of black ink without skipping or scratching. I say fairly smooth, because there was a moment's hesitation with the pen when I first began, but this disappeared instantly and did not recur. Still, compared to Uni-Balls and Pilots, the Bic is just a step behind.

Overall, I can recommend the Bic ReAction Gel Pen as an economical choice for a work-a-day pen. It's a good value for a buck twenty-five per pen. The gel ink appears to be of good quality and the pen has a nice feel.

Now if Bic could only fix the rattle in the suspension.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Field Notes & Doane Paper Memo Books

I enjoy using both Field Notes and Doane Paper Memo books. They are handy, well-made notebooks that fit very comfortably in a shirt pocket. They are similar in many ways, yet each has certain distinctions that I will address in this review. Let me say up front, there is no loser in this comparison. These are both fine products that will serve well. I like and use both of them in a myriad ways: task lists, mileage log, phone log, random ideas, etc. Still, the differences in terms of style and function are worth noting, so here goes.

First, the similarities - both memo books are 3.5 x 5.5 inches in size and contain 48 memo pages. Both utilize three-staple saddle-stitch binding with durable flexible covers. Both come in three packs for about $10. And, both are made in the USA! (Click on the links above for more product details.)

For all their similarities, there are some distinct differences. Field Notes brand offers three paper options: ruled, grid and plain. You can also opt to purchase a mixed pack that includes all three. The cover is tan (other color covers are available such as orange and blue, but quantities are limited) and includes some interesting and helpful printing on the inside covers - a place to add your name, address, etc., contact info to offer a reward if lost (or not!) a small printed ruler, and a list of "practical applications" that range from "to-do" lists to your last will and testament. The Doane Paper Memo Book, by contrast, offers only one paper option, but it's a good one! Doane's clever ruled + grid paper is included - some of the nicest writing paper available, in my opinion. It has bold blue horizontal lines with faint but legible blue vertical lines for the grid. The Field Notes paper is good, but not of the same quality or weight as the Doane Paper. I do like the tan grid lines which complement the look of the Field Notes tan cover. Field Notes also provides some nice freebies when you order - I received a pen and pencil, a nice touch!

I suppose the deciding factors are functionality and style. The Doane Paper Memo Book has a slight edge if one wishes to use a Fountain Pen. The heavier Doane paper is less prone to ink bleed-through than the Field Notes. However, the heavier paper makes the Doane Memo Book "springier." It does not stay closed as easily as the Field Notes (an issue easily corrected with a clip). I like how the Field Notes memo book tends to open flatter when writing. I understand that Doane Paper is using a more flexible 60# stock in their newest batch, as opposed to the 80# stock used in the one I tested - still heavier than the 50# paper in the Field Notes. I find I prefer the tan cover of the Field Notes to the black cover of the Doane. It's easy to write on the tan cover to identify the contents. On the Doane, one can write on the white inner cover, but the black does not lend itself to easy labeling.

As to style, I could see Indiana Jones reaching for a dusty and battered Field Notes memo book, jotting some quick notes with a pencil stub before rushing off on his latest quest. In contrast, I could easily see James Bond pull a Doane Paper Memo Book from the inside pocket of his tux, a combination Mont Blanc pen / laser in hand as he writes down the phone number of an attractive woman. But that's just my impression. In my more mundane world, I use them both. They are practical, durable, affordable and gosh-darn it, they're kind of cute too! Sure there are other options - the Moleskine Cahier or the Rhodia version. But I really like the two I've reviewed here. Maybe it's because they're made in the good 'ol USA. Maybe because the people behind them are passionate about their products. Maybe because both companies have cool websites. My advice? Buy a 3 pack of both - you won't regret it!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Odds & Ends (Mostly Odds)

The town where I live (Prattville, Alabama) has an abundance of antique and thrift stores. Some might say an excess number. The distinction tends to blur as one might find some nice antiques in one of the thrift stores and some pretty tacky junk in the antique stores. On occasion, I like to make the rounds in hope of finding some nice, vintage writing tools - fountain pens, pen holders, blotters or even an old manual typewriter.

I was off on Thursday, so I decided to check out three spots I frequent - the Old Courthouse Antique Store, the Goodwill Store, and a "giant flea market" that's located in an old grocery store.

Our local Goodwill Store is somewhat small, and their stock of items other than clothes was slim. They had some interesting small kitchen appliances that looked like they came from a mad scientist's laboratory, but no writing implements. Not that I really expected such at Goodwill, but they have been known to receive the odd typewriter. No luck this week.

The Old Courthouse Antique Store is an interesting place in itself. It actually was the Autauga County Courthouse from 1870 until the 1920s when the "new" courthouse was built one block up Court Street. It even has a historical marker in front. Entering the tall, white brick edifice you're greeted by a nice lady at the front desk. She smiles and tells you to "make yourself at home," which I do. The old heart-pine floorboards creak, but the building is in very good condition. Glass cabinets, racks of shelves and stacks of eclectic items lead you into a maze of the old, the forgotten, the unwanted and the occasional treasure. I spent a pleasant hour wandering through - no writing instruments, alas, though the proprieter said she had some fountain pens last month . . . or was it last year? I found an interesting toy typewriter, still in its original box, but it was of a more recent vintage and made of plastic. Pass. The nice lady said her husband was bringing in a portable typewriter. Manual? I asked. Yes. Does it have a case? Yes. She wasn't sure of the brand, but I can swing back by on a lunch break next week. (The Old Courthouse is only two blocks from the church where I serve.) I did find a nice, olive-green canvas satchel with numerous pockets. It will make a nice camera bag with some added padding. Three dollars poorer, and with satchel in tow, I headed to the flea market.

The Old Court House Antique Store is fairly large. The flea market, by comparison, is huge. As I progressed through the hap-hazard aisles, I wished that I had brought bread crumbs to drop along the way, or at least a compass. The flea market is a wonderful conglomeration of odds and ends - most of it odd. It's easy to experience a degree of sensory overload in such a place. Moldering old books share space with baby furniture. Carpet remnants lean against old outboard motors. Glass cases of baseball cards, cheap pocket knives and old vinyl LP albums are surrounded by the rotting carcasses of old computers and grimy printers. In the middle of the flea market, I was surprised to find a barber shop! "Doc," the barber in residence was not to be found (perhaps he got lost), but I was quite impressed by the ancient barber chair that took center-stage in his eight-by-eight cubicle. I expected to see a sign proclaiming, "shave and a hair-cut: two bits." Instead, there was a hand-written sign advertising $10 haircuts. Again, pass.

Unfortunately, I had no luck with fountain pens. The twenty-something young woman who was at the check out apparently had never heard of such a thing. I did find five typewriters - mostly recent vintage Brother electrics that looked like they had been buried in a field for several decades, though they couldn't have been more than ten to twenty years old. There was also one decent Smith-Corona electric, but it held no interest for me. It was, however, sitting on a very nice, metal typewriter stand that caught my eye. $10 was a reasonable price, but good sense prevailed and I moved on. I just don't really have room for a typewriter stand. At least, that's what my wife says. Still, if it's there when I return . . .

All in all, I spent a pleasant few hours digging through the detritus of other people's past. To be honest, I sometimes shook my head in puzzlement and bemusement over the vast array of tacky items I encountered - black velvet paintings of matadors (no Elvis paintings this trip), cheap Ninja swords, faded plastic flowers and faux-leather jackets. Yet, there were some genuine antiques in the midst - nice, sturdy furniture of a by-gone era, old hard-cover books, green depression glass-ware, coffee grinders, even an old leather football helmet like the Gipper wore. No pens, no pen-holders, no blotters . . . this time. But who knows when I'll find that old Esterbrook or Parker 51 or maybe that Smith-Corona Silent Super, just waiting for me to take it home and make it useful again?

I'll be back to continue my quest. (Cue "Indiana Jones" theme music)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Uni-Ball Signo Premier 207 Retractable Pen

I'm a fan of the Uni-Ball Signo 207 retractable pens. A Signo with black ink is usually found riding shotgun in my shirt pocket. They write well, are comfortable to hold and are inexpensive to boot. Recently, while perusing the JetPens site, I came across an upscale version of the Signo 207, the "Premier." Click on the above link to JetPens for a photo.

Like the standard Uni-Ball Signo, the Premier uses the 207 "archival safe" gel ink, which is purported to be fraud resistant when writing checks. The ink bonds with the paper, making removal or editing difficult, if not impossible. I can attest that the ink dries quickly and is not prone to smearing.

I purchased a Premier with a 0.5 mm tip and blue ink. Although I don't normally use blue, I really like the bright shade of this ink. Back to the writing experience in a moment. First, some observations about the pen itself. The Premier is somewhat larger in circumference than the standard Signo 207 retractable. In addition, the finger grip has a cushier pad - a translucent gel grip to provide added comfort and reduce fatigue or writer's cramp. I found the grip a little squishy for my tastes, but not overly so. Many writers will probably appreciate the extra degree of cushion.

The Premier has a more up-scale look than the standard Signo 207 retractable. Rather than a clear barrel with black accents, the barrel is available in either a light blue, silver or gold matte finish. I chose the matte silver which contrasts nicely with the chrome plastic accents. The clip is nearly identical to the standard Signo clip, except for a gold-tinted clear plastic accent in the middle of the clip. The plunger is chromed plastic and slightly larger than the standard Signo. The Premier feels a tad heavier than the standard model, but not to the point of causing writer's fatigue. I thought it had a nice balance when writing.

That squishy gel grip has the added bonus of allowing one to maintain a firm purchase on the pen. It showed no tendency to twist or slide when writing. The fine point worked very well with the blue gel ink. I experienced no skipping and the ink flow has remained constant and smooth on cheap and premium paper. It is a very nice pen!

With that being said, I cannot say that the Premier is a superior pen to the standard Signo 207 retractable. I purchased my Premier for $9, but I have seen them listed for $15 and up. By contrast, the standard Uni-Ball Signo 207 retractable averages under $2. Aside from a less cushy grip and less glitz, the standard version writes just as well as the Premier.

So, do I like the Uni-Ball Signo Premier 207 Retractable pen? Well, sure. It's a good-writing, comfortable pen and refills are available. But I don't think it is nearly as good a value as the standard Uni-Ball Signo retractable. Unless you really need an extra-cushioned grip or like slightly more heft, the Premier simply does not have an appreciable edge over the standard model.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Seeing Red with the Pilot G-2

The Pilot G-2 is one of my main go-to pens. I love how it writes, how smoothly the ink goes down and how well it works in a Moleskine.

Oh, but I'm speaking of the black ink version.

The red ink G-2 has left me, well . . . seeing red.

One of my responsibilities at the church where I serve is to edit our weekly newsletter. The newsletter is created on a computer, but I prefer to edit a hard-copy. I'm old school - it's part of my charm.

And, being old school, I use red ink to make corrections. Why red? Simple, it stands out clearly from a sea of black print (ignoring the overabundance of color graphics, but I digress). I know that some people think of red ink in a negative light - connoting a degree of hyper-criticism, etc. To me, it is merely an efficient and time-honored editing medium.

I used to use red pencils (actually designed for editing) but these are somewhat harder to come by these days, so I switched to red pens. Red ball points have all the charm and utility of their black and blue cousins (not much), so I've searched for a good red gel-ink pen. The Pilot G-2 seemed the logical choice, as I've been so pleased with the black ink versions. (In case you are wondering, no, I have not tried the blue ink.)

My first attempt started well enough, the red gel ink flowed smoothly from the 07 medium/fine point - just like the black ink G-2's. I thought I had discovered the perfect editing pen. After a short period of usage, I began to experience some skipping, followed by a marked scratchiness. Assuming I merely had a defective pen, I pulled a fresh, red G-2 out and began again - with similar disappointing results.

"Perhaps it's the paper," I thought, so I went to a black G-2. No problems whatsoever. Puzzled, I found yet another red G-2 (one that came packaged with a set of black pens), thinking that I had stumbled upon a bad lot of the reds. To my dismay, this red G-2 also started well, only to skip and scratch after a few minutes usage.

Have any of you experienced a similar problem? I know nothing of how gel ink is formulated, but it seems odd that the black and red inks would behave differently on the same type paper from supposedly identical 07 points. This isn't really a review, nor even a rant. I'm genuinely puzzled as to why I'm having problems with Pilot's red G-2. I'd appreciate any insights you might have.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review: Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

My first fountain pen was an inexpensive Schaeffer I received when I was in the third grade. I liked the little blue and chrome pen with its cartridges of blue ink. Sure, it tended to leak and the nib scratched terribly on cheap notebook paper, but I felt that my fountain pen gave my writing a sense of gravitas, though I had no idea what that meant at the time.

In the years since, I've owned several fountain pens - some family heirlooms, others more modern incarnations of classic pens. Though I don't use a fountain pen daily, I keep two Levenger Tru-Writers (one with a fine nib, one broad) and a Cross with a medium nib nearby. All use converters so I can write with a variety of inks (the real fun of writing with a fountain pen!)

I began to wonder what the ideal starter fountain pen would be today that would allow a person to experiment with different inks and nibs. Cartridge-only pens and disposables were eliminated by default. A bit of on-line research led me to the Lamy Safari. I've read several reviews that were generally favorable. The Safari seemed like a promising candidate, so I ordered a bright, tomato red Safari with an extra-fine nib. I paid under $25 for the pen and an additional $4 for the converter.

The pen arrived packed in a sturdy gray cardboard box with a muted "made in Germany" printed on the side. In the box was the pen and a Lamy ink cartridge. Note - Lamy pens must use Lamy cartridges if you choose not to use a converter, a cost and convenience factor to consider. (Our local stores do not carry Lamy products.)

The pen has a plastic body, molded in the pen's color. The clip is a rather heavy black wire loop - functional if not elegant. I thought the look of the clip fit the overall simple design well. The barrel is rounded with two flat sides and windows to view your ink supply. The cap clicks into place nicely. The steel nib is blackened rather than shiny. The pen is not heavy, but it feels well made even if it is mostly plastic.

I set aside the included ink cartridge and installed the Lamy converter. Please note that there are tiny plastic nubs on the converter that click into "ears" on the pen. It's easy to install this incorrectly, so pay attention to what you are doing. The converter worked smoothly, drawing a supply of Private Reserve "Orange Crush" ink into the reservoir.

The pen fit well in my hand - the flat sections preventing the pen from turning and aided me in holding the Safari in the proper position for writing. The Private Reserve ink flowed smoothly from the nib with very little scratching or skipping. To be honest, it wrote every bit as smoothly as my more expensive Levenger pens. I wrote on a variety of paper from Doane, Levenger and Rhodia. The results were pleasing in each case. I then pulled out a cheap note-pad of recycled paper. I experienced some scratching and the ink bled somewhat, but I attribute that to the cheap paper rather than the pen.

I highly recommend the Lamy Safari to anyone wishing to take the plunge into fountain pen writing. In fact, I would recommend this pen to anyone who likes fountain pens. It may not be a Mercedes, but I'd liken it to a dependable Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic - not fancy, but it certainly gets the job done. I plan on buying a few more of these pens - at under $25, I might buy one in each color!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Calendar Crisis!

I've been using the Franklin-Covey Compass system for about four years, after switching over from their larger, ring-bound planners. The Compass uses spiral planners for each month of the year (2 pages per day) in conjunction with a spiral bound 12 month calendar (2 pages per month).

I like the system as it allows me to schedule appointments, maintain a task list, yet still have plenty of room for note-taking. The paper is of good (not great) quality, allowing me to use most of my favorite gel-ink pens. You can use a fountain pen, if you use a fine or extra fine nib. Otherwise, expect some bleed-through.

This post is not exactly a review of the Franklin-Covey Compass system. Actually, I'm writing this to both criticize and praise Franklin-Covey.

First, the criticism: On Monday morning, I pulled down the storage container where each of my monthly refills for the Compass are kept. I was about to put February back in storage and insert March. March . . .March . . . March? Nope, no March. No June, either, though I found I had an extra August and September. No great consolation there.

Thankfully, I still had my 12 month calendar, but I was bummed! A call to Franklin-Covey proved to be fruitful (here's my praise of F-C). They apologized and are shipping me a complete set of the monthly refills for 2009. I should have it in a few days. Good customer service!

In fairness, this is the first time I've ever had a quality control issue with Franklin-Covey, and I've used their planners since 1995. Still, this got me thinking about alternative planners out there. Nrepose just posted a nice review of the Moleskine Daily Planner on his "Unposted" blog. Hmmm. A quick check on Amazon (Yes! On sale!) and I should have one of the Moleskine planners in hand very shortly. Booyah!

I'm not saying that I'm abandoning Franklin-Covey. I like their system and I've worked with it for 14 years with nary a problem. But maybe it's time to try a new system.

I'll let you know how it works out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

In the Pocket

Today, I'm packing a Uni-ball Signo Premier 207 with .05 fine point and blue ink. Paper for today is a Field Notes Memo Book sitting snugly in my shirt pocket.

I'll soon be posting a review/comparison of the Field Notes Memo Book and the Doane Paper Utility Notebook. I like them both, but for different reasons.

Likewise, I'll post some pen reviews, beginning with the afore-mentioned Uni-ball Signo Premier.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where it all began

Can you remember your first foray into writing? I mean, your very first steps?

I can still remember learning to write my A-B-C's as a first grader in Jacksonville, Florida, during the mid 1960's. We used lined tablets made of paper that was about the quality of newsprint. Those writing tablets had wide-spaced lines inter spaced with dashed lines to help us with lower-case letters. I remember fat, green pencils with huge barrels (or so it seemed to at the time) that filled my small fist. Those were my first wobbly steps into the world of writing. Those big bludgeons of graphite scratched terribly at the cheap, fuzzy paper - threatening to tear through with my early, clumsy scrawlings. But I didn't care - it was fun!

I was fascinated to see how these letters could be strung together to create actual words. (C-A-T or D-O-G . . . I was hooked!) Soon, words were strung together to create sentences, then paragraphs, and so forth. Alphabet paper soon gave way to ruled notebook paper that fit handily into three-ring notebooks - contraptions of cardboard and canvas with very sharp steel teeth. The fat, green pencils gave way to the ubiquitous yellow #2 pencils and even pens! Bic ballpoints with their gloppy, blue ink were my intro to this permanent writing medium until my parents allowed me to try a real fountain pen when I started the third grade. It was a Schaeffer - a silver and blue instrument with ink that wicked through cheap notebook paper like the varicose veins of my grandmother. I didn't care - somehow I knew this was a real pen with real ink! (I had the blue-stained fingers to prove it).

The allure of writing faded as I entered junior high-school, becoming a chore instead of an art-form. Pens lost their allure and I reverted back to utilitarian Bics and the slightly less cheap Paper-Mate. I still enjoyed writing the occasional short story, but my eye and fingers wandered to an elderly Underwood typewriter that my mother had used in her college days. Pen, ink and paper were relegated to mundane note-taking in classrooms. The Underwood gave way to a Smith-Corona in college that saw me through both bachelor's and master's degrees. This, in turn, gave way to a Panasonic electronic typewriter (with spell-check!). Computers were on the horizon and I heard rumblings of paperless offices in the not-too-distant future.

While looking for a birthday card in a greeting card shop, I noticed a stack of hard-back journals by the cash register. They were on sale (very cheap!), so I bought three on a whim. That was in 1988. It was the beginning of my turn back to pen, ink and paper. Then, my father gave me a Mont Blanc pen as a birthday present. My return to the inky side was almost complete.

I can't say I've kept a journal consistently, nor am I a sketch artist. But I've embraced pen and ink as my media for keeping notes, writing articles, compiling to-do lists and, yes, put down thoughts, quotes and events from everyday life. Sure, I've dallied with PDAs (two Palms languish in a desk drawer) and I use my laptop consistently (a boon as I completed my doctorate). But there's something about ink flowing smoothly onto high-grade paper that's soothing. It makes writing worthwhile, at least to me.

Some of you know exactly what I mean.