Posts filed under Guest Post

Signal and Noise – on Trolling Pen Reviewers

(Dave Rea is an engineer and die-hard pen-thusiast from upstate NY, and the developer of @getindxd. His addiction dates back to middle-school quests for pens that could vanquish the dreaded lefty smudge-palm. He succumbed to fountain pens and Field Notes after discovering this blog in 2012; you can find him on Twitter @mtbkrdave.)

Trolling has become a bit of a trending topic in the online pen community of late. We’ve seen thoughtful, well-reasoned posts on the topic from a pair of PhDs: Stephen BRE Brown and Jonathon Deans. Brad discussed it with Azizah Asgarali on a recent PenAddict podcast episode. It also came up in the most recent episode of Dowdy and the Doctor – an excellent short(er)-form podcast for Pen Addict members.

There’s been a lot of talk about the sorts of trolling that pen reviewers experience. There’s been plenty of theories on why these commenters might be slinging their particular brand of vitriol. There’s no shortage of thoughts on how reviewers should respond. But for all this good discussion, there’s been precious little guidance for how we – the mostly-silent majority – ought to address trolling on our favorite pen blogs, YouTube channels, subreddits or forums.

I’ve got a proposal for us…

Signal-to-Noise Ratio

In electronics (my day job), we’ve got a term called signal-to-noise ratio, or SNR. If “noise” is all the random energy a circuit doesn’t care about, then “signal” is what it’s looking for. The “signal strength bars” on our cell phones are one familiar instance: More bars = Better SNR.

To the content creators of the pen community there’s plenty of “noise”, and precious little “signal”: those times when the audience actively engages. While “noise” can be just about anything unrelated, the “signal” is the feedback: comments, likes, favorites, thumbs (up or down), retweets, subtweets; the list goes on.

The problem, as The Oatmeal so wonderfully illustrated, is that negative feedback can be much a louder signal than supportive voices, and in a very noisy environment, the loudest signal might be the only one that makes an impression. Ever have a microwave oven blitz your WiFi connection? Then you’ve experienced this too.

Tipping the Scales

Let’s face it: trolling isn’t going away any time soon. So long as our favorite pen reviewers continue to work hard creating content for us, they’re likely to be on the receiving end of some occasional negative attention. We also know that troll-shaming doesn’t work, and in many cases even makes things worse. Even the most well-established platforms struggle, endlessly-controversially, with how to deal with harassment.

So what can we, as a community, do to change the balance of power? I believe the answer is to change the signal-to-noise ratio – to turn up the volume on the positive feedback, constructive criticism, and all-around support we send to those we follow. There’s almost zero downside to doing so. If not feeding the trolls is our status-quo, we need to drown them.

To do this requires a conscious shift from passive consumption of content to active engagement. Given our shared interest in “the analog tools we love so dearly”, reviews likely evoke some reaction in us – be it enthusiasm, desire, appreciation, wonder, zeal, or myriad others. We ought to share these reactions with the reviewers we follow! Even if our reaction to the product or the review is critical, it’s worth sharing in a constructive way – because even these additions to the conversation let the reviewer know you came, you saw, and you cared enough to react.

Case in Point

Let’s take a look at an example – a well-trafficked review of the TWSBI Vac Mini by Matt Armstrong on his Pen Habit YouTube channel this past January:

In about two months, Matt’s video has been viewed over eleven thousand times – but only about 2% of those viewers left a thumbs-up, and only six-tenths of a percent left a comment (supportive or otherwise). Of the comments, only 1 or 2 border on negativity. Yet Matt has been on the receiving end of enough trolling that he went on hiatus back in 2014 (the 173 supportive comments on that post aren’t lost on me, either!).

I hope that the the SNR of the feedback Matt receives has improved since he returned from that break; if this video’s comments are any indication, it has.

Still, the numbers leave plenty of room for improvement: as an audience bloc, we have the leverage to significantly increase the amount of appreciation our community’s content creators experience.

Remember Not to Hold Back

If you’re like me (and the vast majority of Internet consumers) you read posts, watch videos and listen to podcasts, and – absent a specific question, complaint or reaction – you probably don’t engage much. In light of the trolling we’ve been hearing about, I’ve been actively trying to hit the “thumbs-up” button and its siblings on various platforms more frequently. Even if I’m just one in eleven-thousand, I want to actively contribute to whatever small stream of thanks the audience provides for the hard work that invariably goes into creating good content.

I also believe in putting our money where our mouths are: the stationery community enjoys a nearly-endless stream of content, much of which discusses some pretty expensive products. If a review gives you the confidence to pull the trigger on a pen that costs $50, or $150, or $500, is contributing a relative pittance to the reviewer an undue burden? That’s up to each member of the audience to decide, and not all creators have the infrastructure in place for this, but it’s certainly another way to remind them that we appreciate their hard work.

Ultimately, though, changing the signal-to-noise ratio doesn’t have to cost a penny. Just remember to use whatever mechanisms a given platform offers to engage with the creators you follow. Whether you dole out subscriptions, likes, comments, faves or upvotes, don’t hold back. That small gesture, multiplied by the numbers our community wields, might just have the power to push trolling down into the noise.

Posted on May 2, 2016 and filed under Guest Post.

Left-handedness And The Greatest Insult Of All

(Michelle Guo is a self-diagnosed pen addict ever since she charmed the Faber Castell stand at a stationery fair with her metallic ocean-scape at 9 years old. She ended up leaving with all their paraphernalia and now probably needs Hermione Granger's Undetectable Extension Charm for her pencil case. You can find Michelle on Twitter @misheyxxxooo.)

When I was at high school, I decided to enter a spoken word poetry competition. I loved the construction of a good poem; where the right word appeared at the right time, creating a melody of sounds and silences that are the poet’s gift to their audience as they show a side of themselves that is so deeply tied in with their own identity and perception of the world. During the workshops that were held prior to the competition, I was told to write what I know. As a 15 year old, I didn’t think there was much to me that was profound enough to turn into a poem. Spoken word poems tend to be loud and passionate, as if the words had jumped off the page and demanded to be heard. A good spoken word poem is must be personal enough so that it is uniquely yours, but broad enough to immerse your audience. Remember, I was 15 at the time, and I don’t think I or any of my peers had enough life experience to really appreciate and understand a poem on love, loss, legacy, death, the transience of life; the more common ideas found in most poems.

So I wrote about being left-handed.

Don’t get me wrong, handedness may seem like a petty and insignificant thing to write an entire poem on, but as a left-hander I do believe that it has an affect on the way I live my life; the way I hold things, the way I position myself in relation to others, the way I learn various activities that are led by right handed teachers. Apparently, left-handers make up 10% of the population, and I think that it is time that the other 90% get to know more about us and the way this trait can affect our lives. So from me to you, dear pen addict, let me share with you a part of me that was also once the greatest insult of all.

The Greatest Insult of All

Insults have boiled down to very shallow things recently
People get offended when you call them stupid, ugly, weird
But out of all physical qualities existing,
There is one that was once the ultimate insult
Which I embody

I am left-handed
Etymology tells me that I am awkward, tactless, weak and evil
In history I am a stigma of degeneracy
A sign of neurosis
The twin that would die in the womb
Unlucky, gay
I have not done anything wrong but I would have been burnt at the stake
Mistaken for the witch
As soon as I picked up a pen
With a palm ridden with scars from a whip left over from countless beatings
And fingers with newly cut wounds
 
This cursed hand turns compliments into insults
Toasts into curses of evil
Stripped me of my rights because my left-handedism has left me to take stand on my own
Ambidexterity has become a goal that I can never achieve
I will never be ambidextrous
Because I will never be right-handed on both sides
 
You may try to tell me that it doesn't matter anymore
That we have climbed right over the hurdle of handedism
And left it in the past
But try telling that to the smudges that are left on my page
From dragging my hand along it
My wrist, tired from its right angled position it takes to elevate my hand away from the whiteboard
So that my hand doesn't wipe off everything I have written
To the menacing binder on the left hand side
The non-existent computer with a left-handed mouse
To my body that has to twist awkwardly to reach anything on the right hand side
To that pair of scissors  that have been tailor made for people like you
But end up being left to people like me
And hinder my every move
Try explaining to my PE teacher,
That swinging the bat with my left hand
The way you do with your right hand just doesn't feel right
In fact
Nothing feels right
When I am trying to do something that I wasn't born to do
I am the ultimate victim of modern society
The only spot where I belong on a row of tables is at the end
I am the odd one out
 
People say that right-handers are always right
However
keep in mind that our brains work opposite to our bodies
So the truth is
We
left handers
are the only ones
in our right mind

I’d love to hear from fellow pen addicts about their experiences with or as a left-hander and the kind of stationery they find themselves gravitating towards because of it. I am always on the lookout for nifty tools and gadgets to make my life easier, although I must say I have adapted a lot already in their absence.

Posted on February 15, 2016 and filed under Left-handed, Guest Post.

What Makes The Stationery Community Great

That time when the Nock Co. party turned into a show and tell.

That time when the Nock Co. party turned into a show and tell.

(Daniel Lemay is an analog tool enthusiast and enjoys pondering over many things. You can find him on Twitter at @dslemay and his blog at Circumspect Reverie)

Less than 18 months ago I was on the outside looking in. I wasn't into pens or stationery, but decided to try out a fountain pen to see if it would help remediate growing RSI issues. I listened to the most recent Pen Addict fountain pen primer episode. Since then I have fallen deep into the pen, and other stationery, rabbit holes. Beyond that I have discovered what an amazing community there is here. As many have mentioned previously, the stationery community has been the best community that I have been a part of.

At the heart of a good community is a focus on the health of the people, the relationships therein, and an empathetic basis. The stationery community has this in spades. The welcoming and inclusive attitude of the community, even to an introverted fledgling such as myself, is one of its shining characteristics. Regardless of your current knowledge of stationery, people in this community have always been ready to help you find out what work best for you and troubleshoot problems. People are open and willing to share their knowledge and experience, and are overall excited to share and spread the love of good writing instruments.

Something that has always struck me as significant about the community is the care people have for each other and how giving they are. This is not a group of people whose connection to each other ends at the discussion of one's latest acquisition. They truly care about the people in it and come alongside both in the positive and more difficult moments. On one such occasion last year the community secretly orchestrated the funding, purchase, and delivery of a Nakaya for Mary Collis after she received news of her MS diagnosis. The accompanying note sums up the heart of this compassionate and caring community: "...This pen doesn't fix anything, but hopefully every time you use it it will put a smile on your face as you tackle all that lies ahead." Such care and support are something to be cherished.

I too experienced the sheer generosity of the people here. After saving up for months fairly early in my pen addiction I finally was able to purchase a Franklin Christoph Model 40. Less than two months into owning it, I somehow lost it (my most expensive pen at the time and the only one I ever lost). After sharing the sad news in the Pen Addict Slack Group I got an unexpected message from Thomas Hall offering to give me his Model 40 because he wasn't using it much. That was something that totally caught me off guard--that I, a nobody in my perspective, would be the recipient of such generosity from someone I didn't even know. The generosity of this community shows itself regularly through freely offering ink samples, picking up and shipping of Field Notes only found locally, etc.

Additionally, the stationery community is a great place where we can challenge each other and disagreements don't devolve into the normal internet vitriol. Conversations include TWSBI's build quality, the temporary transition of Noodler's ink to plastic bottles, Kickstarter snafus, the renewal of the Esterbrook brand, and more. Most recently, Ian Hedley began a great discussion about Pilot's product availability and significant price difference between the USA and the UK. It has continued with an official response from Pilot and Ian sharing some additional thoughts on Pilot's response here. Even amidst disagreement, conversations remain productive and respectful, which is the best we can ask for. A community where everyone agrees lacks diversity and the opportunity for growth.

The stationery community is not just a place where people share their nerdy obsession. Rather, that serves as the societal impetus bringing us all together. The community is much more than that. It is a place that is welcoming and works to cast off the notion of societal cliques. It is a place which avoids myopic behavior, where people care about each other deeply and are giving in spirit. It is a place where disagreement and civil discourse can take place. Ultimately, the stationery community is a place to be welcomed into, to belong, and to call home.

Posted on February 11, 2016 and filed under Pen Shows, Guest Post.

Negotiations

(This is a guest post by Jon Bemis. You can find Jon on Twitter @jtower42.)

One of the most interesting things I've gotten to be a part of in the dozen years I have spent at my company is the biannual contract negotiations with our labor union. Management and labor have had a great working relationship for decades, and while negotiations with them are tough, I enjoy being able to participate in the process. I feel lucky; I read about companies that have an acrimonious relationship with their union, and I imagine that wouldn't be any fun at all.

My role on the team has historically been to negotiate and consult on shop rules, operational issues, and our job posting procedure. I'm not a financial guy or a benefits expert - we have other folks on our team to handle those questions. We've had a pretty cohesive team for a number of years.

But this year, the team was shaken up: Peter, our lead negotiator, passed away after a short battle with cancer. He had sat in the "big chair" since 1979 and was a master at what he did. He had a gift for keeping all the proposals and counter-proposals straight in his head, and he knew what we could and couldn't agree to. He was the lead dog and we all followed him. To say his absence from the negotiations process made us nervous was an understatement. Mike, our vice-president of Human Resources and for six years Peter's wingman, suddenly found himself with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

We were sitting in a planning meeting when Mike commented that he was worried about keeping track of everything and having a record of everything we talked about. "I feel like we need someone to take really good notes, so we can refer back to conversations or comments if we need to," he said. I realized as he said it that I was the man for the job. I had worked for a few years in journalism and had gotten good at taking notes on the fly, and I was a relatively experienced member of the team and would know what was important to take down.

Plus, I thought, this would be an opportunity for a lot of writing with fountain pens. Help the team and feed my addiction at the same time? Sign me up!

I raised my hand. "I'll do it," I said.

Negotiations lasted two weeks. Most days, our first session with the union team would start before 10 a.m. We would discuss issues and concerns back and forth with the union, and then break into separate meeting rooms to "caucus" on what we had just discussed. This process of meet together and then meet separately would continue into the evening, usually until 7 or 8 p.m. There was a lot of discussion, a lot of back-and-forth, and that meant pages and pages of notes. I have medium-to-large handwriting and prefer a medium nib, so I went through paper quickly. I was still a little surprised when, with one day left to go, I finished the last page of an 80-sheet A4 Rhodia Ice pad. I had hoped I would have plenty of opportunity to use fountain pens, and I certainly did.

The most rewarding part was when our corporate attorney asked if I was saving my notes. "Of course," I said. "I'm handing them in to our Document Services person to be typed up."

"That's good, but you should keep the handwritten notes as well," he said.

My notes were full of scratch-outs, misspellings, and the occasional doodle. Why would our lawyer want me to save them?

"Your notes are considered a 'contemporaneous' account of the proceedings," he said. "They have a value in a court or an arbitration because they have not been edited or modified," he said.

I was tickled. To think that my multi-colored chicken scratch had legal standing was almost too funny to comprehend. The likelihood that my notes would ever end up in a courtroom was slim to none, but I was delighted nonetheless that my indulgent hobby could one day be entered into evidence.

We ended up getting a fair contract - both sides felt a little pain, which is the hallmark of a good negotiation. It was one of the more stressful things I'd done in my career. Making a mistake could have meant a strike and a dent in our longstanding labor peace. Losing Peter's leadership meant we had find our own way through this fire swamp, which was difficult.

At the same time, I enjoyed using my pens and trying out inks. I rarely get to write as much as I did during those seven nerve-wracking days. It felt odd, almost scandalous, to have fun during such a serious time. It was like fighting a fire in flip-flops or running a space shuttle launch from a hot tub. It reminded me of the line from "Mary Poppins": "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and SNAP! The job's a game."

Perhaps that's one of the reasons all of us pen addicts are so passionate about our crazy hobby. Whether we're in foodservice or finance, programming or procurement, creative or corporate, using an excellent pen takes away a little drudgery and adds a little happiness to our days.

Pens I used, in no particular order:

  • Modern Conklin Duragraph (medium nib) with J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche – I really enjoyed the medium nib on this pen.
  • Pelikan M1000 (medium) with Pelikan Edelstein Tanzanite – Conversely, this medium nib was too wet and broad for rapid note taking.
  • Delta Unica (medium) with Organics Studios Uranium – I picked up the limited edition of the Unica in the gold-orange celluloid. Looks amazing, writes wonderfully.
  • Franklin-Christoph Model 19 (medium) with Sailor Shigure. – I love the feel of this pen in hand, but the nib had some minor skipping issues.
  • Bexley Stalwart (medium) with Private Reserve Naples Blue – The Bexley was wonderful, and the grooved barrel provided excellent grip during quick notes. The Naples Blue, on the other hand, dried WAY too slowly on Rhodia paper. Those pages ended up all smeary.
  • Pilot Custom 74 (fine) with Sailor Oku-Yama – Love Pilots. Just love ‘em.
  • Pilot Prera (medium) with Pilot Blue cartridge – To this day, even against much more expensive pens, the Prera still holds its own. My stone-cold, lead-pipe recommendation for anyone’s second fountain pen.
  • Franklin-Christoph Model 3 (medium) with Noodler’s General of the Armies – The Model 3 is a solid writer if not spectacular. The Noodler’s is really nice in finer-nibbed pens, but in this medium, the dry time was a little long for notetaking.
  • Pelikan M205 (medium) with Organics Studios F. Scott Fitzgerald – This pen fell way, way down in my personal rankings after negotiations. It took a lot of pressure to get a consistent line, and with the small barrel diameter, my hand got tired quick.
  • Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (medium) with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-Ryoku. – The Custom 92 was my first grail pen. It’s an all-time favorite.
  • Faber-Castell Ondoro (medium) with Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki – The Faber-Castell steel nibs are very nice, and that’s about it.
  • Lamy 2000 (medium) with Organics Studios Edgar Allen Poe – I feel like the writing experience with the Lamy 2000 is particularly dependent on the ink used. The Poe was a good match and enjoyed using the 2000.
Posted on January 15, 2016 and filed under Guest Post, Fountain Pens.