Posts filed under Guest Post


(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.

You Think This Comes Along Every Day?

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

After more than a decade of marriage it becomes more and more difficult to come up with gifts for the other person. The reasons for this are manifold. We’re lucky enough to have the financial security that we typically don’t have to use holidays as an excuse to get things we need. Replacing worn-out shoes and broken toasters are within our budget. That means we are each blessed with the opportunity to get things for each other that the other would want. The problem with that (and a nice problem it is to have) is that we already have many of the things we want. I love to cook, but over the years, I’ve acquired all the kitchen knives and pots and pans I need. My wife likes to sew, but she has a nice sewing machine already.

At this point, we’ve given up on most gift-giving holidays and instead open a nice bottle of wine, or find a babysitter and treat ourselves to an evening out. With two very busy lives and four very busy kids, the gift of TIME to be together is more precious than most “things.”

However, I am still a pen addict.

Ever since my addiction took hold, I have been trying to get my wife to enjoy pens as much as I do, sometimes with humbling results (See Pen Snobbery). I continued to hold out hope that I could find a fountain pen and ink combination that will work for my lefty life partner, and had been on the hunt for a particular pen for which I had high hopes. A Waverly nib has a slight upturn, like the tip of a ski, and I hoped this would help the pen glide through the push strokes with which so much of her penmanship has been cursed.

My search for an affordable pen with a Waverly nib had led me to one of those global trading websites, written mostly in indecipherable Japanese. (Thanks for NOTHING, Google Translate.) I was not at all confident that I was not sending my money and personal information to a hacker who could not BELIEVE his luck, but hey, sometimes that’s how it is in the fountain pen jungle.

The pen, a Pilot Custom 912, arrived just a few weeks before our 11th anniversary. I decided to break with tradition and give it to Dana on the occasion of our anniversary, a date we’d long since stopped viewing as a gift-giving opportunity. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise, but I did want to give her a heads up that I’d gotten her something, as I didn’t want her to feel bad that she hadn’t had the opportunity to reciprocate.

“I’m getting you something for our anniversary,” I said. “I DO NOT want you to feel obligated in the slightest to get me anything. I just happened to find something perfect that I thought you should have.”

“What on earth did you get me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to TELL you!” I cried. “But I will say this: If you decide to get me something, make sure it’s something you’d like, too.” I realized immediately how suspicious this sounded.

“What does that mean?” she asked. “Wait – did you get me a pen?”

“No,” I lied, unconvincingly.

“You got me a pen, didn’t you? I can’t believe you got me a pen. You’re such a geek,” she said, grinning.

“Look, I will neither confirm nor deny that your gift is a pen,” I said. “All I’m saying is that if you get me something, it should be something you’ll like. You know, in case I don’t.”

That got an eye-roll.

A few weeks later, our anniversary arrived. We were at our oldest daughter’s theater camp’s Parents’ Night waiting for the performance to start when Dana presented me with a small gift bag. (I, being a doofus, had forgotten her present at work where I had had it delivered. She got it the following day.)

My hand swam through the tiny ocean of tissue paper and seized upon a metal box, about the size and shape of an Altoids tin. I pulled the box out. It did not say “Altoids,” but instead “Kaweco”!

In a flash, this particular anniversary immediately vaulted into the running for best ever. My darling, amazing, BEAUTIFUL wife had gotten me a pen! Unsolicited! This was quite a moment. Even more amazing, she got me a pen despite having a reasonable suspicion that I had gotten her a pen that might very possibly end up back with me.

I opened the box to find a Kaweco Liliput.

But not just any Liliput.

A Fireblue.

If you aren’t familiar with this pen, it’s spectacular. It’s the same compact shape and size as the aluminum and brass versions of the Liliput, perfectly proportioned for a pocket or slipped in the sleeve of a Fodderstack XL. The Fireblue version, however, is made from stainless steel: a little more durable than aluminum and a little lighter than brass. A perfect material choice.

The thing that really makes this pen stand out, though, is the finish. According to Kaweco, each pen is hand-finished by the company’s CEO with a torch. The intense flame burns away residual machining oils and impurities, creating a unique mottle of gray, blue and gold on the steel. It’s a gorgeous pen.

I was thrilled. I was also puzzled.

The Fireblue is a unique and not inexpensive pen with niche appeal, and is only available from a select number of retailers. For my non-pen addict wife to stumble across it seemed unlikely, and I knew she hadn’t heard of it before.

“Where did you get this?” I asked.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“I LOVE it,” I responded.

“I’m glad you like it,” she said. “It wasn’t easy to find.”

“How DID you find it?” I asked. “And how did you choose this pen specifically?”

“It wasn’t easy, but I searched and searched for a steel pen,” she said. “There aren’t many out there.”

I blinked. “Steel?”

“Of course,” she said. “Did you know the 11th anniversary is considered the steel anniversary?”

I did not know that. I did know I had married the most wonderful woman in the world.

Posted on September 8, 2015 and filed under Fountain Pens, Guest Post, Kaweco.

Sailor Pen and Message Cigar Ink Review

(This is a guest post by Felix Jen. Felix is a fountain pen and ink enthusiast. You can find him at his blog, Inks and Pens, or at his Instagram.)

Sailor, the Japanese pen and ink manufacturer, has gotten themselves quite a reputation with their hard-to-find store-exclusive inks such as Bungbox Sapphire and Pen-and-Message inks. Sailor's Pen and Message Cigar is a brown ink with a great depth of color and a very subtle color change.

When I was first sent a sample of this ink, I didn't really know what to think about it. It seemed like a murky green in the vial that looked a bit unappealing, but once I filled a pen up with it, my opinion totally changed. The ink lays does lay down as a shade of dark green and quickly changes to a brown color as it dries. I was completely shocked as there aren't many inks that change colors so quickly.

The ink is a deep brown with some definite green undertones as well as a light blue tint. This is actually one of the nicer browns with a great deal of depth to it, unlike some inks in the color range.

A paper chromatography test of this ink confirms the presence of green and blue. The chromatography is actually all over the place, with yellow, orange, blue, green, and brown!

This review was written in a Pilot Parallel 1.5mm on HP 32lb Premium Choice Laser.

On paper, the ink behaves wonderfully. There is not a bit of feathering or bleed-through, even on the extremely wet parts of the page. There is a little bit of show-through but nothing too major. With thinner papers like Tomoe River, you can clearly see what is written on the reverse side. The ink cleans out easily from converters and does not stain, unlike some Noodler's inks.

Shading is not this ink's strong point. The ink barely has any shading, from a light brown to a darker blackish color. The dry time is a bit long, averaging at around 20 seconds on this paper and 19 seconds on Rhodia. When using finer nibs, the dry time is significantly reduced, to around 13 seconds with an Medium.

This ink's water test is also an enigma. The test was done with drops of water placed on the page for about 20 seconds then wiped away with a tissue. Strangely, much of the brown in the ink washes away but leaves a water-resistant blue-gray portion. The lines can still clearly be seen and there is barely any smearing of the brown.

Sailor Pen and Message Cigar is truly a one-of-a-kind ink with a beautiful color and outstanding behavior. You can find this ink directly from Pen and Message for 2160¥ in a 50mL bottle. They are out of stock at the time of this writing, but will be accepting "preorders" in August 2015.

Posted on August 27, 2015 and filed under Guest Post, Ink Reviews, Sailor.