Posts filed under Guest Post

A Story Of Office Subterfuge

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

Since becoming a Junior Pen Addict a year ago, I have tried to evangelize the message of a better writing experience. As is the case in many offices, our supply closest is stocked with the cheapest paper (generic legal and steno pads) and pens (BiC “Xtra Comfort” medium points) our purchasing people can find. By sheer accident, there are some gems like PaperMate Flair plastic tip pens and Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, but mostly the shelf is a cathedral of mediocrity.

I have made some inroads with a few co-workers. I noticed one of our commodities buyers is a woodcase pencil guy, so I gave him a couple of Palomino Blackwings. I checked in with him after a few weeks, and he somewhat sheepishly told me “When you said I would feel a difference between these (Blackwings) and the pencils I normally use, I thought you were nuts. But wow, these are SMOOTH.”

A member of our graphic design team is a kindred spirit as it relates to design and typography – I have introduced her to Field Notes and Mr. Aaron Draplin, and she’s digging it. Our sales analyst admitted to me that she “really likes, you know, GOOD paper.” I gave her an extra Rhodia A5 top staple-bound notebook that I had lying around, and it blew her mind.

I’ve had failures, too. Our corporate attorney, who happens to be a friend, is a Pilot G-2 fan. That’s a great pen; I thought that might serve as a gateway into fountain pens, so I lent him first my Lamy Safari and then my Pilot Metropolitan. It hasn’t taken. He always quickly goes back to the G-2’s he loves so much.

But the effort of which I am most proud was not so overt. This office needs to know the love of writing, dammit. So I did something a little sneaky. A little underhanded. I stocked the pond, if you will.

I decided to make a contribution to the supply cabinet. I knew the Pilot Varsity was a great entry-level fountain pen, and they’re inexpensive. I bought about two dozen in blue and black from JetPens, and snuck into the supply cabinet with them on a Tuesday afternoon. I carefully reshuffled the Bics and the Flairs to make a space. Luckily, JetPens had included a Varsity box, so once I was done it looked as if the interloping pens belonged there.

The pens I snuck into the supply closet.

The pens I snuck into the supply closet.

Two weeks later, they were gone.

All twenty-four. GONE. In seven working days (not counting days the office was closed for Christmas and New Year’s.

About a hundred people share this particular supply closet, which is a lot. But for FOUNTAIN PENS to disappear that quickly? I couldn’t believe it. People had actually taken them to use. This only served to increase the audacity, the sheer madness of my next move. I didn’t plan it. I hadn’t thought about it. But in the moment, it seemed right.

I took a Post-it note, stuck it on the now-empty Pilot Varsity box and scribbled (hoping I was disguising my handwriting) “Please reorder. Thanks!” My heart was pounding. I felt like I had crossed some line, violated some rule. It was a little silly – I know some people ask for specific pens or paper from time to time, and my company generally will try to accommodate. Requests for staplers, tape dispensers, letter trays, wall calendars and white boards are generally approved without any raised eyebrows. But still, I had hacked the system! I had introduced a foreign life-form, and now I was hoping the office supply ecosystem would accept this new animal.

A week later, this.

Fresh boxes. Ordered by whoever orders office supplies.

Fresh boxes. Ordered by whoever orders office supplies.

Three fresh new boxes of Pilot Varsities. It worked. I couldn’t believe it.

What I don’t yet know is if fountain pens are on the regular re-order rotation yet. I will be monitoring the inventory to see if folks are still taking them, and I’ll be keeping a sharp eye to see if I can spot people using the pens they’ve acquired.

Basking in the glow of having pulled off my own version of a “covert op,” I find myself wondering why I did it.

I’m excited that my co-workers will have the opportunity to use a pen that’s new to them, to have an experience that maybe they’ve never had. Moreso, I’m hopeful that just a few people will enjoy using a fountain pen so much that it makes their day a little better. We have a pretty great work environment here – people treat each other with respect, we’re pretty family friendly, and people stay a long time. But work is work, and days can get frustrating or mundane. Maybe, just maybe, my little surreptitious act will add a dash of enjoyment to someone’s day.

Posted on January 15, 2015 and filed under Guest Post.

"I use a fountain pen older than my grandparents"

TWSBI VAC

(This is a guest post by Taylor Skidmore. You can find more from Taylor on his blog, Twitter, or App.net.)

This fall, I will be heading to college at Indiana University to study Informatics and Linguistics. As part of the tour, all prospective students participated in an icebreaker question: "What's a fun fact about yourself?" When I responded, "I use a fountain pen older than my grandparents," the response was exactly what you might expect from a group of 16/17 year old high-schoolers: utter confusion.

I've been using fountain pens on a relatively regular basis for two years now. I first discovered a pack of Pilot Varsities at Staples and fell in love with fine writing utensils. Since then, I've found myself with a Lamy Al-Star, a Pelikan m205, a TWSBI Vac700, an 'infamous' Noodler's Ahab, and an azure Parker Vacumatic. (As a student in high school, I've struggled to afford much more than that.) Although my collection is meager, I can't ever imagine going back to using those free BIC pens from hotel rooms. But using fountain pens at a rural, relatively low-income high school has lent itself to a few issues in my pursuit of the hobby.

"You Must Be Some Sort of Rich Momma's Boy."

Yeah. That's a reaction I've gotten when I use my Vac700 at school. And no, my parents have never bought me a pen. And no, I am not rich. This reaction, however, is not unique to fountain pens. I often get the same reaction talking about App.net, Spotify, and other recurring subscriptions with free alternatives. I just think my peers struggle to grasp the concept of paying money when you don't particularly need to do so; it baffles teenagers (or at least the ones I know).

I try to compare my purchasing of pens to another expensive hobby: video games. A number of my peers happily throw away $70 buying a new video game that offers 10 or 15 hours of playing time without a second doubt. A new TWSBI Vac700 runs for $80. In my honest opinion that offers a marginal price difference, especially when you take into account my peers who buy multiple games a month. On the other side of things, I do not buy pens every month, nor did I have to buy an expensive console to use my pens. Why is there such a large difference between the two?

"My $0.25 BIC Pen Works Just As Well."

Well, no, $0.25 BIC pens do not work as well, or at least they don't in my opinion. I struggle to explain why I just enjoy writing with fountain pens; it's nearly euphoric sitting down to write in my journal every night. I could say things like, "The words flow through my pen as easily as the ink," or, "I like all of the inks I can use, and the way I can change the thickness of the pen's line with the slightest pressure." In fact, I have tried to explain those feelings, and I'm almost immediately met with "Wow, that's dumb," or some other more colorful phrase.

Whether we like it or not, pens are becoming obsolete, especially fountain pens. It breaks my heart that I might not be able to open a sealed, hand-written letter and enjoy communicating with people I never would have without letters, but unfortunately, I think it's the reality of the matter, and most of my peers have never been exposed to anything other than Facebook on a variety of laptops and iPads, let alone the wonders of hand-written mail.

"Wow, that looks really cool!"

Reactions like these are few and far between. Some just like to see the ink slosh around in the barrel of my demonstrator. Others think the nibs are pretty, or the lines graceful. I ask if they'd like to write with it, and the answer is usually yes. I hand them my pen, and they gingerly take it from my hands as if it would shatter if they held on too tightly. They take some filler paper, scribble their name and hand it back, enjoying the isolated experience. Of the dozens of people I've let try my pen(s), only one enjoyed the experience enough to ask more questions about fountain pens.

I absolutely adore fountain pens, ink, paper, and even a high-quality wooden pencil or two. Most of the time, no one says anything about my pens, and when they do, my peers often look at me with confusion, completely oblivious to the wonders of such a simple technology.

Posted on May 8, 2013 and filed under Guest Post.

Guest Review: The X-pen

X-pen

(This is a guest review by Brian Draghi. You can follow Brian on Twitter @Sketchscape)

I’ve been a fan of the Hi-Tec-C pen explosion recently on Kickstarter. I have backed several of these pens with great results in each one. As much as I love using these type of pens, one of my favorite types of pens to use are felt-tip pens. Sharpie pens, Sakura Microns, and Pilot Fineliners are among these type of pens that I like to use. I like to classify them as hybrid pens since they are perfect for both writing and sketching. It’s a pen type that produces a bold dark stroke every single time. After seeing all the pens on Kickstarter, I wanted a felt-tip pen enclosed in aluminum or a more permanent body specifically made for these types of pens.

Once again I turned to Kickstarter and Minimal Duck which answered my wish with a project named X-pen. The X-pen is a felt-tip aluminum body that is compatible with both the Pilot Razor and Pilot Fineliner felt-tip pens. To say that this was right in my wheelhouse is a complete and total understatement. It’s probably the fastest I’ve backed a project on Kickstarter when I found it. The X-pen is a streamline wonder when I picked it up to hold. There were two versions of the pen that could be backed: a clear anodized finish or a electroless nickel finish. I went ahead and backed the clear anodized pen which showed off a nice clean finish. The anodized clear finish is not completely smooth as the body contains thin small rings based on how it was cut that make up the surface of the pen. These rings form small grooves to provide an ideal grip for the X-pen. It’s a subtle way to provide a grip without it being too noticeable.

X-pen

The weight of the X-pen is spot on perfect; enough weight to feel the quality but not enough to make it too heavy to use. Its ideal to write with without significant hand fatigue. The total length for the X-pen is just 4 inches which makes it great for pockets. The cap is also unique because it is attached to the X-pen with a strong magnet. I had some reservations about the strength of the magnet until I tried to remove the cap. Needless to say, the cap will not come off in a pocket without directly removing it yourself. When in use, the cap can either be set aside or you can post it on the back of the pen which is also attached by the magnet.

The process of installing the refill is aided by the design of the X-pen itself. The bottom of the pen contains a small hex set screw that needs to be removed to access the ink cartridge. The X-pen cap contains a hex head on the top that can be used to unscrew the hex set on the bottom of the pen to remove the ink cartridge. The existing cartridge can be slightly difficult to remove but you can simply tap on the bottom of the pen to loosen the tube enough to pull out. The X-pen can accept both Pilot Razor and Fineliner felt-tip pens which can be found in most office and art supply stores. Most pens just require a refill to install in the pen. The X-pen requires both the pen tip and ink cartridge from the standard plastic body to transfer to the X-pen.

X-pen

This install can be performed two ways; either with a pair of needle nosed pilers or using the pen tool that could be additionally backed with the X-pen. One side of the pen tool is used to remove the tip and cartridge from the Fineliner and the other side is for the Razor. The pen tool not only serves as a tool to remove the tip and cartridge, but it also can be used as a business card stand and bottle opener.

Despite the many positive features of the X-pen, there are also a couple of drawbacks here as well. The main problem with the pen is when you post the cap. The cap is not very securely held on the back of the pen. The cap is only being held on by the hex screw head on the top of the cap. The magnetic strength is decreased with only this surface area of the hex screw head being used. This causes the cap to shake and rattle when moved very quickly. This isn’t an apparent issue if you are simply writing and sketching but if you move very quickly, you could shake the cap loose if you're not paying attention.

Then there are those that prefer not to post caps which wouldn’t be an issue except for one minor problem. When the cap is posted, the pen rests at an ideal position on the cusp of your hand. Without the cap, the pen seems a little short especially if you have larger hands. I almost wish there was a way to screw the cap on the back of the pen. This would assure the cap would never fall off when posted and the length would be ideal for everyone to use.

X-pen

Despite this problem, the X-pen is a stunning aluminum body to use with a Fineliner or Razor. The quality is top notch and the magnetic cap is fun to play with. The nice portable size is convenient to fit comfortably in your pocket without taking up too much space. This is really for anyone that prefers to use felt-tip pens on a daily basis. This is something that I have been looking for as a permanent way to carry my felt-tip pen that will last a lifetime. It takes an existing product and makes it much more than it was before which can be shared and passed down to future generations.

I would like to thank Arash and Mehdi Malek of Minimal Duck for making such a stunning aluminum enclosure for the Razor and Fineliner pens. I look forward to any projects they plan to release in the future.

Posted on March 6, 2013 and filed under Guest Post, Pen Reviews, X-pen.