Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Quick Pen Review

In yesterday's typecast, I mentioned getting a bonus prize from Exaclair, the U.S. importer of Rhodia products. This all came about because I entered a drawing to win a Rhodia "dotpad" notebook, which uses a fine grid of dots instead of a lined graph. About ten days ago -- long after the contest was over -- the VP of marketing sent out this email:
Dear Friends,

I am sorry for the delay.

We did not like the original batch of orange dot pads so I didn’t send them out to the winners. I have been waiting for the 2nd batch to arrive from France and they finally did. I am now waiting to receive them from our warehouse. I will have them out to the winners, plus a surprise for your wait and time and trouble early next week.

Before I go on, I just want to point out what a class act this is, and I'm not just saying that because I've managed to secure great free stuff from Exaclair. This is exactly how customer service is supposed to work, even if your "customer" is some random shlub on the Internet, as I am. A big hand for Exaclair and Karen A. Doherty, their VP of Marketing. You can send me free awesome stuff anytime...

A couple people asked for my impressions of my bonus prize pen -- as you do -- so here's an impromptu what's-at-hand review for you.

This is not a very expensive product, but it's still a first for me, as I don't own any pens of this style: a ballpoint that accepts a fountain pen ink cartridge. Strictly speaking, this would not be a pen that you'd be heartbroken to lose, if only because it's almost entirely plastic, except for the clip, a decorative metal ring where the cap snaps on, and the point itself. I'd put it in the league of the Pilot Varsity, which is a disposable plastic fountain pen (although it can be refilled.)

Here they are side-by-side:

Pen vs. Pen, capped

The weight is almost identical, making this pen very light and easy to carry around. It's also about 3/4 of a inch shorter than the Varsity. There's a definite feeling of "smallness" to the ink roller, which, again, makes it very portable and pocketable, but may be awkward to hold in larger hands if you don't post the cap on the back of the pen, like so:

Pen vs. Pen, posted

Even posted, it's noticeably shorter than the Varsity, but not awkwardly. Conclusion: this is a pen meant to be used posted, or by the tiny-handed. Again, since it's all-plastic, it's not like you're doing damage to a valuable writing instrument, but like a Space Pen (which I also own) posting the cap feels necessary.

Feed detail

The feed in the roller is visible, just like that of the Varsity. They're very similar, and cleaning between inks may be an issue. To refill the Varisty, you pull the whole feed out, making it available for rinsing.

Cartidge and socket

The roller takes standard "short" international-end cartridges, which always makes me happy, since those are pretty easy to come by, often masquerading as calligraphy pen refills. Long cartridges -- like Waterman -- will not fit in this pen, alas. There's a gap once the cartridge is pushed into place, but it's still not enough of a gap to get a long cartridge in there.

Inked and ready

Because I am impatient, I gave the cartridge a little squeeze to get the ink into the feed. I don't know if this is necessary, but it's part of the ritual I have with my fountain pens, and bad habits die hard. Of course this splooged ink into those nice, clean feed fins.

Feed, inked

Oh well. At least we know it's mine now, right?

There appears to be a very, very tiny breather hole in the end of the pen, down near the writing point. The ink leaving the cartridge needs to be replaced with air for everything to keep flowing. I don't know if you can see it in this photo, but it's there, right about at the 12 o'clock position.

Breather hole

The dedicated pen hacker (or ink lover) could easily convert this into an eyedropper pen. The cap seals tight with a click, and there are no holes in it that I can detect: the clip is affixed to the outside.

The back of the barrel has a tiny hole in it, which may just be leftover from the molding process. A drop or two of hot glue or clear nail polish would probably seal it up tight.

So, how does it write?

But how does it write?

Not bad at all. You're writing with a very fine ball, obviously, so it's not going to be as smooth as a fountain pen, but using the same water-based ink makes it seem slipperier to me. And since it's using a thinner ink, you can also get shading as seen above (and seen better in-person.) Plus, you get the advantage of being able to use all the colors and styles of real inks. There was a blue cartridge inside the pen when it arrived which I used for this test, and Karen thoughtfully added a tiny tin of six dark-green cartridges to use when this one is gone. That's probably the best part of the whole thing: replay value!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dot's Life

typecast 20120627

What could it be?
Finding the Signature 100 in the wild (recreation)

Signature 100 Typewriter
Surprise! It's a typewriter. Never expected to see that around here, did you?

Rhodia goodies
Something unexpected (but not at all unwelcome)

Typed on the recently Silver Surfer-ized Kmart 100
The Silver Surfer, complete

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Silver Satisfaction

Thank goodness for eBay.

Return handle, stowed

The local craft store turned out to be no help at all for a 2mm bead to replace the missing ball bearing that somebody stupidly lost when stripping the paint from this machine. There's a hobby store nearby, and they sell parts for model cars and planes, both of which appear to use 2mm bearings in some elaborate mechanisms, but I didn't relish forking out a chunk of cash to buy one just to pull it apart, never mind trying to find a suitable replacement in the first place.

eBay came through, though, with a domestic seller "toolsupply" offering a bag of 100 2mm balls for a very reasonable price, plus free shipping. The parts arrived yesterday, and I set them aside after playing the usual round of Inappropriate Joke Time with my family ("Hey! Dad's balls are here!" "Honey, did you mail-order balls?" "Oh thank goodness: now I have lots of spare balls." etc.)

Return handle, locked

The replacement fits perfectly. And no wonder I couldn't find them locally: 2mm is a tiny little bearing, far to small for any application that I can think of, even for a bike, as recommended in the discussion in the last topic. It's seated exactly right in the opening, and the small tang that holds the ball in place now properly locks the return arm, as above.

Here's a shot of the inside of the return mechanism, just for completeness and archive purposes, in case I get a bright idea to take the arm off again and forget how it goes back together.

Return handle, the business end

So, the arm is back in place at long last. I dropped in an old ribbon just to make sure I hadn't made any other horrible mistakes (I didn't) though I think I'm going to need to address that broken backspace sooner rather than later. It appears that the backspace is not only loose, but sometimes also hangs up the escapement which only a certain amount of jiggling can resolve. I might be getting back on eBay, checking out toolsupply's selection of springs, once I know what I'm looking for. Luckily, the backspace is accessible by removing the bottom plate alone, which is easy.

Fabric on the bottom

Naturally, I banished the crummy, stinky soundproofing foam from the bottom and side panels, and replaced it. This time I cut up a large piece of wool/nylon blend that I found in the remnant rack at eh craft store. It's held in place with automotive gasket silicon from the dollar store next door. The black looks pretty nice, what of it you can see.

I also lined some panels that weren't originally done, like the inside of the ribbon cover, and the inside of the panel that runs behind the paper table (behind the margins.) I also lined the inside of the knobs, since the paint bubbled up there. I like the effect of the red and black together, as you can see in the above pics. It's a repetition of the bicolor ribbon, and looks very typewriterish to me.

Fabric on the inside

I did this mainly so I would not need to completely strip the inside of all the panels. I was pretty tired of the power tools by that point -- everything was done hand-held, since I don't have a proper workbench -- and more than once I wasn't paying attention and abraded some of the skin from my hand or arm with a tool. Ouch.

I think it was all worth it, though:

The Silver Surfer, complete

I'm still not convinced about the aesthetic quality of the plain silver. I did try affixing some art-tape racing stripes to the machine, but the tape was never meant to affix to bare metal, and peeled right off. The panels are steel, so magnets will stick to them. Perhaps I will go for magnetic stripes, or flames, or some other decoration. I'm not sure yet. But that's what makes projects like this so much fun: it's a blank canvas, and there's tons of room for customization.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Happy Typewriter Day

Typewriter Day

It's Typewriter Day today, the anniversary of the first U.S. Patent by Christopher Latham Sholes, and a good enough reason as any to celebrate the establishment of the machine that transformed writing, business, and the lives of thousands (millions?) over many decades.

Today is also, I later learned, what would have been Alan Turing's 100th birthday. It's just as arguable that Turing's work also transformed writing, business, and the lives of millions.

Though neither man can get sole credit for the invention (and later perfection) of their creations, both stand out in their respective fields, and you wouldn't be reading this -- nor I writing it -- without their work. I'd like to think that both would have appreciated the natural contrariness and DIY-ish-ness of the Typosphere, too.

I started today off on a decidedly curmudgeonly tear, ripping down advertising that appeared to have magically affixed itself to the street light poles in my immediate neighborhood. I consider this sort of thing vertical litter, and feel that I have just as much right to remove ads stuck to a public pole as the originator had to post them. (More, in fact, since I'm sure they are violating codes.) After stuffing the accumulated paper into a nearby garbage can, I happened to look down and notice how much the metal covers on our local residential water lines look like a certain Sholesian invention.

In honor of both these gentlemen, today I will be typing something and it will be cryptic. I'll say no more right now...

Have a grand day, everyone! Don't forget to share the outcome of your own celebrations over at the Typosphere.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Silver Suffer

The Silver Surfer project continues.

I finally managed to get a replacement bolt in place to secure the carriage return lever. Just to recap, here's what the business end of the carriage looked like "before," after I'd carelessly sheared the bolt in two while trying to tighten the mechanism down.

Silver Surfer Knob

And here's the replacement bolt in place, approximately the same length, and mercifully, the same threading as the bolt it replaced. So now all I need to do is put the lever on and tighten (carefully!) the nuts that hold it in place, right?


What do you mean, "no?"

Bolt Replaced

Well, no. When I fasten the lever in place, it doesn't stay put. Since this is a travel machine, the return lever folds down for transport, and then snaps upright for use. But the "snaps upright" part isn't happening. If your name happens to rhyme with "Pitchard Bolt" then you surely have seen it already...

That little hole you can see there, in that angled bit of metal? Yeah, that? That is supposed to hold a teeny-tiny little ball bearing, which presses against the return arm and provides enough friction to keep it in the stowed position. The return arm has a smaller hole through it which the ball bearing pops into and acts as a lock. It's a really clever system, and obviously far more clever than I am, he who blinding removed the arm without paying attention to tiny round Important Parts that likely went pinging around the room someplace.

In short: dammit.

So, I'm off to see if I can source a tiny, tiny ball bearing. Small enough to fit into this hole, but not so small that it passes through the return lever's hole. That's the bad news.

The good news is: I wouldn't have been able to puzzle any of this out without a working example of the same mechanism to compare. (Installing the bolt meant removing the whole piece, including a spring under tension.) But I won't tip my hand about that quite yet.


There was some discussion in the comments about how tiny the "tiny, tiny ball bearing" actually is. Based on some shaky camera work, I'd guess it's a 2mm size, or pretty close to it. I'm going to see if the craft store has any metal beads that might fit the bill.

BB Nest

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shear Impatience

We're nearly there. Only two small setbacks to report on the silver surfer Kmart 100 project. One minor, one not-so-minor.

Silver Surfer, Handless

The minor issue is feet: none of the ones I have laid in will fit in the slightly-smaller wells in the case, necessitating a return trip to the hardware store with the only remaining non-crumbled foot to get a sense of size. I should be able to find something.

Silver Surfer Knobs

The more serious issue came in replacing the return arm, which had to come off so I could remove the side panel for paint removal. Over-exuberant me decided to over-tighten the small bolt that holds the whole thing together, shearing it apart right in the middle. After filling the air with the heady perfume of weapons-grade profanity, I slipped the broken bolt into the film can which will accompany me to the hardware store. There's some sort of rule here: for any home project that requires N trips to the hardware store, expect to make N+2 trips.

While in the process of fixing things up, I noticed that the backspace mechanism doesn't work, or at least doesn't choose to work with any sort of regularity. This seems to be the fault of a long-broken spring, and I'm not going to fret over it. Maybe that key has a future role to play if I ever yearn to open this machine up again. LED lighting? It could happen.

Meanwhile, I've re-felted the interior panels, obscuring the old blue surfaces. With some extra fabric, I even glued a little inside the repainted knobs, which came out pretty cool, in my opinion. I have a couple of simple decorations I want to add to the machine before I call it "done," but repairing the unintentional damage caused by my zealous tightening and finding suitable replacement feet needs to happen first.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

Silver Surfer Update

Silver shell

I think I've done as much with the shell of the surfer as I want to do, or have the patience for. There's still a touch of blue paint here and there, but it may wear in time. Next steps:redo the interior felt, put the badges back, and put the typewriter back together.

I've learned a lot from this project, not the least of which is the amount of effort it takes to strip the paint from a typewriter! I've got a new appreciation for the level of effort involved in the other silver-surfer projects I've seen online.