Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Twain on the Plane

This is one of those blog titles that seemed really brilliant at the time, somewhere in the Las Vegas airspace (note to Speegles: I waved.) It was inspired by reading a copy of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi that I've had since I was around eleven. I think this is the first time I've read it all the way through, and I'd forgotten how genuinely funny he was. This is hardly news, but it really has been a long time since I've read him -- too long, obviously -- and now I'm eager to read his autobiography. Based on what I've read, Life on the Mississippi sounds like a warm-up for the main event.

No doubt the perceived cleverness of this post's title was enhanced by the fact that I had been awake for something on the order of twelve hours when I thought it up, with another seven or so ahead before I could fulfill the sweet promise of head-on-my-own-pillow. Somewhere between hours one and nineteen, I'd gone from a freezing sleety sideways rain of the Niagara Falls/Buffalo airport, to the flashing, throbbing, chirping sounds of slot machines in the Las Vegas concourses, to the green rain-soaked hills of the Oakland/San Francisco area. My brain and body are still adjusting to the three-hour time shift, and the thirty-degree temperature shift, and as I'm unpacking my actual luggage, I'll leave you with a little mental luggage unpacking as well, in lieu of a real, well-formed blog post. Here goes:
  • In answer to your first question, no, I did not suffer any of the snowpocalypse that buried the midwest and socked in the east coast. By design or accident, the Buffalo area was only graced with "unseasonably cold" temperatures for this time of year, which meant the thermometer stayed sub-freezing for the duration, but did not get Crazy Cold. We saw some snow, but it was mild, and my kids -- native Californians all -- ate it up. Literally, in some cases. You can always tell the ones not brought up in cold weather: they're the kids running around with bare heads and pulling off their mittens to form snowballs. We have sledding-disaster stories in abundance.
  • I thought that my home area was pretty special for having an operable drive-in movie theater, but from the air over Phoenix, I spotted a lovely four-screen example, with each screen positioned at the corner of a clear square of ground, and the snack stand squat in the middle. I was humbled, and impressed.
  • I was also humbled by the usual range of stuff available in the SkyMall catalog. I had plans to liberate one from the seatback pocket in front of me and do an analysis of the products, breaking them down into categories like "hair restoration gadgets" (several), "weight-loss devices" (also several), and "urine-related technologies" (disturbingly many.) In the end, I think this was too scatological, even for me, and let the idea lie.
  • Speaking of in-flight entertainment, if you travel with small children, I cannot recommend a portable DVD player highly enough. I'm not sure my youngest (age three) made a single peep the entire time we were in the air. It's worth it.
  • Also, I'm pleased that my older ones actually looked forward to playing pencil-and-paper games on the plane, especially hangman. When All Electronic Devices had to be stowed, that pad of paper and pen kept us all entertained.
Looking forward to catching up with you folks in the waning of the year, and limbering up the fingers for a type-filled 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dreaming of a Write Christmas

Time to pack up the blog for the year and take it easy for a bit. The kids are getting excited about the growing present pile under the tree, but I'm starting to get excited about the unmarked box on my bedside table, the one holding my 2010 novel draft. Maybe it's not as awful as it seemed a few weeks ago...

Hope everyone has a good season, with whatever form your celebrations take! I'll see you all again in 2011 or thereabouts.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010: A Year in the Sphere

Another year is winding down, so I thought I'd round it out with the lazy blogger's equivalent of the clip show: the year in review (from a slanted perspective.) Though there was nothing to equal the auction of Cormac McCarthy's battered beloved Lettera -- and you have to admit that the idea got us all looking a little more closely at our collections -- there were still some notable high points in the past year, arranged in no particular order:
  • The loss of the typewriter repair man. You'd think that this isn't exactly news, and yet it seems like a story that keeps popping up this year, usually alternating places with stories about how "the younger generation" is embracing the tactile world of the typewriter. Like all of you, I'm rooting for the latter and fearing the former. There have been some rumblings that Progress is happening despite hipsters pecking out streetcorner poetry, and that our supplies of spools and ribbons won't last forever. There is no better time to experiment with ribbon re-inking and laying in carbon paper supplies. The type-pocalypse is coming! The crazy old guy on the corner with the sandwich board said so.
  • Gadget compatibility. It may not be coming all that soon, though, thanks to the creation of the USB Typewriter and the subsequent online coverage, which goes to show that the best way to preserve a dying technology is to give it the full Irony treatment. I don't know about the wisdom of using a typewriter and all its swinging metal hammers as a prop for your $500 web browser, but it's a damn sight more useful than keychopping. I'm still waiting for the clever egg to make an electric typewriter/USB hybrid that also acts as a charging base. Now that I would buy. (Not really.)
  • The growth of the typosphere. Some notable names joined the blogging ranks this year: Richard Polt and the Davis brothers got their blog on this year, as did the Cambridge Typewriter Company. All three sites leave me feeling smarter, and not a little bit envious at the same time. So many shinies. And around the Big Names, there's been plenty of ordinary folk embracing the power of the typer. I'd do a poor job of trying to name you all, so I'll defer as always to the big blogroll on Strikethru for your link-building pleasure.
  • Silent Type II: Electric Boogaloo. What more can be said? It's awesome. You should download a copy now. Heck, download two. And that poem on page 11? Genius.
  • Fame, with a dash of civil unrest. Typer-lovers did make some news this year, beyond the bomb-squad-found-a-typewriter-case-and-didn't-recognize it variety. The ouster of artist/writer Skye Ferrante raised enough ire in our circles to send sternly-worded typewritten letters to The Writers [sic] Room, and wag our ink-stained fingers in Stern Disapproval at their sudden dissolution of their typewriter-friendly policies. And just maybe that was the motivation for the upcoming Type-In in Philadelphia? Local friends of the 'sphere: represent! We need photos from this, and audio recordings, too. (And please note the links at the bottom of that page for some familiar blogs.)
  • Meets and greets. Seems like everyone was off at a regional typewriter meeting this summer, including one literally just up the road from my old hometown (sniff.) Thanks to those who documented them, and posted videos on the Tube of You for us far-flung relations to ooh and aah over.
  • Another month with the lunatics. The NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigade was loud and proud again this year, with even more members, more winners, and more pointless posts that forced us into a second topic even earlier than in 2009. Big kudos all around! I especially like how the Brigade is self-perpetuating, as winners drift in to the topic near the end of the month and post variations on ZOMG! I totally love typewriters! I'm doing this next year! On the follow-through front, I see that Duffy (founder of the Brigade, for you whippersnappers) is trying to drum up some support for the idea of a virtual writing group. I personally think this is fine idea, since I'm all for having people read my stuff as long as I don't have to, you know, see them do it. Please comment, and congratulate Mr. Moon for taking on this noble task (see how I did that, Duffy? That's called management.) Seriously, though: consider.
  • Lucky finds. Those of us collector/users who acquire machines outside of the major online auction site that-rhymes-with-Flea-Day know that finding a typer locally is mostly hit and miss, with emphasis on the "miss." But every now and then you get lucky: a tell-tale case, stuck on a shelf or in a corner, with a criminally low price stuck on it. And then the days or weeks or months of fruitless looking melt away and this is your New Favorite Place. Unless you're Richard Polt, and live in a place where typewriters appear like mushrooms after rain. I had a couple of "hits" this year, but by far my best find was Morticia, the curbside SM3 from this summer. Even though it's a "double" (I have another SM3), and even though it was hopelessly gunked and frozen up, time and cleaning and vigorous swearing loosened up the works where it now types like a dream. It's surely my best find of the year.
Your turn: post your own recollections and reminisces of the year past. Any high or low points for you this year? What was your lucky find?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reboot, Reset, Recharge

20101202 typecast

Typed on Morticia, the Olympia SM-3
"Morticia", the curbside Olympia SM-3, c. 1956
Mysterious gaps due to me cutting out strikeouts with Gimp before uploading

* The "Out of Town" mail slot is a holdover from my rural upbringing. My hometown's post office had (and likely still has) a slot dedicated solely to local mail, though I was never clear on what that actually meant, as the definition of "town" was pretty fluid. I'm afraid that I don't know the specific reason why this warranted its own drop point and bin, though I suspect once upon a time, residents could supply far simpler addresses and the mail would get there just fine: "Aunt June Doe, Main Street." Only the fancy out-of-town stuff would require high-falutin' zip codes and full street addresses. That's my theory, anyhow.

It's been decades since I lived anywhere that had such a setup, but it's so ingrained that I check every single time I walk in to drop off mail, for fear of dropping it into the wrong opening, and inconveniencing a mail clerk. As if sixty Christmas cards in one dump wasn't an inconvenience on its own.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Hook

(from U.S. Patent #2486473, "TYPEWRITER RIBBON AND SPOOL" by H. J. Hart (1946)

On my Royal's ribbon spools, there is a small hook that drops down: the ribbon holds it in place when it's wrapped around the core, but when you reach the end, the hook lowers and trips the reverse mechanism, and what was now the end of the ribbon becomes the beginning. (This is a snip from the patent drawing, above.)

We're ending week two of NaNoWriMo, and maybe you're feeling a little at-the-end too? Like you've typed all you can and have run out of ideas? Time to invoke the Hook: make a change, kill a character, summon those monkey ninjas from the ninth dimension. Do something dramatic and you'll have a whole fresh story all laid out before you.

All the way to 50K, people. You can do it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Today was a difficult day: my lunch was interrupted by a minor crisis, and while fixing that, was interrupted by another more major crisis, the two of which conspired to keep me away from my afternoon NaNoWriMo session. I'd been especially looking forward to this one, as I'd literally been on my feet all day -- I'm using a new standing desk, and am in the adjustment period where my back is happy but my feet are protesting. Sitting in a padded chair for forty-five minutes in the middle of the day sounded pretty damn good. But instead what I got was a gulped-down lunch and two hours mired in the depths of financial software. By the time the fog lifted, it was too late to skulk away with the Skyriter under the arm.

This made me bitter.

And then the lights went out.

For the second time in a month, we lost power to our building, and after the wails of despair died down ("I didn't save!") and casual conversation broke out in the hall, I realized that life had turned my lemony day into novel-ade. Out came the typing pad and the Skyriter, and for the next forty-five minutes or so, I typed by the fading daylight, boosting up the word count. Someone even stopped by and jokingly suggested that I hand out spare machines to anyone needing to finish up their work. I said, "I am doing work!"

This made me smug.

Little Smug Man

I took the sudden work stoppage as a sign that Dramatic Action was called for in the novel, too. I've been languishing a bit, wallowing in the flabby and ill-defined section in the middle of my outline. When the lights went out in the office, though, the lights came on in my brain, and whether it was the unexpected opportunity of a writing session, or the endorphin rush from finally sitting down, I think I've got a title for the story, and even a decent synopsis I can put up on the site.

Very smug indeed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Magic

Well, it happened this morning. The first morning when I hit the alarm button a couple of times, and actually resented getting up at some ludicrous hour to write terrible fiction.

This is what morning looks like

This was taken at the end of the session, just before my kids woke up. I started at 5:30, and I've been starting at 5:00 since Monday. Needless to say, I'm very much looking forward to the time change this weekend. It's far too dark to warrant getting out of bed, much less getting up to attempt to string together a contiguous storyline. But it's also one of the few times of day when I'm truly left alone -- since all sane people are still abed -- and so I take advantage of the quiet and solitude to work. (Since starting this post, for example, I have made two breakfasts, fed and let out the dog, defused a tantrum, and watched a parade of plastic dinosaurs and cows.)

Reluctance is part of the NaNo game, of course, and much as I try to suppress the Inner Editor, he is known to perch on my shoulder and make murky comments in my ear while I'm trying to work.

"This is crap."

"Why didn't you figure out the character names in advance? My God, this is lame."

"You got us up for this?"

Sadly for the Inner E, I don't hear so well at 5:00 AM, so most of these complaints go unheeded. And during my lunchtime writing sessions at work, the coffee-cart guy has Fox news turned up too loud on his TV, which I've found to be an effective drone to dispel all rational thought. NaNoWriMo thrives in pockets of irrationality, and in the very heart of those pockets lies magic.

Magic Margin

Around the same time that the Inner E wants to start smacking "snooze", the Muse also starts kicking in. For me, writing is best tackled at regular times: I think it fools my brain into being creative, because, hey, we're sitting at that damn typewriter again and we're not getting up, might as well write. And it's in those oh-what-the-hell-just-move-those-fingers moments that the unexpected starts to creep in. The characters start talking to each other and reveal Big Personal Secrets. Scenes I had not anticipated appear, and the story is better for them. User "munk" on the Typewriter Brigade topic compared the feeling to a silvery thread connecting the subconscious to the typewriter. Yeah, I totally get that. It's the magic.

There was an anti-NaNo article on Salon lately, and then an anti-anti-NaNo article in the LA Times blog. You can search them down if you like, but it's the same arguments and defenses that have been trotted out every year, and I feel like it boils down to a slobs versus snobs distinction. I don't listen to the argument much, though I do savor some of the more nasty comments from both sides. I know the self-imposed suffering of writing regimen will end in three weeks, and I know that what I'm writing is not High Art. But gives me a chance get in touch with the magic, and that feeling makes it worthwhile.

But even more when we turn the clocks back.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Your Arsenal

For Twitterites, there's a #DailyArsenal hashtag and a corresponding flickr group, highlighting what's in your writing/creating space for the day. Although it's not limited to NaNoWriMo, you can still use it as a way to do a little shameless self-promotion. I arranged my afternoon-writing setup and took a quick photo before heading down to the building lobby to type.

At the risk of sounding like a hokey credit card commercial, what's in your arsenal?
NaNoWriMo Day 3

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cheering Section

We're doing some remodeling, which required that I put my main NaNo typewriter away for a while, after I'd brought it out and given it a cleaning up. I'd forgotten that my middle child had "helped" with the process, making sure that the keys worked and the ribbon was properly inked. She wrote this up, and then a day later the contractor came, so her work was hurridly tucked away in my box of paper. When I sat down this morning to start NaNoWriMo, I found it again.

20101101 poemcast

It's never a bad thing to kick off with your own personal cheering section.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All I Needed Was the Crazy

November dreaming
Laws-a-mercy, it's four days until November. Maybe it's just the pre-holiday malted milk balls talking, but I'm suddenly excited about this month. You may remember last week's self-pitying whinge about feeling preemptively blocked and bored of my story, or at least scared that it would turn into a month-long drudge instead of a celebration of free writing. I'm happy to say that the fear has evaporated, since I found the crazy.


Or rather, my main character did. Or will. Without tipping my hand, let's just say that my main character is pretty much doomed this year, in what could become a very bleak book. And I'm not very good at bleak, but the story seems to demand it. I've been trying to think of ways to throw a little leavening into the plot, a little lightness without going too far, and without making some kind of stock Comic Relief Wacky Neighbor type character. Nothing came to mind, and then it struck me. Unreliable narrator, whispered the muse, and suddenly all was made clear.

Holy Flare!

So yes, now the story is bleak, the main character is doomed, and he's very likely not on firm mental footing.

I couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fussing, and Making Do, and Moving the Hand

Pad, Pens, and Pipes
I'm re-reading Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones right now, having just wrapped up Chris Baty's No Plot, No Problem. If you've suffered through my endless posts of late, you know that having no plot is not a problem for me: I'm soaking in plot, so to speak. What I'm lacking right now, though, is excitement about the story I have in mind. It's probably pre-NaNo anxiety, so I'm trying to read Inspirational Writing-Type Books that won't necessarily make me love it, but will at least get me to relax about it and just let the words come. But of course I'm happiest when I'm fussing around and fretting and planning and plotting. And as hippy-trippy as Bones can be -- and it is -- Goldberg's mantra of keep your hand moving is a good one, and I'm trying to absorb it (again.)

I'm also fussing about the letters that are sitting on my desk, waiting to be replied to. In fact, I've got two letters from one person, which is throwing me completely off. Our home is in disarray right now thanks to a long-overdue remodeling project, and I'm still enjoying the last week and a half of lunchtime walks before they are sacrificed to NaNo, so my typing time has been reduced to nil. What I need to do, I've decided, is reply to these letters by hand to get past the angsty writing-block stew that I've brewed for myself. And that leads to fussing about stationery. Or finding some that says "middle-aged ordinary guy" not "Hello Kitty obsessed tweener" or worse yet, "Miss Havisham." Short version: there isn't much. Longer version: at least not reasonable for someone that expects to write more than a dozen letters in a year. So, I'm making do.

After some surreptitious testing in the store (ahem) I've picked up a drawing tablet by Canson, pictured above. And I think it will do. As Goldberg reminds us, it is the writing that is important, and I'm simply fussing too much right now to let myself do it. So if you're on the receiving end of one of my letters, you can expect a bit more rambliness than usual -- if you can even tell -- as I practice defussing with a moving hand.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dinner-Date with Death

A silly bit of short-fiction, inspired by seeing Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations together. Full disclosure: the more heinous typos were corrected digitally.

20101013 typecast pt1
20101013 typecast pt2

Typed on Norma Jean:
Underwood Touchmaster c. 1960, aka "Norma Jean"

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reading and Scanning

I've been throwing the bulk of my online energies into the relaunched NaNoWriMo forums, so I've got just a few musings here today:
  • The letter-exchange program trundles on. I've decided that getting real mail that's not a bill is one of the most honest pleasures one can get for $0.44 (the other being dark chocolate Reese's cups.) Though in this age of instant-twitchy-"like button" feedback, I usually start feeling guilty the moment I open the envelope, like I need to stop wasting time and reply. This isn't significant or profound, but just another shade of neurosis you can use to paint your mental picture of me.
  • The Typewriter Brigade is an enthusiastic bunch, and if you haven't signed on, you should, especially if you're waffling about whether or not you're going to participate. Even the young'uns in the group are well-spoken and classy. Seriously: what a nice group of people to write with. You should do it, too.
  • And related to that, I've wheeled The Beast into its writing home for the next two months. I am trying very hard to resist the Royal Empress that Jay Respler has offered up. Fairly easy, since he's on the other side of the country, and shipping that behemoth would be crazy expensive. But my God, I love the look of the thing. (That one's Olivander's.) It's like a hunk of functional Googie architecture... on your desk.
  • So the plan is: get published, get crazy rich, move to a bigger house, buy an SG-1 and an Empress to keep one another company. That's the plan. Yup. Starting... now!
  • Actually, that's not the plan. For a little perspective on writing, check out this post on dreams versus expectations, and keeping the one from turning into the other. Luckily for me, I'm still living in the dream world. Ha!
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves should be required reading for everyone on the Internet. It's ideal book for nitpicking neurotics like me who freak out about apostrophe mis-use. Lynne Truss is the patron saint of the fussy.
  • Yes, I read humorous punctuation guides for pleasure. This is a problem why?
  • Once fine point that Truss makes and that I just re-read last night is the difference between reading on a page, and reading on a screen. On the page, your eyes move across and down, across and down, across and down. On the screen, your eyes stay fixed, and the page moves across them. To me, it's the difference between reading and scanning, and that could be why I generally hate the experience of screen-reading so much; I'd sooner print out a multi-page document and read it at my desk than sit at that same desk and read off my monitor, even though I have a nice, bright, large screen that can adjust its type size to even my lousy vision. Reading on a screen feels different because it is different. Well, duh.
  • I mention this also because Staples appears to be selling the Kindle in their stores, and I was oddly compelled to pick up the sample model and hold it the other day. It sure is... pretty. So hard when the gadget-lust intersects with the reading-lust. Or in this case, partners up with it. And never mind that Amazon is generally behaving only a shade less evil than Apple when it comes to supported formats on their devices, and how they appear to be trying very, very hard to place themselves between readers and any title we may want to read... I was still tempted. Didn't give in, though. Not this time.
Edited to add:

To get on the mail-exchange list, send a note to typed (dot) letter (at) gmail (dot) com. First found out about this in February on Strikethru. Has it been that long already? Wow.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not Peculiar, But Particlar

I stopped off at the office supply megastore this morning on the way in to work. My wife wisely gave me the job of picking up more notebooks for my son ("Because I know you like shopping there.") If you've ever had the pleasure of trying to get a teenager to write, with actual paper and by hand, you can skip ahead. Otherwise, let's just say that it's a challenge. We're home-schooling my nearly-teen this year, and hit a slightly rough patch when it came to the two-headed whammy of composition assignments and essay questions. Clever one that she is, my wife noticed that the boy preferred writing with gel pens on legal paper. Specifically, glue-top, wide-ruled, no-margin pads in yellow. He balked at the idea of getting paper pre-punched for his three-hole binders, because even those throw a red margin line down the left side of the page, and he hates that. "I feel trapped" with margins, he says.

Fair enough. I'm certainly not one to begrudge him a preferred writing surface or a favorite writing implement. I've certainly spent enough time and spilled enough digital ink here talking, bragging, and giving away my favorites. And I certainly don't think he's being peculiar at all. Just particular. If that helps the words manifest on the page, then so be it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Back to School

There's been a little discussion over on the flickr AlphaSmart forum about NaNoWriMo, and (as is often the case there) the topic has broadened into talking about other writing machines, and old computers we've had, and of course, I've butted in and talked up typewriters and the Typewriter Brigade. Regular readers will know that I spent quite a bit of time using my AlphaSmart Pro to retype last year's draft, originally written on a Royal KMG and a Smith-Corona Skyriter. We talked about OCR software in the Brigade topic last year in the NaNo forums, and I did some experiments, as I have access to a sheet-feeding scanner on our office copier. The best of the choices open to me appeared to be the Tesseract OCR engine which I installed somewhere in early November, ran it on scans of my pages thus far, and then quit when it spat out a bunch of text like "1112 98djhs do pifu hjegf"

Not helpful.

So, I dug out the AlphaSmart and spent time retyping it with the goal of getting my proof printed before the deadline. (Just made it.) The AlphaSmart has strengths like super-portability and super-simplicity which are ideal for producing words, but I ultimately wanted to see more of the text at a time as I was rewriting or laying in my changes from the typed copy, something impossible to do in the 4x40 confines of the AlphaSmart window. And after typing all that stuff in, I'm burned out on the whole book in general right now.

So, I'm thinking about looking back into OCR as an option for this year. Tesseract is a very no-frills OCR program, and lacks pretty interfaces and intuitive controls, but that's OK, since I am, at heart and by choice, a geek. I've been reading more about training Tesseract -- sending it to school, essentially -- and am thinking about writing up some sample pages on my main machines that I can use to refine its guesses. My own retyped copy has a number of transcription errors, beyond the usual first-draft grammar hangups and plot issues. If you see a typecast discussing a lazy dog, jumping foxes, and brown liquor jugs, know that school's in session.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seein' Green

I won't even preface this one with excuses, I'll just jump right to the money shot:
"Kermit", Royal Royalite typewriter, c1958
Yes, it's another super-minimal function travel typewriter, and it's darn cute, to boot. I got a complement from someone on it's handsome carrying case. ("That's a cool bag," he said, likely not knowing what was inside.) And even my wife thought it cute and surprisingly small, after I skulked back home with That Guilty Look on my face.

I paid too much, but I've already justified that by figuring that I've done well this summer by thrifted and free finds, and shopping at Goodwill is kind of like giving to a charity, and... and... and...

My karmic balance has been righted, I say. Namaste.

Of course, my real purpose was not to be parted from my green by buying something green. But intentions have a way of slipping through your fingers. I also didn't intend to bring home the 2008 copy of Writer's Market, and yet there it was, sitting in my other hand at checkout. I was clearly in a transcendental state and not fettered by rational thinking (as usual.) But my wife's been making noises about doing a little short-fiction writing of her own -- little hope of swaying her to typers, as of yet -- and who knows? Intentions are slippery things. It can't hurt to have a net ready in case one of them jumps in the boat.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Charles? Charles? Anybody seen Charles?

I'm still waiting to hear from the final winner of the paper drawing: Charles, you need to leave a comment over on the winning post so I can verify you and get your contact details. Otherwise I'm moving down the list. Winners 1-3 are confirmed and standing by.

Charles? Hello?

UPDATE: OK, Charles fell into a hole, so let's try Migraine Madness for the note paper. Migraine, if you're out there, post a comment from the same account so I can confirm you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Few Of You Are Weiners

...though I think that's pronounced "winners." I have left offerings before the great golden chicken idol at, and behold! It has pecked out the following four names:
Please post a message to this comment with your email address within. I will keep the contents a secret. You must post from the same account that you used for your original comment, so I can verify that you're the same person as the original poster. Please get in touch with me right away so we can sort out shipment. Do not anger the random chicken.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nib Swarm

Nib Mandala

A couple of weeks back I spotted a plastic box of pen nibs sitting in the "hands off" case at the thrift store. I wasn't able to get a close look, but the price was right, so I snatched 'em up, thinking there would be something I could do with them. Turns out they're all nibs for dip pens, essentially a step up from a quill pen, and can be used with ink that would hopelessly clog (read: ruin) the fine ink feed mechanism of a fountain pen.

Some of the nibs are the familiar Speedball sort that you can find in most craft places in a "drawing pen set", but others are Esterbrook or Gillott's, or some other brands that are hard to read without a magnifier. Interestingly, many of them are magnetic, though by design or accident I can't say. Few appear to have ever been used. There are numerous duplicates: nearly two sets of the Speedball, for example, and two or three of the same type of nib.

I've tried a couple out, even venturing to stick them into Murray the Frankenpen since the Sheaffer nib transplant didn't work out: it wiggles around like a loose tooth. To do this properly, I would need a holder -- actually several, as the sizes vary -- and then use them... for something. So far, all I've managed to do is get ink all over my hands and jab myself a few times with some of the sharper examples (note to self: make sure tetanus booster is up-to-date.)

I don't really have a use for them, and yet... I can't quite give them up. I'd like to find a purpose for these: maybe try my hand at making a basic holder out of dowel rods, or play with ink recipes with the kids, or something like that. What would you do?

Update: as usual, impatience got the best of me. The craft store was a bust for just plain old holders, unless I wanted more nibs and a tiny bottle of ink to go with it (I didn't.) I scrounged around for a while, looking for a substitute, and considered buying a couple of paintbrushes to behead, but settled on a small package of craft corks. I used the "leather awl" tool on my pocketknife to dig out a little hole in the middle of the narrow end and slipped a nib inside.

Stick a cork in it

It's a little awkward to write with, but the wide flare of the cork gives me enough to hold onto for testing. I'm surprised at how much ink even the plainest nib holds: I was expecting to need to re-dip every word or two, but I can go for a sentence or more between dips. Now it's a matter of me getting used to the extra-light hand required to write with one of these. I'll keep my eyes open for old pen sets, or otherwise unencumbered nib holders, and I'll have to hit up the art supply store and see what they offer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More Drawing Details

Looks like the comments are slowly starting to trickle down, so I'll put a deadline on this thing. You have until Sunday August 15 to enter your comment on the giveaway topic. I will lock the topic to new comments at that point (publishing any that are still waiting) and then start the drawing/notification process. I'll announce winners in a new post.

Since Blogger makes it tricky to get in touch with you directly through your comments, I'm going to have the winners post their email address to a new topic so we can sort out shipment. I will not share the email address with anyone and will delete the comment once we've communicated. I'll do my best to get in touch with you, but if I get no response, then all the winners get moved "up" a notch and I'll draw a new winner. I'll keep going until I have four confirmed people to ship things out to. So even if you don't win right away, be patient. You might win in the end. This would be a good time to do a rain-dance wishing ill on your fellow commenters (not that I would suggest such a thing.)

If this whole process goes to pot, then I may just get sulky and keep it all! So please be sure to check back here starting on Monday August 16 to see who won, and thus who should be the focus of your broken-email-juju.

Monday, August 9, 2010


So... I guess there's just a few people interested in the Webbie. Glad to see it! Just a reminder to everyone that I have comments moderation turned on for the blog, as I'm a regular target of soft-core porn spammers. If you happen to double-post because you didn't know this, it's OK: I'll clean out the duplicate before the drawing. But you may have to wait a bit for me to get to the moderation screen to let your posts through. (Yes, spammers have hit the giveaway, too.)

Edit: I've figured out a way for winners to get in touch with me after the drawing. I'll start a "winner's circle" post when the time comes, and have winners post there privately for verification.

There's still time to enter! And don't forget to enter on the other blogs with giveaways, too: see Rhodia Drive for links.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Notebook Review and Paper Prize-a-Palooza

Six years ago, I gave up a job I'd held in San Francisco, the job that lured me out of the midwest to the palm-and-fog-kissed shores of Northern California. I don't regret the move, or giving up the long commute, or no longer being the un-hippest person in a very hip city. Sometimes, however, I do regret giving up the convenience of working right in the middle of an urban center, where a walk of a few blocks could take me through North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, and in sight of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate, or (when our offices moved), the bustle of the financial and museum districts. There were two stationery stores that I haunted regularly during my time in the City (always capitalized) but trading that in for a job far closer to my suburban home meant swapping urbane and cool for strip malls and chain stores. (Rest assured, I'm still very much the un-hippest person on my commute.)

This is a long-winded way at getting at today's topic: a review of the Rhodia "Webbie" journal that was graciously arranged by Stephanie of the Rhodia Drive blog, and Karen Doherty of Exaclair, Rhodia's U.S. importer, and who I now envision as an orange-clad Santa Claus. Stephanie asked if I'd be willing to review a blank Webbie here, given that I've whined very publicly about the impossibility of laying hands on one at any of my local retailers. Here in the uncool 'burbs, we can only get hands-on time with Rhodia at Borders Books or Target. The latter focuses on their pad-style products, and the former neglects them almost entirely, in favor of their house-brand journals and a big Tower o' Moleskine. I'll come back to that.

Anyhow, Stephanie offered, Karen hooked me up, and the package showed up yesterday. Here it is:

Rhodia Large Web Notebook ("Webbie")

Pretty, isn't it? Like most of their products, the webbie comes with either a black or orange cover. I happen to like the orange, since it shows up best in the depths of my massively over-packed bag. And the orange is a distinctive Rhodia color: those-in-the-know can spot a Rhodia user from across the room. You can't help it: these suckers are bright.

Technical specs: the webbie comes in two sizes, A5 and A6 if you're keen on the ISO standard paper sizes, or "half page" and "quarter page" if you're not. This is an A5 size, dimensions are 5 1/2" x 8 1/4", and overall thickness of the notebook is about 5/8" closed, with the pocket empty. There are 192 pages inside, divided among six signatures sewn into the binding. The pages will lie flat with a little encouragement at first: work through the pages from both ends and run a finger along the spine to spread them out a bit. The binding is loose enough that you can write very far into the fold without problems.

Pages lie flat in a Rhodia web notebook ("webbie")

Rhodia appears to be positioning themselves against Moleskine here, as the webbie sports the same general features list: sewn signatures, attached ribbon bookmark, expanding pocket on the inside back cover, elastic closure. Unlike Moleskine and Rhodia's own line of pads, the covers of a webbie are a cushioned material around a stiff center. Their web site says this is "Italian leatherette," though to my hand it feels slightly rubbery: not unpleasantly so, just slightly squishy and padded. It's stiffer than the oilcloth cover of a Moleskine, and provides enough firmness that you can write without a surface behind it in a pinch. I tried writing on it while sitting in a variety of postures -- including sitting up in bed -- and it was comfortable to hold.

Binding, bookmark, pocket, cover: parts of a Rhodia web notebook ("webbie")

Also unlike Moleskine, the webbie uses Clairefontaine paper, which is French-made by a gaggle of delicate cream-skinned maidens. I'm not quite sure about that last fact, but I do know that Clairefontaine paper is famed for its fountain-pen friendliness. It is wonderfully smooth paper, and takes ink without feathering or bleeding through to the opposite side, and with minimal show-through. The webbie product has undergone some revisions as the first production runs did not use a pen-friendly paper. Stephanie posted details about this, and I'm pleased to say that the revisions were worth it. The paper may appear white in these photos, but it is actually a light cream color. This might matter if you're an artist or artistically inclined and want a true white background. As a writing notebook, the color of the paper is fine.

Testing the pen-friendliness of a Rhodia large webbie

Torture-testing the paper in a Rhodia web notebook ("webbie")

The webbie withstood my "new notebook torture test" with flying colors (ha! ink pun.) If you cannot read my scrawls, I hit the page with:
  • An extra-fine steel-nibbed pen inked with Parker Quink black. EF nibs can catch and snag on paper.
  • A Parker Latitude fountain pen (the silver one pictured above), also inked with Quink. This has a particularly wet nib and is my firehose of ink. It makes note cards weep.
  • A Levenger True-Writer inked with Levenger "Bahama Blue," which I am currently using on my brain-dump notebook for NaNoWriMo. Levenger inks are pretty dye-heavy, and I can see bright colors showing through paper better than dark ones.
  • Some "generic" writing instruments: a #2 pencil, a "hard"-lead pencil, a couple of ballpoints in different colors, a wax crayon, a magic marker and colored pencils from my daughter's art kit.
  • Three Sharpie markers: the regular sized one ("fine" if you believe that), an extra-fine one, and a super-wide one, meant for yard sale signs and the like.
  • I also hit the page with some soak-through tests: drawing dense crosshatches and scribbles in one place, going back over sections later with a pen, and using a cotton swab to paint a section of the page.
The paper is thin enough that some of the writing will show through to the opposite side, but I don't think it's bad enough to worry about. More notable is the amount of ink that does not show through, including the swab test and my dense scribbles. Those are barely discernible. The only issues I had were:
  • The hard lead pencil is faint against the cream colored paper. I suspect the paper is too smooth to really give the lead enough friction. The #2 pencil shows up fine.
  • The Sharpies soaked through, especially the super-wide one. The extra-fine one did bleed in spots, so if you like to use these for writing or drawing, you may require a heavier paper.
  • The paper puckered slightly when it was particularly wet -- for the swab test, for instance -- but it smoothed out upon drying.
  • I was bitten by drying time for some pens. There is a small amount of wait for ink to fully dry on the paper, and if you're the impatient type, eager to play with a new notebook (me, in other words), you'll find that some of the ink transfers to the adjacent page. You can see some ink spots on the orange end-paper in the photos. Some folks carry a couple of sheets of blotter paper in their journals to slip between fresh-written pages. It's something to consider if you're using a fountain pen.
Show-through on the paper of a Rhodia web notebook ("webbie")
Some show-through on the paper, but it's not distracting

Sharpie was the only pen I could get to bleed through

Allow some drying time: Rhodia web notebook ("webbie")
Allow some drying time, unless you like Rorschach blobs

Otherwise, the Clairefontaine paper held up like a champ. I've heard of paper issues with Moleskine notebooks, and never being one to stop a juicy rumor, I'll repeat it here. As I understand it, they have different suppliers for different size notebooks, and some pen aficionados are upset about this (rightfully, IMHO.) If you're going to drop your hard-earned on a snazzy notebook, you should be assured that it's not going to feather all over the place. The performance of the paper in the webbie is on par with the performance of the Rhodia pads, of which I'm a vocal fan. And availability online is quite good, even if your local options are limited.

Entries are closed, I'll post winners in a new topic.

And if your local options are limited, then let me introduce you to the first-ever Clickthing Paper Prize-a-Palooza, or Stop Me From Showing Up On That "Hoarders" Show. Part of the deal for getting my hands on a review notebook is that I would also receive a second notebook to give away. And let me tell you, this is a tough thing to do, since I am a mean, selfish person. But the spirit of Exaclair Goodness is upon me today (are you paying attention, Karen?) and so I'm giving to you, lucky reader, the chance to win a Webbie of your very own. Covet it. Write in it. Name it George. All you need to do is leave a single, non-spam comment on this post, perhaps raving about your love of paper products, or how great you think free stuff in the mail is, or how great I am, or all of the above. At some point in the future, I will count the comments and run them past the magic robot at to pick a lucky winner of a twin webbie to my own. This one, in fact:

Prize #1

If this doesn't sway your heart to the Power of the Orange, then you are a cold, dark person. But I don't judge. And because I'm simply suffused with the power of good right now, I'm also clearing the shelves and handing out these additional prizes, for folks who don't win the webbie...

Second Prize: a pair of leather-covered "M" journals from Staples. A5 size, lined paper with a classy gilt edge. Pay no attention to the Clearance stickers on the paper band. These would make really nice gifts, which is what I thought when I bought them, and then realized that all my gift-receiving people are heathens and slobs who don't deserve nice things. But you do.
Prize #2

Third Prize: a trio of Canson 4x6" hardbound notebooks. I keep one of these around for testing new pens and inks, but I don't need all of them. One has a small nick on the spine (not shown in picture.)

Prize #3

Consolation Prize: four boxes of Southworth "Fine Granite Note Paper" in ivory, each piece is 5"x5", and there are 275 sheets per box, so, um, a lot of note paper. You will never want for note paper again. Ever.

Prize #4

Yes, that's right. I like the Clearance racks. But now you can too. Just leave a single, non-spam comment below and you'll be entered for the drawing, to happen as soon as I feel like there's enough comments to make it worthwhile or I get tired of looking at all this stuff on my desk. I will announce the drawing before it takes place, and will contact winners by email. Please make sure I can do this through your comment.
I will pick a bunch of winners, and the first one I can get in touch with gets the webbie, then the second gets the pair of journals, the third gets the mini notebooks, and the fourth gets a big honking box full of notepaper.

You will need to pass your mailing address to me in private if you win, so please be prepared for this. I will ship reasonably, but cheaply, especially if you live somewhere really expensive to get to, like Mars.

OK, you made it to the bottom. Go forth and comment!