Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Typewriter Doodles

Messing around with the Android "Kids Paint" app this morning. I deny any and all artistic ability, and the resemblance to any real-life machines is purely unintentional and coincidental. Richard Polt has nothing to fear!

Typewriter doodle #1

Typewriter doodle #2

Typewriter doodle #3

Typewriter doodle #4

My wife originally found this app and installed it on her phone a while back as a kid-entertainer for my youngest. As you can probably tell, it randomly changes the color of your "pen" for each stroke, which gives the artwork a very pop-art sensibility. This hopefully compensates for lack of perspective, realism or (in the case of the upstrike) screen space.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BABAROP: Look Out, Baby!


The missus ordered a roll of butcher paper to cover our dining room table when it's school time for my daughters. It's 30 inches wide by 900 feet long. It's a BABAROP*

I'm not sure how many NaNoWriMo drafts that works out to be. Included in the photo above is a Hermes Baby, for scale. I'm genuinely scared for the Baby's future. A piano suspended overhead would be less menacing.

This might be just the thing for anyone with one of those super-long-carriaged accounting machines. How many lines per day would meet your quota? "I typed two and a half yards today."

More to the point: do you think I can convince her to order another?

* Big-Ass Big-Ass Roll Of Paper

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Disposable Pen Thunderdome

The usual apologies apply for my rambling, twisty handwriting. This was as much about testing the new pad of paper as the pens, but not, tragically, legibility.

My camera has all but given up the ghost now, so you'll have to satisfy yourself with canned product photos from the web sites of the stores where I bought the pens.

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I do think it's good marketing to have these pens work right out of the package: no shaking, no refills, just pop the cap off and write. For a steel-nibbed pen, this is surprisingly smooth to use, and at least in my tiny sample size of two pens, both are quite nice. (Confidential to Bic: please send a dozen and I'll give them a proper try.) The ink dries quickly, and there is very slight shading.

I opted not to test some of the other plastic pens I have around, since they are mainly calligraphy pens like the Sheaffers or the Pilot Plumix. In contrast, these three are very much meant to be your everyday-use type writing instruments, with presumably a touch more élan than your standard ballpoint.

Image from

It's silly, but I really like the clip on this pen: it makes me think of Jules Verne's Nautilus. As the photo shows, it's all one piece of molded plastic, attached to the end of the cap. The eye-shaped opening in the side is presumably the ink window, and the clear area above the feed also shows the ink sloshing around.

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In writing up this page, I realized that there's really more negatives than positives... and I think that pretty much sums up the pen. Doing a little more investigation shows that the refill is not, in fact, a standard type, so when I use up the ink, this pen may just get used for parts. Here's a review with far better photos that sums up the experience. Scratchy, and nothing to write home about (ha!)

Image from

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I'll backtrack on my recommendation comment a bit, given the non-standard nature of the Zebra refills. The Varsity has taken on all challengers, and emerged victorious. That red ink is especially fitful in my regular pens, so it's impressive to me that the pen writes after several weeks -- months? -- of disuse. The caps fit snugly and are airtight. The model shown in the photo below is the original style. I've seen a new barrel design since, and I hope it doesn't change the hackability of these pens.

Image from

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Conclusions: the Bic is a nice addition to the mix. I'll have to use it up and see how refilling goes, or if it's even possible without destroying the pen. Given the amount of ink visible, that may take a while unless there's some sneaky trick like a tube in the middle giving the illusion of more ink. I hope not.

The Varsity is an easy recommendation: it's usually available in multi-packs of assorted colors, including unusual ones like pink and turquoise, as well as staid business colors, and they really are quite easy to get into, albeit with a little mess if you're impatient for the ink to run out and try to refill early. Or so I've heard. Ahem.

Bonus tip: looking for a way to keep your cheap pens out and available for use? Haunt your local thrift shop/flea market for a glass "flower frog" with wide holes. They're generally inexpensive, and heavy enough to take a full load of pens without hassle. I wouldn't do this with a rare or fragile pen since it could damage the pen or even crack the end of the barrel, but for disposables it's perfect. Here's a crappy cell phone picture of the one on my desk, holding the pens used for this entry, along with one of my new pads of sugarcane/bamboo paper, and a ribbon tin because typewriters.

Flower frog, with pens

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Most Dangerous Time of the Year

I share Little Flower Petals' weakness towards office supply stores, and now, as schools are starting back up, it's an even more dangerous place to walk into. Not only are the usual school-related items marked down, but in the preparation for what's the largest sales days of the year -- judging from the length of the checkout lines -- the staff have been required to find space for all the wares, meaning a stem-to-stern clearout of the shelves.

Don't get me wrong: I would be thrilled if we had a decent independent stationery shop here in the suburbs, and not the outpost of a major corporate entity. "Suburbs" and "independent business" do not typically overlap, though, so one must make do. The up side is that the larger stores tend to carry stock much broader and generally weirder than a small shop. I've been using this store to ship out typers from the great clear-out project (still going!) so I've of course found myself wandering back to the "Clearance" tables hiding in the back of the store, heaped with the residue of past stocking mishaps. I was in again yesterday, for a project I'll discuss in a moment.

During the shipments, the store had found -- somewhere -- boxes of old pin-feed computer paper. You know the sort, maybe, if you're of a certain age. This is the kind of paper with tear-off strips running down both sides, and perforations between the pages. It dawned on me too late that this would be a suitable BAROP substitute, being both in its own container and pre-cut for easy pagination after typing. The store had a couple of boxes of paper for a while at what I assume was a good price, but they appear to have been snatched up at last, no doubt by some local business still keeping their dot-matrix printers alive. I suspect the DMV.

Fresh trinkets made it out to the tables, though, including a heavy-duty pencil pouch with a large pocket in the front -- for a calculator, maybe? Always handy to have around, I decided, and chucked it into my basket. I also found some nice embossed note cards which will get added to the family collection of potential thank-you letters, and a pair of rectangular Moleskine-brand pencils that formerly carried a Moleskine-brand price. And then, high on the fumes of savings, I went wandering the regular aisles.

Theoretically I was in the store to have a ream of sugarcane-based paper cut and bound into notebooks to keep by my phone and keyboard at work, and at home, and anywhere else I need a stack of fountain-pen-friendly paper out and available. While waiting for the binding, though, I got into trouble in the clearance table, and then wound back through the pen aisle to discover that Bic has hopped aboard the Disposable Fountain Pen Bandwagon with Pilot. They're now selling their own plastic-barreled pens. I usually see these as a challenge -- they say they can't be refilled, but is that true? The Pilot Varsity makes a very respectable eyedropper pen, for example, once you learn the magic spell: pull out the nib and feed, rinse, refill, and re-use. It's a very cheap way to get into nicer pens and inks without a lot of fiscal outlay. One of these days, I'd like to treat myself with a vanishing-point pen, but I'm afraid I'd always be fussing over it. It's hard to fuss over pens that cost $5 for two.

So, in the days to come, I'll do a disposable pen compare-and-contrast blog entry, testing out the new sugarcane paper pad as well. And maybe that will keep me away from the office supply store for a while... or until the next typer gets adopted.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Makes me laugh

20130807 pencast

Of course there's no actual physical piece of paper bearing Jeff Bezos' autograph, the royalty having been deposited electronically into that dedicated account. I feel like I should frame the bank statement or something. Just in case I get big-headed about this tiny achievement, my wife has offered to send me regular updates on the products that come before the book in question on a general Amazon search. Today's choicest hits:
  • Pink case for a smartphone
  • High-end audio cables
  • Men's hair color
  • Headlight kit for a Nissan
That's funny in a whole other way.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Vive la poste!

Assuming Google translate and my own hazy recollection of high school French has that correct, I'm excited about what came in the mail today.

Quo Vadis and Clairfontaine notebooks

The Quo Vadis blog has giveaways now and then, and I entered their Bastille Day giveaway last month. ExaClair is the U.S. portion of a group of French companies that make fantastic papers, notebooks, inks... all the little necessaries for the pen-and-ink addicted. Now I just have to think of something worthwhile to put in these little guys. The 1951 book is like a composition book (Sorry LFP, it has floppy covers) and the Habana is a fountain-pen friendly version of that other mole-ish brand of hardcover, pocket-in-the-back notebooks. In my experience, those tend to be heavy on the hype, but light on the paper quality. I've heard nothing but good things about the Habanas, though, and I can't wait to try them out.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fugue (For Marilyn and Dolly)

This typecast is web-enhanced for your convenience: see the bottom of the page for end-notes and links.

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GPS to Pinball Museum

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The Who's "Tommy"

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Cadecott tunnel traffic

Chinatown, Oakland

Chinatown, Oakland -- deliveries

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* "hopelessly blurry," not "hopefully blurry"

Charlie's Angels pinball backglass

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Cover Girl pinball backglass

Roller Disco pinball backglass

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  1. "Tommy" by The Who, in case you're not familiar. I mean, what else would you listen to for a trip to a pinball place? Proof that it was kismet: "Pinball Wizard" started up just as I got into a parking spot. Half the album for the drive in, half for the drive out. That's how you know when something is Meant To Be.
  2. You can roughly lump machines around how they display scores. Some of the very early machines just used lamps behind painted numbers, making the score an integral part of the artwork. Later machines used reels with numbers on them, and then segment displays (like a digital watch) and then ultimately a grid of pixels, which I think are actually neon, not LED, though I would imagine the technology of LEDs has improved enough to make those viable, too. I'm not fully "up" on the latest play technology. I do know that one of the last acts of Williams Pinball (before folding) was the creation of a platform called "Pinball 2000" which uses a very old optical trick known as Pepper's Ghost to appear to project a computer display on or over the playfield. They have one of these at PPM, but I find the display distracting -- like trying to play golf and watch TV at the same time. Some things were not meant to be. I think modern makers are going back to having just light displays on the table, and saving the fancy tech for the backglass, which is where you want it -- to attract new players and their loose change.
  3. Damn, that was a long end-note. Dolly Parton, via the Internet Pinball Database. ( The "backglass" picture gives you some idea of the taste level of this machine.
  4. Marble Queen, and it's just as unbelievable in person.
  5. Dragonette, showing that it's not just Chinese knockoffs that have cornered the market on sound-alike names. Our fair damsel is tied to a chair (of course!) and being given the third degree by a Sherlockian-type character. Also unbelievable.
  6. Captain Fantastic and Wizard! Wait, didn''t Ann-Margret play his mother? Oedipus! may have been a horrible name for a pinball.
  7. Slick Chick is irresistible to the ladies. Check out the almost-Bugs-Bunny on the lower playfield.
  8. Real example: I have Funhouse in various electronic forms. It features a ventriloquist's dummy on the table. Well, just the head. (Those of you with clown/dummy aversions should skip the rest of this note.) It's called "Rudy," for what it's worth, and Rudy heckles you and factors in to some play modes. What you miss on a TV or tablet game, though, is that Rudy is big. Like, real-dummy's-head big. It's like a child's head is stuck in the machine... and the eyes move. You miss all of this nightmare-fuel on recreated versions. Also, PPM's Rudy has a broken eye, so he's slightly cross-eyed all the time. More funny than scary. Mostly.
  9. Seawitch, a one-word name, not two as I have it. A fine example of how mixing up the playfield can make a novel game. Boy, is this one fun.
  10. Laser Cue. Because ROBOTS AND LASERS THAT'S WHY.
  11. Mystic. The eye and pyramid on the backglass are photo-realistic, which is even more unnerving given the normal cartoony illustrations of the table art.
  12. Second footnote #11... The first real pinball experience I can recall is Haunted House which I blogged about indirectly in the very early days of Clickthing.  It may not have been my first ever machine, but it's the one that sticks with me in my memory as being Completely and Totally Awesome. Probably doesn't hurt that I was about 11 or 12 at the time I played it, maybe younger. That table is regularly asked for in app form by fans who had the same near-religious experience as I did: some even as adults, I gather. It is reportedly an utter nightmare to maintain, with a complex electrical system that required two sets of circuits (and hence flipper buttons) and has ton of features and parts that are hard to source, access, and repair. Supposedly, you can buy one of these, set it up, and just listen to it fall apart. I may be making that up. Maybe. During my formative teen years on summer vacations I played games like Cyclone and Pinbot and High Speed, all of which I played today for that nostalgia boost ("I can't believe it's been 25 years" etc.) but nothing can take the place of that first pin.
  13. Time Machine. No mention of badgers on IPDB, though.
  14. CSI, for what it's worth. Far better: playing Doctor Who multiple times, to retroactively make my nerdy Whovian teen self happy.

Hey Teeritz! The machine you're thinking about is Hercules, which is a jumbo-sized machine that plays using a pool ball instead of a steel ball. If you like slow, prone-to-break machines, you'll love Hercules! Proof that novelty alone doesn't make a good table.

Black Knight is a classic table, and should never be uttered in the same sentence as Hercules. I have played the former in real life, and once was enough. The latter was out of commission at PPM, so I hope to get a shot at it next time.

Those of you with some sort of electronic computing technology and a yen for the silver ball should run-don't-walk to The Pinball Arcade. They're doing an excellent job of digitizing these machines, even if they don't manage the life-sized creepy talking doll heads. Can't have it all, I guess.

Friday, August 2, 2013


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I suppose there's the easy comparison with both machines containing bells, too, although most mechanical noisemakers except the extra-ball/replay knocker have been replaced by stereo sound. Nobody dares touch that knock, though. It's just an electromagnet that smacks a piece of wood in the cabinet, essentially, but it's one of those funny little holdovers form the past -- like QWERTY? -- that can't be changed, at least not easily. To get rid of that component is to lose some of the pinball-nature of the table.

PPM has a website with hours and photos, in case you ever find yourself in the Bay Area and need an afternoon of amusement. I bet they'd have no problem staging a type-in.

Typed on an Olympia SM3