2012-04-19

My life in pens

I have always had a special relationship with lines, my art being one way of expressing it, as well as my love of sleek designs, and passion for fine writing instruments.

Ever since my grandfather gave me one of his old fountain pens when I was still a kid, I have been writing with nibs and ink almost exclusively. I made my share of ink-spilling messes, smears, and tore and scratched a bunch of paper before mastering the skill of writing with a fountain pen. By the time I was in high school, I switched away from ballpoints for good.

A red Sheaffer Viewpoint with a broad nib served me until graduation, and I kept using it on almost daily basis until 2009, when I lost it somewhere, never to be seen again. Even though Sheaffer has a proprietary cartridge and converter system, I used it with the good old "international" cartridges that are so popular in Germany. Because it was not a fancy pen, I don't have a picture of it anywhere, and had to avail myself of the photos in the internets.

That pen was very generous with the ink, and could easily go through a whole cartridge in one day. I used to enjoy the beautiful dark lines it made, along with the smooth feel of the tip gliding over the paper with ease.

For my high school graduation, my parents bought me my first fancy pen, a Parker 75 Cisele in sterling silver, with a medium-fine nib. That was a troubled piece of kit from get-go, leaked all over the place, and also really not my style with its light and almost diminutive design and nearly baroque appearance. It was too fragile (and expensive) to take to college every day, plus it kept staining my fingers, so it was archived for better days. Eventually, years after I was done with college, it got repaired and has been trouble-free since, but it remains its dainty self, and sees very little use, despite being a fine pen indeed. I have it to this day, and use it occasionally, mostly out of sense of duty.

Over the years, my mom acquired a matching mechanical pencil for me, and a ballpoint pen for herself, which she has promised to bequeath to me. Maybe I should give her the pencil and the pen, and have them reunite without a solemn occasion. They will look nice together, and besides, she likes dainty things.

When I was done with my "Vorstudium," which I would say is an approximate equivalent of a Bachelor's degree, and marks the first half of the studies required to get your Master's, I bought myself a Rotring 600 in silver finish, with a broad nib. Machined out of solid brass, the body of that pen exuded an air of industrial quality and heft that I have yet to find in another pen. It served me well through the end of my degree, but due to my silly experimentation with inks that were not designed for fountain pens, the inner seals degraded, and the pen started to leak over time. I abandoned it, and went back to using the Viewpoint as my workhorse.

An attempt to repair the 600 was made a few years back, but the service shop did not have the parts and returned it, along with a consolation prize in form of a refurbished Rotring Newton in black with medium nib. Lighter, more diminutive, and lacking all the knurled detail, that pen never was able to fill in the void left by the 600. To add insult to injury, it had constant ink flow problems, which resulted in very light-colored line, and frequent need to shake the pen to get the ink to the tip. Needless to say, we did not become friends quickly, but given the Newton's similarity to its heavyweight predecessor, I got used to it over time. It was fine for writing about half a page's worth, so it saw some use until I got frustrated and archived it together with the 600. In their separate Rotring gift coffins--err, I mean boxes--they lay for a couple years.

Meanwhile, after losing my beloved Sheaffer Viewpoint, I decided to replace it with something that had a similarly free ink flow. The Sheaffer Prelude in nickel trim with a broad nib was the answer, and has been serving me faithfully for the past three years. It is a neat pen, nearly indestructible with its stainless steel body and nib, and certainly has some character and heft, but lately I have been longing for my 600, with its Bauhaus lines and industrial feel.

While it does everything you'd expect from a good fountain pen, the Prelude offers little in the refinement and uniqueness department. In an act of desperation, I sent my two dead Rotrings to the official Parker-Waterman-Rotring service center, and after examining them they said that nothing can be done for these poor relics that have been out of production for a number of years by now.

The letter from the service center included an offer to sell any of the pens from the current lineup at a steep discount. Which got me thinking. Do I want to go and buy a used (or maybe even mint) 600, or spend about the same amount of money and get... (drumroll) THIS?

Meet Parker Premier Black.

Let me geek out for a second. The body is finished in vertically brushed metal, coated in nickel-palladium alloy, and overlaid with black ceramic for more scratch and dent resistance. The nib is made of springy gold and coated in ruthenium for the black color.

As if all the unusual materials weren't enough, ruthenium derives its name from Rus' -- the ancient name for the region and peoples inhabiting current Ukraine and western Russia. Symbolism galore!

The only downsides to this pen are its price, which may not be that much more than buying a mint 600, and the fact that they do not offer the Black series with broad nibs.

Anyways, here I am thinking whether I should make a step back or forward.

2012-04-06

Happy Friday to me, OR: Thanks for reminding me why I love my job

For the past three weeks, ever since the applications closed on March 15th, I have been reviewing the vExpert entries for this year. We got close to 600 of those this year, and I took it upon myself to personally review every single one, in addition to getting each one also looked at by at least one other person. Usually more like three more people. But I digress.

The key to this is that this week I have been spending five hours or more each day reviewing the entries: visiting people's blogs, checking their references, and thanking ze Google for Chrome integrating with Translate, so that I can actually evaluate content in any language our awesome community members use.

At 5pm on Friday, I am getting slightly blasé from staring at the intartubes for so long, when this gem crosses my screen and wakes me up:

  • Name: FCoTR User Group
  • Twitter handle: @FCoTRUserGroup
  • Have you been a vExpert before? Not yet
  • Please list your blogging activities: All of my blogs are readily available on Prodigy and CompuServe. They were on Geocities, too, but I can't remember where.
  • Please list your other writing contributions: I wrote a Wikipedia article. It must have been very popular, because people were very quick to "flag" it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/FCoTR
  • Did you make any multimedia contributions? I've got T-shirts: http://www.cafepress.com/weathershenker, License plates from the same state that brought you J.R. Ewing: http://fcotr.org/2011/10/07/fcotr-vehicular-awesomeness/; and, of course, my button [not TSA approved for domestic travel]: http://theshiningrayofdarkness.com/2011/08/13/fcotr-takes-on-tsa/
  • Please list any events and speaking gigs: Thanks to the likes of Steve Foskett and Bob Plankers, I was all over this year -- VMworld (US, Europe, and Antarctica), Interop, the East St. Louis Left Handed Barber Extravaganza '2011, and at least one other place. I once nearly saw Wil Wheaton, too. So I should get bonus points for that.
  • Have you made any contributions to online communities? To be honest, I've never visited the "web". I only use fibre channel over token ring equipment. Networking vendors have thus far refused to build the necessary bridging gear to allow me online. I did watch the movie "The Net" with Sandra Bullock. That's not very good promotional material for the Internet, let me tell you.
  • Did you publish any tools and resources? http://fcotr.org/

Well, thanks for the treat guys!

I am even creating a new tag for this post: "awesomeness."

2012-04-02

The Fast and the Misogynist

It opens with a crash and an explosion, a race, and a kidnapping. It has a female race driver. It is called "The Fast and the Furious." And it has no drifting in it. Because you know, drifting did not exist as a sport in 1955.

The other night, I watched the original "The Fast and the Furious" which shares little with the newer films in the sense of the plot, but the passion for driving and cars.

While I was watching the movie, I was torn between admiring the female protagonist "Connie Adair" and being annoyed by the overt sexism of the 1950s culture.

Formally, the film passes the Bechdel test to the T. It has more than one named female character, and when Connie speaks with them, they talk about cars, racing, the goings on in the racing community, and the news of the escaped murder suspect "Frank Webster." Frank also happens to be the man who kidnaps Connie and plans to use her race car to cross the border to Mexico as part of the international race which has a course running through the two neighboring countries.

The movie wins great props from me for:

  • Realistic depiction of the racing community
    The car enthusiasts, racers, crews, and officials could all have walked right off the silver screen and into an SCCA or NASA race day paddock, and found themselves right at home there. The conversations they have, and the general sense of community in the paddock and on-track were making me chuckle with recognition.
  • Good racing scenes
    I would say, if it actually had a plot revolving solely around racing, this movie would be now in the annals of the car fandom for its awesome race scenes and great stunts. It captures the moment quite well, and they have a large number of race cars shown on competing on course. Damn, even the people talking about cars sound like they know what they are talking about!
  • Strong female protagonist
    Connie Adair is a lady after my own heart, a true racer, and an awesomely strong woman. At the beginning of the movie she is shown competing in a race, alone in the cockpit, no male crew or navigator chaperoning her. She travels on her own to the site of the big international race, and is entered to compete in it--until the officials deem the course "too dangerous for ladies" and ban her along with all other women from participation. She is visibly upset, and not at all demure when she gets the news, so unlike the mid-century ideal lady! When her kidnapper enters to run her car, and goes on a reconnaissance lap, she can't help herself and starts instructing Frank in cornering technique when he struggles with the car. THAT's true racing passion!
    Throughout the movie, she remains independent, strong, and not in need of any man's help to get where she wants to be. She challenges Frank and makes several attempts to escape or have him captured.

Now to the parts that are less awesome:

  • Throughout the movie women are dismissed and belittled by men
    That is very much in line with the misogynist culture of 1950s, and I cannot hold it too much against the makers of this film. I mean, they DID make Connie a strong character, and all other females but one are nothing like your stereotypical "It's a Great Life" housewives in aprons. I am not even sure there is a single child in the film.
  • Abuse and violence against women is trivialized
    As Frank kidnaps Connie, he uses differing levels of physical violence to force her to comply, including a forced kiss to assert his power over her. He throws her on the ground, he grabs and shakes her, he verbally abuses her on a running basis. He yanks her by the arm and continuously interrupts her when talking to her racing friends, yet nobody seems to feel it necessary to say a word in her defense. While they roll their eyes at how rude he is, they don't seem to think that anything worthy of intervention is going on here.
  • Connie falls in love with her kidnapper
    When I put myself in Connie's shoes, kidnapped, physically and emotionally abused, forced on a long trip without as much as food and water, I imagine my reaction would be that of terror, hate, maybe ultimately resignation. However, over the course of the movie she is showing more and more compassion and confesses that she loves him towards the end! The script written by men who believe that women just play hard to get when they say No, spoiled the rest of the movie for me.

Watch full movie (may not work outside the United States).