Merging modern software development with electrons and metal
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Pens & Paper

KickStarter Pens

KickStarter pens don’t get me excited.  Well, that’s not quite fair, since I like do the Tactile Turn pens by Will Hodges, but everything else I’ve seen have left me uninterested.  I’m not saying there aren’t many good pens on KickStarter (and the other sites), but when I start paying more than $2 for a pen, I want a pen that really attracts me – and a higher price tag means the pen has to be that much more special to me.

So far I have a blue Mover (mentioned here), and am backing the Gist fountain pen.  What’s so special about these pens for me

  1. Will’s aesthetics really match mine.  I love the proportions on the Mover and the Gist.  I like their spiraling grip.  I like the clips.    They’re classy, and simple but not boring.  I don’t care for the appearances of pens with big bolts or nuts, for pens that are inspired by airplanes, for cylinders pens with sudden discontinuities, for the Pilot Vanishing Point, or the Lamy 2000 (somehow the Lamy 2000 looks all wrong but the Gist looks all right to me).
  2. Will puts in practical features.  Both pens feature his spiral grip.  The Mover has a nice Schmidt knock so it’s a classy retractable.  The Gist has acme threads for the cap – and the cap posts.  The Gist is customizable, with interchangeable nibs and grips.
  3. Tactile Turns are made with fun materials, such as anodized aluminum (Mover), brass, copper, titanium , zirconium (Gist) and Damascus steel (Gist).
  4. Will does his own work – and his work is good, which makes his pens extra-special for me (side note: we have a machine shop at work, and I love being seeing what comes out of there – machined metal is cool!) compared to buying a “designer” pen, where the designers are featured, but the pens are made by who knows…or buying a normal, non-hand-crafted pen.
  5. Will delivers on time and his prices are reasonable for what you get.

So, yes, I do highly recommend checking out the Tactile Turn Gist Kickstarter page – it has about a week to go (ends 11/5/2015), and prices will be substantially higher afterwards.  I’m sure these pens doesn’t appeal to everyone, but take a look, and if you like the Gist, now is the best time to get one.

Note 11/5/2015: the Gist had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, ending up with $129,796 from 997 backers.  I will talk more about the Gist when I get mine in January 2016.

October 26, 2015   No Comments

Awesome Pen Swag: Frixion Ball 05 from NEC/Tokin

NEC Tokin Frixion Pen

NEC Tokin Frixion Pen

NEC Tokin Frixion Pen

NEC Tokin Frixion Ball 05

I swiped a lot of pen swag at the Photonics West 2015 Exhibition, but NEC/Tokin’s giveaway deserves to be highlighted: a Pilot Frixion Ball 05 retractable erasable pen with 0.5mm tip.

NEC/Tokin makes an interesting mix of materials, sensors, and components such as capacitors, chokes, and relays.  Somebody there must like pens, because the Ball 05 isn’t a cheap pen made to be customized.  It’s a cool pen that’s not even available at retail in the US (and is currently $3.80 at JetPens).

My theory is that NEC/Tokin has been infiltrated by a secret pen addict – and I’m very thankful 🙂

Now onto the pen…this is my first retractable Frixion, but not my first Frixion.  I still have mixed feelings about Frixions, but this one is definitely a keeper.

I’m still getting used to the knock being the clip – half the time I still press the eraser, but nothing happens….of course, Pilot’s choice makes sense, it just takes a little getting used to it.

I like the tip size (05=0.5mm).  I also like the tip size of my Frixion Point 04 (0.4mm), but I find the US market Frixions to be too big for my normal writing.  On the other hand, the black ink isn’t as dark as a gel, and the tip isn’t as smooth as a gel either.

Frixions do have a reputation for running out quickly; I felt my US market Frixions didn’t last very long, but my Point 04 is still going strong, so I hope this Ball 05 will be similar.

March 8, 2015   1 Comment

Daiso Adventures

Over the past few months, I’ve had fun checking out the Daiso Japan store near Mitsuwa marketplace in San Jose.  The good side is that most items are $1.50, so when I see something new and cool, it’s hard to resist the temptation to add it to the basket to try it out.

Recent temptations have included

Daiso B5 Grid Notebook

Daiso B5 Grid Notebook

Daiso Grid Notebook - Inside

Daiso Grid Notebook – Inside

This red notebook has paper with a grid design.  I’ve never seen a grid notebook at retail, but I’ve been curious to find out if I’d like it, so I couldn’t resist the temptation of a mere $1.50 for 80 sheets of B5-sized grid goodness (the grid’s dots are at 5mm intervals).  My initial impression is, yes, I like it a lot.


This graph notebook with a translucent blue plastic cover was a no-brainer, also at $1.50 for 60 sheets of A4-sized paper.


My kids love these funky pencils with cute designs and a bunch of tips.  They’re a bargain at $1.00 for a pack of 8.

Daiso A4 Copy Paper

Daiso A4 Copy Paper

A4 paper comes and goes at Daiso, so I jumped at the chance at grabbing several 110-sheet packs for a miserly $1.50 each (A4 paper is double that price at Staples or Amazon, and is stratospherically priced at Kinokuniya/Maido).  Since it’s copy paper, I’ll have to see how does in my inkjet printer.


I might prefer LED light bulbs, but at $0.50 for these 32W, 2100 lumen CFL bulbs, I couldn’t resist picking up a bunch.

The Downside of Daiso

I’ve seen lots of cute and neat things at Daiso over the years (such as brush pens, cute stationery, cute sketchbooks, affordable handy storage boxes, made in Japan dishes, unique egg timers, and more), but it’s kind of like Costco because:

  1. It’s so tempting to add “just one more bargain” that you get surprised at check out time.
  2. Many items are here today, gone tomorrow.  Just of the items I’ve shown, last time the blue notebooks were gone, and the cute pencils have been replaced by boring pencils.  A4 paper has always been hit or miss (sometimes nothing, sometimes only colored paper, sometimes great selection, and so on).
  3. It’s not always a bargain.  Some items aren’t worth a $1.50.  Some items are sold in such small quantities (such as the wire frame storage) that when you add up all the $1.50 items you need, it’s not so cheap.
  4. Inventory can vary a lot store to store.  Daiso has a wide of items, but many of the stores are pretty small, so they get a different assortment of what’s available at the moment.

January 17, 2015   No Comments

Recent Pens and Pencils

It’s been too long since I’ve discussed pens and pencils, so it’s time to highlight some recent acquisitions:

Uni Kuru Toga Roulette 0.5mm

Uniball Roulette

Uniball Roulette

My favorite mechanical pencil.  It’s gorgeous, affordable, and sharp.  I love the way it looks (especially the silver model) and the feel of the aluminum.  Its Kuru Toga mechanism rotates the lead every time you advance for sharper lines.  Considering all that, the price is reasonable; I only wish it was available in 0.3mm.

Pentel Energel Euro 0.35mm Needle Point

Energel NeedlePoint

Energel NeedlePoint

I’m not a big Pentel pen fan, but this one has won me over: sharp lines with an incredible smoothness.  I don’t like the normal medium point Energels you can buy at retail; they’re actually too smooth and go flying all over the place if you’re not extra careful.  But I like this model so much I’ve already ordered a second so I don’t run out.

Uni Signo RT 0.28mm Black

Signo RT1 0.28

Signo RT1 0.28

OK, it’s ugly, but on the other hand for a super fine pen (< 0.30mm) it’s pretty smooth, retractable (I believe it’s the only super-fine retractable pen), and cheap ($2.50 versus $3.00 or more).

Pilot FriXion Point 04 Blue-Black

FriXion Point 04

FriXion Point 04

The original Frixions are good for an erasable pen, but not great pens.  In my experience their lines are wide and blotchy, and they seem to get worse with age.  This model, however, has been writing smoothly with a much finer line – and I like the color.  On the other hand, at $3.75, it’s pretty expensive, and I’ll have to see how it writes as it ages.

Tactile Turn Mover

Dark Blue Mover

Dark Blue Mover

All the other machined Kickstarter pens have left me unmoved; a pen has to be really special for me to pay the typical asking price.

But when I saw the Mover, I really liked it: a beautiful retractable pen, available in gorgeous colors (I like the Blue, Teal, Green, and Sand colors), with a price that was within reason.  I’m very happy with my result: a dark blue Mover that’s perfectly built and can take many different gel refills (I’m not enamored of the 0.38mm G2 refill).  The grip is sweet, and the pen is well balanced.  If you appreciate hand crafted pens and have the budget, I enthusiastically recommend this pen.

May 29, 2014   No Comments

A Taxonomy of Swag Pens

Since pens aren’t living (except maybe to the truly pen addicted), using taxonomy isn’t correct, but it sounds cooler than classification.  In any case, here is my classification of my swag pens, which were mostly picked up at trade shows:

Just Pens With Advertising

NXP Microcontrollers Pen

NXP Microcontrollers Pen

These are just regular pens with some added advertising, typically ballpoints with cheap refills.  The NXP Microcontrollers pen shown looks better than the classic hotel pen, but it’s nothing special and writes like a regular cheap office ballpoint.  I normally give these to other, less picky, family members.

Good Looker, But No Substance

These pens look really nice, often with metal bodies, but I’m always let down once I start to use them, because every single time they’ve come with a cheap ballpoint refill inside.  However, I’m looking at retrofitting a few of the top ones with a decent refill, e.g. a Schmidt, Schneider, or similar.

Second Runner Up: Screaming Circuits

Screaming Circuits Pen

Screaming Circuits Pen

Curvy metal body, bright color, and standard Parker refill equals a pen worth keeping – once it has a decent refill.  It’s a pretty typical example of a nice swag pen.

First Runner Up: ST Microcontroller Pen



Unique modern style + groovy plastic body + quality, weighty feel + standard Parker refill = a winner!

Winner: Synopsys

Synopsys Pen

Sleek, understated style in a metal body makes it the category winner.  It appears to take Parker refills, but only slimmer ones; for example, the fatter refill from the Screaming Circuits pen won’t fit.  It looks a bit like my Schmidt capless pen, but the quality isn’t the same — but it’s great for a free pen.

Cool Gadget But No Use

This category includes flashlight pens and other such pens that may look cool, but aren’t great at doing what a pen is meant to do, with limitations such as large bodies and small, cheesy refills.  They are, however, fun conversation pieces.

Second Runner Up: Sharp Bluestreak Microcontroller Pen

Sharp Bluestreak MCU Pen in the dark

Sharp Bluestreak MCU Pen in the dark

Sharp Bluestreak MCU Pen

Sharp Bluestreak MCU Pen

This is just a cool, classic flashlight pen that will never be made again, since Sharp sold their Bluestreak line to NXP.  Of course, the light is blue.

First Runner Up: Qioptiq Flashlight Pen

Qioptiq Flashlight Pen

Qioptiq Flashlight Pen

This pen isn’t as cool a pen as the Bluestreak, but it’s cooler as a flashlight: it’s got little bubbles that move around, and as the video shows, the colors change.

Winner: Blaze Network Products Rocket Pen

Blaze NP Rocket Pen

Blaze NP Rocket Pen

Blaze NP Rocket Pen

Blaze NP Rocket Pen

Blaze NP Rocket Pen in the dark

Blaze NP Rocket Pen in the dark

This pen is so totally useless as a pen, but it’s so totally cool to put on my desk.  It’s another pen that will never get made again (since Blaze went up in flames during the dot-bomb crash), but I somehow managed to snag three of them.

Pens That Are Actually Good Pens

This is the rarest category, swag pens from a company whose marketing folks actually love pens.  In fact, it’s so rare that I’ve only found examples from one company two companies.  So the winners are:

Runner Up: Green Hills Software 25th Anniversary Pen

Green Hills Software Pen - Capped

Green Hills Software Pen – Capped

Green Hills Software Pen - Posted

Green Hills Software Pen – Posted

Green Hills Software Pen - Guts

Green Hills Software Pen – Guts

I re-discovered this pen after I had originally posted this article. It’s an impressive pen, with a real Schmidt 888 rollerball refill (the only rollerball in my collection) and a solid metal body that snaps together with a precise, audible click.

Samtec Signo 207 Grand Prize Winner!!!

Samtec Uniball Signo 207

Samtec Uniball Signo 207

Yep, Samtec was actually handing out orange and blue Uniball Signo 207’s at a recent trade show.  I’ve never before seen a gel pen, let alone a good quality gel pen, as trade show swag.  After picking this pair up, I made sure to complement the salesmen — and checked if they made anything we could use at work (Samtec makes a variety of connectors).

Note: Added Green Hills pen 8/30/2012

August 9, 2012   2 Comments

Europeans Need To Get Fine Points

Europeans (OK, mostly Germans) make some nice pens – except they don’t have a clue that many of us like fine tip points.  For example:

  • My Staedtler Liquid Point rollerballs claim to have a 0.3mm tip, but they’re not anywhere close to a 0.3mm gel pen; IMHO calling them medium point would be charitable.  (Yes, they’re decent pens, but they’re nothing exceptional).
  • My 0.3mm Staedtler Tri-plus Fineliners are pretty nice, but again, I’d call them medium.  I think they’re similar to Sharpie Pens, but a bit better:  they write a bit nicer, and have a wider range of colors.
  • My Yafa Italian-made cartridge rollerball pen seems pretty decent (I’m still evaluating it), but puts down a bold line.
  • I could keep on going, bringing up the Kaweco F nib, Mont-Blanc roller balls, etc.  Instead, I’d like to talk about what got this rant started:

Schneider Pens.

I was at Office Depot the other day, and saw something new: a display of Schneider pens, with demonstrators.  Of course, I had to check them out.  They’re interesting pens, but they all write fat!  I only brought home a hot pink Schneider Slider XB; if they had some finer points, I would’ve bought more.  If they’d had fine-tip Parker-compatible Viscoglide refills in all the Slider XB colors, I would’ve spent too much money…  Anyway, my Schneider impressions:

  • I was most interested in the Viscoglide ballpoints.  The Viscoglides supposedly have a new and wonderful ink technology; my first impression is that they do write nicely, but it’s not hard to make a 1.4mm ball pen write wonderfully.
  • I do like the variety of colors available for the Slider XBs; typically, ballpoint colors are limited and boring.  The main exceptions I can think of are the Zebra Surari, possibly the Jetstream, and now the Slider XB.
  • The price range for the ballpoints was ~$2-$4, with the price increasing with better ergonomics (soft grip, etc) and a refillable body (IIRC one $4 model used a Parker-compatible refill, but the color selection was limited).
  • The Schneider rollerballs were OK, roughly similar to the Staedtler Liquid Points.
  • I wasn’t impressed with the Xpress porous-point pens, but to be fair, I haven’t like any porous point pens.

As a bit of a postscript, does anyone know of a <$10 pen that can take the Schmidt 8126 refill?  As far as I can tell, the cheapest option is the Schmidt metal pen (~$30), which is more than I am going to spend right now.

June 25, 2012   No Comments

Retro Parker

Retro Parker

Retro Parker

OK, it’s not some fancy collectable Parker pen – if I ever own a collectible pen it’ll be by accident.  Instead it’s a classic but not too fancy Parker Jotter body with a Retro 1951 refill.

I’ve had this Parker pen for a long time — probably since high school, way back when Parker was actually cool and innovative (OK, I’m dating myself….).  It’s still a nice, classic, functional, but not flashy pen body.

The Retro 1951 refill is actually a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000; Retro 1951 simply had the best deal on Amazon.  I’ve been wanting to try the EasyFlow 9000 for a while, but don’t care for the style or price of the Retro 1951 pens.  Solution?  I tacked on a set of refills to my latest Amazon order.

The EasyFlow is good; it’s much better than a standard ballpoint refill, but won’t make me give up gel pens.  I’d say it’s close to the feel and performance of a Uni Jetstream or Zebra Surari, but not quite as good.  The line is thicker, and based on my initial use, there is more globbing.

However, I’m still happy with the combination; it’s a great pocket pen: rugged metal body with a smooth writing, write-anywhere refill.

7/2/2012 Notes: this classic all-metal Jotter is still sold today, and still looks great.  However, I don’t find the grip comfortable for sustained writing — the  barrel is too small and smooth.

May 29, 2012   No Comments

G-Blanc Thoughts

My G-Blanc

My G-Blanc

I’ve been using my G-Blanc frequently, partly out of necessity. The G-Blanc is a Pilot G-2 body (a charcoal G-2 Limited Edition in my case) with a chopped Mont Blanc roller ball refill.

I really like the G-2 Limited Edition body: it’s reasonably priced for a metal pen (~$10), with a comfortable grip, cool colors, and a nice metallic feel. In fact, I’ll probably pick up another in a month or two.

Although I love micro tip gel pens, I’ve come to appreciate a good roller ball refill.  The Fine Mont Blanc refill is not fine by my standards, but it’s fine enough, and does have a great feel – smooth and flowing, but controlled.  I’ve noticed the line width does vary substantially with the paper type; the line is considerably narrower on Rhodia paper.

The Mont Blanc refill does have a big problem: it dries out quickly.  If I don’t use it for a while, it does not write well at well, with very spotty ink flow.  After quite a bit of use, I’ve been able to get it back to good flow — and have been using it often since then so I won’t have to repeat this exercise.

This is a big problem for me, since I like to switch pens around (I’m trying to evaluate all the pens I’ve bought in the last couple of years), and don’t spend most of my time writing.  I think I’ll try taking the refill out and capping it when I don’t plan on using the Mont Blanc refill for a while.

Since a standard 4 3/8″ roller ball fits in the G-2 Limited, I’ve been trying out a fine blue German made bluRAFIA refill (similar to the Schmidt 888) in the G-2.  Compared to the Mont Blanc, it’s a lot cheaper, and a little wetter, with a wider line, and a longer drying time.  It also globs more.  Still, overall the blueRAFIA is good overall.  The Mont Blanc definitely writes better, but especially with the drying problem, I’m not sure I’ll buy another.

Side note: a chopped Mont Blanc refill should fit in many roller pens, basically anywhere a Schmidt 888 fits.

Update 7/2/2012: it’s a lot of fun to play with compatible refills.  I currently have 3 G2 Limiteds (Charcoal, Champagne, and Blue) fitted with bluRAFIA blue fine, Uniball Signo 0.5mm blue gel , and G-2 0.7mm or Mont Blanc refills.  The Signo and bluRAFIA refills fit without any hacking.



May 24, 2012   No Comments

Where in the USA is A4 Paper?

I’m writing a technical manual that will be used in countries where A4 paper is the standard, not US letter size.  I want to print at least one copy on A4 paper to see how it all really looks, make sure I can bind it into a book, and such.  So I’ve been trying to find A4 paper at retail.

It’s tough; in some ways the US is very insular.  Unless you’re lucky to live in the right area, you can’t find A4 on the shelf.

The best source is larger Daiso Japan stores.  At least some larger ones have an impressive selection, including very affordable plain white A4 paper ($1.50 for 100 sheets = $7.50 per ream), colored A4 paper, pre-punched A4 paper, heavier A4 paper, and A4 photo paper.  However, some of the smaller stores only carry a small selection, such as the punched and colored papers.  The Daiso stores I looked at carried a decent selection of A4 binders.

The only other source I found is Maido / Kinokuniya stationery, but unfortunately their A4 paper is very pricey.

There is a another good solution: most of the office chain stores (Staples, etc) will have HammerMill A4 paper (ream or case) delivered to the nearest store for free, for under $10.  Online prices, including shipping, are about the same.

Note 11/26/2012: the office store solution (mentioned by Ray) is probably the best.  I was at my favorite Daiso recently, and they had the more exotic A4 papers in stock (photo, colored, magnetic, punched, etc) — but didn’t have any of the affordable copy paper.  Also, the Daiso A4 copy paper is pretty light weight.

March 31, 2012   3 Comments

My Favorite Pen Types

What works for me for normal writing:

  1. Micro gel pen in the 0.4 mm range, such as the Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm and Pilot G-Tec-C/Hi-Tec-C 0.4mm (but I’m not a Zebra Sarasa 0.4mm fan).  These pens smoothly put a vivid, colorful fine line onto my paper.
  2. Hybrid pens such as the Zebra Surari (my favorite), Uni-ball Jetstream, and Pental Energel in 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm.
  3. Rollerballs such as the Pilot/Mont Blanc G-Blanc, Uni-ball Vision, and Pilot Precise V5.
  4. Fountain pens.  I have a Kaweco Sport, a Pilot Petit, and a Pilot Plumix.  They’re nice, but just don’t get me excited.  I like easy care and portability; fountain pens aren’t great at either, and they’re pricey.  I like the look of gel ink better than fountain pen ink (at least the inks I’ve seen).
  5. Ballpoint pens.  Most are just kind of blah.
  6. Felt tip pens such as the Sharpie Pen, Sakura Pigma Micron, and Uni-ball PiN.  I just don’t like they way they write, and I am always concerned I’m going to squish the point.

I try to periodically re-evaluate; I’ve been trying to use my fountain pens a bit more, eventually I’ll give the Sharpies another chance, etc.

Fountain pens with broad nibs are a lot of fun when I’m in a playful mode, as are glittery gel pens, metallic gel pens, brush pens, and so on.  However, for normal use, I like thin to moderate lines, solid coloring (no skipping), easy care, and inexpensive (so I can put it in my pocket).


February 29, 2012   3 Comments