Moleskine – lined, or unlined?

I love those Moleskine notebooks – I use one as a journal, and another as a carry-around-write-anything-in-it kind of book. We have another that keeps various measurements and notes on our house, and I use the larger size at work. My wife uses another 2 or 3 for various things.

The real challenge, though, is deciding whether to get lined, grid, or unlined. I keep changing my mind. I never seem to write perfectly in the lines, and often ignore them enough to make the book look very untidy, but can’t ignore them enough to make drawing natural.

I started with several grid books – having an engineering background it seemed obvious, as so much of my schooling was done on graph paper. The grid is in black ink, though, and with certain pencils and inks writing and sketches tend to blend in a bit too much. The line spacing is also much narrower than the simple ruled books, so you have to write a bit smaller.

The complete absence of lines makes the book look a little too pristine sometimes, and my lines of writing often develop a slant by the end of the page. Most of us were taught to write using lined paper, and there’s something comforting about having lines to get one started. For drawing, however, a blank page is best.

I prefer unlined but they’re so hard to find in stores. The world seems to prefer the lined, followed by the grid.

What do you think? Lines, grid, or no lines?

Pen Review: Faber-Castell E-Motion

I was in the pen shop a long time ago yearning for something new. I was in a ballpoint frame of mind, as I am now, but I was fixated on the Fisher Space Pen cartridge and was looking for a pen that would hold it.

The pen store guy pulled out a few Parkers, but they weren’t interesting. I looked over the various Fisher models, but wanted something different. Then he handed me this:


The Faber-Castell E-Motion. It’s kind of short, squat pen, like it looks. It’s very pleasant to hold, and to write with. The wood gives it a feel that only wood can, and it will take a Fisher refill – the plain one that the Fisher pens use. I bought it.

It’s reasonably priced ($30 list), and nice enough to use pretty much anywhere.

The Pros:

  • Hinged, alligator-style clip, with just enough teeth to grip fabric without marring it.
  • Short length, easy to carry.
  • Light weight.
  • A thicker barrel is easier to hold, requires less grip pressure which ultimately means less fatigue.
  • The FC cartridge is quite large, but it also take Fisher cartridges if you need them.
  • The reveal (the amount of pen that will stick out of a pocket) is enough to easily grab the pen.
  • The clip doesn’t have any play, and feels very solid – it’s stamped metal not solid, but that’s no problem in this pen.
  • No parts fall out when changing cartridges – always a good thing.

The Cons:

  • It has the dreaded refill click. Every time the pen touches paper, there is a very soft click as the refill rattles in the body. While writing it sounds like a prisoner tapping out a message on the plumbing to his friend down the cell block I’ve thought of getting one of those Morse-code decoders just to see if the clicks actually do tap out some meaningful code. Probably best left alone. Anyway, both the Faber and Fisher refills do the same thing. Check before you buy.
  • The cap, which actuates the twist mechanism to reveal the point, has started to skip on mine when you happen to turn it the wrong way. I don’t know how serious this will become, but every time it happens, I’m reminded that this pen is built perhaps a bit more cheaply than it feels.

Still, for $30 it’s a darn nice pen and I enjoy using it. If I was going to take notes for a very long time – like a 3–day conference – I wouldn’t hesitate to bring this pen. The thick barrel would keep my hand from cramping, and the ambient noise would drown out the clicks.



Pen Review: Lamy 2000 Ballpoint

I bought the Lamy 2000(affiliate link) pen because I have their fountain pen, and I really like that pen even if it’s very, very broad point. So, while I was at Daly’s (if you’re ever in Milwaukee, you really need to check them out) picking up some refills, I decided to pick up the Lamy 2000 ballpoint. I might yet pick up the roller ball, when my obsession comes back around to roller balls.

Anyway, so what kind of pen is the Lamy 2000? A pretty good one, even if it’s a bit pricey ($65). It’s been around since 1966, but it has a rather timeless design – I would have guess it came out maybe 5 years ago. The model I have is the fiberglass reinforced plastic version, they also have a “blackwood” (ebony?) version which costs more.

The pros:

  • Very light weight – no dragging down any pocket with this pen.
  • Cartridge is pretty large capacity.
  • The reveal is enough to grab the pen without trouble.
  • The barrel diameter is large enough for an easy gasp.
  • The surface finish also provides an easy grip.
  • The clip is hinge & spring, versus a straight spring clip. Should last a long time.
  • The refill doesn’t rattle or wiggle or click while writing – always a good thing.
  • There are no springs or other parts that come sliding out of the pen when changing the refill.
  • The mechanism doesn’t squeak or rattle, and has a satisfying action to it.
  • The mostly plastic body won’t mar or damage pocket-mates.

The cons:

  • It’s pretty expensive.
  • It’s so lightweight that you’ll never notice it missing from a pocket.
  • The clicker, for lack of a better term, looks the same whether the point is in or out – there’s no way to tell if the point’s out while the pen is in a pocket or sleeve.
  • The clip doesn’t have the capacity to clip onto thick pocket hems, like on the inside of a winter coat.
  • The clip has an annoying amount of side-play. It’s not a factor in actual usage, but a fine instrument, even a writing instrument, should have perfect fit and finish.

When I got this pen I selected the medium refill, but if they have a broad point I think I’d prefer it to the medium, which is a bit narrow. I like the pen, although the materials and weight make it seem more fragile than it really is. I find it very comfortable to write with, and an easy pen to carry. Time will tell how tough it really is.

Pen Review: Fisher Space Pen AG7

Recently I wrote that I’d bounced back to ballpoint pens after a long period of using the Pilot G2. While I was at it, I thought I might as well post my observations about these pens while I was busy being obsessed.

The Fisher AG7 is the original space pen, and still is the pen issued to astronauts. It’s pretty unremarkable looking, being plain, chromed brass. I’m assuming by the heft that it’s brass.

Here are the pros:

  • It has a great clip, that takes abuse pretty well and can be clipped over substantial thickness of fabric without getting “sprung”.
  • It has a side release, which while not an incredible advantage over the click in/click out design, is very satisfying to use.
  • The knurling down near the point is very sharp, which makes it effective.
  • The pen is built like a tank, good heft, solid threads where the pen separates into two halves.
  • It has no annoying refill rattle – the refill doesn’t click everytime the point touches paper.
  • The spring in the lower end is captive, which means it won’t fall out when changing the refill.
  • It’s just thick enough to avoid the metal toothpick feel that other pens (notably Cross) have.
  • It takes Fisher refills, which write great when used often.

And the cons:

  • It’s pretty expensive at $50+ list price, perhaps $40ish street.
  • The clicker is not quiet to actuate.
  • The knurling is aggressive enough to mar other items sharing a pocket with the AG7.
  • The reveal, that is the amount of the pen that shows above the clip, is pretty much just the click tip, which makes it very hard to pull the pen out of loops in briefcases and the like.

I think what attracts me to it is the indestructible feel it has. It feels like a reliable tool should feel: Heavy, solid, with no annoying creaks or rattles or looseness or play in the components. It’s the kind of pen you take when you don’t know what you’ll be writing on, but you need something reliable and not so valuable you’ll cry if someone borrows it.

The humble ballpoint pen

My interest in pens is always there to some degree, but from time to time I get a little more obsessed than usual.

Recently, it’s with ballpoint pens. Specifically, not the disposable types, but the nicer cartridge jobbies. I’m not really sure what triggered it – for years I was really a pen snob and wouldn’t carry anything but a fountain pen. Eventually I got a little tired of dealing with the usual fountain pen foibles, and moved to roller balls. The Pilot G2 is perhaps the finest roller ball there is, technically it’s a “gel penâ€?, but it looks and acts like a roller ball to me. It’s cartridge fits perfectly in a Rotring 600, so there’s a stylish way to carry it. Either that or a plain black .5mm G2 was my daily companion.

I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened, but I spontaneously switched to ballpoints. I think it has to do with how smoothly they seem to write at times. Have you ever noticed the pen they hand you at the store just writes like a dream? Slippery smooth, nice even line. I finally figured out that it’s use. If you write a lot with even the cheapest ballpoint it writes better. The pen that displays this trait for me the most is the Fisher Space Pen cartridge. Take one of their bold point cartridges, and write a lot with it and it is very nice to write with – no blobs, no skipping, no dragging. None of the usual traits it displays when you first pick it up. It also writes upside down, and on almost anything.

Here’s a few others I’ve tried recently:

Montblanc – pretty good, although I have a medium in right now and that’s just a little to narrow for me.

Faber Castel – This pen usually has a Fisher refill in it, but I switched back to the F.C. refill. Very nice once you get it going.

Caran d’Ache – I feel this is one of the best pens out there. The refills are expensive, but they’re really nice writers. I’ve got a few of them, and I consider them the best alternative to the venerable Cross.

Cross – Not bad, low capacity though.

Rotring – Too narrow. I know they have a technical focus, so a mathematician will probably love it, though. Large capacity though.

The one thing I cannot test easily is the life of these refills. How long will they write? A broad will not write as long as a medium or fine point, but beyond that is life proportional to refill size? I’ve got to believe the ink is the cheapest part of the package. I think I might just build a machine to test these, but that’s a subject for another post.

PocketMod – Free, temporary notebook

Wow, you know you’ve got blogger’s block when you let a month go by without posting!

Anyway, b.cognosco has a neat post on PocketMod, a flash utility that formats a single-sheet organizer. You have to look at the site to appreciate it, it’s that nifty.

BUT, I think the folding instructions are worth the price of admission alone. They allow you to turn a 8.5×11 piece of paper into a small 12-page booklet. This is better than a regular, unfolded sheet for a whole bunch of reasons including that a 6-sheet thickness of paper is thick enough to write on in one’s hand. It will also fit in pockets better, and it’s tidier to carry around.

Check it out!