Don’t Lose Your Pen! High visibility Pen Comparison

There was a time when I was younger when I, like a lot of folks it seems, preferred black or manly or ‘tactical’ colors for everything. Then I slowly learned I was spending a lot of time looking for things because they were all the same color. Especially when traveling or camping.

Over time I’ve been replacing all-black stuff or putting brightly colored tape on things to make them easier to see.

Pens were a little easier as they are available in bright colors, even neon colors. There are two in particular: The Caron d’Ache 849, and the Space Pen Cap-o-Matic Tradesman.

The Caran d’Ache has a more saturated color. The Space Pen is paler, almost pastel by comparison. Both are more or less equally visible, but the CdA color makes me smile and the Space Pen color makes me feel like it spent too much time in the sun. More importantly, they both jump out visually. Dropped on the ground or in a crowded drawer or pocket they’re easier to spot, which is the point.

On grass, not so hard to find
On grass, not so hard to find
Did you spot the black one?
Did you spot the black one?

The Tradesman feels a smidge loose and wiggly and the mechanism, like the CdA, is quiet and a bit vague. Neither gives a satisfying click, like you’d find on a Jotter. But if you’re a compulsive pen clicker, those around you will be a lot happier.

The Tradesman is made of brass and I have no doubt the pen will last, although the paint has chipped a bit. The 849 is aluminum, the clip is removable, and so far the paint is chip free.

Both pens have sturdy clips, and will fit in normal size pen sleeves. The 849 has a bit more reveal above the clip which makes it easier to grab.

Neither pen has any annoying click or clack of the cartridge rattling while writing.

In general CdA cartridges are long-lasting and a bit dry in my experience, and finer than regular ballpoints on many kinds of paper. Space Pen refills are thicker and darker by comparison, but don’t last anywhere near as long. Both write on 95% of the surfaces I come into contact with, but I expect the Space Pen to have the edge, as well as writing in different positions.

The 849 is a legendary, proven design, and I’m very fond of it. It’s the refills that tend to push me away. In theory the 849 will take a Parker refill, but in practice it is not a great fit. The Space Pen refill can also be put into the 849, but it suffers the same problems as the Parker refills. The main problem is that the point doesn’t fully retract and is more likely to mark up pockets & clothing accidentally.

Both of these pens are very competent, established designs, and either will be easier to find. If sharp, saturated body color is important get the 849, if a darker, thicker writing line is important get the Space Pen.

A trick to reduce handwriting stress

One of the advantages of fountain pens is that they require very little pressure to write. This encourages a looser grip, which in turn means less stress and tiring. It usually works that way.

But when I’m in a hurry, under stress to write both fast and neat, or have simply enjoyed too much coffee, I find my grip getting quite vise-like. Then my hand and arm get tired. Not good when you’re trying to get some freewriting done or, worse yet, taking notes somewhere.

I’ve discovered a trick however. Borrowing an idea from Hogan’s golf grip, I shift my thumb and forefinger further around the pen just enough that their tips touch each other. This tactile feedback keeps me from gripping too tightly, and forces everything to relax.

The picture above shows my normal grip, the one below shows the stress-free version. Notice that the thumb and forefinger are pressing against each other rather than the pen itself.

At first it’s a bit of a funny feeling, because the pen no longer feels so firmly held. It also inhibits writing from the fingers, which is just as well when one should be writing from the shoulder anyway. Get used to it, and you will find that it gives you more than enough grip for a pen, but keeps everything relaxed.

Moving to Mastodon

Like a lot of folks I’m moving to Mastodon. It’s not to say you’ll never see me on Twitter again, but I’ll be putting my focus on Mastodon.


Well, maybe not., the instance where I’d made my account, was abandoned by its administrator and was beginning to be blocked. So I deleted my account there while I figure out where to go next.

If you have a reliable instance to recommend I’d like to hear about it!

Business notes – loose pages or notebook?

Yes, I know. You’re looking at me thinking I’m some kind of luddite. Here we are, sitting in a meeting and you’ve got your tablet out and I’ve got my pen and paper.

Yes, I work with software, databases, and data visualization, and therefore I should be technologically adept. I am. I also enjoy reaping the benefits that come from writing notes by hand, including greater levels of attention and retention.

I invite you, dear colleague, to keep typing.

For the rest of you folks who also keep notes by hand, or are thinking about switching, and are thinking about how, here are some observations I’ve made over time.

There are a couple major ways to organize paper:

Loose pages

The vision of carrying a portfolio or slim briefcase filled with file folders and a few legal pads. This is a very flexible system, but there’s a lot of carry. Sometimes just a legal pad or portfolio will do.

  • Easier to file
  • Easier to scan into Evernote
  • Irrelevant pages easily skipped
  • Change paper at any time – lined, unlined, fancy, cheap, etc.
  • Really awesome paper is available
  • Hard to carry in small format
  • Not many folders/portfolios handle a large stack well
  • Easier to lose a page


I’m always attracted to simplicity, and one notebook is pretty simple. I’ve never made this work for me, at least not for everything I need, but I do still keep one at work and use it for some note taking.

  • Everything is in the notebook
  • Still scannable using the Evernote app, particularly if done every day. Tedious if a lot needs to be done – no auto feed unless you cut the pages out.
  • Nothing gets lost, no obligation to file anything
  • Not easy to file – tear out a page, or make a copy
  • Gathering everything related to one project or subject is not easy.

What works for me

I like a legal pad or blank sheets for free writing, working out problems, or noodling on an idea. I also use loose sheets for implementing David Allen’s Getting Things Done system.

I use a notebook for business journaling and some note taking. It’s easy to carry the notebook, and most meetings I don’t write much except a few action items. I know that if I keep things there I can find them later, which makes it comfortable in a way.

Evernote adds search ability

Sometimes I feel a sense of obligation to stick with one method or the other – have only one method – consistency is the hobgoblin and all. I’m finding that Evernote relieves any angst about which to use. When I put things into Evernote I know I can find them later if I look for them. When I remember to put them in Evernote!

It sounds great, but it’s not always as good as I thought it would be. The other day I was looking for an old project and searched Evernote. I’d scanned in my handwritten project list, so it should have been easily found but nothing was turning up. I found it, by hand, but Evernote didn’t.

Search ability isn’t everything

Putting things in a better system for searching gives the impression that all is secure, but it’s a false impression. Having things easy to find is only of value when I think to look for them. What about when I don’t?

Sometimes I don’t think to look for important things. I’ve forgotten them. Having them buried in some database doesn’t help that. But having them in a book that I will come back to an page through (either looking for something else, or just for it’s own sake) greatly increases the odds I’ll run across it.

Right Place/Right Time As Critical As Search

Sometimes having a piece of paper in the right place wins over search. When I look in the file folder, there it is. This particularly true for subjects that I visit only occasionally, like strategy, ideas for the future, etc. I might fill a sheet with far out thoughts and ideas that don’t address any immediate issue. In the file it goes until I need to tap the well for new ideas. This isn’t the same for a notebook, where I’d have to be paging through in order to find it.

These notes are like stashing mad money in my wallet. When I need some ideas or inspiration, I check a file and find all sorts of things I’d forgotten about.

In theory I could put all the right keywords on it but words like strategy, idea, and innovation get used so much that I don’t think it would be workable.

Keeping notes vs curation

It’s tempting to go too far in thinking about business notes. To feel like everything has to be easily found, indexed and at one’s fingertips. Most of the time most of the notes I keep serve no one including me, and it’s pretty rare that a serious decision or action hinges on a note.

The notes are for me to help me work better and they do. To do that they don’t need to have Google-like efficiency. Half the value comes from writing the notes in the first place.

Only girls keep diaries

When I was a boy I didn’t keep a journal because back then I didn’t know what a journal was, I knew what a diary was. Diaries were kept by girls, not boys in my mind. I thought about starting one and calling it a log book. Later I learned that another term was journal, but I still hesitated because even though I could call it a journal, I knew it was a diary.

Diaries were for spewing the innermost thoughts and secrets and feelings – something girls had in abundance – all the whispering and giggling in class was proof of that – but boys not so much.

I wanted to record the manly version of that stuff and clearly that was different. Little did I know how little difference there was. Ah the social constructs that were defined for us as kids.

How many years did I cheat myself out of useful insight by this silliness? Too many.

The most ridiculous part of this is that some of the most bad-ass diaries in existence were those kept by the men of the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica, including a year stuck on elephant island (a year!). Those men didn’t keep journals, they called them diaries. Even if they’d been pink and written in lavender ink in a pen with a furry ball on top they were still people who endured a life of unbelievable hardship, and managed to write about it.

What it’s called doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get started.