A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What ink colors can you get away with at work?

I have three obsessions vying for my attention: notebooks, fountain pens, and inks. Despite the name of this blog and my nom de plume, notebooks are in third place. Fountain pens and inks are neck-and-neck, but at the moment, I have to give the edge to inks.

My problem: it's hard to use unusual colors at work.

If you think that the legal profession is generally stuffy and conservative, you're wrong. It's ultra-stuffy and ultra-conservative (culturally, not politically). Lawyers even write things a certain way for no other reason than it has always been done that way. That comment applies to style and content, but is probably applicable to form as well.

In other words, I don't think you're going to see an outbreak of J. Herbin Orange Indien or Iroshizuku Yama-budo at American law firms any time soon. When it comes to law firms, I'm betting that 99.5% of all ink used is black or blue. And, if a lawyer is feeling exceptionally daring, he might go out on a limb and sign something in blue-black, thus proving himself a renegade.

One week I signed a letter in Private Reserve Black Cherry (which looks just like it sounds) and another in Iroshizuku Tsukushi (a reddish-brown). It made me as self-conscious as if I'd worn shorts to the office. And I've got something like 60 more ink samples to try out.

So, I got to wondering, what are the limits of "professionalism" when it comes to ink choices?

Let's start with the lawyers out there (I know I had a few of you following me for a while). How "daring" do you get with your ink colors? Would you sign a court document in Private Reserve Avocado? A letter to another lawyer with Noodler's Apache Sunset?

And what about everyone else? Do you feel similarly constrained in your profession, or do you feel free to send a "from the desk of" note written in Waterman Green? How liberal does your job allow you to be with your choice of ink?


Monday, July 26, 2010

Announcing the Noodler's Ink Fountain Pen winners!

Well, I didn't reach the 100-comment threshold, but I've decided to give both pens away anyway. Congratulations to winners Patrick and Chris. Here are their comments, which were selected through use of the random number generator at random.org:

Patrick and Chris, each of you has until midnight the night of Monday, August 2 to send your mailing address to me at notebookeresqATgmail.com. (Obviously, I'm depending on the honor system here.) Any winner who fails to email me by that time forfeits his pen and I will select a new winner of that pen.

Watch for more giveaways in the future!

WEIRD COINCIDENCE UPDATE (7/26/10): Man, I got so caught up in the giveaway that I didn't notice this and my dad had to email me to point it out: the winners have the same names as my brothers! But the winners are not my brothers. No funny business going on here. UPDATE: Patrick did not claim his prize, and MrApollo is the alternate winner!. Claim your prize now, Mr.Apollo!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

The motivations of digital-to-paper converts (updated)

When I started this blog around five months ago, I planned to write more about . . . planning. Specifically, planning with paper. Even on an anonymous blog, however, I find myself reluctant to get very personal about it, because that means covering the failures as well as the successes. Besides, I found my interests unexpectedly hijacked by fountain pens and inks.

Today, I ran across a blog post that's making me think about writing more on planning and organizing. As I read it, I said "Yes! Yes!" over and over, because the point of the post is so in sync with the tagline of my blog — "A technophile attorney rediscovers the joys of pen and paper — especially notebooks!"

The post I'm talking about is Why techies are leading the back-to-paper movement, a guest post at Communication Nation by Douglas Johnston of D*I*Y Planner. As the title implies, it makes the point that those who advocate and practice paper planning are not limited to a few stray luddite holdouts resisting technology they don't want to learn, like those lawyers who refused even to have a computer on their desks when I started practice nearly 20 years ago. There is an entire movement of people returning to paper from digital, driven in part by how Johnston describes "the trouble with technology":
While I would carefully set up my list of 50-odd next actions, prioritising them, categorising them, setting alarms, and syncing between all the technology tools I had at my fingertips, Bettina would just glance at her book and get things done. This is not to say I was a slacker -- on the contrary, I did manage to plough through an extraordinary amount of work and training-- but a certain needless percentage of my time was spent tweaking my productivity system and trying to make it all work smoothly as a whole, mostly after-hours.
That said, I'm here to tell you first hand that converting to paper doesn't automatically cure the problem Johnston cites. It's possible to tinker with paper planning as much as with digital, with the same adverse effects. Paper advocacy online is a huge irony generally, but a more specific one in my case is that the tinkering I hoped to avoid by converting to paper has followed me to my new medium. I could spend days exploring around the D*I*Y Planner Forums looking for all the components of my perfect paper solution. (Grabbing that link just now, I was tempted to linger there!)

I'd like to expand on the point, and give my take on some other points raised in Johnston's post, but I'll leave that for future posts. Right now (again, somewhat ironically), I'm headed to an L.A. stationery store to check out some notebooks!

Thanks to Paper Notes in a Digital World for leading me to Communication Nation, and to The Pen Addict, whose weekly Ink Links post led me to Paper Notes. Hey, digital isn't all bad!

Update (7/25/10): Well, this is a little embarrassing, but that Communication Nation post is 5 years old! I assumed it was newer because Paper Notes said, in a post dated five days ago, that the article was about a month old. But the Paper Notes post was a apparently a repost from the archives.

Interesting, though, that there was nothing in the content to make it obvious that the post was five years old.  This tug-of-war between digital and paper doesn't really change.


Friday, July 23, 2010

First try at wax seals

First wax stick and seal — kind of exciting!

I bought my first wax seal and wax stick yesterday, and just had to try it out right away.  I chose the palm tree seal not just because I love palm trees, but also because I live near the beach and it thus is a clue to who the letter is from . . . as if my family and friends really will have to distinguish between my wax seal and all those others they get!

I decided to try a practice run before I tried applying the seal to any envelopes I expected to screw up the first few horribly, but I think my first three came out OK!

First tries at wax seals

As you can see from the photo, the wax stick is wicked, so once it is lit, melting the wax is a one-handed operation — no need to hold the flame in one hand and the stick in the other. Also, no need to worry about soot. I lit the wick with a match, but the wick burns cleanly. The only trouble I had was my first attempt to light the wick:

How not to heat you wax for making a wax seal

 Some of those iPhone apps seem so damn real!


Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm # 1! Woohoo!

Blog posts? No.

Blog awards? No.

Blog traffic? Not even close.

No, instead my claim to fame is: Champion Ink Sampler. And I have the paperwork to prove it, in the form of the note accompanying my latest order from Goulet Pens (which Brian graciously approved posting here):

The smudged name is my doing.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Noodler's Ink Piston-Filler Fountain Pen Review and Giveaway! (UPDATED)

Noodler's Ink Piston Fill Fountain Pen

(UPDATE #4: The announcement of the winners is here.)

I have several fountain pen reviews written out longhand, but I'm glad I haven't posted any of them yet, because it seems fitting that my debut fountain pen review  — and debut giveaway! — should be of a debut fountain pen: the new piston-filler from Noodler's Ink. Instructions for entering to win the pen are at the end of the post. (UPDATE: read the entry instructions carefully, as they are slightly different than the original instructions.)

Noodler's Ink Piston Fill Fountain Pen: Cap and ClipNoodler's has come out with two lines of fountain pens. The piston-filling model in this review is available in black, red, blue, burgundy or turquoise for $14 each at both Jet Pens and Swisher Pens. I bought mine from Jet Pens, which seems to have its hooks buried very deep into me. (Which I don't mind at all! By the way, if you follow the Jet Pens link, you'll also see Noodler's second line of pens, an aerometric/eyedropper filler, which goes for $24.)

My verdict, after a few days of use: this pen is terrific, but not without a few nagging quirks. I love the writing experience but not the aesthetics. Overall, however, the positive vastly outweighs the negative. I like it much better than any of my entry-level Pelikans (a P55, Style Silver, and Pelikano).

(If you're planning on reading the rest of this review rather than just scrolling down to the instructions for entering the giveaway, you might want to grab a beer, because you're going to be reading for a while.


You don't expect ostentatious presentation for a $14 pen, and you don't get it. Instead, what you get is the usual down-to-earth Noodler's packaging. The artwork on the box tips you off immediately that there's something from Noodler's inside. Inside the box is an insert that touts the ease of aligning the nibs, the very low cost of replacing the piston seal, and the design that makes it easy to replace the entire nib. I'll have to take Noodler's word on those, since I did not try them (except for a nib adjustment). It also includes a blurb about why the words "Free Trade Forever" appear on the box.

One thing about the pen that surprised me is the name. Noodler's has all kinds of cool names for its inks. Bad Black Moccasin. Dark Matter. Bad Belted Kingfisher. Widow Maker. Heart of Darkness. You get the picture.

So you'd think Noodler's very first fountain pen line would have some cool name like Bad Ass Scribe or Wicked Scrivener. But, so far as I can tell, there's no name for this model at all. Jet Pens lists it as "Noodler's Ink Fountain Pen with Piston Fill & Ink Window"and Swisher's just calls it the "Noodler's Ink Fountain Pen." Couldn't they have but a "Bad" or "Wicked" at the front, at least? Is that too much to ask?

Fit and Finish
This is a $14 pen, so you have to have realistic expectations about how nice it's going to look. Sure enough, this is not a beautiful pen. It's not ugly, either, it's just . . . there. In fact, as much as I was looking forward to the availability of these pens, I was disappointed when I saw the pictures online. I didn't like the position of the ink windows, and the finish on both the body and trim looked uneven and dull in the photos.

When I got the pen, it looked a little better than in the pictures online, but still not impressive. If you look closely at the finish, you'll see lots of scratches at right angles to the the length of the pen. The trim also looks nicked up. Despite that, the black and silver color combination gives the pen a somewhat rich look . . . if the light is dim and you don't look too closely. I don't know how the other colors might compare.

Noodler's Ink Piston Fill Fountain Pen: Ink View Windows

Don't read this as a gripe. I accept it. As the package insert makes clear, the watchword for this pen is affordability. I'm not expecting much more (though a reviewer at Jet Pens was).

Barrel and Piston Fill Mechanism

The barrel is made from a "celluloid derivative," whatever that means. All I can tell you is that it makes the pen exceptionally light. It's also quite short. Here's the pen compared against four others, all with caps posted. You'll see the Noodler's is more diminutive than even my Pilot Knight. Folks with large hands may want to steer clear of this pen.

Noodler's Ink Piston Fill Fountain Pen: Size compare against (left to right) Pilot Knight, Lamy 2000, and Lamy AL-Star

Though I didn't take any measurements, the width of the piston suggests that the reservoir in this pen will hold quite a bit more ink than your typical cartridge or converter, so you should be able to go for a long time between ink changes.

The piston in this pen is sent toward the feed by unthreading the end of the barrel (much like the Lamy 2000). Screwing it back on draws the piston back, which draws ink into the pen. Though many people suggest repeating this cycle to fill a piston filler completely, the package insert does not so instruct. (For a primer on how a piston filler works, click here.) Full instructions for this pen are in the package insert. The ink view windows in the barrel were one of the things I found unattractive about this pen. Unlike the view window on the Lamy 2000, these are visible when the pen is capped, and I didn't like that at all, but it turned out to be a non-issue for me. Once you put ink in the pen, the windows virtually disappear — with the black barrel, anyway. You mileage may vary on other colors. I actually find the windows on this pen more functional than the one on my Lamy 2000 (which retails for ten times more) because they are less cloudy, making it easier to estimate the ink supply.

The pen seems to flush clean in much fewer cycles than my other piston filler, a Lamy 2000. After four or five cycles of filling with water, the water comes out clean (takes more like 7 or 8 with my Lamy 2000).

Noodler's package insert emphasizes that one of the aims of this line is to make the fountain pen more competitive, presumably with an eye toward entry-level users. If that's so, I wonder why they didn't introduce a cartridge or cartridge/converter model, which is probably more convenient for a beginner than a piston filler. Because its a piston filler, the beginner must also buy a bottle of ink, and the pen is more troublesome to fill and to clean between inks than a cartridge pen.  Then again, I think filling and cleaning is part of the joy of fountain pen use, so you can't get started too early!

UPDATE (9/30/10): Be careful when unthreading the barrel end. I can tell you from experience that if you go too far, it's easy to eject the piston rod from the threads completely. If that happens to you, unthread the end of the barrel completely and grab the piston rod with some needle-nose pliers to pull out the piston. Thread the barrel end onto the piston rod, then insert the whole assembly back into the barrel and thread the end back onto the barrel. When filling, you should actually look through the ink windows for the piston ands stop twisting when you see the piston reach the section.


The cap is threaded, a feature I usually avoid. It takes about 1 and 1/4 turns to remove or replace. I don't know how that compares generally to other pens with threaded caps, but my only other pen with a threaded cap (Monteverde Invincia Stealth) twists on and off with less than a full turn, so the Noodler's takes a little more turning than I'm used to. The cap posts securely, but does not thread into the posted position.

Since I own only one other pen with a threaded cap, I kept forgetting to thread this one when replacing it, and the cap would click over the first two or so threads before I would remember to thread it. Do that enough times and I figure you may screw up the threads for good, but it's going to take a lot more than a few days to do that.

The cap is designed to accommodate larger nibs, should you ever decide to change out the nib for something else.

Nib & Section

The nib is, of course, stainless steel. It is tipped with "a hard platinum group metal alloy" according to the package insert. It's very plain, and comparable in size to the nib on a Lamy AL-Star/Safari or Pilot Knight.

I experienced quite a bit of nib creep with some of the inks, and uncapped the pen a few times to find ink had leaked. I can't be sure I wasn't jostling the pen around, though, so I can't lay it on the pen.

The pen is designed so you can replace the nib with any other #2 size. The size apparently refers to the insertion point, because the package insert touts that extra wide nibs will fit fine inside the cap.

Noodler's Ink Piston Fill Fountain Pen: Section ComparisonThe section is very narrow, even as compared to the otherwise comparably-sized Pilot Knight. Granted, this is a small pen, so maybe a narrow section is to be expected, but the section on the Pilot Knight — also a small pen and barely bigger than the Noodler's — is significantly thicker. This is a second feature that suggests the pen is not well-suited for those with larger hands.

Feel & Writing Experience

This is the important part now, isn't it?

Whether it's Noodler's insistence on separation between the tines or something else, the writing is very, very smooth. I didn't find it the least bit scratchy, even on cheap office paper. I tried four different inks, and every one of them wrote smoothly in a variety of notebooks and on a variety of papers. I honestly wasn't expecting such a pleasant experience.

I also appreciate that this pen starts right up every time, even after being left uncapped for upwards of an hour. I can't even say that for my Lamy 2000, which you'd think would start up even better because it has a partially hooded nib. This reliability makes the Noodler's perfect for me to keep next to my timesheet and notepad at work, as I can pick up and put down the pen all day without having to uncap and cap it every time. That makes the threaded cap less of a hassle.

The nib is a "fine-medium," so I was expecting it to lay down a broader line than I'm used to, but it actually writes more like a Japanese medium. As a point of reference, here are the lines from the Noodler's compared against those laid down by a Lamy AL-Star with a fine and an extra-fine nib. I think the Noodler's is very close to the Lamy AL-Star fine nib, but a little wider. The pen seemed to lay down a thicker line with the one Noodler's ink I tried (Lexington Gray, which is in the photo) than with the others (Private Reserve Midnight Blues, Private Reserve Copper Burst, and Iroshizuku Tsukushi.) Other inks might bring the Noodler's closer to the fine or even between fine and extra fine Lamy nibs.

Noodler's Ink Piston Fill Fountain Pen: Fina-Medium Nib

When I first started writing with this pen, the thin section bothered me. It's almost like holding onto a stick ballpoint. I got used to the narrow section after a while, but I have to think about my grip, as I sometimes tend to grip smaller sections more tightly, which can cause fatigue.

This pen is so light you barely know it's there. The Noodler's feels almost weightless, and not just compared to brass-barrel pens, but also compared to very light pens like the Lamy Safari. If you like heft, this may not be the pen for you.


I have two more of these on their way from Jet Pens (both in black), and if the number of entries exceeds 100, I will give away the second pen, too!

UPDATE: Aaaauuugghhh! I've screwed up my first giveaway. I'm more used to the Wordpress commenting system than Blogger's. As a result, I forgot that you can leave comments on Blogger without leaving your email, and I have no way of getting in touch with several of the first commenters!  I am so sorry! Hate to make this a pain, but it looks like I will instead have to publish the winners in a future post, so here are the new rules:

To enter to win this pen (a new one, not the one I've been trying out), all you have to do is leave a comment on this post. I will choose the winner (or winners) at random and announce them in a new post on Monday, July 26, so you will have to check the blog. I will give the winner(s) one week after that post to contact me via email. Failure to contact me within one week will forfeit the pen and I will select an alternate.

The deadline for leaving a comment is midnight on Sunday, July 25. The time stamp on the comment will be the official time of the entry. (Sorry to keep this contest open so long so long, but I want to leave time for plenty of people to enter, and it may take a while to get a appreciable number of comments. I don't exactly get the traffic of The Pen Addict or Office Supply Geek.)

My apologies for the screw-up, everyone.

Good luck!

(UPDATE #2): This reviewer and I are about 180 degrees apart. We both like the pen, but each of likes what the other found fault with.

(UPDATE #3): Another review, this one by Bleubug, who offers some points only an experienced collector could. Check it out!

(UPDATE #4): Here's a review I missed at The Fountain Pen Network, which I found through The Amateur Economist.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How private is your journal?

Private journal, Diary of Henriette Dessaulles...Image via Wikipedia
Leave it to a lawyer to come up with this, but . . .

I've run across a lot of journaling blogs in the course of pursuing my pen and paper hobby. I don't keep a journal, but from my reading of blogs, it seems to me that many people write in their journals about their innermost feelings, confident in the privacy of their journal. But how private is it?

I'm not wondering how private you keep your journal -- whether you keep it under lock and key, in a hidden location, etc. No, I'm asking the question in a legal sense. In other words, could you be compelled by a court to disclose the contents of your journal if you were a party or a witness in a lawsuit and one of the parties had reason to believe that it contained information relevant to the case or to your credibility?

The scenario isn't that far-fetched. Consider the following examples:
  • Someone involved in an automobile accident "confesses" in her journal that night that she was so distracted -- by the kids in the back seat, by a cell phone conversation, by an elephant on the sidewalk,  whatever -- that she caused the accident. If she is sued by the other person in the accident, would the court -- should the court -- honor a demand to produce the journal? 
  • A doctor accused of malpractice writes in his journal about how personal problems in his life are making it difficult to concentrate when with his patients. Should the patient be able to introduce those journal entries as evidence?
  • A distraught divorced parent writes in his journal about how difficult he finds it to raise his children and how he sometimes wishes he didn't have them. Should those journal entries be evidence in a custody battle?
  • You are a witness in a case and your testimony heavily favors one party. Should the other party be able to impeach your credibility by pointing to your journal entries of your unrequited, secret love for the party who is helped by your testimony?
Are any of these genuine risks?

I have no idea. I do know that in California (where I live), the state constitution specifies a right to privacy, but I don't know if that provision provides privacy for journals. I also know that in those cases where privacy clearly applies (such as tax returns), and even where it is provided for by statute (such as bank or medical records), the privacy interest is not absolute; it may be overcome by a compelling need for the information in the lawsuit. I suspect the same would be true for a personal journal.

Privileges, on the other hand, are nearly absolute. The attorney-client, doctor-patient, and spousal privileges are based on the public policy favoring full and complete communication between the parties to the privileged communication. For example, the doctor-patient privilege exists not just as a matter of privacy but so a patient is not reluctant to disclose all information necessary to receive effective treatment. Spousal privilege exists because the public has an interest in fostering the stability of marriage, which requires that spouses be able to communicate frankly with their spouses about anything. It seems doubtful to me that the state would find a similar interest in promoting the writing of one's thoughts in a journal.  Don't expect to see a Journaler-Journal privilege established any time soon.

I know there are a few lawyers, at least, that follow this blog. Have any of you run across this issue in your practice? If so, what was the outcome?

UPDATE: Well, while I had this post in draft mode for the past few days, Nifty posted a real-life example at Notebook Stories. While the example cited there is extreme (war crimes), it illustrates the point may apply to the much more mundane examples I posit above.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

They're here! (Or, more correctly, they're at Jet Pens.)

I've been watching JetPress carefully for this announcement. Little did I know that Jet Pens has a separate RSS feed for new product announcements, so I almost missed it, but Jet Pens has had Noodler's Ink Fountain Pens in stock since Tuesday. 

Piston fillers are available in 4 colors and cost only $14.00.

Aerometric/Eyedropper fill pens are available in two colors and cost $24.00

I wasted no time ordering mine. It seems Swisher Pens sold out rather quickly.