A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Friday, August 31, 2012

You won't believe it's ballpoint (updated)

A year or more ago at Flax Pen-to-Paper, another customer was trying out some ballpoint pens. And when I say trying out, I don't mean squiggling a few lines or signing his name. I mean writing in large Spencerian script and Copperplate script, complete with huge line variation . . . from a ballpoint!  I always regretted not asking him if I could shoot video with my phone and post it on my blog.

The other day, I think I ran across something even more impressive with a ballpoint pen (well, many ballpoint pens), and I hope the artist, Samuel Silva, doesn't mind me showing his work:

Incredible! There are several more works at the link. The odd thing is, some of them look more realistic — much more realistic — than others. But they're all amazing. 

In fact, I started to wonder if I was falling for an "urban legend" trick, so I tried looking this up on snopes.com, and I didn't find anything. Is ballpoint pen art like this really possible?  Check out the other works and let me know what you think.

Update (9/3/2012): My Dad sent me a link to a second site profiling Silva, which has more of his works. My doubt in the legitimacy of these drawings was once high. Now, not so much. Oh, one other thing pointed out at the new link: Silva is a lawyer. But apparently, that's where the similarities between him and me end!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Are you ready for BOOKER-PALOOZA 2012?

From Urban Dictionary, a definition of palooza:
The art of throwing a very drunken extravagant party with a plethora of friends. Whoever is throwing the palooza usually adds their name as a prefix to the word. Paloozas are usually held on Wednesday.
Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. It captures the celebratory atmosphere I want at Booker-Palooza. But there won't be any drinking. (Well, a beer or two for me, maybe, and I can't stop you if you want to tip one back. But no drunkenness.)

The "Wednesday" part of the definition is right. But in the case of Booker-Palooza, it's incomplete. Because Booker-Palooza will also be on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of next week.

What's it about?


Five straight days of giveaways.

Here's the deal:

•   The first giveaway post will go up Sunday night at a minute past midnight — in other words, at 12:01 a.m. (PST) on Monday, September 3.

•   Every 24 hours, a new giveaway post will go up, the last one going up at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, September 7.

•   Each giveaway will be open to entries for exactly 24 hours from the time the post goes up.

•   Winners will be selected at random using the random number generator at random.org and will be announced daily.
So, you're dying to know what I'm giving away, right?

I'm not telling, except in the posts themselves.

So, set those repeating alarms on your smart phones to remind you to check back every day next Monday through Friday, so you don't miss out on something good!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rhodia Unlimited Notebook review and giveaway (UPDATE: WINNER ANNOUNCED)

Rhodia Unlimited Notebook 1
See that fading near the top? My fault. This sat on my desk
in a Levenger Unifier behind a small notepad, so the sun
faded the top.
I ran across the Rhodia Unlimited notebook by accident a long time ago while I was cruising around the Goulet Pens website (no affiliation, but I love that website and that company!), and decided to give it a shot, probably just enough for a review and giveaway. I'm glad I had the giveaway in mind, because this notebook just isn't my cup of tea. There are lots of great things about it, but some drawbacks as well. Of course, what I see as drawbacks, you might see as benefits, and vice versa.

Let's find out, shall we?

The Review

This notebook is typical pocket size, 3.5 in. x 5.5 in. Click here to see it with a Lamy Safari to give you a sense of scale.

This notebook has got a lot of style, and unsurprisingly bears the Rhodia tree logo on the cover. Unlike the matching elastic closures on the webnotebooks (i.e., orange elastic on orange covers and black elastic on black covers), Rhodia goes for contrast here. In fact, the elastic itself is bicolor — black with three orange center stripes. The strap appears to be the same on both the orange cover and black cover versions, but being bicolor, it stands out on both (though in my opinion, it stands out more on the orange cover). The Rhodia website calls it a "racing stripe."

The cover seems to have a soft feel somewhere between the cover of a regular Rhodia notepad and a cover of the "R by Rhodia" premium line of notepads, but more closely approaching the latter. In fact, for all I know, it may be exactly the same as the premium notepad covers. (On the Rhodia website, the cover on the premium notepads is described as "soft touch" while the cover on the Unlimted is described as "Verso soft touch," but I'm not sure they're different.) In any event, the cover feels very nice. It would almost be a shame to put a leather cover over this.

Rhodia Unlimited Notebook 4I'm not sure what you call this binding. Perfect bound? Glue bound? In any event, it does not make for a flat opening, unless you want to force it (which I didn't).

The perforations aren't really evident because of this — they're too deep in the binding. Every page is perforated, not just pages toward the back, as in some other notebook lines. I suppose that could come in handy from time to time, but I think I can count on two hands the number of times I've torn out a notebook page in the last two years.

Rhodia Unlimited Notebook 3The page has a lot of structure, with a two-line header field and ruling that does not extend all the way to the edge of the page. There are blank borders at top, bottom, and outside edge.

The paper is the usual excellent Rhodia quality. 60 sheets of 80 gsm paper that didn't bleed or feather with any of the inks I tried. It was a little surprising to see that the ruling — graph in my case, but lined ruling is also available — is gray rather than the usual Rhodia purple. That might disorient some Rhodia fans, but I like it (though I would prefer lighter gray). I never was a fan of the purple ruling. (Sacrilege!)

This notebook does not have a pocket inside the back cover. I've never found those pockets very practical on pocket  notebooks anyway, but diehard pocket fans should look elsewhere.

Rhodia did a very nice job with the closure, positioning the elastic so that it covers the grommets when holding the book closed. That is a nice, detailed touch in my opinion. But the grommets holding the elastic in place are likely to prove a problem as you get toward the back pages of the notebook. They are not nearly flush with the cover, and writing over those bumps would drive me a little nuts. Then again, they are placed as near to the edge of the cover as possible. With the margins in the ruling, you may not run across them that often. In any event, I don't need an elastic closure because I carry my notebook in my front pocket, so any little inconvenience resulting from the closure is not worth it to me.

Rhodia Unlimited Notebook 8
Those grommets are probably going
to get in your way eventually
Because I was planning a giveaway with this notebook, I didn't really get a chance to put it through its paces. The cover feels pretty sturdy — it ought to be, considering this notebook goes for $8— but one never knows unless one puts it to the test. I'd be curious to hear from the winner how durable it is, both in how well the cover wears and whether the pages start to separate at the perforations over time (which I've found to be a problem when using Moleskine Cahiers).

Overall, I think I prefer my current setup: A Field Notes graph notebook in my InkLeaf leather cover. If I hadn't spent the money on that cover, I might have been more willing to try out the Rhodia Unlimited for a longer period.

As usual, you can find more crappy pictures in my Flickr photo set for this review.

The Giveaway

The cover faded some at the top while sitting in my Levenger Unifier, but hey, it's free, right? Entering to win this slightly faded notebook is easy. No need to leave a comment on this post. Just:

1. Send me an email (notebookeresqATgmail.com) with the following subject line:


Lower case will work, too, but the spelling must be exact, as I will be using a filter to group all of the entries. If you misspell the subject line, you won't have a chance to win.

2.  Tell three people how much you like my blog.

We'll have to use the honor system for part 2. But think how guilty you'll feel if you win without doing step 2.

Update (8/30/2012):

The Winner

Congrats to Gaby, winner of the Rhodia Unlimited notebook!


Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: Visconti Homo Sapiens Fountain Pen — a fantastic pen with a huge flaw

Visconti Homo Sapiens Fountain Pen - presentation

They had me at lava. As soon as I saw an ad for the Visconti Homo Sapiens fountain pen, explaining that the barrel and cap are made of a mix of resin and volcanic rock from Mt. Etna, I was as hot for this pen (hot? lava? I'm hilarious!) as your typical 16-year old on a car lot is for the cherry sports car parked next to the used compact sedan his Dad wants to buy him. Lava alone did not seal the deal, but it got me started on the road to ownership. (Yet, it still took me more than a year before I caved in and bought it. What willpower!) After more than a year of longing, I finally bought one at Flax Pen to Paper during their May 2011 sale. (My understanding wife allows one expensive fountain pen per year.)

Let me start by saying that I love this pen, but . . . it has what I think is a huge design flaw that almost made me regret buying it, and caused me to send it into Visconti, hoping it might be a repair issue rather than a design issue. (More about that later.)

There's surprisingly little information about this pen on the Visconti website (the above link), but you can learn  more about it from the websites of the various vendors who sell it. There's also a nifty mini-DVD video produced by Visconti. Flax gave me one when I told them I was considering the pen. In addition to being informative, it was designed beautifully to sway people like me, with lots of shots of red lava spewing from volcanoes. That might be a stupid reason to want a pen, but it sure was an effective presentation. I'm not saying I wouldn't have bought the pen if I hadn't seen the video, but the video sure didn't hurt.


The one comes beautifully packaged in a very nice gift box, which includes a drawer holding a small video DVD and pen instructions.  Nice, but for a pen this expensive, maybe you should expect a little nicer. Look at the left edge of the box in the photo above, and you'll see the ragged edge of the fabric, which should not be showing. Also, real leather would have been an improvement. But I guess the really deluxe packaging is reserved for special editions, and this is a regular production pen.

The Materials

Lava. From Mount Etna, a volcano on Sicily. That's what comprises more than 50% of the barrel and cap material. I'm not sure what the ratio of lava to resin is, but Visconti claims that the pen is virtually indestructible because of it. I'll leave the testing to the guys on Mythbusters; the thought of trying to damage a pen just to see if it withstands the trauma makes me queasy. But I have probably been a little more cavalier in my treatment of this pen because of its sturdiness and the seeming difficulty of doing any real damage to it.

The material is hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb some moisture. I've seen this used as a big selling point because the pen is supposed to be able to absorb sweat from your hands. Is that really a problem for most people? I don't know if the pen has behaved hygroscopically or not, because my hand doesn't sweat while I'm writing.

Those caught up in the gold trim versus chrome/rhodium trim (I usually prefer rhodium or chrome trim to gold-colored trim) might be pleasantly surprised to find out that this pen has neither. The trim on my pen is pure bronze (Visconti has since come out with a version that sport stainless steel trim), which makes it very different. I've seen at least one vendor describe the color of the bronze as a rose gold color, but I don't think that's accurate, because there's no pink tint in the bronze.

The bronze has a nice shine to it when the pen is brand new, but it tarnished very quickly. Some people  prefer to call this a patina and say it gives the pen character. I call it tarnish and wish there was an easy way to shine up the bronze again. Within a month or two, the bronze was quite tarnished. Maybe living near the beach has something to do with that; the air here is hell on most outdoor fixtures, so maybe its enough to tarnish the pen quicker (even though it spends little time outdoors). Here's how it looked new versus what it looks looks like around seven months later:

Visconti Homo Sapiens Fountain Pen - Tarnished Bronze
The bronze is so shiny when new, but hard to keep that way.
I tried applying lots of elbow grease with the cloth that came with the pen, but it didn't get me very far. I'm hesitant to use any solutions, as I'm afraid they'll be absorbed by the pen and maybe discolor it.

The pen has since been released in a version with steel trim, which almost made me want to buy a second one (or sell mine to buy one).

The Barrel and Section

Normally, I don't go for chunky pens. Most Deltas I've seen, for example, leave me cold. But somehow, a thick pen seems like the only kind of pen made that should be made from lava. It just fits somehow. This is not an absurdly chunky pen in any event. I don't have calipers to measure it, so it's hard for me to quantify its chunkiness, so let's just call it . . . masculine.

I think the pen has a masculine look built from a combination of the materials and its dimensions. I'd be curious about the ratio of men buyers to women buyers. If you're a female owner of this pen, how about letting me know in the comments and tell me what attracted you to it?

Visconti Homo Sapiens - barrel close-up
Porous, gray material - not black!

The barrel only looks black if you skim over a few photos of the pen. In reality, it's more of a dark gray, with some color variation, and it's quite porous.  Bronze is the perfect compliment to this texture, which really seems to take you back in time (and I'm not talking vintage pen time, I'm talking "Bronze Age" time, as is Visconti).

The Cap and Clip  — and the Flaw

The cap is large and, to my mind, is a huge part of the pen's masculinity. The two bands of bronze against the porous lava/resin mix make the cap look masculine and tough.

The cap incorporates the Visconti "my pen" system, which lets you replace the Visconti logo on the end of the pen with any number of designs available from Visconti, from gemstones to initials. The original end piece and any replacements are held magnetically, which means Visconti couldn't use bronze for this piece. Whatever it's made of, it stayed nice and shiny while the bronze tarnished severely. This mismatch in materials solved itself; about a year after I got the pen, I noticed that the end piece that came with the pen had fallen off. (Perhaps due to my rough treatment of this supposedly indestructible pen.) I looked at the available replacements, and decided everything but the initials clashed with the rest of the pen.

Here's the original (and shiny!) logo, the end of the cap after the logo came off, and the initials with which I replaced the logo.

Visconti Homo Sapiens Fountain Pen - the "My Pen" System
Same pen, three different looks via the "My Pen" system
I think the initials actually look better than the original logo, because their finish is a better match for the bonze. And, they were quite inexpensive — only $8 for the pair of initials from an eBay vendor. The gemstones and zodiac signs cost about twice that.

You're thinking that the accidental loss of the original Visconti logo is the flaw, right? No, that is not the flaw.

The clip is the typical springed Visconti "bridge" design. The clip is not designed to slide easily over things like your pocket, however, unless you pull the clip away from the cap a little with your fingers as you try to slip it over whatever you're trying to clip it to.

You're thinking that the clip is the flaw, right? No, the clip is not the flaw.

Locking Grooves on Visconti Homo Sapiens
I've really tweaked the exposure to get
these locking grooves to show up
Here's the flaw: the cap is supposed to secure with a grooved locking system, but . . .  it comes of quite easily, much too easily. Visconti touts this as very secure cap, requiring one to push down on the cap and then twist it to remove it, something like removing the top from a prescription drug bottle. However, one need only twist it, without pushing down at all, and it pops right off. In fact, I accidentally removed the cap twice in the first week or two I had the pen. That should not happen! (I haven't accidentally popped the cap since, probably because these accidents reside in my unconscious and guide how I handle the pen, notwithstanding its otherwise seeming indestructability.)

I took the pen back to the store to compare to others, and couldn't feel much difference, but I sent it in to Visconti anyway, just to have them check it out. When it came back a few months later, there was no explanation of anything they did. Other than getting the bronze nice and shiny for me again, nothing seemed any different.

This design flaw is not enough for me to regret buying the pen after the fact, but if I'd noticed it before I bought it, I might have thought twice. I'm really surprised I haven't seen this issue mentioned in other reviews. I recommend you check this out before you buy, to make sure it won't bother you later.

The Power Filling System

I'll confess, I have no idea how this works. I mean I know how to fill the pen, I just have no idea what the mechanism is doing inside when I do it and, since this isn't a demonstrator, there's no way to observe the mechanism. You can pretty easily find diagrams of the power filler design.

To fill the pen, you unscrew the blind cap behind the bronze ring at the end, and pull out the plunger. Dip the nib into the ink, push in the plunger, wait several more seconds, and presto! Your pen is supposed to be filled with ink.

(Right about this point in writing the review, I realized I had no pictures of the filling system in action. So here's a link to someone else's video review, which includes a demonstration of the power filler.)

I say "supposed" to be because the inability to see inside the pen also prevents you from knowing how well you've filled it (or how much ink is left). I've read some complaints that the power filler does not fill the reservoir unless the plunger is pressed at least twice, but I just don't know. Unfortunately, I don't write enough to be able to tell you whether it feels like the pen runs out of ink quickly.

What I can tell you is that the fill mechanism feels quite durable. The spindle on the plunger might look fragile and easy to bend, but it actually feels quite sturdy. I think it's made of titanium.

Medium Nib on the Visconti Homo SapiensThe Nib and Section

The section is quite short. Unless you have very small hands, your grip on the pen is going to include both the locking grooves for the cap and perhaps the bronze ring near the section. The short section made me wonder if the pen would be comfortable to hold, so I tried it out several times in the shop and at the pen show before taking the plunge. I don't find it a problem at all.

There's been some discussion at The Fountain Pen Network over whether the hygroscopic quality of the lava/resin combination will cause the section to absorb ink when dipping the nib to fill the pen, and eventually discoloring the section over time. I can see a very narrow band of darker color on the nib end of the section, but honestly, I don't know if I see it because people suggested there could be a problem or because there really is one. Wiping the section down thoroughly after filling seems the practical thing to do, but if the ink has already been absorbed by the pen, it seems like that wouldn't help much. I just try not to dip the pen very far past the nib, use a wet paper towel to clean the section, then hope for the best.

The 23k Palladium nib is quite fittingly called the "Dreamtouch" nib. It's remarkable. Smooth. Wet. Aesthetically beautiful. There's nothing to dislike about it. It makes me want to write.

This short Youtube video describes the extra fine version of the nib as "springy, but not flex," then really bears down on the nib to show how it bends. The thought of doing that with my pen scares the heck out of me, and I'm not about to try it to see how flexible the medium nib is. I'm not a flex guy, and I so marvel at the smoothness of the nib, I don't really care if its flexible or not.


Let's talk about price. For some people, this is the flaw with the pen.

This is a crazy expensive pen unless (a) you have money to burn (that's not me) or (2) you're obsessed with the pen, lust after it on the internet for a year, then justify the purchase by telling yourself "Well, it's my only expensive pen this year, and it's on sale . . . and it's made of lava" (sucker — that's me).

Retail price is $595. On sale, I got it for $476 (20% off) which I suspect was the price at all those online vendors that used to tell you to call for the discounted price. Lately, I haven't seen it discounted anywhere, which is odd, because the fact that a vendor at the L.A. Pen show in 2011 offered me one for only $385 leads me to think it wasn't exactly flying off the shelves. Perhaps sales have picked up?


I love my Homo Sapiens. It is a real dream to look at, hold, and write with. And did I mention it's made of lava?

But I wish the cap didn't come off so easily. I highly recommend you try this pen out in a brick-and-mortar shop or at a pen show — everything from filling, to the cap locking system, to writing — before you actually buy one. If you live too far from any retailer to do that, I recommend you at least try out the cap and work the power filler a few times before you ink the pen and make it un-returnable.

As usual, there are more poor photos at my Flickr set for this review. You can see other reviews of this pen at:

Goldspot Pens
Sieze the Dave
Inky Journal