A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Levenger Circa Dimensions Notebook

Levenger Circa Dimensions Notebook(UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Latonya Ramsey.)

 I soured on the Circa notebook system some time ago, at least for work purposes. The big obstacle to using it for work is the punched edge of the paper, which catches on everything once you remove it from the notebook and try to stick it in a file folder, run it through a scanner, or whatnot. I could cut off the edges, I suppose, but for now, it's not a realistic option for work. (If you're unfamiliar with the Circa disk-bound system, read about it here.)

That said, I haven't ruled out using Circa for some personal things, like an ink journal or some writing projects. And Daniel Marshall, Levenger's marketing manager, was kind enough to send me a bunch of sample notebooks and papers after he read about my beefs with (and praises for) various Levenger papers. So, I have to try 'em out! Then I have to give 'em away!

The Review

As Circa notebooks go, there are lots of cool things about the Circa Dimensions Notebook, and the paper's pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. I'll save the paper for the end and look at everything else first.

I know it's just a matter of taste, but the cover is probably the coolest I've seen on any Circa notebook. The outside looks like a carbonesque prism tape, though not quite as shiny (the inside is gray), and it's translucent. It has the kind of texture that makes a "zip" sound when you drag your fingernail on it.

Flexible Cover of the Levenger Circa Dimensions NotebookIt's also quite flexible. Consider this a soft cover notebook that requires a hard surface underneath it to write on comfortably. In fact, the cover — indeed, the entire notebook — can be curled around on itself. One bog benefit of the cover, in my opinion, is that it is so thin compared to the stiff leather covers, thus taking up a lot less of the disk when folded completely behind the notebook.

The cover seems way too big for the paper at first blush, extending quite a bit beyond the edge of the sheets (at the side only, not at the top or bottom). However, this is apparently to accommodate the use of tabbed dividers, and it's actually a good feature. The notebook comes with a single tabbed divider, nice and sturdy, probably to whet one's appetite for more.

It's almost impossible to tell the back cover from the front. As is typical, there is a Levenger logo at bottom center of the back cover, but it's so buried in the carbon fiber pattern that it's virtually invisible. You may need to reference the tab or put some mark on the cover to know which end is up.

Levenger Circa Dimensions Notebook
The beautiful designs of some of the Circa disks (Kyoto, Golden Tortoise, and the various aluminum disks) are what made me try Circa in the first place. The disks that come with this notebook are 3/4-inch diameter shiny aluminum and  are a perfect match for the cover. They really make the notebook stand out with a futuristic, hi-tech look.

The pages turn very easily. That could be due to the size of the disks (my experience is that pages don't turn as well on larger disks), the fact that they are aluminum instead of plastic (these are the first aluminum disks I've tried), or both. I can't be sure.

Levenger Circa Dimensions Notebook - Nice Cover and Disk Combination
Aluminum disk and carbon fiber pattern cover are a winning combination. Yes, those disks are solid, but the reflection makes it look like the paper is passing through rings.

Levenger Circa Dimensions Notebook - Paper Layout, top and bottomNow, the paper. It's what Levenger calls "annotation ruled", very similar to Cornell note-taking ruling. Levenger calls the paper "soft white," and the margin is shaded gray.

There are two blank fields at the top of each page (front side only), and a perpetual calendar at the bottom of the margin on the front of each sheet for circling the month and the date. It's not very intuitive for me, because the dates are arrayed like a calendar, and the actual date may fall on a different day than it looks like on the paper. On the perpetual calendar, it looks like the first is always on a Sunday, the second is always on a Monday, etc. I suppose one would get used to it over time. But the perpetual calendar hardly seems necessary with those two blank spaces at the top of the page, the smaller of which is just perfect for writing in the date.

The paper is very smooth, both to the touch of the hand — really a pleasure to handle — and the touch of the nib. It's fairly heavy (100gsm) but does not feel as sturdy as the paper in Levenger's notepads. I didn't really give the notebook a workout, so I can't say how durable the the paper will prove to be when it's been moved over the disks a lot or removed and replaced repeatedly.

The paper is far more hospitable to ink than the paper that came with the Circa sampler kit I bought around two years ago. Only the most saturated fountain pen inks bleed through. Dry writers and less saturated inks should do fine. And I didn't get feathering with any fountain pen, rollerball, or gel inks that I tried. The showthrough can be significant, though. Choose your pens and inks carefully.

At $39, this notebook strikes me as a little pricey, but consider that the disks alone sell for $22 and the refill paper goes for $16, and it's not out of line if you're a Circa fan. (The disks do not appear to be available separately at present. Update: I was wrong.)

As usual, you can find more photos of the product (in my trademark poor photography) in the Flickr photo set for this review.

The Giveaway

All you've got to do to enter is send an email with the subject line DIMENSIONS to me at notebookeresqATgmail.com. That's it! No blog comment, Twitter tweet, Facebook "like" or anything like that. Just a simple email. But the subject line must read DIMENSIONS, or your email might be left out of the drawing.

I'll keep the contest open to entries through at least Sunday night (March 25), maybe a little longer. The winner will be selected at random and will be notified by email. If the winner does not respond in three days, I'll pick an alternate. And so on.

Good luck!


Friday, March 9, 2012

Who painted over the pen mural?

Last summer, I was in downtown LA for an appearance in federal court. I hadn't been to the federal court building in some time, and parked in a parking lot that was new to me. Bordering the parking lot was some sort of huge industrial industrial building. One whole side of it was painted with a mural. I took pictures, but for some reason, the only one I can find is this close up of just one end of the mural . . . but it includes the pen, so it's the important part (I honestly cannot remember what else was in it):

I haven't cropped out the cars here, because I'm missing the pictures of the whole building, and I wanted to give you some perspective to see how big this pen was. That's right, I said was. Because I was back in federal court a month or so ago and that part of the wall looks like this now:

(Sorry for the fuzzy photo, but I had to crop from a larger view.) What a shame. Even more of a shame when you see the whole side of the building and realize that the entire side was a mural:

I was looking forward to seeing the mural again. When it wasn't there, not only did I do a double take, I really questioned whether I had imagined things before! I'm glad I had one of the older photos just to know I wasn't going crazy.

My question is this: who on earth could possibly think this is an improvement? There's little enough beauty in downtown L.A. Here was a nice little patch of it, and they paint over it! This would have bummed me out even if there were no pen in the mural.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Tombow Object Rollerball

Tombow Object RollerballUPDATE: The giveaway is over, and the winner is Zackary Corbett. Thanks to all who participated.

Overall, the Tombow Object is a really cool pen. What I love about it, I really love. What I don't like about it is enough to make me give it up.

The Review

I'll give it to you all up front: I love the shape and style of this pen, it's virtually weightless, and it writes very, very smoothly. But my beefs with it are dealbreakers: (1) the rollerball tip writes wider than other rollerballs of the same width, and (2) the ink tends to bleed and feather much worse than other rollerball pens.

So, let's pick it apart a little more.

Let's start with presentation. For a $24 pen, it's not bad. You get a black, hinged steel box with a foam insert that presents the pen quite nicely.

Like I said, this pen is very, very light. The body is aluminum. (I've seen at least one vendor misidentify it as light stainless steel, but Tombow's site says its aluminum.) If you write unposted, it's crazy light. Even if you're normally an unposted kind of guy, you might find yourself posting the cap just to give the pen more balance.

Tombow Object RollerballPerhaps because the pen is so light, it also seems fairly small. When I got a Lamy Safari to put next to it, I expected it to be dwarfed by the Safari, but it turns out it's not that much smaller. Again, that small feeling may be due to the light weight.

The clip is not sprung, but it doesn't seem prone to wearing out, either. The grip section is a little odd. I wasn't sure I'd find those ridges very comfortable, but they were just fine.

The shape of the pen is pretty symmetric. The cap reminds me a little of a bowling pin, or perhaps a rocket, and the end of the barrel is similarly tapered.

This pen comes in some really cool colors. A colleague at work tried my pen for awhile, really liked it, and decided she wanted it in pink. Apparently, pink is not available from any U.S. vendor, but if you're willing to pay nearly triple the price of a U.S. distributed pen, you can find the pink version at the Swedish site deskstore. (If anyone knows where to find the pink pen in the U.S., please shoot me an email at notebookeresqATgmail.com -- my colleague would really appreciate it.) No matter the color, the section and clip are black, as are the minimal graphics (the Tombow logo and "Japan" 180 degrees oposite each other at the base of the cap).

The pen is a very smooth writer, but it tends to write a bit wide for my tastes. The Tombow P05 Fine refill is, I presume, a 0.5 mm refill, but it writes a wider line than 0.5 mm refills in my Lamy Studio rollerball or Ohto Orca ceramic rollerball. (The P07 Medium refill tends to write about as wide as a Pilot G2 1.0 mm, but perhaps its not a fair comparison since the G2 is a gel pen.)

In any event, here are front and back comparisons against some other pens, writing in a Levenger twin ring notebook, which I chose precisely because it is not impervious to feathering and bleedthrough, and thus gives a better comparison:

Tombow Object Rollerball Writing Sample

Tombow Object Rollerball - bleedthrough
The dashes show the lines  with Tombow bleedthrough. For comparison, each "F" marks fountain pen writing with Aurora Black.

Note that the bleedthrough on the Tombow Rollerball is significantly worse than the other rollerballs and is closer to the fountain pen ink bleedthrough of Aurora Black in a couple of wet-writing nibs. And, while I couldn't get a good close-up picture to show it, feathering is also significantly worse with the Tombow than with the Lamy or Ohto.

If I were a patient man, I would experiment with other rollerball refills to see if any fit this pen and write better. But I am not a patient man. Not only am I too impatient to go chasing after different rollerball refills, I'm also too impatient to go through the trouble of putting this up on eBay. You can get a brand new one for $20. I'm not about to spend all that time putting up an eBay listing (mine tend to take a long time, because I'm too picky about pictures and text) so I can clear $10 after shipping. I'd rather give this away to a reader. Hence . . . 

The Giveway

I'm going to make this one easy on you. You don't need to leave a comment. You just have to shoot me an email at notebookeresqATgmail.com, but your subject line must be exactly:


Emails work better than comments because that way I can get in touch with the winner, and the required subject line allows me to filter for the entries easily. The winner will be chosen by using the random number generator at random.org. If you win, I will contact you and ask for your online profile name and link so I can post the winner's name with a link to the winner's online profile. (If you don't have one, don't worry, you're still eligible.)

Good luck! (And, as usual, you can find more photos in my Flickr photo set.)

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I almost forgot . . . I'll keep the entry period going through midnight Sunday night on March 11. The time stamp on the email will determine whether it is timely, and I have no idea whether the email gets stamped with your local time or with my time, so play it safe. Also, the giveaway is open to anyone, but if you want me to ship it outside the USA, you will have to pay shipping.