Sunday, April 15, 2007

With all due respect to the Swiss mechanical pencil industry

Oops. When I waxed prosaic about my favorite 5 here I made a comment about it not being "some $50 contraption made in Switzerland". Forgive me Dave, you have shown me the light of just how cool Swiss pencils can be. I still can't afford them, but it's nice to know they exist for that day in the distant future when I am independently wealthy.

Meet Mr. Pencil (mechanical, that is)

The blog name Dave's Mechanical Pencils says it all. This engineer (when you see the quality of his product reviews, it will be obvious that he's being honest about his profession) from New Zealand should be your first stop if you're looking to learn about mechanicals.

The only downside to his site? He doesn't (yet?) have a review of my beloved Zebra M-301 0.5mm :)

Meet Mr. Pencil (wooden, that is)

I think I've discovered the man who should be named Guinness Book of World Record's "Smartest Wooden Pencil Guy In The World" - Mr. Charles Berolzheimer, President of California Cedar Products Company.

This man has:

Where did I first hear about this man? A cool blog called Paper Notes. Check it out.

This guy seems to live, if not not on then certainly within shouting distance of, the nexus of all wooden pencil knowledge. His love for the industry and the product is evident in everything he writes. If you're interested in wooden pencils, be sure to see what this man has to say.

Pencil Haiku #10

Slender graphite child
springs forth from cedar parent
Like leaves from a tree

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Learning to Blog - Lessons About Sitemaps

N00b, newbie, new guy, clueless blogger-wanna-be. All of those monikers fit yours truly. I started this blog about 24 hours ago and have been burning up the Internet trying to learn from those who have gone before me.

Overall, Google has made it a very simple experience. Learning how to add all those links has taken a little while, and the latest effort - creating a sitemap to improve my indexing with search engines (I only dimly appreciate what that means) has taken a while.

I am by no means an authority on this issue, but it seems that Blogger accounts don't support the upload of sitemap files to our blog. If that's true, then the otherwise outstanding Google help on Blogger could be a little more clear about this. I was struggling with running Python scripts (huh?) and manually editing XML files (again, huh?) and getting nowhere when I ran another Google search and found this excellent post from a smart person named Vivek in India.

Based on the large number of comments on this post, it appears I'm not alone in this search for sitemap knowledge for Blogger accounts. I'll let you know what I learn from this experience.

Pencil Haiku #9

Why must we all choose
the type of pencil we like most?
Because it matters

My Preferred 7 - The Skilcraft

The listing from their website says it all (look under Writing Instruments/Pencils/Mechanical Pencils/0.7mm):

Shock-absorbing cushion-point mechanism and polymer-based lead reduces lead breakage. Twist-top raises and lowers the extra-large (1/4 inch) eraser. Push-action advances lead and a sliding sleeve retracts to protect pocket. Black Barrel. 0.7mm Lead.

I was introduced to this mechanical marvel by a fellow aviator who swears by them - now I do too. It's short on style (as Henry Ford said, you can have one in any color you like, so long as it's black) but long on substance.

By the way, Skilcraft is "a trade name of the National Industries for the Blind" (see Wikipedia article here) so it's a great company, providing excellent products and jobs for people with vision impairment.

A Way Wicked Cool Cyber Power List of The Best Pencils in The World

Just in case the simple poll on this blog isn't enough for you, I've created an Unspun listing called "The Best Pencils in The World". It seems like a pretty cool way to get access to what people think about various topics.

I particularly liked their FAQ response to "why is it called Unspun?":
"We liked the name because community consensus rankings aren't subject to "spin" (and it rhymes with itself)."

So, this is a list that isn't held hostage by some egomaniac blogger - it's open to anyone who wants to login and cast their vote. Yes, they are affiliated with, so there are plenty of links to help you buy the things on the lists you look at - but as the sweepstakes people are fond of saying, "no purchase necessary".

This is my first time working with anything like this (hey, this is my first blog), so let me know what you think. Thanks!

Getting Down to Specifics - My Favorite 5

There is no contest on this one. The Zebra M-301 .5mm mechanical pencil is simply the best.

Now before you get all upset because I didn't choose some $50 contraption made in Switzerland that probably is the best 5 in the world, realize that I'm not a pencil collector - I'm a pencil user. I've used Pilots, Pentel, Sharps - you name it. Many of them are excellent but the Zebra is still king of the pencil jungle in my opinion.

It's simple, lasts forever, and most importantly - it fits in the sleeve pencil holders on every flight suit or other utility clothing I've ever worn.

7 - Pencil Heaven?

Yes, the long-awaited (well at least 12 hours, anyway) next chapter in the debate on which type of pencil is superior has finally arrived. So, where do I stand when in comes to .7mm pencils you ask - glad you asked.

I stand in the middle ground, 'cause that's what 7 is to me - a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. It's a hybrid, existing in the functional space between 2s and 5s (though not between them on the number line - that's for all you pencil-wielding mathematicians out there) Despite this, I have a few 7s lying around the house, ready to lend their sturdiness to my less graceful writing tasks:

  • Sudoku: Quite simply, 7s are made for Sudoku. Not prone to the thin, hard-to-erase-if-its-dark-enough-to-read slashes of a 5, a 7 is thick enough to leave its mark and still allow for a very clean erase. Anyone who was spent a while cruising through a Sudoku puzzle only to find a critical error in that last little box will appreciate the Ctrl-Alt-Delete ability of the 7. Now, if you're a Sudoku master who does your puzzles in ink - good on ya. For the rest of us mere mortals, a 7 is the way to go. So what about a good ol' #2? Well, I have done puzzles with a 2 - but the variation in line width as the 2 gets dull makes it harder to see all the numbers (see Obsessive Compulsive Disorder here).
  • Flying: Whenever I am flying (as a pilot, not a passenger), a 7 is the sine qua non of writing things down. Pen ink freezes up when the cockpit gets chilly at higher altitude and I think the changes in air pressure affects ink flow as well. 5s are too delicate to stand up to furiously writing down the new flight plan clearances Air Traffic Control fires off while I'm trying to maintain altitude in bad weather. 2s are okay and popular among some of the older pilots out there (no mechanism to fail and less likely than metal mechanicals to jam flight controls if you drop it) but to me they have one fatal flaw in the cockpit - no retractable tip (necessary for avoiding punching holes in your clothing or leaving errant graphite trails on them).

So what is your view on the 7?

Pencil Haiku #8

Still life nemesis
Why must I grapple with you?
Teacher says, "to learn"

Again, I am no artist, but I imagine more than one aspiring art student has groaned at sketching a bowl of fruit while they dream of creating the ultimate Anime masterpiece. But, like all young students eager to "get to the important stuff" they are brought to task by their wise instructor.

Pencil Haiku #7

No simple picture
wrought by digital camera
No! - Pencil drawing

So far my Haiku have focused on writing, so I decided to do one honoring those with far more talent and creativity than I - the pencil drawers (the people, not the storage areas). Not content to leave capturing a moment in time to the latest 1.21 gigapixel wonder of digital photography, these brave souls eschew modern technology for graphite and clay.

Pencil Haiku #6

Ask not why it moves
Awakening seeds of thought
force the pencil on

Have you ever found yourself compelled to put your ideas on paper with your favorite pencil? It's almost like the pencil is pulling your hand across the page to express itself...

If you've experienced this phenomena, then this Haiku is for you!

Pencil Haiku #5

Wake from misty dream
Details fade like autumn leaves
Quick - scribble them down

Have you ever awoken from an interesting, note-worthy dream and felt it slip through your mind like so many star systems through Governor Tarkin's fingers?

This poem speaks to that feeling of loss and a common remedy - writing the details down before they disappear like Tommy Lee Jones just wiped your mind clean.

5 is alive!

2?!? Hah! That throwback to spitwads and Trapper Keepers is as old as the french fries they served in grade school. Simple? Sure - just like TV before cable and computing before the mighty Commodore 64. You can keep your ceiling-tile-skewering simplicity and leave the elegant 5 for the deep thinkers in the room.

Ah yes, the .5mm mechanical pencil. Who hasn't been awed by its precision, seduced by its steady "click-click-click" of gratification? Sure, the erasers are usually a joke and the mechanism can get a little finicky, but like an indulgent Porsche owner, we suffer our 5s' foibles willingly. Besides, who hasn't derived some do-it-yourselfer pride from unjamming a 5 during mortal combat with a final exam?

Okay, okay - the lead is a little flimsy. 5s aren't made for OCD composers of power ballads or Speed-Sudoku nuts - they're meant for a steadier, more reflective hand. Trying to write down your entire list of things-to-do (dreamt up during a long car ride) before they vaporize in your short term memory is bound to result in shattered .5mm lead and curses aplenty. But if you've got the patience to wield this precision weapon of words, it will serve you well.

COMING SOON! - The 7: Lucky number or hopeless hybrid?

Friday, April 13, 2007

What does it mean to be a 2?

For me, 2 is how I started my thinking life. 2 will forever be a throw back to the golden days of youth, spent hunched over a desk in class whilst struggling to scratch out letters of the alphabet that would garner a good grade in "Writing". 2 is is the smell of cedar shavings and warm eraser rubbings on the page. 2 is also (typically) the color of the buses that hauled my classmates and I to and from school each day. 2 is tradition...

Outside school, 2 is the stalwart - or as the poll refers to it, "trusty". No moving parts, no need to scrutinize packets of replacement leads to ensure compatibility. Nope, 2 is all about simplicity. It's always there at the bottom of your junk drawer, ready to take down that information over the phone. It's always there providing a satisfying recipient for your thought-provoking mastications (sorry for the reverie, I mean "it's good for chewing on"). Yes, 2 is that tried-and-true friend-for-a-lifetime that we all need.

So, if you're a 2, be proud and cast your vote for the Old Faithful of writing implements.

COMING SOON! - The 5: Mechanical nightmare or tool of enlightenment?

Pencil Haiku #4

Wooden or metal
that remains the question now
Spring forth your answer

Go on! Take the quiz!

Pencil Haiku #3

Why must the pencil
abandon its master so?
Surely home is best

This one goes out to all of you who have ever lost that favorite pencil...

Pencil Haiku #2

My best pencil friend
How you harken to my words
Help me reap my thoughts

Now this is getting fun... :)

Pencil Haiku #1

So eager graphite
Flies across the paper's face
Springtime of the soul

I wrote this Haiku-hack based on some excellent guidance listed on this site. Based on the two minutes I spent writing it, I'm sure it will earn no critical acclaim in Japan. I composed it by focusing on coming up with the first line (five syllables about a pencil) and then worked to fit the rest of the Haiku style.

Upon finishing it, I rather liked it. It reminded me of the sense of renewal I sometimes feel when writing in my journal.

What the heck is a 2, 5, or 7?

Good question. The little poll to your right should answer your question - I'm asking you to tell me what kind of pencil you use. When you do you'll be able to see what the rest of the blogosphere is scribbling with. Thanks for sounding off!


I for one am tired of news reports and blogoblasts about trivial matters. Global Warming, Global War on Terror, Global Hunger - whatever. I want to hear from real people about real issues - like what you use to write with! In my little world, there are three kinds of people, and they aren't Republican, Democrat, or Independant - they're a 2, 5, or 7.