Bucky’s Quest for Nature’s Pencil.

R. Buckminster Fuller is famous the world over for his geodesic dome designs and for his unrelenting questioning that makes him sound more like a philosopher than anything else.  When he summed up his search for what one might call “truth,” he uses the metaphor of the pencil.

“Buckminster Fuller never gave up his searh to find ‘Nature’s pencil.’ Like so many geniuses, he was constantly searching for the essence of how things worked best. And when he found such solutions in Nature, he applied them to his projects. Thus, we have his most famous invention – the geodesic dome – modeled after structures found in Nature.

Still, the question continues to be in the quest. Fuller and many others constantly seek the next evolution of ideas, and the really cleaver people always look to Nature first. Were all humans to do that, we would realize that there are enough resources to go around, and what we need to do is be very careful in using exactly enough. Not too much and not too little.

Nature’s pencil is such a sustainable model. She writes and draws with a precision and exactness that humans have difficulty understanding or modeling. Still, people like Bucky and many of today’s great minds continue to search because they know that the search is as important as reaching the goal.”  (More.)

This resonates with me, personally, since one of my grad schools was where Professor Fuller taught and worked from 1959 to 1970. He’s still a legend around those parts.

RAD & HUNGRY Contest Trivia Question.

As promised, here is the pencil trivia question for the RAD & HUNGRY Colombia pack give away.  This contest is open to anyone with a mailing address, the world over (with thanks to R&H).  I was very tempted to include something from literature as the trivia question.  But.  Well.  I can’t resist a good television character with a love of  pencils and flannel.


The show ran during the previous decade on a national American network, possibly in other countries.  It’s set in a small town.  The character in question is usually found with flannel, a ball cap and a pencil.  He will give you coffee if you ask for it.  He is curmudgeonly and enjoys stick-shifts.  He is a good guy and seems to hate razors.

Who is the character (his name)?

The contest will close at 11:59pm Eastern US Standard Time on this Wednesday, December 8th.  To enter, please use the CONTACT FORM (CLICK) to send your name, email address and your one guess.  All correct Comrades will have their names written down and put into a black backpack.  One person who is not me will draw one paper, and the winner will be announced Thursday.  Hen at RAD & HUNGRY is kind enough to handle the shipping of this awesome and exciting pack!

Good luck!

Review of Rhodia Dot Pad.

Karen was kind enough to send us a nice package of goodies to review this fall, and it’s time we publish some more reviews! I thought we’d go with a pad I’ve been especially enjoying: the Dot Pad — especially after the announcement of the Dot Webbie, which might be one of the greatest notebooks available.

Cover Material: Coated cardstock.
Paper: 80 g acid-free; light lilac grid with 5mm intervals between dots.
Binding: Stapled.
Size: Assorted; 6 ” x 8 ¼ ” as tested.
Page Count: 80.
Unique Characteristics: Foldable cover; dot=grid.
Origin: France.
Availability: Everywhere!

As you can guess, the Dot Pad has dots in place of the squared lines regular Rhodia paper has. While this might seem like a small deal at first, I think this means several things. First, this paper photocopies better. Second, one can more easily ignore the dots, easier than ignoring purple lines, anyway. Third — and most important to pencil users — it makes what you write or draw easier to see! I have long loved Rhodia pads, but I have usually felt compelled to use a dark/soft pencil because the graph lines are a little heavy. It never bothered me enough to steer me away from Rhodia pads — to be sure — but the Dot Pad is still refreshing and, well, fun. While I appreciate the orange of Rhodia pads, I like the departure for black, and I really like the graphic/logo work for the Dot Pad.

As as always the case with Rhodia, the construction and design are both solid. The way the cover folds over and the extra cardboard backing are just intelligent and functional. Period. The paper is smooth and wonderful. While Rhodia paper usually wins praise from Comrades who love fountain pens, the pads are also excellent for graphite. (It’s no accident that the first post on Pencil Talk was about Rhodia pads.)  Smearability on Rhodia paper has never been a problem for me at all.  What’s more, strangely, the Dot Pad seems somehow extraordinarily smear-resistant.  Ghosting is not an issue with a Rhodia pad because of the construction of the pad itself. I mean, I suppose one could write on the back. But it would be pretty difficult, at least if you have meaty hands like I do.

Another thing I always like about Rhodia pads are that they are easy to find in person and relatively inexpensive.  I’m willing to bet that if you live in even a medium-sized city, you can find them at an art shop or even Target.  I can walk to several shops from my office in midtown Baltimore and find them, for instance (though none of these locations sell the pencils).

I’ve been using this particular pad as a bedside reading notebook, and I definitely plan to get more when I fill this one up.  Right now, it’s recording all the pencil mentions in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Historical “Cedar Pencils”.

You are visiting a Civil War battlefield in the United States.  You are at the visitor’s center, run — most likely — by the National Park Service or the local historical society or some other group interested in preserving the past or, at least, educating the public about it.  You see those replica musket balls, tiny metal carbines, maybe a Lincoln hat and beard.  Perhaps you even see some replica dip pens.  Do you see….pencils?  Maybe the souvenir kind, but do you see them with the historical replicas?  Do pencils have the “stature,” to be learned about?  Rarely.  Maybe this is because pencils really haven’t changed that much in the last 150 years, not so much that a lot of folks feel they are worth mentioning.  Or maybe pencils are not as interesting as guns and bone-saws?

Anyway, if you’re visiting Harper’s Ferry, home to John Brown‘s famous raid, and you’re visiting the bookshop, you’ll find historical pencils.  Really cool pencils.

These replicas do feature some pretty, well, inaccurate information with them.  For one, this is not the same cedar that colonial pencils would have been made of, not to mention that they would be far less precisely constructed.  From the manufacturer’s site:

“Our Colonial Cedar Pencils (1004) are a set of five round, natural 7-inch cedar pencils without erasers similar to those used in England and imported to the American colonies during the 18th century. Pencils of this nature would have had to be sharpened by whittling or cutting one end with a knife. No pencil sharpeners for those colonists! Pencils are neatly wrapped in a parchment history sheet.”

Nonetheless, I was tickled enough to grab a pack for myself/the site and for my baby daughter’s growing collection/arsenal of pencils.  I haven’t sharpened them yet, but I’m getting severely tempted — with a knife, of course.

In Praise of Thick.

Loose Arrows has a great post about preferring thick pencils and thick leads. Personally, I enjoy them as well and have found a fat ole’ learner’s pencil to be just the thing for days of really sore hands and/or really big notes.

“I’ve become a big fan of jumbo pencils with triangular cross sections.  I’m not sure whether it’s because they remind me of wankel rotary engines, or because I have long fingers and do a lot of writing.  I’m particularly impressed with the Staedtler Norris Triplus Jumbo in bumblebee plumage.  It has great balance, nice grip, and best of all, the 4mm HB lead puts down a line as dark and dense as antimatter.”

Read more at Loose Arrows, “A blog about sharp things” that features a lot of good stuff about pencils.  Also, see previous mentions of the Ergosoft, from Scruss.

(Images, Loose Arrows.)

November 2010 Wallpaper (very late).

With apologies for the lateness, we present the November 2010 Pencil Revolution desktop wallpaper.  December won’t be so late; promise.  Click the image to download the full-sized version.

NaNoWriMo 1/2 way check-in.

It’s that time of the NaNoWriMo cycle: half-way!  That means that we’re all either:

1) Bored.
2) Quit.
3) Stressed.
4) Happy.
5) Blocked.
6) Cramped.
7) Other.

I missed a few days this weekend due to just being plain tired. My daughter turned seven months old yesterday(!).  While babies are cute and plain joy, they’re not advantageous for your sleep. Plus, well, my hand hurts!  Writing this by hand has been both refreshing and painful.  It’s been refreshing because I can type several times faster than I can write by hand, no matter what kind of pencil I use.  Slowing down helps me stay in control and not let everything go too much on autopilot.  I’m a little over 18,000 words as of last night, which is a little behind.  One of my writing buddies and blog pals (Gary!) is kicking my butt!

How are other folks faring? I thought I’d do a post about pencils (which ones I’ve been enjoying the most, etc.) and all that, but that might have to wait for later in the week, so that I can do some catching up. If you wanna be writing “buddies” on NaNo, search for me under jfgphd (so many consonants)!

Write on!

Clean Pencil Sharpener.

(Click to enlarge.)

Comrade Brian sent this very cool dispatch from Portland (OR):

“I checked a book out from the Library called The Boy Mechanic: 200 Classic Things to Build, which is a neat little book that collects a bunch of old D.I.Y. projects from old Popular Mechanics articles, and this little blurb about a sharpener that collects the its own debris made me think of you, and your recent posting on Pencil Revolution. I made a scan of the article for you. I don’t know how practical such a device would actually be, but it’s fun to think that someone tried solving your dilemma.”

With some very nice wood (read: red cedar!) and an attractive handle, this could be a great device to keep on your desk, to sharpen the dulled-but-exposed lead in your pencils.

Review of General’s Semi-Hex, HB.

Today we are reviewing General’s Semi-Hex, the flagship pencil from one of the last American pencil companies, based in Jersey City, New Jersey.  For some reason, we’ve never actually reviewed anything from General’s.  We’ll, hopefully, follow up with the Cedar Pointe in the near future.  To cut to the chase, there’s not much about the Semi-Hex that I don’t like, and its American heritage is a nice bonus.  I’ve even been putting it through the paces for NaNoWriMo, and it’s a champ of a pencil.

Material: Premium Incense Cedar.
Shape: Hexagonal, with slightly rounded corners.
Finish: Yellow gloss with green foil details.
Ferrule: Aluminium — gold with black painted band.
Eraser: Pink rubber (?).
Core: Ceramic/graphite composite. Available in B, HB, F, H and 2H.  (We tested the HB.)
Markings: Bonded — USA SINCE 1889 — GENERAL’S SEMI-HEX — 498-2/HB — SOFT.
Origin: USA.
Availability: From General’s and Pencils.Com — and select online retailers.  (I’ve never seen them in person myself.)

The first thing you notice when you order (or buy in person) a dozen Semi-Hex pencils is the green cardboard box with retro graphics.  While some companies do still use cardboard boxes from time to time (I have some by Dixon, Mirado, even recent ones), what you usually find is a blister pack.  That’s not necessarily bad, especially if you like to see the pencils to pick the batch you like best.  But, still, the old-timey American box makes me feel like these are pencils with work to do!  And, with NaNoWriMo under way, they are!

The pencil’s appearance reminds me of the USA made Dixon Ticonderoga (pictured above with a Semi-Hex), being yellow with green foil lettering.  Even some of the old grade markings look the same.  I should probably look up to see which came first, but perhaps some Comrade who is generous with her or his time might do so?

The finish is solid, evenly applied and…modestly glossy.  I like that these are sold unsharpened, and they don’t have that annoying paint overhang that Mirados always seem to have, and even a lot of recent Dixons.  The wood is incredibly nice and very fragrant.  If I’m not mistaken, all of General’s pencils are cedar, even their budget lines.  This is the flagship pencil in the “school pencil” range, or, more accurately, the “writing” pencil range (although I suppose some people might write with the Kimberly; I do sometimes).  If you enjoy the Cedar Pointe (and I sure do), this pencil is even, well, nicer.  I would go so far as to say that this is the nicest yellow, eraser-capped pencil I have ever used.

However, if there’s one thing I don’t like about this pencil, it’s that it’s kind of boring to look at.  The ferrules are well-attached, and the lettering is top-notch.  But I wince at yellow pencils sometimes, even ones I enjoy like the Dixon and classic Mirado.  If General’s Pencil Company decided to get funky and make this in a black finish like the Dixon Black (especially the USA made one with the matte finish) well, heck, I’d be in love.  The stripe on the ferrule is badly done on most of the pencils in my dozen, but it’s not a huge deal.  The eraser, a pink rubber (?) ender is really very effective.  It’s a darker color than Dixons or Pink Pearls and feels somewhere between the two, and it erases as well as either of them.

But!  This pencil has one thing that redeems its somewhat boring appearance: the lead!  This is one smooth-writing, dark pencil.  For this level of darkness and smoothness, the point retention is actually pretty good (between an HB Dixon and HB Palomino, but closer to the Dixon).  I have yet to break one in any sharpener or on any page, or even in my pocket or bag.  I did chop an eraser in half slamming my pencil box closed, but I glued it back together with clear tacky glue — why not?  Or course, darkness here comes with increased ghosting, but it’s nothing terrible.  Smearability, at this darkness, is actually pretty impressive, as I’ve found with other of General’s products.

Now.  The name.  As the name states, this is a rounded hexagonal pencil (think half-rounds, for my fellow musicians).  Sounds good.  Is it?  Yes.  Are most other hexagonal pencils rounded?  Pretty much.  The shape is not noticeably rounder than a Dixon, Cedar Point, Palomino, etc.  But it is comfortable.  Maybe this was a bigger deal when this pencil was first introduced?  I do have some vintage pencils with edges so sharp that my poor middle finger hurts looking at them.  It is a big deal if you write a lot.  Maybe I’m holding my pencil wrongly (wait, I definitely do), but sharp-edge pencils like the Faber-Castell 9000 just hurt after a few pages, even at softer grades.  And this is coming from someone with woolly hands full of calluses from music and camping and cooking.  While the Semi-Hex shape is not exactly unique these days, it’s certainly comfortable.

In conclusion, this is not just a great American pencil.  Heck, with so few left, that’s not a hard pair of shoes to fill.  This is a fantastic pencil.  It’s well-made, not prohibitively expensive (I paid $4 for a dozen), and with really just a great lead.  Frankly, it’s everything you wish a Dixon Ticonderoga could be.  (Here’s a nudge to Pencils.Com to carry more grades, and also thanks that they are one of the few places you can even get the Semi-Hex at all.)

Material: Linden wood.
Shape: Triangular.
Finish: Matte orange with all black details.
Ferrule: Aluminum, glossy black and round.
Eraser: Black and soft.
Core: Ceramic/graphite composite. Available in #2/HB.
Markings: The Rhodia fir tree logo on all three sides, near the eraser end.
Origin: France.
Availability: From RhodiaPads.Com and select online retailers.

Review of Daycraft Signature Notebook.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Lee at Daycraft sent us a box of samples. Daycraft is a leading Hong Kong brand of planners and diaries:

Daycraft diaries, notebooks and planners are designed in Hong Kong and manufactured in Dongguan, China by Tai Shing Diary.

Tai Sing Diary was established in 1988 and has over the years won a well-deserved reputation for getting things right. (more)

I was immediately struck by two things, which where somewhat related. First, these notebooks are sort of small. By no means is that a bad thing (and they do make larger books also). Being used to Moleskines, I didn’t expect the scale with the detail that Daycraft books have. What I mean is that these are just really carefully designed and carefully made books! See the photo below showing the size, compared to a Field Notes book, which is very pocket-friendly.  But they have all the symmetry and care we find on larger, much more expensive notebooks.

Cover Material: “Fine Italian PU” — Human-Made, flexible material.
Paper: 100g cream-colored paper with 6.5mm lines in grey ink.
Binding: Sewn.
Size: A6.
Page Count: 120.
Unique Characteristics: Beautiful design and construction; colors end-papers and page edges.
Origin: China.
Availability: For now, mainly Asia.  You can get them online with international shipping here.

The book in question today is the Signature Notebook. These come in two sizes (A5 and A6 — we were sent the smaller size) and have a softly textured cover. It looks and feels like soft leather, but it’s some kind of human-made material. Aside from leather issues (if you have them that is), this means that the softness does not preclude durability, the way that soft leathers often (not always) do. The bookmarks, end-papers and edges of the pages have colors that coordinate with the covers. In our case, we have the brown cover and red-orange accents. The effect is striking, while still being nicely low-key.

The cover is completely flexible.  The binding is sewn, with a satin bookmark. The paper is cream-colored 100g, lined paper, with 6.5mm lines printed in about the same grey as Moleskine lines. The cover is slightly rounded at the corners, but the papers are not rounded at all. Because of the generous over-hang, this is not an issue. The entire book is very light-weight and flexible. At A6 size (a little larger than a small Moleskine), it’s not exactly pocket-sized. But it could fit into a jacket pocket, purse or bag easily. I carry mine in the pocket of my puffy vest with no problems, especially since the book is so light.  Once you get past the first page, the book lies flatly on the desk or table, and the binding feels very very secure.

(Comparing size to a Field Notes Raven's Wing.)

We promised Mr. Lee a pencil-specific review, and this book is a treat for pencil lovers.  The paper looks a lot like the color of Moleskine paper: cream with grey lines.  It’s much more stiff and at least twice as thick, however.  While soft pencils prone to ghosting (Palominos, Faber-Castell 9000 4B, Blackwings, soft General’s Pencil Co., etc.) do ghost, they do not ghost with the intensity that they do on thin paper.  Daycraft’s paper has a texture which is very nice for graphite, having much more tooth than Moleskine paper but slightly less than Field Notes.  It doesn’t wear your point away, but it doesn’t shy away from taking some of that graphite off and keeping it to make marks, either.  Smearability is about average, which accounts for the majority of papers I ever use.  The lines are definitely not dark enough to distract you when you write in graphite (which I’ve noticed can be a problem with some papers lately), and they are nicely-spaced for using wooden pencils.

This is a notebook that surprises you with its price tag, especially considering the design and quality upgrade over Moleskines and some other books. Frankly, this notebook (and the other items they were kind enough to send us which we’ll write more about in the future) puts to bed the stupid supposition (don’t laugh; people claim it all the time) that quality goods cannot be made in China.
While it’s disappointing to see some companies move production overseas (I’m thinking of Dixon and it’s serious American heritage), Asian production does not mean a lack of quality any more than American production necessarily means that something is better made.  There are better made than a lot of American and European notebooks I’ve used and seem more carefully assembled than any Moleskine I’ve bought in the last three or four years.

Unfortunately, Daycraft does not currently have an American distributor, but you can purchase from an Australian dealer that will ship worldwide. It’s worth it.

Pencils from Brian.

I’ve mentioned before (from Zack and from Dan) that I have a lot of very nice and generous friends who gift me with pencils — and that I am always happy to receive them (!).  My friend (and roommate in college) Brian (also a Pencil Revolution contributor) was in Baltimore yesterday.  He came to supper at a local Mexican restaurant bearing a present consisting of a pack of My First Ticonderoga pencils and the iron sculpture you see in the photo.

It turns out that Brian has been taking blacksmith classes and made me this iron pencil, inscribed with the word “REVOLUTION” on it!  It’s really incredible to hold, and, well, beautiful.  He says he doesn’t have more for sale, but, hey, if enough people ask, perhaps the pencil deities will inspire him to create more?

NaNoWriMo 2010 Gear: Paper.

While the question of which pencils to use for Nation Novel Writing Month is certainly an important one for pencil fans who are embarking on the one-month writing challenge.  But, perhaps almost as important, is the question of what to write on.

There are myriad notebook blogs, on which Comrades can find information about notebooks’ construction, which ones can handle fountain pen ink, etc. What we try to provide with our growing number of paper reviews are pencil-specific reviews. We have a growing stack (er, box) of review samples we are testing for ghosting, point retention, etc.  But, I thought it might be helpful to suggest a few great notebooks in which to write (or in which to take notes for) Comrades’ NaNoWriMo work — and, of course, invite others to share pointers.

1) Field Notes.  I was hoping my “Raven’s Wing” editions would show up this week, but it is not so.  Field Notes are stylish, durable and very pocketable.  I might not want to draft much longhand in these (they’re small and not full of much paper), but for on-the-go notetaking, it’s hard to beat a Field Notes book.

2) Rhodia products.  There are tiny stapled notebooks (like smaller Field Notes) for your pocket, the beautiful “Webbie” journals for long drafts and all manner of pads to suite your pocket or desktop.  The smartphone pocket of my T2 bag usually has a Rhodia pad in it, in some kind of Luddite gesture.

3) EcoJot Workbooks.  I was hoping we’d be able to publish a review of these from some samples Mark sent us in time for November, but it’s not to be.  The review is coming, but you’ll have to take my word for it that they are like Moleskine Cahiers.  Only greener.  With attractive covers.  And better paper.

4) Whitelines.  We’ll have a review of these interesting notebooks in the near future, but I think they bear mention for marathon writing.  The idea is that the pages are light grey, with white lines, since dark lines on white paper are harsh for the eyes.  It might sound strange, but these are very nice books, and the paper is intriguing.

5) Something FANCY.  A big MoleskinePaper Blanks.  Something handmade from Etsy.  I have a beautiful journal that my sister-in-law sent me for a birthday a few years ago made from an old library book and big rings that I am considering using, or a giant EcoJot journal.

I thought about listing books I would personally avoid, but I think that’s unnecessarily negative.  And, you know, one writer’s graphite mess is another’s silvery-grey paradise.

What are other Comrades planning to write in/on?

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