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How to ruin a Lamy Vista in one easy step.

So...I'm not good at maintaining clear plastic things. I have a bit of a track record on this, as my wife could tell you. A year or two ago I tried to clean the inside of a plastic fish tank with a kitchen sponge. The scrubby-side of a kitchen sponge. I was doing it with some soapy water (don't worry, I rinsed it really well before it was ready for fish), and I didn't notice that I was scrubbing some really nice scratches into that tank's nice, transparent plastic walls. It now looks like the water in there is really cloudy all the time. Maybe it makes the fish feel like they're flying or something. I don't know.

Today I pulled the cap off of my Lamy Vista (a clear demonstrator version of the Safari) and I got ink on my hands. Nice, bulletproof Liberty's Elysium ink. So I think to myself, "I should really clean this cap out before I stain anything important. I also need to clean it with something that dries quickly since it's the cap on a pen that I am using right now that is full of bulletproof ink. What cleans things and then dries quickly," I asked myself.

"I know! Rubbing alcohol!"

This is a mistake.

Don't do this.

Rubbing alcohol is not a friend to the plastic that they use in Vista's caps. It makes the plastic cloudy. I gives it a little texture. These are bad things. I'm glad that I noticed the problem quickly and that I was only rinsing the cap and not scrubbing the silly thing. I've read in a couple of places that this can really ruin-up the plastic.

Learn from this mistake, and don't make this mistake. Does anyone sell new caps for a Lamy Vista?

Shiner's Ruby Redbird

I haven't talked about a beer in a long time, and I think a holiday weekend is a good time to break that streak. The Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, TX is the home of my favorite beers. As a native Texan, I'm probably obligated to like Texas beer. That aside, though, I don't think that they make a single beer that I don't like.
Redbird pours a pale golden color with very little head. What head there will dissipate quickly, and you won't see any rings on the glass. It smells a lot like grapefruit and a little bit of ginger, and there's enough carbonation in the bottled version to make your tongue tickle even at the bottom of the bottle. I've read that if you get Redbird on tap (and you're lucky if you can) it is much less carbonated, but I can't tell you from experience. 

It's a very drinkable beer that tastes heavily of grapefruit balanced with ginger and some other notes of various spices that I can't name. The alcohol content (4.2%) isn't high enough to affect the taste and, with an IBU of 13, the hops aren't going to jump out at you. the tang you get in Redbird is all grapefruit and very little hops. I've read that some people think that the aftertaste is weird, but it's the same aftertaste that you get after biting into a grapefruit, so perhaps they just weren't expecting that from a beer.

Ruby Red Grapefruit is particular to Texas, and I never really liked them growing up. I'm not a big fan of sour or tart things, and this pucker-inducing citrus is way more popular with people who enjoy that kind of zing. The Ruby Red is certainly present in this beer, and it reminds me of home, while the ginger keeps me from wincing. I never hesitate to recommend Shiner beers to friends, and even people who like really hoppy IPAs have said that they enjoyed this one enough to buy a 6-pack after I've introduced them to my favorite seasonal. 

This is a seasonal brew, so you shouldn't wait to grab some if you can find it in your area. 

Mr. Nose helped me type up this blog today. He loves to sit on my desk while I work.

Rotring Core Fountain Pen

This is one of my favorite fountain pens. The pen shown here is actually a replacement of my very first fountain pen. My first Core was a white and black model, and it is one of those pens that I know I have around here somewhere, and sometimes it comes to the surface, but since I've moved I can't seem to put my hands on it. this black and grey model is called "Titanium" by Rotring, and it's bound to be a divisive pen.

Appearance & Design:
I really like the way this pen looks. It is some kind of crazy design from outer space, but it does draw the eye. When I use it people notice, and I'm into that sort of thing. If you want to be subtle, then this isn't your pen. The over-sized cap and pocket clip are almost certainly the thing you notice first, and they come in lots of different color combinations ranging from my old white and black model to a retina-burning red and orange combo. 

Construction & Quality:
The barrel and grip section of this pen are made from a lightweight plastic that just barely avoids feeling cheap. There is no flex in the plastic, but it's so light that you might feel that you'll break it. I can say that I've carried these Cores for well over a decade and they haven't suffered so much as a nick or scratch on the barrel. They're tougher than they appear.
The cap is a much heavier plastic that is mostly covered in a soft and smooth rubber (the grey areas you see in the pictures). The rubber is perhaps a bit too soft, if anything. The pocket clip is a big and fairly stiff, and the combination of a stiff spring and rubber coating means that just a little bit of the rubber under the spring will be chaffed when you clip it to, say, jeans.

Nib & Performance:
Rotring marked this nib "XS", and I'd say that it puts down a fine line. It's not as fine as the line you get from a fine-nibbed Hero, so it's fine enough to see some nice effects from your ink while not worrying about it bleeding through the page or blending your letters together if your writing is small like mine. 
This is actually one of my most consistant writers. I've used it with many, many different inks over the years, and it has handled everything from thick Private Reserves to fairly thin Noodler's Habanero with aplomb. It doesn't clog or get out of control regardless of what I've put it through. It has never skipped as long as I've had it.

Filling System & Maintenance:
The Core takes a cartridge (tall or short) or a converter. Mine has only used the Rotring piston converter, and it has never leaked or come loose. 
I've read that you can remove the nib and feed from the pen if you need to, but I have never tried. Now that the pen is out of production I don't think I'll attempt anything drastic unless I absolutely must. 
The pen rinses fairly well, but there is some extra work involved in cleaning out a pen when you can't remove the feed, and so I don't change inks as often as I do with an Ahab, but it's no more annoying than the Lamys that I have.

Cost & Value:
I really like this pen even though the design is weird and some will dislike the saddle-grip design of the section. I think these used to be around the $20 mark, but the prices are all over the place now that they're not being made. I've seen them for up to $300, and that's preposterous. It's a good pen, but that's beyond the pale. I'd say that if you can find one for $30 or less you should snap one up. Darn Rotring for discontinuing this line (and almost all of their FP lines). I would really like to get my hands on a couple more of these.

JinHao x750 Fountain Pen

This pen is actually my wife's, and she took most of the pictures. She has much more experience writing with it, but I used it for a little while so that I could write the review.

Appearance & Design: It's a nice looking, if a bit effeminate, pen. Audrey saw the holographic glitter and she had to have it. The chrome accents are fancy, but the clip doesn't work particularly well. It's just too stiff. If you clip it on a pocket you will have a difficult time getting it to release the fabric.

Construction & Quality: The all-brass (I think) construction of this pen gives it a solid amount of heft. I like a heavier pen, and this one feels good in the hand. I don't have a scale, but it seems to weigh about as much as my Rotring 600. The parts all fit together nicely, and there aren't any gaps or weird overlaps in the materials. The only construction problem is the clip. I've had better clips on plenty of other Chinese pens. The feed is plastic, and it's not great, but it is serviceable. The nib and the feed come out easily, and that makes for an easier adjustment.

Nib & Performance: This is a really large nib. It's a bit wider than my Ahab nib. The steel is stiff, but it's okay. It's decorated with some attractive scroll-work and the JINHAO brand name. The nib writes okay most of the time, but it's a bit more broad than I prefer. The feed is a little finicky, but once you get it adjusted (it needs to be placed pretty close to the tip of the nib if it is going to write correctly. As you'll see in the written sample, it started well, but it started to skip a little about halfway down the page. I'm not sure if I was getting low on ink or if the feed was just having difficulties.

Filling System & Maintenance: The pen came from the ebay seller (whose name I don't know) with a piston converter that has a little spring inside. It could take cartridges, though I've never used one.

Cost & Value: It was quite cheap. I think it was around $5 from ebay, and for that price it's darn good. It's good for short notes and such, but I'm not sure that I'd want to write with it for extended periods of time.

Sheaffer Skrip Brown

Today we have a Sheaffer ink that came in the "Spring Cleaning" ink drop in March. The theme was "the best of the worst," and it included a selection of the worst selling inks that Goulet Pens has. It also came with a vial of their JB's Pen Flush to get these lame inks out of our pens.
In case you're curious, here's what came in that shipment:

Diamine Washable Blue - I have this in a pen now, and it's not bad but it is a blah-blue.
Noodler's Summer Tanager - I hated this ink. The link is to one of my first ever reviews.
Private Reserve Foam Green - Haven't tried it yet.
Platinum (Mix-Free) Cyclamen Pink - I haven't tried this one yet, but I may have put it in my wife's pen once.
Sheaffer Skrip Brown - Keep readin'.

I really like brown inks. They can be dark enough for official uses, but they're different enough to be interesting. I'm currently writing with Beaver, and I like that one a lot. Skrip Brown is a terrible ink, though. It's the only Sheaffer that I've ever used, and I really hope that they aren't all like this one. They can't be...right?

Pros: This brown is really a good color. It shades like crazy from a light brown to a deep saturated brown with just a little bit of a gold hue. I love the color, and on the thick but uncoated paper that I used for the review it demonstrated a high surface tension that took a while (forever) to dry, but it didn't feather out or spread. It eventually dried into the color that you see in the review with deep browns where the ink pooled and very light browns at the top of several letters.

Cons: Everything else. It probably spreads more than any other ink that I've used. It soaks through any papers that aren't really thick and it spreads and feathers until the handwriting is unrecognizable. The water swab there is one pass from a wet Q-tip after the ink had set for at least a day. It might have been a couple of days. Needless to say, it's not water-resistant in the least.

Thoughts: You might get away with using this ink on a really good paper. I didn't have a Rhodia pad at the time, but it might look nice there. If you have a pen that you only use on good paper, then this might be a winner for you. I write on all sorts of things, and my students and office don't exactly use high-quality papers, so this ink is a total loss for me.

Has anyone ever used this one successfully?

Cambodia and Diablo 3 disrupt my blogging.

Hi folks,
It's been a few days since I've blogged, and I didn't even notice. There are a couple of reasons for this, and I thought I'd share them with you.

First, my wife has just left on a research trip to the wilds of Cambodia. She's a soil chemistry researcher, and she's over there for a couple of weeks taking samples and doing some science to determine whether/how badly the water there is contaminated. She's an aquatic ecologist, by training, and she's involved in a continuing research project examining the presence and prevalence of arsenic in well water. She's also starting a project of her own that looks for fecal indicators in ground water. Neat projects, but it does take her to the other side of the world every few months. I'm green with envy! And, as anyone knows, having your wife leave the country is not particularly good for one's routine.

Secondly, Blizzard finally released their long-anticipated Diablo 3 on Tuesday. It's at least as good as I was hoping it would be, and that's super-good. There have been some problems with game servers over the last couple of days, but that's to be expected and I'm sure it'll even out over the next few days.

Any-who, blogging has taken a backseat to things like loneliness and video games this week. I've got some things to post in the near future, though, so you'll be seeing some new things soon.  First up will be Sheaffer's Skrip Brown (which I got in an ink drop a few months back) and then I'll post a few reviews on some of my recent pen acquisitions. I'm turning to pens for a while because Audrey took the camera with her, and I'm not sure how well my phone works as a macro lens. (I've seen some awesome pics that people have taken with the iPhone through a jeweler's loupe, but I don't have one of those yet.)

Noodler's Habanero

Happy Friday!

I got this ink a while back when it was on sale at isellpens. (I would link directly to the color, but the isellpens site isn't set up that way.) It looked interesting, and the discount was enough to tempt me into buying an ink that I hadn't tried. Orange is one of my favorite hues, so I took a chance. I'm glad I did. 

Habanero is one of my favorite inks. It's the same orange as the habenero pepper that comes in the same orange-ish color. The shading in this ink is really pleasant and ranges from a light orange to an orange that is much closer to a brown-orange. It's, from what I hear, a bit darker than the similar Apache Sunset ink. From what I've seen of Apache Sunset, it is a bit too bright for every-day use. I've taken reams of notes in this color, and it makes for excellent reading. As you can see in the area that was water-swabbed, it doesn't hold up to water very well at all, so don't spill your coffee on it. 

I definitely recommend this ink if you're looking for something interesting and unique in the orange or red range. 

De Atramentis Elderberries

Elderberries was part of the May Ink Drop from Goulet, and I thought I'd give it a try in my wife's Jin Hao pen. So, here's your first color from the Ink Drop.

I like this ink far more than I thought I would. It's a deep grape-purple that actually shows almost a maroon tinge.

I wasn't really looking forward to this ink, because I'm generally opposed to purples (our college rivals were the TCU Hornfrogs), but there were two purples in the ink drop set so I thought I'd try both of them first and get them out of the way.

This ink, though a purple, is the purple of ripe berries. It's a reddish purple instead of a blueish purple, and it's actually quite nice. It has good shading and it doesn't seem to feather or bleed very much. You'll see a little bit of feathering at the ends of the letters in the water swab close-up, but that's more of an artifact of the Jin Hao's nib than of the ink, I think.

I can't figure out why this picture is sideways, but I guess you'll have to turn your head.

It looks pretty stable when exposed to water. 

Another thing: You know what I love? These giant Smarties Lolly's. They're so awesome.

Noodler's Army Green

As I say in the written review below, Army Green is perfectly serviceable. It's a green ink that looks about like the green you'd find on a WW2-era army vehicle. It doesn't feather, spread, or bleed even on the cheap Staples 30% recycled paper that I tested it on.

This ink is generally well behaved, but it did tend to get stuck up in the top of the filler sac on my 330 pen. That might have something to do with the surface tension or viscosity of the ink. This was a minor irritation, but it did mean that I had to jostle the ink back down towards the nib. It worked just fine once I got ink down towards the nib. I'd kind of hate to have tried this in an Ahab, though. The hollow plunger mechanism on those pens tends to trap inks like this, and I don't think I'd ever get it out without a syringe.

So, this ink is okay, but not really anything to write home about.

Not the most water-safe ink.

This is in direct sunlight, so it's a little lighter than it usually appears.

This is a picture taken in indirect lighting. It's much as it appears in general.

Hero 360 Pen

 I was looking through the isellpens website for Heros and Wing Sungs because these cheap Chinese pens are (in my experience) very reliable and much less expensive than other brands. I've been a big fan of the two Hero 330s and 616s that I have as well as my Wing Sung 101 and 233. They're uncomplicated, reliable, and cheap. The 330 is also inexpensive, but I wouldn't call it uncomplicated. The double nib is interesting looking, and at the price I couldn't pass up the novelty. It doesn't come in a very impressive box, and I don't recall it coming with any sort of instructions.

Appearance and Design:
The Hero 360 is a really nice looking pen. It sports an all-metal body (probably aluminium) that feels sturdy despite being very light-weight. The finish is a nice satiny blue, and the silvery bits at top, waist, and clip add a nice contrast.  The grip section is shiny silver, and the cap posts just fine. The cap is very lightweight, so it doesn't overbalance when posted.

Construction & Quality:
The construction quality of the exterior is good. There is a bit of a lip where the silver top meets the rest of the blue cap, but that is a minor imperfection that doesn't cause any real problem. The clip is nice and springy. It will move about 1/2" away from the cap, so you should be able to clip it to a pocket without any problems. The grip does have a tendency to unscrew itself a little every once in a while, but it hasn't ever worked itself free from the barrel. The only real annoyance is the grip. It's nice and shiny, but it is also very slippery. The pen turns in your fingers and I'm not fond of that.

Weight and Dimensions:
It hardly weighs anything at all, but I don't have a scale for exact measurements. You'll forget that it's in your pocket.
It's about 5 1/4" long with the cap on and roughly 4 1/2" uncapped. I have large hands, so it's a little more comfortable to write with when posted.

Nib & Performance:
I really bought this pen because of the weirdo nib. It's one of those nibs that promises the ability to hold the pen however you like and write more-or-less like a roller ball. It looks a bit like a pair of nibs mashed together so that there are 4 slits in the nib. It will write from most angles, but it's performance is inconsistent. Some sides of the nib write quite nicely, but other sides are so toothy that you can feel them shuddering a little on the page, and some seem dry enough to skip while other sides seem a bit too wet. If you can find the good-side of the nib it's a pleasant enough writer, if a little wet. It's certainly sturdy enough to make carbon copies, I'd imagine.

Filling System & Maintenance:
It's a sack filler that is pretty easy to fill. Dip the nib in a tank and squeeze a couple of times and you'll suck up an respectable amount of ink. The metal covering the sack does come off, though mine was reticent the first time. It's easy enough to clean. Just work the mechanism in a cup of water to swish the old ink out and then set it out to dry on the counter for a while. There's not much air flow at all into this closed sack, so it will take some time to dry out even after you've squeezed all of the water out.

Cost & Value:
I paid about $3.88 for this pen, I think. (I just checked ebay, and there are people out there selling a very similar model of this pen for about 10x the cost. Cray.) It's not a lot of money, and the pen does work. I don't think it's one that I'm going to use regularly, but it does have some novelty value. I might actually try to tweak the nib a bit. Perhaps some fine-grit sandpaper would do it some good in evening out the writing experience.

I can't really recommend the pen very highly since the nib is so hit-or-miss. I'd really like to have a pen like this that worked more reliably. I like the look and the build, but the slippery grip and the nib are serious detractors. I bet that the Sailor Trident FP is a much better performer, but those are sure to be much more expensive.

Noodler's Bulletproof Hunter Green

This is a really solid green ink. It works on every paper that I've tried it on, and that's sort of rare for FP inks. The most common offender is the awesome Post-It Note. For whatever reason, it's difficult to get a fountain pen ink to really work on one of them. They will refuse to dry, they will will spread out, they'll just generally misbehave. Hunter Green doesn't do that. It just works like regular pen inks do on that paper. It's one of my go-to inks.

The green in this ink is, well, solid. It's opaque in the bottle and it doesn't shade very much on the page. I don't have any other bulletproof inks, so I can't say whether this is typical of that sort of ink. Since I haven't posted a bulletproof before, I'll go ahead and copy the classification from Noodler's website:

“Bulletproof” refers to any Noodler’s Ink that resists all the known tools of a forger, UV light, UV light wands, bleaches, alcohols, solvents, petrochemicals, oven cleaners, carpet cleaners, carpet stain lifters, and of course…they are also waterproof once permitted to dry upon cellulose paper. Some inks are more bulletproof than others – generally in descending order (most bulletproof with the most testing – to less bulletproof): blacks, blues, yellows, invisible (“blue ghost” and “White Whale”), greens, browns, purples, reds….all are equally bulletproof with one exception: the resistance to strong industrial bleaches to the point where the paper structure itself decomposes. Reds are prone to more fading when exposed to strong bleaches (sometimes fading to a yellow) than the other colors.

You'll notice a little bit of smearing on the water-swab test. I didn't let the ink dry for very long at all before I swabbed it. I just went back and re-swabbed a portion of the text, and it only smeared a little bit. I actually went back over the text with a Q-tip until the paper started to give out a bit. This ink isn't going anywhere unless the paper does.

Another note: The full-page picture was taken under full sunlight, and so was the brighter picture of the knife-smear. The other two were taken in natural indirect sunlight.

Ink Drop Day! (Added Images)

Happy Ink Drop Day, folks!

It's too early for me to spoil the surprise for those of you who haven't gotten yours yet, so I won't let any cats out of bags.

I'll just tell you that I celebrated last night by cleaning out 5 of my pens so that I could start the month off with a new pallet of colors. I didn't load all of them with ink drops (only one in fact) because I have such a back-log of ink samples. I'll post up a picture of my ink drawer at the end, here.

May's colors!

The first three of these are scented inks. 

Here's what I'm writing with right now:
Wing Sung - Noodler's Dark Matter
Hero 360 - PR Lake Placid Blue
Hero 616 - Noodler's Turquoise Blue
Hero 616 - Noodler's Dragon's Napalm
Black Ahab - Sheaffer Skrip Brown
Red Ahab - Noodler's Hunter Green
Wing Sung 101 - Widowmaker
Rotring 600 - Noodler's Black Swan in English Roses
Lamy Al-Star - (Secret New Ink Drop Color That My Sister Will Love)
 Hero 330 - Diamine Washable Blue

Whew, when you list it out like that I have quite a few pens going at once.

Here are a couple of pics:

I took this with Instagram, and there are a few more pens in our collection. A couple more Lamys , a pink Ahab, and a Jin Hao of some sort. 
Most of you will recognize those caps as belonging to sample vials of ink. 

Noodler's Widowmaker

Yesterday's ink was one that I didn't care for. Today I'll be showing the red that I did like quite a lot.

Widowmaker is a deep red that has about the same color as a red wine or maybe fresh blood. The shots that I took in full sun show it as a bright red, but that isn't what this ink usually looks like so I took another set of pictures in indirect sunlight today, and I think they are far more representative. I didn't see very much in the way of shading with this ink, but that doesn't make me like it any less.

Full sun.

In my home office near the window.

This ink has a great flow to it and it doesn't bleed through even cheap copy paper (at least not from the pretty fine nib on my Wing Sung 101) though you will be able to see it a bit on the other side of the page. Sometimes with an ink that flows as well as this one (Tsuyu-kusa, I'm lookin' at you) you end up with an ink that feathers or spreads out like mad. That's not the case here. Widowmaker is keepin' it tight. It looks like it will stand up a little to some water, but it's not water proof.

So far, this is my favorite red. I have a few more reds to try before I can really give out a "favorite" tag, but this one will be hard to beat. In the future, look for me to be talking about Noodler's Red-Black , English Roses (both of which look more red in the vial than in those links), and Cayenne as well as Diamine's Vermillion. I also want to get my hands on some Ox Blood and a sample of J. Herbin's Rouge Hematite (it looks excellent).