Catching Up

Remarable just how quickly time passed since my last real blog post. In terms of notebooks and pens and planners, I have been far from idle the last two and a half years.  If anything this period has been a golden age of experimentation- a time of hope and disappointment; a time of paper cuts and inky fingers. I’ve tried new notebook brands and paper styles and found some workable and others…. well, not so much. I’ve continued my quest for the best of the micro-point gel pens and again picked up a fountain pen after many years away. I culled through a variety of planner styles and settled on two I’ve since placed high in the pantheon of what a planner should be. And, finally, during the time away from the blog, I fell in and out of love with Moleskine. Twice. Each time I was drawn by the ideal and driven away by the reality of cheap ass dreadful paper. The last breakup with Moleskine was different. It has about it a sense of permanence; a feeling that I’m just….over that brand, that annoying and deep chasm between expectation and reality.

So when it comes to pen and paper, what am I using now?

  • For notebooks and pads I’m mostly using Rhodia
  • I’ve become quite fond of dot grid paper which has become my paper of choice when it’s an option.
  • For planers, I’m using Quo Vadis: a Hebdo weekly for personal use and an ABP1 for work. The latter is among the best. planners. ever. made. And will likely be the subject of my next product review.

Site Update

Hi all. Just wanted to provide a quick update on this blog. After a lengthy hiatus, we’re again moving forward with Fine Points and hope to resume somewhat regularish posting in the coming weeks. A few changes to blog form and fuction are also in process. First up has been a reformatting and streamlining of the site to facilitate ease of posting and navigation. A few changes in content are also in development, though these will come further down the road. The first order of business is dusting off the blog and getting it back online. Feedback is welcome as we again move forward. 

Review: Pentel Slicci .25

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In terms of micro-fine point pens, the Pentel Slicci .25 ranks consistently among my Three Jewels, one of my favorite “go to” pens that receives a lot of writing time. While the Uniball Signo Bit .18 is my favorite of all time (see earlier review), Pentel Sliccis rank either second or third, competing with another Uniball product (the Signo DX .28s) for the coveted silver or bronze.

Overall, the Pentel Slicci (.25 tip) is a solid and reliable pen and I think one would do well to have a couple of these in their pen arsenal. It is well-balanced and very lightweight, which makes writing with one a pleasure. Despite their weight, Sliccis are nicely durable. I always make it a habit, and count source of pride, to accidentally drop my pens immediately after putting them into use and even after a few such mishaps Sliccis have thus far emerged unscathed. Their durability (plus light weight) make them a great pen to carry along on travels.

Pentel Slicci .25 (black ink) and a Quo Vadis Habana notebook

While the .25 line width isn’t as narrow as some other pens I’ve used, it’s nonetheless adequate for my tiny handwriting. And with variation in pressure once can achieve a subtle, yet noticeable contrast between thick and thin lines, which is always a pleasure for those envious of the English Round Hand style of script.

One of the nice things about the Pentel Slicci .25 line is the selection of ink colors. To date I’ve tried blue, black, blue/black and brown and have been duly impressed with color quality. Vibrancy is especially apparent with blue as well as black. I’m looking forward to experimenting with some additional colors in the near future.

The only somewhat negative element of Pentel Slicci .25s that I’ve encountered is the occasional inconsistency with ink flow. Every so often ink flow will reduce almost to the point of stopping, which of course creates problems, especially if you’re frantically trying to catch a fleeting though before it is forever lost. I suspect this may have something to do with formulation of different color inks; it’s a problem I’ve encountered with blue ink, but not with any of the other colors tried to date.

The occasional ink flow issue notwithstanding, Pentel Slicci .25s are delightful writing instruments worthy of a place in the pen cases (or for the nerds out there: the slot of honor in shirt pockets) of anyone having a use for micro-fine point pens.

Frustration of Fountain Pens

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In terms of writing instruments, the greatest source of frustration for me comes from fountain pens. While I enjoy experimenting with different ink brands and colors and likewise find appealing the smooth glide of a good fountain pen on quality paper,  I nonetheless find the overall fountain pen experience disagreeable due to one important factor: even with the finest nib size, I am forced to write much larger than what feels natural for me and as a consequence the quality of my penmanship goes to hell in a hand basket. Or in this case, an ink bottle. I have found that old steel-nib dip pens are more conducive for my style of handwriting than any fountain pen I’ve tried to date. Of course dip pens are about as impractical as one can get in terms of writing instruments.

Perhaps I just haven’t found the correct fountain pen yet. I recall reading somewhere that, as a rule, Japanese fountain pens have finer nibs that European or American products. Perhaps I should give an extra-fine point Japanese model a try (am open to suggestions!). Or perhaps I haven’t stuck with the fountain pen thing long enough to acquire the skill needed to write with the exactness I’ve grown accustomed to using .28 and .18 gel pens.

While I am intrigued by the world of fountain pens and bottled inks, I disappointedly remain on the sidelines, a mere spectator of new inks and “fountain pen friendly” paper, wishing that someone would develop a “tiny handwriting friendly fountain pen.”

Space 24: Health and Fitness Journal

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Weight is something I’ve struggled with on and off for most of my life. Over the years I’ve ranged from Jabba the Hutt proportions (high school) to lean and lanky (late 1990s and again from 2006-2009). Apart from these somewhat extreme phases my weight tends to fluctuate anywhere from ten to 20 pounds (or more), depending on two factors: diet and exercise, or the lack thereof. Most of 2011 and 2012 fell well within the “lack thereof” category.

Back in November I decided that dropping the extra pounds was going to be a priority, so I began paying closer attention to my diet and returned to the gym after an absence of nearly three years (though all the while I still paid my monthly membership, you know, just in case…). Building on the modest successes of last November and December, I began at the start of the year a project notebook dedicated to health and fitness. For this endeavor I chose a Space 24 weekly journal by Exacompta which has fit well the specific needs of this journal format.

The photo below captures the essence of the endeavor: for each day the column on the left serves as the “food diary” with the corresponding column to the right serving as “fitness diary”, including gym visits (and what was done), and other physical activity such as walking. Weekly weight goals (and actual weight) are also recorded. The blank page to the right provides ample room for an analysis of the week. What worked for me this week? What didn’t? What should I focus on the coming week?

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I tend to be a visual person and one aspect I rather like about the Space 24 are the monthly calendars near the front of the volume where I can capture gym visits and physical activity (see featured image above).

Oh…and a fun note about the food diary: I have found that writing down what I eat each day is a GREAT deterrent from eating something I shouldn’t.

The health and fitness journal is not nearly as much work as one might suspect once you develop the habit of taking a few moments here and there to record this and that. The rewards are certainly worth the effort, not only for the present time, but in the future should I begin slipping towards a position where such a struggle again becomes necessary.

Habana: The Verdict

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First the data:

  • Length of Service: 5.5 weeks (to date)
  • Number of Entries: 37
  • Number of pages written: 55 (27 sheets front and back, plus 1)
  • Types of pens used: 5 different models (points ranging from .18 to .38)
  • Two types of ink used: gel and pigment

Also included for consideration were two hiking expeditions where the Habana was pressed into service for field notes and related observational data [Saturday, October 6, 2012. —Ecological Preserve. 12:25pm. Mosquitoes bad. Very bad. Am bleeding to death out here. Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.]

So after almost six weeks of putting the Quo Vadis Habana (4″x6″) notebook though its paces, I have reached a verdict, an informed impression of the notebook line, which is perhaps best summed up in the photo below:

The result of the Habana trials: rushing out to buy three more!

As the above photo might suggest, the quality and performance of Habana notebooks were such that I found it necessary to immediately procure three more. When it comes to good notebooks and pens, I’ve long thought it necessary to stock up just in case something untoward happens such as the product being discontinued, or enduring some disagreeable modification, or even something of lesser consequence like the fall of Western Civilization.

Quo Vadis’ Habana is an excellent notebook; it is by far the best I’ve encountered to date. Construction is of very good quality and even after some time with it in the field, I’ve seen nothing suggestive of the contrary: no loose pages, no ominous tears in the binding.  I’m rather looking forward to brining a Habana along on the next trip abroad, for it certainly seem durable enough to serve as a travel notebook.

Of the Habana’s many wonderful attributes, one of the standouts is the paper. Anyone familiar with this blog knows well the importance of paper quality to me; it can be the deal breaker for an otherwise good notebook. Habanas come equipped with 80 sheets of 85 gr ruled ivory Clairfontaine paper which provides a delightful and smooth medium upon which to write. The ruling is fairly  narrow (around 6mm) which works well, though a slightly narrower ruling (4-5mm) would be ideal for my tiny penmanship.

Every type of pen used during this trial performed flawlessly, especially the Sakura Pigma Microns (.20 point) which have long been among my favorites. There is *gasp* absolutely no shadowing on the back of a written page. While on occasion I will use a fountain pen, I have yet to try it on Habana paper, but given its good quality, I’m confident as to a positive outcome. And I rather like fewer number of pages in a Habana, as it provides less stress on the hand whilst writing, especially as one works their way down the page towards the bottom. This has always been an inconvenience with thicker notebooks. So in this sense, less is actually more.

I’ve long thought that the perfect size for a pocket notebook is 4″x6,” providing ample enough space for writing without feeling cramped and still remain portable.  After nearly six weeks of carrying the Habana here, there, and everywhere in my back pocket, jacket pocket, backpack, and camera bag, I’m convinced that 4″x6″ is indeed the ideal size for pocket notebooks. In terms of portability, it’s entirely comparable to the more widely available 3″x5″ sizes on the market. The cover of the Habana has a slight flex to it, which seems to facilitate portability. Initially I had a few reservations about the somewhat flexible cover as I tend to do much of writing on the go and was concerned as to whether or not it would provide sufficient support. I’m happy to report that it does.

So at any rate, I’m well pleased with the Habana experience and am satisfied that I’ve found a quality notebook line to use for the forseeable future. This is not to say that I’ve ceased the quest for the perfect notebook, nor that I won’t try other notebooks should they catch my eye. What I can say with confidence is that competitors have their work cut out for them if they hope to surpass Quo Vadis’ Habana line.

Origins

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When reflecting on the twenty or so years I’ve kept a journal of one form or another, I wonder from time to time as to the catalyst for beginning this endeavor. The origin will probably remain a mystery since the earliest diaries are curiously silent as to the initial impulse behind putting pen to paper. I suppose that somewhere in a forgotten box there may be a ratty old spiral notebook or a few sheets of paper folded and tucked away that could help answer this question.

Reaching back through the mists of time it seems I undertook the endeavor in fits and starts, writing about this trip or that activity or whatever considered important at a given time. These were tentative forays into the journaling world and it can be said with confidence that there was little consideration then that diversionary and occasional scribbling would gain strength and momentum and evolve over the years to the multivolume form in consistent use since 2002ish.

I suppose the fundamental question about keeping a journal is: Why? Why do I write? Why does anyone write? Is it a quest for immortality? An outlet for expression? A tool for evaluation? Why am I asking so many questions? In my case, the catalyst for starting a journal was most likely a combination of the reasons discussed below, with different reasons acting in concert with others at different phases of life. What I wrote in 1992 and why I wrote are assuredly far different from reasons that would develop years later.

Immortality- There is probably some deep human need to produce something that will live on after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Barring the achievement of a great and memorable thing, all but an infinitely small number of us will fade from memory probably within a generation or two if not sooner, leaving no record of having ever been on the earth (yay! how’s that for a cheery weekend thought). A journal has the potential to grant some degree of immortality, provided the volumes aren’t simply thrown out with the rest of the trash by an indifferent family member bitter about having to sort through their weird uncle’s worldly possessions. I’m of decidedly mixed feelings about this. While the thought of producing something that lingers on after I’ve become one with the Force has some innate appeal, I’m not exactly thrilled by the prospect of my journals falling into the hands of others. While I don’t lead a life of scandal (mostly never) and treachery (rarely) , I am nonetheless a very private person, but rather candid with my writing.

Posterity- This is related to immortality (perhaps a subset of it), but I think different enough to warrant independent consideration, as in this context one is writing with their legacy in mind. The risk of writing with one eye focused on the future, in addition to taking a dreaful toll on penmanship,  is the danger of self-editing, the likelihood of self-aggrandizement, bias and/or censorship seeping into the text, thereby creating a narrative that may not reflect reality. (‘WOW! Read this! Grandpa was the General commanding the 15th Virginia Infantry Regiment during the assault on the Death Star!”)

Memory- To aid memory is probably the most common reason for keeping a journal, especially for important events and travel.

Reflection- This one is self-evident. Nothing to read here. Move along, move along.

Therapy-  We’ve all had things in our lives about which we were not comfortable talking over with others and it is during these situations that a diary or journal can be your best friend and confidant, an important emotional outlet and tool for gaining clarity and insight. There are addiitonal benefits of whining into notebook, namely a journal doesn’t roll its eyes, nor tell you to shut the hell up.

Evaluation- One of my two primary daily journals is used for self-evaluation. In this volume I record data and facts (very little opinion or extraneous commentary) -elements largely quantifiable in nature by which I’m able to evaluate areas of life which may need improvement. Expenses, reading (books read and date range), gym visits, weight, the manner in which free time is spent, specific goals, projects and progress made- the list goes on. Of course all this is very utilitarian but also incredibly useful. It’s nice being able to look back to a day, week, or month as evaluate whether I was productive Model Citizen or a hapless lazy ass (you know: one of those 47% types). And one would also be surprised just how easy it is to record such data once your system is established. To best facilitate this endeavor, I always use a weekly planner.

Expression-  I am convinced that keeping a journal is as valid an outlet for creative expression as music or art. Having no talent or ability for either art (which remains at the level of stick figures, really bizarre stick figures) or music (when learning to play the trumpet in high school, practicing outdoors was forbidden due to the risk of being shot by zealous duck hunters), I have come to appreciate journaling as a deeply rewarding outlet for creative expression, especially the art of penmanship.

Other reasons for keeping a diary or journal undoubtedly exist which brings me to my next point: why do YOU keep a  journal?