Turning Japanese, I Really Think So…

27 06 2020

Big day today.

All the pen connoisseurs rave about the large Japanese brands – Sailor, Platinum, Pilot…

Personally, I tend to find them a bit boring and conservative on the whole, but I take nothing away from their level of quality or engineering technique. They just didn’t seem to be for me. And they don’t come cheap either, so laying out large quantities of my only theoretically disposable income on something I don’t absolutely adore seems, well, unwise.

But today things changed.

Today I spent bigly and bought a Japanese fountain pen. And I love it.

I spent over a thousand in fact! To be exact – 1,090. OK that’s in Yen, but in Canadian money it came to $27.89 with taxes. I bought a MUJI aluminium fountain pen with a fine nib, and it is significantly better than I might have expected for that price.


Image Source: MUJI.com

It is a thing of singularly straightforward, uncluttered yet smart design. It’s a simple cylinder of brushed aluminium with a steel clip. The section is machined with a fine hatching to give a nice grip, and despite the light metal construction I actually found it sat comfortably in my hand.

The cap is unusual in that it clips positively over both the nib and when posted not over the body, but into cleverly recessed grooves. This means that when the cap is closed or when using the pen posted, there is no interruption to the smooth cylindrical design. This looks like an engineering tool as much as a modern functional pen.

It came supplied with a single standard international cartridge. Black. I’m not a big fan of cartridges so on opening the low impact packaging I immediately tried to fit a standard ink converter instead. Neither of the two “standard” converters I own fit well though. I read in several places that this pen is a little fussy and that Schmidt K2 and K5 were good options but that a Pelikan converter was the most snug fit. One is now on order from Cult Pens, but in the meantime I’ll make do with the standard cartridge.

I hedged my bets and paid 50c at the local Save-On-Foods pharmacy for a syringe and needle so I can refill the cartridge with some more interesting colours while I’m waiting for the Royal Mail and Canada Post to get around to delivering the converter.

So what else can I tell you? Well, the business end is almost certainly a Schmidt #5 iridium point steel nib. Except for the omission of the word “Schmidt”, the markings are identical to the FH241 nib unit pictured below.


Schmidt FH241 nib unit. Image Source: JetPens

It writes very smoothly and being German as opposed to Japanese it really is a Fine and not one of those Asian fine Fines. I was also pleasantly surprised to find it had a bit of flex to it. I’m not a big flex user, but it was nice to know it was there if I felt the desire to invoke it.

Early days yet, but I think I’m going to like my new pen very much indeed.



Some flex available in this straightforward nib.

It seems one can’t have too many fountain pens after all!

17 06 2020

My very first fountain pen was a plastic bodied Parker 45.

11 year old me thought it was soooo fancy because it had a gold, medium width nib and a stainless steel cap (more properly “Lustraloy”). To this day, it writes with a sublime smoothness, though it has suffered from the slight collapse in the section that stalks the Parker 45 due to the cap’s clutch being a little too aggressive for the plastic section’s softness. Unfortunately my handwriting could never do it justice, but I still love that pen.

My contemporaries at school often had the more modern-looking (late 70’s – all things are relative) Parker 25 with it’s all metal Flighter design.


Parker 25 Flighters (i.e. steel bodies) – unfortunately not a mating pair

Over the years I’ve come to realise that there were in fact many variations on my basic black Parker 45, and amongst them was indeed an all-metal Flighter. There’s also a Flighter with a black plastic end, but my preference had always been for “the full metal jacket”. Today, The Pen Workshop near Aylesbury, UK delivered my dream pen. Paul Baker there kindly listened to my preferences and found the perfect match. He even located a pen with a section that shows minimal caving, and managed to find me one with a fine nib. The cap has the all important “Made in England” imprint and a lack of letter stamps puts it as likely pre-1980. I think I’ll just gaze a bit longer before inking it up.


New Old Parker 25 Flighter, c1980

Pen number two started out as simply an “oh, that looks nice” moment whilst perusing for the Parker. It has a gorgeous green marbling which I ultimately found irresistible. Never having heard of the Wyvern brand previously, I did a bit of research and discovered that my parents actually used these Wyvern Perfect Pen Nº 81’s back at high school in the early ’50s, and so with little more than that connection and a desire to own a small bit of British pen history, I added it to my shopping cart at www.penworkshop.co.uk.

Wyvern is long gone now, closing its factory in 1955. Founded in Leicester, the Wyvern Pen Company was named after the mythical creature that appeared in the crest of the borough. According to Wikipedia:

A white (Argent) wyvern formed the crest of the Borough of Leicester as recorded at the heraldic visitation of Leicestershire in 1619: “A wyvern sans legs argent strewed with wounds gules, wings expanded ermine.”

Production of pens began back in the 1890s and Wyvern made several models as well as manufacturing nibs for other pen companies and promotional pens for a variety of campaigns.

The barrel still has the faint imprint of “WYVERN Perfect Pen Nº 81” despite its ~70 year age. I hope I look this good when I’m that old!


WYVERN Perfect Pen Nº 81 in green marble finish


12 05 2020

Six years ago, Mrs E bought me a course at UBC entitled “Creative Writing”. It was led by the talented Mr Ripley Paul Belserene. One of his teachings was that we should write something every day. The idea was to keep the metaphorical door open so that when we were ready to write something of note, it had a ready channel. To support the exercise Paul taught us to use all manner of arbitrary prompts to begin the writing.

I’ve never been one to struggle to fill space with ramblings, whether verbal or written (as you’ve likely already noted), but I smiled with recollection of the lesson as I was shuffling some oddments around my desk this afternoon. I wasn’t actually tidying as such. There’s no fewer items there than when I began, though their influence on the world’s weather patterns is now subtley different. Then I picked up my newly rediscovered school pen and opened the very exercise book Paul had given me in the class. (“This is my exercise book. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”)

And I began to write…


Objectified. Stood in the corner at the party, glowing warmly to all the guests, but being stared at like a mere possession. True, you’ve only been part of the household since we met on my last trip to Europe. You’d moved there after spending your early life in New York. But when I saw you across the gallery in Marais I knew right away that we’d be together.

You couldn’t come back with me. Paperwork! I was restless for days until I got the call and met you at the airport. The taxi ride home was a little awkward. I just stared at you the whole way. You’d made the change from New York to Europe in your younger days, and now you’d need to convert to Canadian ways. I was so happy you were making the change just for me.

And we’ve been together ever since. The weeks seem to stretch out. I barely recall a time before you were here. But I’m regretting inviting so many people over now. Too many of my friends are just staring at you. It’s demeaning. You deserve better.

Forgive me, my dear, but I think the only solution is to turn you off for now. Sleep well, my beautiful Miss Tiffany Lamp.

And the inspiration for ce petit quelque chose:

1c US stamp showing Tiffany Lamp – note the “USPS” at the top of the stand

It’s Been a While, or “Eine klein Nachtesnonsense”

11 05 2020

It’s been a lot of things actually. “A while” is the least of them. Two years or thereabouts since I deigned to share my neural explosions with you, good reader. As ever, a chain of random yet tenuously related events led me here to this desk, in front of my long-suffering keyboard, to offer a post or so for any remaining follower’s of the Quieter Elephant.

This time it began as a search for fountain pen ink. Lamy (the German pen manufacturer) issued a 2020 special edition colour known as Turmaline, after the complex colours of Tourmaline – the mineral. It’s a turquoise colour this ink, but with a pink sheen when it’s dried. Very fetching.

A review of it can be found here from WonderPens which I recommend if for no other reason than they’re Canadian.

Image source: Wonderpens.ca

So anyway, that led me to a very pleasant morning cleaning a previously problematic fountain pen I’d once mistakenly filled with “dipping ink” (non-aqueous and bad news for fountain pens. Lesson learnt!) Anyway, I then had to test it (good results so far) and wandered off into messing about with some actual dipping pen nibs I have for calligraphy. Trouble there is the nibs are very “scratchy” and really demand good quality paper if one is to avoid making a complete mess.

That in turn led me to dig out my now rarely consulted Moleskine notebook. I adore the silky smooth paper in that. And lo – there I found some snippets of intesely bad poetry and 5½ pages of “things to blog about” dated, well, not, actually. A got better at dating my scribbles in later pages.

I smiled in fond recollection of the megabytes of nonesense I have contributes over the years to the collective digital compost that is “The Internet” and thought – why not? It has indeed been a while! One of the items leapt from the page due to another recent experience – “Klein bottles”. I’d marked it as having been covered, but it turns out to be a passing remark in an early post (2011) which now points to a stale link. (I got better at avoiding those too over the years!) Excuse enough to revisit the subject.

So the Klein link? Well – years ago a science teacher recommended we all watch The Christmas Lectures broadcast from The Royal Institution (Sir Isaac Newton’s baby). Kind of like TED Talks for kids… in the 70s. I was blown away – it was Carl Sagan talking about The Cosmos. Heady stuff for a geeky teenager. (Before I became a geeky adult.)

Random YouTube meanderings took me to a couple of videos by Matt Parker on what is now the Ri channel. He’s an ex-maths teacher from Australia now based in the UK and spending his days popularising mathematics with a splash of stand-up comedy. The lecture on Things to see and hear in the 4th dimension was particularly amusing and culminated in the revelation that Klein Bottles were his favourite shape and the still mind-warping explanation of what that might infer if it was the 3D “shadow” of a 4D object.

Discovered/invented in 1882, the Klein bottle is like a 3D version of a Möbius strip. It has only one surface which is its inside and its outside…

Image Source: Core 77

All pretty geeky stuff. But Matt Parker went the extra kilometer – oh yes he did!

The classic visualisations are typically made of glass, but require specialist skills in glass-blowing to create. What then, if instead of access to a glass-blowing artisan to make you a Klein bottle, you only had access to say – your mum?

Yup – Matt Parker got his mum to knit him a Klein bottle hat, and geeky it most certainly is. But wait – there’s more! He’s not just a geek. He’s a maths geek. Though the Klein bottle hat was a feat of knitting wonder, he finessed it and got his mum to make another, with alternating rows of colour so that they represent the first 47 or so decimal places of Pi. Even the decimal point is represented by a different colour, right on the brim where it folds under.

Matt Parker wearing Klein bottle hat made by his gifted mum. Image source: Ravelry

This, dear reader, is right up here with knitting your own version of Tom Baker’s Dr Who scarf! Not only is his mum a knitting guru but generous with it. If you’d like to make your own the pattern is available free as a PDF via Ravelry.

World’s longest held erection

5 06 2016

Every day, I’m supposed to take a little blue pill. It’s actually for my heart and is a low dose Aspirin. I hear however that other gentlemen sometimes make use of another little blue pill by Pfizer. This pill is intended to help them become more upstanding citizens than they might otherwise be able to be. One potential side-effect that is reported is that the upstandingness can last rather longer than required. Or is comfortable. Imagine then holding this stance for a full fifteen years!

As the city of Chicago recovered from its great fire and grew from strength to strength, the river traffic up the north arm of the Chicago river was finding it harder and harder to negotiate the swing bridges then in use. The following potted history of the Kinzie St railway bridge can be read in more detail at Wikipedia.

By 1907 construction started on a new bascule bridge that would allow more space for larger boats to pass on the river. Designed to carry two rail tracks, the foundations of the pivot were required to sit on the bedrock, a full 29m below the river bed.  By the time the bridge opened on September 19, 1908 an alternative scheme was already under way that led to the closure of Wells Street Station and its replacement with a new terminal on the west bank of the river. When the Ogilvie Transportation Center opened in 1911, Kinzie Street railroad bridge was left to handle only freight traffic.

During the second half of the 20th century the number of companies using the railroad for shipping on Chicago’s near north side declined severely. The construction of the Columbus Drive Bridge in 1982 wiped out part of the right of way and the spur to Navy Pier was abandoned. Service to the Tribune Tower also ended in the 1980s, and by the 1990s traffic along the remaining section of the spur served only one customer, the Chicago Sun-Times, with only one train per day. The newspaper moved their printing plant out of downtown Chicago in early 2001 and now shares the Herald Tribune printing plant, leaving no traffic across the bridge and it has since been permanently raised in the open position.

Kinzie St. Bridge

Kinzie St. Bridge, Chicago

Kinzie St. Railroad Bridge

Kinzie St. Railroad Bridge

Printing Plant

Printing Plant

Nerdy T-shirts on SnorgTees

19 07 2015

I used to wear all kinds of “message” T-shirts when I was a student (pre-gut).

SnorgTees have upped the game considerably over the last generation by including catch-phrases and quotes from popular culture and media (some of which didn’t even exist when I used to wear T-shirts: like video games!) Others though – they’re just plain nerdy. Like this one:

SnorgTees: I ate some pie

For the less nerdy reader in need of some help, this mathematical sequence reads: i 8 sum pi.

But it’s not just maths, they also do chemistry nerdiness:

SnorgTees: Chemistry nerdiness

SnorgTees: Chemistry nerdiness

Or this one which is a little more nerdy for the hard-core chemists:

SnorgTees: More chemistry nerdiness

SnorgTees: More chemistry nerdiness

They even cater to the Eddie Izzard fan:

SnorgTees: Izzardmania

SnorgTees: Izzardmania

And even truisms:

SnorgTees: Truism

SnorgTees: Truism

At $12 or so a pop, you could do well to nerdify your student wardrobe. They even acknowledge the student is a likely customer:

SnorgTees: Know your market

SnorgTees: Know your market

Funny Clothing Tags

27 06 2015

These web pages promising x of the funniest y you’ve ever seen are often disappointing, but I had to admit to sniggering at one or two of these supposedly genuine wash care labels from Bored Panda.

21+ Of The Funniest Clothing Tags Ever | Bored Panda.

Not at all sexist...

Not at all sexist…

Samsung’s ‘Safety Truck’ Shows The Road Ahead On Screen So Drivers Can Pass It | Bored Panda

22 06 2015

Cool marketing idea. Not sure if it will make much impact to road safety on Argentina’s roads though…

Full length advert on the Bored Panda web page below.

Samsung’s ‘Safety Truck’ Shows The Road Ahead On Screen So Drivers Can Pass It | Bored Panda.

Bored Panda: Samsung's Safety Truck

Go girl

5 06 2015

As a proud parent of 2 girls, I’m keenly aware of issues around education and sexual discrimination. Seems a young lady from here in BC has the same concerns and used her high school graduation dress as a cool piece of marketing to draw attention to the fact that not every girl in the world has ready access to education. For once, I am fully on board with a woman wearing clothes that scream “look at me”! The dress was made from old maths homework and the message on her dress reads: “I’ve received my education. Not every woman has that right.” Read more at DesignTaxi: Girl Uses Math Homework To Make Grad Dress, Helps Other Girls Go To School – DesignTAXI.com.

Source: DesignTaxi

Source: DesignTaxi

Fairy Tale Foodstuffs

28 04 2015

What do you get if you cross Vancouver’s creativity with the need to help the less fortunate with the daily basics of a good meal?

Canstruction! An annual competition to build art pieces out of (mainly) canned food around a theme. There’s a few venues around town each year. One is in the Four Seasons hotel, and I happened to see a couple of this year’s entries there last night.

Kudos Vancouver. An imaginative way to bring focus onto a real issue. Despite the wealth of our city, there are still people who struggle to put nourishing food on the table and this is a creative way to bring attention (and money) to it.

Canstruction 2015