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February 2010: Working Pens Update

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • A little personal update for those who have followed this quite breezy and whimsical column for the last eight years: I got me an office job after 12 years of home-based freelance writing. It was one of those offers too good to refuse, from what looks to be a solid publishing company in an economy that is crushing publishing companies left and right. Wish me luck!

Which brings me to the first topic of this month’s column: What pens work best at work? In the course of our “carry it or keep it home safe” discussions over the last two months, reader Jon Rosen brought up this side issue.

[I] never owned a Pilot beyond a couple nice Capless/Vanishing Points. Have to say, based on my Custom 823 experience, they are every bit as well built as my beloved Pelikans, and perform just as well. Extra Fine Points

“When I go to business meetings, I usually bring something conservative, like a black Aurora 88 with silver trim,” Rosen says.

I’m quickly coming around to Rosen’s point of view; in the past dozen years, I was the cool freelancer guy coming in to clients’ offices for planning meetings, year-end editorial audits, interviews and contract signings. For those occasions, my pens were a little flashy, like a Strawberry Bexley America The Beautiful or some of the more insanely patterned Wearever plastic pens from the 1940s.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

But now, I don’t want to stick out too much. I also don’t want inky messes, which my vintage Vacumatics and even Targas — which unmercifully spew in the cap or on paper at the end of the cartridge or converter fill — did at key times in past office situations. Fellow Targamanic Bill Sexauer would likely disagree with me; in recent emails he confided that he’s got no problem toting four figures’ worth of them into the office. I guess the key with Targas, which otherwise fit perfectly into the office environment without drawing too much attention, would be to have an inked-up backup for when your primary writer gets a little frisky at the end of its converter run.

Recently, I scored a Pilot Custom 823. It’s perfect for the office, for the same reasons Mike Stevens liked it in his 2005 Stylophiles review: It doesn’t jump out at you from across the room, yet it’s got some features of high-class vintage pens collectors love, such as a visible ink supply, big No 15 size gold nib, massive ink capacity with a plunger-filling system, and rock-solid writing qualities.

Fountain pen

Between the Custom 823’s ink capacity — in contrast, cartridges and converter pens have so little, they require too much care and feeding in an office environment, at least for me — and its writing performance, it’s nothing short of ideal. It’s also got enough classic-pen features that it won’t bore me, which at times modern fountain pens do. Never owned a Pilot beyond a couple nice Capless/Vanishing Points. Have to say, based on my Custom 823 experience, they are every bit as well built as my beloved Pelikans, and perform just as well, too.

PULSE PEN UPDATE: In April and June of 2009, I wrote about the LiveScribe Pulse Pen, a ballpoint that records conversations/meetings and plays them back, keyed to the notes you’ve taken while recording. The “pencast” we did featuring Richard is perhaps the strongest element of the Pulse pen, automatically porting of the notes/sound component to Adobe Flash, uploaded to the web in one click and ready to share with the world just like we post photos to Facebook.

Ballpoint pen

I’ll be taking mine on the road to a couple trade shows in the next month, doing interviews for stories I will need to write in my hotel room or on the convention grounds. Will report back on how effective the Pulse pen works, as I attempt to more efficiently process the news and information gathered and create more content in less time than with my trusty old Olympus DSS-2000 voice recorder and its companion dictation software.

My point? A lot of new electronic devices and, it seems a lot of new pens are all flash and no cash. All theory, no practice. They’re nice, but when it comes down to using them, they’re not terribly functional. If the Pulse pen outperforms my current article-writing system — and because I can tailor my note taking to the pen’s software features, it’s got a good shot — that’s a pretty exciting development.

Before, I’d seen the Pulse pen as a way to quickly publish audio interviews on the web; in this new use case, I’m trying to do what other, more cutting-edge journalists have already accomplished — integrating it into the workflow and saving actual time. How often can you say this about a pen? Usually it’s the other way around: The pen gets in the way of productivity.

Pulse Pen accessories and paper products also have made their way into Target stores since I last wrote about it, too, making it convenient to restock paper (when you’re not printing your own for free, which Pulse Pen users can do) and expand your Pulse Pen empire by, say, getting extra USB cables and a mobile charger so you can use it at work, home, and on the road. Even I, at times parsimonious to a fault, dropped a Ulysses S. Grant on LiveScribe stuff last night upon the discovery of its availability.

Before the rumors get circulating, I’ll say no, I’m not in LiveScribe’s back pocket. I just am impressed with the product. The longer I own my Pulse pen, the more uses I see for it. As a collector and writer, I’ve overjoyed to have more excuses to step away from the IM, text messaging, computer keyboard and Palm … and pick up a pen. Pulse gives me that opportunity.

cover Further Reading: Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work, by Marie G. McIntyre
Need a little extra boost on the corporate ladder? Here’s your book.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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