On Fountain Pens

Since late in 2016, I’ve been writing long form drafts, note-taking and planning almost exclusively with fountain pens. I returned to writing drafts in long hand (as a respite from keyboard-related carpal tunnel) in 2012.

I already knew that I remembered notes I wrote by hand better than those I keyboarded. I’m not new to handwriting, but I quickly discovered that writing with a fountain pen was much easier on my hands than using gel or ballpoint pens.

With conventional pens, you’re physically moving the pen across the paper, and exerting force to move the “ball” so that it coats itself with ink, and transfers it to the paper. Because the pen needs to be impelled with some deliberate force to move, writers grip the pen, creating tension in the hand and arm, which often leads to writers cramp or dystonia.

With a fountain pen, the nib (the pointed metal object at the business end of a fountain pen) spreads the ink; the ink is liquid and the pen is inclined to glide across the paper with little force being needed. Moreover, the fountain pen’s tendency, because the ink is liquid, is to join letters, requiring less effort from the writer. Ball point pens, on the other hand, use thicker ink, and require more effort.

Other reasons to consider using a fountain pen, if the ease of writing alone doesn’t tempt you, include the enormous variety of inks; there are hundreds of shades and a number of different kinds of ink (permanent, archive quality, waterproof,  . . . ). If you sometimes need to draw or sketch a diagram or chart, a fountain pen can be a marvelous tool for sketching as well as writing. And, like other analog tools, fountain pens are extremely portable; if you’re not comfortable with the idea of carrying a bottle of ink with you, you can find ink cartridges for almost any fountain pen.

If you’re new to fountain pen writing, a fine point nib or even extra fine (rather than medium or broad or italic or stub) is usually easier to use and still produce legible writing. If you want to use bottled ink (it’s economical, environmentally kind, and there’s an enormous range of color options and ink types), make sure that the pen comes with a converter (an expensive device to fill a fountain pen with ink from a bottle) or that you can purchase one for that specific pen.

There are a number of economical options for those interested in trying writing with a fountain pen before buying a more expensive keeper. There are low-end pens that are $3.00 to $5.00 dollars each, including disposable fountain pens like the Pilot Varsity. The Platinum Preppy fountain is an affordable (c. $3.00) alternative to a disposable pen; it uses Pilot cartridges, so it’s refillable. There are also a wide range of reasonable pens that are under $30.00, like the Lamy Vista, the Lamy Safari, the TWSBI ECO, or the Pilot Metropolitan. These are perfectly good pens and will last for years.

You’ll have better results  with fountain pens if you use slightly better than average paper; a Mead 5 Star notebook is tolerable, but heavier weight paper (c. 70 gsm or better) will work better and you don’t have to break the bank.

Moreover, you’re not limited by the offerings at Amazon; check out the options at JetPens.com or The Goulet Pen Company, both of which offer reasonable “starter pens” and notebooks or pads of paper suitable for fountain pens.

Bullet Journal App

I’m still using my Bullet Journal® notebook, and Ryder Carroll has released a Bullet Journal app for iPhone, under the name Bullet Journal.app for $2.99. It’s available on iTunes or the app store.

It’s not an app that functions as a an actual journal, rather, it’s intended to help people set up their first Bullet Journal, and be a guide to getting the most out of a Bullet Journal. The internal name is Bullet Journal Companion, and that’s apt; it’s a companion for your analog notebook. The app was released in February of 2017, and while I downloaded it then, I wasn’t really impressed. There have been several updates, and a new feature, the Library, has been added, as of the version released on May 17, 2017.

When you launch the app, the first screen you see is a linked table of contents:

Reflection

The Reflection section is an exercise in mindfulness, as the Web page announcing the Bullet Journal Companion app notes:

Keeping track of what you need to be doing is important. Keeping track of why you’re doing those things is critical. Reflection will help keep you focused on the why through daily trackable reminders prompting you to unplug and review your notes.

The idea is that you set an AM and PM time to reflect each day on why you’re doing what you are doing. There are several inspirational quotations, and you can “log” or track the fact that you did in fact reflect by tapping a calendar date.  If you set up Notifications, the Bullet Journal Companion will remind you to reflect.  I’m not one to find this appealing, but others may.

Library

I think that the purpose of the Library is to allow you to use your iPhone’s camera to take photos of a BuJo® page, give the Bullet Journal app permission to use the photo, and then associate it with a specific journal, date range and one or more tags to create a digital index of sorts. The search function appears limited to tags, rather than actual contents. I suspect that there are plans to allow OCR or some better ways of locating data than tags; as it stands it’s not terrible useful, and it’s certainly not innovative (see for example EverNote or Moleskine notebooks and app or Baron Fig notebooks and Codex.app.

Articles

Most of the articles appear to be also available on the official BulletJournal Website, though I admit I can’t find the one on Reflection on the site. The articles are a useful resource, especially for those getting started.

Guide

The Pocket Guide is a version of the step by step setup guide Carroll wrote for his Website. It goes through the basics of creating your first bullet journal with a blank notebook. It’s quite useful in that respect, and much easier than trying to look at a Web site while you work. I would absolutely have found it helpful when I set up my bullet journal. It’s updated, by the way, when the app updates, but the content is local to your phone, which means you can use it without being connected to the ‘net.

 Store

This appears to be an overview of the Official Bullet Journal notebook, also sold from the Website, but it doesn’t appear to be an actual store in terms of being able to buy one from your iPhone.

The Guide has merit for those starting out, but not $2.99 worth. The free .pdf Starter Guide you can download when you subscribe to the Bullet Journal Newsletter is, in my mind, more helpful. I’m not outraged at spending $2.99, but the Bullet Journal Companion app strikea me as somewhat useless; it’s not going to stay on my phone.

Adding Week Numbers to Apple’s iCal

It is often helpful to know what week, out of the possible 52 weeks in a calendar year, a particular week is. Here’s how to tell Apple’s.app Calendar to show week numbers.
 

  1. Open Calendar.app(or iCal on earlier versions of macOS) on your Mac.
  2. Choose Preferences from the Calendar menu.
  3. Click Advanced in the Toolbar.
  4. Click the box to the left of Show week numbers.
  5. Close the window.
Advanced tab of the Preferences for Calendar.app on macOS

Now look at your Calendar. You’ll see gray week numbers along the left margin of your Calendar.

macOS Calendar with week numbers.

To display week numbers in Google’s Calendar see this post.

Adding Week Numbers to Google Calendar

It is often helpful to know what week, out of the possible 52 weeks in a calendar year, a particular week is. Here’s how to tell Google Calendar to show week numbers.

  1. Log on to your Google Calendar
  2. In the sidebar to the left, click the pop-up menu for Other calendars.
  3. Select Browse Interesting Calendars from the pop-up menu.
  4. On the top of the Interesting Calendars page, click More.
  5. Click Subscribe to the right of Week Numbers.
  6. Click the Back to Calendar link to see your calendar, now with small blue week numbers in the top right corner of every Monday, next to the time setting at the top of the calendar.
The arrow points to the week number. This is week 16.

To add week numbers in macOS / OS X’s iCal, see this post.

Spark by Ergodriven: A Better Way to Test A Standing Desk

When I first started experimenting with a standing desk, to see if it would work for me personally, I used odds and ends of household furniture two create two setups for test-driving standing desks.

But the Spark by Ergodriven is a much better option. It’s a flat-packed sturdy cardboard temporary lift, meant to be placed on an extant table or desk and thereby convert the furniture you already have to a standing desk. The Spark comes in threes sizes, allowing you to choose a desk suited to your height. It’s made out of surprisingly sturdy corrugated cardboard, and it’s pretty easy to assemble.

It’s also dirt cheap. Small Sparks for people under 5′ 4” or Medium Sparks for people 5′ 4” to 5′ 11 are $20.00 from Amazon; Large for people over 5′ 11” are $25.00. And because it’s flat-packed, it strikes me as something to consider if you do a lot of consulting that involves working from hotel rooms. You could have Amazon ship the Ergo Spark to your hotel, or stash it in your luggage and assemble it there. Most hotel rooms have a desk or table, and you can use the Ergo Spark to allow you to adjust your position from cramped and hunched, to standing.