Sunday, February 18, 2007

Who killed 'Inspector Gadget' or how gadgets were taken over by gizmos ...

This will only be a short post since there is not a lot to say - the status of our "future gadgets" is bleak :(

The problem is part of our 'human nature' - unfortunately most people are shallow and not very smart - and as a result the dumb, shallow, expensive and 'obsolete even before launch' products are winning over the smarter products ... the victory of marketing over technology :(

So when buying your next gizmo keep that in mind and vote with your wallet!!!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Geek tools ... for a pre-computer notepad :)

There are all sorts of jokes about how you know that you spend too much time on a computer when you tend to push a scroll button on real paper, or that you know you are old when you still remember that initially spam was meat and the ultimate geek tool was a pocket protector - well, back then writing on paper with a hand-writing tool was pretty much the only widespread way of taking notes and writing tools were very cool.

Today handwriting is almost a defunct art but that is unfortunate since the advance in technology has brought to acceptable price levels some very amazing writing tools - and this post will be a short review of some of the coolest that you can find at a decent price - but when I say cool I mean 'with a great technical merit' and not 'so incredibly expensive that will make you feel special' - if you search for a justification on buying some hugely overpriced piece of marketing - be it a Rolex, an Apple product or a MontBlanc gold pen - then you have landed on the wrong blog!

One recent (but not so great) idea was that you can "Save $200 in 2 minutes and have the worlds best writing pen" - not a bad thing to try, but the Mont Blanc refill itself is rather expensive, is normally intended to be used on a capped pen and there are many other better alternatives - the very first in line are the Pilot gel refills themselves (shown as the inferior choice on the article above only since the price is much lower, but unlike the roller refill it will also survive for a long time uncapped) - overall good, inexpensive and widely available!

However the main competitor to Pilot is UniBall - distributed by Sanford in US - and you can find some very cool stuff in their (very long, not all available with Sanford) product list - this post might help you with some details on why some models might fit better in some conditions and so on ...

First a word on ergonomics - I personally love a writing tool that is THICK and HEAVY - none of the inexpensive 'uniballs' are heavy enough (and for an alternative see at the end of the article) but most of them are thick enough - but people that like very thin pens might not be happy with the same choices as mine ...

Another matter of taste vs. convenience vs. technical limits is 'click vs. capped' - most people (including myself) agree that a 'click pen' is more convenient but I really like better capped pens - I always place the cap on the non-writing end when I use the pen so I never loose it and it makes the pen a tad heavier, and capped pens can NEVER leak in your pocket and will not dry out when properly capped!!!

Some of the best clickable pens from UniBall (that I have tried so far) are the 207/Signo series and the RT (retractible) PowerTanks.

The Signo/207 series will use gel-based refills and some consider them better (and less washable) than the Pilot G2 refills. The standard tip is 0.7 mm - which combined with the gel ink generates a good line width - but many people favors the "micro" tip - 0.4 or 0.5 mm I believe. I have not yet tried the Limited and Premiere versions - which might be heavier and a better fit for my taste - but anyway the ergonomics are decent.

The PowerTanks are an amazing feat by themselves - it's the japanese (UniBall is from Mitsubishi) version of the Fisher space pen - it will write in unusual positions (or zero gravity, but I have not tested that myself :) ) and will work on rather heavy conditions - as far as I know there are two possible tips (1.0 and 0.7 mm, but the actual line width is more like 0.4 and 0.3 mm) , 3 colors and click/capped versions - I find the 0.7 tip too thin but the 1.0 black capped version is my personal choice for writing in unusual positions or conditions!!! However the PowerTank is NOT the ultimate smooth writing tool - actually even the 1.0 Powertank tip is less smooth than the 0.7 tip of the gel Signo/207 and also not as permanent (but will dry quicker and will work in any position).

Even smoother than the gel pens are the rollers - Vision Elite is very smooth (and the main marketing point is that it will not leak in planes at high altitudes) - but the 0.7 mm (normal) tip will generate a rather wide line (and it will not dry very fast) while the 0.5 mm (micro) tip is a tad less smooth when you write at certain angles - still good, but my personal gripe with the Vision Elite line is that it's rather thin for my personal writing style ...

My personal favorites so far from the UniBall product line are the Jetstreams - the 1.0 mm tip writes with a very usable line width and with two nice features - incredibly smooth AND incredibly fast drying !!! The grip is better than the Vision Elite (and it looks even better on the Jetstream RT, but I have not tested that one ... yet) and it seems it might also be the favorite writing tool for left-handers :) Ideally a metal Jetstream RT might be my ultimate choice - but that one does not exist ... so far :)

However my non-proprietary overall favorite for the moment is an ergonomic no-name metal pen (something similar to this or this but with a better color) - it is using Parker-style refills (including gel refills - which are very smooth, and normal ink ballpoint refills - which can be FAR cheaper and write longer but are not as smooth and permanent) and the ergonomic grip plus decent weight make for a very pleasant and easy writing!