PENS: Ballpoints I love

November 27, 2011 § 6 Comments

Photo by Cindy Jackson

I have to admit that office supplies fascinate me.  When I see office supplies displayed in a store, hanging in their tidy little bubble packs, my mind races with ideas of all the things I could produce, organize, and archive.  At home I have a drawer that is loaded with notebooks, clips, erasers, rulers, highlighters, markers, pencils, and pens.  I have a special affection for pens!

I recently read a blog post by Whimsy Dreams entitled Why I Steal Ink Pens.  Her honest description of her behavior prompted me to examine my own relationship with the ubiquitous pen.

As a child I learned to write with one of those fat pencils on grey paper with green lines that had a dotted line through the middle so you could see where the lower case and upper case letters should go.  Soon, I moved up to regular #2 pencils on wide ruled notebook paper.  Toward junior high school my teachers let me start writing with a pen.  I discovered that unlike pencils, there are many different kinds of pens.

Pens can be classified into four main categories:

  1. Fountain pens – Fountain pens are not commonly used today because they tend to be messy.  However, writing with a fountain pen is an elegant experience.  If you have never written with a fountain pen, try a Pilot Varsity and some good paper.  You won’t regret it.
  2. Ballpoint pens – Ballpoints are probably the most common pen on the market due to low price, durability, and versatility.  I find the ballpoint to be the only pen to be effective when filling out triplicate forms.  These are the unsung workhorses of the writing world.
  3. Roller ball pens – I find roller ball pens to be somewhere between a fountain pen and a ballpoint pen.  The writing experience is elegant and effortless, like a fountain pen, with the clean containment of an ink cartridge, like a ballpoint pen.
  4. Felt tip pen – Felt tips are almost a niche market.  A few manufacturers produce them.  Two I’m familiar with are the Paper Mate Flair pen and the Sharpie Pen.

For most uses I rely on a ball point pen.  There are three models that I have become particularly fond of.

Photo by Grant L. Jackson

BIC Cristal stick pen – My first experience writing with an ink pen was with a BIC Cristal.  It had a familiar size and shape, similar to a standard #2 pencil.  The ink supply is visible through its transparent hexagon shaped barrel.  I find it comforting to know how much ink I have to work with.  BIC makes the perfectly round ball out of tungsten steel and nestles it in a brass tip.  The ball is 1.0mm wide and deposits a 0.4mm line of ink on paper.  BIC claims the ink supply will last long enough to write a line for two kilometers.  That’s over a mile!  That’s a lot of writing for a 20 cent pen!

This is my favorite pen.  If I know I’m going to be writing for a while this is my tool of choice.  The writing experience is smooth and never scratchy.  Occasionally you need to wipe a glob of ink off of the tip but that’s a small price to pay for a comfortable pen.

Photo by Grant L. Jackson

Parker Jotter click retractable pen – While working as a correctional officer at the local county jail, I had to write my security checks on a clip board every half hour.  This documentation consisted of just a few characters.  There was a lot of taking the pen out of and putting the pen back into my shirt pocket.  It is that repetitive motion that makes this pen so satisfying.  The pocket clip on the Parker Jotter is strong enough to withstand years of pocket withdrawal and insertion without losing its spring tension.

Another noticeably satisfying feature of this pen is the click mechanism that deploys the ink cartridge.  There is an authoritative and distinct click sound that this pen makes when you push the retractor button in and slide your thumb off to the side.  Hollywood has recognized this distinct sound and has used it to their advantage.  Whenever you see an iconic “police officer writing a ticket” scene in a movie, you can bet she is wielding a Parker Jotter.

A third feature that makes this pen so popular with police officers is the capacity of the ink cartridge.  Parker does not advertise how long the ink will last but it seems to be forever.  Also, the ink cartridge is pressurized allowing the user to occasionally write on a vertical surface.  The standard ink cartridge is a high quality 1mm ballpoint.  As a side note, Parker offers a roller ball gel ink refill cartridge that transforms this $7 pen into a fine writing instrument.

This is my favorite pocket pen.  It is lightweight, sized to fit in a shirt pocket, rugged, and extremely reliable.  If you have a job that requires you to wear your name on your shirt, you need a Parker Jotter.

Photo by Grant L. Jackson

Cross Solo twist retractable pen – A wise man once told me, “A good businessman carries a handsome pen.  It sets you apart from the crowd.”  Since then I’ve had several fine writing instruments including brands like Montblanc, Waterman, Parker, Retro 51, and Cross.  I have sold most of those pens but I have kept my Cross Solo for over a decade.  When I want to make an impression, this is the pen I grab.

The design of the Cross Solo is simple and elegant with a black resin body and gold tone accents.  The twist mechanism is easy to manipulate with one hand and there is enough resistance that the tip does not retract while writing.  I once cracked the body somehow and sent it into the factory for repair under the lifetime warranty.  Cross returned it in like new condition with no questions asked.

This was not an expensive pen.  If I remember correctly, I paid about $20 for it new.  Cross introduced the Solo in 1995 and recently discontinued this model from their lineup.

There are several things I like about the Cross Solo.  It has a medium width body that comfortably fills the hand and lets you know your holding something.  The weight is balanced and is not too heavy to carry in a shirt pocket.  The ink refill screws into the body eliminating any rattles that often plague other retractable ballpoint pens.  Cross makes one of the smoothest ballpoints I have ever used.

My love of pens runs deep.  I posses an impractical amount of knowledge about my tools.  Even though I have my favorites, I still explore other writing tools looking for the “Holy Grail” of the writing world.  For example, I have heard a lot of buzz about how great the Sharpie Pen is.  What is all the hype about?  I will have to get one and see.

I do not lose pens.  I tend to keep them until they are completely empty.  Because I tend to switch pens fairly regularly, it can sometimes take years to use one up.  Other times I will feel like writing more and use one up in a couple of weeks.  There is something very satisfying about using a pen until it has written its last inch.  I feel like I have accomplished something.  Conversely, I get frustrated when a pen stops writing and I can see that there is still ink in it.

Do you have any quirky pen habits?  I welcome your comments on this post.


Vision and Communism

November 20, 2011 § 5 Comments

Vision and Communism - photy by Grant L Jackson

Today I visited the Vision and Communism display at The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.

This display features original art by the soviet artist and designer Viktor Koretsky (1909-1998).  Koretsky’s art features bold and powerful images that were often violent in nature.  As a communist, Koretsky saw the United States as the enemy and displayed this prominently in his art.  Other themes that were prominent include anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, anti-Nazism, apartheid, slavery, racism, and oppression.  These are not the kinds of images that had been presented to the public in western nations during the same time period.

From an artistic standpoint, Koretsky used several elements repeatedly in his art that brought unity to this display.  Typograhy was used in most of the images presented.  Phrases such as “imperialism is war” provided a basis for the meaning of the image.  These words were often shaped to almost hide among other shapes in the art.

Symbolism was frequently used.  Koretsky often used the dollar sign ($) to represent his view of the United States as economic imperialists.  The white hooded faces of clan members represent racism.  Chains represent slavery and bondage both literally and figuratively.  Lines of workers holding tools represent the unity and power of the working class.  Oppressors were often presented with traces of blood on their fingertips and boot.

Koretsky’s images were largely black and white with one or two accent colors.  The use of color served two purposes.  First, the limited use of color worked well with the lithographic printing of posters.  Second, the black and white portion of the image retained the emotion of the image while the accent color provided the drama.

While I anticipated that my visit to Koretsky’s art display would be interesting, I did not expect the emotions that the art evoked from me.  Most of the art that I have viewed in the past have been bright, colorful, and mostly cheery.  Koretsky’s art was dark and ominous.  I left the museum feeling sad for the history of the world.

As a people, we have not treated each other very well.  I am afraid this fact has not changed in modern times.  We still have war.  We still abuse, mistreat, and kill each other for power and economic gain.  I wonder if there will ever truly be peace on earth.

Occupy Kankakee

November 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

Occupy Kankakee Rally - photo by Grant L Jackson

In the October 9th edition of The Daily Journal, a local newspaper serving the Kankakee area, I read an article about a group that called themselves “Occupy Court Street”.  They claimed to be a local group following the national Occupy Movement that began on September 17th in New York City. On the date the article was written there were about 20 protesters present, according to The Daily Journal.

A quick Google search of “Occupy Court Street” proved fruitless.  On facebook I found an inactive page for “Occupy Court Street”.  I was unable to determine if this was the Kankakee group.

A Google search of “Occupy Kankakee” led me to the web address of:

This page included a calendar that listed a rally scheduled to be active in front of the Kankakee County Court House on November 20th, 2011.  I decided to stop by the rally to see what the protest was about.

I arrived at the Court House a little after 1pm.  There was no one there.  Assuming that the event had been cancelled, I headed home turning south on Schuyler Avenue.  I traveled one block when I saw a cardboard sign with the words “Occupy Kankakee”, handwritten, at the Schuyler Avenue Gazebo.  I pulled into the nearest parking lot to complete my task of fact-finding.

I approached a group of four adults who were gathered at the Gazebo.  I identified myself as a Media Communications student at Governors State University and asked if I could conduct a video interview regarding the rally.  Jerry Carter agreed to the interview and gave his permission to use it on the internet.  The interview is posted in it’s entirety on my YouTube page at 5020gj.

The only information I had about the occupy movement came from the mainstream media outlets on television and radio.  Those outlets have portrayed the protesters of the occupy movement as fairly radical extremists with an unclear purpose for their cause.

My interview with Jerry Carter showed a profile of a much different kind of activist.  Jerry is very clear about what he is unhappy about.  He was able to identify several occurrences of injustice within government and the corporate world.  If the reason he is protesting is to bring those injustices into public view, I think his cause is worthy.

My concern is the lack of participation within our community.  The city of Kankakee represents about 30,000 people in a county of about 100,000 people.  A showing of 4 to 20 people at a protest rally is unlikely to bring much attention to the cause.

On a national level I have another concern.  The occurrence of crime and violence at other Occupy locations seems to be on the rise.  The violence seems to be escalating on the part of protesters and police.  I surely hope that this trend does not grow in the future.

I am still not 100% clear on what the Occupy Movement stands for or what results are expected in the end.  But, based on my interview with Jerry, I can’t completely disagree with anything he said.

Grandma’s Kodak Brownie Camera

November 6, 2011 § 5 Comments

Elsie Jackson's Kodak Brownie

Elsie Jackson's Kodak Brownie camera

The Kodak Brownie camera was introduced in the year 1900 at a price of one dollar in the United States, a price that would equate to about $26 today. The Brownie was extremely popular due to its low price, ease of use, and portability. It was a simple no frills box camera that sold by the millions.

My Grandma, Elsie Jackson, owned a Kodak Brownie Junior six-20 with an art deco front face. This model was manufactured between the years of 1934 and 1942. I’m pretty sure my grandparents were married in 1934 so this camera may have been a wedding present. I’m speculating and would love to know the real story of how she obtained it.

Unmodified snapshot of Leonard and Elsie Jackson 1961

Leonard and Elsie Jackson 1961

Grandma took many pictures with her Brownie over the years. Most of them were taken from her front porch. The porch gave her good lighting as the Brownie didn’t have the capability of using a flash bulb. Most of her pictures were static portraits of family and friends. She also took pictures of new cars, tractors and motorcycles that her family had acquired. Occasionally she took pictures of interesting things that were happening outside, usually from the perspective of the porch. Grandma kept her Brownie on a shelf, in the closet by the front door, so she always knew where it was when she wanted to take a picture.

I remember Grandma taking pictures with her Brownie as late as the 1970’s. I don’t know if she got a different camera after that or if she lost interest in photography but there are fewer pictures in her remaining photo albums after that decade.

Grandma took her photography seriously. She meticulously set up and framed her shots to make sure the final picture would turn out well. The Brownie used film that only offered eight exposures. I will never forget the look of satisfaction she had when she took a picture. She was documenting her life and that pleased her.

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