Pencil of the Week: an analogue pencil “blog”

Growing up, I was a little punk rocker with a bad, green haircut. I got through middle school — e.g. the worst period in any child’s life — thanks to NOFX’s live album, “I Heard They Suck Live”. The first time I slapped that baby into my Discman, it was like everything came into focus. I learned that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to take everything so seriously. You can do whatever it is you love without anyone else’s permission or approval.

The punk rock ethos — the magic bullet that helped me find self-esteem and stop hating life — extended beyond the musical medium and into print, in the form of the Zine. The do-it-yourself print periodical, usually in the form of half-fold, letter-sized, staple-bound photocopy booklets, was closely aligned with the punk rock scene in those days, although today the format seems to have proliferated far beyond the confines of that subculture and exists anywhere aspiring and resourceful analogue journalists have the initiative (and a job with a well-stocked, poorly-guarded Xerox machine).

Fast forward twenty years, and here I am writing a blog about pencils. Pencils! At first glance, that may not seem very punk rock, and the irony of opining about analogue writing tools in a decidedly non-analogue format is not at all lost on me. Thankfully, fellow pencil lover (and, I’m proud to say, Triple-P reader) Ed has managed to resolve these contradictions by publishing the Pencil of the Week Zine.

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Pencil Review: Staedtler Noris (HB)

This is a review that’s been a long time coming. That’s because the Staedtler Noris pencil is so prolific, all over the world — except in North America, for some reason. In Europe, though, the Noris seems to be equivalent to our Dixon Ticonderoga: the go-to pencil 90% of the time. During my recent travels on the Iberian peninsula, I found it harder than expected to locate pencils in general, with the Noris being the one exception. If a shop carried any pencils at all, odds were good that they were Staedtler Noris pencils available in several grades from a display at the check-out counter.

Part of the reason I waited so long to review this pencil — despite the urging of Matthias at Bleistift to write about this favorite of his — is that I knew I’d find some on my trip, therefore it wasn’t a priority to mail-order something I’d likely be able to procure in person. And procure I did! I made sure to grab a few each of several grades. So today I’m going to start the process of writing one of what will hopefully be several reviews of the Staedtler Noris pencil, starting with the obvious place: the HB grade model.

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My 2020 DIY Address Book

As a lover of pencils and analogue writing, I’m obviously a fan of taking the time to write snail mail. I’m all for e-mail or a quick text, but there is something special — even more so these days, given the prevalence of electronic messaging — about taking the time to write a letter or card. In order to do so, you need addresses; and in order to keep your addresses straight, you need somewhere to keep them.

Toward the end of every year, I do two things. I update my Rolodex, which is a neat and tidy place where I keep all of my addresses organized and in one central location. Then I make a new address book, so I have a portable version. However, it’s pretty hard to find an address book that I like, which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg — and anyway, considering how few people there are that actually want paper mail these days, most commercial options are overkill. So, what to do?

I get all punk rock and DIY it, of course.

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Pencil Review: Rite Aid Yellow Barrel Pencils

Sometimes I really enjoy scraping the bottom of the pencil barrel. That’s just kind of my approach to life in general; sure, you can drop big bucks on something and know it’s going to be good, or you can experiment and try to find a deal. I enjoy the process of finding diamonds in the rough. And let’s be honest — most people aren’t going to throw down two bucks a pop for a pencil. Sometimes you just need to grab something to write with in a hurry. Sometimes you’ve gotta outfit kids with enough pencils to make it through a school year on a budget. Those situations make it useful to be able to sort the affordable pencils from the cheap pencils. And anyway, what’s the point of writing reviews of things that everyone already knows are good?

That’s why I grabbed a box of Rite Aid “Yellow Barrel” No. 2 pencils on one of my recent trips to Seattle. We don’t have Rite Aid here in the frozen north, so I’ve actually never used one of these (to the best of my knowledge). And a box of them comes with a whopping twenty pencils. I did hesitate for a minute before making the buy — they aren’t the most inspiring subjects. But, what the hell? Let’s get weird. Here comes a review of Rite Aid’s no-name number two.

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The Alpino Junior, revisited

Thanks to a great and informative comment from reader Raúl, I have some more information on the Alpino Junior pencil, which I recently reviewed. You might recall that I speculated about the different aesthetic qualities of the barrel, as well as the wood that composes the casing, between the eraser-tipped version and the dipped one. Raúl ‘s comment sheds some more light on that question.

Apparently, Alpino pencils — previously manufactured in Catalonia — are now made in China. I’m assuming that the transition from Europe to Asia likely corresponded to a change in wood, and aesthetic design. Also worth noting is that the eraser-tipped version clearly displays “SPAIN” as its country of origin, while the dipped one is silent on the issue. I’m guessing that I picked up models of the pencil produced both before and after the transition from Catalonia to China.

It’s awesome to be able to put together a more detailed and accurate story of the Alpino Junior pencil. At the same time, I’m a little bummed that they’re no longer made in Spain. I have nothing against things made in China, but part of the fun of this blog is trying to scrounge up pencils from all over the world, and it’s getting harder to find ones that aren’t made in China. Mixed feelings. Anyway. Thanks for listening to my TED talk.

Thanks Raúl!

Pencil Review: Mitsubishi 9825EW (HB)

When you live in Alaska, you end up spending a lot of time in Seattle. It’s just kind of the way it goes: unless you want to drive for several days through rural northwest Canada, going anywhere usually involves flying, and Seattle happens to be the most easily-accessible major city/airline hub from Anchorage. Flights between the two cities are frequent and — if you’re willing to fly at 3 a.m. — cheap. More often than not, Seattle is the go-to whether you are connecting to another flight to points beyond, or just need to go somewhere to “get outside” for a while. On top of all that, the Polar Pencil Partner’s parents just moved to Seattle from back East, so needless to say we are regular weekenders in the Jet City.

We just took a long weekend in Sea-town, and ironically, I brought a pencil back that I’d purchased there months ago: the Mitsubishi (or is it Mitsu-Bishi?) 9825EW, graded HB. Given the prominence of Japanese-American culture in the city, it just seemed like an appropriate pencil to carry around town, so I sharpened up the 9825EW (a variant of the more traditional 9825 “standard” version) and gave it a whirl.

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Notebook Review: Rifle Paper Co. Graph Notepad

As you may know, I’m an engineer in my “day job” profession. I’ve been doing it for a while now, but I remember way back in my undergraduate studies learning that there is actual engineering paper. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s basically really fancy graph paper. It’s only grid-ruled on the back side, although when you write on a pad of it you can see the grids through to the front; but when you scan or copy it, they aren’t visible. It’s usually tinted green or yellow, and it has boxes at the top so you can write whatever header info you want. It’s drilled into undergrads’ heads that you absolutely positively do all hand-written work on this paper, no matter what. Even if that sounds ridiculous — and even if the cost of a pad of the stuff is even more ridiculous — it’s still somehow ingrained in my psyche, years later.

When I saw the Rifle Paper Co. Graph Notepad out of the corner of my eye at Metro Cooks a while back, you know damn well I impulse-bought the hell out of it. It’s like engineering paper…in tiny notepad form! What better scribble pad for my desk? A few months have passed, but I have finally decided to unwrap the pad and take it for a spin. Here’s my take on it…

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Pencil Review: DOMS X1

The first thing I did when I rolled into the office this Monday was pick out a new pencil to test. I poked around a little bit through my cheap big-box pencils. I picked up a few Japanese ones. Then, it occurred to me…it’s been a little bit since I’ve tried out a pencil from India. Ah! We have a winner: the DOMS X1.

This ungraded pencil has been sitting in my stash for a while. Somehow I accidentally ordered two boxes, so not only will this review satisfy any readers particularly interested in pencils from India, but it will also clear two boxes out of the to-review drawer (which has actually overflowed onto the top of my desk and could probably occupy two drawers now). It’s a win-win. So, without further ado, let’s find out of the DOMS X1 itself is a win…

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