Posted in Featured, Pens, Product Reviews, Writing

Visconti Mirage

Visconti Mirage, Coral Red, B Nib – Overall: 7.4/10

I’m not sure I qualify as a Visconti junkie, but I’m not far off.  I don’t make a point to buy every Visconti I can, but over the years I’ve collected many of the popular models–and a couple of the very limited pens are the highlights of my collection. This wasn’t a conscious decision–I guess the designers at Visconti speak to my definition of beauty.  So when I saw there were some new pens coming out in 2018-19 I was certainly keeping an eye out.  The Mirage is the first of these new pens, and over the holidays, I kept my eyes open for good deals, and I was able to pick up the Visconti Mirage for just under $100US. It is my 16th Visconti.

This is a review of the Mirage–not a comparison–but since this pen is so new, I’ve included some comparisons to two popular Visconti Pens–the Rembrandt, and the Van Gogh (modern).  I’ve chosen these because, taken as a group, the Mirage, Rembrandt and Van Gogh represent the lowest cost pens from Visconti’s lineup, and they all come with steel nibs.

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From that chart you can see that the three pens are roughly the same size and weight.  There’s nothing surprising about this, and most pens that aren’t described as pocket pens or oversized pens are probably roughly in this range, but as this is a new design and a new material–this specific acrylic–it’s worth noting how it sizes up to similar pens.

Since I received the pen a couple of months ago, I’ve had it inked up–more or less continuously–with 4 different inks, each from a different ink manufacturer.  So it’s safe to say I gave the pen a thorough test.  I did have two problems with the pen–one was cosmetic and one dealt with flow–which are detailed below, in the appropriate sections.  Both were fixed quickly, and for free, though they did affect the score.

Appearance: 8/10

The beauty of the Visconti pens was one of the things that drew me to them years ago.  The Homo Sapiens is one of the few basic black pens that I’ve ever found beautiful, and the acrylics of the Van Gogh pens are just gorgeous.  The acrylic of the Visconti Mirage, while not as gorgeous as it’s pricier cousins, is still quite nice, with a depth that is usually reserved for pens that are more expensive.

It seems they’re also trying out some different pen shapes this year.  The body is slightly faceted–three facets, alternating between three non-facets. When closed the Mirage has a slight bulge at the middle that looks quite nice.  And when open there is a large step from the barrel width down to the section, but they’ve smartly moved this narrowing back so no matter where on the section you hold the pen, the step shouldn’t be a problem.  However, when the pen is posted I think the bulge makes the overall profile look a bit strange–something I’ve noticed with all of Visconti’s newly announced pens.  Since I don’t post my pens, it doesn’t really matter to me, but it might to you.

Two significant changes–compared to the older Viscontis–are the clip and the MyPen finial

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I’ve heard so many complaints about the Visconti Bridge Clip that it’s become white noise.  Mention Visconti and someone will complain about the clip.  I’ve never had a problem with it.  But with the Mirage, Visconti has redesigned it.  As you can see the clip now extends up and over the cap of the pen (actually it did in the older pens, too, but that was covered up by the finial).  There are some other changes to the clip that I’m not completely up on, but I’ve heard that some people think there’s an improvement and some don’t.  I didn’t have a problem with the old one, nor do I have a problem with this one.

They’ve also moved the MyPen finial from the top of the cap, to the end of the barrel.  I have mixed feelings about this move.  One one hand, now when I write–unposted–I get to see the finial.  So that’s great.  However, when it’s in my display case, in my carry case, I don’t see it at all.

The acrylic feels great, and I like that the metal sections of the Rembrandt and Van Gogh have been replaced with the acrylic section.  The magnetic cap now has three channels that keep the cap from spinning when the pen is closed, and these grooves are placed so they don’t interfere with the writing.

It’s a pretty pen–if not as beautiful of some of the more expensive pens are, and as far as looks go, I’m happy.

Construction: 9/10

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The pen looks and feels well-made.  The magnetic cap closes firmly and there very little wiggle–and when it’s closed the facets on the body line up with the facets on the cap.  The clip, and various rings are secure and look nice.  The acrylic is well machined, with no flaws.  And everything joins together without risk of cross-treading.  Especially at this price point, there are few pens this well-made.

I did, however, have one problem–which is why I scored this a 9 and not a 10.  The first pen I got had a chip in the little raised lip around the MyPen finial.  I noticed it when I was taking pictures for the first draft of this review.  When I contacted Coles of London, this was fixed quickly, and free of charge (shipping, too).  Even top-line products occasionally arrive broken, or cracked or chipped, and since it was fixed, and since I have not heard of other Mirages that arrived with imperfections, I don’t want to give this one defect too much weight, however the type and placement of the damage makes me think that the chip came from being dropped during production or packaging, and simply wasn’t caught, and it worries me that this material may chip easily. Past models in this range have usually has metal ends–I’m sure partly for aesthetics–but it’s also helped protect an at-risk part of the pen…and the Mirage doesn’t have that metal end.

Filling: 6/10

20190105_2129038 is my default score for a Cartridge/Converter system, where the end of the section is smooth, making it easy to wipe off after filling.  The Mirage meets this criteria.  So why is it a 6?  The pen shipped with the wrong converter.  It should ship with a threaded converter but it shipped with a non-threaded.  The problem is, the threads are inside a little metal collar so I didn’t know I had the wrong converter.  When I tried to fill it I got a lot of bubbles, and when giving the pen a test drive it ran dry after about 3/4 page of text.  After some looking I thought maybe I had a bad converter and I contacted Coles of London.  They told me the wrong converter has been included and sent a replacement for free.  Since then I’ve filled the pen 3 times and wrote the converter empty with no problems.  So once you have the right converter it’s fine, but I’ve read comments from other people who also got the wrong converter, so this is, to some degree, a repeated issue.  My guess is this is a new-product-glitch and will work itself out quickly, but it’s an issue you need to watch out for.

Nib: 6/10
20181228_161712The nib is first–and only real problem with the Mirage. This nib represents a new nib for the Visconti line.  Frankly I loved the old #5 Visconti nibs.  For me, they were the benchmark for #5 steel nibs.  I even got my hands on two of the #6 steel and fitted them into other-branded pens, with fantastic results.

This nib is–I’m guessing–a #4, because it’s a little smaller than the #5.  It’s also plainer.  The engraving leans away from Florentine and toward Art Deco (I’m aware that I’m taking wild guesses at the correct names for artistic styles.). There’s also an odd coding system–above the word Visconti there is one circle for a F, two for a M, and three for a B–which is redundant because F, M or B is engraved under the word Visconti.

So far this is superficial stuff.  However, because the nib is smaller, it’s less flexible.  It never was a flex nib by any stretch, but there was some flexibility to the longer tines.  It’s what I loved about the Visconti steel nibs.  They were always Bock nibs, but they were manufactured to specs that differentiated them from other Bock nibs.  These?  Meh.  They’re certainly not bad, and I have plenty of steel nibs that don’t measure up to these.  But they’re nothing special.  And why?  The existing #5 nibs were awesome.  And because this is a different size nib, I won’t be able to switch out my own #5 steel nib.

Test Drive: 8/10

Because of the problems I had with the pen at the beginning, I gave it a much more thorough test drive than I normally do for a review. If I’m being honest, I was trying to make it fail, because if it was going to have another problem I wanted to know about it now, rather than later.  After 3 complete converters, writing normal speed and as fast as I could (just making squiggles) the pen performed wonderfully.  No skipping, the feed kept up with whatever speed I threw at it, and the B nib was wet without gushing or clumping.  Every time the pen ran dry I opened it up knowing I was going to find a full converter….but, nope….empty converter…everything’s good.

The weight and size of the pen is good for extended sessions.  I might have scored it a 9 (or even higher) if it had that good ol’ #5 Visconti steel nib.

Overall: 7.4/10

So what do you expect for $127US.  I expect decent materials, but good usability–because for that price, I’m hoping for a solid EDC.  The Visconti fits that bill, and also manages to be prettier that many of not most of the pens in this range.  It’s an easy pen to use, so it would be fine as an entry-level pen, or someone’s first foray into the World of Visconti, then it’s probably not a pen that’s meant to fall in love with.  I like the Rembrandt better–mostly because of the nib–but the Mirage is less expensive.

For $127 I expect a good pen, but not a great pen.  And that what the Visconti Mirage is.

Posted in Featured, Pens, Product Reviews

My Review of a Minty Edison Collier

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I’ve wanted an Edison Pen for quite some time. Not only does Brian Grey have a reputation as an excellent craftsman, but to my eyes his designs are quite beautiful. But I had a good bit of trouble finding the Edison pen that was for me. A couple of years ago I got one of the first seasonal editions of the Nouveau Premiere; and while I liked the pen quite a lot, it smelt of burnt plastic and it never seemed to dissipate (I still don’t know if the smell was specific to that one pen or to that particular material). I was able to recoup almost all of what I paid for it, but I was still left without an Edison.

I used the money from the sale of that pen to commission a custom Extended Mina, but during the long wait I read some online reviews and found a small aspect of the pen that soured it for me (most people don’t seem to care much about the feature, but the pen world is full of people who are OCD about their pens, and I’m no exception) so I converted my custom order into an outright purchase–an Edison Menlo.

I reeeeeeeeeally wanted to like the Menlo, but that one just wasn’t the pen for me.  I’m not sure if the pen was defective or if my warm hands just aren’t compatible with eye-dropper or large capacity fill systems.  But Brian let me return the pen for a refund/credit, and I was back to trying to find the right pen for me.  Ultimately I decided on the Collier, in part because of it’s large size, but also because I liked the shape.  After picking my material Brian graciously put me at the front of the design queue, so it wasn’t too long until I had the pen in my hands.

Here are my thoughts on the Edison Collier in Translucent Mint Swirl with a steel 1.1mm stub nib.

spoilerI may not get to keep this one either. My wife, who is generally partial to very thin, very light pens has already hinted that, while this pen is huge, I shouldn’t panic if I notice it missing.

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Note: for the first 2 sections, which concern the Edison Pen Company and not the pen, I will provide comment but not a score, as only the pen categories are scored.

Design/Ordering Process: Not scored
The website is good, not great.  It’s a clunkier experience than most pen sites you’re used to.  If you’re ordering a custom pen, that’s fine, because you probably don’t want to build your pen through a series of dropdowns–you want to talk to the guy who’s going to put it on the lathe.  But for the person who sees what he wants while scrolling through the inventory, they’d probably want to just drop that in their cart and checkout.

Also, the site is divided up onto different domains, which ads to the clunky feel.  It’s definitely nice to able to scroll through all those pictures of current pens, past pens, pen materials, etc, but if you’re deciding what you want that can mean a lot of jumping back and forth between the main site and the picture album site.

However, it’s a huge plus to be able to see all those pen pictures.  Without them I never would have landed on this model or this material.  None of this was enough of a bother to stop me from ordering a pen, and truthfully I think we’d all rather Brian spend his time making pens instead of working on his website, but if he’s got someone to do his website for him, it could use some updating.

Customer Service: Not scored
If you read the intro above, you’ll know that I had a lot of communication with Brian during the months that I was in the queue for a custom pen, then waiting for my Menlo, then waiting for a repair, then back in the queue.  During this time, Brian was always ready to assure me that he wouldn’t be happy until I was happy.  And based on the time he spent on my problems, I believe him.

If I had one knock in this area it’s that communication can sometimes take a while.  Edison Pens isn’t a one man operation, but it all revolves around Brian making a custom item in a niche market.  So when he goes on vacation, production basically stops.  When he’s out email doesn’t necessarily stop, but you’re likely to get a personal response that tells you Brian’s on vacation, and you’ll get an answer when he’s back.  Likewise, if he’s headed to a pen show you may have to wait a few days as well.  I don’t begrudge Brian these breaks, but if you’re going to order from him you’ll need to understand that when you want something from a craftsman you can’t expect factory-like production times.

edison_axisAppearance: 10/10
This is a seriously sexy pen.  Part of that stems from the material I picked, and I’ll get to that, but it’s the shape of the pen I like best.  This is not a small pen, and many of the oversize pens I’ve used either make the barrel straight, or go a little overboard with giving it some curves.  I like the gentle lines of this giant.  And yes, the material is awesome.  It’s a little frustrating to look at the pictures because I just don’t have the photography skills to show off this material; but my wife hit the nail on the head when she said it looks like the glassy-swirl marbles so many of us has when we were kids.  It looks so nice my other pens are getting jealous–I haven’t touched another pen since I first inked this one.

Construction: 10!/10
There is part of me that wants to score this an 11, but I respect math too much to do that.  Instead I’ll give it a 10 with a bang (that’s an exclamation point for you non-programmer/not grammar nerds).  There are essentially two aspects to the construction score–there’s the design and then the execution of the design.

With the Collier, as good the execution of the design is, it’s the design itself that makes this pen so special.  The seam at the clip, where the cap meets the finial, is so smooth I can only detect it with my fingernail when carefully looking for it.  The finished surfaces are smooth, inside and out, I can see through the pen with no distortion.

But as I said, the design is what makes this pen special.  It’s a pretty big pen–bordering on huge.  It’s longer than my Homo Sapiens, Cosmos, Al-Star, Van Gogh Maxi, Franklin-Christoph 02, and even my Newton Gibby; and as thick or thicker than all of them.  But even with all that size, it has a relatively normal-sized grip, and it’s fairly light (30g overall, 20g without the cap).  The curves help give the pen a great balance–a tiny bit front heavy.

One note about the design:  The pen does not post.  At all.  Once upon a time this would have been a deal-breaker for me, but in the last couple of years I’ve completely stopped posting my pens.

Filling: 8/10
8 is my default score for a Cartridge/Converter system, where the end of the section is smooth, making it easy to wipe off after filling.  The converter is the default system for this design.  You can pay extra to switch to a bulb filler, or pump system, but I stuck with the converter–I might have paid extra for a piston fill, but that wasn’t offered.

edison_nibNib: 7/10
I went with the steel 1.1mm stub.  I like this nib, I don’t love it.  It’s a little too rounded for my taste–generally I lean toward a slightly rounder stub, rather than crisp, but even for me this one is too rounded. I’m not sure how much control Brian has over that, as he gets his nibs from JoWo.  Brian does tune the nibs he sells, and this nib is certainly smooth and wet enough for my taste.

As nice as it is, it’s nothing special, and I’ll be looking to upgrade this nib soon.  I might send this one off to a nibmeister for some shaping and a little added flex, or I might try to source a higher quality #6 nib to replace this one.  I wonder if Visconti makes any steel #6 nibs.

Gold nibs are available from Edison, but I’m less enamored of gold nibs than the fountain pen population at large.

Test Drive: 9/10
The whole point of a pen is how it writes. Everything else is prologue. Can I write with the damned thing? Can I write for hours? When I clean out my pens and decide to ink up 3 of them, will my heart reach for the Edison Collier?

This pen has been constantly inked since it came in the mail.  I’ve filled it will Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, and Caran d’Ache Vibrant Green, two inks I use often and am very familiar with.  I’ve burned through at least 15 full pages with each ink, and the thickness combined with the light weight results in remarkably little hand fatigue.  I enjoy writing with this pen a lot.

Overall: 8.8/10
8.8. That’s a bit lower than I expected going in.  But if I’m able to source a high-quality replacement nib, or get my nib-guy to work his magic, the score could come all the way up to 9.6.

I have a feeling the Edison Collier will get a lot of use.

Posted in Looking Back, Politics, Society

10 Years of Project 2,996

Project 2,996 was created back in 2006. So, even though it’s not yet 10 years old, this will be the 10th 9/11 where I have encouraged others to remember these people not by rehashing their very public deaths, but by learning about their lives.

I’ll freely admit when the idea came to me that I didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. In fact, until right before 9/11 I actually had the information contained on a single page of my existing blog. Then on 9/11 so many people visited my website–to see the list and follow the links–that I used up all my allotted traffic before I even woke up. I had trouble getting my site back up because every time my webhost tried to bring it back up a flood of incoming traffic immediately took it back down. Thankfully, some of the other participants put up mirrors of the list. That first year, even though my site was down for more than 12 hours, my webhost logged more than 2 million incoming requests.

However, what shocked me was how many people were willing to sign up to learn about–and write about–someone they never met.

This year–as I always do–I invite you to learn about those killed on 9/11.

Posted in Uncategorized

Gone But Not Forgotten

Almost everything that I wrote more than fifteen years ago no longer exists.  The box containing my old notebooks and any school assignments I’d deemed worth saving disappeared during a cross country move.  The world is probably a better place because of this.

A few things do survive—certain papers or stories that for one reason or another were transcribed to computer and managed to survive the steady upgrade of computers over the years.  When I read these few survivors I cringe.

It’s not that my writing was bad, it was just….  It was unpolished, adjective-heavy, repetitive, sparse on meaningful description, and plot laden.  It was young.

But—and this is important—it was full of ideas, and it was full of excitement.

As an adult, I’m better at taking a random idea—i.e., a writing prompt—and with time and patience working that into something useful.  I’m better at revising a raw rough draft and molding it into something polished.  But what I’m missing now, what those early books were full of, were ideas that sprung completely from my own head—ideas that I was passionate about developing.

Sure, some of those ideas have hung around.  The ones I spent more time trying to tame were repeated enough that they are at least partially committed to memory.  But when I think back to the ideas I lost, I find myself wishing that I was able to revisit some of the crazier ideas with the honed skills I have now.

Do you still have the stories, notebooks or ideas you came up with in your past?  How far back?  Do you find them helpful, or do they just make you cringe?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments—or pop over to the Today’s Author Forum and talk about it with other writers.

Posted in Product Reviews, Writing

Rory’s Story Cubes

RWP_26Like many of you, in various English classes through Junior and Senior High I had to keep a journal. For the first 5 minutes of class we each pulled out a cheap spiral notebook and wrote about…whatever. I’m sure the intent, when the assignment was first conceived, was a bit more focused than it was by the time I made my way into the classes. If the intent was to have us write about anything profound, or to make progress toward some useful writing, it was lost on me–especially the years where English was the first or second class of the day.

No, my journals were often filled with musings (feel free to read that as whining) about how difficult it was to come up with something to write about in 5 minutes. My forced creativity occasionally led to my journal being filled with disconnected sentences, and wishes that I had enough time to focus on a fun topic. Nearly every time a teacher graded these I got unfocused comments that were about as close to a teacher calling a student a smartass as they could get away with.

As I’ve gotten older, and continued writing for another 30 years, the process of coming up with something to write about hasn’t gotten any easier. I guess I’ve just always had a problem with unfocused inspiration. Give me a pen and a blank page and my mind starts ticking through possibilities–but instead of whittling them down to a select few, the topics multiply and multiply again until my writing paralysis starts to look like fear, rather than overload.

I didn’t understand this all back then. In fact it took me a long time before I saw the pattern–as soon as a teacher told me what to write, I was off on a tear. Whether they gave me a narrow focus (an essay on a narrow topic) or a broad suggestion (write about aliens), the paralysis was over.

This still holds true for me. When I need to write a story I feel so overwhelmed with all the potential stories I could write that I have trouble settling on one in time to get something on paper. But when someone says, “Write a story using one of these characters as your protagonist,” or “use this song as inspiration for your sci-fi story,” I can pick few key points and I’m off.

Now, a little not-so-secret about me is that I like games. I spent years playing tabletop role-playing games, and even now my friends and I play quite a few party and strategy games. So, make something a game–and more importantly, tie in a set of custom dice–and you’ve got my attention.

4751141_origSo when I came across these boxes in my local game store it wasn’t a difficult decision to fork over $7 to try it out.

The concept here is not difficult. There are nine 6-sided dice, each side with a simple picture. You roll the dice and try to incorporate the nine pictures into something coherent. That’s if you play by the rules. But anyone who’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons–or even Risk–knows that everyone makes up their own rules.

To me nine pictures seems fine for a game, but I’m not trying to see if I can link all the images; I’m just using them as a kickstart. So now, when the blank page has been mocking me for a few minutes I don’t hesitate to whip out my special dicebag, pick 2 – 5 dice at random, and see what comes up.

This little writing tool is no cure-all. It doesn’t help me schedule time to write, it doesn’t help when my subconscious or ego gets in the way. But, when I’m ready to write, and can’t come up with anything, it’s amazingly useful.

And it’s kind of fun, too.