General's Semi-Hex #1

It has been quite a while since I have reviewed a good, classic pencil. Over the years, I have strayed away from just writing about pencils to writing about all things stationery. While I don’t see that as a negative thing, it is sometimes nice to get back to one’s roots. I’ve always loved a bright yellow number 2 pencil (in this case it’s a number 1, but I digress). There is something about a yellow school pencil that evokes a pang of nostalgia— a longing for simpler times punctuated by carefree school days where your only worry was how cool you looked when you walked to the pencil sharpener at the front of the classroom. Even though we can never get those days back, we can use of tools like the Semi-Hex to get those neurons firing that are responsible for feelings of nostalgia. Anyhow, here’s what I think:

The Semi-Hex is one of my favorite pencils from General Pencil Company (the other two are the Pacific and the Badger). Even though I prefer a sharp hex, the Semi-Hex offers me a nice break from those Musgrave Test Scoring pencils. It feels great in my hand and allows me to maintain my Hulk-like grip without feeling much fatigue. I chose this pencil in a #1 because I enjoy writing with a softer, darker graphite and I’d have to say that this pencil is a true B grade. Point retention is decent for a softer graphite and the eraser does a well enough job on a variety of papers. The overall quality of this pencil is what you would expect from General and after sharpening and using several Semi-Hex I have not encountered any barrel-splitting, broken leads, or quality control issues re: fit and finish. This pencil is an absolute deal at 65 cents and can be purchased from CW Pencil Enterprise.

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CW x General's Baseball Scoring Pencil

I love baseball. Growing up, my father’s love of the game was a focal point of my summer/early fall. He loved the Cincinnati Reds. We take a road trip most years to Ohio and would spend a few days in Pittsburgh to see the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium for a few games and then onto see the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. Both of those stadiums are no longer there, but memories of my dad sitting next to me teaching me how to “keep the book” have lasted forever. When I was older, I used to keep the book when I would watch games on TV and would always delight when I could write that backwards “K” (a strikeout looking). Life has gotten busier and changed these past two decades, and I haven’t kept score of a baseball game in years. That’s why when I saw Caroline collaborate with General Pencil company to make a Baseball scoring pencil, I was hit with twinges of nostalgia and excitement.

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Everything about this collaboration is great— the packaging design is A++ and I really like how the lettering and color scheme take me back to the 50s when signs and lettering were hand done. The pencil itself is round-barreled and white with a gold ferrule and red lettering. What I really like about the design of the pencil is that there are three little v-shaped marks on each side of the lettering that make you instantly thing of the stitching on a baseball. They could have gone overboard with trying to make this pencil look like a baseball, but they didn’t and I like that the subtlety evokes the same sentiment without being over-designed.

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This pencil has a very smooth, dark graphite core. I’d say it falls in the B range. It is a bit too soft for me to comfortably write with as I have to sharpen frequently, but for keeping score the pencil is perfect. It works well on a variety of papers— toothy, smooth, standard printer paper, and notebook paper. I will say it really shines on toothier paper though. Marks make with this pencil erase well. I did have some trouble erasing all the marks I made while journaling in my Baron Fig Confidant, but I also press pretty hard, so that is an experience I have often. Next year, I plan on using these for score-keeping my good ol’ Cincinnati Reds, but I cannot bring myself to use these pencils in any other capacity. My heavy-handedness, dislike for round pencils, and impatience with having to sharpen every half page makes these a pass for me. These pencils are $2 a piece for $10 for half a dozen. I’d suggest ordering the six— you save two bucks and get the cool box.

Guest Post: Duly Noted

A while back I had reached out to fellow stationery enthusiast Paula Binsol to pick her brain about her note-taking method. I had always been impressed with the neatness of her notes and how organized they were. That is what this post is about-- the tools she uses and her method. Enjoy!

If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s the way I take notes. Most people think that scribbling things down in a notebook suffices as taking notes, but I consider that doodling with words. I have honed and perfected my system (for me) these past eight years of higher education and having reached the pinnacle of my note-taking prowess, I am excited and thrilled to be sharing this system with all of you!

But first things first: the tools. I believe high quality tools beget high quality work. Naturally, we have to put in the major work, but it helps to have tools that you can use and appreciate. That being said, I’m really particular, especially with regard to my writing instruments. Here are my holy grail items for note-taking:

1.   Notebook: B5, nice paper. So lately since having moved to Asia, I use the Kokuyo Campus Notebooks in B5 with a 6mm line because my handwriting is too small for anything wider

2.   Pens: This is where it gets tricky:

            -Writing pen: Uniball Inkjet Jetstream 0.7 fine point RT OR Sarasa Clip 0.3, both have to be in black.

            -Side notes: A large part of my note-taking process involves additional notes after the lecture and class have taken place, so these happen with either Uniball Signo DXs in 0.38mm in blue-black, blue, or green or purple or Sarasa Clip 0.3 in Blue or Blue-Black

3.  Highlighters: Super important for me to get my bearings when I’m writing, so I use these to highlight the title of each lecture, the subtopics and important terms that I may have missed or need to remember. I use a Sharpie Fine Highlighter in Banana Yellow, Mildliners and Pilot Frixion in pastels.

4.  Pencils: I mostly use these to emphasize things when I’m already on a third or fourth reading and cannot seem to find it in me to add any more side notes or color. In addition, I like these for writing in textbooks. Because I need to be quick and don’t have time to hand-sharpen, I’ve always got one of my Pentel P200 series on me. When I’m in the mood for a little leisurely note-taking, I grab a Blackwing Pearl, 602 or MMX or a trusty Apsara Absolute!

The system is where it really gets involved. My note-taking system starts before I go to class, with all of the preliminary reading. This way, most of the basic terminology has already entered my brain prior to lecture and I waste less time thinking about how things are spelled and can just keep writing. When lecture starts, I use my CamScanner app on my phone to take photos of the lecture slides which gives each slide a corresponding number. This number, when needed, is used in my notes as a way to reference back to the slide so that I know which additional information associated with that particular topic.

To start taking notes, I fold each sheet of my B5 Kokuyo Campus notebook paper in half. I started to do this when I realized that I wasted SO MUCH paper space because of my really small handwriting. The columnar style lets me get the most out of the paper, but also helps with the system of writing side notes. Using my black pen, I make sure to write the headers in all caps and then I use an indentation system to indicate to myself where the subtopics are. Each all-caps header designates a new topic in the lecture. Dashes indicated major points. Dots under each dashed sentence indicate facts or notes related to the dashed topic. Arrows indicate something important that the professor mentioned during the lecture that I need to remember that is directly related to the topic, usually this signifier is used for something that I think will be asked on the exam.

At some point after lecture, prior to the exam, I review my notes along with the textbook reading and the professor’s PowerPoint presentation. This is where the side notes system comes in. I simultaneously read my lecture notes with the PowerPoint and add or note anything that is on the slides that I happened to miss during class. Afterwards, I do the same thing, except with my textbook. Doing this helps me go through the information at least two more times before the exam, which helps with retention. If you count, by this time, I am on my third reading:

-          Before class

-          During class (lecture)

-          Review prior to exam

After this whole process, I then take the time to read through both my side notes and written notes to make sure that I have ingested them completely. This helps me make sure that I have clearly understood the major components of each lecture well enough so that I can regurgitate them as needed.

Overall, it gives me a highly unnecessary and ridiculous sense of satisfaction when I look down at my notebooks and see that I’ve scribbled all over them. I feel like my efforts are tangible, and quite frankly, sometimes that’s all you need to get you through the day.

 

Marking Pencil Round-Up

For those of you that are unaware, I work part time in a community college writing center.  I find myself reading and editing papers for hours and have been searching for the perfect marking pencil.  While my list is not exhaustive, I tried to explore a variety of brands that are easily available to anyone.  I have used each pencil for about a week and have been able to form what I feel is a solid opinion on what to try and what to avoid.  First, here is a general overview of each pencil and a writing sample for each: 20160923_131700

As you can see all six pencils are quite different when it comes to color and hardness.  I will address the list top to bottom.

Tombow 8900 Vermilion ($0.85)

The Tombow 8900 wrote smoothly and the point retention was one of best of the pencils.  The ability to keep a sharp point on the Tombow allowed the maximum amount of correction with a minimum amount of sharpening.  For me, this is key when working with a student.  Less sharpening means a longer lasting pencil as well.  I could see myself using this pencil on a regular basis for correction.  I found the Tombow 8900 at a Kinokuniya bookstore, but Ebay tends to carry them occasionally.

Caran d'Ache 999 Bicolor ($2.80)

The Caran d'Ache 999 is vibrant and one of the truest to the color red behind the Mitsubishi 772.  The core is super smooth and much to my surprise point retention is above average for such a smooth pencil.  I also like that the 999 is a hex pencil as it is much more comfortable (for me) to hold and rotate while writing.  The only drawback is the price of this pencil.

General's Red ($0.40)

The General's Red has the best point retention of all of pencils I have ever used, but it is the worst as far as pigment is concerned.  It is way too light to be effective and feels horribly scratchy.  This pencil is a disappointment and you shouldn't buy it.  I struggled trying to make my marks noticeable on papers for students and halfway through a session I picked up another pencil it was so bad.  Just don't.

Musgrave 525 Hermitage ($0.29)

The Hermitage is a great middle of the road pencil.  The core is dark enough to be effective, but is not so soft that you feel like you are writing with a crayon. I found myself using this pencil more and more as the weeks progressed and was not disappointed with the results.  For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised as a lot of my experience with Musgrave products has left me feeling meh.

Mitsubishi 772 Vermilion ($1.00)

The 772 is vibrant and works very well for making small grammatical edits to 12-point font.  When editing papers, clarity is key and the Mitsubishi 772 is as clear as day.  The core is a bit softer than others, but as long as you rotate the pencil ever few marks you make, it seems to wear down just as much as an average pencil.  If I had to pick a winner it would be this pencil.

Mitsubishi Red "Smooth Writing Taste" ($1.65)

This pencil is smooth alright.  So smooth that you feel like you are writing with a crayon.  I love the color it lays down, but the Mitsubishi Red is not for making small edits or writing within the margin.  I'd say this pencil is perfect for making "checks" and "x" marks on papers or maybe even for underlining text, but not for the work I do.  It does get bonus points for its slogan though!

Overall my top two are the Mitsubishi 772 and the Caran d'Ache 999.  Both pencils have great, vibrant color without feeling too waxy.  The Hermitage comes in a close third (I'd even say a tie for second) with its point retention and affordability.  Either way, I hope this has helped those of you that are looking for marking pencils.

 

 

Back to School Special

The time has come upon us; it's September, the leaves are changing (in some parts of the US), school is back in session, and I cannot resist the urge to purchase school supplies.  Ever since I could remember, the need to go out and purchase school supplies represented a new beginning-- a way to re-invent oneself for the new school year.  Heather Rivard of the Art Supply Posse podcast, really nailed the feeling and excitement around school supply shopping: "School supply shopping was an emotional experience for me. School supplies represent the part of life that made sense to me, like doing homework and what I was told. School clothes shopping represented the things that didn't make sense, like social hierarchy and how to fit in and how to feel like an acceptable human being. School supplies! That is a source of so much warmth and comfort and excitement."

This passage hits home for me.  Some years, life was great and my parents had the money to indulge my growing obsession with school supplies.  Other years, time were tough and I was forced to re-use items or buy the cheapest stuff.  I never thought about it at the time (because who does), but the act of school shopping tied directly into my self-worth.  Now that I am an adult with a decent amount of purchasing power, I find myself in a different race: Keeping up with the Joneses.  I've been distant from the group the past month or so because as a full-time student and part-time worker, I am unable to jump at every new stationery item that comes out.  I am not subscribed to any stationery or pencil service and do my best to buy at least one box of the limited edition Blackwings.  Again, I am faced with the need to keep up.

Now don't get me wrong, our community is incredibly giving and I myself have given away countless pencils and other paraphernalia, but as with any hobby this gets EXPENSIVE.  Which brings me to this year's school supply shopping experience.  Besides some folders and red marking pencils (which I will review in the coming weeks), I have purchased nothing.  Well, OK, my recent trip to CW Pencil Enterprise was an indulgence, but for the most part there has not been a ceremonial "school supply shopping" excursion.  I like it this way.  It has allowed me to pore over my current collection of pencils and supplies and rediscover some real gems.

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I have filled my pencil roll with some oldies and newbies, but I am content with my choices.  I am not sure if I am going to use a different pencil every week, bu I'd like to use all of them this semester at some point.  I will get back to blogging on a weekly basis now and will not only write about pencils, but stationery stuff and maybe some personal stuff.  Stay tuned all!

 

 

It's just pencils! Or is it?

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After much thought and great discussion over on the Erasable Facebook group, I felt compelled to make a blog posting about the issue of Blackwing Volumes and their seemingly white, male-dominated lineup.  Before I get to the meat of the issue, I am in no way knocking Palomino-- they have done great things with the brand and provide awesome customer service and I am positive there was no intent to have a lack of diversity in the Blackwing Volumes line.  But that's just it.  The seemingly accidental overlooking of amazing people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, and other marginalized folks is not so.  Leaving out those groups is not intentional, but it is so deeply seated and natural for the majority to do so, that they do not see that they marginalize.  The only way for the world to change is to have companies or individuals use their power to bring light to these issues and take a stance-- a stance that should be the norm.  When inclusiveness is the norm, things might just be a bit better for the world (and for sales!).  Here are some ideas I have for future Blackwing Volumes: George Washington Carver - 44  George Washington Carver was known as the "Peanut Man" and is known for his research into alternative crops to cotton such as peanuts and sweet potatoes.  His angle was that poor farmers could grow alternative crops to provide food for their families and develop other products to improve quality of life.  Carver also promoted environmentalism and released 44 practical bulletins for farmers with information on recipes for peanuts and peanut products.  From Wikipedia: "In 1921 peanut farmers and industry representatives planned to appear at Congressional hearings to ask for a tariff. Based on the quality of Carver's presentation at their convention, they asked the African-American professor to testify on the tariff issue before the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Due to segregation, it was highly unusual for an African American to appear as an expert witness at Congress representing European-American industry and farmers."

A Blackwing Volumes edition for Carver would feature crimson colored pencil with a gold ferrule and tan eraser.  Crimson and gold are Tuskegee's college colors and tan would be representative of peanuts.  It would be stamped with the number 44 as a nod to the 44 bulletins he released for farmers to promote the use of peanuts on their farms.

Susan B. Anthony - 19  Susan B. Anthony was a feminist who was deeply involved in the women's suffrage movement.  At the age of 17, she collected anti-slavery petitions and in 1856, she became the New York agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Anthony also played a critical role in creating the International Council of Women.  One hundred years after her birth, women finally were granted the right to vote on August 18, 1920.

This pencil could be either green with a purple eraser or purple with a green eraser.  Both would have a white painted ferrule.  This is a nod to the symbolic suffrage colors of purple, white, and green used on banners and pins promoting the cause.  The number 19 would be used to represent the 19th amendment to the constitution allowing women to vote.

Stonewall - 1969  The Stonewall riots were a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against a police raid that took place at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969.  In the 1950s and 60s, gay Americans faced a very anti-gay legal system and as such, not many establishments welcomed openly gay people.  The Stonewall Inn catered to an assortment of individuals and was known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.  A year later, in 1970, the first Gay Pride would take place in NYC.  The Stonewall National Monument was established a month ago by President Obama and it includes Christoper Park and the Stonewall Inn.

This Volumes edition would be a no brainer-- RAINBOWS!

I hope that those of you who have read this have been inspired.  Those that feel uncomfortable regarding this blog post-- good.  That's what its supposed to do to some.  It's high time we start having those uncomfortable conversations and unpacking difficult topics.  After all, it's just not about pencils.

 

General's Cedar Pointe #1

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Sorry for the past two weeks of not posting.  School has been on break and I really haven't had the chance to extensively use a pencil.  This week between filling out my planner for the semester, taking notes at various back to school meetings, and making checklists for college transfer I finally was able to form an opinion on my latest pencil, the Cedar Pointe #1.  General Pencil Company's Cedar Pointe #1 had been pulled out of production for about a year when pencil fanatics (ahem Erasablers) petitioned to have the pencil put back into production.  Not only do I love the General responds to customer input, but the fact that they still manufacture the pencils right here in the US is a bonus (double bonus is that they are located in my home state of NJ!). 20160111_135202

The Cedar Pointe #1 is a lot smoother and darker than its 2HB counterpart.  It has an all natural finish with a black ferrule and eraser.  The Cedar Pointe #1 sharpens nicely and retains its point quite well since the graphite is a bit softer and darker than its 2HB cousin.  The eraser that comes on the end of the pencil is useful and while it leaves quite a bit of dust, it erases evenly and cleanly.  My only complaint really, and this is something easily remedied, is that it smears a bit and transfers to the opposite page when writing in a notebook.  One could very easily use a sheet of paper in between pages while writing, but for someone like myself constantly jotting down notes and lists, it is just not feasible to use this on projects that require no smear.

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I enjoyed writing with this pencil on and off for the past few weeks and while it is one of my favorites, it does not seem to be a pencil I would use often for school purposes due to the transfer issue.  I can see this pencil in my pencil cup on my desk for scribbling something on a post-it.  It does its job and its does it well (not to mention my heart flutters at the sight of an true raw natural pencil.  You can purchase this pencil in singles by going to CW Pencil Enterprise or you can visit my friend Gary at Papernery Pop-Up Shop as he is currently selling them by the dozen (with bulk discounts on 2 and 3 dozen!).  Overall 8.5/10

 

General Goddess #2

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I want to preface this week's entry by saying that I hate a pencil with a round barrel.  I dislike how they roll of the desk when I put them down and I generally do not like the overall absence of those sharp lines of a hexagonal pencil.  Because of this strong dislike, it had been years since I willingly picked up a pencil with a round barrel to use for an extended period of time.  When I did my random selection process at the beginning of the week, my heart sank that I would have to use this round pencil for seven whole days (!?).  Would I lose this pencil before then?  Would it fall off my desk so many times that the graphite inside would shatter rendering it un-sharpenable?  By Saturday, I was pleasantly surprised. 20151206_141331

After sharpening the Goddess, I immediately noticed the rich smell that wafted up from the pile of shavings.  The pencil sharpened up nicely and there was no point breakage at any point during the process.  For this pencil, I used the Tombow Ippo Pinch-Point pencil sharpener.

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As I began to write with the Goddess, my hatred for round barrel pencils slowly began to fade.  My hand fatigued less and I did not develop that callus on my finger like I usually do.  Perhaps this was not so bad after all.  Any the pencil only rolled off the desk once in seven days, so I can't complain on that point (ha).  When it came time to use the eraser, I was nervous since it seemed as though it might fall off of the top of the pencil.  The ferrule appeared to not be securely gripping the eraser and when I did use the eraser, it took a lot of effort to effectively remove graphite from paper.  You can see the "loose" look below:

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The graphite laid down smoothly on paper and did not have a hit of grittiness.  I not once experienced a point breakage all week which was a bonus.  At 80 cents a pencil from CW Pencil Enterprise, this pencil is affordable enough to give it a shot.  Overall: 8.5/10

General's Badger #2

Sometimes using fancy pencils spoils you when you have to revert back to cheaper pencils.  And sometimes you really wish that you strategically planned out your pencil choices so massive disappointment did not happen.  Even further, you wish that there was some sort of "palate cleanser" pencil to use for a day or two to get your mind off of the joy that was enveloping you the previous week.  Unfortunately, I am human and am subject to bias and extreme subjectivity.  That does not mean I still didn't have a good time writing this week, it was just that I as underwhelmed. 20151019_122230

This week, I randomly selected my pencil and the General's Badger was the lucky guy to get chosen.  I really love the name of the Badger and equally love the classic yellow hexagonal barrel and green foil imprint.  The Badger has a nice weight to it and sharpened up perfectly with no breakage or crumbling.  The cedar smell was nice-- not as intense as I prefer-- but it was there.

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I have quite the soft spot for General Pencil Co. since they are based out of my home state of New Jersey and was excited to put graphite to paper (note: the Badger is manufactured in Shelbyville, TN).  My statistics class always gives me a challenge since I not only have to write notes, but draw bell curves and formulas.  Writing with the 211 last week was amazing and a hell of a lot easier on my hand and wrist (I tend to press a bit hard when writing).  Well, this is where my earlier statement about being spoiled comes in.  After a page of writing, my hand was killing me!  It was not the darkness of the graphite, but the smoothness of the writing.  I do not write in cursive (I don't know how to anymore sadly) so I do realize that printing doesn't allow for as much fluidity as script does, but I found myself not able to keep up.  I will say that the graphite was not gritty, but just not smooth (if that makes any sense).  The eraser on the Badger is effective, but very dusty and wears away quickly.  Performance aside, I really am in love with the look of the Badger.

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At around 75 cents a pencil, this performs as it should for a budget pencil.  The Badger wore down at a slow enough pace that I only had to sharpen every 2 pages (B5 size).  This pencil will go on my maybe list for a bulk buy and while there is nothing really wrong with this pencil, do not use it after using a Blackwing.  Overall 7/10.

General's Pacific 365 Final Thoughts

It has been a great week with the Pacific.  I definitely prefer the softer lead grade compared to last week's Mongol.  I also did a lot more writing this week with the Pacific.  Between meetings, crosswords, Sudoku puzzles and journal entries, this pencil really got a work out.  The KUM Long Point sharpener really made a difference this week as well as I prefer the long point on my pencils.  The KUM Brass Wedge has its place, but I think from now on, I will exclusively use the Long Point.  One thing that was noticeable about this pencil was that it seemed more fragrant than the Mongol of last week.  I have a couple of theories on that: the Pacific is a newer pencil so maybe it retained its fragrant cedar smell or it could have been the different sharpener which shaves away more of the pencil when sharpening.  Either way, I enjoyed the rich smell wafting from my pencil shavings as a I enjoyed my favorite maple latte at the local coffee joint. 20150828_114602

I was unable to carve out time this week to work on my cursive writing, so I have no samples to show, but next week's pencil will be all about the cursive (I hope it's a good choice).  I did my normal review as always in my Public Supply pocket notebook I acquired from CW Pencil Enterprise.  Here are my final thoughts:

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Happy penciling everyone!