Prismatic Limited Edition Archer Pencils by Baron Fig

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Deep thinking. Big ideas. Changing the world. Like Baron Fig, I’m for all of that. But some days (most days, honestly) I don’t have the time or energy to think big thoughts. You’ll usually find me stuck in the weeds, hunkered down, getting my work done. Am I making progress? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. If I’m changing the world, it’s inch by inch.

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But still, I like good stuff.

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And these are good stuff. I’m no pencil connoisseur. I can’t take a deep dive  into the details of the wood and the lead-grade and the clues the experts obtain by sniffing a pencil. Honestly, when I take a whiff of a pencil, I only smell elementary school. BUT, I know when a pencil makes me happy, and these do that.

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Baron Fig’s packaging is, as always, eye-catching and functional, compact and colorful. The twelve pencils nest together perfectly, with virtually no wiggle room. It’s like a little pencil puzzle. The cardboard tube holds four pencils in each of the three colors—light blue, red, and yellow—all with a deep purple end dip.

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What appeals to me is the simplicity of the Prismatics—the primary colors and printed prism graphics that remind me of the doodles I used to draw in school. Pyramid, cylindrical, and square prisms are featured on one side of each hex-shaped pencil. On the opposite side, you’ll find Baron Fig’s name printed in the same understated white. It’s all pretty subtle. And subtle feels just right.

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I only sharpened one of the dozen—in my Classroom Friendly sharpener—and had no issues. The pencil sharpened cleanly, the core was centered, and the point sharp. As I said, I’m 98% pencil user and only 2% expert so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I’d judge the graphite to be a solid HB. On a scale from creamy to scratchy, I’d put this lead right in the middle. Pleasant, but not particularly memorable. It writes as a decent pencil should, with good line darkness, a little feedback, and impressive point retention. This is a well-balanced pencil in look, quality, and feel.

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Life feels like it’s getting more and more complicated and hurried, so when a simple tool comes along that makes you slow down and smile, you take notice. The Baron Fig Prismatics may not transform me into a deep thinker, but they make me happy.

Happy is good.

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The Limited Edition Prismatic Pencils are available directly from Baron Fig for $15/dozen.

The Prismatic pencils shown here were graciously sent to me by Baron Fig to facilitate this review. I was not otherwise compensated, and there are no affiliate links in this post. As always, this review represents my honest thoughts about, and experiences with, the provided product.

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Ubiquitous Capture Device: The Nock Co. DotDash Pocket Notebook

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.” -Shunryu Suzuki

I first came upon David Allen’s Getting Things Done in March 2007. It was not a particularly good year. I was feeling overwhelmed at work, home, church—well, everywhere, really. I felt like I was going under for the third, fourth, and fifth time; drowning in a sea of to-dos and meetings and obligations. I’ve always considered myself pretty organized, but even so, I was struggling.

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I also started to physically fall apart (related?), and wound up in the hospital having major (and surprise) surgery. This was not my finest hour. Somehow, during my extended recovery, I latched onto a copy of Getting Things Done and devoured it. I felt hope. I felt relief. Most importantly, I felt understood in my struggle.

“Rule your mind or it will rule you.” -Horace

I implemented David’s system and saw immediate results. I could finally breathe. I was still dealing with the same obligations, but now I was getting things down on paper and into my “trusted system.” My life and circumstances were the same but I was engaging with all of the inputs in a more systematic fashion. My head no longer felt like it was going to burst into flames from grinding on everything it was trying to remember. There was a very physical kind of relief, along with a lovely mental weightlessness.

Since then, over these ten years, my system has evolved. I’ll always be tweaking things, looking for ways to implement the system more efficiently or more completely. I work largely with analog tools because I enjoy them (understatement of the year) and they are usually RIGHT THERE. I also use Trello to manage all of my various lists digitally. I’m happy with my current set-up, for the most part.

This week, David Allen appeared on the Whole Life Challenge podcast—in an episode that I just finished listening to this morning. I’m doing the WLC for the ninth time, and it’s going very well. I feel great. This week’s lifestyle challenge is called “Brain Toss.” In order to score your lifestyle points for the day, you have a generate a list of the things that are on your mind—things that you can’t deal with right now. No sweat for me. I’m up to my eyeballs in lists.

“There is no reason to have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.” -David Allen

But as I listened to that episode, I realized that while I have my daily work and personal to-do lists, I’m not capturing my thoughts as completely as I should be. Over the years, I’ve slipped in that key area. I write a lot of stuff down, but not everything. I’m still trying to keep track of things with my brain, which means that I’m not doing GTD as well as I should or could be. I need to, I realized, capture everything— the mundane, the important, the incidental, the large and small ideas, the smart stuff as well as the dumb stuff.

But what should I use? Normally I’ll grind on this decision much longer than I care to admit, but this time, the answer came easily.

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I have a healthy stash of pocket notebooks. That’s putting it mildly. I use Field Notes or Story Supply Co. or Write Notepads pocket notebooks on a daily basis, but I still have boxes full of unused editions. For this task, though, there’s one clear choice—Nock Co. DotDash Pocket Notebooks.

These memo pad style notebooks are 3.5″ x 5.5″—small enough to be carried everywhere— and feature a top staple binding. The fact that they’re top-bound makes them ideal, in my eyes, for use as a ubiquitous capture tool.

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I labeled the front cover for personal capture, and the back cover for work capture. Because the covers are very understated, customizing them to fit your own needs is simple. For my personal to-dos, thoughts, and random ideas, I’ll write in the notebook from front to back, then simply flip the notebook over and write from back to front for my work life. That way, both aspects of my life are captured in one notebook, but are still kept nicely separated. I love this setup.

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Throughout the day I’ve been jotting down thoughts and tasks and ideas in this notebook. From here, they’ll go into Trello for safekeeping and review, and then onto handwritten daily to-do lists when the time is right.

“Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an open loop pulling on your attention.” –David Allen

Once again, I’m capturing everything.

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Ready and waiting for the work deluge

Ten years in, I’m still practicing and honing my GTD methods and skills. Spurred by this week’s Whole Life Challenge lifestyle practice and podcast, I’ve decided to read the 2nd edition of Getting Things Done to see if, or how, I can move my understanding and practices to an even higher level. Starting today, I’m taking things up yet another notch by carrying the simple and perfectly formatted Nock Co. DotDash Pocket Notebook with me literally everywhere.

I really do hope to one day achieve “mind like water,” where I’m neither underreacting nor overreacting. Life goals.

The notebooks featured in this post were purchased with my own funds. There are no affiliate links in this post. All quotes credited to the first edition of Getting Things Done.

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Baron Fig Squire: The Limited Edition Experiment No. 108

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A week ago I went shopping for jeans, by myself. Hoo boy, was THAT an ordeal. Lots of dressing and undressing, lots of sweat, lots of trial and error. Too tight. Too loose. Too short. GAH!! I burned up my patience and a workout’s worth of calories trekking back and forth to the dressing room, tugging pair after pair on and off. Then—finally—the angels sang. The perfect fit. Boy, you sure do know it when you feel it.

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That’s exactly how I feel about Baron Fig’s Squire Experiment No. 108 rollerball pen. It is—simply put—the perfect fit. Like the jeans I finally found, or perfectly broken in sandals, the shape of the Squire feels “just right” in your hand. This pen is 100% comfortable.

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Though it might be hard to tell from this photo, the pen widens just slightly in the grip area, which is why it’s so pleasant to hold. The design is simple and stream-lined, but I bet that arriving at the Squire’s shape was anything but simple. There was probably as much sweat expended during the design phase of the Squire project as there was in my shopping excursion. Probably less grunting and swearing, though. Maybe.

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The color of the Experiment No. 108 Squire is gorgeous—bright and rich—really fresh. Described as “Chemical Green on the distinctive packaging and “Nuclear Green” on the website, this is a nicer green than I’ve seen in any lab. Most solutions in actual labs are <drumroll, please!> clear. How boring. I’m pleased that the team at Baron Fig took a bit of artistic laboratory license to create a pen in this striking color. “Clear” simply would not do, so “Chemical Green” it is.

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As someone’s who’s worked in and around labs for 40 years, I absolutely love the theme and branding on this pen. The bubbling round-bottom flask is a precious detail. As always, the folks at Baron Fig keep things simple, but interesting, and have another hit on their hands with Experiment No. 108.

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The writing tip deploys with just a twist of the end of the pen barrel, and here’s where I have one small complaint. It’s not with the mechanism, which works easily and smoothly. It’s that gap. As Brad mentioned on “The Pen Addict” podcast #257, the gap between the twist mechanism and the pen body is slightly wider on this pen than on my original Squire—enough so that it looks like something is just a bit off, like the tolerances weren’t as tight on this pen as they were on that original Kickstarter Squire.

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This difference really is in “The Princess and the Pea” territory—very minor—and probably only a niggling bother to OCD folks like Brad and myself. As I said, the twist mechanism works perfectly, with the tip deployed quickly and consistently every single time.

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The Experiment No. 108 Squire comes with a green Baron Fig branded Schmidt P8126 (o.6 mm) refill that writes solidly and smoothly. The ink is a bright and legible green that complements the pen’s anodized body perfectly. It’s cool to have a refill that’s not just standard black or blue. I have very few pens with green refills that write well. Rest assured, this green refill is flawless.

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This particular limited edition Squire has been universally embraced—universally loved—thus the bad news. The Experiment No. 108 Squire sold out very quickly, and is no longer available. That’s too bad. BUT—I think we can be sure that the folks at Baron Fig have plenty of other Squire surprises up their collective sleeves. There’s even a Squire subscription option to ensure that you don’t miss out on future limited edition offerings.  The current Baron Fig Kickstarter project wraps up in just a few days—on June 6th—and includes the option to add a Charcoal or Fig Wine Special Edition Lightbulb Squire to your pledge. (I’ve backed the “Starter Bundle: The Backpack” that includes notebooks and the pen. I’m all about the Fig Wine color.) The original Squires—in silver or charcoal—are always available and have everything going for them that the Experiment No. 108 pen does, with the exception of the special color/theme.

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The Baron Fig Squire is a well-designed pen that fits my hand perfectly. The theme of the Experiment No. 108 Squire fits my professional laboratory-based career just as perfectly.

What will they think of next?! I can’t wait to find out.

Thanks to Andi at Baron Fig for sending the Experiment No. 108 Squire my way. I was not compensated for this review which describes my honest thoughts and experiences with the pen. 

Who knew there was so much crap in my head?

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I started my Morning Pages practice in this Seven Seas Writer on June 25, 2016 with the words, “The first day of what I hope becomes a life-long habit*—to get up and write in this book—or any book—before doing anything else.” [*Well, life-long from here on out. I’m a notoriously late-bloomer.]

I’d already filled a few pages with infrequent entries that spanned about 13 months. That’s the story of my journaling life. Months between entries. Fit and starts. Abandoned journals. So many abandoned journals.

But something clicked on that June day, and I made a vow to write every morning and to FINALLY fill an entire journal. How many vows I’ve made in my life. A vow to keep the kitchen counter clear. Fail. A vow to put away my clothes rather than stacking them on the trunk at the foot of my bed. Fail. Vows and I have a checkered history.

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But this one—this vow to religiously write my morning pages—took root. On April 24, 2017, I wrote the final sentence in this particular journal—”The mad rush of the week begins soon. For now I’m just enjoying filling these pages, then meditating. A little more time for peace and quiet. A blessing.”

I’ll be honest, I don’t write every day. Weekend mornings can be tricky because our sleep schedule and responsibilities vary, but during the work week, I’m up at 5:30 am to put pen to paper. Without hesitation. This feels like a miracle to me, as I am distinctly NOT a morning person. Yet I always look forward to sitting at my desk, even though I’m bleary eyed and a little disoriented with sleep and the haze of frantic dreams. It’s a miracle that this practice has stuck. That there is always something to say. To be grateful for. To work through. To ponder. To explore. Feelings, thoughts, difficulties, and joys—all there to be examined and recorded. This makes me feel a little brave.

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480 pages filled one letter, word, sentence, page at a time. Colorful inks flow from cherished pens onto the luscious Tomoe River paper. It’s like eating dessert before the day begins—a treat, a privilege, a joy. This writing fills me up and calms me down. The effect is almost medicinal.

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With the Writer finished, I immediately started journaling in a Seven Seas Crossfield that I’ve had waiting in the wings. The cross grid is tighter in this book than the lines were in the Writer—5 mm vs. 7 mm—so the pages take me a little longer to write and look more dense when they’re filled. But this is not a race. This is a practice—a practice that is now as important to me as breathing.

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One letter. One line. One page.

Forever.

Inky Fingers Notebooks: Currently Inked

There was a time when I could remember everything. Maybe my life was simpler. Maybe my brain was less fractured and less overwhelmed. Maybe my nerves and synapses fired like the engine in a just-off-the-showroom-floor Lamborghini. Maybe all of those things were true.

After 50, things in the memory department got trickier. How cliché. Also, how true. And now here I am creeping up on 60. (Why do I still feel immature and unformed?!) Things are not so slick in the cranial region. That is to say, I forget things.

Like, did I take that pill? Where’d I put my phone/my keys/my notebook/my head? Where did I park? It’s an interesting time of life. There’s an inordinate amount of time spent looking under sofa cushions and piles of papers to find the thing that is needed but can’t be found. Like my brain. Suddenly, one must, if one is to navigate through even the most average of days, have a system to compensate for this predictable decline.

Here’s how this memory problem manifests itself in relation to my pens. I fill a pen. Then another. Then another. My brain likes to think it can remember what ink is in which pen. And for awhile it can. But then time elapses, and life interferes with its constant stream of large and small dilemmas, until all available RAM has been consumed. Then, come to find out, your brain has deleted all of that pen/ink knowledge to make room for a grocery list. A stupid grocery list.

Crap.

When this happens, there’s much puzzling over which brown ink is in that Edison, or which blue is in the Franklin-Christoph XIV. Gah…I don’t know! And worse yet, which pens are eyedropper filled? (We all recall the consequences of forgetting that vital piece of information, don’t we?!)

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My brain may be older but it is also, thankfully, in some ways, wiser. In a moment of clarity, it wised up and ordered a few of Matt Armstrong’s Inky Fingers Currently Inked pocket notebooks. What a godsend.

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Now, as soon as I ink a pen, I make a quick entry in the notebook, noting the pen, the nib, the ink, and the date the pen was inked. When the pen is cleaned out, I fill out that date as well. There’s also a designated space for an ink swatch. VERY useful. INCREDIBLY useful.

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You might notice that I’ve also jotted down a little reminder about how the pen is filled—converter, cartridge, or eyedropper. No more carpet disasters thanks to this handy little record keeping tool.

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Available in both Pocket (3.5″x5.5″) and Travellers (110 mm x 210 mm) formats, the Currently Inked notebooks feature 44 pages of 80 gsm wheat straw paper. As Matt explained on Episode 248 of the Pen Addict podcast, he took great pains to select just the right paper for these notebooks. It really is superb, with nice thickness and excellent dry times.

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The pocket notebook has space for 132 inkings, while the Travellers size accommodates 176 inkings. That’s a lot of information in a very compact format.

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There is an “oh no!” development that needs to be mentioned here. Matt’s supplier recently informed him that he’s no longer able to source the wheat straw paper that Matt so carefully selected, which means that Matt’s current stock is all he’ll have until the paper problem is sorted out. A quick check of his online store shows that, at the time of this post, he has the Traveller size Currently Inked notebooks available in both first-quality and factory seconds options, and the pocket format only as a factory second.

But have no fear. I purchased a few of the pocket versions, both first quality and factory seconds, and could see only the tiniest bit of difference between the two versions.  Matt’s obviously a stickler for quality and detail, so what he calls a factory second is still extremely well made with minute cosmetic differences that I doubt you’ll even notice.

So while my forgetfulness remains an issue in other areas of my life, keeping track of my inked pens is not one of those issues, thanks to the Inky Fingers Currently Inked notebooks. The records I keep in my current notebook have already solved many a pen/ink riddle. They’re fantastic—well-made, with space for plenty of inkings, all at a great price.

Oh, happy brain.

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I couldn’t “bear” it if these were no longer available. Keep us posted on the paper situation, okay, Matt?

Diplomat’s Excellent Excellence

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Diplomat is a company that’s often overlooked in pen circles, and I think that’s too bad. I own four of their fountain pens—the economical Softtouch Magnum, a mid-range Optimist Loop, the visually distinctive Aero, and this classic looking Excellence. While four pens is not a large sample size, each nib writes so smoothly that I’m convinced that Diplomat values nib performance at least as much as good design and build quality, no matter the price. The same cannot be said of every pen company.

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My latest acquisition—this Excellence Rhombus fountain pen—has been getting constant use. With a medium steel nib, this pen wrote right out of the box and is incredibly smooth with just a hint of spring. Pure joy.

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The excellent Excellence has good looks, a nice weight, and a writing performance that continues to make me smile.

You can read my full review HERE.

The Diplomat Excellence Rhombus fountain pen discussed here was purchased from The Pen Company, at a discount, to facilitate this review. Views expressed here reflect my personal opinion and experiences with the pen.

Monteverde’s One Touch Stylus 9 Function Inkball Tool Pen

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I think I’ll just cut to the chase. I love this pen. The end.

Kidding.

There’s a little more to the story and the pen.

On a recent episode of The Pen Addict podcast, during an ad for Pen Chalet, Myke and Brad mentioned that Ron was running a great deal on the Monteverde Tool pens. Since I was listening in my car, I made mental note to check out the sale once I got home. And, wow, were they right…the price was awesome ($20-something, down from a regular retail price of $45). BUT—do I need another pen?

Honestly, no.

I’ve curtailed my pen buying this year as I have so much that I enjoy using already. Saying “no” has become easier and easier the more I do it. (The same restraint does not hold true for inks. Or paper.)

As I scrolled through the Tool pen models, my thinking went something like this…

“Ballpoint. Nope…I’ve got plenty.”

“Pencil. Nah.”

“Fountain. All set there.”

“What??!! Inkball?? Hmmmmm….”

The Monteverde Inkball Tool Pen is not a conventional rollerball pen, though that’s what the tip looks and acts like. This version of the Tool Pen takes international short cartridges—the kind you’d normally use in a fountain pen—rather than your typical rollerball refill. NOW I was intrigued as this little twist brought something new to the pen table. (Pen table?)

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There are plenty of great color options, but the orange and black one called my name, as orange and black often does. Two days later, I had the pen in hand.

I had an empty short international cartridge on hand, so I immediately filled it with Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice, a current favorite.

And then I couldn’t figure out how to install the cartridge. Or how to get the included cartridge out of the barrel. I’d unscrewed the front black section, the writing tip, but the opening in the barrel was too small to get the included cartridge out or my newly filled cartridge in. What the…?!

Baffled, I emailed Ron to ask him what I was doing wrong. Then headed out to run some errands and to grab lunch.

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As I sat in Applebee’s waiting for my lunch, I suddenly remembered the video overview on Pen Chalet’s page and watched that again. Ohhhhhhhhh, THAT’S what I was doing wrong! Instead of unscrewing the black section holding the tip, you have to grab that section and yank it straight out of the pen. Now the barrel opening was large enough for the included cartridge to be removed from the barrel, and I was able to install my refilled cartridge. Back in business. (A side note: Ron answered my email right around the time I discovered my error. Much appreciated.) As they say, when all else fails, follow directions.

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With that “user error” dilemma conquered, I put pen to paper—Tomoe River Paper, to be exact. Oh, my. What a smooth and lovely writing experience.

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I spent the afternoon hunkered down in our Barnes & Noble café writing letters with this pen, rarely looking up. Immersed, is what I was. Immersed and impressed.

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The tip runs fairly broad, but is perfect on Tomoe River Paper—like a good medium. The performance is excellent. Smooth and skip-free. I love the way the rollerball feels, and I like seeing my favorite ink flowing out of a rollerball-style tip. The barrel is enameled brass, which gives the pen a nice weight (37 grams). As a point of reference, a Lamy Safari weighs about 16 grams, and a Lamy AL-Star weighs 21 grams, so this pen runs about twice as heavy. Despite that, I’ve never experienced hand-fatigue, but maybe that’s because I lift weights on a regular basis and I’m strong like bull (I wish).

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But, wait…there’s more!

The Monteverde Tool Pen includes a number of additional features. The barrel, as you can see, contains a 4-inch ruler as well as three metric scale rulers—1:100, 1:200, and 1:300. Those are pretty obvious.

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The Tool Pen’s endcap is a stylus that works well on my iPhone and Kindle. Unscrew the stylus to reveal a tiny flathead screwdriver. This screwdriver insert can be removed and flipped around to access the Phillips head screwdriver.

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Should you need to repair a teeny-tiny thing, you’re all set.

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Along with the rulers, the barrel also contains a level, so you can verify that your café table is indeed perfectly level.

The one downside to the pen is the fact that the small black cap that covers the writing tip cannot be posted. When you’re using the pen, you have to keep track of this piece. So far, that hasn’t been an issue, but if you’re prone to losing things, keep this in mind.

You might call this a “novelty” pen, and I’d have to, for the most part, agree. Will I ever use the screwdrivers or the level? Probably not, though you never know. The rulers may come in handy now and then. (Edited to add: If it had a little shovel, this pen would’ve come in very handy the past two days as I’ve been trapped in the house by three feet of snow, while Fred was literally stuck at work.) Despite what may seem like gimmicks, this is a pen that delivers a really cool writing experience coupled with an interesting look and potentially useful tools. And let’s not forget that you can use any fountain pen ink as long as you have an empty international short cartridge to refill. (I don’t believe that a conventional converter will fit, though I haven’t confirmed this.)

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I really do love this pen. The end. For real, this time.

This One Touch Stylus 9 Function Tool Pen was purchased with my own funds. The sale at Pen Chalet appears to be over, but you can still find this pen (as well as the other models/colors) at a good price at Pen Chalet. I was in no way compensated for this review. In fact, it’ll come as a surprise to Ron. If you’re a listener of the Pen Addict podcast, you already know that Pen Chalet often sponsors the show and provides codes for listener-only discounts and special sales. If you’re not a listener of the podcast, what’re you waiting for?