Conference swag


I’m at a weeklong conference, so no real review this week. But I DID spend the afternoon at a scientific trade show where I picked up a tote bag full of conference swag. Not surprisingly, I hone in on the vendors offering office supplies. By the end of the day, I accumulated a nice supply of ballpoints (most were unremarkable, though one appears to take Cross style refill and is uncharacteristically excellent), a few gels pens, a few black pencils, notepads, one notebook, and a very cool little book of sticky notes.

And, yes, vendors…I judge you by your swag.


A syringe highlighter? Yes, please.

I’ll continue my quest in the morning. An empty tote bag awaits!

Lighten Up: Three Lamys

Lamy Trio

Remember how when we were kids, the summer was long and our task list was short? We awoke to wide open days, and warm months that seemed to go on and on. Now it’s just the opposite. Even though it’s summer, there’s so much to do, and the days and months zip by. One minute it’s Memorial Day, then suddenly it’s Labor Day. What happened to those lazy hazy days??

Even though summer might not be as magical and carefree as it used to be, it’s still pretty awesome. Grilled food, shorts & t-shirts, patio time, and maybe even a vacation. (Like the DC Pen Show?! Yup!)

Since summer is a time to eat lighter and dress lighter, I figure it might also be a good time to lighten up on the daily pen carry. Especially since I’ll be hitting the road soon. Here’s what I’m taking along– a trio of Lamys.

My three Lamys

Lamys are a bit rough-and-tumble, as ready for the road as the office. Light weight, sturdy, and easy to maintain, these are pens that won’t weigh you down and can take a bump or two. They’re as ready for an adventure as you are.

I’ve loaded the white Safari with Iroshizuku kon-peki, a refreshing combination. The azure blue ink reminds me of the ocean, while the body of the Safari conjures up images of my pale, pale legs at the beach. Yup. Pure white. Just like the pen.

White Safari
White Safari, F nib

The orange Safari is filled with Iroshizuku fuyu-gaki, a pleasant well-balanced orange that’s bright and fun, but not blinding. This pen and ink combination is a real mood-booster, and I find myself looking for excuses to use it.

Orange Safari
Orange Safari, F nib

And because there’s always work to be done, even in the summer, I’m keeping my matte black AL-Star, filled with Monteverde Black, close at hand. This pen is cool and stealthy. Monteverde Black has recently become a favorite and is as deep and dark as my post-vacation mood. Which is pretty dark.

Matte Black AL-Star
Matte Black Al-Star, EF nib

Three Lamy nibs

Summer’s here. I’m packing lighter. I’m packing Lamys.

Lamys on vacation


TWSBI 803 Micarta, Version 2: The Saga

TWSBI Micarta, v2
TWSBI Micarta 803, v2 (EF nib, clipless version)

I stumbled onto the FPGeeks podcast about a year or so ago, and it became an immediate staple in my car when I was driving to and from anywhere. I didn’t really understand the lingo (in fact, those first conversations often reminded me of my early days in calculus class, where the professor’s voice devolved into one long unintelligible hum). What was a twizbee? What was micarta? UNLIKE calculus class, thanks to the geeks Eric and Dan, pen knowledge seeped into my brain and pores, and before long I knew I wanted a TWSBI (oh…so THAT’S how it’s spelled) Micarta. Their descriptions of the look, the feel, and even the reportedly odd/strong smell intrigued me.

BUT, the price tag was a little steep. So I waited.

TWSBI Micarta vs. Lamy AL-Star (posted)
TWSBI Micarta vs. Lamy AL-Star (posted)

I entered the FPGeeks contest to win a Micarta, but I didn’t win. And I still didn’t buy.

TWSBI Micarta nib
Extra-fine nib

But I didn’t lose interest. I kept poking around online and reading reviews, and noted that an ever increasing number of those reviews talked about the nib being really dry. Like “it won’t write” dry. More hemming and hawing.

Months passed, and right around the time that I was finally going to go for it, there was news of a new and improved TWSBI Micarta in the works. The reports noted that the nib issue was going to be addressed with the new version. NOW I KNEW I wanted one.

Version 2 of the TWSBI 803 Micarta was released in late May and I pounced on it as soon as it was available. I’m so happy that I waited (and waited and waited). This is one very cool pen.

For one thing, it’s packaged not in a BOX, but in a TWSBI notebook. A bit of brilliance there.

TWSBI Micarta v2 packaging
It’s a pen wrapped in a notebook!

I haven’t written in the notebook yet so that’ll have to be a separate review, but I can attest to the fact that this nib performs perfectly. The EF line is crisp and quite fine (finer than a LAMY EF), with just a hint of feedback, but is in no way dry. I’ve had no issues with hard starts or skipping. Loaded with Iroshizuku tsuki-yo, it’s perfect for everyday writing in my Field Notes notebooks and Moleskine calendar.

New and improved
New and improved

Before I had the pen in hand, I pictured it feeling a little coarse or rough…like something woven…but the Micarta is smooth and warm and very organic feeling. I love the simple lines, the quiet branding, the earthy color. This is a pen that looks and feels like it could’ve been grown and harvested rather than manufactured…it’s that natural looking.

Lovely Micarta
Freshly picked Micarta

TWSBI branding
A bit of quiet branding

Micarta symbols
I cannot translate, but I like it anyway.

This a cartridge/converter pen and requires a word of caution. Because the Micarta material can reportedly stain, it’s best to fill the included converter on its own THEN install it in the pen, rather than dipping the nib and section into the bottle of ink. I’ve used this filling procedure and all is well.

Along with the improved nib, the TWSBI website states that the inner sealing cap is also “all new,” which should prevent nib-drying issues. These improvements, coupled with the notebook packaging, makes me very glad that I waited for version 2. (Though in true TWSBI fashion, folks experiencing issues with their original Micarta can swap their nib for the new one. Customer service is obviously TWSBI’s strong suit.)

There’s a sticker on the notebook’s package that offers this quote:
Cheerful, Constructive, Gentle
Enrich your life by cheer of writing

I’d go one step further…enrich your life by cheer of writing with a TWSBI Micarta.

Micarta end cap
The distinctive Micarta, in a sea of Lamys

The Solution: “The Block” by Mike Dudek

Soooo, you buy a pen. Then you listen to a podcast about pens and you buy another pen. And another. And another. Dot dot dot.

The pens start piling up. Some are too nice to throw all willy-nilly into a pen case, and the coffee mug pen cup isn’t really cutting it anymore. What to do, what to do??

Yes, this pancake helped solved a pen storage problem.

I have a few pen storage solutions that I’ll cover in the coming weeks- one of which is The Block, by Mike Dudek. I stumbled onto Mike’s creation while sitting in a diner waiting for my breakfast to arrive. Fred was reading one of those free real estate newspapers and I was messing around on my phone. Pancakes the size of Wyoming take awhile to cook, so I had a lot of time on my hands. As I scrolled through Twitter, I stopped dead when I saw the answer to my pen storage prayers on Mike Dudek’s @ClickyPost feed…

The Block
The Block

After a quick Twitter exchange which directed me to his Trading Post, I made my selection, and processed it via PayPal. Just as I wrapped up the transaction, that PANCAKE arrived. It was a good morning.

The Block vs. TWSBI Vac 700
The Block vs. TWSBI’s Vac 700

There are two offerings in Mike’s store…the Cube, which holds 9 pens and measures 3″ x 3″ x 2.5″, and The Block, which holds 21 pens and measures 6″ x 3″ x 2.5″. Given the number of pens I own, The Block was a no-brainer. Mike was quick to acknowledge my order and offered to make the four corner holes slightly larger than the rest of the holes. (The bulk of the holes accommodate pens up to 1/2″ in diameter, while the larger holes will obviously accommodate slightly larger pens.) Sounds good, I replied. Simple transaction. Great feedback. Happy customer.

The Block arrived about a week later, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It looks, feels, and even smells, great. The walnut wood is satiny smooth and very rich and warm looking. The footprint is so small that The Block fits just about anywhere…on a desk, dresser, or end table. Twenty-one pens easily stored in a very compact space. Perfect.

Enough yakking…here’s The Block in action (or inaction, I guess):

Note that the regular sized holes hold the Safari and Vista models perfectly, while the AL-Stars are slightly larger and need to be stored in the bigger corner holes.

Lamy Storage
Holding some Lamys

The Retros stand up great, and look very much at home, don’t you think?

Retro 51s
Retro 51 Tornados at attention

Mike lives near Karas Kustoms so it’s no surprise that he’s a fan of their pens and that The Block holds them perfectly.

Karas Kustoms creations
Karas Kustoms: Aluminum Bolt, Aluminum Render K, Orange Render K, Copper Retrakt

And here’s the block with a bit of a pen assortment…

Assorted pens
TWSBI 580, a couple of Esterbrook SJs, Retro 51 fountain pen, a pair of Monteverde fountain pens, and a TWSBI 540

The TWSBIs have fairly large diameters so they have to be stored in the larger holes, just like the Lamy AL-Stars.


I love handmade goods. Especially handmade goods that store my pens. Mike’s handiwork solves a universal problem for all pen lovers. Where do I keep all of these pens?? Well, now you know.

Most Improved: Lamy 2000 Ballpoint (Makrolon)

Lamy 2000 Ballpoint
Lamy 2000 Makrolon Ballpoint

The Lamy 2000 Makrolon Fountain Pen remains one of my top tier pens…solidly in my top three…so I suppose that it was inevitable that I’d take a look at the other offerings in the same line. I found this ballpoint on Amazon, for a nice price, and decided to go for it. I mean, Makrolon.

Lamy 2000 Ballpoint packaging

Because I already own the fountain pen, I knew I’d love the spring-action clip and super subtle branding…

Knock & clip

and the imperceptible break in the body for changing the refill. The design is just stunning in its simplicity.

Imperceptible break in body
After changing the refill, twist this closed, and the break disappears

I knew I’d love the feel of the material, which is smooth, yet very finely textured, and warm to the touch.

Makrolon body

The knock, a ballpoint-specific feature, is rock-solid and offers just the right amount of resistance when pressed to extend or retract the ballpoint tip. The very end of the knock is shiny and reflective, while all of the other metal trim sports a brushed finish.

See the reflection?

That stuff’s all great (better than great), but what REALLY surprised me was the included M16 ballpoint refill. My complaints about Lamy ballpoint refills are well-documented. I’ve always found them to be washed out looking and very “draggy.” So when I ordered this pen, I was fully prepared to swap in a Monteverde Lamy-style refill. But when I tried the pen as is, WOW…what a difference! This black refill writes dark and smooth and much faster. Not “hybrid ink fast,” but sooooo much better than before. It’s so improved that I decided that the refill swap wasn’t needed. The Lamy M16 refill does the job and does it quite well. Color me shocked.

M16 ballpoint refill
Not a hint of rattle in the refill

Lamy M16 refill

But was this particular refill a fluke, I wondered? (Always the skeptic.) Yesterday another new Lamy ballpoint arrived…the Matte Black AL-Star Limited Edition (thoroughly reviewed here, by Mike Dudek). Would my refill bubble burst? Heck, no. The refill in the AL-Star wrote just as impressively as the one in the 2000. Proof enough for me.

I present Exhibit A…
Writing samples
Writing samples. [Correction: The Matte Black pen is an AL-Star, not a Safari]

Is the Lamy ballpoint refill perfect? Well, it’s no uni-ball Jetstream or Pentel Vicuna, but it’s leaps and bounds better than it used to be. I’d love to know if the actual ink formula changed or if I’ve just received fresher refills. Whatever the case, the improvement I’m seeing in the M16 refill coupled with the classic styling of the Lamy 2000 body has me reaching for this pen every day.

Fountain Pen & Ballpoint
Sibling Pens: Lamy 2000 Fountain Pen & Ballpoint

When a pen looks like a million bucks, feels this great in hand, AND lays down a solid dark line, it’s impossible to ignore, even for this fountain and gel pen lover.

Now, Lamy, how about a better refill for my Balloon Roller Ball? Please?