Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Register to Win

This blog started about four and a half years ago so I am thinking about my fifth birthday party coming up in January next year. I hope it will be something memorable.

One thing I will be doing is having some giveaways as part of my birthday celebrations, and you’ve got to be in to win. I want to show some support to those of you who have been with me for a while, so a lot of the giveaways are not going to be open to the general public who just happen across my blog whilst the giveaway is on. I want you to win the giveaway, not some random shopper who finds my blog via Google search 10 minutes before the giveaway closes. So, how to exclude the 'general public'? Well, you need to register now for the giveaways I’ll be holding in early 2011. I can't stop unregistered entrants on the giveaways, but I can ignore their entry.

So, how do you "register"? The answer is really easy, and many of you are already registered.
  • If you are, or become, a public Follower of this blog (using Google Friend Connect, see the sidebar gadget) then you are registered.
  • If you have a sign in that identifies you when you leave comments on this blog, and you have previously left a comment on this blog, then you are already registered! You don't have to do anything. If you want to double check, then use the Lijit search box in the sidebar. Just search on your comment display name and check it brings you up. If it does, you are registered. (Example, search on ‘adair’ to bring up their comments) Only one trap - if your first comment ever was in the last few weeks then it may not yet have been indexed by Google/Lijit search, but give it a little time and it will be.
  • If you have a sign in but have never left a comment, then leave one here on this post now and you are registered.
  • If you do not have a sign in then you could get one by creating one here at OpenID. These ID’s are effectively anonymous. You can create them without any real world ID so you don’t have to get worried about privacy. Anyone who uses Yahoo, AOL, Blogger, Wordpress, MySpace, Live Journal to name a few already has an OpenID. Then leave a comment here on this post using your nice new OpenID and you are registered.
  • If you do not have a sign in and do not want to get one, then you can email me at the address in my Profile (see About Me in the sidebar) and register. In your email you can just say something like “I’ll be the Anonymous commenter who calls themselves JD-84”.
  • If you are one of that small number of people who have computer trouble commenting on this blog then you can also email me and register. We can work on resolving the problem you have, but if we can’t fix it, then when the giveaways are on, I will enter you into the draw myself.
The point of this "registering" is that I want you to be in to win. I want to ensure the winners (and there are going to be a lot more than one) are people who have been reading my blog for a reasonable length of time.

The giveaways are open to every reader no matter where in the world you are – I will post your winnings to you no matter where you are. So, this is a special reminder to you readers in Asia, who didn’t seem to enter the recent Rapid Pro giveaway. Hmmm, well maybe you all have Rapid Pro's anyway?

People "registered" before the end of August will be eligible for the giveaways.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Search Popularity

You won't be surprised to hear that Google searches on 'mechanical pencil' and 'mechanical pencils' are one of the main sources of traffic to this blog. I've noticed some traffic declines lately so started doing a bit of investigation. From Google Trends, heres the popularity of those Google searches over time.

Firstly the search term 'mechanical pencil'.

Now with an s on the end, 'mechanical pencils'.

Look at that wave, a constant pattern of mid year lows and year end highs. Northern hemisphere school holidays? Summer means less time phaffing around on the net in general?

For comparison here's some other related searches.





and oh dear, this doesn't look good for 'Rotring'

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Papermate Clearpoint Mechanical Pencil Review

You may recall an earlier guest review of the Paper Mate PhD Ultra mechanical pencil sent in by Bob from Arizona. Well, Bob actually sent in two reviews, the PhD and the Clearpoint. So, here’s the second of his reviews…

Paper Mate Clearpoint Mechanical Pencil Review

I am writing this review of the Papermate Clearpoint mechanical pencil at a ramada (an un-walled shelter) along a hiking trail in Glendale, Arizona. I have hiked about a mile and a half and I am overlooking Pinnacle Peak road about 20 to 30 feet below. To get to this ramada, I walked across a substantial pedestrian bridge connecting two small mountains in the Park and spanning the road below. I have been to the top of one of the mountains, about 350 feet higher than my current location, on the other side of the road. However, it is heading toward a dry 90 degrees [Fahrenheit] and I am not hiking any higher than this today. The hillside vegetation is greener than usual for this time of year due to a number of recent rainfalls and the trim on the two Clearpoint pencils that I am using to write this review matches the color of the landscape. The trim on the 0.5 mm pencil is dark green whereas the trim on the 0.7 mm is a much lighter and brighter green. The exterior surface of the pencils, excluding the trim is crystal clear plastic, exposing the inner mechanical workings.
papermate clearpoint mechanical pencil

These pencils are inexpensive side-button activated models with retractable conical tips and large twist-to-extend erasers. The largest visible component within the pencils is the white plastic lead tube with a funnel at the top, along with a prominent y-shaped component that transfers the horizontal force from the button to a downward vertical force toward the writing tip. When the tip is retracted, the first press of the button releases it. About 1 mm of lead is released with each subsequent press. The retractable tip, itself, is a metal tube ending in a cone where the lead is released.
papermate clearpoint mechanical pencil schematic
papermate clearpoint pencil mechanism

Below the long rectangular button is a contoured indented surface surrounded by rubber grip lines connected to a ring just above the bulging plastic cone at the bottom of the pencil. Most of the plastic clutch resides within a short metal tube except when the button is pressed to extend the lead. The aperture to the lead tube within its funnel entrance can hold approximately a dozen leads in the 0.5 mm model, but ten would probably be more appropriate to minimize jams. I have 8 leads in the 0.7 mm and it appears to be a rather tight fit.
papermate clearpoint grip and tip

The top third of the pencil consists of housing for the eraser well and twist mechanism and plastic clip. This is connected by a raised vertical ridge under the clip into a slot in the front of the main body of the pencil. The slot allows the housing to snap into the main body of the pencil once the pencil has been filled with lead. The connection seems to be quite sturdy. I have dropped both of these pencils on tiled floors on several occasions with no visible damage to the surface and without the eraser housing separating from the rest of the pencil. On the other hand, I have seen a number of these models with broken clips. The eraser material is Papermate’s common Tuff-Stuff polymer and the eraser is held in its cylinder at the top by a plastic apparatus with two prongs that squeeze the eraser in a viselike fashion. The “knob“ for twisting the cylinder to extract or retract the erase moves the two prongs, which are connected at the bottom, along an inner spiral rail within the eraser well. Did I mention that the Clearpoint is transparent?
papermate clearpoint mechanical pencil eraser

This lightweight pencil is suitable for long periods of general writing, but its appearance makes it inappropriate for a formal office environment.
  • Best Points: Pocket safe, Large Eraser, Inexpensive, Seeing what makes it tick.
  • Worst Points: Potential Breakage of the Plastic Clip, Limited Lead Capacity, Inexpensive Appearance.
  • Other Points: I find the contoured ergonomic grip with its ridges very comfortable and the hard rubber grip components seem to be quite durable.
[Note: I wrote this review in its entirety with Clearpoint 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm mechanical pencils. I then copied it into Microsoft Word with minor grammatical changes, etc. Here’s a link to the Thunderbird Conservation Park]

Thanks Bob. I see the Glendale park has ravens – they might fancy a nice bright shiny Clearpoint so might pay to keep your Clearpoints close at hand.

Note:- This article text by Bob, schematic drawing by Bob, all other images by Dave.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's Arrived

Well it was a long time coming, but it's finally arrived. The Rotring Rapid Pro 0.5mm mechanical pencil give away has closed, and the winner has been drawn.
Before I announce the winner I'd like to thank you all for entering, certainly a good number you did so, and of course to again thank Cult Pens for supplying the give away pencil.

Drum roll please....and the winner is....

Spuddybuddy, so please get in contact with me. Hit View Profile in the sidebar to get my email.


Over the course of this blog many people have very generously sent me pencils and things because they thought I might like them. I was rather surprised by the number of entrants and seeming show of enthusiasm for this give away, so I have decided to double it. Call it some form of a karma thing, or reciprocity, utu, paying it forward, whatever you like, but I'm going to dust off my credit card and toss in another Rapid Pro at my expense. So, we have a second draw, and the second winner is...

Rhonda Eudaly. So, Rhonda, lets hope you didn't stop reading at 'Spuddybuddy' above. Please get in touch to claim your prize.

(I have manipulated the publishing date on this post to make it appear next after the give away)

Friday, June 18, 2010

It's Been A Long Time Coming

Rotring Rapid Pro Giveaway

Woo-hoo and Welcome to the inaugural Daves Mechanical Pencils giveaway.

Yep, Cult Pens have taken pity on you, you poor neglected readers and sent me a Rotring Rapid Pro mechanical pencil to give away to you.

So, the pencil to be given away is this very one - a Rotring Rapid Pro 0.5mm in its nice little box.
rotring rapid pro mechanical pencil
Here’s how the giveaway works. If you want to enter the competition, you leave a comment on this article. Just  a simple "Yep, count me in" sort of comment. That’s it. Nothing more required....except if you don’t have a sign in and are commenting anonymously then you will have to leave some unique identifier in your actual comment, like “JK from the USA” or “Marieta84” so I can tell you all apart. Comments will stay open for 5 days from the time of publication. After that I will use my random number generator to choose a comment as the winner, amend this article to name the winner and they will have a couple of days to get in touch with me and claim their prize. So make sure you check back when the five days are up, or you might miss out.

Just to clarify - this give away is open to any reader anywhere in the world - I will post it to you no matter where you are.

Rotring Rapid Pro…it’s pretty darn impressive.
mr rock-head and the stunning rotring rapid pro
But wait, there’s more. Here’s the bit where I say “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. So, I expect something back from the winner. After they’ve used their nice new Rapid Pro for a few weeks I’d like some form of article back. A full review, a mini review or even just a few sentences of “I liked this and this, but am not so keen on that bit.” It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something, big or small.

Check out the 2mm version of the Rapid Pro. The Staedtler 925 25 now has another competitor…another range of mechanical pencils where the 2mm pencil is a genuine full member of the set.

And hey, remember, it’s all thanks to the folks at Cult Pens.


The winners were Spuddybuddy and Rhonda Eudaly. See here for results.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cross Century II Mechanical Pencil Review

Cross Century II Mechanical Pencil Review

Years of blogging have corrupted me. I started this blog with rock-solid righteous prejudices –
Rubber grips = horrible and bad
Side-clickers = dodgy, mutant growths
Silver and gold trims = I’ll be tactful and just say they were not to my liking.
It is now clear to me that this blog has performed some sort of mental adjustment upon me, whittled away at my beliefs to the point I sometimes just don’t know where I stand.
cross century ii mechanical pencil medalist

Down to business then. Stylistically the Cross Century II is a development of the Classic Century, with arguably the most significant difference being the wider body of the Century II. With the Century II the top half of the two piece body is wider than the lower half, somewhat reminiscent of the look of a capped writing instrument with the cap posted. The proportions of this pencil with its straight lines and tapering ends are rather easy on the easy on the eye.

See, that’s what I mean about breaking down prejudices. To me, the polished chrome body and 23K gold trims of the Medalist colour scheme should look…well, just not right…but somehow...?
cross century ii top half
There is a thin black grooved line towards the base of the gold end cap – I really quite like that little aesthetic addition. The gold and especially the chrome are highly polished and really stand out.

Whilst 0.5mm is the only lead diameter option for the Century II mechanical pencil, it is available in 5 colour options, mine being the chrome and gold trim 'Medalist' colour scheme. Well, that’s 5 options in the retail range, there could be more in the separate business range, particularly as part of a BP/MP set.
In the hand the Century II has a reasonably substantial weight and feel, and is noticeably top heavy. The bright polished chrome finish is never going to win accolades for its grip enhancing properties. Actually the chrome body isn’t entirely plain – there are groups of very fine lines running the length of the body, but they don’t really contribute anything to the grip. At least with no specific grip zone you can grasp the pencil at any point and rotate it at will.
The lead advance mechanism is a standard twist top ratchet. You twist the top half of the body clockwise about 135 degrees to activate the mechanism. It is spring loaded so it springs back as soon as it is released. Ten activations will get you about 7mm of lead. You can operate the mechanism one handed, but two is best. There’s no doubt that twist mechanisms are slow and cumbersome compared to push-tops and most other mechanisms.

The whole top half of the mechanical pencil pulls off to allow access to the lead refill chamber. There is a small eraser under the top half for occasional use.
cross century ii eraser
The eraser plugs the end of the lead chamber so you pull it out to put more sticks of lead in.
cross mechanical pencil lead refill chamber

PAT 5,662,424 is marked on the body of the pencil mechanism which is the standard Cross patent, with links back to Kotobuki of Japan.
cross mechanical pencil patent

The lead sleeve of the Century II is a short thin metal pipe. The sleeve is retractable. You twist the top half of the body clockwise to advance the lead, but anticlockwise will lock the mechanism into rest mode and the lead sleeve can be pushed back up into the tip. As usual you can also retract the sleeve by ‘activating and holding’ the lead advance mechanism and pushing the sleeve in.
cross century ii mechanical pencil tip

The pocket clip is not spring loaded but quite strong and functional. The rounded end allows the clip to slip easily onto a sheet of paper or shirt pocket. It also looks quite stylish.
cross century ii pocket clip

“Cross” on the top half of the body and on the pocket clip are the only external markings on the pencil. I always wish manufacturers could somehow include some style or model identification on their writing instruments as well.

• Best Points – Overall looks, plus I like the rest mode option for the mechanism.
• Not So Good Points – Grip not the most secure.
• Price Range – High.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.

Dimensions – Length 140mm, diameter 9mm on the lower half of the body. Balance point about 85mm up from the tip.

1 - This Cross Century II mechanical pencil was supplied by Euroffice, an office supplies and stationery specialist in the UK, in exchange for a review of the pencil and an acknowledgement.
2 - The Cross item number of this Century II Medalist mechanical pencil is 330305WG.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Poll 11 - Push Point Pencils

The Poll has closed. The poll was in conjunction with my review of the Yoropen pencil, and asked the question “Are pop-a-point pencils mechanical pencils?”
The options and votes were
  • Yes – 23 votes (23%)
  • No – 66 votes (66%)
  • Not sure – 11 votes (11%)
No prize for guessing there were exactly 100 votes cast.

I admit it is not a totally black and white situation, but I personally don’t consider push-point pencils to be mechanical pencils, so this poll doesn’t give me any reason to reassess that.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Vultures Are Always Circling

I was recently contacted by a PR Representative of OfficeMax who thought I might be interested in their newly released workplace survey on the subject of missing office supplies. Well, yes I was, and I figure you might be too.

Here’s two little snippets from the survey report.
Disappearing Act – There seems to be a lot of dwindling workspaces popping up across the nation. Eighty-one percent of employed Americans who report missing supplies from their work area say that pens, pencils, or highlighters go M.I.A. most often. Other disappearing goods include paper products (35%), paper clips or binder clips (28%), staplers (22%), and scissors (20%).

Run and Hide – So it’s not surprising that a majority (68%) of working Americans have taken matters into their own hands by finding ways to ensure their favorite provisions don’t go missing. Some keep their much-loved office paraphernalia in a special designated drawer (59%) or in a secret space in their work area (45%). Others order additional quantities of certain products to make certain they’re never low (51%) or label their supplies with their contact information (31%). More employed women than men (73% vs. 63%) report they’ve taken steps to ensure their office products don’t go missing.
I can really relate to a lot of the findings in the survey. In my office I know to watch certain people like hawks or the item they pick up will just walk away with them, and sometimes when someone quits their job and vacates their desk – well it’s like a flock of vultures descending on a fresh carcass, devouring the abandoned office supplies without having to do battle with “The Guardian of the Office Supplies Cabinet”.

Anyway, here’s the links to the News Release and the Full Report.

(Nope, they ain't payin' me!)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Yoropen Pencil Review

Yoropen Pencil Review

Is it a…mechanical pencil?
yoropen pencil
Good question. Well, it’s a pencil so lets just put definitions to one side for the moment.

My Yoropen pencil certainly gathered more than its fair share of “What’s that?” type questions from my work colleagues whilst I was using it for this review. That strange shape really catches people’s eye. Yoropen’s are available in several different models and in ballpoint pen and pencil modes. My model is the Executive pencil - it’s fairly heavy in the hand, more than you might expect, and the balance is a bit top heavy.

The Yoropen Executive Pencil comes in a rather attractive and functional case, much like the small cases for compact reading glasses (not that I am familiar with those!) The case provides excellent protection for the pencil when it is not in use. The writing tip itself is protected by a screw on plastic cover. When the pencil is in use, the screw on cover can be screwed onto the top end of the body as an interesting looking extension.
yoropen executive pencil and case

Yoropen have won a bunch of design awards and claim three main benefits for their ergonomic design – finger support, visual space and adjustable grip. The offset Z tip design also allows the writing tip to be much more vertical to the paper whilst allowing the pencil to be held at a traditionally sloped angle.

yoropen pencil push point holder
The Yoropen pencil is what is frequently called a ‘push-point’ or ‘pop-a-point’ pencil. I remember that for a year or two back in my primary school days push-point pencils were all the rage because of their easy use as blow-guns or other types of weaponry. Just to explain this ‘push-point’ business, the lead is fixed in a small plastic casing which in turn is usually held inside a tube. When the lead has worn down you remove the whole casing and replace it with a new casing. That then leads to the question, “Are push-point pencils mechanical pencils?” It’s not really advancing the lead in anyway, it’s an entire replacement of the lead, so I tend to think they aren’t mechanical pencils…but have your say in the Poll in the sidebar. (The poll is now closed, results here)

So, the Yoropen has a triangular rubber grip, as you might expect from an ergonomic type writing instrument. The rubber has a small amount of give under finger pressure and is a reasonably grippy compound so overall the grip section does work.
yoropen grip

The grip is also twistable, so you can orientate it to suit. I imagine this might be of more use on the Yoropen pen (especially to left-handers) rather than the Yoropen Pencil. Twisting the grip takes a fair bit of effort so it is not something you would routinely change. The Z shape of the offset tip also creates a wide ‘end-stop’ for the grip which some folk may use as part of their grip.
yoropen pencil front section

But, and it’s a big but, that Z offset tip section and triangular grip means you cannot in any normal fashion rotate the pencil…so as your lead wears down you quickly get a chisel edge (or rather a square end since the lead is somewhat perpendicular to the paper) and you can’t rotate it…and because it’s a thick lead push-point pencil you quickly loose that fine tip and get into the thicker main body…you see where I’m heading. Basically Yoropen lays down graphite like an ordinary woodcase pencil or leadholder, but one that you cannot rotate to help keep a sharp point on. For me personally, I think the technical term is “Yurr??” That pretty much sums it up. In an effort to keep the lead sharp I often resorted to holding the Yoropen at some strange sideways angle or even ‘upside down’ when doing some lines or ticks, etc just to try and re-sharpen a bit of a point on the lead. The lead supplied in the push-points was fairly hard wearing - I would have guessed F or perhaps H grade although I believe Yoropen claim HB. In any event I think I got my moneys worth of letters out of each push-point…but it was fat lettering. “Uggg”.

Now for the bad stuff. The push-points have some small amount of wobble when seated on their holder spike. The offset tip is touted as improving vision so you can easily see what you are writing, but it makes it a little harder to intuitively position the lead precisely. So, combine that with lead wobble… some of you precision-obsessed readers out there will already be ramming your keyboard through the screen to try and blot out the horror. Oh, of course the lead is also rather noisy. I assume it’s a ceramic lead like in a woodcase pencil.

yoropen pencil pop a point bodyOnly one push-point cartridge is held on the writing tip at a time, but more are stored in the main body – 9 to be exact, giving a total of 10 overall. You push your used cartridge into the top and a new one is pushed out of the other end which you then stick on the holder post. If you push your used one into the top end fairly forcefully the new one often shoots out the other end in a rather childishly pleasing manner.

In closing then, if you are convinced that there is a proper pencil-to-paper angle for general pencil writing purposes and that angle is relatively vertical, then the Yoropen achieves that angle. However you then find yourself in the worst of both worlds – you can’t sharpen and can’t rotate. Sure, you could replace the pop-a-points at a ridiculous rate and thus maintain a constant sharp lead, but that just seems wrong to me. Yes the Yoropen grip may well be useful for some folk with dexterity problems, and yes the offset Z tip may improve vision, but that’s at the expense of accuracy. Here I go then, flying in the face of prestigious international design awards and a truckload of user testimonials. I imagine my opinion of the Yoropen ballpoint pens might well be different, and some folk with special grip needs may find the Yoropen pencil to their liking, but for the vast majority of us the Yoropen pencil just doesn’t cut the mustard and would not be a good choice.
• Best Points – it will attract other peoples attention!
• Not So Good Points – read the review!
• Price Range – Mid/High.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.

Dimensions – Length 142mm excl tip cover, grip zone 14mm each side of the triangle. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Poll 10 - Vanishing Point Mechanical Pencils

OK, the Poll closed a while ago.

The poll question was prompted by my review of the Paper Mate Apex mechanical pencil and was "What should we call vanishing point mechanisms".

The options and votes were:
Double Action - 4 votes (5%)
Double Push - 6 votes (8%)
Dual Action - 4 votes (5%)
Vanishing Point - 54 votes (79%)

Clearly "Vanishing Point" it is, which is certainly my prefered option. I'll make a label and apply it to applicable posts so you can click on it and see posts related to vanishing point pencils.

Such a pity that the Pilot Vanishing Point mechanical pencil is vanishing.