A Brief Pen Review and Shootout


And now for something completely random –

Last week my old faithful office pen, a Bic Atlantis, gave up the ghost and went to that great recycling dumpster in the sky. Do I do the obvious (also the simpler, cheaper) route and just get another Atlantis? Of course not! I decided I needed to go on a quest and see what else is out there besides the two dozen dried up old Bic Stics in my cabinet.

A quick Google search turned up this article, so I took the reviewers’ advice and picked up some Uniball Jetstream fine (.7 mm) tips. The ink in this pen flows so easily it was a little freaky at first. It’s nice, lays down a nice clear line (no feathering or bleeding through the paper), and is starting to grow on me but writing with it is so smooth I have to slow down to feel like I have control of the pen.

Next up was the Pilot Acroball fine (.7 mm) tip. It didn’t feel as slippery as the Jetstream and still wrote a nice, clean line but the padded grip’s contour is in the wrong place for me; I was constantly readjusting my fingers on the pen trying to find a grip that felt natural.

Third on the list was the Zebra F-301 fine (.7) tip. This is one short, thin pen. It seems durable with the stainless steel barrel and is easy to write fast with (did I mention my handwriting sucks?) but it’s so skinny it just feels weird in my hand. And the ink is noticeably lighter and less stark than the two pens I tried earlier.

I picked up a pack of Pentel Energels in .7 mm medium tip yesterday. These things are hands down my least favorite pen in my stack. They just belch out huge streams of ink. The feel is mushy and hard to control. I might like these better with .5 mm tip but the medium tip model is just not my cup of meat.

I tried a few of my wife’s pens as well. The old school Bic Stic was typically hard to get started. Her Pilot Precise V5 was okay but didn’t really move me one way or another. The fine tip Sharpie Pen just feels too much like an old fashioned felt tip and I never liked those things.

But then, suddenly – Eureka! I found a two-pack of Uniball Signo 207 .5 mm micro tips at one of my friendly neighborhood Walmarts. Since the Signo 207s are gel pens, I wanted to go with the .5 mm tip instead of the .7 due to my bad experience with the Energels. The pen lays down a nice, clean, bold line with a feel that’s easy to control. (It’s number three in my eyeball comparison of which pens lays down the thickest, clearest line.) The slightly cushioned grip area doesn’t have any contour, so I can hold the pen however I feel comfortable. It fits my hand well and I don’t feel like I have to work to make the pen write what I want where I want to put it.

So, there you have it. Way more thought put into a subject that I never really paid much attention to before and I’m adopting the Signo 207 as my new pen of choice. I would suggest that, if you’re fed up with your cheap ballpoint clumping up and spitting out ugly globs of ink in the middle of your notes, you lay down a few dollars and try a little nicer grade pen. There are worse things to spend money on.

Below are samples of my gnarly handwriting with the pens mentioned above. My loving spouse ranked them in order of which one laid down the thickest ink. My scribbles in the right margin indicate whether the pen is gel, hybrid ballpoint, felt tip, ballpoint, or roller ball.


A Geek and a Spare Desktop

So, a few weeks ago I pulled my old Windows 7 laptop out of the closet and found out it still worked. (Won’t hold a charge and the battery and DC adapter have already been replaced but it works fine while plugged in.)

I did a clean install of Win 7 Pro with drivers (glad to finally have an excuse to use that back up image), downloaded a metric buttload of updates, installed Chrome, Java, GData, and Minecraft, and gave it to my 8-year-old son. He was ecstatic to be able to play Minecraft with his sister and I got my old Linux desktop back.

The desktop is an old eMachines T5234 32-bit that originally came with Vista (ack!). It didn’t take long for the power supply to crap out, so that got replaced by a much improved unit (a Thermaltake, maybe?), an extra cooling fan was installed, and I maxxed out its RAM to a full 2 gigs (crazy!).

I had used a plethora of Linux distros on it over the years. Over the course of the two years or so my son had it, the desktop had ran Slackware, Fedora (when Chrome started getting wonky), and then CentOS (when Fedora started locking up).

It had been a few years since I had tried to install a modern Linux distro on the machine. This time around, I focused on the LXDE desktop to try to get the most of its limited resources (the aforementioned 2 gigs of RAM, an AMD Athlon 64 dual core, and a NVIDIA GeForce 6150SE chip) and quickly started running into problems: openSUSE had insane video tearing, Fedora had disappearing menu icons, Lubuntu 14.10 was almost stable but Firefox caused massive video tearing when launched. Ditto for Linux Mint with the MATE desktop.

A Debian netinstall with LXDE exhibited the same video problems when I upgraded to Testing. I did a fresh install with Stable and it was, well, stable. However, IceWeasel ESR was sluggish on Facebook and I found myself switching back and forth between Chromium for speed and IceWeasel when I need to use Flash. (Should have checked to see if a pepperflash plugin was available for Chromium.)

I wound up going back to what was already on the desktop when it came back to me: CentOS. No video tearing with the old reliable Gnome 2 desktop (Gnome 3 is an abomination. It’s like the Gnome developers looked at Windows 8 and said, “Pshaw. We can make a desktop suck worse than that. They ain’t seen nothin’ yet!) and CentOS is as stable as the day as long.

Same blessed problem with Firefox ESR, though – it’s just too sluggish! I tried to find some way to install Chrome but Google isn’t showing the Chromish love to old Linux kernels. A popular user repository installed an old version of Chromium and scripts for pepperflash. Problem was that pepperflash didn’t work.

Which left me with the nuclear option: Arch. This distro’s installation process isn’t as scary as Linux From Scratch or FreeBSD but it’s not for the faint of heart. I had tried to install Arch at some earlier point in this saga but it refused to boot despite having been on the same machine in years past. My problem was likely rooted in trying to preserve my /home partition in the install process to avoid having my old data wiped out. I rsynced my home onto an external hard drive, wound up using GParted to partition the eMachine’s drive to Arch’s liking, and made it through the install process.

After several hours of pain and suffering (most of which involved trying to figure why the flip the USB drives wouldn’t automount), I had a working, lightweight LXDE desktop. It didn’t come with Firefox (Arch doesn’t come with much of anything; you build it yourself) so I installed Chromium and a working (!) pepperflash plugin from the AUR for speedy browsing. And there haven’t been any video issues thus far but it’s only been a few days.

Arch is a bleeding edge, rolling release so maintenance will definitely be required. At this point, however, I’m a happy camper. Everything is working the way it’s supposed to and the old desktop is almost speedy when unburdened by extraneous cruft. (Well, it’s not like I’m using it for video editing.) My digital life is good.

There may be a full write up on my Arch experience in the future. It’s a fun distro but bleeding edginess can sometimes cause kiniption fits. We’ll see how things work out.

Windows 8 Follow Up

Fickle geek that I am, I succumbed to Microsoft’s fiendishly clever marketing campaign and upgraded my Windows 7 Home Premium laptop to Windows 8 Pro last night. (Richard Stallman appeared in a flash of smoke as I clicked the Send button to finalize the $40 upgrade payment. I kept him from inflicting serious bodily harm upon my person but he did manage to pull all of the proprietary codecs off my CentOS desktop.) Continue reading

Forests And Trees

I got a little carried away this afternoon in looking at Romans 5 for our group Bible study tonight and wound up reading it to Dawn in five different translations. I was planning on only using a couple for comparison’s sake but verse 14 is just confusing in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and that was the one I read first, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Continue reading


Several months ago, I was thinking of jazz musicians back in the day who would lay down tracks in a studio or play in a club and the chemistry that they created. If you could just cut out small pieces of time to preserve those moments, you could preserve the feeling the musicians generated, the ambiance, the emotions of the moment. Recordings do this to an extent but you don’t always get the full picture, it’s like looking at individual paragraphs bereft of the whole story. I got a burst of inspiration and came up with the story that follows.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Continue reading

Somebody Get Them a Room

As a conservative, I expect a certain amount of liberal bias from the moderator in any given presidential or vice presidential debate. A Republican walking into a debate situation has to know from the outset that he or she will need to take on his/her opponent and the moderator in order to win. So when Candy Crowley gave Obama three minutes more time than Romney Continue reading