Shoot-out Review: 3 Cheap Fountain Pens, Part II - Bic Select X Pen

Bic Select X Pen

Woe betide my wife. Whereas she prefers things to follow the more classical stylings so common to those fashionable books, magazines and television shows (which we will here define as "good taste"), my leanings are far more into those odd accoutrements so common to the dusty backrooms of pawn shops, hidden behind a musty curtain, and we here define such things as "tacky" (if cheap), "strange" (if medium-priced) or "eccentric" (if a second mortgage is required). Lavender walls backing mahogany furniture is apparently tasteful, while Superman wallpaper and faux-Lego tables are apparently not, even if it's an ultra-cool riff on Siegal and Shuster's original covers. I say this not to demonstrate my nerd cred, but to give fair warning as to the unique side of my tastes.

The look of the Bic Select X Pen fountain pen, which seems to have arrived as a lonely and mis-shipped item in my local small office supply store, leans towards my definition of tasteful --which is to say, not that of my wife's. This odd little pen seems to have emerged form the Bic assembly line --a place not normally associated with fountain pens, at least in North America-- as a bastard child of an economic writing utensil with Captain Nemo's Nautilus.

Shoot-out Review: 3 Cheap Fountain Pens, Part I - Pilot Vpen

Fountain Pens closedYes, I love fountain pens. I'd be happy as a lark if I could make a living out of testing a different one every day. Unfortunately, such is not the case and I have to make due with using what I can afford, usually "flea market specials" sent along by my friends for me to restore.

Well, not quite, it seems. I've recently come across three different fountain pens selling for between $3 and $9 USD. Obviously, these shouldn't be judged against the yardstick of $100-300 pens, but do they offer a good value for the money? Are they appropriate for fountain pen newbies? In this three-part series of reviews, I'll be examining (from left to right in the picture) the Parker Reflex, the Pilot Vpen and the Bic Select to see if they really are as good a deal as they seem.

My process was simple. First, I used each pen for a full day in a regular work setting, then wrote one page on three different papers: a pocket lined Moleskine, a cheap index card, and a Rhodia pad. Then I left the pen for a week and checked the flow and ink level when I returned to it. What felt good in the hand? What wrote well and consistently? What would I recommend to a fountain pen newcomer? Which pen comes out on top?

The Pilot Vpen (a.k.a., Varsity)

The pen in the middle in the picture above is a Pilot Vpen (which seems to be called the Varsity in the USA), and is a bit of the odd man out in this trio. Whereas the other two pens can use regular ink cartridges, the Vpen is non-refillable. This is a pity, since --although the pen does contain an ample amount of ink in its barrel-- I always feel a little sad about throwing away a perfectly good pen and adding to the world's landfills, just because of a lack of ink. (Note: some people have tried to refill theirs, with differing levels of success.)

Review: Cross Roadster Gel Pen

Cross Roadster, closed

In the past couple of years, I've become far more intimate with my writing tools. The act of putting words on paper has become more of a visceral experience, something that I look forward to doing (as opposed to something I'm forced to do). Given my semi-recent hobby of restoring vintage fountain pens, it isn't hard to guess that I'm usually found with a pen in hand that's more than six decades old, sporting a gold nib, and laying down a beautiful wet layer or Waterman's or Noodler's ink. Frankly, I've grown tired of most modern pen designs which are generally contrived to look like all others or to evoke Star Trek in some way. (Think of the recent crop of G2 lookalikes, for example.) Which is why I'm surprised to declare that one of the pens in my current stable is not a fountain pen at all, but a modern gel roller.

I should preface this by saying that not everybody enjoys writing with a wide-barreled pen. I certainly do, although many of my acquaintance think slimmer is better. I find that a wider pen allows me to write a little looser and doesn't require the firm hold that might aggravate carpal tunnel. Make no mistake: the Cross Roadster is definitely a fat pen, about as fat as most people could comfortably use.

I found the Roadster at my local Staples and fell in love with it right away. It's a thick, fairly stubby pen just under 4.5" long; however, with its cap posted it turns into a meaty 5.75". Vaguely bullet-shaped, with a long brushed chrome cap and a sturdy and beautifully-coloured barrel that's well-rounded at its base, it certainly has a look all its own.

Zentangles : A Review

In my pursuit to find fun and new ways to express my creativity on paper, I stumbled across a new art-form called Zentangles. A zentangle is a method of creating images from imaginative patterns. You start by dividing off sections of a small piece of paper and then you draw repetitive doodles and designs within each section. (These are known as tangles). Each doodle and design has its own special and unique name and of course, you're welcome to make up your own tangles. When you are done filling in each space with a different design, you've completed a unique piece of art.

The Zentangle website provides extensive information on the benefits of this art form, where they came from, and how to get started with one of their kits. In my haste to start utilizing this simple-yet-elegant art-form, I ordered one of their Zentangle Kits for $49 USD. Each kit comes with 34 tiles (pre-cut pieces of thick, watercolor paper), 2 Sakura Micron pens, pencils and a sharpener, an instructional book and DVD, a 20-sided dice, and a small Legend that contains 20 tangles to get you all started with.

Review: Zen to done; or GTD, the easy way

I will admit that I am possibly the last person in the world to read this e-book. It has been out for some time and got quite some attention on the web, as I found out this week. But still, for those last few who have been in the same cave as I was in until recently, here is a review of the best e-book I have read in a while: Zen to done.

The book was written by Leo Babuta, the same person who writes the Zen Habits blog. The book is intended as an alternative for Getting things done from David Allen, and indeed also takes many ideas from this and other systems. I have also read that book, but found it a bit overwhelming to implement although it has some great concepts in it. Zen to done seems to understand my problems with GTD and give helpful ideas on how to fix them.

Did someone mention

My new goal in life is to S.I.M.P.L.I.F.Y! I have too much stuff in a pretty small house and cannot find anything when I need it. I figure that anything I can do to help simplify my life may also benefit you – my D*I*Y friends. So, my stories and posts are hopefully going to be filled with simple yet effective tools for you to use in your everyday life (if you so choose!).

I figured since someone had mentioned in my last post, I would begin here. A FREE service that converts your voice into emails, text messages, reminders, lists and appointments. Their Tag Line: “Get Simple Back.” Love it!

Ubiquitous Capture Tools from

I was recently introduced to a web site (through another web site) that I found very intriguing, so, of course, I wanted to share it will all of my D*I*Y Planner Friends!

The site is called and is produced by a woman named Carolyn. She is the mother of five and I believe she's the most organized and efficient woman! Her site is full of inventions, hacks, and many tutorials. Everything from making your own cookie cutter to my favorite which is what I'm going to discuss next.

Review: Ubuntu on the Eee PC

Eee PC 701 BlackIf what we're hearing in the trade sites is correct, the brand new ultra-mobile Eee PC 901 will be released in the next few days. However, the price point is supposed to be close to the $650 mark, which is a far cry from the sub-$400 sweet spot of the 701. Still, I'm eying that one carefully for my road kit, given how well my own 701 has performed. This is a little follow-up to my original mini-review.

Well, it didn't take me long to realise that I wasn't very fond of the Xandros Linux distribution that comes stock with the Eee PC 701. Don't get me wrong: it's great for newbies to Linux or for those users who want a static system that "just works" without feeling the foolish desire to tinker or to be on the bleeding edge. But, for better or worse, that's not me.

Most of my frustration was the result of a significant portion of the file system where the operating system and installed programs are stored -- to protect newbies from "messing up" the operating system, it's read-only. Yup, can't screw up what you can't change. But I didn't realise my inability to write to it at first, and was wondering why all my free space was rapidly disappearing whenever I upgraded the built-in applications. It seems that the old versions remained hidden and inactive, while the upgrades started taking up huge chunks of the valuable two gigabytes of storage space. For example, an upgrade of didn't take up a dozen more megabytes, as it would seem: instead, it took up a few hundred megabytes. Lesson learned: don't bother with any significant upgrades.

Review: Craft, Inc.

The ultimate dream for any artist and crafter is to be able to open up a shop where they can sell their creations and make a living from their passion. Thanks to sites like Ebay and Etsy, crafters can do just this. For those of you who think you might want to eventually swap out your 9-5 job to pursue a business based off your creative designs, then Craft, Inc.: Turn your creative hobby into a business, by Meg Mateo Ilasco, is your guide into getting your business started

Mateo Ilasco uses Craft, Inc. to hit all the major points of starting your own crafty company. Her writing is crisp and tailored perfectly to today's crafting audience. The chapters are loosely organized around topics such as: starting a new business; overview of business topics; making your product identity; marketing (with heavy emphasis on internet and trade show techniques); production and pricing; and how to live beyond the dream. She teaches you how to make business and marketing plans and how to act when you're invited to trade shows. The book also contains many internet resources to help you along the way to turning your crafting hobby into a profitable business.