Monday, January 23, 2012

Old Ink

When the Nerd in Chief brought home these bottles of ink last fall, I thought they were beautiful and couldn't believe they'd only cost him a dollar apiece.
All photos in this post were taken by Dwayne F., of

 If I felt sorry that no one at House Full of Nerds was likely to use the contents, it was a fleeting thought.   The bottles were the subject of a Vintage Technology Obsessions post, I admired Dwayne's photos of them, and then promptly forgot about them until a week or so after Christmas, when Dwayne asked if I'd like to try writing with something other than the Higgins sepia I'd purchased for one of my Christmas presents to him.  I wrote first with the blue and then the purple; the colors are just a tad more vivid in person than in this scan:
Technically I can't call leaving the "i" out of "antique" a typo.  Was there a pre-typewriter term for "writing mistake not caused by ignorance of spelling"?  My misspelling of "embarrassing," however, is embarrassingly genuine.

The ink itself has what I would call a nice chemical smell; a little bit sweet and not at all offensive to my tastes (of course, I did spend too many hours assembling and painting model airplanes as an adolescent). As a novice dip pen-writer, I much preferred Quink over the water-based Higgins.  Even when I forgot to tap off the excess ink after reloading (seen in the transition to purple), the Quink was fairly forgiving.  I set out to write in Spencerian business script but found it hard to concentrate on letter formation, dip pen use, and ideas, so the first two Qs and the H in Higgins are the way I learned to make them in 1973.


When I did a Google image search for Quink bottles resembling these, the best matches were dated the 1940s or 50s.
I cleaned the nib immediately after use, but the next time I wrote with it (also with the Quink - a Spencerian sample for my daughter's Social Studies class), it seemed scratchier than usual.  I'm not sure whether this is the result of the 60- to70-year-old ink's having damaged the cheap nib or (quite possibly) my inexpertise with a dip pen.  Either way, I won't be putting it in my fountain pen! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Game night!

With school back in session for over a week now, Christmas and New Year's seem like a long time ago.  (In fact, last week I saw EASTER candy on an end-cap at a big box store.)  While the junior nerds were glad to see their friends and teachers again, our family is back to having to work hard to make sure we get enough time together.  One of of our favorite family activities is game night, and over the past year, our favorite game has been Luck of the Draw.
See?  "Artistically Challenged" - that means anyone can play!

Since our art skills range from poor (the Nerd in Chief) to very good (the Littlest Nerd), we were pleased to discover that points are awarded in a wide range of categories, such as "Used Most Graphite," "Art Teacher's Pet," and "Don't Quit Your Day Job." Each card has three possible subjects and a player rolls a die that determines which one everyone must draw.  When one of the subject choices is especially cool, we have been known to try mind control to influence the outcome, with limited success.  The 45-second time limit helps keep things interesting.

A typical round may look like this:
The subject was Walrus, not  Rock and Roll.  Claire and I are the biggest Beatles fans in the family, so I found it ironic that she was the only one who drew an actual walrus.  Then again, she may be the only family member who can draw an actual walrus.

The chips are used to assign each drawing a color so that voting can be done without knowing whose drawing is whose, although the concept of anonymity works best when players are unfamiliar with each other's drawing styles.  Still, even the four of us can occasionally surprise each other, as in this example, when the word was "turkey."
Claire is the only meat-eater in the family, so her association of "turkey" with "E-coli" (close-up below) was unexpected.  Meanwhile, Hannah's reaction (upper right) was no surprise at all.

The Nerd in Chief doesn't always win categories like "Most Unsettling" - just usually.  Most of the time it's intentional on his part, but sometimes it's just the result of his lack of drawing skills:
"Harry Potter"
I was embarrassed  by my pitchfork broom until I saw that Dwayne had given poor Harry  Voldemort's eyes and nostrils.  He hadn't meant to - that's just how he draws.

You can see Dwayne's watermelon allergy reflected in this one:
I'm the one who drew the skull.  I was thinking about my husband's safety, not my indifference towards melon - really!  Sadly, Dwayne (with the Epi-Pen sticking out of his neck) loves watermelon, as do the girls.

Predictably, nerdy pop culture references sneak into many of our drawings.  I was surprised when the word "dragon" didn't elicit the same response from each of us.  I suppose I should have expected a Dungeons & Dragons reference from Dwayne and the adorable little dragon is typical of Claire's doodling.  We're all such fans of Strong Bad on homestar runner, though, that I assumed we'd all draw Trodgor.

Hannah's Trogdor is much better than mine.  Not only is the arm beefier, the wings don't look like they belong to a butterfly that just crawled out of its chrysalis.

Speaking of nerd culture, this one is my favorite.  We're all fans of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (especially the BBC miniseries), but it was still eerie when each person's "whale" drawing revealed that we were all thinking the same thing:

We celebrated with high-fives and Nerd Salutes all around.  A great moment of family unity!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What I Don't Love About Computers

As promised, I've been working on a post about my forays into Spencerian Business Script, a simplified version of the gorgeous, ornate Spencerian penmanship of the second half of the 19th century.  After several false starts, I was satisfied late last night that I finally had my post the way I wanted it but decided to save it for one final read-through when I'd be more awake.

When I got home from a Girl Scout cookie booth this afternoon with my 14-year-old (still in GS at 14 - so cool!), I found that my laptop had frozen up.  One re-start later I discovered that none of the revisions to had saved, despite my having  hit "save" each time I walked away from my draft.  So, instead of trying to reconstruct my would-have-been post, I bring you the following version...

Early last month, for probably the last time, I managed to coerce my daughters into taking a photo with Santa.  This happened at a 19th century historic site where they volunteer during the summer and fall and was accomplished partly by my insisting it would be a good surprise for their dad.  Towards the end of our visit, we stopped in the gift shop, where the girls spotted a bottle of sepia ink and I got the idea of learning enough 19th century penmanship to write a message on the picture frame with a dip pen.  I figured this would make a nice gift for Dwayne, as it combines two of his great loves:  family and vintage technology.

Since I reverted from cursive to printing in seventh grade, I knew this would take some effort on my part, and that was part of the gift as well. My cursive is okay as long as I'm writing slowly and concentrating on forming letters instead of ideas - not really a practical means of note-taking or journal-writing for me.  An online search for "19 century handwriting" led me to, where I found an extremely helpful instructional manual for Spencerian Business Script.  I skipped the information about how to sit, hold a pen, and move my arm and dove straight into copying upper-case Ms and Cs.

This was my first experience with a dip pen, and I can't say I enjoyed it.  It seemed I'd either run out of ink in the middle of a stroke or overload the nib, with an unsightly result!
After my first practice session, my wrist and forearm were burning and I was sure I'd aggravated my carpal tunnel beyond repair.  After a couple of days' rest, I was back at it, this time giving a little more thought to how I was sitting and moving my arm, if not holding the pen - I tend to use a "death grip," which unfortunately wasn't discovered until I was in sixth grade and pretty set in my ways.  A few days later, I had some results I thought were suitable for gluing onto the frame:

I tried writing a longer note to Dwayne but my patience with the dip pen had reached its limit.  I was thrilled when, two days after Christmas, he surprised me with a Parker Urban fountain pen (on sale at Office Max - that's how we roll!).  This is my first fountain pen, and I have to say it's much easier trying to write in Spencerian Business Script when I'm not having to worry about overloading the nib or having it run dry mid-stroke.

"This is my attempt at Spencerian [Business] script, which was used in the second half of the 19th century and the very beginning of the 20th, until the advent of the Palmer method.  As you can see, the capital letters, while still quite recognizable, are different from those of the dreaded Zaner-Bloser method, under which I toiled as a child.  There are minor differences in the lower-case letters (Spencerian vs. Z-B) but they are generally so minor that I have ignored them so as to concentrate on the sweeping capitals.  Were I truly committed to the cause of great penmanship, I would practice each day, but how can I with all these Girl Scout cookies yet to sell?  It is one thing to attempt to copy the letters; quite another to practice the principals behind each letter.  Dec. 27, 2011"

It's too early to tell whether I'll do much pencasting in the future, but I've had fun playing around with 19th century handwriting and will probably continue to experiment, especially now that I have a pen I really enjoy.  Besides flowing nicely and being easy to grasp correctly (instead of in the dreaded "death grip"), my Parker includes a nice bonus feature:  unlike my computer, it "saves" automatically.