Go buy yourself a HexBright. Right now.

Are you a geek, a nerd, a gadget hound? Do you like hackable things? Do you like useful things? If so, then go to HexBright right now and click on “FLEX” to buy one of the coolest flashlights I’ve ever held in my hand.

I backed the HexBright project on Kickstarter in July of 2011 – in fact, it was the very first Kickstarter project I ever contributed to. In short, to make up for the delay in getting product out, the project leader upgraded buyers of the PRIME basic light to the FLEX at no charge. My FLEX arrived today, and not only is it more than worth the wait, I’m kicking myself for not buying a couple more (even if they were just the PRIME model).

IMG_20130225_190850

In short, the HexBright is a CREE-based flashlight – with an Arduino for brains. To charge, I plug it into a MicroUSB cable – and that same cable can be used to reprogram the light. By default, it has “low, medium, high” and “blinky” modes. I can reprogram it so that one of those is a strobe, a low-to-high “heartbeat” pulse, something in Morse Code, etc. There are already code samples up on GitHub.

859394_10151310060855143_1461696810_o

Friends ask me for tech advice a lot of the time, and I don’t often give glowing, giddy reviews to a lot of products – but this is one of them.

Disappointed with Altec Lansing customer service

Over the past couple of years, I’ve bought a number of Altec Lansing computer audio products. First, a couple of IML237 “Orbit” speakers for my Mac systems. I was and am very satisfied with that product – a single speaker that gets both its power and data connection via USB (it’s a standalone audio device). Based on that experience, less than a year ago I purchased a couple of IML227 Orbit speakers through sellers on Amazon. The 227 is similar to the 237, except that it’s cheaper and has a plastic case instead of metal.

As far as sound quality, both models are functionally equivalent. However, the IML227s that I received have a flaw – when they’re connected to a power source (such as a powered USB hub or a system’s USB port when the system is in sleep or standby mode) but not initialized on the USB bus, they emit a loud random squealing noise. It didn’t take long for me to get annoyed with this problem, disconnect the IML227s, and switch to other speakers.

Eventually I came across this page on Altec Lansing’s support site, which states:

“Some of the initial production units exhibited this symptom. It has since been corrected. Please contact the Altec Lansing Customer Service Team by email at csupport@alteclansing.com or by phone at 1-800-ALTEC88 (1-800-258-3288) in order to resolve this situation.”

About a week ago, I sent Altec Lansing’s customer support department a quick and short email:

“I have two iML227 Orbit USB speakers that “squeal” when they’ve got power but are not receiving signal/output. I got fed up with the problem and put something else in their place, but recently found this: (URL). Am I still eligible for any sort of fix or replacement for these early production units?”

A week later, today, I received this response.

Not only did they not answer my (relatively simple) question, they told me that I have no warranty or service through them and that basically, I’m stuck with the defective speakers. Even a response that indicated they had actually read my inquiry would have been better than this generic blow-off form letter.

I’m very disappointed with Altec Lansing’s customer service at this point, and am not likely to purchase products from them again.

My Latest Ultimate Man-Bag

As readers of this weblog know, I’m a “bag junkie”. Ever since junior high school, I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect “man bag” for me. I’ve been through CountyComm Bail-Out Bags, Maxpedition backpacks and bags, Timbuk2 messenger bags and backpacks, and then Crumpler backpacks.

Unfortunately on Wednesday the 18th of January, my car was broken into while it sat in my driveway overnight and the thief got away with not only my GPS, radar detector, and two older laptops I’d hidden in the back seat (that belonged to friends, I had them for repairs), he popped the trunk and got my Crumpler “Salary Sacrifice” backpack containing my Macbook Air, various accessories for it, my Clear 4G wifi hotspot, my Kindle Fire, and a Blu-Ray disc my girlfriend gave me for Christmas.

Thanks to the hard work of the Houston Police Department and serial number matching at pawn shops, the Macbook Air and its charger were returned to me a week later, but none of the other items have been recovered. My homeowner’s insurance deductible (not auto, since the car wasn’t damaged) makes it not worth the time to file a claim – but honestly, it’s all just “stuff”, doesn’t keep me from doing my job, no data was lost, and it can all be replaced in time.

Looking into a recommendation I’d been given by a friend on Google+ back when I was looking at the Crumpler bags in August, I took another look at Red Oxx. Their small Aviator Duffel bag is really affordable at $35, and I gave it a shot. When it arrived less than a week later, I was so impressed by the quality and construction (before I even filled it with clothes) that I decided my next every-day “man bag” was going to be from Red Oxx. Not only is the construction amazing, all of their products have a lifetime warranty and are made in Billings, Montana.

After an evening of debate and reading reviews, I decided on the CPA Briefcase. A friend had given rave reviews to the Air Boss, but it’s just a bit TOO big for my daily needs. I might pick up a Roadster Mini-Ruck in the future.

Anyway, the CPA Briefcase in “Mariner” blue arrived today. I’d wanted one in “Midnight” blue, but the “Mariner” blue ended up being a lot nicer than expected.

I’ve only had it for a day, but I’m glad I made the purchase and I think my shoulder will give out before the bag will.

Ink Review: J. Herbin Eclat de Saphir

Karen at Exaclair was kind enough to recently send me a bottle of J. Herbin‘s “Eclat de Saphir” fountain pen ink to test out and review. In addition, she sent a small Rhodia note pad.

I wasn’t able to get to it for about a week, but tonight was finally able to ink up a couple of pens and try it out on various kinds of paper.

Click on any picture to go to its Flickr page with larger sizes available.

The ink in (and out of) its package and the Rhodia pad:

01 Review Stuff

03 Review Ink

The pens used for the test – a Lamy Safari Special Edition with a Medium nib, and a brand-new Hero 329 with a fine/extra-fine nib:

02 Review Pens

The paper – Field Notes, Moleskine, Staples’ “EcoEasy” brand bagasse (sugarcane) paper, Rhodia pads, and a Doane Paper Idea Book:

04 Review Paper

First, the skinny Rhodia pad. This is 80gsm/21.3lb paper.

05 Test Rhodia

The Rhodia paper squeaked during the Q-tip swabbing; it seemed that the paper was so smooth (or had a coating on it) that the ink took quite a while to dry.

Next, the Field Notes notebook:

06 Test FieldNotes

This paper (Boise 50lb) soaked up the ink like a sponge. Drying was almost instant, but at times the Lamy Safari felt like I was writing with a felt-tip marker.

Third was a Moleskine pocket notebook. No problems with the ink or the paper.

07 Test Moleskine

Fourth was Staples’ “EcoEasy” brand of “bagasse” paper, which is made from sugarcane refuse instead of wood or cotton. It’s very thin, but has a decent feel to it:

08 Test Staples Bagasse

Last was a Doane Paper “Idea Book”:

09 Test DoanePaper

None of the various types of paper exhibited any feathering, or major bleed-through to the point where the back side of the paper would be unusable – even on the sections used for the q-tip swab test.

The J. Herbin ink seemed a little thinner / more “watery” than the Noodler’s ink that I’m used to working with. There were no flow problems in either pen, and no staining issues other than the my hands and fingers.

So far I like the J. Herbin “Eclat de Saphir” ink, and am thinking of putting it in my 1941 Parker Duofold when that pen’s current filling of ink (current Noodler’s Dark Matter) runs out.

Upcoming Review: Rhodia Webnotebook

After I have enough time to finish the review of the Clairefontaine “Basics” notebook, I’ll be giving my opinions on this:

Rhodia Webnotebook Front

Rhodia Webnotebook Back

The new Rhodia “Webnotebook” that uses 90g Clairefontaine paper. I purchased it from The Daily Planner.

Depending on how much I like it, this may replace my last Moleskine, one that I purchased in 2004 and is pretty beat up but not full yet.

First Looks: Clairefontaine Basics & Rhodia Mini Pocket Notebooks

First, I’d like to thank Karen Doherty, VP of Marketing at Exaclair, Inc., for sending these review samples. Exaclair is the exclusive US distributor for Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Quo Vadis and Exacompta products and J. Herbin inks.

Yesterday, I gave away all of my unused, still-shrinkwrapped Moleskine notebooks. I’ve just not been happy with the quality of their current production, and the way their coated paper works with fountain pens (and I’ve tried various pens and different inks).

I contacted Karen a couple of weeks ago when she mentioned having review samples of the Clairefontaine “Basics” notebooks available. I requested one of the clothbound lined 6″x8.75″ models, and she sent a black one along with a squared Rhodia mini pocket notebook, both of which arrived today.

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review – just a quick first look at both notebooks. I’ll do another review with my thoughts after some long-term usage (at least 2-3 weeks).

First, I want to apologize – my camera stand and clamp lights are packed away in a box right now, so this is all on-camera flash.

Notebooks

The Clairefontaine “Basics” notebook has a black cover, with a glued cloth binding. The Clairefontaine logo is unobtrusively embossed on the front cover, while the back cover is blank. There are 192 pages (96 sheets) of 90gsm (24lb) white paper (environmentally friendly) with violet/light purple lines. The inner cover pages are blank, and are glued to the cardstock cover:

Clairefontaine Inner Cover

This tends to make the first page or two of the notebook unusable for me, but I just view it as somewhere to doodle in boring meetings.

The most important part – the pen and ink test:

Clairefontaine Ink Test

This is pretty much every pen or ink that I have easily available to me without filling any empty pens. This paper is a pleasure to write on – it’s not rough, but it’s got enough texture that a nib isn’t going to skip or slide across the page. Only the Noodler’s Lexington Gray had any really noticeable feathering, and I’ve found it to do that on most any paper I use it with lately. I was particularly surprised by how the Parker Super Quink Blue-Black came out, as that’s an old 1960s bottle (with a price of 39 Cents on the box) that I just received off eBay today.

Clairefontaine Ink Test 2

There was no discernible showthrough or bleeding of any of the inks to the other side of the page; even with the Noodler’s Baystate Blue that will soak through Moleskine paper in a heartbeat.

So far, I’m happy with the Clairefontaine “Basics” notebook; I’ll report back on it in a couple of weeks once it’s been subjected to my office doodling. I tend to draw geometric shapes and then fill them in, which gets interesting with fountain pen ink.

The mini squared Rhodia notebook has slightly lighter paper – 80gsm vs. the 90gsm Clairefontaine. The squares are printed in the same light purple/violet color. The cardstock cover is coated with some sort of waterproofing, and it works! I wrote my name on the inside cover with Noodler’s Aircorp Blue-Black, and put the notebook in the path of my desk fan. Five minutes later, I picked it up and ran my finger across it – I now have a blue right index finger. All of the ink completely wiped off the cover.

I did another basic ink test:

Rhodia Ink Test

Not as many as last time, but I made sure to include the vintage 1960s Super Quink and the Noodler’s Baystate Blue.

Rhodia Ink Test 2

You can see in this picture that the ink shows through the other side of the page more than it does on the heavier Clairefontaine paper. However, it’s not bleeding through or is so bad that you couldn’t use both sides of a page. For a pocket notebook like this, I don’t really think some minor showthrough is going to be a concern.

So far, I’m really liking the Basics notebook, and if things go well I’ll pick up a few more (they’re available with black or tan covers when clothbound) to replace my stack of Moleskines.

Look for a long-term use report in a couple of weeks, and I’d like to again thank Karen at Exaclair for giving me the opportunity to review these two notebooks.

Review: Hero 616 Fountain Pens

Before I was lucky enough to acquire both a Parker 21 and a Parker 51 Special off eBay, I did a Buy-It-Now on a 10-pack of cheap Parker clones, the Hero 616.

Made by the Shanghai Hero Pen Factory Company (a well-respected manufacturer of fountain pens in China), these are a pretty straight knockoff of the Parker 51.

The important question – do they work? I filled one of each color (the pack comes with three black, four green, and three red) with a different color of ink and did some scribbling.

Hero 616 Writing Samples

All three pens filled okay after I ended up pulling off the cheap stamped-metal sac guard and squeezing the sacs by hand, to pull ink into the pen a few drops at a time. It almost appears as if the breather tube in the sacs is too long, rather than too short.

Once filled, the pens flow and write just fine. I think the lightness of the Gruene Eel sample is due to my not being able to get much ink into the pen – I was using a tiny sample bottle from Pear Tree Pens and could not get the end of the pen properly submerged.

The pen with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink flows and writes like a dream, with a wet bold line that looks great. The Aircorp Blue-Black, my favorite ink, also works great but does not leave as bold a line. I’m looking forward to trying out Baystate Blue in one of these pens once I get a full bottle of it – all I have left right now is about half a pen-fill worth in a sample bottle.

I would call the nibs a “Fine” or an “Extra Fine” – they’re just a tiny bit smaller than the “Fine” nib on my Parker 51, and a little “rougher”, although I wouldn’t call them “scratchy”.

Construction materials are much better than what you would really expect for a pen that cost $1.50/each shipped, but they’re not presentation quality.

Hero 616 Dissasembled

The barrel and hood are lightweight plastic. The cap is cheap chrome-plated metal (certainly not stainless steel), and the clip is stamped and still has semi-sharp edges. The “clutch ring” on these pens is transparent plastic and is part of the section, with metal washers on either side of a part that lets you see if you’re about to run out of ink.

The sacs are transparent rubbery material, with a sac guard and filler bar made of sharp-edged stamped metal. I found it easier to pull the sac guard straight off (it’s just a friction fit) and squeeze the sac by hand to fill the pens with ink.

Despite the cheap construction and materials, I really like these pens. My wife opened up the package before I got home and filled one with her Noodler’s Saguaro Wine ink without a problem, and the three that I’ve filled so far haven’t had any issues or leaks.

For $15 shipped per pack of 10 pens, the Hero 616s are an awesome deal. They’re perfect for when you want to carry a fountain pen but don’t want to have to worry about breaking or losing one, or for giving to a friend as their first fountain pen before they move onto something nicer. I plan on using them to test various inks, and will keep a few of them on my desk at work so I don’t have to carry my Parker 21 or 51 back and forth to the office.

However, when buying from eBay, beware of certain sellers. According to this thread on the Fountain Pen Network, some people are selling fake Hero 616s as the real thing! Who would have thought that it would be profitable to sell knockoffs of a knockoff?

Review: Pelikan Pelikano Junior Fountain Pen

First, I’d like to thank Tom at Goldspot Luxury Gifts (@goldspotpens on Twitter) for this pen, which I received in a recent giveaway.

This is a Pelikan Pelikano Junior fountain pen, red, right-handed, with a medium-point nib. Primarily meant for younger students, I’ve found it to be one of the most comfortable and easiest-writing pens I’ve got.

Pelikano Junior Fountain Pen

The paper in the picture is an A5 pad of Whitelines paper; the blue-green blob was soak-through from a previous sheet and was not due to this pen.

The grip is rubberized for comfort, and the translucent body lets you see through to a stick-on name label (three of which come with the pen). This is good for classroom scenarios, as it prevents someone else from accidentally picking up your pen if theirs is the same color.

Construction is rock-solid – I wouldn’t worry about this pen knocking around in the bottom of a backpack, or maybe even a pocket that’s not subject to too much abuse.

As for writing, it’s great. The very-slightly-flexible nib lays down a nice fat, smooth line with no problems of skipping. I’d been looking for a FP equivalent to a Pilot G2 1.0mm “Bold point” gel rollerball pen, and I think this may be it once I run out of the Pelikan blue ink cartridge and refill it with a good dark black. Goldspot was nice enough to send along a few small sampler cartridges of Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue and Midnight Black; I’m looking forward to testing those once the blue cartridge runs out.

If I’d discovered these pens before I found out about Lamy Safaris, I might have a collection of Pelikano Juniors instead of Safaris right now.

This pen is by no means a Parker 51 – but it’s intended for an entirely different audience. It’s a great starter pen, but can also do a great job as a daily writer. Due to its cheap price (around $10-12), you don’t have to worry too much about losing or breaking one.

Pick up a Pelikano Junior – you might be surprised.

Review: Whitelines paper and Pear Tree Pens ink sampler

Last week, I ordered a couple pads of Whitelines paper from Amazon, and a four-bottle ink sampler from Pear Tree Pens. For those wanting to try out a new color of ink before committing to an entire bottle, the ink sampler is a great deal – four tiny bottles with the colors/brands of your choice, each with enough ink for a couple of pen or converter fills.

I ordered Noodler’s Baystate Blue, Squetegue, Zhivago, and Gruene Eel Cactus. The sampler arrived today, so I tried it out on the A5-sized pad of Whitelines paper using various pens.

Whitelines Paper and an Ink Sampler

I was unable to test the Gruene Cactus ink due to running out of fillable pens; don’t want to dump and waste a pen full of ink just to flush and fill with another color. I have two more Lamy Safaris, but no converters for them or syringes to fill empty cartridges with.

The Whitelines paper is great (I’m thinking of getting some of the hardback A5-size notebooks to replace my Moleskines) but from looking at their website I was expecting the gray to be a little more distinct and darker. It looks pretty much just like the picture; the white lines aren’t as distinct as I would like.

Noodler’s Zhivago: From pictures on the Internet I had expected more of a greenish tint, but this came out green-gray-black, with more gray/black than green. It has a very vintage look.

Noodler’s Aircorp Blue-Black: I included this because I have it in two pens and it’s currently my favorite ink. It goes down almost black, but it feathers/bleeds BLUE. The only ink I’ve seen where I think show-through on paper is pretty.

Noodler’s Baystate Blue: Controversial with some due to its older formula that may or may not cause premature feed failures in Lamy pens, I filled up my Parker 51 Special with it. This is an insane, almost electric flourescent blue – even after drying. Yes, it really IS “that blue”.

Noodler’s Squetegue: Both my wife and I had been looking forward to this color, but were a bit dissapointed. Samples on the Internet showed it to be more of a blue/teal color, but the sample that I have is a lot more green than blue. Has good vintage-looking shading effects, and may enter my rotation of regular-use inks.

I’m happy with my purchases. Pear Tree Pens offers a great deal with their ink sampler for $4.99, plus around five bucks shipping. The Whitelines A4 and A5 pads are $3-4 for “80 sheets” (40 actual pages).