Husband, father, geek.

by Chris Pearson

© 2015–2016 Christopher Pearson, All rights reserved.

TK-10911

Stormtrooper Portrait

I’ve completed my Stormtrooper armour build and had to take some photos to become a member of the UK Garrison. The wife took this one, it came out great.

Update: I now am an approved member of the UK Garrison of the 501st Legion. TK-10911 reporting for duty.


Made in the UK

Listening to a podcast today I noticed something. Halfway through a sentence a guest stopped to point out that the product was made in the US. You can listen to the episode of The Pen Addict at the right point here.

It occurred to me that this doesn’t happen here. You almost never hear some one say that some product they bought was UK made. In fact on the few occasions it is mentioned it’s usually to point out how poorly made something is. See The IT Crowd.


First Grind

For many modern fountain pen users a custom nib grind is a right of passage. This involves taking a fountain pen to some person who will grind away the nib to change it’s shape and so writing characteristics. This is generally to make the horizontal and vertical strokes different widths.

Being a somewhat handy person, and happy to wreck stuff on occasion I decided to attempt this my self. After all the nibmeisters1 had to learn some how.

The plan was to take a stock medium sized nib for my Kaweco Sport which I wasn’t overly fond of, having replaced the nib for an extra fine, and to apply an italic grind to it. This gives a thinner horizontal stroke to a broader vertical.

To ensure I wasn’t making a complete mess of things a quick google was done and some instructions located. I followed some by Ludwig Tan: http://www.marcuslink.com/pens/aboutpens/ludwig-tan.html.

Grinding equipment

The equipment required isn’t expensive and I actually had all of it already. To do the actual grinding I used a 250/1000 grit water stone designed to sharpen tools.

I simply followed along the steps initially using only the 1000 grit but then moving to use both the 1000 and the courser 250 once I grew bolder.

Eventually I was happy with the rough shape. I could have gone further in a few dimensions but I figured I can always go back and remove more, take too much and it’s into the bin.

Rough shape established, the nib was smoothed with some micro-mesh and tested on my current favourite paper Rhodia.

Testing the grind

The results were actually pretty good!

Front of the nib

The front of the nib got a couple of scuffs where I got the angle wrong a couple of times but the shape is good and clean. You can clearly see there’s a lot of tipping material left but this doesn’t touch the paper so I doubt it’s a big deal.

Side profile

Here again you can clear see I was rather light on the top of the nib, I’ll probably remove more once I’m happy. What you can also see is there is a lot of the stock round shape left on the front of the nib. I could have ground down more off the top to remove this but the shape was good and saves more work to re-smooth this later. Think of this as more of a cursive italic than a true italic. The rear shape was ground to a sharp edge then softened again by me.

Front of the nib

The business side of the nib probably came out the best which is fortunate! There’s only a thin layer of tipping left so I think I have the thickness about right. The side to side balance is about right but there’s a tiny bit of oblique, but practice would improve this I think.

After some smoothing, okay a lot of smoothing, the pen writes pretty well. Still a bit scratchy but I gather this is normal for this style of grind. I may try a bit more smoothing but I will wait and see how daily use goes first.

Before and After

The comparison shows the grind has had the desired effect but isn’t super strong. A medium nib isn’t going to be able to give huge variation as the nib was never that wide in the first place. Maybe I’ll source a broad or double broad to try again.

Whilst this was a fun way to spend a Sunday morning I can’t see this being something I want to specialise in. Maybe I’ll grind a few other cheap pens like my Lamy Safari (perhaps an architect grind?) but I’ll never try it on an expensive or hard to replace nib.

For those who care the ink is Visconti Blue. The comparison test is via a dip which is why the after is a bit paler.

  1. A nibmiester is the term used to refer to someone skilled at re-grinding a nib.


TKVoice is out!

TKVoice logo

After a much longer gestation than I thought1 TKVoice is now available on the App Store.

Download on the App Store

TKvoice allows Troopers to achieve a film like sound when trooping. It will automatically detect your voice, apply effects and even give a static burst at the end of your sentence!

In order to troop, as well as TKVoice you will require a microphone, speaker and a splitter cable though you can test it out with just the headset that came with your phone. Further details on compatible hardware will be added to the tkvoice section of the site over then coming days.

This isn’t the end of the road and I already have several improvements planned based on feedback from beta testers.

I hope you try this out as a more affordable alternative to other hardware units. I look forward to hearing from users.

  1. Apparently the first commit was on September 15th, 2015.


Pen Hacking

It all started when I bought our wedding rings. Everything was done I just needed to sign the receipt. The manager hands me a Montblanc Meisterstück Classique Rollerball. That was it, cheap pens were ruined for me forever.

It didn’t take long but soon enough I was listening to The Pen Addict podcast and had bought several fountain pens1 and a sea of different inks. Whilst I love using these they don’t always play nice with cheap paper and the ink tends to “feather” a lot. It was time to get a decent rollerball.

In the interest of cost, the Montblanc I used costs £310, I went with a more budget friendly option: A Lamy Vista. The refill that comes with it is a sort of blue-black and I wasn’t keen on the colour. Whilst I could have just bought a black refill I decided to attempt a “pen hack” and fit the Montblanc refill that started this all.

The hack

Lamy Vista and Montblanc refills

When you look at the Lamy M63 refill and the Montblanc standard refill you can see that the Lamy refill is a few mm longer, and also that the front of the refill is about 1mm longer on the Lamy. The difference at the front can’t be fixed without altering the pen permanently, at the rear we can use a spacer to fill the gap.

Lamy M63 vs Montblanc standard refill

Once fitted to the pen you can see the difference in the 2 refills and how far they protrude from the pen.

Montblanc protrusion

There’s not a lot that can be done here, but it seems useable. Time will tell on this one.

The gap at the back was filled using a piece cut from a ball point ink tube about 20mm long. This fits inside the moulding at the rear of the pen barrel and also inside the refill to keep things in place. You might not actually need this as the threads on the refill do grip on the section, but wear over time might make this needed.

Spacer to hold refill

This completes the coversion!

Ink by Montblanc, pen by Lamy!

Is it worth it?

Whilst I’ve not spent much time with the hacked pen I feel I can answer this one pretty easily. Not really.

Refill line widths

The line is a tiny bit thinner, not massively so, but noticeable. If this is super important then it might be worth it. For me it was all about trying to get that “first hit” feeling again and it just didn’t happen. Comparing the two refills I’d say the Lamy is a smoother writing experience, not by a lot, but it is. More fuel for the Montblanc is overpriced fire.

Whilst I don’t like the blue I wanted black anyway. In hindsight a black M63 would have been cheaper2 and easier. Unless you really must have the Montblanc refill, I would just use the Lamy. The Montblanc black is good though, but without a Lamy refill to compare to I can’t say if affects my conclusion.

As the conversion works and I already have 2 refills, I’ll just use the MB for now but once they run out I’ll be getting the correct M63.

Addendum

After using the hacked Vista in anger for a morning the short protrusion drove me nuts. At lunch I went and picked up a black M63 refill.

Again the Lamy refill feels nicer in the hand than the Montblanc and the line is the same slightly wide medium as the blue. The blacks are very similar to the point I couldn’t say one was better than the other.

The Montblanc does have one area of advantage though. On the beyond cheap paper pad I have at work the Lamy feathers ever so slightly, the Montblanc doesn’t. This could be due to the formulation or the volume of ink put down. Either way, it’s one area I’ve seen Montblanc excell in, their fountain pen inks behave exceedingly well in my experiance also.

If anyone has a need for some Montblanc rollerball refills, I have 2 sat on a shelf.

  1. Current count looks like 7, though I have 1 more coming some time next week.

  2. An M63 refill is £2.40 RRP, but Cult Pens currently sell them for £1.98. The Montblanc refill was £10 for 2 but £12 seems the norm.


The decline of Stack Overflow

Source: The decline of Stack Overflow

I’ve been a member on Stack Overflow for over 6 years. In the early days it was a great site and full of helpful people trying to help.

More recently I find myself agreeing more and more with John. The feel of the site has lost what made it great in the early days, the oppressive feeling is very apparent and I now hesitate to participate.

I don’t claim to have an answer for these problems but maybe it’s time for The Next Big Thing™.


Developing for the fruit company

As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve been working on a voice changer app to use with the Storm Trooper armour kit I’ve ordered. Well last night the prospect of this becoming a reality came one step closer.

I registered as an Apple developer.

Now this may not sound like a big deal but it was a £79 expense, so not throw away money. Especially as I have no expectation of earning this back.

This is something I’ve wanted to be able to do for a while so it’s pretty exciting. Whilst this is never going to be good enough to justify a trip to WWDC maybe I might be able to look into future development opportunities like the Apple TV dev kits after this years’ conference.



I still have an "ancient" MacBook Pro

Source: Why the 2012 non-Retina MacBook Pro still sells

Despite the low-resolution screen, slow hard drives, very little RAM, and CPUs that were middling even in 2012, it’s an open secret among Apple employees that the “101” still sells surprisingly well — to a nearly tragic degree, given its age and mediocrity.

— Marco Arment (2016)

In the Apple tech press people have recently been rather mean about my laptop. Actually I have 2 as I got one for my wife too. The laptop in question is the old style 13” MacBook Pro pre retina.

I got both these laptops at the base spec in late 2012 early 2013 ish. I can’t remember what that means CPU wise but it shipped with 8GB of RAM, I think anyway, and a 500GB 5200rpm platter hard disk.

This has been my main machine ever since I got it, though mine has a 1TB 7200rpm hard disk and 16GB of Crucial RAM. The reality is once stuff has loaded, which yes does seem to take an age at times, it’s perfectly fine.

I use Abobe Lightroom a lot, the occasional bit of Photoshop and I am also teaching my self Swift which means using XCode. None of these choke up, die or are otherwise unusable. It just works, and pretty well generally. None are famous for being overly light work either.

Having monitored the system a bit recently for the most part I never hit the CPU that hard, it’s mostly disk I/O that’s my problem. Whilst I would love an SSD until I can find the money for a 1TB drive (which are still close to £300 for one worth having) I cannot upgrade. An external drive, which would allow for a smaller SSD, isn’t really a good option for how I use my laptop.

One day I am sure I will replace this with a more modern retina model but to make this worth the jump I’ll have to spend serious money that I just cannot justify when £300 will get my 80% of the way there. If it was to die tomorrow? There’s a strong chance I’d buy another the same and save a lot of money.


Joining the Plus club

I hate to say it but #mykewasright.

Ever since Apple announced the iPhone 6 Plus back in 2014 I’ve been saying it’s too big and I’d never buy one. But here I am with a 6S Plus and I love it.

Okay, this is old news now. The plus sized phone is 18 months old and now in to it’s S generation. But like many normal people I’m on a 24 month upgrade cycle and have only just managed to upgrade.

I’ll spare the world yet another review but offer this: try it, you might just like it. The battery life is great1 and the extra screen space works well in so many apps.

One more thing, I have always been a big fan of Apple’s leather cases and have them, in black, for both my 5S, iPad Air 2 and now my 6S Plus. On the older two the leather was soft and grippy out of the box. However on this new 6S Plus case the leather is harder and less grippy. My wife went with the silicone case and having tried hers I think I went with the wrong case. A £40 mistake that I will just have to live with for a while, Apple cases aren’t cheap.

  1. I’m getting 2 whole days and overnight at the moment, but now I’m back at work I am expecting GPS use to butcher that.