A letter from the Cuprohastes-in-Chief

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Pencil time

I told Richard Bartrop I was getting some pencils and he said…

Working hard on your hipster badge, I see.

Or words to that effect. The reason being that I’d decided on some Palomino Blackwing pencils, which have a slightly odd history.

Eberhard Faber produced the Blackwing pencil, a pretty standard pencil with black painted body, novel flat eraser holder (Called the Ferrule), stamped “Twice the speed, half the pressure” in reference to the lead’s nice dark colour and smooth glide on paper (Most pencil lead is graphite and clay, the Blackwing’s lead contained a little wax to make it smooth).

Because it was a generally OK pencil, it got used by a lot of people, and since a few of them became famous and at some point mentioned they used the Blackwing 602, it developed a reputation.

And then Faber stopped making them.

Faber had bought a machine, second hand that made the pencil’s special ferrule that held the oblong pink erasers with a special tension clip that meant that you could whip the eraser out and replace it with your own, making the pencil ideal for actually rubbing things out. The machine though, was broken when it was bought and either wasn’t economical to fix or couldn’t be fixed – But it did come with a large supply of already made components, and so the pencil was made until the ferrule supply ran out.

Which is when the pencil, dubbed by it’s admirers as “The best pencil in the world” started to get it’s own cult and mythology.

In the minds of certain people, it was the magic tool that’d allow them to be a great artist or composer or writer, just like the famous creators who’d used their Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencils to sketch out famous works.

It became a talisman, a fetish (Of the little voodoo doll meaning of the word), and so when un-sold boxes of the pencils started showing up on eBay, prices skyrocketed, with people paying $20 or $60 for an original Blackwing.

A note about the Blackwing, Old and New.

The original Blackwing’s eraser was pink and either due to the material used or age is now generally reported to be “Not so much an eraser as a graphite smearing device”. The new eraser is white and quite generic and capable, with one small caveat that I’ll save for later.

Bother the old and new pencils use Cedar – the new “Palomino Blackwing” uses California cedar and is manufactured by the California Cedar company, which makes it easy to remember…

This means the pencil is made of a renewable wood that’s been grown for commercial use, and it also means that the wood is nicely dense, fine grained  and has a homogenous texture, which is important for the purpose of sharpening. This is pretty important in a pencil. It also smells nice, which is a trivial point but if you’re going to dick around with pencils instead of using a pen mechanical pencil or computer, you might as well enjoy the æsthetics of it fully.

The main event though is the lead. The new lead may not be the same recipe as the old (and the manufacturer is re-formulating it to produce a harder, firmer lead for writing), but it is a very dark, smooth experience. The current softer lead is quite nice for artists or if you favour an especially dark pencil, though as ever, darker means softer and more prone to snapping and blunting.

However, due to the smoothness, which presumably is created by adding in oil or wax of some sort to recipe, the eraser which works quite well on normal pencil marks can’t seem to completely remove the marks left by the Blackwing.

I suspect that the harsher eraser of the original Blackwing may have been closer to the ones used by secretaries to remove typed text by ablating the ink and layers of paper away, which may be the only way to completely remove the ghostly marks left by even a thorough rub down with the eraser or even with my collection of very competent pencil erasers.


It’s a pencil. It writes nicely but so does a Zebra gel-ink pen or a B6 art pencil. The eraser arrangement is nice but not up to actually fully eradicating the marks.

On the up side, it’s not that expensive and quite pleasant to work with.

Price: $19.95 for a 12 pack from



We're all so very proud of those guys right now. Let's hope they get the government they deserve now!


And now… Ze Vorld.

I upgraded to a Mac keyboard because it’s less wide than pretty much every other keyboard I could fine.

There’s a few problems with using it on windows… Namely, Apple expects you to buy OSX to get the Windows keyboard driver, and doesn’t offer it for Windows users in any stand alone form – Also they don’t support the full use of the enhanced function keys n windows – like the Eject button, volume controls, etc.

Oh and they don’t offer a layout for it so the key caps don’t match what you type unless you set it to US layout, and lose the ability to type £.

But then that’s apple – they’re not exactly good at this ‘computer’ thing.

Luckily Microsoft has an app for creating keyboard layouts, which makes it easy to create a layout that matches your keyboard… But then I thought – “Actually, there’s a lot of characters I’d quite like to be able to type that I usually can’t because they’re not included!” – Being a bit of a typography nerd, I’d like to be able to type things like 10°c or use an ellipsis … or an em-dash – instead of an en-dash, throw in the odd © or ® or ™, even the very seldom used ℗, which isn’t № 1 on anyone’s character list – mostly it makes people say “What was that‽”.

Of course, not all the characters are supported. Some of them are basic, a few of the weirder ones are Unicode, but even so, I’m quite pleased with my new, custom¹ keyboard layout!

¹ Even if I do keep having to refer to a keyboard map becasue I can’t recall where I hid everything…


The Internet Debacle

Years ago I signed up with an ISP. Let’s call them GoodNet.

GoodNet was good. A good package, very few hidden ‘gotchas’, an OK price. The downside was that they split into Home and Business and the Home section had a habit of appropriating Business accounts if they thought that they should, and then you’d have to call up and shout at people with the aptitude of a banana for this Interwide Netweb thing.

Click to read more ...


How to anger feminists by being thoughtful.

I don’t hate women. I’m not misogynistic, I don’t think they should ’know their place’ or slip in little patronising modifiers like ‘Beating the overall world record for the London Marathon is an impressive feat… for a woman.”

But I do think that a certain proportion of feminists have an overly narrow world view.

This is not rare. A lot of (but not all) Christians do it – they’re the dominant religion in America but they still complain about being oppressed and treated like a minority. It gives them structure, a ‘They’ for an As vs. Them world view.

There is a saying – “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” – For some people, if you are a Feminist, everything is a Feminist issue.

Take this comic strip: Penny Arcade’s ‘The Sixth Slave’

For those who aren’t familiar with MMOs, many quests feature going and saving N number of X from whatever gang your character level is high enough to get experience and loot from.

You often find slaves, victims etc. of some evil gang, and discover that you can’t help them escape, or shut down the slavery ring etc. because it’s built into the world and is there purely to allow for missions where you need to rescue a certain number of slaves, beat up a certain number of bad guys and go get your reward – which often feels like you’re being trained to ignore all this horrific abuse unless you’re being paid to go pay attention. And you can free 5 slaves to meet your quote and the sixth is just out of luck.

In other words it’s all about lampooning the structure of eternally level grinding MMOs where nothing you can do will have any effect that lasts more than a few minutes. What it is not, is condoning rape or suggesting that it’s not in any way serious.

Dickwolves notwithstanding. There are certainly stranger creatures used in MMOs.

So then why are the feminists having a group strop over the strip?

Simple. It mentioned rape and anything that mentions rape and is not very clearly harrowing and serious must QED condone it.

Because when you’re a feminist, everything is a feminist issue and anything that a man does is automatically bad and wrong right?

No – Like most groups, there’s shades of grey. Only a few people are protesting, because protesting raises their esteem in the eyes of their compatriots. The rest might consider it in poor taste, not have an opinion or even find it funny.

But if a man suggests to an irate feminist that maybe their viewpoint is too narrow, and that the strip is in fact not about rape, he runs an almost certain risk of being denounced as misogynistic and being a ‘mansplainer’ – Which is the cutesy term invented so that it can be whipped out and used as a verbal slap when one has no actual argument beyond ‘I‘m offended because I’m pretty sure I should be.'

Or in other words, when a Feminist is Femsplaining how she and only she can hold a valid opinion and you might consider otherwise, you are clearly in the wrong because… because… you’re Mansplaining.

This small group of easily offended feminists is why the feminist culture as a whole isn’t taken seriously.