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May 8, 2003

Cheap pens

At 42, I'm old enough to remember a time when Big Box office supply stores didn't exist. I can still remember going into the local stationary store (as office supply stores used to be called) in San Leandro, CA, and just reveling in all the supplies.

If you like office supplies, one of the great pleasures is go in, find the pen aisle, and try out new pens. Places like Office {Depot|Max} aren't much good for this; they seem to stock pens without much flair or interest. Smaller stores are better for trying to find what's new in good in the world of cheap pens.

In Atlanta, the best place I've found for pens is Artlite. I first discovered them when I was considering buying a fountain pen, but it turns out they have a great selection of all kinds of cheap pens and pencils. $15 will get you a nice selection of low end writing instruments. ($15 won't even get you a clip on a nice fountain pen.) I'd tell you which ones I like, but that would mean I'd have to find them .. and as much as I like pens and pencils, they like to run and hide when I come near.

Along these lines, Mark Pilgrim came across a series of commentaries from Phil Agre about cheap pens. (link to Mark's article with the pointer). The commentaries are a few years old - ranging from late '97 to late '00 - but still interesting.

Our old friend Kurt Eiselt tells a story about me that involves pens. Kurt was in the computer science program at UC Irvine at the same time as me. I didn't know Kurt at the time, but he was the TA for a computer hardware class I was taking. At some point, he noticed that I came to class armed with an engineering notepad and a rainbow of Pilot Razorpoints: black, blue, red, purple, and green. Kurt noticed that I would periodically switch colors as I was taking notes. Growing curious, he spent considerable time trying to discern what my scheme was for choosing which color to use next.

Eventually, he concluded that I had no scheme. It was random. I switched colors for emphasis, and I picked colors based on the whim of the moment.

5/12/03 - I checked this story with Kurt, and I got the story all wrong.

One more pen story. A few years later, I was in a seminar that had something to do with AI and modeling knowledge about the world. I wasn't that interested in the subject, buy my girlfriend was; she was a Psych/Linguistics major, and she asked me to sit in with her. One day during the seminary, the professor walked over to my desk, picked up the purple Razorpoint and walked off with it. After a minute he returned it to me, and asked "Why didn't Paul protest when I took his pen? It's because of my special role as professor. No one else in the room could take Paul's pen without him protesting." At this, my girlfriend reached over and grabbed the pen. The professor grinned and bowed slightly.

We were married in 1981. She still takes my pens.

1 Comment

Paul - one of the keys in my mind to keeping cheap pens accessable is figuring where to store the things as you take them with you.

For a long time I used a little leather pen and pencil carrier, until it mysteriously disappeared. These days I use stationary boxes (te Neues / Smithsonian notecards, beautiful and very cheap when bought at a remainder bookstore) and simply stash away a few pens so they're always handy when it's time to write.