This Blog

This blog is about ingenious solutions, making do with the available. Levi-Strauss's used the term "Bricoleur." His reference of often confused with "Jack of All Trades," but it meant a more complete kind of what we refer to today, I think, as a "Maker." He wrote that the rules of the game for the Bricoleur are always to make do with tools and materials that are at hand.

Terry Frohm, principle technician at the CRRF Chuuk marine laboratory, used the term "Making Do" to refer to appurtenances and contrivances he innovated for the laboratory, without expensive and specialized equipment or hardware.

I recognized Levi-Strauss's meaning in Micronesian fishermen's use of the available to solve their own problems: Marshallese fishermen used a piece of broken glass or a sharp piece of Aluminum beer can to clean a catch of fish on the beach; their spears were fashioned of discarded water tank bands, and their slings from airplane inner tubes. Goggles were carved from available wood---using possibly a kitchen knife sharpened on a piece of pumice that had drifted onto the beach, their glass from a
relict World War II airplane.

This Blog cannot adequately honor the resourcefulness of those men, but I have borrowed the words of Terry Frohm, to describe the purpose of this proposed collection of solutions and innovations. But I hope it can serve as more than a collection. Rather, by example, a reminder that solutions are often at arm's reach, and not in catalogs.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fountain Pens: hacking and tuning

A remarkable "literature" exists online regarding care, tuning, and hacking of fountain pens.  In an earlier blog post on my all purpose blog I described my experiments, looking for the perfect pen to use in writing field notes in water proof ink.

I settled on what turned out to be a fine or extra fine Montblanc Slimline, sold in the 1980s for 30.00 in a duty free shop.  It was an amazing pen, wrote like a champ with Higgins Waterproof Drawing Ink, not recommended by anyone for fountain pens, with minimal cleaning or attention, except wiping each time I started using it.

I had about three of these, and they served me well.  I even used them to write labels on reagent bottles on lab tape.  Anything.  Prices went up, and I moved to an island with no access to duty free shops anyway, so the 1 pt. bottle of ink was still 3/4 full by the time I'd lost the last one.

Years later, I am back to fountain pens, having discovered, first, the Pilot Metropolitan.  Being an inveterate fiddler arounder, I have been boning up on the use, care, and modification of fountain pens.  Many YouTube videos and web sites explain such arcanea as tuning pens, dressing of nibs, cleaning, and the fine points of ink (pun accidental).  I'll never own a 250.00 pen, and I don't think I need one anyway.  These metropolitans are remarkable.  And I have also taken delivery on two $3.00 Platinum Preppy 0.3 pens, and converted them to eyedropper fill pens, with massive ink capacities.

In this post I only want to aggregate some of what I've learned, as much for myself as for any wayward travellers.  These pens are a really cool Making Do project.

I should address the everyday carry (EDC) aspect.  When I was focused on Ethnobiological research in the islands, I cultivated the habit of using a fanny pack.  These are known by Chuukese as "Thunder Bags".  I have no idea where that name came from, but it's brilliant.  Returning to civilization, so to speak, family members were apalled at my wearing a belt pouch 24/7, even at the Thanksgiving table, or other events.  I had theories about the best thunder bag.  The military look of my favorite, a Maxpedition, was off-puting, even to me.  And, as I was in a classroom some days, I decided to doff the bag.

Almost as brilliant is the pocket protector.  These are not easy to find, but I got a package of two on Amazon or Ebay, have been using one for 2 or 3 or 4 years, and it's still serviceable.  The other one I gave to my friend Kryg, who is an EDC nerd.

Here's why this is a brilliant idea.  In the islands, a bag or pouch is almost a required piece of equipment, so keep the notebook and pens together, together with other daily needs.  Knife, etc.

Back here, though, pockets are a fact of life, most of the time.  I admit I have some favorite shirts that are pocketless, but I do have a messenger bag I usually carry with me, in which to keep pens and pencils.  That's another story.  Here, though, I were pants with pockets.  Pockets and a pocket protector can serve pretty well, especially in concert with a Messenger Bag.  (For now, I will mention that I found the ideal messenger bag on sale for 1/2 price at REI: a Timbuk2 classic old style.  But don't order a custom bag: they are not as well contructed as the old style classic.  I won't go into detail about mine and what makes it great; I don't remember the model name anyway!).

Why is this important?  I have somehow cultivated a habit of keeping a pen at my fingertips at all times, and I seldom lose one.  The belt bag was the first step.  The pocket protector has enabled me to maintain the good habit.  I seldom lose a pen, so I seldom have to buy one.  I hate (or maybe love) to think how many hundreds of dollars I have saved by not buying pens all the time.  Certainly enough to buy a couple of low price and high functioning fountain pens, some ink and some tools.

 Here's another trick: I took a stack of Mead Composition Books, at least 100 sheets each, to a printer and had him cut them down to size on one of those guillotine cutters, to just the right size to fit the pouch.  Sewn bound, they are idea.  I think he charged $2.00.  Using a pencil or good waterproof ink, this paper, while not the best, would be indelible enough.  I didn't understand or know that when my stuff was scattered to the four winds by Typhoon Nina, some of the notes were almost unreadable, but the ink did its job: I don't think any important notes were totally unreadable.  Either Lexicon notes, or notes on research or naturalizing.  Or just thoughts.

Inks, Feeds, and Nibs


Back to our story.

My sister gifted me a large bottle of Noodler's Heart of Darkness ink.  I had asked her for this pen based on research into the properties of the ink, and the cool name.   Unbeknownst to me---though possibly not my sister---a free Noodler's eyedropper-fill pen was included in the box.  Seriously!  A free pen, on Noodlers.   This pen is quite a piece.  First of all, emblazoned on the barrel in transparent letters is the name "Charlie".  This, it turns out, is a cult favorite: it is named after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  And it is an interesting pen. 

More interesting still it is an introduction to the Noodler's pens, and a philosophy I have just learned about: using Ebonite feeds.  I have just been schooled about these feeds by one of the pen nerds on YouTube and the Inet.  Classic pens of bygone eras were made with Ebonite.  Remember, plastic --- in the manufacturing sense --- has only been with us since about 1950.  Ebonite, it turns out, has desireable properties for our purposes, in preference to modern plastics.  At least that's the word on the street (at least in the back alleys) of the pen world.  The best thing is this: according to the guy on the video, Noodler's does this on purpose; they make their pens with Ebonite feeds, so we can use other nibs, nibs of our choice.  Compare this with Pilot, who makes an amazing pen, but with a nib that has a shape that only can be paired with it's feed, and does not sell replacement nibs!  Do you see where I am going?  Free software vs. proprietary software :: Free pens vs proprietary-infrastructure in pens.  Are you lovin' it yet!? 

This video explains a few things.  It is a gateway into like videos, with even more information.  For my part, it lead to the realization that I can substitute expensive classic nibs and feeds from the 40s and 50s and maybe 60s on other pens.  I happen to have this amazing classic, which somehow I have inherited from my Mother:

This is a lever-fill pen, with a bladder.  The cap is missing the button and clip.  The bladder has long since fused into a twisted mass of gummy rubber.  Online are many vendors who sell the bladders and tools needed to repair this pen, but that leaves me a pen with no clip.  The cheapest used pen  I saw of this type was $85.00, in 2018.  Many are worth much more.

My first 10.99 Pilot Metropolitan was a sacrifice to the pen gods: I dropped it from a standing position, point down, on a hard floor.  I'm led to understand that a good nibster could fix this for upwards of 50.00.  Do the math.  I have one more that my aforementioned sister gifted me for Christmas.  And I am awaiting shipment of a set of three chinese nibs modeled after the Pilot nibs, that are not available from the Manufacturer.  Meanwhile...

I saw a flash of a lightbulb out of the corner of my eye, and it hit me: why not try to use this touted Eversharp Skyline nib on my grounded Pilot?!  It might fit, but the Pilot has a plastic feed, I think.  It might work with the Noodler.  What about the Skyline feed?  It's an interesting gizmo, the feed.  This one maybe a little more interesting than most.  I may photograph it someday.  MAYBe the pilot feed would work, but would the skyline feed fit into the pilot section?  (A section is the part of the pen the feed fits into; the feed is the structure underlying the nib; the pen operates, I am assured, on the priciple of a controlled leak, so the feed---first patented by Waterman---is a clever way of channelling and controling the leak AND the return air flow.  This leak and the air return can be modified by removing some material from the channel of the feed, as explained on many internet sites, thereby increasing the flow.  Some of the artists install Manga nibs (G nibs) on these ebonite feeds, which they have to "heat set".  These are "flex" nibs that draw thicker lines when pressed down hard, so they need adequate ink flow.  These guys deepen the channel in the feed; various princples used various levels of precision and subtlety in doing so, as I saw on these videos.  Very cool.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I fitted the feed and nib into the pilot, and it seemed to fit!   Then the pen was filled using the press plate converter (I think only Pilot supplies a converter with the pen---the idea is to make more profit by selling the converter separately).  I used Sailor's Kuwo Guro Black Ink.  And what do you know?  It wrote like a champ, has not leaked or skipped.  Fits like a glove.  The flow at first was generous, but not to the point of a leak of pooling.  After a while, it seemed to dry a little, and I noticed a little scratching.  I will apply the Nail Buffer method to smooth it out ever so gently.  Actually, some of the instructional information I have read asserts that different ink might make the pen write more smoothly, or drier, or wetter.  Inks are part of the game.  Noodler's seems like a cool company, with great names for the various inks, and it looks like each ink is a chemical concoction of it's own. 

Links from my explorations, without comments:


One thing I have noticed: the pen world is a very engaging one, fascinating. I get the same feeling of freedom and release as I do from Free Software.  Lots of other things.  Liberating.   These links will give some idea of how enthusiastic even the vendors are, and willing to share the tricks of the trade.  I have found Brian Goulet's videos to be exceptionally engaging and informative.  What is that shading ink he uses in the ink splashes on the site?

There's much more out there.  Next time I hope to list some of the many tips and ideas, and techniques.  Keeping it simple, I like the Metropolitan alot.  I may mention that word has it that Japanese nibs run finer.

Ed Jelley's site got me started and steered me toward the Pilot Metropolitan.  On that site is a list of many blogs about pens.  (William likes dip pens.)

It's probably easy to forget that the whole idea is the have a couple of pens that one takes good care of, are not worth the world, and that write well, and can use good ink.  It has been pointed out that De Atramentis Document Ink is a good choice for permanence, but I do not have it.  Here's a web page about this amazing looking ink, a nano-particle ink that seems to hit all the bases where permanence is concerned: De Atramentis Document Ink.  (Available in several colors).  Soon to be tested.  For now, I have this large bottle of Heart of Darkness

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What's an "Ice Light?" Excellent DIY piece, useful photography lighting project

A low cost project to make use of an LED flashlight. 

I have using a base and arm from a Nicolas Illuminator, to hold my LED flashlight, as an illuminator for a Stereomicroscope and for Macro photography.  I have a feeling that I can make use of and modify this "Ice Light" gimmick to good effect, perhaps in a smaller unit to use with a cell phone and macro lens. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

From Make: Raspberry Pi Powersupply from a Power Tool Battery

Nuf sed.  This is a project I have not tried.  Yet.

Friday, April 14, 2017

From Make Magazine: scanning slides on a flatbed scanner

I am scanning microscope slides.  They are visible when scanned against the white background.  I think this tweak would make them scans better. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

A simple plankton strainer

A self explanatory solution made by John Furey: a nylon stocking stretched over the cut bottom end of a plastic carboy.  We used this on Saipan to concentrate emergent zooplankton that we had slurped into a 5 gallon carboy (intact) held with the opening at the surface next to a flashlight while wading. 

A method well worth further exploitation.  Especially when the water is warm.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fishing as Making Do.

In Tokelau, Havini demonstrated to Robert Gillett how to see underwater without goggles.

Pearl-shell was most often encountered inside small caves and underneath rock ledges . The older "tautai" interviewed said that during their youth diving was done without the aid of goggles; divers cupped one hand over the eye ... trapping a small pocket of air in the palm which would enable underwater vision .  As pressure increases with depth , this technique could only be used to a maximum depth of about eight metres, after which the air bubble would be too compressed to be of any use.
          [R. Gillett.   1985.  Traditional Tuna Fishing in Tokelau.  Noumea: South Pacific Commission.]

Gillette also wrote a companion volume about fishing on Satawal Island, in the Caroline Islands West of Chuuk Lagoon.

Subsistence fishing in traditional communities is certainly an impressive example of making do, in all aspects.  In Kiribati, I was priviledged to go fishing with a man whose name I cannot recall, on the island of Aranuka.  A split piece of driftwood lumber, approximately 4x4, by about 4-1/2 or 5' long, was a central piece of equipment.  This log (for want of a better name) had two crosspieces lasted to it, around which was wound a length of monofilament fishing line, perhaps 30 pound test.  Several fish hooks were tucked away in the crack.  The monofilament and the fishhooks were the only gear that was purchased in the store.  From one end of the log to the other was tied a length of some kind of line, which I learned later was a stringer.

In the long crack was kept a spear, and I think even a spare, along with a machete.  When I asked why he carried a machete, he explained, "Te Pakua (sharks)".

We started wading out across the reef flat toward the reef.  Along the way, my companion used the machete to kill a juvenile eel, which he tied onto the log somehow.  When we reached the reef, he tied the log to his waist using  a tether made of hand made sennit, and dived through the wave, towing his toolkit behind him.

Once we cleared the reef crest, he swam along the surface, scanning the bottom in about 12-15 feet of water.  He unwound the monofilament, used the machete to cut the eel up for bait, and started fishing.  I thought it was ingenious, and he certainly was expert: swimming along the surface, presenting the bait to groupers resting on the bottom.  He caught several.  Thinking upon it, they were not of great size, but very good for the "table."

He did, of course, catch other species, and spear a few as well.  But when he had enough to feed a fairly large number of people, it was time to go back.

My companion had taken me out at night as well, to fish for Hemiramphids, halfbeaks.  The diet on this island was varied, as every day, it seemed, a different kind of fish was brought home---through the employment of a different style of fishing.  These are all stories for other times.

The point here is about Making Do, at a high level.

A Portable Pond Dipper

I needed a long handled dipper to get samples from Lake Temescal, in Oakland.  I have found a few Hydra on the duckweed (Lemna minor) I had scooped up with a ziploc bag a few months before.  But it was a clumsy arrangement at best.  I was looking for a dipper like we use for bathing in the tropics (dipping water from the 55 gallon drums we used to collect rain water, or from a well.  Along the way, it became apparent that long poled dippers are sold by Scientific Supply houses; man!  the costs were unbelievable!

Duct Tape.  A broken Tripod.  Some quart size Salsa containers.  That's all I needed.

Photos still to come.

I cut a leg from the tripod.  Now I have an extensible rod.  Taping the salsa container on, I have a portable pond dipper.  Portable, because of the telescoping rod.  Awesome!  Especially considering "respectable" pond dippers are sold in the scientific supply catalogs for upwards of 60.00.   I have often wondered about this.