The unnecessary search for the perfect pen…

As much as the government likes to claim that we’ve gone or are going “paperless,” such claims are fabrications if not an outright lies. There as much if not more volume of paper flowing around the office now as there was when I showed up almost 16 years ago. One of the only other consistencies in all that time is that I’ve been on an eternal quest to find just the right pen. 

Copyright ANN PINSON/STARS AND STRIPES 

I’ve used roller balls, gel inks, ball points, felt tips, fines, and ultra-fines. I even picked up – and very quickly put down – a couple of fountain pens along the path. The truth is, I have the perfect pen sitting on the desk in my home office already. The Cross Century pen that my dad handed to me the night I graduated high school fills the bill as a “good pen” nicely. Given its sentimental value there’s no way I’m willing to risk losing it somewhere in the vast bureaucracy. Adding another Cross is cost prohibitive. What I’ve always searched for is a good, serviceable everyday pen. 

The fact is, I probably found the right pen for the job long before my search really began. All I had to be willing to accept was the learned judgement of a bunch of bureaucrats way back in 1968 when the General Services Administration adopted the 16 pages of requirements that ultimately resulted in the production of the definitive Pen, Ball-Point, Black, NSN 7520-00-935-7135. The venerable Skilcraft pen is harder to find in government offices than it used to be, but it’s still there if you know where to look. 

It’s not the best pen I’ve ever used. Sometimes the ink is a bit clumpy and it feels a little small in hand, but by way of trade off, I’ve never actually run one out of ink. That’s a claim I can’t make about a run of the mill Bic or modern gel ink wonders. I suspect this little wonder has more of a cult following than many will admit to, as plenty of them have been swiped from my desk over the years. It’s one of those rare moments when design and function are pretty much ideal even 50+ years later. 

That’s all a long way to say that I think my search for the perfect pen is probably over. I’ll keep my fancy Cross at home, but for the office I’ll be keeping a supply of archaic black ball-points on hand to meet my writing needs. It feels like one of the few designs that we, probably by pure dumb luck, managed to get right the first time… if I ever catch wind of anyone threatening to improve the design I’ll just have to requisition a dozen boxes to see me safely through the back half of my career. One box would probably be enough, but the inevitable reallocation through theft must be considered when determining supply requirements. Same as it ever was.

In recognition of Big Pharma…

I’m not going to lie here, I was a bit skeptical when I was given a link that promised a “significant rebate” on one of the more expensive meds that are currently keeping me alive. Sure it was all nice and official and came to me by way of bitching at my doctor about the ridiculous cost of this new pill, but the claims of being rebated almost 95% of my out of pocket expenses seemed outlandish and unrealistic.

After getting my second check back from the nice folks at Merck, though, I had to admit to being pleasantly surprised. Sure, they make they process convoluted and require a fair deal of bureaucracy, but in the end what would otherwise be an obnoxious monthly expense ends up costing a total of $5.00 out of pocket. I’m just going to ignore for the time being the small fortune I’m sure to be costing Blue Cross for all this, of course. I just think of myself as an insurance industry loss leader. They an feel free to use me as an example of someone who’s wildly pleased with their products and services.

As much as I like to bitch and complain, I think it’s worth doling out credit where and when it’s due. From my perch, kudos to Big Pharma for the solid work at delivering new and effective medication and for having a means and method to help offset costs for he end user. Well done.

First impressions of iPhone 6…

A few of your have been (more or less) patiently waiting for my first impressions of iPhone 6. I don’t know if this morning’s post is going to exactly reward that patience, but it will at least give you a snapshot of what I’ve found after living with the new phone for the first 36 hours. Do bear in mind that these observations are in no way scientific, have not been approved by Apple, and reflect only my own thoughts.

Screen: I didn’t really think having an additional .7 inches of usable space on the screen would make much difference. I was wrong. The 4.7 screen feels like you’re dealing with acreage compare to the old 4-inch standard. Resolution is crystal clear and the depth of colors displayed exceeded my expectations.

Speed: As expected, speed is improved to have less lag between clicking an app and it opening. Switching between open apps is also largely improved. Performance overall feels snappier – as it should on a brand new device.

iOS 8: No surprises. The new operating system is essentially an incremental improvement from last year. Lots of goodness here that I still need to play with.

Battery: Solid performance under heavy use the last day and a half. It’s probably still going to need a pick-me-up charge towards late afternoon, but it’s miles ahead of needing to plug in at lunch time as I did with the old model under regular daily use. It’s very respectable performance considering it lasts longer while driving a more powerful processor and larger screen.

Camera: Appreciable improvement, especially in low light settings. There is considerably less lag between pushing the button and taking the picture. This is good when you have two dogs who aren’t particularly adept at sitting still for photos.

Form and Fit: Thinner is good. Though it is very slightly heavier than the 5S, it feels lighter in hand because that weight is spread out across a larger area. Build quality is solid, with nothing feeling loose or in danger of falling apart any time soon. The rounded edges are much more comfortable in hand than the hard edges of past models – and echoes back to the original rounded iPhone designs. It’s a very, very pretty phone, but it’s a slick little thing that has tried to jump out of my hand twice already. Dropping a “naked” phone is a concern, even though I’m not particularly accident prone with electronics. Some of that concern will probably be resolved by adding a case to give it a little more “grip-ability,” although sadly that will also hide a really well designed phone.

Overall: If you’re an Apple fan, it’s obviously a winner. Android fans? Eh, I won’t even speculate on what you may think. For me, it’s slightly too large to use in one handed operation for many tasks. I think iPhone has really hit a sweet spot somewhere between too small and phablet – and I know some 6+ fans out there are going to disagree with that assessment. The iPhone 6 does everything I’ve asked of it and is loaded with capabilities I haven’t begun to use. I fear we have reached a point where the phones are finally outstripping my ability to keep up and use them to their maximum ability.

Not surprisingly, my assessment is that this is the best phone Apple has ever offered. If you’re looking to upgrade, I don’t think you’ll find any disappointment here.

The Quickening…

The problem with having bought a house at the height of the real estate boom in 2007 while also being responsible enough to keep up with all the necessary payments is that you’re metric shit loads of cash underwater on the mortgage and no self-respecting bank wants to refinance a loan for a mortgagee who’s not teetering on the brink of foreclosure or bankruptcy. In other words, you have to be the proud owner of a “troubled asset” to qualify for many of the refinance options available. Alternately for a standard refinance through most conventional avenues, you’ve got to owe less than 80% of the value of the property. Without delving too deeply into my finances, I’ll go ahead quickenand say I owe way, way more than 80% of the home’s current market value. Because I played by the rules of the game, didn’t skip payments, and avoided becoming a general deadbeat, my options had mostly winnowed down to one: Sit down, shut up, and take it like a man.

While sitting at home on a snowy weekday, I saw a commercial for Quicken’s brand of mortgages. I don’t remember what I was trying to avoid doing, but whatever it was made spending time on the phone with another bank that was probably going to tell me no seem like a good idea by comparison. Surprisingly, a couple of phone calls, a few emails, and a dozen uploaded documents later, I’d locked in a rate and was preliminary approval on a refinance that decreased the life of the loan and lowered by interest rate (and monthly payment) significantly.

The whole process went from first contact to closing in just a hair over 30 days. That’s not bad for something any number of the large national lenders told me simply couldn’t be done. I’m not getting a dime for shilling for Quicken Loans based in this post. I’m doing it because I had a first class experience with them and realize that some of you might just be in the same boat I was. If that’s you, it’s well worth your time to give them a call and see if they can work some financial black magic for you too.

Wooden Warbirds…

In over five years of blogging, I’ve only rarely made product endorsements and I think almost every one of those was for various new toys Created by Apple in California®. Frankly, I don’t generally have enough personal interest in any product to bother writing about it. Lots of other bloggers have a very good handle on the field of endeavor. From time to time, though, something comes along and catches my eye.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that Greg has been a good friend of mine for the better part of the last two decades, but that’s not really the point here. I think the guy’s onto a winning product and has picked a great and innovative way of raising the funds to make it happen. The interesting thing here is that no one is asking you for a donation. By signing on as a project backer of Wooden Warbirds, you’re pre-ordering a product, not just giving away “cash-for-a-cause.” If enough people out there think this is a good opportunity, and Greg reaches his $10,000 goal, there’s one small business that can tool up and start putting together product and making sales. Have you seen the economy lately? How can you not admire a guy who wants to take his passion and make a business out of it, right? I’ve seen Greg’s work, and he’s the real deal.

Look, I know for $1 a day you can feed an orphan in Greater East Dirtbagistan. Charity is great, but how often do you get to help a guy start a business? So seriously, go check out the link have a look around and see if it’s a project you can get behind. For $5 you can get that warm fuzzy feeling you get from doing good (and a fancy laser-cut medallion). Kick it up to $25 and you just covered the Christmas present the historian or aviation buff in your family will covet.

Do me this one favor. Click the link and have a look around. If nothing else, maybe you just discovered the tool you need to generate startup capital for your own great idea.