Using my Apple Watch

I’ve seen a bunch of articles lately discussing the Apple Watch. Some folks feel the Apple Watch is a complete failure. Others argue that it’s a flawed success. But I’m going to take a slightly different take… Instead of telling you what doesn’t work, I’m going to tell you how I use my Apple Watch* every day.

Time. I know it's simple, but the Apple Watch does a great job of telling time. I forgot how much I missed wearing a watch. And I like that I can use different faces when I feel like it.

Schedule. I’m a long time Fantastical user on iPhone and I use the Fantastical complication to keep an eye on my upcoming meetings and schedule. I prefer the Fantastical watch app to the stock Apple Watch calendar app.

Weather. Apple Watch is perfect for getting a quick forecast. I've used Dark Sky on my iPhone for years and I like the Dark Sky watch complication better than the Apple weather app.

Activity Tracker. I used to wear a Fitbit, but I had syncing issues all the time. The Apple Watch tracks my steps and activity. I wish there was a better interface for viewing the data, but it syncs everything perfectly.

What’s the score of the Cubs game? I love that I can ask my watch for the score of the Cubs game. Siri quickly displays the score. Really helpful because the Cubs are awesome this year...

Apple Pay. As I’ve mentioned before, I love Apple Pay. And Apple Pay on the watch is even more effortless.

Timers and alarms. Apple Watch makes it easy to set timers for cooking and alarms for upcoming appointments.

Find my iPhone. Apple Watch lets me ping my phone and find it quickly. Helpful when I’m not sure exactly where I put it down around the house.

Remote. We love our new Apple TV. But occasionally, we can’t find the remote because it is ridiculously tiny and gets lodged between couch cushions. The Apple Watch is actually a great emergency remote for the Apple TV.

Quick response text message. I actually use the canned responses for text messages on my watch. Sometimes, all you need to answer with is “OK,” “Yes” or “No.” Or just an emoji. Apple Watch is great at that.

VIP. My notifications are mostly turned off for emails, but not from the VIPs that I’ve identified in Mail app on my phone. I get a quick buzz when someone important emails me. (I get too much email to get a notification every time anyone emails me.)

Directions. If you use Apple Maps, Apple’s implementation of directions on the watch is really nice. When I get driving directions, the next exit number or turn is on my wrist. And it buzzes when I need to make a turn. 

Sending stupid sketches to my wife. Liz also has an Apple Watch. Sometimes, sending a silly sketch is more fun than sending a text message.

Switching watch bands. It’s so easy to change out the watch band. I’ve got two and like to flip between them. I’m probably going to buy one or two more.

So is the Apple Watch worth the investment?

I feel like Apple Watch is worth the investment. Your mileage may vary. I really enjoy wearing the watch and get more than enough use out of it to justify the $300 I paid.** But people use the watch in different ways and you may come to a different conclusion.

The Apple Watch is an accessory.*** It’s not a full fledged computing platform. The screen is tiny. The interface isn’t as intuitive as it probably should be. There are plenty of first generation rough edges to iron out. 

But I find the Apple Watch fun and useful and I enjoy wearing it. For me, that’s enough.


* Apple Watch Sport, Space Gray, 42 mm.
** On sale at Best Buy.
*** I would argue that all smart watches on the market today are just accessories.

Linked: Political Polarization

I'm a big fan of "data" journalism — the kind of story that you see over on Five Thirty Eight where they dig into data and statistics to find the real story. I enjoyed this report from the Pew Research Center about the about the political polarization of the American voting public. The interactive graphs encourage exploration and enhance the story.

My original college major was journalism and I remember in orientation being told that math wasn't important for a journalism major.* In retrospect, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Typographia's Best of 2015

I’m always a fan of Typographica’s Year in Review. Each year, they assemble a panel of experts who select amazing type that debuted in the previous year. And while I’ve seen many of the designs throughout the year, I always find more than a few typefaces that I missed.

The 2015 edition continues the tradition of excellence and offers up a wide variety of designs. Stuff you don’t see highlighted elsewhere. Each selection has an accompanying essay to give context to why the piece was included. 

Among my favorites:

  • Tripper. I love a stencil font and this gem from Underware is awesome. I especially love the T and the W.
  • Hobeaux. A reimagined “Hobo!” I have no where to use this, but I love that it exists.
  • Garibaldi. Classy and elegant. A nice, large typeface family. It’s got a nice energy and I bet it looks sharp in long documents.
  • BC Mikser. What a odd monospace design and yet… I really like it.  Five weights and italics. Quirky in a good way.

If you love type, do yourself a favor and take a look at the entire selection.

Patiently waiting for Apple Pay

About 20 years ago, fast food establishments were a cash only deal. I remember when the first restaurants started taking credit and debit cards. It was a mess. They wouldn't have a pen for you to sign the receipt. The cashiers were confused. I hated carrying cash, though, and would go out of my way to find a restaurant that took cards. Sometimes, it didn't work. It took a while, but over time, the experience got better and now, almost everyone accepts debit cards. Cash only establishments are the exception, not the rule.

I feel like we are seeing a similar slow transition with Apple Pay and contactless payment in general. 

When Apple Pay works, it's magic. Effortless. Yes, sometimes cashiers are confused and occasionally, the system doesn't work correctly. But I still go out of my way to visit a store that accepts Apple Pay because the experience is that good.

I go to the Walgreens near my house more often now because they take Apple Pay. And I was excited tonight to find out the neighborhood Starbucks takes Apple Pay now, too.

My desire to use Apple Pay is only amplified by the messy chip card rollout. While I understand why we've made the switch to chip cards, I hate everything about the process.

It might be a little messy for a few more years. But hopefully, in 20 years, contactless payment will be everywhere and we'll remember how absurd debit cards were.

Until then, I’ll be waiting patiently.

Beginner's Guides for Pencils

One of the things I love about my new obsession with writing utensils is that I know virtually nothing about them. I'm learning more about pens and pencils daily.

I love my Blackwing pencils and wrote about them recently. I came across a pair of posts on CW Pencils with beginner basics for pencil users. The first post details terminology and basic background on selecting a pencil. The second article makes recommendations for the best pencil options for your need. They are extremely helpful and make me realize that I've barely scratched the surface of the pencil world.

Thankfully, pencils are much cheaper than fountain pens.

Published: April 2016

I tried for a while to write a weekly update with links to everything I had written in the previous week. I wanted a summary that I could post to Facebook and other social media channels. Some weeks, I had a bunch of links. Others, not so much. When I had a slow week, I'd feel guilty. So I've decided to start writing monthly updates instead... And this is the first.

It was a busy month. I went to Atlanta for the Atlanta Pen Show and a live recording of the Pen Addict podcast. Released a prototype typeface. I finished my first graduate class. I managed to write quite a bit this month, despite the craziness. 

And I'm still posting a weekly update over at In Store Columbia.

I've got a bunch of articles started for May and I'm hoping that I'll be able to write a little bit more this month. But as always, we'll see.

-B


8th inning

A photo posted by Bob Wertz (@sketchbookb) on

Quick thoughts on "texting in public" with Talkshow

I’ve really had fun this week with Talkshow, a new messaging service/social media network. Essentially, it’s texting, but in public. It's a mix of Twitter and texting. You are able to converse with friends and other people can see the feed, like posts and react to posts. It’s pretty intuitive and I enjoyed playing with it.*

It's iOS only. So iPhone or iPad is your only option. Talkshow isn't available for Android and you can't post from a computer. You can share your conversations with others through a web view and embed "shows" on pages.

To give you an idea of what it's like, embedded below is a sample of a conversation between my friend and former coworker James Leslie Miller.** Our conversation eventually wanders into a discussion of design software and another user, Greg, requested to join as a cohost. 

If you try out Talkshow, look me up. As always, my handle is @sketchbookb.


* I also experimented with Snapchat this week. I'm so confused.

** He'll always be "Jim" to me.

I want an electric car.

I struggle to explain why, but I want an electric car. My trusty VW Rabbit is getting up there in age and I'm thinking about a replacement. The next generation of electric cars are increasing in range and decreasing in price. With the Tesla Model 3*, Chevy Bolt, BMW i3, an updated Nissan Leaf and the rumored Apple Car, I’m thinking seriously that my next car might not have an internal combustion engine. 

But why? When I talk to people about electric cars, most of them don’t get it. At all. And I’ll be honest — I struggle to explain it. I’ve been seriously thinking about it over the last week and I'm trying to understand why I’m so intrigued by an electric transmission.

Going the distance. An electric car fits my driving habits. Newer electric cars boast a 200 mile range. Most days, I drive about 40 miles. But some days, it's almost 100 miles. Having a 200 mile range gives me more that enough juice to go anywhere I need to go without dealing with range anxiety. My wife’s SUV will work for long trips and I can use the electric car around town. I'm also close to charging stations on campus so if I need an additional charge, I can easily do that. 

Less maintenance. I hate scheduling maintenance for my car. Electric cars have no oil changes and really only need tire rotation regularly. Less ongoing maintenance is appealing, but replacing a giant battery someday will be expensive.

It's not about the environment. Most people want an electric car because it's more environmentally friendly. But in reality, that depends on how your electricity is generated. Here in South Carolina, much of our power grid is nuclear power, but a significant percentage is still coal. While I'm sure an electric car is better for the environment than its gas powered alternative, it's not a driving factor in my purchase decision. (I do think that getting America off its oil addiction is good foreign policy.)

It's not about the high cost of gas. When gas was $4/gallon, electric cars were a hot idea because they were potentially cheaper. Gas prices are relatively low and if you calculate cost of ownership today, the electric car isn’t going to be the most cost effective. So switching to an electric car isn’t about money.

I’m not interested in a hybrid. I think hybrids are cool, but they are still cars with internal combustion engines. They have all the complexity of a normal car with the added complexity of an electric car. I have lots of friends with Prius (or Priuses?), and they all love them. But my interest in an electric car isn’t because I want to use less gas. I don’t want to use any gas at all.

I’m in love with the technology. I’m completely and totally in love with technology. And an electric car is the cutting edge of technology. From the drivetrain to the internal controls, an electric car is the most advanced piece of technology on the road.**

So will my next car be electric? It's definitely possible and I think it all depends on timing. If I had to buy a new car today, it wouldn't be an electric. Too many interesting cars on the market that are a better fit for me. But if I can hold out a couple of years, I'd be surprised if I don't go electric.


* Since I haven't already put money down on a Tesla Model 3, I won't be getting one this decade.

** At least until self driving cars arrive.

Linked: Sean Adams Basic Etiquette for Designers

We've had some great speakers come to Columbia for AIGA South Carolina, but Sean Adams was one of my favorites. A talented designer, great speaker and all around good guy. He recently released a pretty awesome slide deck about etiquette for designers. I'll definitely show these to my students this fall.

Trailers x4

I love movie trailers, sometimes more than the movies themselves. Over the last month, four new trailers have caught my attention.

Rogue One. I love Star Wars and the Rogue One trailer is chocked full of Star Wars awesomeness. We'll see if the movie is as good as I hope it is, but it looks like the Star Wars I grew up with. Yavin 4. Death Star. Mon Mothma. AT-ATs. I'm excited to get more Star Wars for Christmas this year.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As a fan of Harry Potter, I'm both excited and nervous about a new trilogy of films set in the Harry Potter universe. Much like Rogue One, the look of the trailer is perfect. It looks like a Harry Potter movie set in Prohibition-era New York. So much potential, but we'll see if it lives up to the original.

Suicide Squad. I love the DC television universe with Flash and Arrow, but I haven't been as impressed with the DC cinematic world. This trailer is obviously intended to highlight Harley Quinn, and they expect her to be the breakout character from the movie. The trailer is fun, but I'm not expecting much from the movie. I am expecting Harley Quinn Halloween costumes to be popular with the teenagers and college students this year.

Dr. Strange. I grew up a Marvel fan, but more on the X-Men side of the universe. I don't know much about Dr. Strange. The trailer does a nice job of setting up the magical corner of the MCU, with just a quick tease of the costume at the end of the trailer. Marvel has done a great job introducing lesser known properties, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man. We'll see if Dr. Strange is Marvel's next success.

New font: SbB Runabout

I started working on some sketches for a new typeface design and moved over to Fontstruct to prototype. I really like the way the prototype turned out, even if it looks virtually nothing like my sketches.

I’ve released two designs over on Fontstruct: SbB Runabout and SbB Runabout Superwide. They are free to download with a Fonstruct account.*

A couple of notes about Runabout:

  • Unicase, but mostly lowercase. Most unicase designs are primarily uppercase, but Runabout is mostly inspired by the lowercase.
  • Short ascenders and descenders. I tried to keep the design vertically compact, with very short ascenders and descenders.
  • Flexible. I’m releasing two weights: Regular and Superwide. My plan is the have a range of weights and widths.
  • Aligning the accents. I’m playing around with the idea that accents don’t need to be centered over the letter.
  • Work in progress. I’m going to continue to develop Runabout. I don’t know if I’ll release more on Fontstruct or if I move development over to Glyphs.

* You can see and download all my published Fontstruct designs on the Sketchbook B Fontstruction page.

Linked: The Oregon Trail Generation

My friend Kerry finds the best links. And I love this story he posted on Twitter about the "Oregon Trail Generation." A great article if you, like me, are stuck between Generation X and the Millennials.

Because we had one foot in the traditional ways of yore and one foot in the digital information age, we appreciate both in a way that other generations don’t.  We can quickly turn curmudgeonly in the face of teens who’ve never written a letter, but we’re glued to our smartphones just like they are.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I became a designer just as that industry was changing and I feel like my appreciation for both the old way and the new way makes me a better designer. In the same way, I’m part of a generation that didn't have email in high school, but had it in college. That watched the internet become a thing. A generation that remembers a social life before social media, but now actively uses Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The world completely changed in the middle of my formative years and it absolutely influences the way I look at the world. 

If you want to find more of Kerry's awesome links, subscribe to his email newsletter and get five (or more) links every Friday.

The Atlanta Pen Show and Pen Addict Episode #200

A little over a year ago, I started listening to the Upgrade podcast with Jason Snell and Myke Hurley on the Relay FM network. I knew all about Jason from listening to the Incomparable and reading his work on Macworld. I loved the show and the banter between Myke and Jason. But best of all, it introduced me to selection of other podcasts on Relay FM and the Incomparable. 

One of these shows was the Pen Addict, hosted by Myke and Brad Dowdy. I tuned in for episode #152, just after the 2015 Atlanta Pen Show. Ironically, the topic was mechanical pencils. I was hooked and I've been listening weekly ever since. (I’ve also been buying pens and pencils ever since…)

When the 2016 Atlanta Pen Show rolled around, I knew I had to go. Brad lives near Atlanta and Myke flies in from London for the show. This year, they recorded the 200th episode of the Pen Addict live in front of an audience.

My wife joined me on the (reasonably easy) trek down I-20 from Columbia. I always make Liz listen to podcasts on long trips and she wanted to put faces with the voices she'd heard.*

We spent Saturday at the show and attended the episode recording that evening. It was a wonderful experience and we may have to make the Atlanta Pen Show an annual tradition. I figured I share some thoughts on the experience of attending the Atlanta Pen Show and Pen Addict live broadcast:

The Atlanta Pen Show

It's a little bit overwhelming for a first time visitor. All the vendors were exceptionally nice and willing to answer questions.** But there are just so many pens. Three large rooms with tables and vendors everywhere. New and vintage. Inexpensive and very, very expensive. Stock and custom. Inks, nib grinders, cases, paper and more. (Several vendors noted that the D.C. Pen Show is much bigger and crazier.) I enjoyed it, but it was a lot to take in and absorb. I've only been buying pens for about a year and I've got a lot to learn. 

I got to check out pens I've never seen. There isn't a pen store in Columbia so I rarely have a chance to check out nice fountain pens in person. But there is a great selection at the Atlanta Pen Show. I fell in love with the Pilot Vanishing Point. I got to check out some Lamys that I haven't had a chance to hold... a Lamy 2000, a Studio and even an Imporium. The Karas Kustoms clipless Ink is also a beauty. I definitely prefer the cleaner, more minimalist designs.

I didn't buy a pen. I almost bought a Pilot Vanishing Point — green, of course — but decided to wait. And I was tempted by a Lamy Studio. I must have circled the Anderson Pens table a dozen times. I'm looking at more expensive pens and these pens aren't an impulse buy. Instead I bought some ink from Vanness Pens, a Nock Fodderstack XL and some notepads to try.

I'm terrified of vintage pens. I love the idea of vintage pens, but I was overwhelmed by the selection. I had no idea what I was looking at. I'll need to do a fair amount of research before I feel comfortable investing in a classic design.

The Pen Addict's 200th Episode

Friendly folks. Myke and Brad were joined on the episode by Ana Reinhart from the Well-Appointed Desk. Stephen Hackett from Liftoff and Connected came down to run the technical side of the broadcast. They were all very approachable and made an effort to talk to everyone. (I even got an impromptu review of Myke's new nylon Apple Watch band.) It's nice to find out that the people that you listen to every week are really as awesome as they seem on the podcast.

Watching the Pen Addict live was amazing. Being able to see how Myke, Brad and Ana interact on the show was wonderful. It was like a couple of friends just talking about pens... with a bunch of spectators and a whole lot of technology.

Thanks for all the hard work. It's got to be hard to record a podcast every week and not really know what people think. This show ended with a standing ovation and tears from Brad and Ana. I didn't really think about it until that moment, but I'm glad we as an audience got to let Brad and Myke know — in person — how much we appreciate the show. I really do look forward to it each week.

I won a door prize. Which probably doesn't come as a surprise to those who know me well.*** Ana donated an awesome prize pack with a bottle of green Pilot Iroshizuku ink, a notepad for work****, a stamp, a magic pencil, some limited edition XOXO Field Notes and some wicked chocolate that was not melted. Thanks, Ana! I'll put it all to good use.

Liz and I had a great time. If our schedule permits, we'll absolutely head down to Atlanta for the 2017 edition. (April is always a busy time of year for us, though.) If you are interested in pens and writing utensils, attending a pen show is a great way to check out your options if you don't have a pen store near you. 


* She was disappointed that Jason Snell and Serenity Caldwell weren't there. I told her Jason would never attend a pen show.

** There was one pushy dude who was kind of obnoxious.

*** I win a lot of door prizes. It all started when I won a jet ski in 7th grade...

**** My wife was disappointed that she can't take it to her work, but a notepad with the "s-word" on it won't fly in kindergarten. I, however, love it.

Do autonomous cars need stoplights?

Researchers at MIT have posed the question: Do autonomous cars need stoplights? Our entire infrastructure is based around the automobile and managing traffic. If (when) autonomous cars happen, how will our roads, bridges, parking lots and stoplights evolve?

Of course, watching the video, all I could think was "How does a pedestrian cross a street with no stoplight?"

Toyota built a wooden concept car?!

I'm a big fan of concept cars and I've written about them in the past. They are often horribly impractical and will never come to market, but they often present a unique presentation of a particular concept or feature that can point a way for the future of the car.

SETSUNA_001.jpg

Toyota introduced the Setsuna, a wooden car intended to be a family heirloom. Hand crafted out of wood using "traditional Japanese joinery technique called okuriari which does not use any nails or screws."

I think it's kind of cute, even if it looks like a life size pinewood derby car.* And while I don't expect to see Toyota Setsuna make it to a dealership, it does pose an interesting question about how we will view internal combustion cars in an electric, self-driving car world. Will they be heirlooms as Toyota seems to imply with the Setsuna? Or junk?


* My daughter and wife think this car looks like Barney Rubble's car from the Flintstones. Maybe they are right, but I like it anyway.

Linked: How to spell 'Internet'

One of my first majors in college was journalism. And as a journalism major, you become intimately familiar with “AP style.” The Associated Press has published the definitive guidelines for newspaper writing for decades, but it’s influence spreads beyond just news publications. I’ve used AP style at pretty much every company I’ve worked for.

One of the things I hate about AP style is the capitalization of “Internet” and “Web” as proper nouns. But thankfully those days are over and, starting in June, the official AP recommendation is to use internet and web in lower case. I’m very happy about this, and I’m completely aware of how geeky that is.

Five Thirty Eight has a great little article showing that maybe we’ve already started the transition.

Change.

Last week, I talked to an advertising class at the University of South Carolina. One of the things I mentioned was the need to stay up-to-date on the changes in the communications industry. 

In preparing for my talk, I started a list of the things that have changed during my career —  roughly 20 years of being a creative professional.*

The list was really, really long. I've included a couple of links for all the really obscure stuff:

  • Aldus Pagemaker became Adobe Pagemaker. Then was gone.
  • Quark Xpress was everywhere. Adobe InDesign arrived. Then Quark was gone.
  • Individual Adobe applications became the Creative Suite bundle. And then the Creative Cloud suite.
  • Apple was dying. Now Apple is everywhere.
  • PDF.
  • Bitmap fonts. Adobe Postscript Type 1 fonts. TrueType. Open Type.
  • The Internet became a thing.
  • Email became a thing. Followed by HTML Email. And spam.
  • Netscape rises. Internet Explorer kills Netscape. Internet Explorer is awful and dies a slow and painful death.
  • Web 2.0 (Which if we are honest, isn’t really different than Web 1.0.)
  • Standards-based web design. Javascript. CSS.
  • The search engine.
  • Social media. All of it. MySpace. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Flickr. Instagram. Vine. Google+. Snapchat. Periscope. Meerkat. And lord knows how many more failures I’ve forgotten about.
  • Macromedia Flash. Adobe Flash. Who needs Flash?
  • Streaming video. Real Player. Quicktime. YouTube.
  • Floppy disks. SyQuest 44. SyQuest 88. Zip. Zip 250. Jaz. CD-R. Flash drive. Cloud storage.
  • DVD. Blu-Ray. 
  • Avid. Premiere. Final Cut. Final Cut X. Premiere.
  • Blogging.
  • Powerpoint. Sigh.
  • Digital photography arrives. Eventually becomes affordable. And now we have camera phones.
  • Royalty-free stock photography CDs. Replaced by websites when bandwidth gets fast enough.
  • TV has completely changed. Standard Definition. High Definition. 3-D. Now Ultra HD.
  • The smartphone. Palm and BlackBerry rise. iPhone and Android kill them.
  • Mobile apps.
  • Responsive design.
  • Wacom Tablets.
  • iPads and other tablets.
  • eBooks and Kindles.
  • Black and white screens. Hundreds of colors. Thousands of colors. Millions of colors. Retina displays.
  • Short-run digital printing.
  • Bluelines and photographic platemaking gets replaced with much more efficient computerized versions. (But I still I miss the smell of bluelines.)
  • The eternal promise of variable data printing.

All of this change and disruption occurred in such a short period of time. And this is just in one industry. My interest in design started when I was in college in the mid-1990s at the beginning of all this change. The designers and communicators that are thriving today are the ones that are able to change and adapt constantly.

Looking ahead at the next 20 years, the only thing I’m 100% sure of is that the world isn’t going to get less complex. For designers and communicators, the ability to evolve and adapt is going to be more critical to success than ever.


* I seriously feel old.

Looking sharp: Rediscovering the wooden pencil

In the last year, I discovered fountain pens and mechanical pencils. But recently, I discovered another “new” writing instrument: wooden pencils.

I haven’t used a wooden pencil for writing since probably middle school. Sure, I’ve used pencils for sketching, but for writing, I’ve used pens and mechanical pencils exclusively.

My wood pencil experience was pretty much limited to the #2 pencils we used in school. The ones we had to use to fill out those Scantron standardized tests. And while those pencils are iconic, they aren’t exactly an amazing writing experience.

I started to research pencil options on Jet Pens. The selection is not as massive as the pen selections. One particular brand stood out — Palomino Blackwing. The Blackwing is the most popular pencil on Jet Pens and after reading several reviews, I was sold.

I was intrigued by the Blackwings. The design looked amazing and the reviews were stellar. Blackwings come in three standard designs — Blackwing, Blackwing 602 and Blackwing Pearl. These pencils differ in firmness of lead and exterior appearance. (Blackwing also has some limited edition versions… more on that in a bit.)

From top to bottom: Blackwing, Blackwing 602 with a green eraser And Blackwing Pearl

From top to bottom: Blackwing, Blackwing 602 with a green eraser And Blackwing Pearl

Starting with Blackwings

The Blackwing 602 was the firmest of the three standard designs and I thought that it would be the best fit for me. (For reference, the 602 is firm, but still softer than the #2 pencils of my childhood.) I bought a box of 12.

The experience of using a Blackwing pencil is amazing. It’s an experience unlike pencils I'd used previously. The graphite glides across the page smoothly. The pencil is nicely balanced in my hand. Blackwings are made from incense cedar so even the smell of a Blackwing is nice.

I was buying pencils so I also needed a pencil sharpener. I seriously had no idea there were so many kinds of pencil sharpeners. Sharpeners with different angles, different styles and different colors. I settled on a Blackwing Sharpener manufactured by Kum. It’s a two-step sharpener — the first step sharpens the wood and the second step sharpens the lead. It also has a automatic brake to prevent you from over sharpening your pencil. 

This sharpener is a step above any that I’ve used previously. The two-step process seems silly until you use it. The resulting point is ridiculously sharp and perfect.

One of the nice things about the Blackwing design is that the eraser is replaceable. Jet Pens sold sets of colored erasers to replace the stock erasers, so of course I picked up some green erasers. Like all pencil top erasers, the quality isn’t great. But it is nice not to have to worry about breaking an eraser off of an otherwise usable pencil. And it’s fun to change the colors up.

After not using wooden pencils for the past couple decades, I had forgotten how “dirty” wooden pencils can be. The graphite gets on my hands and everything in my pencil bag. It’s not a problem, but good to know if you haven’t used wooden pencils in a while. (I actually don’t mind it. It’s pretty nice to “get my hands dirty.”)

Trying the whole range of Blackwing pencils

After about a month of using my Blackwing 602s, I stopped in to Origami Ink on a family trip to Asheville to get some ink. At the checkout, they were selling individual Blackwing pencils so I picked up a regular Blackwing and a Blackwing Pearl to try out. The writing experience is subtly different between the three pencils. And while I like all three, I think I actually prefer the Pearl. It’s a touch softer than the 602. But you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

Special edition Blackwing subscription

I mentioned earlier that Palomino offers special edition Blackwings. As part of a $99/year Blackwing Volumes subscription, you get a box of 12 pencils quarterly. I don’t think I can use that many pencils a year so I’m not going to subscribe, but you can also purchase boxes of the pencils separately until they run out. I hate that I missed the natural wood Volume 211. I’m temped to buy a box of the current edition — the all-black, Steinbeck-inspired Blackwing 24. That is one sharp looking pencil.

Give it a try

If the last pencil you used was a cheap yellow #2 pencil in elementary school, it may be time to try out one of the newer wooden pencils. You may discover a new favorite writing instrument.

i dont care about my business @gmail.com

All professionals need a personalized email address and a home on the web. And Gmail accounts and Facebook pages don't count. 

  • I saw a branding consultant recently without a branded email address. Who hires a brand consultant who doesn't invest in their own brand?
  • I saw a company trying to recruit managers... just email an AOL account. (In case you are wondering, the company wasn't recruiting for AOL.)
  • I was trying to find out information on a store in town and all they had was a Facebook page that hadn't been updated in a couple of months. 

I don't really care what your business is — from a home-based business to a large corporation — if you don't have a real email address with your own domain name, I'm less likely to take you seriously. And if your only web presence is a Facebook page, you don't have a real business.

Look. I get it. It's easy to get by with the free accounts. A penny saved is a penny earned. Absolutely. But investing in a domain name and a Google apps account? It's not that expensive. Without your own domain, you send a message to all your clients and potential clients that you can't or won't invest in your own company.

It used to take some effort to get on the Web a decade ago, but now, services like Squarespace provide great solutions for small businesses and take care of hosting, e-commerce and more. Like Gmail? That's fine. You can customize your address with Google Apps. Other services like Hover can help you get your domain and email set up. There are seriously hundreds of services to help you look professional. It's not that hard and not that expensive.

Having a professional online appearance is every bit as important as dressing appropriately or speaking intelligently. It's a necessary investment that lets people know that you are serious about your business.

Unless you aren't serious about your business. And then, I guess, any email address or website will do.

Published: Week of March 13

Another slow week, but I'm picking up steam. I've got a number of longer form stories in the works that I'll release over the next couple weeks.

On Sketchbook B

On In Store Columbia

On Instagram

Do not block door.

A photo posted by Bob Wertz (@sketchbookb) on