My review of the Sharpie Liquid Pencil

rexlabs test

Since the dawn of time, humans have been seeking a breath mint that tastes like a candy mint and a candy mint that works like a breath mint. Yet, whenever someone comes out with two-, two-, two-mints-in one, the only people who actually believe it are those who sell the product.

As consumers, we get it. If, for example, we want to purchase a camera that is dual anything, the savvy consumer will know not to expect the best of either. We merely hope the compromise won’t end up with the worst of both. We are consumers, okay, so we understand that the best camera is the one you have with you when the photograph or video-worthy moment presents itself. Accessibility is the feature that trumps all feature compromises when you see the Loch Ness monster. (Frankly, in the hands of a talented photographer who knows what he’s doing, a hole at the end of a shoebox can capture a great photo.)

So, despite the hype and whatever marketers tell you, it’s never a “best of both” and most of the time, it’s just “never” — it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about flying-cars or writing devices that are both “pen-like” and “pencil-like.” Lots of promises and predictions, but the best we get are “roadable planes” and “erasable pens.”

Despite this Law of Certs (a name I just made up), when I saw on Wired.com that Sharpie, a company I’ve written about before because it’s on my short list of “they get the web” companies has a new product called a “Liquid Pencil,” I decided to go ahead and drop my shield of dis-belief and decided I’d give it a try.

Unfortunately, the 2-pack version of the new liquid-pencil won’t be available until next month (apparently, back to schoolers buy pencils by the bushel).

It’s at times like these when having a friend like the amazing blogging anesthesiologist Joe (bookofjoe.com, @bookofjoe) comes in handy. (I devoted a post to Joe five years ago.) When Joe saw me tweet that I was looking forward to trying out the new “liquid penci,” he let me know that he had ordered some online. But, as he didn’t need the entire bushel, he’d be glad to share. Yesterday, I received two “test pencils” from the private collection of Joe.

I’m sorry. That was a way-too long setup for a brief review, but before Joe will tell me what he thinks of the device, I had to promise I’d go first:

liquid pencil

1. No surprise here: It’s a compromise: It’s neither a great pen nor a great pencil. Of course, it’s not intended to be “a pen,” except it is — after a period of time (Sharpie says three days, but I’m beginning to see it within 24 hours), the erasable liquid (I’m not sure exactly what it is, so I’ll just say “liquid graphite”) becomes permanent.

2. Its tip (equivalent, Sharpie says, to laying down the line of a No. 2 pencil) reminds me of the “fine tip” version of the Sharpie Pen (not to be confused with the “fatter” Sharpie markers you’re probably thinking about). When it comes to pen tips, I’m solidly in the Pilot G2 (blue ink) camp, so the whole “fine point” thing is a bit dainty for my “pen” tastes. However, as a pencil, I’m definitely “fine point” so this actually gives the new liquid pencil a “plus.”

3. So, for doing sketches or things I like to do with a finely sharpened pencil, I was thinking, “Okay, this is nice, except…uh, it’s doesn’t lay down a very good mark. Indeed, at first it seems like you’re writing with a pen that’s running out of ink. Splotchy and skippy are two words that spring to mind. In other words, not a good “pencil experience.” A traditional mechanical pencil is better, but, unfortunately, I never seem to be able to hang on to one.

4. But wait! I wrote #3 last night, during my first test of the pencil. Today, I’ve decided there’s a break-in period that can take at least 20-30 minutes of writing with the device before you get it working in a way that lays down a line correctly. I’m not sure, but I think it’s working better for me now because of three different factors that have kicked in: The tip (nib? point?) is loosening up so that the liquid flows better, I’m tilting the pencil a little more vertically than I usually hold a writing device and third, I’ve adjusted the pressure I’m applying to be more “pen like” than “pencil like”

5. Something potentially very bothersome: Like a mechanical pencil, the tip will retract into the barrel with a “click.” However, the way in which the “clicker” is engineered allows the eraser end of the pencil to slide back and forth. Nervous types will discover that when the writing tip is “out,” the pencil can be shaken to make an very annoying percussive sound.

6. Where I can see the liquid pencil coming in handy: For those who sketch and then apply ink over it (I’m sure some crafters do it, but I’m thinking of certain kind of illustrators), I can see an application. I’ll be trying it out for several weeks with a Moleskine sketch pad I carry in my (stop calling it a man purse) bag. Another great use: Sodoku and crossword puzzles, etc.

7. Issue I didn’t look into: I have no idea if it’s refillable.

8. Office Depot has it listed for $4.99 for a two-back, but “for delivery only.” (If I’m not mistaken, Joe purchased his bushel pack for $34.30 (quantity: 12), at Grainger.com.)

Bottomline: I like the concept and I’m pre-disposed to be a fan of Sharpie products. However, I was very disappointed at first with the way it “skipped.” I’m warming up as I test it more and can see it being great for certain uses and situations.

Okay, Joe. Back to you.

(And thanks, again.)

Bonus: The NYTimes.com Gadgetwise Blog has a review, but nothing as scientific as the RexLabs.

The web is a place. This blog is me.

Recently, I read a post by Alexandra Samuel that appeared on the Harvard Business Review’s website. While the subject line started off, “10 Reasons…”, something I doubt she ever starts an “IRL” (in real life) conversation with, the rest of the subject line has stuck with me since first reading it: …”Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life.”

Quote:

“It’s time to start living in 21st century reality: a reality that is both on- and offline. Acknowledge online life as real, and the Internet’s transformative potential opens up.”

When presenting to groups on the topic of how web content is different from content one creates for other media, I try to stress the importance of thinking of the web as a place, not merely as a media “platform” or “channel.” While many of my generational peers (people old enough to have children in college and their early 20s) think the divide between themselves and their children’s generation is a “technology” thing, I argue  it’s a difference in the perception of what technology enables, rather than some difference in an innate (and imaginary) comprehension of technology that people of a certain generation seem “born with.”

When you stop thinking of the web as merely a medium and think of it also as a place, you’ll better understand what’s taking place.

You need to realize that a blog and Twitter and Flickr and YouTube can be more than mere publishing platforms, they can become platforms for personal expression and observation and eye-witness and opinion and conversation. While the web provides the potential for professional and gifted creators to create in new ways and for new audiences, it also provides all of us with the potential to be just who we are to whomever we want to be.

When you finally come to realize that what you’re capable of doing on the web transcends writing or blogging or tweeting, but has the potential of being who you are, you’ll get it — or, more accurately, you’ll get what it is for you.

And yes, I made it all the way to the bottom of this post without once using the word existentialism.

Techmeme receives a love letter from the New York Times

I’ve tried many times over the years to kick my habit of checking in numerous times a day to see what’s on Techmeme. I’ve always failed.

Because I was an early fan of Gabe Rivera and his approach to aggregating and ranking news (and rumors) that are trending on the corner of the web where I hang out, I’ve seen a long parade of startups and giant companies launch things that were going to be techmeme-killers. Of course, that means none of the techmeme-killers did the -kill thing.

Today, the New York Times has a feature on Techmeme (with cameo appearances by the other “meme” sites from Gabe that follow politics, entertainment, baseball and media news).

It’s one of those kinds of stories I sometimes jokingly refer to on this blog and on Twitter as “love letters.” It is a glowing piece — about as glowing as Gabe’s face is from the reflection of his computer monitor’s screen in the photo accompanying it.

I could point out some of the downsides of Techmeme, for example, the way some people seem to write “for it” — so that certain voices are systematically (or, algorithmically) seem to have too much influence on what is news. As I’ve talked with Gabe about this on several occasions, I know he’s committed to finding ways — including human intervention — to address the games people play to influence his algorithms.

But my point in blogging about this is not to say, “yeah, but.” My point is to note that this is the kind of technology “start-up” story I trust in the New York Times.

It is NOT one of those kind of NYT stories that appears about a company you’ve never heard of, that hasn’t yet developed a product — but just happens to be an idea from some notable people who have had previous success (and access to New York Times writers) — are useless. Pre-launch coverage in the NYT is often the worst thing that can happen to a startup. Early failures (the kind any startup must face) are  better addressed in obscurity, I believe.

Gabe has been working on Techmeme, et al. (Indeed, his political site, Memeorandum, was launched before Techmeme) for what seems to be like forever — at least six years that I can recall.

I’m sure he’s turned down lots of offers from big companies who would have totally screwed up what he and two others are capable of doing (and, for most of those years, just him).

He has stayed independent and built what I feel certain is a very profitable business by doing it his way — including low overhead.

I like that. And I like Gabe.

Oh, and I like that when something I write makes it to Techmeme, it drives more traffic to this blog than anything else I do. (But I still don’t write about stuff “just because it’s on Techmeme.”)

Congratulations, Gabe. Well deserved.

A WordPress plugin for adding the Facebook Like button to your blog

like thumb graphic

[Note: This post is rated: Geek.]

While I know in doing so, I’m supporting Facebook’s march towards turning the “social” part of the internet into a corporate-state, I nonetheless decided to add a Facebook “like” button to each post on RexBlog so I could understand what life will be like in the future when we must choose among three chips to have embedded in our foreheads: Google’s, Facebook’s or the CIA’s.*

The information on Facebook.com about adding the button seems fairly simple and I’m comfortable with cutting and pasting code in/on WordPress* files. But I have a rule that goes somehthing like this: If I can’t get a coding thing to work within five minutes, then it’s over my head and I’ll wait until the weekend to tackle it.

And that’s what happened with the Facebook “Like button.”

So, last night (Friday), I asked Nashville WordPress developer Mitch Canter (@studionashvegas), if he could recommend a WordPress plugin for adding the “Like” button.

Well, as it says in the good e-book, “Ask, and it shall be given.” Sometime during the late night/early morning, Mitch created such a plugin and I’ve just installed it — and it passed my five-minute test.

If you have a self-hosted WordPress site and know how to install plugins, you’ll know what to do. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then don’t try this at home.

Thanks, Mitch. I like it.

*Kidding aside, there are some important issues anyone who uses Facebook should review regarding privacy and how information about you is collected and used. Here are a couple of blog posts to read:

NYT Gadgetwise Blog: “How to Opt-Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization”

Lifehacker.com: “Restore Your Privacy on Facebook”

**Wordpress is the open-source software on which RexBlog runs.

Kids aren’t DNA-level digital natives and “best selling” eBooks are free — but you knew that

In the past few moments, I’ve been reminded of how distorted my view can become when I limit my beliefs to the reality I find from the firehose of news and information that floods forth from the RSS/Twitter sources I have set up. In that world, people have already back-lashed against technology and techniques that most people in the real world have not yet even heard of. In that world, the nuance becomes the make-or-break. In that world, millions of people have already signed up for services you’ve never heard of — and hundreds of thousands, to services I’ve never heard of.

Here are two reality checks: An article in the New York times “revealing” that more than half of the “best selling” ebooks on the Kindle are available at no charge. I’ve posted links to free ebook resources for years and, as someone commented here the other day, someone linked to an old post by John Walkenbach regarding analysis that 44 of the top 50 Kindle titles being free.

So, reality check one: The whole “eBook” thing is not just about the price-point that publishers want to charge for books. In fact, it’s not about eBook readers. It’s about channels of distribution and new ways of offering all that stuff we call “content.” And, oh yeah, it’s not about saving any industry that wants to replicate its content onto a rectangular hunk of plastic and charge for it by calling itself something e- or i-.

Second item. Please, I beg you: Listen to this Weekend Edition, Saturday piece called “Not All Kids Are Computer Whizzes.” In this world I live in, bloggers and social medians and parents believe that if you are a child, you know everything there is to know about using computers — because, well, you are a member of some “digital native” culture where using technology was fused into your DNA. Yet, in reality, most kids are clueless when it comes to some of the most basic understanding of things like, get this, “using Google.”

Reality check two: Your children need help learning how to search the Internet (like they need help learning everything else in life) — according to research sponsored by, get this, Google. Bottomline: If a search takes more than one step, kids give up. In other words, they sound a lot like adults who are digital immigrants.

Bonus: Here are some basic search “helps” from Google. And here are the two most helpful search hints I can give you search giver-upers-after-the-first-page: “use quotation marks around a string of words” and use a minus sign “-” in front of words you want Google to ignore. (Someone may have suggested these before, but chances are you ignored them because they started saying things like “boolean.”)