Off Topic: The Internet Sometimes Forgets

I’ll begin with two short anecdotes:

The first comes from the sci-fi book Death’s End by Cixin Liu. In the story, our solar system is facing the threat of a catastrophic destruction, and the main characters are discussing the construction of a Museum of Humanity. The goal is to save our history, our beliefs, and our greatest works of art in hope that some alien civilization will discover it in possibly millions (or billions!) of years. The question is, how do you preserve all this information for such a long time? Well, I don’t want to give away any spoilers – it is a very good book series – but I will tell you that the idea of storing this information on data drives, the same ones that form the backbone of the internet, is quickly dismissed because that hardware degrades too fast.

The second anecdote – and the reason I decided to write this piece – started when I began to re-read a few of my old blog posts. I noticed that a lot of outgoing links (that is, other webpages that I’d linked to) were broken or dead. Sometimes the pages had been moved, sometimes they’d been edited or deleted, and sometimes it seemed like an entire website had disappeared off the internet. Mind you, these were sites that seemed perfectly fine two or three years ago, and now they’re just gone.

This happens because websites and internet services require upkeep. For this blog, that upkeep is as simple as remembering to pay my hosting bill, but for others it involves complicated stuff like server maintenance and security patches. When a blogger/webmaster/company decides it’s no longer worth their time and money, all that information and data can vanish.

This isn’t a phenomena known to only smaller websites either. Geocities, which hosted many personal websites in the early days of the internet, shut down in 2009 and deleted all its old content. Google Plus, a once viable contender for social media dominance, recently ended its services. And there’s no guarantee that bigger companies like WordPress, Facebook, or Amazon will be around forever. Even The Internet Archive, which runs the incredibly useful Wayback Machine, has had fires and funding issues.

I’ll admit that all of this worrying seems odd. If anything, the common concern is that too much of our past will be archived online. Teens are often warned to be mindful of what they post on social media because “the internet never forgets!” You don’t want something you did online when you were 15 to ruin your career when you’re 45. We certainly don’t think about digital preservation very often, but we should.

So if you want to save your content – pictures, writings, etc. – what should you do? In Death’s End, the solution was to carve the most important work of humanity onto the walls of a cave on Pluto – something like that could potentially last millions of years. But that might be overkill for most of us. A more practical solution would be to burn all of your important information to an archival DVD, which could last over 100 years. Though, you might potentially run into data compatibility issues sometime in the future.

But if you really want your stuff to last a long time, a better solution might simply involve paper and ink. Print your stuff or write it down using archival quality supplies. If preserved properly, it could last hundreds of years. For proof, look no further than The New York Public Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible; it is over 500 years old and still looks beautiful.

So, if you want your digital stuff to last, take action. Back it up or print it out. You just have to first figure out what’s worth saving – a complicated topic on its own. But that’s a blog post for another time.

Pencil Review: Palomino Blackwing Pearl

For a humble pencil, the backstory of the Palomino Blackwing Pearl is surprisingly lengthy. Here’s the short version —

The original Blackwing is a legendary pencil that was favored by a lot of famous authors and artists, but it was discontinued in 1998. In 2011, as people’s stockpiles were dwindling and prices on the secondary market were surging, the Palomino company got hold of the trademark and began to reproduce the pencil as best they could, calling it the Palomino Blackwing.

Since then, Palomino has been fiddling with the formula, and this pencil, the Palimino Blackwing Pearl, is a version made to have slightly softer graphite. Though, it still manages to produce a medium-dark line. Also, as the name suggests, it substitutes the original black paint job for a white one.

I’m no pencil expert, but the Blackwing Pearl feels like an upgrade from your standard woodcase pencil. Part of it is aesthetic – the signature Blackwing ferrule and eraser look pretty classy, despite it looking a bit like a #2 Dixon Ticonderoga had its end caught in a metal press. The graphite also feels like it hits the page cleaner and smoother than I’m used to. And did I mention that you can pull the eraser out further as you use it up? Amazing.

There are a lot of pencils out there, and I haven’t used too many of them. So take this for whatever its worth: the Palomino Blackwing Pearl is darn good. The quality of this product is obvious as soon as you pick it up. So, if you’re looking to upgrade your pencil experience, then try the Pearl out.

Pencil Shavings

Review: Stabilo Sensor, Porous Point, 0.3mm

Stabilo is an old company that has been working with porous point writing tech as far back as the 1970s (when the Stabilo Boss highlighter sales began to boom). So, with decades of design and manufacturing experience under its belt, Stabilo should have the resources to create a great porous point pen. And, as a fan of porous points, I was eager to try the popular Stabilo Sensor.

The main feature of this pen is its “sensor” tip, which retracts in slightly when pressed on paper. It sounds like an intrusive feature, but it’s hardly noticeable unless you write with a very heavy hand. The product’s webpage mentions that this feature is meant to improve smoothness and comfort, but I suspect that it has more to do with extending the pen’s life.

With porous point pens, the tip is usually the first part to break down. The Sensor adds a little ‘give’ whenever too much pressure is placed on it. As far as I can tell, this feature works as intended, but it comes with a couple drawbacks. First, it’s two to three times more expensive than a cheaper option like the Monami Plus Pen 3000. It also seems to me that the Sensor doesn’t put down a line that’s quite as clean as something like The Sharpie Pen.

For me, this pen isn’t a favorite, but it’s definitely a good choice. It writes well, and it has a dark ink with minimal smear and bleed-through. It has a nice barrel design as well – both aesthetically and functionally. It has a thicker body and longer clip than most other porous points (which, for whatever reason, tend to be thin with small clips). But for anyone with a heavy hand who likes the look and feel of a porous point, the Sensor is definitely worth a try.

Extra Links

Review: Baidercor Space Shuttle Pen, Ballpoint

I don’t remember exactly where I first saw this Baidercor Space Shuttle Pen, but I’ve stumbled across it a handful of times while doing some Fisher Space Pen browsing. But the Space Shuttle Pen and the Space Pen should not be confused, as they are two totally different items. One is a pen I like to travel with, and the other is a cheapo novelty ballpoint made from molded plastic.

Baidercor seems to primarily be a toy company, which makes some sense out the Space Shuttle Pen. It isn’t much of a functional pen, but instead it’s more of a clicky toy for your desk. The big, bulky “Space Shuttle” knock makes the pen both uncomfortable to hold and difficult to keep in your pocket, and the generic black ballpoint ink comes in such a small refill that it surely won’t last long. And, no, a Fisher refill does not fit this pen – I tried.

However, the Space Shuttle Pen does look kind of cool (which is why I bought it in the first place), and I like the variety of fuel tank colors. But this pen does feel a lot cheaper than it looks. So if you find yourself impulse purchasing these pens as I did, maybe just plan to use it as an adornment for your pen cup.

Book Review: Adventures in Stationery by James Ward

Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward was published back in 2015. And though it seems like a book that would be right up my alley, it somehow managed to pass me by until now. The same goes for both Ward’s “I Like Boring Things” Blog and The Boring Conference he organizes. However, the goal of his work seems familiar: take something that most people see as “boring” and explain why it’s actually interesting. So I was excited to see how Ward attempts this with the world of stationery products, a topic which he seems to have a genuine passion for.

Adventures in Stationery is one part pop-history, one part ode-to-the-boring, and a sprinkling of dry humor. In many ways, the book is like wandering through a museum of stationery. Ward takes you through chapters about pens and pencils, of course, but you’ll also hear the history of erasers, sticky notes, staplers, paperclips, etc., etc. It’s nothing as in-depth as Mark Kurlansky’s Paper, but Ward makes sure to point out the highlights (so to speak); major moments in the development of these items, as well as any pertinent dramatic or humorous stories.

Ward has a breezy style, and, at under 300 pages, I found it to be fairly easy reading. If you are reading this blog right now, there’s a very good chance that you will enjoy this book. However, I’m not fully convinced that your average man off the street will come out the other end with a newfound interest in stationery items. Of course, I liked the book very much, and so will anyone else who enjoys meandering through office supply shops. But if you’re planning to recommend it at your next book club, you will get a lot of skeptical looks.