thinkmore

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Posted in good design, review, things we like, tools of the trade by hemmant jha on August 22, 2009

It all started with a simple question “What would you recommend as a good starter pen for a 4 year old?”

I posted this on the FountainPenNetwork on April 20, 2009. Within 24 hours, I had some very good advice from members of the forum, as well as pointed suggestions that only an unfit parent would subject a child of four to the pressures of using an unsuitable writing instrument.

As a tool for writing, fountain pens are inherently incredibly versatile – choose favorite ink and color or make a personal blend, adjust the nib to one’s hand, adjust line weight on the fly. Having used fountain pens for years, I can safely say that I have kept hundreds of disposable pens from landfills. There’s no real downside, except the impression a lot of people seem to have about these devices being difficult to use, hence unsuitable for children.

Having shown interest in my fountain pens for months, it seemed natural that my daughter should have a fountain pen of her own. She is four, with good motor skills and an overwhelming preference for all things pink. She has small hands and has also been known to drop things. As such, a regular fountain pen seemed out of the question – too heavy and ungainly to hold, with a tendency to self destruct easily if dropped. The pen also needed to be a good writing / drawing pen with smooth and reliable flow of ink – one could not expect a child to deal with or remedy inconsistent ink flow. We needed something lightweight, something relatively slim, durable, inexpensive, and pink.

This is the story of the pens that made the cut :
Pilot Petit1 Mini Fountain Pen – Baby Pink
Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen – Fine 03 Nib – Pink Ink
Pilot Vpen Disposable Fountain Pen – Fine Nib – Pink
Right off the bat, the Petit was the clear favorite. A combination of size [small enough to be held comfortably by a child], appearance [most toylike] and color [how could a girl of four not like Baby Pink?] made it the one. It writes well and comes with a nicely made toylike bubble for extra cartridges, but is not smooth enough for drawing [to a child of four, who is just learning to write, forming letters on paper is akin to drawing : a collection of arcs and straight lines all converging like so many images – unlike the adult, to whom the formation of letters on paper becomes second nature], which was unfortunate since it has everything else going for it. 
Somewhat surprisingly, the Vpen was a big success visually – clad mostly in metallic grey, it is the least toylike of the bunch, other than the bright pink endcaps. Less surprising was its #1 rating as the best pen for writing and drawing – good flow of ink with a nib that’s not too, too fine, and a generally more forgiving nature than the others – just what the child needed to stay involved. I carry a black Vpen as a reliable backup instrument at all times – this will come as no surprise to those familiar with the pen.
Much as I really wanted to like the Platinum – it is quite attractive with its transparent body and color coded metallic pink nib, it turned out to be the least attractive as a writing instrument. In a pinch, I’m sure it would be preferable to use this rather than a roller pen or a ball point, but that’s faint praise. While the nib felt smooth, the inkflow was spotty and contributed to the overall inconsistent performance. 
These were the criteria the pens had to meet to be included in this post : the pens had to be inexpensive [around $3, or about the same as a good pencil or two], attractive, good writers and somewhat forgiving. There are, of course, other perfectly good pens out there designed especially for children to use, such as the Pelikano Junior and the Lamy ABC, but none are as inexpensive as the three featured in this post.  There are also any number of inexpensive and reasonably sized pens for adults that could also be used by children. Think more, write more – it is a dying art which children should, at the very least, be made aware of. And I can think of no writing instrument that can be experimented with to this degree and made ones own through regular use – try new inks, mix your own, discover the joy of putting pen to paper – have fun!

This is the story of the pens that made the cut :

Pilot Petit1 Mini Fountain Pen – Baby Pink

Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen – Fine 03 Nib – Pink Ink

Pilot Vpen Disposable Fountain Pen – Fine Nib – Pink

In all instances, a M nib would probably have worked better – none of these pens seems to be available in that nib width either in the US or in Japan.

Right out of the bag, the Petit was the clear favorite. A combination of size [small enough to be held comfortably by a child], appearance [most toylike] and color [how could a girl of four not like Baby Pink?] made it the one. It writes well and comes with a nicely made bubble container for extra cartridges. But is not smooth enough for drawing [to a child who is just learning to how to write, forming letters on paper is akin to drawing : a collection of arcs and straight lines all converging like so many images – unlike the adult, to whom the placement of letters on paper becomes second nature], which was unfortunate since it has everything else going for it. 

thinkmore fountain pens kids petit 1A2web

 

Somewhat surprisingly, the Vpen was a big success visually – clad mostly in metallic grey, it is the least toylike of the bunch, other than the swirl pattern and the bright pink endcaps. Less surprising was its #1 rating as the best pen for writing and drawing – good flow of ink with a nib that’s not too, too fine, and a generally more forgiving nature than the others – just what the child needed to stay involved. I carry a black Vpen as a reliable backup instrument at all times – this will come as no surprise to those familiar with the pen.

thinkmore fountain pens kids Vpen 2A1web

Much as I really wanted to like the Platinum – it is quite attractive with its transparent body and color coded metallic pink nib, it turned out to be the least attractive as a writing instrument. In a pinch, I’m sure it would be preferable to use this rather than a roller pen or a ball point, but that’s faint praise. While the nib felt smooth, the inkflow was spotty and contributed to the overall inconsistent performance. 

thinkmore fountain pens kids preppy 2A1web

These were the criteria the pens had to meet to be included in this post : the pens had to be inexpensive [around $3, or about the same as a good pencil or two], attractive, good writers and somewhat forgiving. There are, of course, other perfectly good pens out there designed especially for children to use, such as the Pelikano Junior and the Lamy ABC, but none are as inexpensive as the three featured in this post.  There are also any number of inexpensive and reasonably sized pens for adults that could also be used by children.

All the pens featured in this post are available at Jetpens.com – good stuff, good service.

Think more, Write more – it is a dying art which children should, at the very least, be made aware of. And I can think of no writing instrument that can be experimented with to this degree and made one’s own through regular use – try new inks, mix your own, discover the joy of putting pen to paper – have fun!

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Posted in review, what really matters by hemmant jha on May 19, 2009

clarity NOW!

 

This piece kicks off a new subgroup of posts tentatively titled : When will it end? Under this sub-banner, we will strive to expose and dispel misinformation [and disinformation] surrounding pressing matters / technological issues of our time.

 

Zen and the fine art of selecting the right digital compact camera / the end of the megapixel race is in sight. Yes, it is.

 

As designers with a good grasp of technology, we are often asked to weigh in on decisions regarding the purchase of objects with high technological content, which usually have a similarly high level of disinformation surrounding them. A prime example is the compact digital camera.

 

In the days of film photography, the absence of an inbuilt image sensor made things relatively simple. You would buy a camera that suited your needs and pocketbook and would load film into it that worked for you – variations in speed, color, grain, etc. were easily accomplished. A wrong choice of film was not a long term problem – it simply meant that one would get a different roll once the 36 exposures had been made. Simple. 

 

Digital compact cameras, with the promise of ease and flexibility, come with unique issues that are generally inseparable from the format. And they come with urban legends – most often surrounding megapixels. The year 2008 saw the megapixel race peak [in the compact shooter segment]. The silliness of ever increasing pixel dimensions and pixel density, with the corresponding increase in in-camera noise reduction, finally came to a close [of sorts] early this year. Manufacturers such as Fujifilm, Panasonic and Ricoh started to produce more serious compact cameras with focus on image quality and low-light sensitivity rather than an ever increasing number of pixels. As these are companies that cater to the mainstream, one may assume that some of these changes were driven by market requirements.

 

Below is the transcript of an exchange I had with a friend looking for a ‘prosumer’ compact camera [with zoom lens] that works well in low-light and shoots good video. I know that he cares about image quality. His first assumption was : more megapixels = better low-light performance. As I sought to dispel that myth [this has been done previously by the good folks at dpreview.com and by David Pogue at NYTimes], I also made a few suggestions regarding the impending purchase.

 

Exchange 1. 

 

Our recommendations : 

 

FinePix F200EXR [low light+dynamic range]

 

http://www.dpreview.com/news/0902/09020402fujifilmfinepixf200exr.asp

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/fujifilmf200exr/page22.asp

 

 

Ricoh CX1 [best looking+good performance]

 

http://www.dpreview.com/news/0902/09021901ricohcx1.asp

 

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 [best for video + low light]

 

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/specs/Panasonic/panasonic_dmclx3.asp

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/panasonicdmclx3/page17.asp

 

 

this is a comparison between enthusiast [serious] level compact cameras [first link is to the entire article, second link is to the conclusions]

 

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/Q408enthusiastgroup/

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/Q408enthusiastgroup/page13.asp

 

 

let me know what you think – once you’ve had a chance to look at these, we can talk some more. The Lumix DMC-LX3 is the most  expensive,  so it may be out of contention.

 

Exchange 2. His response to 1: 

 

Thank you.

The camera I was looking for was Canon Power shot SD780 IS :

http://www.amazon.com/Canon-SD780IS-Stabilized-Deep-Red/dp/B001SER48I/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1

 

It has right dimensions and weight, the viewfinder, etc.

I could not figure its movie shooting qualities and compare it to the

cameras you found.

 

Exchange 3. My response to his response: 

 

the Canon you mentioned has a smaller sensor than the ones I sent you

[this has to do with the physical size of the sensor, not the number

of megapixels]. The smaller the sensor, the worse its low light

performance – since the pixels are too close together. The worse the

performance, the more the error correction applied to reduce noise.

The more noise reduction applied, the worse the quality of the image,

especially in low light conditions.

 

It’s possible that you’re comparing this canon with the one that you

have [from many years ago]. Compared to that one, almost any camera

today will probably be better in lower light – but not necessarily a

better camera overall.

 

The lens : Canon does not typically have wide lenses – the SD780 has a

33mm lens. the difference between 33mm and 24mm [or even 28mm] is huge

[the Panasonic goes down to 24mm, which will be amazing].

 

Exchange 4. His response to 3: 

 

I think my problem probably is that I am looking for a smaller camera

(3.4 x 2.1 x 0.7 and 4.2 ounces), and there are no small cameras which

meet my specifications.

 

Exchange 5. My response to his response:

 

sometimes it is difficult to tell the feel of the camera in hand [and

in pocket] from dimensions alone – I would suggest doing what your

daughter suggested – get a couple of cameras and see how you like them.

 

Exchange 6. His response to 5: 

 

Thank you, an excellent idea, I may try. Also, thank you for all your efforts in helping me with the camera research.

 

 

While I have no idea what the purchase will be, and what the prime motivators of the purchase will be [clearly, image quality does not appear to be #1], I feel I’ve done my bit to fight the naked profiteering from gross technological disinformation. Let’s put an end to the race of meaningless statistics and focus on what’s really important – the ability to preserve life’s important moments as beautifully as possible. May we all join hands in our support of good photography.

 

thinkmore clarity now 1A2

 

{Despite my fondness for film and for compact film cameras such as the Ricoh GR21 and the GR1S, I am no stranger to digital. I was an early adopter – starting with the Olympus E10, which was and still is a remarkable camera. I plan to re-enter the digital domain with a Sigma DP1 or an as-yet-unreleased micro four-thirds compact}.

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Posted in new / noteworthy, review, things we like by hemmant jha on May 2, 2009

T-Mobile Cameo Digital Picture Frame.

Seldom do we [at thinkmore] encounter a modern electronic device that makes us smile. Modern electronic devices are a breed unto themselves – tripping over each other to do everything. A laptop is a phone and fax machine and media center, a phone is an organizer and movie player, a GPS device is all of the above and a heartrate monitor combined, a cup of coffee is also a USB charger – you get the idea. Not many of these devices work well, and even fewer are worthy of being produced, let alone purchased.

Looking around my room, I see a lot of electronic devices – most of which work well enough, so they can be labelled functional [with slight and infrequent hiccups], but none of them have that ultimate resolution and polish that would make them a real pleasure to own and to use. Examples of thoroughly well-considered objects are few and far between, and the T-Mobile Cameo is not one of them – but it is special and worthy of mention.

thinkmore-tmobile-logo1

When first announced late last year, it seemed like a moderately interesting product. Picture frames were getting to be somewhat popular – as companions to the compact digital camera, but not quite. In terms of picture quality alone, these frames left a lot to be desired. Most displays used in these frames were not able to present images in true photographic quality – as such, not worth the $100+ asking price. We were not able to see true usefulness in these devices – a screensaver on a laptop could present pictures just as well, without one having to transfer images to yet another device. Digital cameras themselves had large enough displays for an impromptu slideshow.

The Cameo tried to change all that – this was a frame with its own cellular account [a phone number / SIM card] and email address. Send a picture to this number or address from a phone or computer – the Cameo would add it to its library within minutes, and insert it into a slideshow. Travellers could send back snapshots of their travels on the fly, grandparents could see how their grandchildren were coming along – all without a computer or any fiddling whatsoever. Essentially, if given as a gift, it could be plugged into a wall outlet and left alone. Enjoy the new images that show up automatically, do nothing.

The barrier to entry was the price – $100 for the frame and $120 annually for the service. This has since been rectified – $40 for the device and $24 annually for the service. Having purchased one since this change, I can safely say that this is a truly useful product and fun to use.

Here are the details : 

Picture quality is just fine for a $40 device, and on par with more expensive frames out there, with the possible exception of this $1000 OLED frame. The service is great for $2.oo a month.

The picture looks smaller with the broad fake leather frame attached – unless you’re fascinated by and attracted to fake leather, relegate it immediately to your recycling bin [for plastics]. If you must have a decorative frame, commission one from your child – crayon and cardboard can work wonders in the right hands.

The Cameo needs a bit of polish to be great – the user interface, the icons, the casework, etc. are perfectly functional, but that’s about it. The hardware works, the network connection works. Obviously, resolved functionality and solid engineering are good things. The role of the ‘designer’, unfortunately, has been limited to that of a cover stylist. The device is just fine without that covering, in an ‘industrial’ / workmanlike sort of way. Sans cover, one may notice that the locations of the screw holes are not symmetrical – perfectly in keeping with the rough-hewn nature of the device. That is how it has been photographed and presented in this post – for glamour shots, please proceed to this address.

This is a perfect for keeping friends / family informed and connected.

Setup is painless. Truly painless [this is a big deal, as any of us who have tried to navigate ‘simple’ setup menus know all too well]. The Cameo is plug and play – literally. It was ready to go right out of the box – all that was needed was a slight lowering of brightness. The brightness controls work in rather large steps – finer gradations would be better.

It is really cool to see a new image pop up by itself, unannounced.

A little green ‘new image’ icon that appears next to new additions.

One cannot send multiple images in one email message – this was a source of some anxiety at first when the images did not appear on the frame, but the issue quickly became apparent.

In terms of time taken for a new image to appear, the frame / wireless service is sensitive to the size of the sent image. Resize before sending [this is easy enough for users of Apple Mail, with resizing on the fly available right in the message window].

For better picture quality, one does need to make sure, again, that the sent pictures are the right size [720X480] or very close – automatic resizing by the frame or by T-Mobile is not great and the drop in quality is readily apparent.

Time taken for new image to show up on frame : 2 minutes [of course, the recipient does not know when it was sent, so does not wait for it].

An ambient light sensor automatically turns the clock on at night – straightforward white numbers on black background. Clock has automatic time setting straight from cell network. Again, painless.

And it’s only $40, with monthly service the same price as one cup of coffee. T-Mobile probably has a reasonable return policy – it couldn’t hurt to try it. Once you do, more likely than not, you’ll keep it.

PS : It’s interesting that so many words needed to be used to describe a good, yet not quite there device. The Cameo is good enough that a case can be made for it, but it is not quite able to speak for itself. In this blog at least, the quality of a product may be judged by the length of the accompanying writing [some good ones here].

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