The big bulbs are out. By that, I mean the C9 sized Christmas tree lights. The tree in this picture has 4 strings of 25 lights. That amounts to 700 watts of electricity usage. LED bulbs would be 1/5th of that in usage. Also, as these strings get older, they become more brittle. I have thrown away many over the years. Just this year, two had to go, because some bulbs huffed out leaving wisps of electrical fire smoke in the room and blowing the inline fuses.
But, I like them, and we do not light them for very long periods of time. The only time they will be on for an extended period will be Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Christmas tree decorated with incandescent C9 bulbs
Saw a very interesting cigar shop on Sixth street in Austin called Bobalu. The guy at the desk is hand rolling the cigars. They sell for a premium at the shop.
You can watch him live in action at: http://www.bobalu.com/cigar-roller-cam-live/
Here are the winners in the multi-year comparison. I chose four from the all the ones I have tried. As I state earlier, these are recommendations, and it is highly personal. Also, not all will agree with me, but would probably concede on some of these points.
The main criteria for the final choices were these:
- High-quality graphite leads that did not break upon sharpening
- High-quality cedar slats that did not split and go off-center
- Wide range of hardness to blackness availability
- Hardness label (B-HB-H) on all faces of the pencil
- Semi-Hex preferred over round to prevent rolling and personal preference for grip
- Smooth, high-quality lacquer
- Ready availability in the U.S.
- Ready availability in single replacement pencils, not just full sets.
As it turns out, three of the four finalists likely are made in the same factory in the Czech Republic.
Blick Studio Pencils / Utrecht Art Pencils
I have put the Blick and Utrecht pencils together for these reasons: Both brands are made in the Czech Republic, probably by the same manufacturer. Both brands have the same characteristic endcap labeling. Dick Blick recently purchased Utrecht Art. Because these two pencil lines are so similar, I had always believed the companies had some sort of relationship. As of this writing, September 2015, the Utrecht stores are merging or closing in locations where there are Dick Blick stores. The Utrecht line of paints will remain as a brand for a long time, but the Utrecht branded pencils are slowly selling out online. Get a set while you can. Some may prefer the royal blue lacquer finish of the Blick Studio, some the black lacquer of the Utrecht. These are available as singles and sets in stores in many large cities, as well as on line at reasonable prices. The Blick studio brand does not have a 7B or 8B, but the 6b is quite dark.
Koh-i-Noor Toison D’or 1800 Pencils
In places where Dick Blick Art supply stores cannot be found, these pencils made in the Czech Republic are available as singles and sets. Independent art supply stores often stock these in singles. They can be found on line in singles in the UK. As I state above, I believe the Koh-i-Noor factor had been producing the Blick and Utrecht pencil lines, and I find them to be similar quality.
Staedtler Mars Lumograph
The Staedtler Mark Lumograph is probably the best set to start with. These are available on line in single pencils from many art supply stores, and they are available in sets even at Office Depot. In this brand, the 8B is more of a carbon pencil than graphite. The are a standard for art, design, and engineering drawing.
You and Your drawing pencils
I would strongly recommend finding a set of pencils on eBay instead of buying new to start. In all brands, the darker B pencils wear out the fastest from 6B to lighter. There are many older brands of pencils available on eBay in the H grades. You can find a lifetime supply of the H graded pencils for a reasonable amount on eBay. Your art supplies are a highly personal choice, and replacing them can be tricky. Any pencil will do in a pinch, but it is much more satisfying to use your favorite axe!
And my favorite tree is starting to lose some green.
It went without a hitch. The update program works exactly as advertised. It went as smoothly as (dare I write this?) the OSX 10.4.5 update! The program downloaded the update, then it let me decide when to kick it off. I have been making triple backups, so I was not worried about losing anything. A piece of advice, the only reason YOU should not worry about the update is if you also have a backup. I backup my files to a USB drive. I also have a WD Cloud drive to which I copy my files, and which also serves as the drive for the nightly Windows backup.
I have been a member of the Windows 10 Preview since the Microsoft Build Conference in 2015. I am not sure how revolutionary it feels. The most obvious change is the start menu.
I was at the release of Windows 8 at Build 2011, and I thought it was revolutionary. Microsoft was going for the tablet platform in a big way, and we were all given prototype Samsung tablets to develop our first touch apps. Since then, the PC producers and consumers have played a cat and mouse game to determine what the best PC platform would be, and whether the tablet is really viable as a PC platform.
There are a lot of PCs out there with touch screens, but touch screen is not terribly convenient on a PC. The iPad and Kindle users believe laptop touch screens cause a malady called “gorilla arm”, as users reach up to touch their screens.
In practice, I have owned PCs with touch screens for many years, and the only screen touching that goes on is when other people point to things on my screen.
I have heard a lot of younger IT people gripe about how Windows 8 took away the beloved Start menu that Mick Jagger sang about in 1995. Having been present at the rollout of Windows 95/98 in many companies, I can tell you it was not a straightforward adoption. A lot of people really liked their old Windows 3 program manager groupings, and were righteously indignant about the Windows 95 treatment of them. The transition to Windows 2000 and Windows XP was not smooth either.
When Windows Vista came out with Aero, people rushed to upgrade and became dismayed because of User Account Control, and pronounced it worthless. Windows 7 was basically Vista with service packs rebranded, and now it is seen as a rousing success. In fact, it has been a hard act to follow. Windows 8 was booed off the stage. Now, as we are 4 years into Windows 8, and Windows 8.1, the PC population has become accustomed to it.
But here comes Windows 10, with a revamped start menu.
I actually liked the Windows button jump to my favorites. Now I have to transition them. I have been a big user of the Quick launch / taskbar pinning on the bottom since that functionality was introduced in the Internet Explorer 4 update for Windows 95. Most of my app launches occur from there.
Many corporate IT organizations finished their Windows 7 migrations by 2010-2012. I have been on a corporate build since 2011. At my company, I have been in the Windows 8 pilot for a year and a half. I only had two specific problems, and neither of them had to do with the operating system itself, more to support for corporate apps that ran on old versions of Internet Explorer.
I would expect large corporations to develop a transition plan for company PCs to Windows 10. Most new ones would be shipped with Windows 10, but downgraded to match a company image. At some point the home user population is going to demand the update.
Now that I have written about a dozen pencils that are “good enough” to use in Drawing Pencils Part I and Drawing Pencils Part II, I am covering some that might be “too good” for various reasons.
For these next five, at least here in the United States, they are difficult to obtain in retail stores or singly.
Bruynzeel design 8815
I was able to find a set of these on Amazon.com. They are not cheap. Their predecessor pencil (or Potlood in the native Dutch) was the Bruynzeel 8615. I was able to buy some of the 8615 pencils singly a few years ago, and they were available in various places in America in the 1990s. The Bruynzeel-Sakura company is still based in the Netherlands, but the pencils themselves are made in China. The set comes in what is possibly the nicest pencil packaging I own, a heavy board stock sliding case, with each pencil individually packed in a foam slot. There is no F grade pencil, they start at 2H, then 1H, HB, 1B, 2B up to 9B. They make great markings, but they would not be easy to replace singly. The grade is only stamped on one face. They are one of the few round artist pencils I have tried, most are Semi hex. They draw high quality. I know an artist who got a set of 8615 pencils to begin his schooling and career, but has needed to supplement them with more readily available drawing pencils. That is really the point of this part III article: There are some really nice pencils out there, but is it practical to use them and get used to them?
Conté à Paris 601
As they are known in France, Conté à Paris 010463 “Boîte de 12 Crayons graphites Assorties” (box of 12 assorted graphite pencils). These also can be obtained through Amazon.com. Like the Bruynzeel 8815 above, these also are round instead of semi hex. They are stamped with one grade on the label side. The set actually comes with two HB and two 2B pencils, which might be among the most used. There is no F, also like the Bruynzeel pencils, and the grades run from 3H to 6B. They are high quality. They can be ordered singly on line. At this time they are $2.80 each, plus shipping. I could not say no to using them, but I would find it impractical to get used to them and replace.
Lyra Rembrandt Art Design 669
This is another high quality pencil made in Germany, a competitor to Faber Castell and Staedtler. The pencil is known as the Bleistift in German speaking countries. Once again, it is not readily available here in the United States. The set is in grades 4H through 6B. It works great. It still only has the grade stamped on one face. Like the Conté set, I will enjoy using them, but will likely never replace them.
Tombow Mono (Professional)
Here is a set of pencils widely praised by many, the Tombow Mono. In Japanese 鉛筆, pronounced “enpitsu”, the Tombow pencil company makes high quality drawing pencils. “Tombow” is a close approximation for the pronounciation of the Japanese word for dragonfly トンボ, “tonbo”. Their top line pencil, the Tombow Mono 100 is available at Jetpens.com. The Tombow Mono set is available in the United States at many independent art stores. There is a distinction drawn between the Tombow Mono, and the Mono 100, with no consensus about what the difference is. I have read that Tombow USA claims the graphite cores are the same, but with a different lacquer application.
I also have Tombow Mono 100 B pencils that I have used, and it just seems to me that the Mono 100 has a distinct plastic end cap. The Tombow Mono professional pencils actually have the grade stamped on all six faces in of the semi hex, vs. only one face on the Mono 100. That makes it a winner in my book. Compared to the German pencils, these go darker earlier. There seems to be a grade shift in the Japanese pencils vs. the German pencils. The Palomino pencils trend towards the Japanese darker earlier line of thinking. These are great pencils, and if one had ready access to single grades, like at Maido stationary in San Francisco, these would be worthy everyday pencils.
Mitsu bishi Hi uni
This set is probably the coolest pencil set I own. These are markedly high-quality pencils, that almost seemed thicker than a standard pencil. When measured with a micrometer, I could get a Dixon Ticonderoga into the same gap with about a half millimeter to spare. Is it the many layers of lacquer? The people at California Cedar report that Mitsubishi buys their highest quality incense cedar pencil slats. These, and the lower range Mitsubishi Uni*star pencils are available singly at the Maido stationary stores in San Francisco. I could really use these. They are just the right size, come in the most grade values from 10H to 10B, and have the grade stamped on all six faces. These are the premier pencils by which all others could be judged. They are very expensive and hard to obtain. They are almost too precious to use. The truth is that the greatest artists are able to produce great drawings with just about any pencil. These pencils are not going to make me a great artist. And, even though they are suberb, funnily enough, I do not feel comfortable using them as a tool! If I lived in San Francisco and could buy them at the store, I might feel differently.
What a terrible movie. But at least Ted and John’s lawyer uses cool pencils, like Black Dixon Ticonderogas and Blackwing 602s with Black erasers.
Driving up the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, I saw a mountain I had to photograph.
This is Mount Cannon (or Cannon Mountain) I believe. The reason in caught my eye is that it reminded me of the ultra-patriotic Eagle Mountain painting.
With a little image editing, presto! The real Murica mountain!
The blooms already are falling off. Spring seems early this year.
Tree in Spring
This tree is only weeks away.