Review – PaperMate “Write Bros” Mechanical Pencils (48 pack)

PaperMate isn’t exactly known for making the most high quality products in the world. But for the most part they do make products that get the job done in an inexpensive and readily available way. And that philosophy is very apparent in the 48 pack of “Write Bros” mechanical pencils, which generally sells for as little as a 2 pack of more well-regarded pencils. Are these the perfect solution for someone looking to supply a group on the cheap/keep losing their own, or are they too fragile to be worth it?

The bodies are similar in size to a normal wooden pencil, but a bit shorter at just over 6”. Molded in a slightly pearlescent plastic and one of 5 average colors, they have a ribbed grip section for the last inch and a half of the barrel, followed by a cheap-looking frosted plastic cone that is screwed onto the end and from which protrudes a small plastic “lead-pipe” and lead from inside that. Near the back of the pencil, there is an exposed click-advance mechanism with an integrated pocket clip that moves with activation. On top of that is a small white eraser, which can be removed to expose the lead chamber and allow refilling. Oddly enough at this price point, the item can be further disassembled by unscrewing the frosted cone on the front, at which point the entire advance mechanism will essentially fall out of the back of the barrel. There is nothing useful that can be done from this point, but it is interesting to look at.

Performance is so-so to average. The 7mm HB lead is what you would expect at the price, a bit scratchy and softer than advertised (prone to breaking). The clip technically does its job but I wouldn’t count on it, and the plastic is brittle enough that it would easily snap. As far as erasing goes, the eraser is superb, but it is a small size and virtually vanishes when put to its task. The feeling of the click mechanism is unsatisfying but inoffensive in any way other than it feels like it will quickly break.

Basically you get what you pay for, which in this case is not much. Even PaperMate didn’t bother putting a name on these pencils (I call them “Write Bros” because that’s what’s on the box and online, but the items themselves only say “Paper:Mate”, and “0.7mm”). But there isn’t much terribly wrong with them. If they are intended to be essentially “disposable” mechanical pencils, they succeed. Each has two leads (though many of mine were broken and thus less useable) and an eraser, enough to be useful, but little enough that the poor and brittle construction will be able to survive that use. They don’t seem to be meant to be refilled, as they aren’t worth the trouble, and being used much more would likely result in broken clips and eventually mechanisms (but it is a possibility for a little bit). And putting aside environmental or frugality concerns they are an inexpensive and relatively comfortable way to provide functional pencils to a lot of people, or many pencils to one particularly careless person.

Mini Review – Peruvian 2B Pencils

At this point, I’ve gotten through the reviews of most of the non-U.S. purchased products I’ve received. But down at the bottom of that list are these simple little nameless pencils that came from Peru in what I understand was a larger bundle. And I’d like to take a quick look at them before moving too far beyond.

The body is your standard yellow, hexagonal fare, without a ferrule or eraser at the back, replaced with a white band and then a black “cap” of paint. The only other adornment is “2B” stamped in a gold color. They come pre-sharpened, and thus a little shorter than your average pencil, being around 7”.

The lead is a 2B, so it’s a little softer than your #2 HB’s, but it’s far from too soft, and the difference is really hard to tell. That probably stems from it not being a very well refined graphite, making it more toothy and gritty than one would generally expect from this hardness of pencil.

The build quality is work-able, with the wooden body being quite sturdy, and the absence of an eraser making things easy. There is some variance in how well the lead is centered, though, making sharpening sometimes difficult. In the end they’re what you’d expect from a cheap no-name pencil, but they get the job done.

Review – Paper:Mate Mongol Tri Pencil

In the US most of the wood pencils you’ll find are either round or hexagonal (at least in places I’ve seen) with emphasis on the hexagons. I personally prefer round for comfort, but they tend to roll off of any but the flattest of surfaces. Apparently people in other places have found this an issue as well, and attempted to rectify it, because I recently received a set of writing utensils from Peru, in which were 4 triangular writing instruments, among them the Paper:Mate Mongol Tri. Is it an upgrade?

At first glance there’s nothing interesting about their design. They’re regular pencil length: ≈ 8”, with a crimped ferrule holding a pink eraser, and yellow paint with black (stamped) lettering. The printed information is all you need to know and a barcode, there is even a stamped but not colored “woodclinched” which I’m sure means something. It’s an overall similar diameter to standard pencils here in the US, but maybe a millimeter or so thicker. That extra thickness is to accommodate the rounded triangular shape (it’s probably the same volume of wood overall) that doesn’t roll off the desk (for the most part; you might have a very steep desk) and fits quite comfortably into the hand when using a standard 3-finger pencil grip. My fingers are much closer together when using this rather than a hexagonal design, but there isn’t much of the hand cramping you get when using smaller diameter writing instruments, and the paint provides enough friction to hold onto.

Performance is nothing special and what you’d expect from a #2 Paper:Mate. The lead hardness is middle of the road, more on the softer side of HB, but that really just contributes to it losing its point quickly and not much in how it looks on paper. The eraser is fine, with nothing special about it. Like most integrated wood pencil erasers, it isn’t really enough for the life of the pencil, but it won’t be vanishing on you. In the package they come with a point that was pretty dull when I got it (but it did fly and go through the US Post Office first) and was obviously made with a chisel sharpener (three pretty flat cuts, one on each side) but it does work just fine with a standard rotating sharpener, even if it’s a bit strange to hold.

If you really don’t like the feel of your average round-ish pencil, this (or similar) might be worth seeking out. I certainly don’t mind using it, and can see how it would be more comfortable under certain circumstances. But it is a fairly standard test/school/general-use pencil, with nothing special about how it writes. I‘ll definitely be keeping one around, and I hope to see products like this in the US in the future, but I’m pretty comfortable with round writing implements and don’t see the need to swap.

Game Review – European War 4: Napoleon (iOS, Android)

In my quest to find as many apps with Napoleon in the image as possible, or just a good strategy game on the phone that fits my tastes, I came across and downloaded European War 4: Napoleon. I’ven’t looked the other 3 (apparently) but this one was the first to come up and looked interesting (I’m now making a note to look at the others). Is it grand strategy on a Napoleonic scale? Or like so many others just a veneer over something boring?

Campaign Select

Battle Select

My first impressions weren’t great; I’m not a big fan of the time period in warfare, but I’m willing to overlook that if the game is good, and they couldn’t have picked less exciting stills to showcase the game on the app page (foreshadowing). Still, it was on sale, had generally good reviews, and came up with other games that I’ve played in a similar vein (Risk, Strategy & Tactics, etc.). I thought it could easily be a game to add to my repertoire where I could swap out and play something different so I didn’t get too burned out, so I downloaded it and started it up.

Game/Round Start Screen

The game is a pretty simple, hex-based, cities-on-continents style game. Most of the maps are maps of Europe (but there are some in America and Mediterranean Africa) divided into hexes where units can be. The hexes have terrain that affects how the units move and sometimes “cities” which allow one to build new military units and which can be captured (which is usually a goal in a scenario). Capturing land and cities give you the ability to produce more of the game’s 3 resources: food, money, and machine parts(?). Farmland gives you food and I have no idea where the others come from (my guess is it has something to do with cities). Parts and money can be used to buy new units, upgrade cities, or create fortifications in the regular land (and something to do with generals and upgrades, but I can’t figure out how that works), and food is expended by existing military units per turn.

City Upgrade Cost

Unit “Recruitment” from City

Tavern Generals from City

Upgraded Tile Information

City Shop

Unit Items

Units are created in cities, each specializing in a different unit type: infantry, artillery, and cavalry. These are pretty cookie-cutter: infantry is cheap and good at defense, cavalry can move two spaces and is in the middle, and artillery can attack over spaces and is good at offense but terrible at defense. The more cities are upgraded, the better units they can build (you can also spend more gold to make units with more “troops” (life) but I’m not certain it has any real benefit). And some units are equipped with generals (again I think you can buy them but I can’t figure out how, it has something to do with cities and medals) that give them combat bonuses and the units around them slightly smaller bonuses. These generals are essential to use during combat, as units not being lead by one will crumble against an assault from ones that are. There are a few more complexities to the combat system: units can move and then attack, but can’t move after attacking (except when certain generals are involved, it seems), and they gain morale after victories and lose it after defeats or when enemy units are on two sides of their hexes (covering 4 or more of the six spaces around them) but how much this actually affects combat I couldn’t tell you.

Movement Select

Tile Information

Unit Upgrade

When your turn is completed, you hit a button to go to the next turn (and if you can possibly perform one single action it asks you “are you sure”, then you watch your opponent’s turn and can continue playing. The most annoying part about this bit is I can’t find a way to skip it (I have now found it, but it’s super tiny and hard to see and hit in the corner). It isn’t that long when compared to Civilization Revolution or Strategy & Tactics (but you can skip it in S&T) but it can run longer than I (who would like to play the game) would want. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance none-the-less. This adds to the fact that the combat is fairly slow paced, with not much action happening and nothing dynamic (you can’t push enemy units out of territories or anything like that) going on. It feels a little tedious and boring after the first few missions. At this point I haven’t learned enough about the game to be good at it, and they are just throwing more and more enemy units at me and I have to hope I get lucky. It’s pretty obvious at the start that only having a few units would be boring, but increasing the amount of units just makes it tedious. They feel weighed down, and that might be appropriate for the time period but I don’t feel like Napoleon when I’m playing, I feel like one of the guys who lost. The strategy seems more to be in number crunching as you slowly move across the board and less in anything actually happening. This may not be the case, but that’s the feeling I get playing the game. I’m not excited, or thinking, I’m just moving, and sometimes not even that when I run up against mountains or rivers that bring my army to a crawl.

Conquest Mode

It’s entirely possible I’m just playing the game wrong, but the developer isn’t helping anything there by making the control layout pretty unintuitive; generally playing the game is easy, but navigating the menus and their tiny buttons needs a little work. It’s also obvious the developers aren’t native English speakers with the broken, poorly translated sounding tutorials. They get the message across well enough but I feel like I’ve missed something. There was probably something in there about the morale system or how to purchase generals that I missed, but they didn’t make my job easy there. And I quickly lost my excitement for playing this game (relatively speaking, I probably put some good hours into it before that point). There are 6 campaigns, only 2 of which are unlocked from the start, and I haven’t finished either one. I got to battles where I lost and couldn’t see any immediate way I could have done better, and there was no incentive there for me to learn how to get better, so I just stopped playing. That’s a bit similar to how I felt playing the first two Strategy and Tactics games, where the campaign mode is just annoying, but the large battle maps are great fun and allow for more overall strategy. This game does include a “conquest” mode, where you can play as most any country in the game and try to take over the whole map, but this doesn’t fix most of my problems with the game, being just as slow and lacking any obvious real strategy.

Turn Ending

Game Save

Low Morale one Enemy Troops (and an out-of-place Armored Car)

Enemy Turn Passing

Now, aside from all of my picking apart and finding flaws, I actually like this game more than I thought I would. I’d seen it and its “family” of games before, when looking for better strategy games on mobile devices, and from the screenshots I thought it looked like throwaway garbage. But I actually had several hours of fun with it, and for a free game that’s a pretty good ratio. But it’s just not something I can get into, nor something I can really recommend. It’s slow and more obtuse than it needs to be, which kinda kills the grand-war-simulator(game) for me. From what I can tell it’s like the others in the series and if you’re a fan of those it will probably fit right in (but you likely already have looked at it then), but for most other people looking for a good, in-depth but quick strategy game on mobile, it looks like you’ll have to keep waiting (or play Strategy & Tactics or Civilization Revolution if those are “in-depth” enough for you).

How I use Notebooks (basic)

Notebooks are a very personal thing, and, many believe, an increasingly less relevant one in this increasingly digital age. Yet some of the large notebook manufactures do claim that as we move to more and more digital media, the urge to use analog becomes greater and greater.

I don’t really care about any of that. I’ve loved notebooks as far back as I can remember. I was always fascinated with pocket books, and I kept all of my old school notebooks to draw in (I wish that had meant my drawing would improve). It used to be that I would just grab and use what was on the shelf at the dollar store, but my tastes and ways of using notebooks have changed significantly.

I do have one problem with notebooks, and I’ve had it forever. I can’t stand having more than one subject for one book. This in the past lead me to cycle through books like nobody’s business, or tear out so many pages that I compromised the book’s integrity. I’ve essentially made up for this now by using each of my books for more general purposes, and letting the very specific topics go into pocket books, like Field Notes.

My main theory on notebooks is that “way too many” is “just about right”. I quite literally have a full shelf of notebooks that I am using currently. That doesn’t mean a lot of use, though:  it just means I started them at some point in the past and haven’t finished with them. Unfortunately for my hopeless system, many of these books will never be finished. The books I do finish are part of my regular system, which breaks down like: Sketchbook (large), Every day drawing (large), Every day ideas (pocket, hardcover), and Pocket (pocket, soft cover). These 4 books generally cover anything I have to do in a given day. From cartoon ideas to grocery lists, they’ve generally got me covered.

If I carry the books I generally carry them in reverse order to what I’ve listed, starting with the pocket book, which goes with me everywhere. And I think it’s very important to have a pocket book go with you everywhere. It’s not only something that I can easily jot notes down in, it’s something that can be easily remembered. When I get home one of the first things I do is empty everything I can from my pockets, and the book is usually one of those things, prompting me to look through it– unlike my notes on my phone, which I keep in my pocket and forget about (though those work in a pinch).

My dedication to carrying a notebook everywhere is aided by the fact that I don’t usually go to non-notebook friendly places (I could use ‘Write in the Rain’ I guess) and that I don’t have a job where my notebooks would get damaged. Mileage may vary on that bit, but I believe it is good to carry a notebook whenever possible. The notebooks that aren’t my pocket notebook go in my bag and can be pulled out whenever I feel necessary, which is generally only during intolerably long wait times, as I, in general, am inclined to sit back and observe before writing in a notebook or diddling on my phone.

When back at my house, notebooks used to be scattered all over the place, but recently I made an attempt to corral them. Now they are generally in one area, that being my desk and the shelf next to my desk. My small living-space allows this quite easily, though at the cost of moving other things (like regular books) farther away from my working area. Still, having a notebook and a pen close at hand is one of the handiest things I’ve ever come across.

For me, the specific notebooks don’t matter. I just have the ones I like at the moment. I do tend to go with cleaner looking, more established company notebooks for my general stuff, though. Moleskines look nicer on the shelf than a bunch of Wal-Mart, dollar store, or even custom-made books do on the shelf, simply because of uniformity, both when being written in, and when finished. And I’ve finished a lot more of my daily writer Moleskine books than my one-of-a-kind, or different-looking books.
So that’s a bit of how I use my notebooks. I’d love to hear how you guys use yours in the comments, and I hope you enjoyed.