a book about the pencil

the pencil petroski

“all made objects owe their very existence to some kind of engineering…” from the preface of “the pencil: a history of design and circumstance” (1989) by henry petroski \  a very engaging history of the invention of this common & ordinary object / petroski highlights the evolution of engineering from its roots in the trades practiced by master craftsmen & builders

i have fond childhood memories of pencils / the school year in the philippines begins in june <which also marks the start of the rainy season> \ weeks before school starts, my mother would come home with school supplies including boxes of mongol pencils <pictured above> / in the late 40s, the philippines, hong kong & india were the primary markets for american products, including pencils \ “mongol” as a brand name & yellow as the desired finish were used to associate with the orient | in the late 1800s, graphite from siberia were considered to be the finest

the earliest illustration of a pencil was from the german-swiss physician & naturalist konrad gesner’s book of fossils published in 1565 <pictured above, the one with latin words | he died of the plague in the same year> he writes “The stylus shown below is made for writing, from a sort of lead (which I have heard some call English antimony), shaved to a point and inserted in a wooden handle.”  \ gesner’s illustration was reprinted in a 1648 book but aldrovandi, another naturalist, called the pencil’s lead “lapis plumbarius” or lead stone instead of “stimmi anglicanum” \ keswick & cumberland <borrowdale> in england were the only sources of this main ingredient and was known by many other names:  plumbago, black lead, kellow/killow, wad/wadt, black-cowke, kish, crayon noir / its name settled to “graphite” <from the greek graphein, to write>

a turning point in the history of the pencil was the process of mixing graphite <after being removed of impurities> with clay & firing at high temperatures & then encasing the lead in wood \ this process was developed & patented by nicolas-jacques conte in 1795 / and was a matter of necessity | high quality graphite from borrowdale was unavailable in france \ conte’s knowledge of plumbago for making crucibles in which to melt metal was also instrumental in this innovation <knowledge of materials science> / the alternative method of the germans <mixing graphite dust with sulphur & glue> made inferior but serviceable pencils

skipping to another interesting point in the pencil’s history sees the involvement of henry david thoreau better known as the american philosopher, transcendentalist* & poet, author of walden and resistance to civil government \ his family business, using the conte process <of which thoreau was instrumental in researching & implementing> successfully produced & marketed pencils but they later abandoned this to the more profitable business of selling graphite powder <to be used for the recently invented process of electrotyping>

the book is quite comprehensive in covering pencil production from its origins to its continual improvement as new materials & new processes were developed | innovations in the product itself, its design & marketing | domestic pricing as well as the global trade & market for pencils | and even its known use among famous writers such as steinbeck & hemingway \ i also especially like the section where the author describes the skill of drawing various perspectives <orthographic projection> that the modern engineer needs to learn  <i fondly remember my engineering friends & roommates in college and their ES11, i think it was called :-) >  this is a very interesting, informative & highly engaging book, worth a read

i found this book while looking for one about fountain pens / but i like wood-encased pencils too so this was a nice find \ *potentially interesting book to read would be about american transcendentalism

last day @beach

imageindian harbour beach, florida | lots of surfers & standup paddle boarders!

let it run!

imagethe culmination of our week-long dragon boat camp was a 2k race among nine crews / great opportunity for us to apply what we learned \ we had 17 out of a typical full boat of 20 paddlers & was heavily gender unbalanced <not true race conditions> / don’t know our final time yet but coach said we likely broke our goal of 11:30

best butterbeer


the harry potter series will never be literary classics like the chronicles of narnia & lord of the rings but it sure does make an entertaining theme park!

day 4 | dragon boat camp


by the afternoon of our first day on the water, my paddling had already improved / that is how effective coach albert is to me as an individual & i think for the team as well \ i can certainly abide by “relax during recovery” / and agree that there is tremendous power with the heel-core connection in paddling \ as a rower, i understand the power of the legs-core-back / one thing new to me is the function of the back bench in a dragon boat \ just as my position in the rowing shell is as one of bow pair, on the dragon boat i am one of bench 10 pair < in both sports, small people are the best fit at the back > in dragon boating, the back benches <back 4 or back 6> are used if the coach|steerer wants an extra push or surge such as in a race or here at camp when we had side-by-side drills with another boat <we’re not competitive :-) >

today was another great day <beautiful weather-wise as well> | we covered about 10k with very short breaks between 1 to 4 minute stretches on the dragon boat \ then a few of us went to the channel on the OC2 <2-person outrigger canoe> \ this is how dragon boaters can practice on their own or with a partner / much like 1- or 2-person sculling in rowing \ paddling on an OC is much easier than on a dragon boat / because the paddle blade is wider & angled, i found the effort to make a good stroke so much easier | no need to stretch as much because the blade is already angled to give momentum \ it is also less straining because paddlers change sides by calling “hut-hoe” / after a few missteps, my partner & i learned to turn the OC2 effectively :-)

tomorrow, again we get videotaped, reviewed, and provided with individual help \ the camp ends on saturday with a 2k race | definitely looking forward to that!

more fun @universal studios


one of the things we will remember from this trip is the ginormous, yummy smoked turkey leg peddled around the theme parks | for ten bucks, one leg fed four people / can’t beat that in a tourist trap! \ we also enjoyed the horror make-up show by a make-up artist who could be a standup comic

fun @harry potter’s world

harry potter theme parkuniversal did a great job of replicating harry potter’s world / would have been great if there wasn’t a crowd \ but the architecture & artifacts made up for the maddening crowd / we retreated to the other park <universal  studios> for more make-believe



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