NaNoWriMo – What Is It?

National Novel Writing Month – November

What Is It?

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month is an international event to write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in a month – November, to be precise.

We’ve got a NaNoWriMo section here on PigPog – needs a bit of filling out, though.

Line 6 Variax 500

(A what? See our page on Line 6 Variax Guitars.)

I bought one recently, so it’s time for a mini-review. I’m in no position to comment on the accuracy of the modelled instruments – I don’t own any of them. It all sounds pretty good to me, though. Certainly nothing like digital guitars used to be – it feels and sounds just like any other electric guitar – it’s changing the sounds in real-time, not sensing what note you’re playing and then playing samples. It’s not cheap, and you could get a better guitar body for the money, but it wouldn’t be this flexible.

The Story

OK, we’ll start with the backstory – how I came to get this guitar. If you’re not interested, feel free to skip this bit.

Years ago, when I was at school, I had a Squier Strat, and had guitar lessons. I never became much good, but I had fun. In the end, I stopped playing whilst at university, and sold the guitar. I regretted it shortly after, but never really fancied taking it up again enough to buy another. My parents decided recently that a similar guitar would make a good surprise gift for me, so they bought me a Squier Strat kit – guitar, amp, leads, etc. I had a bit of fun with it again, but didn’t really get into it much.

Sam, on the other hand, took to it straight away, and soon wanted an upgrade. We couldn’t afford the Kirk Hammett signature series, so she bought an ESP M-50. A while later, I stumbled on the Line 6 Variax, and was fascinated. Further reading around their site lead us to the Pod, and Sam decided she wanted one. The Variax was far out of reach, though – far too expensive. I’d started playing a bit more by that time again, so I decided an upgrade might be in order for me too, if I could find something I really liked. The Ibanez AXS-32 looked like just the thing, so we went out to our local Ibanez dealer to have a look.

The didn’t have any, and after a good poke and play of various guitars, nothing appealed too much to me, so we bought the Pod and carried on to the shop where we had bought the M-50. By this point, Sam seemed to have developed a slightly surprising Telecaster fixation, but we’ll not talk about that here.

The next shop, Fox’s Music, had a Variax 500 second hand. For slightly more than our budget – £350. I had a play. I liked. Sam liked. So we figured the bank would get over it given time, and bought it anyway.

So what is it?

By this point, you’ve probably worked out that it’s a guitar. The clever bit about the Variax is that it can pretend to be lots of different guitars. It has piezo sensors instead of standard pickups, and the insides are filled with electronics to work out what noise your chosen classic guitar would have made, given what each string is currently doing. It sounds like it would never work, or it would work but would just feel wrong, but it does work. Really. It even picks up the sound of your fingers scraping along the lower strings. You can choose from various guitars, mainly from the 50s and 60s, including a Stratocaster, three different Telecasters, Gibson Les Pauls and Firebirds, Semi-accoustics, accoustics, resonators, and if you’re feeling in an odd sort of a mood, even a banjo or a sitar.

How accurate is it?

I’ve no idea, really. Sounds good to me, but I’ve never played any of the guitars it models. Other people who have seem to say it’s pretty good – not perfect, but close enough for most people. It’s certainly more portable and cheaper than 25 classic guitars would be.

How does it play?

Again, I’d have to say that I’m no expert on this. My experience is pretty limited, but it feels pretty good to me. Mine has a bit of buzz on some of the lower strings, but only in certain places, and only when treat fairly roughly. My Strat buzzes far more. It all feels quite nice and smooth, and the electronics don’t get in the way at all. I had a bit of a problem with the tuning drifting, but a change of strings seems to have helped a lot with that.

How does it look?

I’ll grab some pics of it at some point, but if you go to the official site, it’s the sunburst finish one in the middle of the pic.

No, I Meant Inside

Oh. OK. I got a couple of snaps of that earlier…

(Sorry, images are missing – I’ll try to get them replaced soon.)

Sweeney seemed to want to know what made it go too.

(Another missing image.)

Looks like the main stuff is all on the one little circuit board, with some extra boards on the controls and connectors. Everything’s nicely socketed, anyway, which bodes well for any potential repairs.

The Future

The future should hold even more interesting things for the Variax. Line 6 are currently working on their ‘Workbench’ software. This will come with an adaptor to connect the computer’s USB port to the guitar’s RJ45 connector. The software will allow you to pick from various different bodies, pickups, etc, to build your own guitar. It will work out how that guitar would sound, and upload it to your Variax. Impressive stuff. I’m guessing that once they finish it, people will start building models of all sorts of popular guitars and swapping them online.

Update: Workbench finally exists. We’ve seen it in a shop. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to buy it.

Rotring Quattro

I currently use the shiny silver version, as reviewed in The Gadgeteer. Before that, I have had two different models of the black versions – one the same as this silver, and before that, the more basic model.

So what is it?

It’s a four-in-one pen. The four features you get depends on the model you buy, but can include different coloured pens, .5mm or .7mm mechanical pencils, several colours of highlighters, and a PDA stylus tip in either white or yellow.

At the moment, mine contains a black pen, a red pen, a .5mm pencil, and a yellow stylus.

The Pens

Pen

Works pretty well, and makes a fairly nice even line. Small refils, so won’t last long if used heavily, but they’re also small enough to keep spares handy. Check you can get refils, as they’ve become more difficult to get hold of in the UK now.

Pencil

The mechanism in the pen I have now has lasted quite a long time, but I’ve had some of these mechanisms start to wear themselves loose after a while. I tend to use the pencil quite a lot, but they don’t seem to take the heavy use so well. May have been earlier quality problems, as the most recent one has been fine.

Highlighter

These aren’t much thicker than a ballpoint pen, but do make a nice bright mark that won’t cover existing text or writing. You have to scribble over something to highlight it rather than just drawing across it once.

PDA Stylus

Nice, fairly sharp tip. The only slight problem is that the pen is much heavier than the standard sort of stylus that comes with most PDAs, so it could be a bit heavy on the screen. I fine it easier to use than the short, fiddly, lightweight stylus that came with my iPaq hx4700, and much better than the stylus that came with the Sony Clie nx73v I had for a while.

The Finish

This is the biggest problem I had with these. The first one I had was a basic model in black, and the labels to tell you how to open each ‘pen’ quickly wore away. This was followed by most of the black finish, leaving much of the pen shiny scuffed silver. A life in a pocket didn’t suit it. I replaced that with the black ‘executive’ model. I thought this one would last well, as the surface was so tough and thickly painted as to feel like it was enameled. It started cracking and flaking off after a while.

I still have that one, as it does at least look like it’s all brass underneath, and might look quite nice if I get all the paint removed and polish it to a good shine.

I’ve now had the ‘silver’ executive model for quite a long time, and it’s still working fine. Even the pencil mechanism is holding up to the use quite well.

Conclusion

I do love this pen. I hate the fact that I’ve had three of them, and probably gone through five pencil mechanisms, but the wonderful convenience of having a standard sized pen in my pocket that can do so much just keeps bringing me back. I also love the confusion when someone borrows it and just can’t work out how to get the pen out ;)

Rotring Isograph

What Is It?

The Isograph is an ink pen. Let’s get that out of the way to start with. There’s no disposable cartriges. You get the empty pens, and you get a bottle of ink. You have to put the one in the other…

Our Set

We bought the ‘isograph college set’, which came with three isograph pens (.50mm, .35mm and .25mm), a .5mm mechanical pencil, a bottle of ink, a pack of spare leads, an eraser, a compass adapter, and a template that doubles as the lid…

What’s it Like?

The isograph pens make a very solid black mark. The ink flows smoothly, and easily, as long as you don’t try to go too quickly. It’s very good at what it’s designed for – careful technical drawing – line drawings, diagrams, that sort of thing.

At first, I thought these would only be good for technical drawing, and no use for sketching, but I’m actually finding myself using them more and more for sketching. They work nicely in conjunction with either pencil or Watercolour. The ink is water proof, so you can draw with the Isographs, then paint colour over with your watercolours.

The ink flows quickly and smoothly, and can cover areas without any of the ‘scribbled’ look that most pens will give. You can fill in plain black sections in a way that you just can’t with any ballpoint or gel ink pen. The fine metal point can give an odd scratchy feel to drawing, though, and the .25mm tip can feel like drawing with a needle.

On thin paper (like in a Moleskine Notebook) the ink can leak through to the other side, and even to the next sheet.

Results

In the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, these pens can do some amazing things…

Filling

The process of filling the pens with ink was less tricky than I expected – the ink bottle supplied has a very narrow neck, so you almost ‘inject’ the ink into the cartrige. Refilling seems to be easy enough too – just make sure you do it over some tissue or scrap paper in case of spillage.

Comparisons

Compare with lines from some other pens…

(Clicky piccy to see in Flickr in bigger sizes, and with notes and comments.)

Rotring Rapidoliner

The Rotring Rapidoliner was a kind of disposable version of the Isograph. The whole pen wasn’t disposable, but the refill extended right out of the top of the pen, so you replaced everything but the outside plastic sleeve and cap. Unfortunately, since Sanford bought Rotring, they’ve stopped making them.

Moleskine Notebooks

2004 was quite the year of discovery for me, and one of the many things I became aware and incredibly fond of is Moleskine Notebooks. I’ve always been a bit of a notebook fiend, buying whatever spangly and multi-colour leafed design caught my eye in the hope that it would give my creativity a much needed kick up the arse and prompted me to come up with my best work yet, only to be consigned to a heap when the story I’d be working on fizzled out.

Moleskine comes with its own folklore, cultural legends such as Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse and Bruce Chatwin swore by their Moleskine books, Chatwin himself is quoted as saying “Losing my passport was the least of my worries; losing a notebook was a catastrophe.” It is to scribbling what the Mac is to graphic design, the must-have for any person wishing to describe themselves as ‘creative’.

What makes Moleskine notebooks so great?

Quality

A Moleskine notebook is a beautiful object. Sleek, simple and cool. Even when it’s been half-soaked in tea! I spilled tea on the book I drafted this article in, and if anything it looks even cooler. It has that ‘long afternoons scribbling away in coffee shops’ look about it. It’s also well-built, hardwearing, can handle a working week bouncing around in my handbag, and can handle being absent-mindedly used as a coaster on the weekends. The paper, although the weight varies across the different types of book (more on that in a moment), is smooth and pleasing to the touch of a pen.

Variety

For every job, there’s a Moleskine. I currently have:

  • Memo Pockets – a portable filing system, and a handy PDA case if you have something like a Zire.
  • Graph Paper – originally intended for guitar tab, the versatile graph pad has now become my journal.
  • Plain Notebook – my first Moleskine. I first bought the large one because I didn’t think I’d take to the ‘pocket’, but now have the large books at home and the small ones on the move.
  • Sketchbook – in pocket and large sizes, with a heavier weight of paper to handle watercolours as well as sketchings.
  • Infobook – Originally intended for travellers, but just as useful for the land-locked geek, this is a lined notebook divided into sections. It’s crying out for a hack, so watch this space. Or watch Merlin’s space – he’s more likely to come up with something first.
  • Japanese Storybook – this is one length of paper folded into a concertina of 60 pages. Good for sketching.
  • Storyboard Notebook – sketchbook-weight paper with small and large frames, ideal for cartoonists or film makers or anyone after a novel way of practicing drawing.
  • Cahier Journals – I currently have the large journal, which is reminiscent of school exercise books, except this time the handwriting can be as untidy as you like and you can even use rude words if you want to.

  • Reporter Notebook – top instead of side bound. Easy to use hand-held for a quick drawing or note. The pocket holds 3×5 index cards quite nicely. Quite a few pages at the back are perforated so they can be easily removed – good for handing people notes, or scribbling tests that you want rid of.

All books come with the handy pocket, bookmark (not in the Reporter) and elastic clasp.

Portability

I’ve found other notebooks to be either too small to be of any use or too big to take anywhere. The pocket Moleskine is the perfect size.

What Mediums to Use With Them

Pencil

Any Moleskine should work fine with Pencils, but if you press on hard, the next sheet will be dented in the ordinary notebooks – the sketchbooks have thicker paper which work better. Coloured pencil works fine, though all but the sketchbooks have a slightly creamy coloured paper that may skew the colours a tiny bit – probably not enough to worry about.

Pen and Ink

Ballpoint and gel ink pens work fine in any Moleskine, liquid ink pens like the Rotring Isograph may bleed through a bit to the other side in the thin papered notebooks, but not too bad.

Watercolour

The paper in the notebooks is very thin, and tends to get misshaped quite easily with Watercolour. Although the sketchbooks have heavier paper that should be better suited (and are actually labelled as being suited to water-based media), the paper seems to repel water, and won’t take colour well. If you want good watercolour paper, look elsewhere, but if you value the portability and just want to do watercolour occasionally, you can get away with it. The notebooks work slightly better, but the sketchbooks can do the job if you break the surface slightly by either washing over fairly hard with the brush, or using Watercolour Pencils like Derwent Graphitint or crayons like Derwent Aquatone to apply the colour in the first place.

Fans

The Moleskine has a fair few fans, and most of them assemble at the Moleskinerie, to exchange tips, art and stories. Merlin at 43 Folders did a fantastic article on Moleskine hacks earlier in the year – and that article was the one that prompted me to order a couple and give them a whirl — thanks, Merlin!

Have I tempted you into trying one?

If you want to find out more about Moleskines, check out these sites:

  • Modo E Modo – the manufacturers of the Moleskine.
  • Moleskine – UK Moleskine site with links to buy books online.
  • Moleskine – US Moleskine site with links to buy online.

External Resources

Update From Sam

Since becoming more interested in sketching and using watercolours, pastels and other media, I’ve become less keen on the Moleskine. For writing, for use as a notebook, it’s still head and shoulders above the rest, but as a sketchbook, something to practice art techniques in, I haven’t felt happy with any of the Moleskines I have.

Look at all the Moleskine sites out there, like the previously mentioned Moleskinerie, and you’ll see many, many people creating beautiful sketches and works of art in theirs. I find that the smooth paper that is so nice to use when I’m writing isn’t so nice for drawing. So as far as the art side goes, I’m on the lookout for another book to fall in love with. Any suggestions? Let me know.