Quill Pen, Dip Pen, Fountain Pen and Ballpoint Pen

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 19th, 2013

Technology 101

The Quill Pen was nothing more than a Bird’s Feather and some Ingenious Thinking

The pen is mightier than the sword.  For while the sword can kill a person they cannot kill that person’s words.  Even the words ‘sword’ and ‘words’ are interesting in themselves.  For if you drop the ‘s’ from both you have ‘word’.  That thing that makes us human.  Putting our thoughts into words onto paper.  So that others can read these words.  And understand our thoughts.  Our ideas.  Our perspectives.  Our wisdom.  So we can pass these words down through the ages.  Or on to others in our current age.

The Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Harappa and the Nanzhuangtou all wrote.  A stylus on a clay tablet was probably the first form of writing.  Not quite the communications we have today.  But this writing gave us the four great ancient civilizations.  But only a select few wrote in these early civilizations.  No.  Writing didn’t really take off until much later.  And the introduction of the first great writing tool.  The quill pen.  Which was nothing more than a bird’s feather.  And some ingenious thinking.

What happens when you place a paper towel on a spill?  The towel absorbs the liquid.  By rising up into the paper towel.  This is capillary action.  And is the basis of the quill pen.  Without getting too technical molecules in a liquid are attracted to the surface of a round tube.  Everyone no doubt remembers seeing this in a high school chemistry class using a graduated cylinder.  That tall tube of glass we measured liquids in by reading the scale off of the glass.  The surface of the glass attracted and pulled up the liquid on the sides of the glass.  Forming a concave surface on top.  The narrower the tube the greater this pulling force.  And the higher this attraction will pull a liquid up the tube.

Thanks to the Dip Pen most Americans were Well-Informed and Literate at the time of the Civil War

A bird’s feather is hollow.  A long narrow tube.  When dipped in a well of ink capillary forces will pull this ink up the hollow tube of the feather.  And hold it there.  Not a long column of ink.  But enough to let us write words.  Before we did, though, we used a pen knife to cut a nib in the end.  You make a 45-degree cut across the bottom.  Then you cut again to remove most of the round cylinder.  If you were looking into the end of the feather and imagine the face of a clock you would remove everything from 1:00 to 11:00.  Or thereabouts.  So you are left with a flat-like extension from the tube of the feather.  You then cut the tip of this flat extension to get a nice chisel point.  Then, finally, you slice or score this flat extension of the tube from the tip of the nub to the tube holding the ink.  This allowed the ink to flow from the tube to the point.  As one wrote the ink at the tip would wipe off on the paper.  And when it did it would pull fresh ink from the tube reservoir above.

This was a remarkable tool.  And one we used for a very long time.  Roughly from the 6th to the 19th century.  This is what the scribes used in those monasteries when they translated all those Greek texts the Crusaders brought back to Europe.  Quills penned Magna Carta.  It’s what Shakespeare used.  It gave us the King James Bible.  The works of the Enlightenment.  The Declaration of Independence.  The U.S. Constitution.  And the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.  We used it that long because it was that good.  Simple.  And we only stopped using it when manufacturing techniques advanced to the point that could create the quill nib in steel.  Giving us the dip pen.  And once we did we said goodbye to the quill pen.

The dip pen was basically the quill nib made out of steel.  Only it was sturdier.  And didn’t require anyone having to become skilled with a pen knife.  We began manufacturing the dip pen around the 1820s.  Mass production techniques brought down prices.  Allowing anyone to write.  Even children with poor pen knife skills.  School desks had holes in the upper right corner.  To hold an ink well.  So children in school could dip their pens.  And put words to paper.  Literacy rates soared.  As did education.  Americans were probably not more informed and literate than they were at the time of the Civil War.  Thanks to the inexpensive and easy-to-use dip pen.

Penmanship and Cursive Writing were once Important Parts of the School Curriculum

The dip pen had a much shorter life than the quill pen.  Replaced by the fountain pen.  Pretty much the same as the dip pen.  Only with an internal ink reservoir.  Other advancements made the fountain pen portable.  Such as a retractable nib.  Or a cap that covered the nib.  Allowing us to slip the fountain pen in a pocket without ink staining our shirt.  We filled early reservoirs with an eyedropper.  Which was messy.  The next development was adding a mechanism that when operated drew ink up through the nib into the reservoir.  And a breather hole helped the ink flow to the paper by allowing air to enter the reservoir to replace the ink as it left.  Filling a fountain pen through the nib was neater to fill than using an eye dropper.  But still required an open ink well.  Which could spill or leave excess ink on the nib after filling.  The next advancement was an ink cartridge.  Removing the need to have an open well of ink.  Removing the chance of an ink spill.  And there was no excess ink on the nib after refilling.

The fountain pen was about as good as it got.  Until the ballpoint pen arrived.  Cheap.  Disposable.  Convenient.  And clean.  Up until the ballpoint pen the mechanics of the pen remained the same from the quill pen to the dip pen to the fountain pen.  They all had a nib with a slit that drew ink from a reservoir.  The ballpoint pen was a completely different technology.  Where we replaced the nib with a very small ball inserted into a point.  Hence ballpoint pen.  We make the ball from a very hard metal such as tungsten carbide and machine it into a perfect sphere.  The ball snaps into a socket in the point.  Attached to this nib assembly is an ink-filled plastic tube.  The ball fits so snuggly that it can’t slip out of the point or slip up into the ink reservoir.  And it holds back the ink from running out of the reservoir.  When you write you drag the point across the paper.  This rotates the ball in the point.  Bringing ink from behind the ball onto the paper.  Producing a very uniform ink line.

The ink pen created civilization.  By allowing us to put our thoughts into words.  And putting those words onto paper for others to read.  Penmanship and writing in cursive were once important parts of the school curriculum.  As they were the gateway to literacy and education.  But that has all changed.  Few people write today.  Instead they type.  Or text.  Bastardizing our words into shorthand gibberish.  A long cry from the elegant words of William Shakespeare.  Or the impassioned words of the Declaration of Independence.  Where we raised our words to the level of art and put them to paper.  Ushering in the golden era of civilization.  Where we were our most human.  Expressing our thoughts.  Our ideas.  Our perspectives.  And our wisdom.  Replaced today with truncated efficiency.  As we dehumanize ourselves to live in a digital world.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #52: “The political right is usually right.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 8th, 2011

Sitting in the French Legislative Assembly and Defining Future Politics

In politics we hear a lot about the Left and the Right.  What does that mean?  Where did these terms come from?  Probably the French Revolution.  So we need a small primer on the French Revolution.  So here goes. 

In late 18th century France, in the Ancien Régime (before the French Revolution), there were three main groups of people.  They called these the estates of the realm.  The First Estate was the clergy of the Catholic Church.  The Second Estate was the nobility (less the king).  And the Third Estate was everyone else (approximately 98% of the population).  The first two estates were exempt from most taxation and lived well and had full bellies.  The Third Estate paid the bulk of taxes, lived horribly and suffered a famine or two.

Well, this caused tensions.  The poor were deplorably poor and hungry.  Compounding this problem was the near constant state of war between France and Great Britain.  That and financing the American Revolution was bankrupting the Ancien Régime.  The régime had nothing to give to the poor and hungry.  So the poor and hungry revolted.  They met in the French Legislative Assembly of 1791 to debate the future of France.  Those in favor of the monarchy and the old order sat on the right.  The radicals who wanted to overthrow the old order sat on the left.

Right and Left become Conservative and Liberal

So that’s a brief lesson on the origins of the political labels ‘Left’ and ‘Right’.  They weren’t political parties.  They were just seating arrangements.  In those days, the Left were liberals.  Similar to our Founding Fathers.  In the classical sense of liberalism (it meant something completely different then than it does today).  Basically, the Left said the old ways just ain’t working anymore and it’s time to try something new.  The Right, on the other hand, was worried about losing their privileges.  As well as the potential chaos that could result from trying something new.  And for good reason.  The French Revolution got a little chaotic.  And a little bloody.

Since then the labels kind of morphed into new meanings.  Right and Left have become synonymous with conservatism and liberalism (or Progressivism, Socialism, Communism, Marxism, etc.).  Conservatives (the Right) believe in individual liberty, limited government, laissez-faire capitalism, low taxes, free trade, little business regulation, etc.  Liberals (the Left) believe in Big Government to redistribute the wealth, high taxes, strict controls on capitalism and business, oppose free trade and believes business operates best (and most fair) when ‘partnered’ with government.

So, to simplify, on the right you will find capitalists.  On the left you will find anti-capitalists.  On the right, people decide what’s best.  On the left, government decides what’s best.  On the right you keep more of your paycheck and buy what you want.  On the left you keep less of your paycheck so others can buy what they want.  And so on.

Free Markets and Planned Markets

The Right believes in free markets.  That if left alone, free markets will maximize employment and living standards.  The Right doesn’t believe that any one person is smarter than the collective of millions of individual decision makers in the free market.  The free market is always win-win.  When two people agree on an economic decision, they both prosper.  The seller gets what they value more (money).  And the buyer gets what they value more (what they bought).  When everyone is choosing what they value most in the free market, economic activity explodes.  This creates jobs.  Workers earn money to buy goods and services.  And taxes at low tax rates paid by the multitude of businesses and individuals swell the public treasury.

The Left, on the other hand, believe a free market economy is inefficient.  They prefer a planned economy.  They want to mettle.  To tinker.  To help people make economic decisions by regulating markets.  Enacting targeting taxing and targeting tax cuts.  To make us buy what they think we should buy (electric cars, for example).  And they think free markets are woefully unfair.  Because poor people can’t buy as much as rich people.  So they want to tax the rich to redistribute their wealth to the poor.  They call this stimulative.  Giving away other people’s money.  So other people can spend that money.  (So if you’re keeping score, net spending doesn’t change.  Just who is spending the money changes).

There’s a lot more to these political labels Left and Right.  But this will suffice for our purposes.  You will see more mature and elderly people on the right.  And more younger people on the left.  Remember the expression from the hippy counter-culture in the Sixties?  Never trust anyone over thirty?   You know who was saying this?  Inexperienced and ignorant young people.  Young college students who learned a thing or two from a radical professor.  You didn’t see many family breadwinners in the counter-culture movement.  Just a lot of people who hadn’t grown up yet or worked a job or raised a family.

Age, Experience and Family tend to make you Conservative

And so it is today.  The Left depends on the young.  That’s why they lowered the voting age to 18.  To get these people who haven’t experienced the real world yet to support things that sound good.  Yes, we should pay more taxes for a better education.  Of course, what the young don’t know is that they’ve been saying this for the last 50 years or so.  And the quality of our education has gotten worse.  Not better.  That’s why the older and more experienced voter tends to vote against these tax increases.  Not because they hate kids.  But because they’ve seen throughout their life that throwing money at education hasn’t helped any student.  Only the public school bureaucracy.

When you’re young and stupid you tend to think about today.  Your emotions easily sway you.  And your passions.  Your thoughts focus on having fun in the sun.  Going to a club.  Dating.  It’s a little different when you have a family.  You think about other things then.  Your kids’ school.  Paying a mortgage.  Putting money aside for your kids’ college education.  Putting money aside for your retirement.  Those kinds of things.  And, incidentally, those things require a good-paying job.  And tax rates that aren’t so onerous that you can’t afford those things you want for your family.

That’s why we call these people on the right conservative.  They’re not too keen on change.  Because they have a lot of responsibilities.  And they’ve made commitments to meet those responsibilities.  It’s one thing to be footloose and fancy free and have radical thoughts.  I mean, what have you to lose?  But it’s quite another thing when you do have something to lose.  Any by that time in your life, when you’re making a pretty good living, you’re paying quite a bit in taxes.  Unlike those young radicals.  You have skin in the game.  They don’t.  They are, in fact, gambling with your money.  Those radical changes (health care for everyone, taxing the ‘rich’, carbon taxes to end global warming, etc.) they’re fighting for won’t impact their lives much.  They’re not paying the taxes.  Yet.  You are.  But those things will impact your life.  So much so that they may alter your life.  You may have to make a choice between a college education for your kids.  Or a comfortable retirement.

Radicals tend to Live in the Heat of the Moment while Conservatives look beyond the Moment

Part of the reason those on the right stood with their king in France was that they saw the danger in radical change.  The breakdown of institutions.   Of tradition.  Things that they knew worked.  Things that made France a great empire.  There may have been problems.  Some inequities.  But the collapse of the old regime may unleash chaos and violence.  Back then, that’s how power changed.  Through chaos and violence.  And sometimes an imperfect system is better than chaos and violence.

Over in America, a group of liberal radicals led their revolution.  But once they won their independence from Great Britain they got very conservative indeed.  In fact, they called some of the Founding Fathers ‘too British’.  Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jay, to name a few, where attacked for letting down the spirit of ’76.  There were still a lot of passions in the states.  Still a bit of a civil war going on in the south between Patriot and Loyalist.  But it was time for the grownups to step in to win the peace.  Even if they were perceived as being too British.

Radicals are quick to point out your failings.  But they don’t often have the wisdom or experience to see the big picture.  They live in the heat of the moment.  And often act bold and impertinently.  Whereas wisdom and experience tend to make you act with restraint.  To be conservative.  To see beyond the moment.  Because some of the established institutions and traditions have worked.  And even have defined a people.

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