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Humour and Nonsense by
(A loose parody of this famous Linux article )
In the following article I'll refer to all varieties of pens - fountain pens, ball-point pens, gel pens, micro-tip pens, felt-tip pens, expensive pens, cheap pens, high quality pens, low quality pens, good pens, bad pens and pens from Mars, Jupiter and Outer Space - as pens. And I'll call all the different brands and grades of pencils - F, H, HB, 2H, 2B, 3H, 3B, 4H, 4B, 5H, 5B etc. - as pencils. It all just scans better and makes this declaration necessary.
If you've been pointed to this page, it's apparent that you're a hopelessly clueless newbie to pencils. You're having trouble holding that pencil exactly the way you should hold a pencil. You ask all sorts of questions like "Why does my pencil tip keep breaking so much?", "Why is my pen so much smoother than my pencil?", "Why isn't my pencil dark/light/soft/hard?" and "Why do I have to use a sharpener to keep the tip sharp?" and so on. You've been pointed to the right place. Here I'll try to explain exactly why pencil != pen. By the time you have finished reading this, your mind should be freezing numb and you should be feeling thoroughly confused. Then I can rest easy with the thought that my job has been done.
Posted on Sat, May 12, 2007 at 20:01 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 @ 08:04 IST)
Problem #1: Pencil is not exactly the same as pen
Let's admit it. An amazing number of people continue asserting that a pencil should function exactly like a pen - leaky, messy, free-flowing and non-erasable. They want to avoid the hassles of refilling a pen and want the advantage of being able to use an eraser cleanly. Now, first things first. You keep hoping that all the things they said about pencils were true - they were clean, cheap, easy to maintain and that you could easily correct mistakes with an eraser at no additional cost or trouble.
It is logically impossible for a pen to be a pencil. Quite frankly a pen cannot remain a pen without being a pen. A pencil cannot remain a pencil without being what it is: a pencil. So the two are distinct. There's no doubt about this point. So people who convert from pen to pencil and expect the same free-flowing smoothness of a pen while having the additional advantages of a pencil fail miserably. They mess up their hand-writing badly and then complain that it's all the pencil's fault.
Welcome to reality. You need to understand that a pencil is a new way of writing (and drawing) and you need to adapt to it. Solution #1: Learn to use a pencil properly. Understand that you need to keep sharpening it from time to time to keep the tip sharp. Learn the difference between HB, 2B, 3B, 2H, 3H and so on. It's not rocket-science, but it's not easy either. Pencils offer a new set of challenges which you need to look forward to - particularly when they progressively grow smaller and smaller and you find yourself holding a really blunt, tiny, chewed-off pencil to create an intricate plan and elevation during the engineering drawing examination.
Problem #2: Pencils are *too* different from pens
All right. So people, you've changed over to using a pencil and now expect it to be completely different. Reality check #2: both pen and pencils are writing devices and so you would expect both to have similarities. Both have a tip which needs to be applied on paper. Both need to be gripped with the same set of fingers and both need some amount of pressure on paper to be functional. If you understand these concepts, you would not be so confused. After all a pencil looks completely different from a pen in some ways and yet the wide array of choices offered by pencil manufacturers continue to leave former pen users bewildered.
The reason why so many varieties of pencils exist is because they are put to a huge variety of uses. Namely drawing and writing. You have B, HB, 2B, 3B, H, 2H, 3H and so on and you're confused as to which pencil is the right one for you.
The primary goal here is to decide what the purpose of the pencil is. And how dark you want the writing to be. It pays to do your research well before choosing the right kind of pencil. After all, once you've spent all this time in choosing a pencil, how can you give it up and choose another one without wasting more time and energy?
To illustrate this, let me take the very simple example that everybody would be able to relate to: piloting aircrafts and piloting rockets. Now everybody knows that aircraft pilots and rocket scientists need completely different sets of skills. You can easily understand this because it's a familiar situation you've been in. How can you expect to translate the skills required for taking the rocket off the ground, attain escape velocity and reach the moon, to safely navigating a commercial aircraft from New York to Frankfurt? One motion is horizontal while the other is vertical and the dynamics are quite different. Yet both are essentially vehicles which fly. Now can you equate an aircraft with a rocket just because both fly?
So a switch from one pen to another is like the difference between piloting a Boeing 747 and an Airbus A380. It's a skill that can be interchanged without a problem. A switch from pen to pencil is like the difference between piloting an Airbus and taking off the Voyager. I'm sure this example would be well appreciated by everybody since everybody knows the difference from a practical standpoint.
Problem #3: Culture shock
Subproblem #3a: There is no culture
You came expecting a new culture. The problem is that pencil users generally do not share the same cultural tendencies that you come to expect of them. Contrary to what you might have been led to believe, pencil users do not pretend that they're superior to pen users and pencil users always keep their pencils away from prying eyes. And pencil users do not keep boasting at every street corner: "See I can use a pencil! Gee, I must be great!"
So if you were going to use a pencil merely to enhance your image in the eyes of the world and thought that owning a pencil and being able to use it would give you bragging rights and a college degree you came to the wrong place.
Subproblem #3b: New vs Old
A lot of new pencil users have a lot of trouble understanding the simple concept that a pencil is not meant to compete with a pen. There are some things that can only be done using pencils - for instance - drawing on rough surfaces and scratching one's back. Pencils have a long and hallowed history which began when carpenters first began holding them in the narrow gap between their temple and their ear. Since then pencils have become a huge fashion statement.
However, pencils are also used by artists. So new pencil users have difficulty comprehending who the mainstream users of pencils really are: artists or carpenters. They don't seem to realize that pencils are meant for both!
Carpenters: Pencils are just implements used to create markings on wood pieces to indicate where I need to start sawing. I care a damn whether pencils look pretty or not. They should get the job done - that's all I care about. Whether the pencil is short, long, bulky, beautiful or ugly I don't really care.
Artists: But remember a pencil is a thing of beauty - an implement of art and a thing to be loved and treasured. Pencils need to be treated with care and respect and not to be carelessly fixed between one's ear and temples.
New users: I'm thoroughly confused now! What exactly should pencils be used for?
Answer: It's really that simple: pencils should be used for drawing and writing.
Problem #4: But pens leak while pencils don't
First let's get one thing straight. It's not the problem of pencil makers that many kinds of pens leak, have really bad writing grips and have poor ink flow. It's choosing the *wrong* kind of pen which really led to that effect. If you want pens that really don't leak, you should really do your research before you buy a pen.
It's also not the pencil's fault that a three year old kid is having trouble constructing a complicated Lego aircraft. There is a growing tendency among people to place all the blame on pencils for the issues affecting the world. Contrary to popular belief, the Iraq War didn't start because Saddam Hussein was a pencil-user either. That Saddam used leaky pens is a well-known fact and the reason why his secretary's blotting paper showed traces of the plans of WMDs which led to the War.
Expecting pencils to be easy-to-use versions of pens is like thinking that pencils are easy-to-use versions of pens. It's just not correct and the logic really doesn't work here. Rather than expecting a pencil to act as a pen-substitute, think of a pencil as something that evolved from people's need of something completely different from a pen! That's so easy to think, isn't it?
Problem #5: The myth of "user friendly"
The thing about pencils is that they require care and attention. A blunt pencil is not a good pencil. It is a sadly neglected pencil and it's not the pencil's fault. It's the pencil owner's fault that it is so blunt. At the same time, the modern trend of gel pens and ball-point pens have really lulled writers into a sense of false complacency into thinking that writing is an easy skill to learn. Pens these days are just meant to be used and thrown. There is nothing artistic about today's easy-to-use pens. If people actually bothered to take care of their pens the same way that Rolls Royce owners take care of their vehicles, then they would have no trouble making the switch.
In reality, pens are "user-friendly" (supposedly). You just open the cap, put pen to paper and start writing, right? Right. However, you also have to put up with bad quality ink, horribly designed grips, and severe pain in the fingers if the pen's ink doesn't flow smoothly and forces you to try harder. You keep applying more and more pressure until the paper tears or the nib breaks and so you think "why not just change to pencils?"
Here lies the real trouble. Pencils are *not* meant to be used and thrown. They are devices that you really need to take good care of. They offer a lot of convenience, but also require care, attention and maintenance. Just like choosing pens, you need to choose your pencil really carefully.
So here's the deal. If you want a writing implement that's really easy to use, requires little maintenance and is comfortable to your hands, go ahead and buy the most expensive Mont Blanc or Sheaffer pen you can find. That's the way to go rather than choosing cheap, use-and-throw ball-point or gel pens. These instruments will serve you for a long time, will remain extremely comfortable in your hand and can be used for seemingly forever. To get the best results, make sure you buy the most expensive, high-quality ink that you can find because cheap ink can ruin them as well.
However, if you really want a writing implement that you can trust to do your bidding, can work well when you make mistakes and want to remove parts of your writing or drawing and can be sharpened to exact specification and make lovely shading effects on paper, go with pencils. Pencils are truly rewarding if you take the time to learn to use them in all their variety and glory. If you want a good pen without all the hassles, go spend a fortune and get a gold-nibbed Parker. It will serve you for a long, long time and your friends will really envy you.
Just remember: rather than asking "why do I want a pencil?" you should ask "why should the pencil want me?" You'll truly find answers to your questions if you ponder that philosophically ridiculous question.