16.2 14

I’m still not up to date in the world of stationery, so please excuse if this blog post does not include all information, but when I noticed the name Ada Lovelace in the latest Pen Addict Podcast Show Notes I had to have a look.

As you might now CalCedar is releasing themed Blackwings at regular intervals. They tend to have a number linked to the theme. This time the theme is “Ada Lovelace”, considered by many to be the first computer programmer1, and the number is 16.2.

Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage and Eberhard Faber’s Blackwing

My first university degree was in Computer Science, so this theme certainly made me curious and I followed the link to Blackwing’s web site.

So what does 16.2 stand for? According to CalCedar

The number 16.2 is a nod to the Analytical Engine’s storage capacity of 16.2 kB (0.00005% the storage of the average smartphone) and the backside of each pencil bears a binary pattern stamp of Ada’s initials AAL, the same initials she used to sign her work.

My first thought: if anything this seems more of a number for a Charles Babbage themed pencil. Storage capacity is hardware, Babbage thought of the Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace was more about algorithms for the Analytical Engine (she made a famous translation of Menabrea’s Analytical Engine article that contained her computer program as notes) and about promoting the Engine.

My second thought: why use kB? I am not an expert in the Analytical Engine, but it was based on the decimal number system, it wasn’t binary based! The only way such a conversion would make sense would be if you wanted to compare the storage capacity to a modern machine, but it only makes sense if you want to implement the same storage capacity on a modern computer, as a simple comparison it doesn’t work because it’s not a simple as some other conversions, like converting Fahrenheit to Celsius – because of the way modern computers work there’s no 1:1 comparison.

Here’s an example. A number with one digit can be anything from 0 to 9, i.e. there are 10 possibilities. If you want to store this number in a modern, binary computer you have to use four bits. Each bit gives you two possibilities (0 or 1). If you have two bits you have four possible numbers (22 = 4) you can represent (00,01,10,11). Three bits give you eight possibilities (23 = 8), i.e. everything from 000 to 111. Four bits give you 16 possibilities (24 = 16). You want to represent one decimal digit (ten possibilities) in binary you need four bits, but you also get some waste (as you could actually represent 16 numbers). So why convert to binary?

My third thought: Where did this number come from. Ah, ok. Wikipedia says in the Analytical engine “There was to be a store (that is, a memory) capable of holding 1,000 numbers of 40 decimal digits each (ca. 16.2 kB)”2.

OK, I get it. The number is from Wikipedia.

A quick check:

40 digits each, 1041 = 2x, 2133 = 1.08 * 1040, 133 bits per 40 digit number

133*1000= 133,000 Bits, 133,000 / 8 = 16,628 Bytes, /1024 = 16.24 kB.

…but the Analytical Engine was an idea, not something that was actually built at the time. Babbage himself wrote

“In the drawings I have prepared I proposed to have a thousand variables, upon each of which any number not having more than fifty figures can be placed.”3

Based on 50 digit figures, as described by Babbage in his 1864 book, the number on this pencil should be

1051 = 2x, 2167 = 1.87 * 1050, 167 bits per 50 digit number

167*1000= 167,000 Bits, 167,000 / 8 = 20,875 Bytes, /1024 = 20.39 kB.

To me, it looks like a poor Wikipedia copy and paste job, done without love or understanding of Ada Lovelace.

My imagination might be running wild here, but I imagine it like this.

We need a new person-themed Blackwing. Pick a pioneer who is not a white male.

I found one on the Internet. There’s a woman who was a programmer.

Great, look at her Wikipedia page and pick a number.

Got it.

Great job. Let’s finish early and go home.

The whole theme seems to have been put together without the due care and attention Ada Lovelace deserves.


Before I finish: there’s actually a quote from Ada Lovelace where she mentions pencils. You can see it on Google Books.

The comic book you can see in the picture is called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer. The edition I got is long sod out but you can still get the US version (hardcover released in 2015) or paperback ..or the UK paperback edition from 2016.

If you would like to learn more about Ada Lovelace have a look at

Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace’s translation of the Menabrea article. 

  1. even though computers didn’t exist yet []
  2. []
  3. Chapter VIII, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, by Charles Babbage, 1864 []

More Blackwing – and an alternative 6

My previous blog post, looking at Tiger’s Blackwing, seems to have made some people upset.

The ‘points’

It might be worth to walk a few steps back and to get an overview of the points I tried to raise.

  • There is no continuity between the original Blackwing and the CalCedar/Palomino version.

If the new Blackwing would use the same lead recipe or was made in the same factory I would see that as ‘strong continuity’. If the name was bought from Faber-Castell I could see that there is some continuity, but the Blackwing stopped being made, the name ‘expired’, someone unrelated grabbed the name. These are just facts – Don’t shoot the messenger.

  • I like Tiger’s Blackwing more because it keeps the point better.

I’m writing with pencils, I’m not an artist as you might have noticed from the low quality of the occasional drawings you can find here. I also write very small, so need a fine point. People use pencils in different ways, so for you a 4B like pencil might just be the thing you need. Everyone’s mileage varies. The Palomino Blackwing might be great for some, but I spelled out why I prefer the Tiger. Put the Tiger in your hand! (was: put the tiger in your tank).

The ferrule

There were some questions about the ferrule, asked by Gunther and on social media. When those questions where asked I made a little video instead of writing it up, just because talking to a microphone is so much faster and more convenient than writing a blog post and my blog is still in hibernation mode because of a lack of time. I thought I link to the video here, in case you want to compare the ferrule to your own ferrule.

Cheaper alternatives

Graph from the DelGuard post.

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to the CalCedar Blackwing, why not try a Staedtler Mars Lumograph 3B. It’s great! ..but don’t take my word for it, look at Pearson Moore’s comparison instead. The man who spent some 1,200 hours collecting and categorising data point for different pencils. I first heard about his book from Gunther.

If you remember my DelGuard blog post you know I’m into this kind of stuff. Unfortunately that blog post only got one comment, so I assume this topic is not of interest to readers of my blog. but if you are one of the rare ones who likes this kind of stuff have a look at Pearson Moore’s book: Pearson’s Graphite 2015 ($19.95 in the USA, £13.95 in the UK)


Here are some of the attributes of the two pencils that are most important to me.

Palomino Blackwing201015912
Staedtler Mars Lumograph3B15714

The have the same darkness, but the Staedtler keeps the point longer as it is less soft. Lissance, i.e. smoothness is higher for the Staedtler. That’s a win win for the humble blue pencil. The Palomino does score higher in some other areas like Pressure Insensitivity, but they are not important to me. Pearson Moore checked pencils between 30 mN and 1N. I guess if you are an artist this might be of interest, especially if you only have one pencil you need to do all your shading with, but again this is not the case for me.

If you love the Palomino Blackwing please let me know what you think of the Mars Lumograph in 3B.



Tiger’s Blackwing 11

You might have noticed that it’s been very quiet here on Bleistift. That’s not because I lost interest in pencils, but because my job has been keeping me more than busy. Just in case you wonder – no: I didn’t change jobs and didn’t get promoted. In the past, there were up to fifteen blog posts a month, but for now, probably up to and including January there won’t be many blog posts. I might also have to suspend the Pencil Pot of the Month series for now. A shame as it has been running continuously for exactly 24 months – the two years from October 2015 until September 2017. I will, however, try to give occasional life signs every now and then, like I do today, until blogging can resume again as usual.

Since we’re talking about the Pencil Pot of the Month: the one from August 2016 was from the Danish chain ‘Tiger’1 which has a shop in the city where I live. The last purchase I made there was Tiger’s version of the Blackwing pencil.

Tiger’s Blackwing

In today’s ‘life sign’ I want to talk about this new Blackwing copy. If you read pencil blogs, and if you are here you do, the Blackwing probably doesn’t need any introduction. CalCedar’s remake of the Blackwing doesn’t need any introduction either. Well, now it’s not the only remake anymore. As mentioned aboveTiger, also known as Flying Tiger Copenhagen, introduced one, too.

Tiger’s Blackwing

In the introduction I wrote that I am quite busy, so am not following what’s going on in the pencil fandom (with very few exceptions). That’s why I didn’t know that there seems to be some controversy going on about the new Danish Blackwing remake. I was told that apparently, some CalCedar/Palomino Blackwing fanboys are pretty upset about there being a copy of the Blackwing. I don’t know what arguments have been made or where they have been made, but here are my initial thoughts after having used the Danish Blackwing for a while.

Ship of Theseus

We could start by talking about the Ship of Theseus and what makes the CalCedar Blackwing2 a descendant of the original, but in reality I don’t see much of a link.

Well, what happened is: the Theseus sunk. Somebody else registered another ship under the same name.

Here’s why. There used to be a pencil called Blackwing. The company behind it stopped making this pencil. The owner of the trademark didn’t renew the trademark so it lapsed. An unrelated company took the trademark and manufactured a similar looking pencil, the main similarity being the characteristic ferrule. The lead recipe is different. It’s made in a completely different country. There is no continuity, nothing that links the original and the remake except the name ..and with me being German I am automatically reminded of the German saying “names are but noise and smoke”3.

A real Blackwing and Tiger’s Blackwing

The Theseus example doesn’t apply because the original Theseus sunk. There’s a new Theseus. There’s a new Blackwing. In the end York and New York have more of a link4 than the Blackwing and the new Blackwing.

CalCedar’s contribution

My point here is: don’t complain that Tiger’s pencil is a copy of the Blackwing. The new Blackwing from CalCedar/Palomino is itself only a copy with no link to the original.

What CalCedar did do is bring a pencil (that was previously mainly known to pencileers, molyvophiles5 and molyvologues6 through anecdotes and the odd poem) to the mass market. In my 2010 blog post I wrote that the new Blackwing might become the new Moleskine. With its price tag I think it must have an even higher profit margin than a Moleskine – and like the Moleskine you can now buy the new Blackwing on the high street in the UK. Something the original Blackwing never achieved. I guess that’s the power of marketing – you create a link to something greater in people’s mind and make it a Veblen good. People who wouldn’t have bought 3B, 4B, 5B pencils in the past are happy to pay a premium and because of the characteristic ferrule it’s easy to show off that it’s a posh pencil.

 Tiger’s Blackwing

With that in mind, I think the Danish Blackwing is as much a modern Blackwing as the CalCedar one. Actually, I like it even more than the CalCedar remake, because it actually keeps the point. Something I don’t like about the Palomino Blackwing, as explained earlier. If you write small with Tiger’s Blackwing you don’t have to sharpen it every few words often. Ok, the wood on the Danish7 one doesn’t look as good, but I can buy 4 for £1, so 12 are £3, whereas 12 CalCedar ones are £29.95 in the UK, nearly exactly ten times as expensive. For such a price difference I take the one that keeps the point ..and is therefore usable for my purposes8 any day.

PS: What a shame that Tiger didn’t put 602 in the item or barcode number, then I could have referred to the Tiger Blackwing as a 602.

If you want to find out more about the Blackwing and its history visit the Blackwing Pages.


  1. Outside our store is labelled Tiger, but the in-store newsletter refers to the company as Flying Tiger Copenhagen []
  2. ..which I will refer to as the new Blackwing []
  3. apparently this saying is from Goethe []
  4. They used to be ruled by the same empire []
  5. Someone passionate about pencils (see this post) []
  6. A student of pencils (see this post) []
  7. ..but Made in China []
  8. Your mileage may vary. If you are an artist you might be after a different pencil than me. []

Repairs & Alterations – All On Liberal Terms 2

The weather was really nice this weekend and since there was something we had to do in Manchester anyway we decided to spend the afternoon in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Fred Aldous, mentioned in the past, is also located in the Northern Quarter.

One of the shops I discovered and I haven’t been to before is the Dedstock General Store. It’s a gem of a store selling a nice choice of wares for it’s size, including stationery, items for shaving (including Mühle blades), enamel items and other things.

The owner was just working on a sewing machine. He said he was mending things, but it looked like a much bigger operation (the word upcycling and hundred year old garments spring to mind).

In terms of stationery there were Dux and Gedess sharpeners, Kaweco and Mindori pens and accessories, the Blackwing remake and Calepino notebooks. Items priced above £50 were stored behind the counter (no photo, sorry).

Repairs & Alterations – All On Liberal Terms

I’m happy I came across this unusual store and will visit again next time I’m in the Northern Quarter.

Graphite screensaver 5

Look who made it into Amazon’s “screensaver” for the latest Kindle. Fittingly, the advertising shows the Kindle with a pencil next to it, the colour of the case is “graphite” and most screensaver images look like pencil drawings.

I would like to thank Sean for the Blackwing 602 used in this photo.

You can find more information about John Steinbeck and his relation to the Blackwing at the Blackwing pages and at Palimpsest.