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Pass Me My Pencil Pointer

After inventing the Pencil Pointer, Ed Cayo retired on royalties from it and traveled the world to live happily ever after.

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — it never fails to amaze me how things are intertwined. It’s a bit like the way in which Dirk Gently makes use of “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve mysterious happenings in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. As we discussed in Part 6 of my Ultimate Guide to Switch Debounce, my chum Mike Pelkey is the founder of LogiSwitch, which offers bounce-free switches, switch debounce ICs, and Arduino prototyping tools. Mike is also the grandfather of BASE Jumping. Along with his friend, Brian Schubert, Mike made the first parachute jumps from the top of the El Capitan mountain in Yosemite National Park in 1966. But we digress…
One of LogiSwitch’s tiny debounce ICs (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: LogiSwitch.net)
LogiSwitch is in the process of adding a new line of tiny debounce ICs to its lineup. When I was chatting to Mike on the phone a few days ago, I told him that one of the best ways to illustrate how small these chips are would be to show one next to a regular yellow pencil. Yesterday, he sent me just such a photo. As an aside, I had no idea as to how interesting is the history of the pencil until I read The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski. Now, it has to be admitted that this book isn’t for everybody. As one reviewer said, “I am an avid reader and delight in a good book. Sadly, this is not a good book; it is calculated tedium.” Another reader was a little kinder, saying, “Lots of interesting information bracketed between ponderous discussion.” One reviewer commented, “You have to be strange to like this book,” but followed by saying, “This is a book about the history of pencils. Everything you wanted to know and a whole lot more.” Personally, I find myself agreeing with the reader who said, “Almost everything you might want to know about the pencil is here somewhere — perhaps just not where you’d expect it to be.” For myself, I loved this book. Until reading it, I had no idea just how much the humble pencil changed the world. Seriously, read this book! As another aside, a companion tome that sits proudly on the bookshelf here in my office is How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants by one of my all-time heroes, David Rees. It’s hard to overstate the effect this book can have on people’s lives. As reader Matthew Shortridge noted in his Amazon review: “This amazing work of fanatical research and meticulous detail changed my entire relationship with the humble yellow pencils that facilitate my work in so many facets of my professional and artistic life. Often I would run up against obstacles in my process that I would attribute to fatigue, incompetence, malnourishment or just stupidity, not realizing that what was really going on was that my pencil was poorly sharpened, unbalanced, or simply sharpened in a manner that lacked awareness and a directed will. Sharpening my pencils with a greater mindfullness and a more precise skillset that I have gleaned — though not yet truly mastered — has recalibrated my relationship with my work and my creative pursuits. This, in turn, has opened my heart to joy in my relationships with colleagues, friends, and family.” Furthermore, American journalist and author Elizabeth M. Gilbert (best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love) noted: “Could I sharpen my own pencils? Sure, I could! I could also perform my own dentistry, cobble my own shoes, and smith my own tin — but why not leave such matters to real artisans, instead? I trust my bespoke pencils only to David Rees.”
US Patent number 2,540,320 filed 22 March 1049 and issued 6 February 1951 to E. L. Cayo (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: US Patent Office)
I fear that you fear that we are in danger of wandering off into the weeds, but my meandering musings really are returning to the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Take another look at the image of the LogiSwitch IC next to the pencil. What’s the first thing that catches your eye? Yes. I agree. Me too. It’s the fact that the pencil lead is so roughly sharpened. I asked Mike about this, and he replied somewhat sheepishly, “I sharpened it with a little plastic sharpener.” Hmmm. I’m reasonably sure that David Rees would have something sharp — a cutting comment, if you will — to say about this. A little while later, Mike followed up by saying: “As an engineer, you probably remember the Pencil Pointer product. That was invented by my grandfather’s brother, Uncle Ed Cayo. He retired on royalties from it and traveled the world to live happily ever after.” Well, color me impressed. It turns out that Mike’s grandfather, Julius Nelson Cayo, founded the Cayo Manufacturing Company as a metal stamping business in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Like his brother Ed, Julius invented a cornucopia of wild and wonderful things in his time, including a whistling yo-yo called the Musical Ka-Yo (so as not to infringe upon the Duncan Toy Company’s trademark of the term “yo-yo”). The Cayo Manufacturing Company began making Julius’s whistling yo-yos in the early 1930s. Check out this Musical Ka-Yo that currently resides in the National Museum of American History. But let us not get distracted, because Pencil Pointers are the point of this column. I immediately had a quick Google, which led me to feast my eyes on this video of an antique Tru-Point Pencil Pointer.  
I could so use one of these to help with the drawings I’m creating for my Electronics & Microcontrollers for Absolute Beginners series of articles on Hackaday.io. I decided that hand-drawn sketches would be less threatening to beginners, but keeping a sharp point on one’s colored pencils is proving to be a pain in the nether regions. Now I understand where Mike gets his entrepreneurial and inventive leanings from. What I fail to understand is why Mike doesn’t have one of Uncle Ed’s Pencil Pointers sitting on his desk. If Mike had been in possession of one of these little beauties, he could have used it to put a decent point on his pencil, thereby saving me from having to write this column and you from having to read it.

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Aubrey Kagan

When I studied mechanical drawing at university we were expected to sharpen our mechanical pencils on strips of sandpaper, specially manufactured for the purpose If memory serves you had to make sure you didn’t get graphite dust on your hands or there would be handprints all over the drawing. The pencil pointer would have been much better!

Jack Grubbs

Had to dig through a few boxes to find one. Did they look like this one?

Aubrey Kagan

The Americans developed a ball point pen for use in their space program. The Soviets saved the development using pencils. The pencil approach is always presented as the more elegant solution, but now that I think about it, maybe not.

they would have to have had some method of capturing the wood and graphite shavings from sharpening. There are examples of sharpeners that contain the debris, in use on earth, but it would have to be sealed. And then what happens if your point breaks while you are writing, to say nothing of the tiny graphite dust generated as you write.

I am sure there Is the potential of small blobs of ink floating around with the ball point system. Nothing is simple in space!

Aubrey Kagan

I can only imagine when the ball point pen was invented

Did you use to call ballpoint pens a “Biro” in the UK? A Mr Biro introduced the first successful ball point pen around 1931 although apparently the first patent was 50 years earlier (not his).

A Mr Bich bought the patent from Biro and now we have “Bic” pens.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%c3%a1szl%c3%b3_B%c3%adr%c3%b3

Terry Y Rayburn

When I enrolled in a British-styled immersion language grade school in Montevideo in 1958, all of our work was required to be done with fountain pens, save drawing class. Even maths. Ink. And the birome, ball point pen, was strictly forbidden.
For those three years, I could loaf in class by refilling my pen.

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