A Notebook Proposal. You’ll want one.

In one of my recent posts I wrote about potentially working with a company to create what I feels would be a great journal. I didn’t elaborate very much in the post, but I will here.

First of all, journals are different things to different people so I will define what journal is for me. It is a tool I use to remember, to grow, and to develop ideas and myself. I write about things I want to remember, like vacations and what my kids do. I write about myself, what I’m doing, what I want to do, and the difference between the two. Lastly I write about the ideas I have and try to organize them into actionable things.

For this, a journal needs to have some features to be at it’s best:

  1. Big enough to hold history, and remove any hesitation to write, draw, diagram or anything else. I’ve found through my own experience I write more in a larger book. For me this means 8×10 or larger.
  2. Be durable enough to get hauled everywhere, used daily at least, referenced frequently, and still hold together.
  3. Have page numbers. Ideas and their offspring come when they do, and there needs to be some way to refer to different places in the book to tie things together.
  4. Have a table of contents, with an entry for each page. I find that this works really well. Having just blank lines leaves me paralyzed over what might be worthy to enter into the TOC, but a line for each page converts the task into a simple summarization of each page.
  5. Enough ruling on the page to keep my writing from getting huge (which it tends to do when I use blank paper) and getting crooked (less of a problem now than it used to be), and to help with sketching orthogonal drawings, but not enough to really stand out when reading or sketching real life. For me this means a dot grid.
  6. Two place holder ribbons. One for where the last blank page is, and one for where I’ve left off re-reading.

That’s it, and I think I’ve found a way to get it. I’ve put together a draft of a typical page along with a table of contents page. Download the .pdf and let me know what you think. The dots may seem a bit faint on a laser printer – they’ll be proofed.

The last question is how many pages? 200? 300?

If I can get someone to make these, will you buy one? Leave a comment!

Pencil review: Palomino HB

It was a matter of time before I tried the Palomino HB pencil, since I like the new Blackwing models made by the same company, and I prefer bright colors. I ordered them in orange:


  • Pretty much exactly the same lead as their Blackwing 602 pencil. Sometimes I feel like the 602 is a tad harder, but mostly I cannot tell them apart.
  • The finish is very nice. The paint is luxurious, and the lettering has a decent indentation. But despite that, the gold flakes off eventually. I’m not sure why this is such a challenge with Palomino when it’s not for other brands, but it’s not a big deal to me.
  • The eraser seems to be the same formulation as used on the Blackwing erasers. Better than a standard pink, but more abrasive than a vinyl eraser. The problem here is the ferrule that holds the eraser is not firmly crimped onto the pencil. It was loose immediately, and so far the three pencils I’ve tried have been the same. A letter to the company confirmed that they were aware of it, and if they found product that did not have the problem they would send me some. They offered to refund my money if I returned the pencils. Then the next day I got a notice saying an order had shipped, which I assume is replacement pencils, so they are responsive.

I love the color, and I love writing with the pencil. If the ferrule problem is solved, it’s a winner for me.

If you’re looking for a cheap alternative to Palomino’s Blackwing 602 I think this is it.

Manual vs. Mechanical Sharpening

So why on earth would anyone sharpen a pencil by hand. I mean, other than as an artisinal pencil sharpener?

Well, if you haven’t tried it before you should.


First, you get a point that is the shape and thickness that you want. If you are looking for the greatest possible efficiency, you can just carve away the wood to expose the graphite and not waste any. A hand sharpened point tends to have sides rather than be round, which actually enables writing with a finer point because of the corners.

Second, it’s satisfying to do, if a bit messy. It takes longer than using a sharpener, but because the resultant point lasts so much longer I believe it may be a wash over the long haul.

Third, it’s portable. Ok, maybe not for air travel, but a pocketknife is easy to carry and serves a lot of purposes.

Fourth, you can sharpen any pencil, any size.

Fifth, it’s cool. I haven’t ever carved my own quill pen, but I imagine writing with a hand sharpened pencil has some of the same mystique.

The Leuchtturm 1917 Master Dots 4 Months Later

My first entry in the Leuchtturm 1917 Master Dots notebook is dated February 19th, 2012, and in a about a week it will be 4 months since I started using it. I’ve filled 146 pages, using pencil and ballpoint. I’ve traveled with it, taken it camping, and take it to work every day.

I still prefer it to the other notebooks I’ve used in the past, and I still love the dots format. I am starting to think the 8×10 size offered by BookFactory.com might be a little easier to carry, but of course that means less page area as well.

Some wear and tear is showing up in the usual spot – at the top and bottom of the spine:

I’m also seeing nicks in the faux leather cover, but overall the book is holding up a bit better than I expected. I think I will be able to fill it without the covers falling off đŸ˜‰ What’s more amazing is that I will probably fill it in the next 3 months. 7 months to fill an A4 size book with 5mm line spacing. I have pocket size Moleskines that span more than a year. Bigger books really do encourage more writing. Whether it’s content that should have been encouraged might prove debatable, but so far I think it’s an advantage.

It’s always neat to see how the edges of the pages show how far the book has been filled:

To deal with the un-numbered table of contents, I just labeled each line with a range of three pages, and then started filling in each line with what was on those three pages. I really think one line per page is the way to go.

For any of you who might be sitting on the fence, looking at one of these and thinking of trying it, do it. Once you go bigger, it will be hard to go back.

On using a Waiter’s Pad

If you haven’t read James Altucher’s blog you should. He’s got a lot of interesting views and had a lot of interesting experiences. Along the way he’s learned some good stuff on how to keep an even keel.

He often mentions making lists of ideas, and he suggests using a waiter’s pad to write them down. He explains it more in this post. I was intrigued by the format and the advantages he outlined, so I decided to give it a try. Here’s my observations, using an ACR-G3632 pad I picked up at a local bar supply shop.

  • They’re not $.10 each any more. I paid $.85 each in the store. I now realize that the National Checking Company WaitRPads are cheaper, and probably a little nicer. Live and learn.
  • The ones I got have pretty thick paper. Like a cheap index card. It’s nice to write on with a pencil, probably not so great with a fountain pen. The paper is rough but absorbent.
  • Limited space encourages focus and concision. I actually feel pressure to not go over one line per item.
  • Funny looking on my desk, but no one’s noticed yet.
  • It’s designed to be consumed. The perforations are good, and pages tear easily. Binding is a pair of staples. Not for archiving.
  • Kinda small for note taking, but there are two sides.
  • The pages are serial numbered. Not sure what uses that might have, but it seems like it should be useful. At the least, it enables one to put the sheets back in order later.
  • Handy spots for the date, initials. Mine don’t have the table layouts that James mentioned, but I can live without them.
  • The guest check makes nice shtick for serving internal customers. Take a request down on the pad and hand them the tear-off part on the bottom. Could be the basis for a task management system,
  • The pad is a little big for a shirt pocket. Most of them seem to be 3.5″ wide.
  • The accounting department may never accept one of those tear off receipts again, now that they’ve seen the pad on my desk.

Is this helping me? I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve had it on my desk for maybe a week now and I find myself looking for it specifically.

Anyone else trying these?

Solve a problem with pencil and paper

Solving math, physics and other science problems using a pencil and paper is common. But what about harder problems that defy a structured approach? Better yet, what about those life problems that not only defy a structured approach, but leave us nearly paralyzed and helpless?

If you have one of those beasties to solve, here’s an approach that almost always works for me:

Freewrite about the problem. I spend 20 minutes writing about it, never letting my pencil (or pen, or keyboard) stop moving. Doesn’t matter what I write as long as its about the problem and how I feel about it. The point is to get all the elements that are swirling around in my head down on paper so I can forget about them and free up some space.

By the way, use whatever works as far as materials. I usually end up with blank paper or my journal and whatever is nearby, but a computer or a voice recorder would work just as well.

I list all of my fears, worst case scenarios, and potential bad stuff that I can think of. This could be the things that will happen if a good solution is not found, or the risks that are present, or whatever. I do this to make sure I face the elephant in the room. Many times, once I’ve acknowledged the realistic risks a solution pops into my head or the blockage is removed.

If I haven’t already had a good epiphany, I keep going.

I think of one of those coworkers we all have had that seems to get a lot of recognition for very little work. One of those people who just seems to do a poor job at everything, but succeeds in spite of it. Freewrite what that person might do. What kind of sloppy, slip shod, corner cutting approach would they take? What lame, unbelievable excuse would they use? Sometimes when I’m stuck, it’s because I don’t want to face that the solution is inelegant or clumsy, and this exercise helps me lower the bar on my expectations to a more realistic level.

Last, I think about the best case scenarios. What awesome, wonderful things could arise out of this problem and my solving it? This exercise is critical when I’m dealing with something I’ve been asked to do from far above, that makes no sense, is inefficient and a waste of my time, and I have to find the silver lining and some motivation.

At the end I will have spent maybe an hour getting this all down but usually a lot less. I close the book or set the papers aside and do something else. Best is something that I will feel good about. A chore that needs doing, or exercise, or some other task that requires a little self discipline.

After a few hours have passed and I have been thoroughly engrossed in something else for at least a while, I come back to the problem. By this time one of a few things has happened:

  • I will have had an epiphany and a great solution, or multiple solutions have appeared.
  • I realize that the one inelegant or unpleasant thing I’ve been dreading is actually the only solution and I’d better just face it.
  • My expectations have changed, and I see the problem more realistically my stress is down, and I can work on it more productively.
  • Once in a while I will still be stumped. I will read through everything, and end up trying again in a day or so. In these cases there’s usually some false assumption here or there that I discover.

Regardless I will have a lot less stress and a lot more clarity. So, the next time you’re dealing with a dreaded problem or thorny work challenge, give this a try!