Tag Archives: Notebook

More On The Moleskine Alternative

I just heard back from someone in the Scottish company that makes the Alwych notebook, an alternative to the Moleskine, which I posted about a few days back. Ian J Johnstone of the J. R. Reid Print & Media Group Limited (careful: the link doesn’t seem to work well outside IE) kindly emailed back a bit of background on the company’s notebook, which I pass on here for those of you looking for an alternative to the Moleskine:

We have supplied these notebooks for many years. Their unique selling point is the “All Weather Cover” which has made them popular with many individuals and organisations which require a durable notebook that can stand up to life outdoors. We supply them to, among others, the British Armed Forces and the British Antartic Expedition and, as you mentioned in your e-mail Michael Palin is a fan – and our unpaid ambassador – mentioning them wherever he goes to talk about his adventures! We always know where he is in the world from the internet orders he generates for us.

The book comes in various sizes and internal layouts. We sell lots of Alwych Books to Bird Watchers, who use them to record sightings and often to sketch birds, Fishermen, to record their catches and Archeologists, for recording their findings at “digs”. We are currently developing a “Super Alwych” which will address our customers desire for a fully waterproof notebook and we hope to launch this book in the second half of 2005.

So there you have it. I don’t see any specific reference on Palin’s site to the Alwych, although the keyword ‘notebook’ throws up some interesting little nuggets, like this one from Dhaka, Bangladesh:

When I get out my notebook, a curious crowd presses against me. The Lonely Planet Guide devotes a whole column to ‘Staring’: ‘The Western concept of privacy is not a part of the culture in Bangladesh,’ it warns, and I can see what they mean. I find it as much comical as threatening, as 20 or more people all peer over my shoulder to try and see what I’m writing in a very small book. When I stop writing, all eyes turn to my face, watching expectantly. When I resume, they go back to the book, following every line and curve with the utmost concentration.

I like the look of the Alwych though I haven’t tried using one yet. It’s without the band and pocket, and the All Weather Cover is bendy, if that’s not getting too technical. It’s also slightly taller than a Moleskine, as I’ve compared here:

Dsc01649

Anyway, definitely worth trying out if everyone on your block has a Moleskine and you want to look different. Are there any other candidates out there?

 

The Moleskine vs The Alwych

It arrived too late for the column, but there’s an alternative to the Moleskine that has its followers: The Alwych.

Alwych

The blurb on the website describes the notebook thus:

‘ALWYCH’ books have a unique strong, flexible and highly durable ALL WEATHER cover.
The pages are section sewn for strength, before being welded into the cover.
The ruled pages are printed on light cream paper, this increases the opacity of the pages substantially, compared to ordinary white paper.

Indeed, they are well-crafted and worth a look, though they lack the pocket, the elastic band and the bookmark tag of the Moleskine. They are, however, made in Scotland, which has to be good news. 

The Moleskine Report, Part IV

Here’s another bit of Moleskinerie, this time from Merlin Mann, who was also kind enough to answer my questions about the notebook phenomenon. His answers took the form of a short essay, which I offer in its entirety:

There’s still a desire and a market out there for PDAs–particularly when they’re well integrated with your mobile phone, like on the Treos. The problem is that there’s a practical limit to how many little boxes you can lug around everywhere. Since the iPod has caught on, I think digital music players have displaced a lot of folks’ PDAs from that coveted number two spot (right after mobile phones, of course). Carrying more than two or three digital devices requires either a bag or a relaxed disposition about looking like a bit of a dork.

I think people are often attracted to notebooks and index cards because they’re cheap, immediate, and endlessly configurable. They never run out of batteries, won’t break when you drop them in a bar, plus they just _feel good_ to write on. There’s a sense that you’re committing to something more mindfully if you take the time to write it down in a beautiful notebook with your favorite pen.

Moleskines, for example, each come with a cool little accordion pocket in the back. I use mine to hold an extra public transit card, a mini-copy of my Amazon wishlist, and an emergency $20 bill. So, for people like me, the notebook starts to function like an analog hub for whatever you might foreseeably need on the go.

The Hipster PDA addressed a real-world problem for me. I share lots of information with people wherever I go–records to buy, sites to visit, and so on. And I don’t always want to drag a big notebook or a Palm around when a modest stack of cards will do. Add a Fisher Space pen, and you’re ready to go anywhere.

People are sometimes surprised at how quickly they adapt to the habit of carrying a notebook–they really start relying on it and very much notice (and curse) the times when there’s no paper around to capture an idea or a reminder. I think that, after a week or two, your mind sort of loosens up since you know there’s always something there to catch thoughts while they’re fresh.

Thanks, Merlin. You can find a lot of cool tricks and productivity tips at Merlin’s website, 43 Folders.

Column: the io pen

Loose Wire — The Pen Is Mightier Than The Computer, Too: Check out the io Personal Digital Pen: It’s a pen that can store everything you write and transfer it to your computer; And you don’t have to lug a hand-held device along with you for it to work

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 27 March 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
This is not the first time I’ve reviewed something that tries to marry your doodling to your computer. Most have been shotgun affairs — forced unions that fail to take into account that you might be away from your computer, or that you don’t swagger about with the iron biceps necessary to lug it around with you. This product, however, makes neither of those assumptions, which is why it’s a gadget I’m actually using. It’s called a pen.

Well, to be exact it’s an io Personal Digital Pen from Logitech. But it really does look and feel like a pen. It writes like a pen, with real ink, on real paper. But it also stores everything you write, and will transfer it all to your computer when you return it to its cradle. I have to say it’s pretty neat, and may mark the beginning of Something Useful.

The nub of it all is a simple problem: Despite typing, despite software that interprets your scrawl on a hand-held organizer, despite Microsoft’s Tablet PC [http://www.microsoft.com/tabletpc], there remains a disconnect between scribbles on a notepad and the computer. I’ve reviewed Seiko Instruments’ SmartPad and InkLink products [http://www.siibusinessproducts.com/], which do a good job of letting you store drawings digitally, but both require some sort of computer, whether it’s a laptop or a hand-held device, which limits what you can do with them.

The io Pen

The technology behind the io pen comes from a Swedish company called Anoto AB. It’s been promising for some time to launch a pen that remembers what you write, but Logitech is the first to bring something to market. [Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications offers a similar looking product called a ChatPen, which also uses Anoto’s technology, but it’s geared to transferring your jottings to the world via hand-phone, rather than your computer.]

Anoto’s technology works like this: The pen writes normally, using normal ballpoint pen ink. But while you’re writing, a tiny camera inside the pen is also taking 100 snapshots per second of what you’re doing, mapping your writing via a patchwork of minute dots printed on the paper. All this information — the movement of your pen on the paper, basically — is then stored digitally inside the pen, whether you’re writing longhand, scribbling notes or drawing complex diagrams. You can store up to 40 pages worth of doodles in the pen’s memory. As far as you’re concerned, you’re just using a normal pen.

It’s only when you drop the pen into its PC-connected cradle that the fun begins. Special software on your PC will figure out what you’ve done, and begin to download any documents you’ve written since the last time it was there. Depending on whether you’ve ticked certain boxes on the special notepad, it can also tell whether the document is destined to be an e-mail, a “to do” task, or a diagram to be inserted into a word-processing document. Once the documents are downloaded you can view them as thumbnails, print them out or convert them to other formats.

It’s a neat and simple solution to the problem of storing, sharing and retrieving handwritten notes, as well as for handling diagrams, pictures and other nontext doodling. Unlike the Tablet PC you don’t have to carry around a laptop; unlike the Seiko InkLink and SmartPad, you don’t have to carry around a hand-held organizer or other device. Just whip out the pen and the special paper and you’re off.

Of course, there are downsides. Those of you hoping to see your spidery writing automatically converted to digital text are going to be disappointed: The best the io pen can manage is to offer a slimmed down handwriting recognition which, with some training, can convert letters entered into special boxes into text for e-mail addresses, document names, etc. [This doesn’t work terribly well, and to me isn’t a selling point.] Others might find the pen a tad bulky: It looks more like a cigar than a pen, though it fits snugly into the hand. It’s also pricey: around $200 for the pen, a pad, and some refills, but expect to pay up to $25 for replacement sets of pads.

I think it’s a great product because it doesn’t try to fix something that’s not broken: It doesn’t force you to work differently — walking around with a screen strapped to your arm, or carting along extra bits and pieces. The pen is light and works like a normal pen if you need it to, while the special notepads look and feel like, well, notepads. The only strange looks will be from people who are curious why you’re writing with a cigar.

It also has potential elsewhere. FedEx, for example, is introducing a version of the pen so that customers can fill out forms by hand — instead of punching letters into cumbersome devices. Once that data is digital more or less anything can be done with it — transferring it wirelessly to a central computer, for example, or via a hand-phone. Doctors could transmit their prescriptions direct to pharmacies, reducing fraud; policemen could send their reports back to the station, reducing paperwork; lunchtime brainstorming sessions could easily be shared with the folks back in the office. It’s not that we can’t do all this right now, of course, but given that most people seem happier with a pen and paper than with a hand-held device, I think Anoto’s technology and Logitech’s pen are a realistic marriage of convenience. Have a cigar, boys.