Getting Ecards from Worshippers

You got to give scammers credit where credit is due. This latest wave of e-card spam at least exhibits some imagination on the part of the sender:


At first it was from a friend, then a colleague, then a classmate; now it’s neighbors and worshippers sending you ecards. Good on them. I must confess I don’t worship that often, and I haven’t spoken to my neighbor since the Korean-funded mistress moved out from next door, so they’re not likely to dupe me. But they might dupe someone. (If I got one from from a Fellow Technology Columnist, I might bite.)

Which would be bad, because the links contain a variant of the Storm Trojan, according to Urban Legends, which will turn your computer into a zombie and do some scammer’s bidding.

All this must be really hurting what is left of the e-card greetings industry (when was the last time you received an e-card? A real one, I mean?) Indeed, a press release from the Greeting Card Association warning users about these scams offers advice to recipients that is so tortured it’s hard to imagine anyone would bother following it:

For consumers who are unsure if an e-card notice is legitimate, the Greeting Card Association recommends that they go directly to the publisher’s website to retrieve an e-card, rather than clicking on a link within the e-mail.
— Manually type the name of the card publisher’s website URL into your browser window.
— Locate the “e-card pick up” area on the publisher’s website.
— Take the card number or retrieval code information contained in the e-mail and enter it into the appropriate box or boxes on the publisher’s e-card pick-up area.
— If you are unable to retrieve the e-card, you will know the notification was a scam, and that it should be deleted.

Seriously. Who is going to do all that? My advice: if you care enough about the person, send them a real card. Or leave something on their Facebook wall.

Seeing Your Files in Three Dimension

3d1aThis kind of thing has got to be the future of files and folders so long as we have files and folders: the Innolab 3D File Manager from Adam Miezianko, Kristopher Rambish, Karen Fung, Zavnura Pingkan at Boston University. (Thanks,

This design is like a ferris wheel which organises contents by their relationships rather than their physical position on a hard drive. Each spiderweb thread marks the ties between folders holding contents related to the open file folder (center, in purple).

The file manager runs on Linux. It’s actually old: 2003, so something of a shame this kind of thing hasn’t caught on. The closest, I guess, is 3D Topicscape and perhaps WinFS, the storage system that was dropped from Vista back in 2004.

The Digital Writing Podcast

Recently I wrote (; subscription only I’m afraid) and spoke (BBC World Service; podcast here) about digital writing — the still peripheral business of using a pen to write on paper, and then have that work digitally transferred to a computer, PDA or cellphone. (And then, optionally, have any writing converted to text your computer can use.)

It’s a much maligned, undercovered field. Every year or so a company comes out with a new product and there’s a smattering of articles. Then everyone forgets about it — usually including the people who bought and briefly used the product. I don’t know why this is; I suspect it’s because partly it’s still a bit tricky, in some cases, to use these products, and partly because everyone thinks digital writing is all about TabletPCs — i.e., bringing your laptop with you. It’s not; in fact, nearly all these solutions use paper and pen, which makes them truly portable. My only gripe: the pens, particularly those from Logitech (the io2) and Nokia (the SU-1B), use very basic biro-style ink which isn’t all that nice to write with. I’ve read some people have gotten around this by finding better cartridges and fitting them with tape, but I’ve not tried it.

A Moleskine Covered

I’ve written about Moleskine notebooks before, which was why Arthur of Renaissance Art handcrafted leather notebooks wrote to me about his Moleskine Journal covers:

About 8 years ago I went shopping for a journal and could find nothing I liked. So, I sat in the aisles of Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstores every nite after work educating myself about how to make books. A few months later I started making my own. Then my hip arthritis made me unable to do my job so I started selling the books I made to supplement my unemployment check. We now sell all over the world from our website, and employ a few other artists in our studio where we make all of our things. We recently started to make leather covers for the moleskine journals, I saw your blog and here I am writing you.

I also met my life and business partner, Kristel, online. She was in Antwerp at the time. So, in a very real way, technology and the internet have radically changed my life.

Interesting story. Of course, folk may argue the Moleskine covers are plenty nice and tough already, but it’s a nice, personalizing touch. The covers range from $20 to $39, and Arthur offers a discount if you buy the Moleskine itself from him too:

We offer 3 different Moleskine Leather Cover styles: Traditional, Wrap and Tie and our Snap closure which is the one shown above. Two of the covers include pen loops. The pen loops may be ordered in one of 3 different sizes, depending on the the thickness of the pen you prefer to use.

Jim’s Answer To The Moleskine

My friend Jim was passing through town the other day, and we compared Moleskines. Or rather, I brought out my immaculate Moleskine and he brought out a black pile of something or other. I asked him to tell me about it in response to a comment from someone about the benefits of the Moleskine pocket on an earlier post. Jim posted his comments here but I reproduce them here in full, along with pictures:

To add to the great debate, Moleskin versus Miquelrius.

My qualifications, in brief, included 14 years in journalism, consulting, peacekeeping and roaming the world for other NGOs and international organizations. As a shorthand writer as well as one time foreign correspondent and official diplomatic notetaker, I think the old fashioned paper notebook is more reliable, in the long run, and less intimidating. It can transition gracefully from presidential palace to remote village. It doesn’t get crushed, run out of batteries or attract attention. Wrap it in a Zip Loc bag and its waterproof.

While I like the Moleskine’s “high end” features such as the strap, pagemarker and back pocket useful, it has drawbacks. The Moleksin has less volume, therefore I use one every three months as compared to a Miquelrius every eight months, even with extensive notetaking. This means the Moleskin is less useful as a portable archive.

Size does matter, but the Miqquelrius is still small enough to fit in a trouser pocket.

Jim's Miquelrius Notebook (open)

The Moleskine is also more expensive, so using them more frequently adds to the cost.

It is narrower more difficult to do good shorthand. The width also limits your ability to sketch and draw, everything from organigrams to the scenery.

My solution? Improvise with the Miquelrius to get something just right. Add a small envelope to the back. I use left over wedding RSVP envelopes:

Jim's Miquelrius Notebook pocket #3

I generally use two green elastic bands for section dividers. I picked those up wrapped around my vegetables from Trader Joes. The elastic bands the postman leaves behind also work:

Jim's Miquelrius Notebook (wide)

Pages can also be marked with Post-It Flags, paper clips and regular Post-It Notes folded back into the page you last used. My pictured notebook has been around the world a few times, including to a few remote African and Indonesian villages. It looks a bit tattered by the time you get it back to Washington, but I reckon there is nothing better for your “street cred” as a guy who knows what’s going on in the field than walking into a meeting with a weathered notebook.

Thanks, Jim.

TaskTracker’s Virtual Folders

Interesting how different people get different things from the same software. I love TaskTracker (and listed it in my top 10 programs) because it remembers what files I’ve been using, even if I don’t. Makes finding something real easy. But one reader gets something quite different from its latest incarnation:

…much more useful on a daily basis is TaskTracker because of its Virtual Folder feature. I work on numerous projects simultaneously, drawing files from my long-standing Windows Explorer hierarchial folder arrangement. TT’s file lists enables me to drag shortcuts to those files into Virtual Folders. The Virtual Folders can be converted to permanent folders thereby maintaining all the project references in one file. If the project is a bust, just delete the Virtual Folder. None of the ‘original’ files are disturbed.

I must confess I don’t use that feature very much, but maybe I should.

Canada Gets The Hipster PDA

Nice piece by Tralee Pearce in The Globe and Mail on ‘The hipster PDA’ :

On BlackBerry-addicted Parliament Hill, NDP press secretary Ian Capstick turns heads with his newest organizational gadget: a stack of 3 x 5 index cards held together by a black bull clip.

The hipster PDA, of course, is Merlin Mann’s idea, and the piece quotes liberally from Merlin — visit his website at 43Folders. An interesting article and worth a read.

Moleskine Art, And A Backlash?

Just had a chance to visit the Moleskine Art exhibition in Hong Kong’s Times Square (a rather impoverished version of the original, the huge outdoor screen blaring trash across the concourse being the focal point).

Anyway, a modest exhibition in the basement, in one glass case in the shop. But nicely done by enthusiast Patrick Ng, and a true window on what people can do with their Moleskine notebooks. Here are some terrible photos I took with my cellphone of some of the exhibits (some much better pictures can be found here):




Anyway, I’m probably biased because I interviewed him, but my money is on Mike Rohde, who does some lovely sketches in his:

Copy 1 of Jak0310(31)

Ironically, I left the shop buying some pens and a very, very cheap (HK$9) Chinese notebook. The paper’s cheap, the binding’s poor, there’s no pocket, no bookmark, but it’ll probably do for my sub-par thoughts, for now, given it’s less than 10% of the cost of a Moleskine and Hong Kong ain’t a cheap city to live in:


Is this the start of the Moleskine Backlash?

The Moleskine Without The Skine (Or The Mole, For That Matter)

From Jason Kottke, a simpler version of the Moleskine: My analog Palm Pilot, a piece of 8.5×11 paper, folded twice.

That way, when I need to look up a phone number or jot down an address, I don’t have to get out a notebook, my computer, or hunt around for a piece of scrap paper. And it won’t ever get stolen like a cell phone or handheld might.

The Moleskine Multi-Tab Hack

I’ve been experimenting a bit with the excellent Moleskine hack suggested by Jerry Brito for adding Getting Things Done tabs to the notebook. Jerry divides the book into five sections — next actions, projects list, someday maybe list, article ideas, and notes — which I found wasn’t enough for the messed up life I seem to be leading at the moment. I have never quite succumbed to David Allen’s world, and found I preferred to add stuff to specific places, so that I could easily re-read them and follow up on them. So I added sub tabs, which sounds confusing, but isn’t. Well, perhaps it is.


The basic idea is that there are five main divisions, or colours: Tech (anything tech related, subdivided into notes, ideas for columns or posts, expenses, dealing with the Editor), Personal (moving house, getting married, diary, that kind of thing), Action (the to do stuff, from Now to my Big Picture stuff, which I call 30,000 feet), Dump (anything, from phone numbers to words I want to Google at some point) and Book (for a book I’m writing). Each section is a colour, each subdivision is a tab — actually those sticky labels that are a cross between Post-Its and book markers (which seem to come in five colours anyway).

Now the Moleskine was already in use when I started playing with this, so I found myself just adding the label to wherever I had started one of these lists in the book. I found it better to only allow the tab labels to protrude slightly from the edge of the page, thus:


To make it easy to find stuff I numbered every right hand page (which takes you up to about 100 in a normal Moleskine) and then used the first page that falls open — the first double page — as an index:


I know this all sounds kinda messy. But it seems to work. Having the colour coded tabs dotted over a 100–page spread actually makes them easier to find, because it’s very easy to estimate the page you need to jump to — 45 is about half way through, 79 is towards the end, etc. Sure you need to use the index, at least to start with, but I found I quickly got the hang of it. If you liked you could write on the tabs to identify them more easily.

I’m sure this won’t work for lots of people. And one could easily argue that all this extra complexity takes away the simple beauty of a Moleskine. I would probably agree, but this seems to work for me, at least for now.