The Moleskine Report, Part V

By | January 19, 2005

Further to my postings and column on the Moleskine notebook, here’s one final emai linterview with Patrick Ng, Hong Kong-based host of the upcoming Moleskine Art competition. I reproduce it in its entirely because Patrick has a very fresh and direct way of articulating the problem, and the solution:

There is currently no substitute for pen and paper: Unless the electronics industry goes drastically into certain new direction or comes up with new new inventions, the situation won’t change for me coz I’ve been there.

It all goes back to the “pleasure of writing”. I won’t mention the age before my Sharp IQ-800 but I was a Newton MP user and the webmaster of Hong Kong Newton User Group, Newton drew me because of the stylus and the proximity of true writing and the promise of merging traditional scribbling with digital connectivity. When Newton went dead, most switched to Palm including me. Palm didn’t give me the same “true writing” feeling. Believing that the future is digital, I switched to Psion, Treo and now Blackberry. And all of a sudden, I found that there are too many variables in the playground:

ever changing models -> upgrade or lost data in predictable 6 months because new features are there, old features won’t be supported, I feel very uneasy.
– switching to new gadget -> all the hassle to export/import data -> decide which contact you want to delete due to limited storage or different format -> fax number became mobile phone number etc. In addition, if you use a Mac, sometimes you have to buy more software so that you can export/import or sync properly. Hassle. – PC card, flash or hard disk now have longer life span, but your device stores them in particular format, putting them into other devices won’t save your data unless you do export/import. Isn’t it extremely volatile?
– Run on built-in battery -> carry charger all the time

Simply said, it is too much to put everything into a PDA and rely on one device for everything, we are far from there yet, as I said, unless there is a drastic change or new new invention. You simply think you needed to store all those information, because it is so powerful, but by doing so you increased a lot of the hassle forgetting that PDA is to help you tackle the tasks on hand, right here right now. People compare their PDA by how much new tricks they can do, ask them “do you take notes or to-do list on it?” I bet most would say “it can”.

For me, “pleasure of writing”, scribble freely and under my control, show the notes under sunlight to 3-4 people at the same time, fax, copy, scan, print…. everything is so readily available to support me and my little notebook.

Notebook: Click your pen, write.
PDA: Switch on PDA, pull out the stylus, go to program, File-new, scribble, File-save (maybe auto now). Hassle. Further, I remember where to look for my previous notes by visual memory and flipping. On a PDA you need to rely on the search function, you simply cannot search for scribbles. Now, what if I want to print out that scribble? Do I use connection cable to sync first, or find a printer that support infra-red printing, or connect through bluetooh or wireless network…. Do I need that many options to simple duplicate something I wrote? Most things I needed to jot are short and to the point and temporary, there really is no need to use an electronic device to do that.

All I need to attend day to day mobile tasks are really simple: take notes and followup. I do carry my very useful Blackberry and send/receive email anywhere I feel comfortable including dozens of business trips around the world. That fulfilled my immediate purpose also. The rest of my digital life is Mac.

My Mobile Suit Schedule: Moleskine weekly diary 2005 Notes taking: Moleskine pocket size blank notebook Email/Phone#: Blackberry Word/Excel/Presentation/OfficeNetwork: Powerbook 12″

On top of the above, I love to put things down on paper artistically, especially my thoughts and feelings and dreams. The texture of paper, the way ink or paint behave differently on paper, the millions of possible ways to use one page…. these aspects seems irreplaceable by digital. So after over 10 years of struggle with digital devices, I came back to pen and paper for certain tasks and personal enjoyment, and digital for the inevitable.

Finally, I thought of using CrossPad (IO Pen’s previous incarnation?) but that too added hassle more than practical. So: 1. PDA industry is completely wrong in trying to put everything into one device, people need cup to drink, camera to shoot, movie to go…. not one monster. 2. Merging of paper and digital. I heard that a new class of display in the form of thin film should be out very soon, but the “pleasure of writing” element is still really not there. Besides, nobody steal notebook and I can lose it and replace it pretty easily. 3. Magazine digital. I subscribe to Zinio for MacWorld, PCMagazine and Harvard Business review. It is good that I can archive all issues digitally in perfect condition, but I do sometimes buy hardcopy of Harvard Business Review for my business trip airplane, toilet, hotel reading pleasure.

Thanks, Patrick. And for those of you interested, there’s still a couple of weeks to submit your entry for his art competion.

6 thoughts on “The Moleskine Report, Part V

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  2. Eric Diamond

    What has replaced my PDA (and what works better than moleskine for me anyway) is a small Montblanc leather addressbook. It is a looseleaf 5-ring binder that take filofax mini pages. I fill them with plain paper, but filofax has to-do lists, calendars, etc. you can laso use. There is also a pop-in book marker/ruler, and I keep several in my notebook for different sections. The fact that it is loose-leaf allows me to move pages around, and I can just tear out pages that I want to toss. For quick nots or jotting down thoughts to transcribe later to my larger journal or notebook it cannot be beat.

    The little binder is expensive (nothing from Montblanc is cheap) but you can occasionally find them for less on ebay. There are a couple of things that make it worth the price for me: itis really small, making it pocketable, even in jeans; it does not have a tab closure which only adds to the bulk and the leather is really nice and it will last forever. What is important is that this particular binder is sold not as an organizer, but as an address book. Thier organizer binders of the same size, in addition to being more expensive are slightly larger and larger is not what we want. Filofax now has one of the same size called the “Mini-Executive” so you might check that out and save a few bucks.

  3. Chris Schreuders

    It’s interesting to learn that more people have gone through the transitions from Palm to Pocket PC (or v.v.) to paper. I thought I was among a few, or so gadget and techno-freaks had me believe.

    I have changed back to paper, at first reluctantly but steadily ever more convincingly. Making notes on paper combined with sketches is a breeze: no thinking about applications to use, where to store, how to retrieve and make sense many files once synchronized with the PC desktop.

    Though I still carry my pocket PC on trips – mostly for addresses and calendar – it’s becoming ever more compelling to leave it at home. Recently I was traveling internationally when my iPAQ stopped working (this has occurred frequently and mostly when relying on the device the most) and nothing that helped to get it up and running again. Fortunately, all the addresses and agenda where also available from a web-based service, so I could continue working.

    The critical office documents I may need during a trip are stored on a USB flash memory card. Much lighter and equally convenient.

    Similar to Eric, I have been using a MontBlanc memopad (article 14109) a handy 4.1 x 3.0” (10,5 x 7,5cm) loose-leafs partner that literally fits in any pocket respecting the cut of your shirt or trousers. Try that with a PDA… I literally take my memopad everywhere, regardless of occasion or circumstance. No power worries either. What I like most about my memopad is the plain paper that leaves freedom for whatever way I would like to use the paper.

    In order to enhance retrievability of the handwritten information I use icons that help me a great deal. A light bulb for ideas to be developed; a book icon for book excerpts or books I would like to read; a triangle for action items; a sun for taking notes of special moments; icons for meetings, deals, expenses, music … and so on. Notwithstanding the size of the sheets I still find it possible to make mindmaps, that greatly help to quickly grasp the essence of what I wrote.

    One other way that has had great results is to leave small handwritten notes with people to thank, remind or inspire them. It’s personal, instant and it has helped breaking the ice in many an occasion.

    At least once a day I browse through my notes and decide how I will use them on my PC. I convert larger meeting minutes or concepts into MindMaps ( on my computer. In that way managing information has become most convenient. Rereading notes has helped me to sharpen my memory again. The sheets used are stored in a desktop box and once the year is complete, I store them for later reference. They take little space.

    Paper will undoubtedly be around for some time to come as nothing has beaten its versatility, instantaneousness, ease of use and cost.

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  5. Lesia Fontana

    I’m surprised that people are finding the signo inks to work with the Moleskine, I have tried both the Signo RT and 207 and both of them smear easily even after a minute or two of drying time. The G2 is better, but still takes a while to drive. My favorite ink for my Moleskine is the Cross Gel Roller Ball refill which works very well. I actually use it in a Water Phileas Rollerball pen, it fits nicely and the ink seems to work better on the Moleskine than the Waterman rollerball refill.


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