Jim’s Answer To The Moleskine

By | May 25, 2005

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.

6 thoughts on “Jim’s Answer To The Moleskine

  1. Craig

    It’s interesting to see Jim issue complaint on the Moleskine filling up too quickly. I have lost a notebook or two in my journeys — often with several months of data and notes in it. As such I’m actually really attracted to Moleskines with limited pages and heavy paper. This is beneficial in a couple ways: 1) Less pages = faster fill up = quicker archiving = less notes/data lost if the notebook disappears. and 2) Heavy paper = no bleeding when using thick inks for notes or doing sketches / drawings.

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  3. Jim

    I think Craig’s comment on losing notebooks is a good one, though I’m struggling to remember when I last time I had “lost notebook trauma”. I did leave it behind at home (with my mobile phone!!) on a recent trip to Liberia when I changed backpacks at the last moment before departing. That was stressful enough. While I have an extensive backup data strategy for my notebook computer before I leave the office for some of the fun places I work around the world, I can’t do this for my Miquelrius. I guess this is the limit of the old technology.

    My possibly excessively paranoid pre-depature routine involves copying the key parts of the C: drive to the server, burning my email file to disk and carrying all vital documents for the trip around my neck on a zip drive as well as leaving a set of key docs accessible online.

    I have wiped my Palm TWICE while in the field, but that’s another story.

    I also take the point about the thinner Miquelrius pages bleeding, but I’ve taken to using the clutch pencil I carry for complex sketches and don’t travel far without it.

  4. giugliano

    Hrm. What system of shorthand he is using that lets him write small enough on graph paper blocks?

  5. Jim

    I’m using Teeline. A Pitman shorthand site describes it as such:

    “The other main system in use today is Teeline, which was developed in the 1970s and has become a strong competitor to Pitman shorthand. Based on existing handwriting it is considered to be more ‘user friendly’ and is now the preferred system of journalists and training institutions.”

    There’s more information at:


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