Writing Tools

Behind me is a plastic file box filled to overflowing with empty notebooks of a bunch of types. Office supplies have always been fun to shop for, and the last few years I’ve made it a hobby to try and find the ones I’m most comfortable with. Here is an update as of today, because my although my mood changes wildly and I like trying new things, the stuff I actually use is pretty consistent.

I. Notebooks

While I theoretically love hardback journals like the Moleskine (or the awesome Palomino one I just bought), and theoretically love 3 x 5 pocket notebooks like Field Notes, I find them impractical because they’re just slightly too big to be comfortable carrying around and they’re just slightly too nice for me to feel comfortable writing any damn thing that comes to mind in them. For my everyday office notes I have been favoring reporter notebooks. The ones I like are from a local stationer called Bob Slate: they’re wide-ruled, on stiff cardboard so they function as a lap desk, and have a double wire binding which makes them feel much more high quality. They’re two bucks each and have about seventy pages, and I usually fill one in two or three months. They’re not fussy, the paper’s not great, and they don’t make me feel like they require Great Thoughts. I’m also experimenting with similar 3 x 5 notebooks for carrying around when I’m not at work, which seems OK. The Mead ones are almost perfect, but not quite, so I have a few of the much more expensive Clairefontaines lying around. We’ll see.

II. Writing Implements

I flit back and forth between pen and pencil depending on my mood. Again, I tend to be happier with cheaper, more utilitarian things because I’ll use them and not fuss over them. I haven’t gotten the fountain pen bug, largely because it would give me another layer of decisions to make every time I sat down to write something.

I am mostly using Pilot G2s at the moment because they work well with the reporter notebooks. I recognize that the Uniball Jetstreams are probably better pens but I can’t get over the rubber grip on them. I’m experimenting with Palomino pencils at the moment, but they’re not practical to carry around until I invest in some pencil caps, which I haven’t yet. Again, for work purposes I have settled on the Pilot G2 mechanical pencils (both the large and the mini) as being the right combination of good and cheap for me to use. And I also carry around a Fisher Bullet Pen so I always have something to write with. It’s the perfect size and shape to disappear, and it writes well enough to use for a while if I get stuck someplace away from my usual setup. Like yesterday when I ended up at a conference without any notebooks and created one from the backs of folded handouts. Wrote a good bit of my talk that way.

The tools matter less than the intention. There is a similar tale to tell about electronic publishing, but that’s for another day.

Chromebook update

I was at my second conference in a couple of weeks with my Chromebook DPLAfest and Accessible Future. At both I was doing varying degrees of building stuff on the web, and I found my setup limiting. I had been counting on being able to remote in to my home Mac for anything which required heavy lifting (scripting or text editing or Python or what have you). In one case the bandwidth wasn’t good enough; in the other, remote desktop was outright blocked by the firewall. I’m running Ubuntu on the Chromebook as well, but the same firewall blocked installation of Firefox there. So color me puzzled. My previous opinion holds, but I’m not sure some other laptop wouldn’t reduce my stress levels. On the other hand, I only need to get it right once or twice this year, so probably not worth further fuss.


There’s an opinion piece over at ZDnet arguing that there’s no good reason to buy a Chromebook. Unsure why I read it in the first place, and really puzzled why I read three pages of entirely predictable comments. But rather than post angrily there I thought I’d post thoughtfully here about why a Chromebook works for me.

Most of what I do online is web browsing, and most of my core tools live in the cloud anyway. I’m an instruction librarian, so it’s not unusual for me to work on two or three borrowed computers a day in classrooms and at the reference desk, in addition to my phone and home and work PCs. For several years I carried a flash drive around with me; now I mostly use websites like Dropbox and Simplenote and Google Drive to pass information back and forth. This means I can do my work from anyplace with an internet connection, which suits me just fine about 80% of the time.

Laptop ergonomics don’t suit me all that well, so I don’t use them unless I need to. Mostly this amounts to when I travel for conferences or meetings. Very occasionally I’ll have an academic writing project or take a class which requires a laptop. It doesn’t make sense for me to spend a thousand dollars on a device I’ll use as little as possible. It does make sense to have an essentially disposable $250 device with decent battery life and a full keyboard which I can set up the way I want. It’s a minimum viable laptop for me, and that suits me just fine. I have other computers I can do my high-end work on. I wouldn’t particularly *want* one device for all my computing. But that’s me. Your mileage may vary.