ALA Tech Prep

I have for years done a little tech dance, trying to arrange the perfect combination of technology to do what I need to do at the American Library Association’s annual conference. I am a minimalist packer, so it should be just enough to do what I need and not an ounce more. The conference functions like an extremely long urban hike because of its size and how it tends to get laid out, but it’s also like a series of business meetings. My theory this year is that I will start from the assumption that I’m going to a couple of meetings rather than from the assumption that I’m a member of the tech press covering an Apple keynote. I have carried an eight pound laptop around ALA before. It is No Fun, plus adding an additional gadget to keep fed. Here’s my tech plan, which I’m writing down here so I don’t second-guess myself Wednesday night while I’m packing.

  • 2 reporter-style 4 x 8 notebooks
  • 1 Pilot G2 blue pen
  • 1 Pilot G2 mechanical pencil
  • Fisher Space pen
  • Business cards
  • Nexus 5
  • External USB backup battery
  • 2 micro-USB cables and 1 two-port charger
  • Apple bluetooth keyboard (so I can use the phone to blog if I am so inclined)

I can carry all but the last two on my person, thus getting rid of the need to carry around a backpack. To the extent possible, I can wander around Vegas like a human. When I’ve tried this for smaller conferences it has made a dramatic improvement to my mood and reduced nine kinds of worry (mostly about battery life and theft and where to put the bag during a reception).

Why no laptop?: if I need access to a computer, the chances I won’t be able to borrow one are slim. My hotel and the information center at the conference will have PCs I can borrow in the unlikely event my phone won’t let me do something.

Why those notebooks?: I may still talk myself into taking half a dozen Field Notes instead, but those reporter notebooks (from the awesome Bob Slate Stationers in Cambridge) are the perfect size and toughness. I can effortlessly use them at a table or in my lap and not worry about over or under-filling them. I’m not fussy about using them, and they’re cheap enough to be disposable, so the result is I actually fill them up.

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.


Paul Simon’s Graceland was my quintessential road music for about fifteen years. Any substantial road trip would start with that on my car stereo, an increasingly worn-out cassette tape. So the opening horns in Boy in the Bubble sound like the beginning of something delightful to me. I remember it most clearly from long trips from Ohio to South Carolina to visit my parents. Sometimes it had the blue light of pre-dawn to go with it, always the thrill of hitting the gas to get out of town.

The rest of the album is less that way for me, but I can still sing along with almost all of it. It’s borne up really well with bunches of friends from different backgrounds, including one school friend who was surprised to see it in my car and even more surprised, I think, that I wasn’t beat-boxing along with it.

I love the self-deprecating humor in I Know What I Know.

she looked me over and I guess she thought I was all right
all right in a sort of a limited way for an off night

That theme comes back with Myth of Fingerprints, which may be my favorite thing on the album, shifting metaphors of dwindling fame from a talk-show host to an army post out in the Indian Ocean somewhere.

It’s sparked great conversations. My mother pointed out once to a baffled me that a poor boy might be fulsomely praising a girl who was sweet as an apple on Christmas day. It seemed weak to me. But it was an important privilege check for me.

Everyone loves the saxophone in You Can Call Me Al, and I do, too. It was flirting music for me and my first girlfriend, all about hints and allegations.

I remember being horrified to discover the lawsuits by African musicians alleging poor pay…but I know the music business better now and so am less concerned.

Graceland was my intro to Paul Simon–all the Simon and Garfunkel stuff I know from after. I have the anniversary edition of Graceland sitting in its CD case, but the real version of it for me will always be the cassette that rode around in my first three cars.

 Writing 101 Day 3: Three Favorite Songs