24 February 2011

The Thrill is Gone

Several months ago I was temped by the excellent price of Piccadilly notebooks compared to the price of Moleskine (the first notebook I became interested in).   I picked up a few and I was originally impressed by how well they performed.  There were some obvious differences, but given the large price difference, I didn't think they were deal-killers.

After using a pocket sized Piccadilly for several months, I've decided that it won't replace Moleskine for me anytime soon.  I think Piccadilly makes a good product and is definitely a good value if you are watching your budget.  For me, though, it is just too far from what I love about Moleskine.  The paper is rougher and stiffer, the cover material is not as smooth and supple, and the binding does not loosen to allow the notebook to open fully flat.

One of the first things to attracted me to Moleskine was that it is a luxurious product-- one of the finest notebooks you can buy.  But even though it is very high quality, it is relatively inexpensive.  At $12, it is certainly more expensive than other other notebooks, but I can afford to splurge on a $12 notebook.  If I were going to "splurge" on the best car on the market, I could easily spend $100,000.

I recommend Piccadilly if you are on a budget, but I am sticking with Moleskine for now.

16 February 2011

The Importance of a Pen

I have never been one to obsess over the sort of pen I use or insist on anything expensive.  My favorite has always been a Sharpie Pen, but I have used many others and never even had a strong preference for ball point, gel, or felt tip.  When I recently ran across a really bad pen, though, I began to understand how important one's choice of writing instrument is.

Of course, I know among the community of people who love journals, there is a strong preference for fountain pens.  Obviously, I've never taken any interest in something that specialized.

On a recent trip to New York I came across a really good idea for a pen at Sam Flax.  I picked it up as an afterthought-- an impulse purchase at the cash register.  I don't remember what the price was, but it was inexpensive enough that it made no impression.  The pen was stainless steel, about two inches long, and smaller in radius than a No. 2 pencil.  It had a screw-on cap and-- this is the great part-- it was TELESCOPING.  Wonderful!  A two inch pen that expanded to 5!

Unfortunately, the design excellence did not extend to the writing quality.  It was ball point and very dry.  I had to scribble on a blank page every time I started writing, a great deal of pressure was required to create a line, and the ink would frequently "stall," resulting in a line that started and stopped.  The writing was so messy that it basically ruined the pages I used it on.

The moral of the story for me is that, even if you aren't picky about your pens, there are some minimum requirements for all of us.  Personally, I have found that I prefer a pen with a cap (less prone to messy leaks), black ink, and a smooth, even release of ink on the page.  I also prefer a fairly thick line so that my writing stands out on the page.

Don't buy the wrong pen for your needs-- a journal is a terrible thing to waste!

13 February 2011

A Visit to New York

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to visit New York and explore a few stores with a large selection of journals and office supplies.  I visited Sam Flax, Essex Card Shop, Blick Art, and Lee's Art Supply.

I came away with a number of new journals that I have wanted to try for some time, but can't find in DC.  I picked up a few hard-side Whitelines journals (one large, two small), a small, ruled Ciak notebook with white paper, a small, ruled Ciak with multi-colored paper, a medium sized Ciak with ruled white paper, and a small, ruled, soft-sided Miquelrius.  I also found several accessories, which often prove to be the most interesting and unexpected items I run across.

The accessories were some very small stainless steel telescoping ballpoint pens, adhesive Leuchtturm pen loops for attaching to notebooks, transparent sticky notes, a stainless steel eraser template, two credit-card sized maps of Manhattan, and an easel-style Cavillini desk calendar with vintage scenes of New York.

The telescoping pens were a wonderful idea and just the right size to use for my new Midori Travelers Notebook and small pen loop.  Unfortunately, the writing experience is very disappointing.  The ink is very dry and it takes considerable pressure to create a solid line.  The design of the these pens is excellent, but they butchered the notebooks I tried to use them with.

I purchased the credit card sized maps to use in something like a Moleskine Index Book that I would tailor as a travel guide to New York.  I haven't started that project yet.

The item from this trip that has proven to be most useful is the eraser template.  It is about the size of a credit card, is very flexible, and is intended to be used for precision erasing.  My use for it is as a straight-edge, though.  I often use a ruler to draw straight lines in my notebooks, but they can be hard to carry.  This device is small enough to fit into the pocket of a Moleskine or similar journal.  It is even small enough to just sandwich between pages if using a journal without a pocket.  This is what I love about visiting art stores with an open mind.  You never know what you might find that will be useful to you-- even if not for its intended purpose.

The object of this search, aside from general exploration, was to find a small black Habana notebook.  I recently won a Habana from Leah at Quo Vadis  and love the quality.  That one is red, and I had hoped to add a black one to my collection.  They seemed to be out of stock at every store I visited, though.

This is the first time I have found Ciak journals.  I was happy to buy a couple to try out, but I don't expect to become a huge fan.  The spine is quite stiff and I don't think I can get it close to laying flat.  I haven't started using any of the journals yet, but I will review when I have used them a bit.

Despite wickedly cold weather, snow, and wind, it was a fun walk around New York and a pleasure to check out all these stores had to offer.  I will definitely pay a visit when I am back in town.  Below is a list of the stores I visited and what I bought there.

Blick Art:
Leuchtturm pen loops
Small Miquelrius journal
Stainless steel eraser template

Essex Card Shop:
Whitelines journals
Transparent Post-it notes
Tiny New York Maps

Sam Flax:
Ciak Journals
Telescoping pens

02 December 2010

New Piccadilly Notebook

I recently finished off a Moleskine notebook (the brand I've used for years) and I decided to give Piccadilly a try as my new notebook.  I have to say there are some noticeable construction differences between the Moleskine and the Piccadilly, but there is also a huge price difference and that may make up for any slight shortcomings.  I always say every notebook has some features I like and some that I don't.  I have never been able to find all the features I like in a single notebook.  Leuchtturm's table of contents, for example, is a great concept, but it doesn't cover all the pages, so its not "perfect."

The Piccadilly I'm using is basically the same format as the Moleskine we are probably all familiar with.  It is 3.5" x 5.0", hard-sided, and black.  Other sizes are available in multiple formats.  I chose the squared pages because I like the size of the grid and the flexibility of writing notes or charts/diagrams.  The paper is acid free and has an off-white or cream tint to it.  The paper color is very similar to Moleskine.  The elastic strap closure, ribbon bookmark, and back cover pocket are all there.  One of the most noticeable differences between the design of the Piccadilly and the Moleskine is the absence of an "In case of loss..." page in front of the Piccadilly.  The lower back cover has an attractively understated, embossed P logo in laurel wreaths.  The ribbon marker is pure black (as compared to Moleskine's dark purple), and is a thinner silk fabric, where Moleskine's material is a heavy braid.  The page and cover corners of the Piccadilly are rounded, the binding is sewn, and the spine in noticeably more squared than the Moleskine.  The lack of any arch to the Piccadilly's spine is attractive, but may inhibit the ability of it to lie flat when opened.  It seems a little stiffer than the Moleskine now-- we'll see if that changes with use.

My main complaints with the Piccadilly concern the materials used.  I am tempted to say the Piccadilly's materials are "cheaper" than the Moleskine, but I'll hold off for now.  My opinion may change as I get more accustomed to the new feel.  I think the cover material and the paper of the Piccadilly are noticeably rougher and scratchier than the Moleskine.  The paper seems to have a visible grain to it and seems dryer and crinklier.  I have not noticed any bleeding of ink or more show-through than with the Moleskine.  I am devoted to my black Sharpie Pen, so I don't use anything fancy like a fountain pen.  A Sharpie is fairly heavy, though, so I'm confident the paper stands up well to dark ink.  I do think the Piccadilly ribbon is of disappointing quality.  It seems papery compared to the, loose, limp, heavy feel of the Moleskine's.

All in all, I think I may be a convert to the Piccadilly.  I have some small criticisms of it, as I have for every notebook, but the price is hard-- or apparently impossible-- to beat.  It is listed at $6.95 on Piccadilly's website, but is available at Borders for $3.99 list.  When I checked out, it was on deeper discount for $2.99.  At $10.95 online for Moleskine, I can put up with a slight difference in "feel."  I often say that one shouldn't quibble about Moleskine prices, since even an expensive notebook is still affordable.  That's a big discount, though, unless there is a HUGE difference in quality.  It seems the Piccadilly in only available in bricks-and-mortar Borders stores.  Also be aware it is NOT stocked with the other notebooks.  It is exiled to the sale items, so you'll have to hunt for it.

I will update my review after a few months of wear and tear.  The big question for me is, will this notebook stand up to lots of opening and flattening, tossing into a bag, dripping water (or knowing me scotch), etc.  Please comment if you have experience with these notebooks or particularly if you have different opinions about this product.  I always like to hear different takes on notebooks and accessories!

29 November 2010

What's in My Moleskine?

I use my Moleskine almost exclusively for organizational purposes, and I use the "Getting Things Done" system to keep myself organized.  I am not a creative user who journals or sketches.  I have many different lists in my notebook at any given time, but GTD has first dibs on any notebook I use.

The first twenty pages of my Moleskine are always reserved for GTD.  I break them out as follows:  1 - 2 are "Maybe" pages for ideas that might become projects, 3 - 4 are "Professional Project" pages to list projects at my job, 5 - 6 are "Personal Project" pages to list projects at home, 7 - 8 are "Delegated" pages to remind me of what I'm waiting on, and 9 - 20 are "Next Action" pages to list tasks I need to complete.

I will fill up twelve Next Action pages just as I am completing the rest of my notebook, so its just right for me.  I use the ribbon marker to mark the next blank page in my notebook and a Post-it flag to mark the current next actions page.  That is a page I like to jump to quickly.  There is nothing more satisfying than lots of crossed out Next Actions! :)

In addition to reserving GTD pages, the first things I do to a new notebook are to number the odd pages (easier than numbering all of them), reserve ten pages in the back of the notebook for an index, and then add several lists I know I will use.

I always have lists for:
  • A travel checklist to make sure I have packed everything.
  • Books I want to read.
  • Gift ideas for my wife.
  • Food I want to cook.
  • Restaurants I want to try.
  • Agenda items for my next board meeting.
How do you use your Moleskine?  I love to hear what other people do with their notebooks!

20 November 2010

What's So Great About Moleskines?

I love having a small notebook handy to make lists and plans, and record my thoughts.  Getting these things down on paper, rearranging them, and reworking them helps me maintain some order in everything I care about-- or at least it makes me feel like I'm keeping things in order.

But of course, I could use an inexpensive notebook from the grocery store for that.  I love using a Moleskine because it strikes an excellent balance between being a luxury item and a completely affordable one.  As notebooks go, they are expensive.  Probably exorbitantly so.  But while I can't afford the finest car on the market, bespoke clothes, or a private jet, I can certainly indulge in a very nice notebook.

The superior quality of Moleskine notebooks is obvious when handling one.  The paper is smoother and more supple, it has a creamy color without the glare common in other notebooks, and the construction is more thoughtful, with solid binding, a durable cover, and of course the well-known page marker and back pocket.

You can find a number of opinions online about the best high-end notebook on the market, and I certainly don't dismiss the possibility of others besting the Moleskine.  I even have my own complaints about Moleskine-- they certainly aren't perfect.  But I continue to prefer it to other notebooks I have tried, for a variety of reasons.  I plan to review other notebooks in the future and will compare notebooks in detail at that time.  In the meantime, please send me your thoughts on your favorite notebooks and suggestions for ones I should review.  High on my list are Guildhall and the Rhodia Webbie.

I have become very attached to my Moleskine over the years and have tried a number of alternatives, including fully digital alternatives like iPhone aps.  I have found some notebooks that come close, but none that make me happy enough to switch.  Please visit again and lets explore new notebooks and uses together.