Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

In the beginning of the month I started working in a new team, in a new career path, in a new technical job, under new circumstances. After working for two and a half months from home, I now work half a week at home and half a week at work, in a pretty empty office. I haven’t met all my team members, as we work in separate “capsules,” ensuring that if one of us got sick at least 50% of us would remain unaffected and capable of working. After 17 years of being a Mainframe system programmer, I’m now a DevOps engineer. I’ve been training for the past six months for it, and I love the work, but it’s still not the easiest switch to make. I have a new set of managers, with a new management style, and my old job keeps calling on me, which results in some wild context switching.

And meanwhile the world is burning, as incredible stupid leaders worldwide decide that their pockets are worth more than other people’s lives.

I’m not a huge fan of change, and so my productivity systems tend to stay around with me for years. During the early days of the pandemic, when I just started working from home, I thought that this was temporary. On the second week I realized that the mess of notes in whatever writing pad was around would need to change. And my mindset would need to change.

I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I tried to replicate my old work setup at first (a large Moleskine squared hardcover with only the daily todo part of bullet journalling), keeping my home setup intact (a Field Notes with a running todo, lists, trackers etc). That held until I realized that I was starting a new job in a place that moved at a completely different pace than what I was used to. I was also no longer a manager, so the focus of my work was different. I needed to tear everything down and start over again.

I went back to digital task management. I’d tried OmniFocus for a while two years ago and didn’t like its complexity. I had used Things for a good long while before that but stopped and change back to a paper notebook once I decided that I had to have a physical barrier between work and home to have any balance in my life. Those were wild times, and I’m glad that I made that choice, but now it was time to bring Things back into my life. I’ve been using it since the 1st of June, and while it isn’t yet 100% set up to perfection, it’s working well so far.

I’m now managing both work and home from Things, because I can’t handle the added hassle of remembering to lug which notebook where every day, especially now, when I’m not yet set up in my new place. I also don’t realistically think that I could have kept track of my work in a paper notebook right now. I’ve “outgrown” it.

The issue is that I still love paper notebooks, and I still love writing with pen and pencil on a piece of paper. I still keep a pad next to me when I work and scribble ideas on it, but this switch has dwindled down my daily stationery use significantly.

As I was clearing my old desk I found physical evidence of all my years of work there: notebooks full of todos, meeting notes, project notes, ideas and problem solving pointers. I could see the work that I’ve put in. My new system is searchable, but it’s still an amorphous pile of bits somewhere in the Cloud.

I don’t recommend this eraser. It’s just one that makes me smile.

When I went into quarantine I had an inexplicable yearning to get back to the first ever real productivity system I used, the PigPogPDA. I loved my Moleskine pocket plain reporter notebooks, set up just right, full of all the important information that I might ever need. I had shopping lists, trackers, drawings, story ideas, directions, packing lists, cheat sheets in those notebooks: they were my everything at the time. I also remember how terribly expensive they were for me, and how difficult to obtain. Every page was precious, and I had to be careful not to waste any. I used the Hi-Tec-C and the Staedler Mars technico lead holder for that, and these little notebooks lasted for ages and travelled the world with me. Only in the past three years have I stopped using them, replacing them with a much simpler system in Field Notes pocket notebooks. Out of nostalgia I brought one back to life. It has done a lot to cheer me up and give me a sense of stability during these hectic times. Yes, I know it’s just a notebook. Sometimes “just a notebook” is all it takes.

If I have any advice to offer it’s this: be kind to yourself and pick whichever system works for you, and doesn’t make you work for it. Pick something that you’ll enjoy using. If it’s a sleek app, let it be a sleek app. You’ll find use for the notebooks in your cupboard eventually. If it’s notebooks, then make them entirely your own. That’s the joy of using paper planning anyway. And don’t be shy of saying: “This doesn’t work for me anymore”.

So I’m back to digital planning, and I’m going to find a way to have fun with my pens and paper somehow (I still journal and draw and write after all). This is something that’s likely to change as the times do, my work and my life circumstances do. So long as I don’t fall into the trap of Productivity Pr0n and forget what all this is in service of, I’m fine.

I’m fine.

Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

New Year’s Resolutions Update

So back in the beginning of February I published a post about how I use my notebooks to manage my “New Year’s Resolutions” (i.e. yearly goals) in the hope that it will help people craft SMART goals for themselves that they can actually achieve. I explained in that post that I use a “stretch goal system” that allows me to hit my goals if I put in some basic regular effort into them, and then push myself gradually as I see how the year develops. For each “stretchable” goal I tailor the stretch goals based on my performance in previous years, and based on where I want to put more effort in any given year.

I wrote these goals at the end of 2019, and then, by the end of February and the beginning of March Covid-19 turned my life upside down. More and more restrictive “stay at home” directives have been issued, my travel plans were cancelled, I cancelled my participation in one 10k race, and my participation in the Disneyworld Star Wars Rival Run 5k and 10k races was cancelled, my dentist cancelled my yearly checkup appointment, I started working from home, the last few weeks of my DevOps course moved to remote Zoom lessons, and my planned move to a DevOps team required a bigger struggle than I anticipated. Also, unrelated bad things happened in my family, because that’s how life is.

Never have my stretch goals or resolution planning been tested to such an extreme, and that includes the annus horribilis of 2018.  So how did my resolutions fare?

My messily written 2020 resolutions.

Overall, better than I expected. Here’s the breakdown and some (hopefully helpful) thoughts:

Exercise goals: These were a mixed bag, but they could have been much worse. All my races were cancelled and it appears that there won’t be any races this year. This just means that I had to get back into Virtual Races, and I’ve enrolled into the Disney one (so expensive, but I decided to splurge because it looks like I’ll be saving a lot on racing fees). That will take care of some of my race goals, and I’ll just have to figure out one or two more to take care of the rest. My running at first really hit a snag because of the restrictive lockdown, so I had to learn to run in really tight circles. The plus side? I managed to break my 5k record, and I’m challenging myself to run hills more. My NTC workouts got a huge boost because I’ve been staying at home and Nike has been killing it with some great workouts lately. After the first two weeks of lockdown depression, alone and away from my family, I realized that not exercising was practically killing me. So I’m running and training every single day now, no matter what. I highly recommend the NTC app: it’s free, has great workouts, and a super friendly design.

Writing goals: These took the biggest hit, because of the terribleness of things around here and in the world, and because until April I was swamped with DevOps course work. I’m forcing myself back to writing, and it has been slow, but hopefully it will pick up.

Reading goals: I’ve managed these the best, despite everything, and it’s mostly because reading has been a blessed escape during my darkest hours. I can still completely disappear into a book, and even terrible books give me things other than current affairs to be mad about.

Drawing goals: These also initially took a hit, but I’ve put some effort into them, and with ideas like my “Vengeful Fortress” one I get a drawing, writing and a somewhat D&D-esque game all in one. My drawing classes have been on hiatus since March, and I have no idea when they’ll return.

“Using my stuff” goals: In March and April things got worrying job-wise, so I put shopping on hiatus, and I’m even now careful about stationery shopping sprees. My notebook use needed some rethinking as I started working from home, but I’m back on track now, and using a lot more of the stuff that I’ve purchased. The only downside is that some of my stuff is at work, and right now I have no way of getting to it.

Journaling goals: This has been a rollercoaster in April and this month as well, partly because I was swamped and partly because I was too depressed to write. Trying to get back on track and deal with the feelings of those days that I’ve missed now.

Social goals: These are the only goals that I’m going to utterly have to rethink. Some of them have moved online (board games, meetups), others will just have to be postponed to later this year or to next year.

I’m trying not to be too hard one myself, but also challenge myself to get things done. Past me thought these goals were important, and present me still thinks most of them are. Where an extra effort or some extra creativity needs to happen I’m trying to make that more conscious effort. I’ll see by the end of summer where things shape out and re-tailor everything for what looks to be a difficult winter.

Keep moving, keep looking ahead, take care of yourself and your loved ones, stay at home, and be kind to yourself.

New Year’s Resolutions Update

Creative Draw: Koh-I-Noor Magic pencil, TWSBI JR Pagoda 0.7 and Pilot Juice Up 0.4

Things have been tough lately and I haven’t been in the mood to draw anything, write anything, post anything. So I decided to make myself create something, as silly and small as it could turn out to be, just to see if I can draw myself out of the funk.

I dug into my largest art and stationery supply drawer, and picked out three random items: a Koh-I-Noor Magic pencil, a TWSBI Jr Pagoda 0.7 mechanical pencil, and a Pilot Juice Up 0.4 in blue ink. Nothing good could come out of this random draw, I thought to myself, but I’ll draw something anyway:

The Koh-I-Noor Magic pencil comes in many varieties, some of the actually pragmatic. This Magic pencil is just ridiculous. It’s a giant, glittery, neon mess that makes me smile.

The TWSBI Jr Pagoda is a solid mechanical pencil, but in the battle against the Uni-ball Kuru Toga or any kind of drafting pencil it is always going to lose. I enjoyed using this underdog, and I think that design-wise it’s a very good mechanical pencil.

The Pilot Juice Up is excellent, and Pilot should replace all of its Hi-Tec-C pens with this refill (and perhaps even with this design). The refill gives Uni-ball gel refills a run for their money, and the barrel design is both sleek and ergonomic. This is a phenomenal pen that I really need to use more.

This turned out to be a fun exercise in creativity, and it made me smile for a bit. Will I do it again? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Creative Draw: Koh-I-Noor Magic pencil, TWSBI JR Pagoda 0.7 and Pilot Juice Up 0.4

Diamine Inkvent Blue Edition

Diamine came out with the very successful Inkvent advent calendar last year, and now they are bringing out all of the inks in the calendar in a special “Blue Edition” box and bottle. Cult Pens had them first in stock, and had a nice 10% discount on them, so I decided to splurge on some ink bottles (after not buying any for years).

The Inkvent Blue Edition boxes evoke the beautiful design of the Inkvent calendar, which makes them great gift inks to give. Everything about the boxes, the labels and the bottles is of the highest quality, and is well thought out. These are pretty enough to keep on your desk, whether they are in their blue box or not.

The bottles themselves, of course, are the main design event. They are glass bottles with thick legs, and an ingenious design. They look gorgeous, but they’re also very practical. The cap is large enough to allow the widest nibs in, and the actual part of the bottle that holds the ink is built so that there won’t be any awkward corners that your pen can’t get into. The bottles are tall enough to allow for larger pens to be filled with ease.

Did I mention that they look stunning?

You can see the design of the legs and the ink reservoir here:

The bottles of shimmer ink (and shimmer and sheen ink) come with this handy little insert:

The bottles of sheen ink come with this insert:

This is more proof of the amount of thought that went into designing this edition. I don’t know if Diamine planned on issuing the Blue Edition ahead of time or only once it saw the success of its Inkvent calendar, but either way, this isn’t some hastily dashed out ink edition.

When it came to selecting the inks that I wanted to buy, I ended up surprising myself with my selection. I expected to buy the Solstice, but I ended up buying theBlue Peppermint instead. I love turquoise inks, and I don’t yet have one that shades and shimmers. I never thought that I’d buy Candy Cane, but not only did I buy it (I wanted something to brighten up my life a bit right now), but it’s the first ink that I used in the set.

Holly was also not an obvious choice, but it’s an interesting ink and I don’t have many green inks on hand.  Seasons Greetings was wild enough and unique enough for me to add it first to my cart. Nutcracker is here because I think that it will be a great (albeit not waterproof) drawing ink.

If money and space weren’t an issue, I’d probably add Solstice, Snow Storm, and Polar Glow to my shopping cart. Maybe I will, in the future. For now I’m tremendously happy with the Diamine Blue Edition inks that I bought, and if you’re looking for a small pick me up or an inexpensive gift for the pen addict in your life, I highly recommend these.

Diamine Inkvent Blue Edition

Journaling: The Last Page

A handwritten journal is an artifact in a way that an app can never be. It’s tactile, endlessly flexible, there to be used and customized in every way possible. Tear out pages, glue stuff in, doodle, scribble, sketch and write whatever you wish however you wish. There’s no autocorrect, nothing editing or censuring your words. Analogue journalling is about freedom, flow and pure creativity.

This is my last day journaling in this journal, and tomorrow I’ll write up the last page and start a new one for the thoughts of that day.

Every time I finish a journal, I use the last two pages to summarize what that journal contains and means to me. Analogue journals are fantastic, but they do make searching for old entries a bit of a chore. Luckily I don’t find myself looking for an old entry that often, and if I do the last two pages help me narrow it down to the specific journal, and the dates and titles to the specific entry.

I also like taking the last few pages as a chance to reflect on the time the journal covers and how things have changed (and I have changed) as the time has gone by. There’s usually about three months in each journal, sometimes more, so that’s a good chuck of time to look back on: short enough to make it simple to summarize and contextualize, and yet long enough to have some impact and meaning. This journal contains two trips abroad, my decision to move into a new career path, and a pandemic that wrecked havoc on everyone I know (including me, of course). That’s quite a lot, even for a journal that covers a relatively long span of time (almost 6 months).

It’s also full of bits and pieces that I stuck in, to make the page come to life. So here’s part of the Diamine Inkvent packaging that I glued in after I opened the last window and before I tossed out the box:

I just ripped out a panel that I liked. This journal is for me, not Instagram, and it can be as messy as I need it to be.

Cool clothing tags also sometimes make it in, especially if it’s from a piece of clothing that I really like:

This tag came of one of my favourite sweatshirts.

I got a lot of Star Wars themedvinyl stickers as a gift near the end of last year and a lot of them ended in my journal:

Even the silliest of things can be used to brighten up a page:

See that bleedthrough? It’s fountain pen bleedthrough. I don’t give a damn. If I wanted to write with a Sharpie in here, I’d write with a Sharpie. Use what makes you feel good.

There are little drawings and illustrations everywhere:

Messy, messy handwriting. 

And bits and pieces of washi tape that were leftover from other projects:

The point is, tomorrow I finish another journal, a small analogue memory artifact that is entirely mine. I created it for me and me only, and it was worth every minute I put into it.

If there’s one habit that you can pick up during your time at home these days, pick journaling. You’ll end up getting quite a treasure in the end, and I’d be truly surprised if you won’t enjoy the process.

Journaling: The Last Page

How I Use My Notebooks: Yearly Goals (Resolutions)

Near the end of one year and the beginning of another various articles and podcasts about New Year resolutions start popping up. They either give tips on how to make resolutions, debunk resolutions in favour of something else, and almost all of them try to sell you something.

This post is about how I create yearly goals (i.e. resolutions), using things that I already have, in a way that has worked for me since 2015.

I wrote about the way I do “New Years Resolutions” in the past. I call them that because I like the non-business ring of “resolution” over the “business-jargon” sounding goal. My “resolutions” are, however, S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I manage them using the least used notebook that I had lying around (a Baron Fig Confidant), and whichever pen I have at hand. They aren’t made for instagram, rather I use my plain ugly handwriting, and what marking are on the page are there because they’re useful. Over the past five years I’ve attained about 90% of what I set out to achieve, with even an annus horribilis like 2018 not putting me too much off track. My goals are tiered, much like Kickstarter stretch goals, with most goals having a fairly easily attainable first tier, just in case life decides to kick me in a tender place.

I’m going to go over this year’s goals, and last year’s goals (apart from a few that I’ve censored for privacy’s sake). I know that February is usually the month when people give up on their resolutions. I hope that this post will help and inspire people to give yearly goals or resolutions a chance.

img_3592
My 2020 resolutions

Above you can see my 2020 resolutions. A lot of them are things that appear in almost every year. The professional goals are all new (I didn’t manage my professional goals with my personal goals until this year, and even now only a small part of my professional goals are here). 

Every goal at this point only has the basic, first tier goals set beside it. The first three goals for example, all reading related, will eventually have stretch goals. They’re interesting to note here because back in 2016 I only had one reading goal: read 24 books. Once I got back into the habit of reading, I started to challenge myself with longer and more challenging books. These are all my base reading goals. I usually stretch them to around 50 books a year.

Why don’t I start with 50 books then? Because the point of these goals is to build myself up for success. The basic goals are the “even if I have a horrible year I should be able to reach these” goals. They are there to remind me that there’s a tomorrow, and something I can and should do about that tomorrow, even if a family member is hospitalized (or worse). The stretch goals are then built in small increments, reaching to my my final goal for the year.

Why don’t I write my stretch goals down from the start? Because the point is to keep myself focused on the next small step. That’s why things are broken down to the smallest increment that makes sense: one book, 10k, one month.

There’s a reason for each goal on this spread. I won’t go into each one specifically, but they all fall into the following general categories:

  • Read more.
  • Write more (my writing goals are censored, because if I publish them, I won’t do them. I know myself well enough by now).
  • Use the stuff I own.
  • Challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.
  • Social goals (partly censored).
  • Health goals (running, cross-training, bloodwork, dentist visits).
  • Professional goals (partial list).

Everything has to fit in on a two page spread, or I lose track of things. That’s why I spill over to other pages in the same notebook to track some of the details of my goals:

Tracking page for fountain pens, ink, tea and pencils.

Here are my 2019 resolutions. A pink check mark means that the basic goal is finished. You can see the increments things grow by (my stretch goals):

2019 resolutions

You may have noticed that the “fill triggers” goal isn’t filled up at all. This is the “relevant” part of the S.M.A.R.T. goals. I used the trigger system from Marshal Goldsmith’s “Triggers” book for a few months in 2018, and I decided at the beginning of 2019 to not continue with it. It was a conscious decision, and so I just ignored that goal. 

Here are my 2019 “spill” pages, just to get an idea of how the whole thing works together:

10 different fountain pen inks. Can you see where the stretch goal is marked?

Here are pencils, fountain pens, notebooks and races tracking:

And my largest tracking list, books:

The Baron Fig Confidant that holds this list has a bright cover and sits right in front of me, on my desk, at all times. I set up my goals that at every day or two I crack the notebook open and update the lists. Once there, I scan everything and check if there’s something that I can do to get it done. The point is to have this list on the top of my mind as much as possible, or else I’ll just forget about it, or it becomes something that I avoid checking out.

This is a system that supports me every day, giving my goals and aspirations much needed structure. I hope that this will help you build a personal system of this kind for yourself.  

How I Use My Notebooks: Yearly Goals (Resolutions)

Moleskine Spring-Summer 2020 Catalog

Moleskine’s Spring-Summer 2020 catalog is finally available online, and as usual, it’s chock full of new products and updates to existing ones. I recommend that you go spelunking in this massive tome (173 pages!), as you’re bound to find something in it that speaks to you. I’m going to try to cover most of the main changes, but this post is far from a comprehensive review of all that Moleskine Spring-Summer catalog has to offer.

Screenshot 2020-01-05 21.23.43

Classic Notebooks Expanded are getting two new colours (their first): Scarlet Red and Sapphire Blue. I’m assuming that this means that they have been a success, although judging by the choice to keep the squared and dotted rulings only in black, some options have likely been more successful than others.

Screenshot 2020-01-05 21.24.17

Classic Notebooks Hardcover get two new seasonal colours (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green), as has been Moleskine’s custom in recent years. I’m guessing that Hydrangea Blue is going to be as big a hit as Reef Blue was, but I’m still disappointed to see them limit the new colours to their most popular rulings only: ruled and plain. In other news, the Classic XXL has been discontinued, which isn’t really surprising as the A4 size has largely gone on to replace it. The strange thing is that in the Classic Notebooks Softcover lineup the opposite has happened: the XXL is staying on and the A4 is no longer available. Why? Looking over the rest of the catalog there appears to be a major and bewilderingly inconsistent reshuffling going on in the larger sized Moleskines. Some lines kept the XXL, some kept the A4 (the XXL is smaller than the A4), and I’m guessing that the only thing guiding Moleskine’s decision is which size gets purchased more per each line. In any case, if you’re a fan of the larger notebooks I recommend looking over the catalog to make sure that your favourite notebook isn’t getting discontinued. It takes a while for stores to run out of stock, so if you love the Classic XXL for instance, you still have time to stockpile a few while they’re still out there.

On that note I’m still disappointed that the squared reporter notebooks haven’t returned. I was in Porto, Portugal last year and I found a shop that not only had large squared reporter notebooks, but also the Moleskine Van Gogh notebooks that started their whole limited edition lineup, so I filled half my suitcase with those.

Screenshot 2020-01-05 21.24.45

Moleskine is fully embracing its phenomenally good fabric cover skills with the addition of the Blend collection as part of its regular lineup. There are two notebooks on offer, both in new colours (Harringbone Purple and Harringbone Blue), in ruled and dotted (!) options. The Blend covers are some of the best that Moleskine has produced in recent years, but they photograph pretty poorly. These are notebooks to see (and feel) in person, and I have no idea what the colour of the Harringbone Purple really is. Even if you’re not a Moleskine fan I recommend getting one of their fabric covered notebooks (the Two-Go notebooks for instance are also fountain pen friendly and have a cool blank on one side lined on the other side setup), just to see how good fabric covered notebooks can be when done properly.

Screenshot 2020-01-05 21.40.23

Planners are a giant chunk of the catalog, but I’m not going to go over them because that’s where madness lies. I’ll just point out that the 2021 limited edition planners are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peanuts, Little Prince (which were all featured in previous years), and the brand new Maneki-Neko. This is the first glimpse in the catalog of the growing Japanese influences on the Moleksine lineup this year (and over the last year or two), a theme that will repeat itself in the limited edition notebook lineup. Also, this is the first year in a while that hasn’t featured Star Wars planners, although the fall catalog may yet rectify that.

Screenshot 2020-01-05 21.30.56

This brings us to the most interesting part of the catalog for me, the limited edition notebooks. Here is where Moleksine flexes its design prowess, and the results are always unique, and oftentimes stunning. This year they’ve completed their Harry Potter limited edition lineup, with each HP book getting its own notebook design. You’d be shocked to know that these were super popular and so last year’s four notebooks are hard to find at reasonable prices. I expect this year’s three to sell just as quickly.

Screenshot 2020-01-05 21.30.45

That leaves four other limited editions for this year, with only one not having direct Japanese ties:

The Wizard of Oz – These are four large notebooks, two ruled (the green and the red), two plain (the blue and the yellow). They each come with a set of themed stickers, and I love their design. These four and the Sakura are a must buy for me, if I can get my hands on them (thank you, Book Depository, for messing up my Harry Potter pre-order. You’re the best). They feature original artwork from W.W. Denslow and the title of a chapter on the cover, and it looks like they are fabric covered, which is excellent news.

Sakura – this is the second time that Moleskine has come out with Sakura themed notebooks, and the previous round was stunning. I think that this edition is a little plainer, but again, fabric covered notebook in still a lovely design, so I’m probably going to get these, at least in the large size. These come in large and pocket, both ruled and plain, and they include a set of themed stickers.

The Legend of Zelda – in the video game/geeky part of the limited edition notebooks, it’s Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda that gets the Moleskine treatment this time. Again, themed stickers included, but no fabric cover. There is embossing on the cover, and nostalgic, pixalated graphics throughout. This edition also features a numbered (4,999 copies) box, and two large, ruled notebooks. This would have been a great edition for a squared ruling, but Moleskine will be Moleskine, I guess.

One Piece – a manga themed edition of two large notebooks, both ruled, with designs that are really difficult to see properly in the catalog. It comes with a set of themed stickers, and they appear to have gone for wildly different designs with these two notebooks. One appears to have a bold rendering of the Jolly Roger flag, and another is very subtly embossed on a peach cover.

Maneki-Neko – there’s just one notebook here, maybe because the cat of good fortune got its own planner lineup. This appears to be the least imaginative edition of the lot, in the least imaginative ruling (ruled, of course, what else?). There are stickers included here too.

And there’s a fifth limited edition that Moleskine claims is a spring launch, but as I purchased it from a Moleskine store in September, I beg to differ. It is gorgeous though, so I’ll give it a mention anyway:

Screenshot 2020-01-06 20.07.14.png

I am New York – the city themed limited edition notebooks that Moleskine has been issuing in recent years (and at first were only available in Moleskine stores) are some of their best designed notebooks, and that’s saying something. The graphics on the outer cover, the central park scene on the back endpaper and the new your breakfast on the front endpaper are just perfect. I plan on writing a review of this edition later this year, but I can already say that it’s one of my all time favourites (did I mention that it has a fabric cover?).

Now on to the Pro selection of the catalog:

A4 Pro Notebooks are discontinued, but the new Pro Project Planners range comes with Large, X-Large and A4 size and not the XXL. Again, not sure what the thinking is here. As for the Pro Project Planners themselves, these aren’t planners in the traditional sense of the word, but rather planners that have various productivity bits stuck in (there’s brainstorming, project tracking, structured note taking and to do list sections, as well as labeling stickers, goal pages and more). These are clearly business oriented, which explains Moleskine’s choice to produce them only with black covers.

Others:

The City Notebooks Pocket Box is no longer available. I imagine that it wasn’t popular enough for them to keep stocking it.

There are a few additions to the Smart Writing System notebooks. I don’t plan on buying into the system, so I’m not going to cover it here.

Screenshot 2020-01-06 20.50.30
Discontinued Go Click Ballpens

The Classic Cap Roller Pens and Classic Click Ballpen in white, tide green, and charcoal grey are being discontinued. The Go Click Ballpen in Pattern Cyan, Magenta Green and Yellow are also being discontinued. These are among the best looking Moleskine Go pens, so that’s a real shame. What’s worse is that Moleskine is discontinuing all of its roller gel (and ballpoint) refills. Their gel refill is Parker size and pretty great, so I really wish they would continue producing it. As it is I’m planning to buy one or two to keep around while I still can (they aren’t cheap).

I personally am a bit disappointed in Moleksine’s Spring-Summer lineup this year compared to their previous Fall-Winter one, but that’s just a matter of taste. There are some real lookers here, and the choice of seasonal colours for their notebook lineup (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green) is great. There are a lot of options that are getting discontinued, hopefully to be replaced by others in the future, so it’s worth taking some time to make sure that your favourite combo hasn’t been axed. Old stock of discontinued items will stick around for a while, but if there’s something that you really can’t do without and it’s marked as “no longer available” or “while stocks last” then it’s worth stocking up on it while you still can.

 

 

Moleskine Spring-Summer 2020 Catalog

How to Buy Your First Parker 51

Since there’s a good chance that people reading this post, about buying your first vintage fountain pen, will want to purchase a Parker 51, I thought I’d write a separate post with a few extra tips on how to get a good, working Parker 51 at a decent price.

So, one of these pens costs upwards of $400 and the other can be purchased for closer to $40. Which is which?

This is one of the dilemmas facing a new Parker 51 buyer: you’ve heard that this is a great vintage pen, but you can’t make heads or tails of its market value. How do you know what to buy and that you aren’t being ripped off?

Here are a few things worth knowing, if you want to buy a Parker 51 that you actually intend to use. If you’re looking to buy a pen to collect, this is not the guide for you. I’m assuming that you want a good, writing pen that will last you for years and won’t break the bank.

  • Check if the pen is a vacumatic or an aerometric Parker 51. You can either ask the seller, or take a quick glance at the pen body. If there’s a visible seam near the end of the pen, its a vacumatic. You want an aerometric, because they’re cheaper, easier to use and clean, and generally have less issues requiring repair than their earlier counterparts. Aerometric Parker 51 have a filling system that looks like a modern squeeze converter: a sack covered in a metal sleeve. The sack is transparent when the pen is brand new, but 95% of the time you’ll see sacks that are discoloured to a black, opaque state. That doesn’t affect the workings of the pen, but the more transparent the sack is the higher the pen’s price will be. You don’t need a pen with a clear sack to enjoy your 51. Just press the sack to check that it’s still supple (it usually will be. The sacks aren’t rubber so they don’t crumble with age), and remember: you’ll need 4-5 presses to fill the pen properly.
  • Most of the value of a Parker 51 pen lies in the cap. I know, that sounds weird, but since the body has no markings (usually), there’s really note much else that can differentiate between one Parker 51 and another (we’ll get to the colours later, I promise). Gold, gold-filled, coin silver and sterling silver caps will make the price of the pen skyrocket. Telling the gold apart from the Lustraloy (regular) caps is easy, but don’t worry, you won’t get any silver capped 51 for less than $150, so that’s how you can tell even if you don’t want to ask the dealer. But by all means, ask the dealer. Sterling silver caps are stamped, as are the gold ones. The gold filled caps are merely marked as gold filled, and if your heart is set on them they aren’t wildly expensive usually (they actually cost less than a modern Edison or Franklin Christoph pen, so long as you’re going for an aerometric in a common colour).
  • Caps that are even slightly dinged or nicked, visibly scratched or have lost the frosted lustre in their Lustraloy also seriously devalue the price of the pen. A brand new Lustraloy cap has a frosted finish and shiny bands on the top and bottom. The pen in the middle of this photo is NOS, and you can see that it looks different than its well worn neighbour to the right (the black pen). Gold filled and gold caps are usually dinged in some way if they were used, and this is the case of the demi Parker below (the grey one). Needless to say, the state of the cap doesn’t affect the writing experience with the pen, so you can get 51s for a song if you’re willing to go with a common coloured pen with a Lustraloy cap that’s seen some wear. It doesn’t even have to be dinged – just the existence of significant micro-scratches is enough.
  • In order of rarity the common Parker 51 colours are: Black, Navy Blue, Grey, Burgundy, Teal. None of these colours are rare, and none of them should raise the price of the pen.
  • If the pen is NOS or stickered and sold as almost NOS, walk away. That significantly raises the price for a pen that’s meant to be looked at, not used.
  • All Parker 51s use a slip cap mechanism. That means that oftentimes a well used pen will have scratches, abrasions and visible scuffing on the section (the part of the pen above the band, near the nib). That also devalues the pen, but like other cosmetic flaws it does nothing to affect its writing capability.
  • So what does affect the Parker 51’s writing capability? The tipping material. The thing you absolutely must check before buying a Parker 51 that you intend to write with is how much tipping material it has left. This may be a little tricky, because in finer 51 nibs you may not see how much tipping material there is on first glance. The trick is to look at the pen nib not from the side, but from below. Look at this 51 pen nib for example. Without a loupe it’s difficult to see from the side how much tipping material is left on it:

 

  • Hard to tell if there’s a lot of tipping material left there or not.

The answer is to flip the pen and look at the flip side of the nib. The tipping material looks like a shiny dot on the tip of the nib. If there’s no shiny dot and you just see the gold nib, the tipping material is gone. You’ll also feel it immediately when writing, as the pen will drag over the paper instead of floating on it, and may even be scratchy. Parker 51 nibs don’t get misaligned very often, so a scratchy nib usually means the tipping material is gone.

  • A medium Parker 51 nib with plenty of tipping material left

    A fine Parker 51 tip with some tipping material left. This should still last for years of use.
  • Parker 51 pens have gold nibs, unless they’re Parker 51 Specials, in which case they have steel nibs, shiny caps and a black jewel on top. I personally am not a fan of the 51 Special, but if you are, they’re usually an inexpensive way to get into your first vintage fountain pen.
  • There are two lengths of pen body, the full size Parker 51 and the shorter Parker 51 demi. I don’t recommend buying the demi because they’re too small for even my tiny hands  to use with comfort (without posting), and they tend to cost more because there were less of them made.
  • As usual, personalization of any kind on the pen body or cap makes the price of the pen severely drop.

Bottom line: you can get a phenomenal gold nibbed pen in a beautiful Jetson design for less than $100 if you know what not to pay for. Now can you tell which pen is the Plum?

How to Buy Your First Parker 51

Moleskine Lord of the Rings Moria Limited Edition Review

A few years ago Moleskine came out with a series of rather plain Lord of the Rings limited edition notebooks. This year they’ve had a redo, and this time they’ve decided to invest a little more in the cover designs. The result is a series of notebooks that really does the LotR justice.

The Moleskine Lord of the Rings Moria limited edition is a proof that even if you choose grey as your colour scheme, you don’t have to create a dull product (I’m looking at you Blackwing volume 10).

Notice how even the font on the paper band has been changed to fit the LotR design sensibility.

Every little detail counts, including the choice of colour for the paper band (it just pops), and the Tolkien symbol on the spine.

I’ve decided to use this notebook as my next journal. You can check out just how many things I pack into my journals by comparing the two notebooks’ thickness. They’ve got the same page count (192).

The front cover features a drawing of the entrance to Moria, in dark grey on a light grey background. The drawing continues on the spine and the back. You can see members of the fellowship (in gold foil) standing in front of Moria’s gates, the monster about to attack from the lake, and the carving of the two trees and the entrance runes. A description of the scene is given in gold foil, also in the LotR font.

The back cover. You can see the gate rune to Moria in detail, and the Moleskine logo hardly at all. It’s just debossed into the cover. The elastic band matches the dark grey of the drawing.

Inside the front and back cover is some of Moleskine’s finest work in terms of endpaper design. The front features a sketch of the Misty Mountains and lands to the south and the east, and also the “In case of loss“. You can see Tolkien debating which name to use for various places.

The back includes a contour map of the Misty Mountains around Mirrormere. Again, the drawing is perfectly aligned with the back pocket (it might not seem so in the photo, but trust me, it is), a small but not trivial design feature.

This is a lined notebook, with a light grey ribbon. The paper works well with pencil, ballpoint, gel ink pen, fineliners and Noodler’s Bulletproof black.

The add on to this edition is also unique: an insert with the Cirth alphabet that Tolkien invented.

Inside the insert:

The B-side of the paper band includes a timeline for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, focusing on Frodo and Sam’s journey.

If you love the Lord of the Rings this edition is a no brainer —  I highly recommend it. Even for non-fans this is a very well designed, grey/red/black and white edition that proves that you can create beautiful things even with a limited palette.

 

 

Moleskine Lord of the Rings Moria Limited Edition Review

In Case of Loss

One of the most iconic things about Moleskines is the “In case of loss, please return to” on the front endpaper. You are supposed to write your name and address on the supplied four lines, together with an enticing, but not too enticing reward. According to Adrienne Raphael this feature of the Moleskine sees little use. If you’re Casey or Van Neistat you label every notebook cover with Whiteout, offering a cash reward.

img_0125-1.jpg

I just write my name and email, and with “let’s talk” in the reward line. I started filling the “In case of loss” at first because at the time I could barely afford to buy a Moleksine and they were really difficult to obtain, so I wanted a chance to get them back if I ever misplaced them. Over the years filling these lines has become a habit, a ritual that makes the notebook mine instead of just another notebook. I never thought that I would come in use.

Until last year.

I used my Moleskine to journal during a night flight from London to Tel Aviv. In the rush out of the plane I didn’t notice that I forgot my notebook in my seat pocket, together with my beloved Ti Arto. I got home at around 3 AM after a sleepless night, and crashed to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later and realized that I lost my journal you could hear my howl around the block. I beat myself up and then contacted the airline (the brilliant British Airways), as well as the Ben Gurion and Heathrow lost and found, in the faint hope that someone found my notebook and didn’t toss it out with the garbage.

A few hours later, while I was still mourning my loss, I got an email.

The Customer Service Manager on my flight had found my notebook, saw my email address on the “In case of loss” page, and had emailed me. There are good people in the world, and one of them was the manager on my BA flight.

Two weeks later my journal arrived through the mail, and I nearly cried when I saw it.

You see, when I first filled that from page this wasn’t a special notebook. I had bought it on sale, it wasn’t a favourite limited edition of mine, and I had just randomly selected it from the shelf when I filled my previous Moleskine.

But then I wrote in it.

By the time I lost it the notebook contained memories of my dog, which died two months before, notes from my London trip, ideas for a short story, and a lot of snippets of everyday life. It had become meaningful, irreplaceable.

So when you crack open a new notebook, any new notebook, take a moment to jot down your name and email at least. You may plan on only using it for grocery lists right now, but you never know what the future holds.

In Case of Loss