Saturday, April 18, 2009

Random heretical thoughts, plus more backsliding

I am something of a retrogrouch. Big surprise there. I've gone on record saying that electronic books will never catch on (for me, in any case), that ink and paper is still the best way to record thought, that I can't imagine why anyone would rely on devices that require power.

But this week, I've had to eat my words, somewhat, not once but twice.

First of all, I got to play with a Kindle 2 that some friends recently received, and I have to say, that is one cool little device. I was shocked, for starters, that it looks on paper. It's a far cry from reading text on a backlit PDA type of device. It's easy on the eyes and has the contrast, pretty much, of regular paper, BUT it lies perfectly flat, you can resize the text if you wish, the pages turn at the press of a button, you can easily jump to any given page, search for's almost the best of both worlds. Not that I'm ready to drop $350 on one, but I'm still impressed. Especially considering all the free books available on sites like (I WUVVVV!!!) I'd still have worries about battery life, and the fact that any device like that can malfunction and cut you off from your reading material, and that technology changes while printed written material will still be readable without a special device for lifetimes. But I admit, I can see these digital thingies having a place in the world. I'd never give up my real books, but it'd be nice to be able to carry *all* your favorite books and all your favorite reference books on a trip in a two pound package, ya know?

The second instance of anti-Luddite "oooh, cool technology!" I experienced this week was in reaction to a Livescribe pen one of my coworkers picked up. This is one nifty little gadget. It works like a regular ball point pen, but as you write on special dot matrix paper (but it *is* paper!) it records your pen strokes. You can simultaneously record the audio of whatever you're taking notes on, and can later tap that section to hear the audio that was occurring as you were writing. It lets you save your handwritten notes in image form (there are add-ons that are supposed to do handwriting recognition, but I have no idea how well those work), and again, you can search for keywords. I don't know how it identifies the words within regular handwriting, but it seems to be pretty accurate. Magic. And, of course, you still have your handwritten notes to refer to should everything crash.

You can also print pages with the dot matrix grid on regular paper, which makes my Circa/Rolla-loving self twittery. It requires a color laser, though, so it may not be practical for most.

I think the Livescribe is still new enough that there are kinks to work out, but I'm fascinated by this melding of technology with reg'lar old writing on paper. It pleases me. I think it's a far more realistic and practical approach to sci-fi-like technology than a complete movement away from paper and pens and other manual ways of getting data down.

No financial involvement in either of these toys...I can't afford 'em. ;-) But I reluctantly admit that they're pretty darned cool.

As for myself, I'm still quite happy with pen and paper for most purposes. I do a ton of taking notes and making hand-written to-do lists at work: things stick in my head better that way. I go through a lot of notebooks (usually steno pads) and save old ones so I can refer back. I also tend to scribble down to-do lists or notes or poems or other writing for home in the midst of everything and tear them out, leaving me with raggedy steno pages all over the house, tucked into my home notebooks and journal, and in the pockets of my bag.

I'm about to finish another pad at work, after which I'm experimentally going Rollabind for a bit. It will mean I can stick pages from my work notebook into my home one without a problem, and also I can pick my own paper (woo-hoo!): something that will work with fountain pens if I wish--and unlined, which I've come to prefer most of the time. I like the smaller Junior sized for at work since it takes up less real estate on the desk, so today I bought a Rollabind notebook at Staples for five bucks (yes, expensive for a notebook...but it's a reuseable cover), and a ream of good paper. I took the paper to Kinkos and had them cut it in half to fit the cover nicely. It only cost about a buck fifty for the cut, so it was worth it. I now have a thousand pages worth of notebook paper--should be enough to last me for at least a coupla years.... The paper is actually a little too big for the cover (I think Levenger's covers are a little longer, but I could be wrong), but since this will mostly live on a desk, and I just need the cover as an occasional hard surface to write on when I'm taking notes without a table, I can live with the imperfection.



Joe VanCleave said...

I enjoy reading your blog. I know what you mean about the best of both worlds. My best writing experience is with my Pelikan fountain pen, blue/black Quink ink, and Staples bagase (sugar cane pulp) recycled paper (this stuff is great, even for fountain pens). I also love using my several manual typewriters. But, I've also enjoyed my Sony Clei Palm-based PDA, with folding keyboard. Everything about this writing tool is highly functional for portable writing, except the too-small screen.

This week I broke down and bought an MSI Wind netbook computer. The keyboard is "ok" -- it's not a real typewriter -- and I don't think I'll be enjoying writing with it as much as with ink on paper or manually typed, but it's very portable.

We're living in an interesting age, when all technology is suddenly cool, both retro and cutting edge. Look at the resurgence of interest in film cameras, for instance.

Thanks again for your article.


Olivander said...

The Livescribe looks a lot like an updated version of the FLY Pen. I bought one of those when it first came out, thinking that it could do what the Livescribe does. Sadly, it turned out to be little more than a child's toy.

Me, I want one of Jamie Wilson's typewriter-keyboard hybrids.

Duffy Moon said...

Oh, Elizabeth. Say it ain't so! Don't be seduced by the dark side.

(I dig cool tech also. And that fills me with self-loathing.)

Joe VanCleave said...

One other thought I wanted to share, of which I'm reminded by your mention of binding loose sheets of writings. I've written, over the years, on many different notebook and journal systems. The problem was always the lack of a centralized organization; the various pieces of writing would be spread across multiple journal books, and archiving and finding these pieces was cumbersome.

I've finally bottomed out on simple 3-ring binder paper as the final "output". Rather than being serially ordered, as in a bound journal, these loose pages can be randomly ordered. My more recent writings start out in fountain pen on paper, get red-lined (literally) with red ink, then typed into Word in order to get posted. Then the paper "master" document gets filed away in a 3-ring binder. This also works with manual typewritten pieces, which also get red-lined prior to being transcribed to electrons.


Little Flower Petals said...

I think my favorite compromise between old school and high-tech is still the Alphasmart Neo. I see it as what the portable typewriter would have become if it had progressed naturally instead of being overtaken by multi-function computers. It's a very lightweight portable typewriter with lots of memory. Somehow, though, I still don't care for writing in immediately editable format (albeit it's cumbersome to do much editing on an Alphasmart), so I don't use it as much as I wish I did. I kind of have to make myself buckle down and use it exclusively for a few days before I get back into the swing of it.

To Joe: at the moment, I'm pretty pleased with the Circa disc binding system. The punch was the most expensive part, but I found a 20% off coupon and bit the bullet on that back in November. The discs I bought on eBay for pretty cheap. They're Rollabind brand rather than the Levenger ones, and I did have to file a few rough edges off, but I can live with that. For covers I have both some nice ones and some I made by cutting cheap plastic folders to fit and punching them. I have one notebook containing most of my NaNoWriMo story (which I'm still lugging around since I'm not done yet...*sigh*), one for music, one that has current writing projects, and now I'm going to start the smaller sized one for work.

This system lets me put pages of any size in any notebook, plus add any printed references I like (news articles or research relating to a story, for example), in a less bulky package than a 3-ring binder. I imagine I'll likely use 3-ring binders for long-term storage of completely inactive material, though. That way I can keep reusing the same discs and covers. Kind of like you said: using the 3-ring binders for filing of master documents once they've been transcribed.

Little Flower Petals said...

Oh...and I keep looking at that bagasse paper! I fingered the notebooks at Staples when I was there (I'm a sucker for composition books), but I'm *supposed* to be on the wagon where buying paper supplies and typewriters and pens is concerned. Granted, I've not done all that well lately. But yesterday's purchases were work related. I can justify it. Almost.

They're on my list to try eventually!

speculator said...

The great thing about it all- is that you're writing! And each format has its own syntax, if you will, and so the action of writing is always an experience to notice.

Even different typewriters cause us to think differently- and I can surely vouch for the ways different camera formats cause me to see "with" the different parameters.
(As you can see, I use more than pencil and notebook!)

These days, the Maine coast is a bit warmer, and I'm back to writing on craggy "perches" sticking out of the ocean. That fountain pen ink glistens in the sun!

Strikethru said...

I agree with you about Kindles... they are cool. I am still kind of weird about buying books that you don't really "have," but I guess I got over that with music, so I can do it with books too...

Livescribe???? Have to check that out.

Monda said...

I just can't do Kindle. I can't. Too much of the tactile-love is lost for me.

You're about to talk me into a Circa notebook, though.