Tag Archives: Moleskine

Research Mode

Image Source: Tumblr

Image Source: Tumblr

I just got my first interlibrary loan yesterday (ILL for all you bibliotheque nerds). It is an interesting mix of adult responsibilities and genuine excitement. The book is due on April 30th (no renewals), and I will be fined $2.50 a day if it is not returned. There’s an envelope it must be returned inside, and a sleeve that is stuck to the outside cover. The cheapest I could have bought this book was $20, with most copies ranging more in the $50-$60 range. As I continue on the journey from a general interest in fractals to a more specialized exploration, there are only going to be more such books and loans (though I still have to fight off the hoarders mentality that I’d have if I had a University Library’s budget).

It struck me the other day how different the way I conduct research now was from when I was in highschool and college. The internet was a strong resource in both times, but where I’d be printing off papers in college and compiling them in a notebook, now I am just throwing things on my tablet. I found a 2000 page math encyclopedia on the Internet Archive the other day, and I can carry it around in my bag without any back strain.

Yet I still find myself working with paper when it comes to taking notes and working things out. Part of this is simply mobility, it’s easier to take notes on paper at idle moments than it is to use a computer. And part of it is that I believe as many do, that taking notes on paper is a better way to retain information and to organize thoughts. Plus it’s a way to make use of the dozens of notebooks that have piled up in my house that have yet to be filled with brilliant short stories.

I’m a little more specialized with these notebooks than college. I got into a genuine discussion with Brian over whether Moleskine is pronounced “Moleskin” or “Moleskeen” (I prefer the later even though it is likely wrong). And I have all different sizes, larger stay at home notebooks for rough work, smaller reporter pads for technical notes, and mid-size for more general information. My “go bag” has a tablet, an eReader and six notebooks!

And even when I find myself frustrated with pay-walls for articles, or expensive books, I am amazed at how much knowledge is just out there for free. Even with the potential for steep fines, getting a book from an inter-library loan was cheaper and almost as quick (if not faster) than buying the book myself. I do admit to some impatience with having to wait for physical materials, both waiting for them to arrive, and waiting for time to read them at home. It’s why I’m a fan of writing affordable eBook reference materials. But sometimes there’s nothing like a good primary source from an author whose name you need a pronunciation guide for.

How do you do research? Are you still a pencil and physical book sort of person, or is Google the way to all knowledge?

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One of the results of previous research projects was Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach. If you’re looking for a gateway to understanding fractals, particularly how to make them, it’s not a bad place to start, and it’s free on Kindle Unlimited.

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Tools of the Trade

My mom was talking to me this weekend about a commercial she’d seen for a new car. It involved a group of people tossing their smart phones into a wood chipper, then being asked how they felt about it. One girl’s reply was that she felt a bit sick.

Personally I think I’d be looking for a bigger, cooler object to shred, like maybe an old desktop that’s given me trouble. And I would want back the $600 I paid for the phone (in the hypothetical world where I own a smartphone in the first place).

My relationship to technology is a lot like a carpenter and his tools. I work with all sorts of gadgets, and I do buy things so that I can have some specialized new functionality. Just recently I bought a $6 bluetooth keyboard for my tablet (after looking through literally 1000’s of options). But I don’t live on my gear (all appearances to the contrary), they’re just tools in my toolbox.

One of the first things I do when starting a new writing project is to put together my “go bag.” Typically this involves going to the thrift store to find something cool with all the right compartments I need (I have probably as many laptop/computer bags as some people have purses). My latest is an orange sport bag with a nice thin profile, lots of pockets, and a total cost of $3.

For my current writing projects, I’m trying to work without always carrying around a laptop. I have a couple of good on-the-go computers, but the boot-up time and battery life can hamper opportunities to write in odd locations. The kind of projects I’m working on now benefit from the ability to whip out a keyboard, type for fifteen minutes, then pack up. My tablet can carry large amounts of reading material, music, and media, everything I need to be productive in small bursts.

But as much as I work on computers or tablets, there are still tasks that call for old fashioned pencil and paper. I think a lot of authors romanticize fancy journals, leather-bound notebooks with wrap-around ties, something that looks like an ancient scribe that will lead you to the ark of the covenant. I’m susceptible to this as much as the next person, though I’ve divested myself somewhat of the notion that I’m going to fill these books with wonderfully profound short-stories or thoughts. Usually I just use them for taking notes.

This still can require specialized equipment. Because I have a small bag I want something small, sturdy, with a lot of pages, and a little cool looking. Since I’m taking math notation, I need a gridded notebook that meets these parameters (bought my first Moleskine brand notebook this week). I’ve heard that notation on paper can aid in retention of information, though truthfully it’s just as much about speed and not having to flip back and forth between what I’m reading on my tablet and my notes.

My point is, I carry around abilities, not gadgets.

Some of those abilities are purely entertainment based, and some are more practical, but the tools are not part of me. Short of worries about losing notes, having to replace items, or being worried about credit card information, these devices are just gear. It’s gear I trade in and out based on the needs of the moment. I make some effort to be connected, to check-in on social media, to tweet an appropriate number of times, and to write these posts, but it’s not the primary function of anything I carry. It’s the nail-file on my Leatherman. Occasionally useful, but not primarily why I have the device.

Maybe part of it is that I spread out my gear. No one device has all my contacts, music, pictures, writing, etc. I try to keep things roughly interchangeable, to allow for my cycling of moods between trying to carry the minimum possible, and the whole kitchen sink. And I like specialized devices rather than multi-purpose ones. I actually think there’s a benefit to something that can only do one thing, my eReader is still the device on which I do the most reading, not my tablet, because there are fewer distractions.

I worry as I write this that I sound anachronistic, out of touch with modern culture and devices. My refusal to own a smartphone already puts me dangerously close to the Grandpa class. Heck, my Dad has a smartphone, and loves it. But I think skepticism is healthy. Then again, you are reading the opinions of a bearded man whose dream is to live in a cabin in the woods. So take that for what it’s worth.

I think at the very least we should examine our relationship to devices from time to time. And if the thought of losing them makes us sick, maybe it’s time to pull back a little.

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