What is convenient isn’t always better.

I bought an Apple Watch last week. This isn’t really about it, but the charging system Apple went for is a very good example for what I am trying to say.

The inductive charging system on the Apple watch is very convenient, you just place the watch on top of it and leave it. You don’t have to plug anything in, you just leave it on top of the charger. But it isn’t that great. My main problem with it is that it’s too easy for something to bump it off, and then you have a watch that is 50% charged in the morning instead of 100%.

You can say the same thing for a classic Bic Crystal. It is a very convenient pen, and it is pretty damn good for what it is, even though I don’t like it. It works every time, and it is cheap. You could buy a large box of them and leave a few in your bag, on your desk, in your jacket etc. But it isn’t better. You could get a much better pen, for example a Lamy 2000, but that is less convenient, even though the experience of writing with it is worse.

Convenience and the best thing is always up against each other, and you need to find the perfect balance. They work after two completely different set of premises. You want to go as close as possible to “best” when it is something that is important to you, and you want to go as close to convenient as possible when you want it to be as easy as possible.

Why I don’t organise my notebooks.

I’m not that into organising “stuff” into folders or compartments. I don’t do it more than I have to digitally or analogue. The reason I never do it is that what I am going to look for when I need it is almost always different from what I would have categorised it as. My approach is instead to organise things based on what it is. All my plain text notes are in the same place, all my pictures are in the same place; all my Field Notes are in on place and all my larger notebooks in another.

I use search to find my stuff on my computer, and I almost always find it. The way I do it with my notebook is that I write when I started using a notebook, and when I completed it on the first page. Then I write a date on the top of each “text” or “list” or whatever. Then I write “(posted)”, “(transcribed)” and so on on the bottom of each text if I have done so.

It isn’t perfect, and it can be cumbersome to find stuff sometimes. But it gives me just enough context to find what I am looking for.

And I can look through all of my notebooks many more times before I even get close to the time it would have taken to set up and maintain a good system for categorising all of my used notebooks.

End of an era, and when I discovered the benefits of handwriting.

I went to my university’s bookstore yesterday, and bought, what will hopefully be the last batch of books for subjects I am taking. I’ll probably still drop by every now and then to pick up some books.

My plan is to be done with my degree in a few months.

It was when I started at the university that I started to see the real benefits of taking notes by hand. I noticed that I didn’t really remember that much of the seminars and lectures when I took notes on my Macbook, while I remembered a lot more when I used pen and paper.

There have been done a lot of research on the subject, and I’m not going to get into that. But my observation after reviewing some of the notes I have taking both in digital form and analogue form, and my observation is that my digital note is more or less a direct transcription of both the slides and what was said. While my analogue counterparts include was less information.

My impression of my own process is that how I pay attention is the key part here. When I take notes digitally I just passively listen and just write down every single piece of information. While I really have to focus and pay attention to pick up the important information and formulations when I write by hand, because I can’t write down every single thing.

My reason for using pen and paper before I started at the university was because I preferred it, now I use it because it often is the better tool for the job, in most situations, but not all. I still think that a laptop is better if you want a very accurate transcript of the meeting.

We need handwriting.

Articles like this always drive me nuts. We still use hand writing a lot in our daily lives, even though it doesn’t have the same role as it used to have.

The author uses one of the most ignorant and idiotic arguments I have seen in a very long time:

But as a left-hander with terrible handwriting who watched my son struggle to master cursive — he had to stay inside during recess for much of third grade because he wrote his j’s backward — that is a loss I can weather. And history is replete with similar losses; consider how rarely people now carve words in stone, dip pens into ink or swipe platens of typewriters. There will be no loss to our children’s intelligence. The cultural values we project onto handwriting will alter as we do, as they have for the past 6,000 years.

School isn’t just about learning useful skills. It is also about learning a wide skill set, so that you can figure out what you want to do later in life. But the most important thing is that many things in life are hard. You still have to do them, and it is good for you.

You still need handwriting. Many subjects you are going to take require you to do a handwritten exam, not because we are old fashioned, but because subjects like Math, Physics or Logic require very sophisticated software and a lot of training before you are able to do the same thing that you can do with a simple piece of paper and a ruler.

There are also many things in your daily life where you are expected to write by hand, for example when you have to fill out some forms. Or in a meeting when you are brainstorming on large piece of paper or a whiteboard. Or in a meeting with a designer when you are trying to figure out how something should look.

You can probably do the same thing on a computer, and we do, but it is often faster, easier and better to do it on paper.

Now. Cursive. My cursive hand writing is horrible, and I hated it when I had to learn it. But it is still a very useful skill. I can read cursive because of it, even though I can’t write it myself. We have spent many hundred years, and billions of dollars to learn how to understand dead languages that we lost the direct ties to. We will cut the ties to most of the primary sources available to historians if we stop teaching cursive. That is bad. The long term problem is that we could loose the ability to read them at all. The short term problem is for everyone that need in their field or study or other work related task. Instead of using a little bit of time learning it, while learning is easier, they have to learn it much later. This means more training or education for various research positions and probably regular jobs as well before they can do their job.

How to ask the right questions

I think we have established that buying every cool thing that shows up isn’t really my thing. But I do buy stuff when I need them. And this is about how I go forward to figure out what I need.

The first step is that you need to start out with a different starting point than the product. For me it is about replacing something that isn’t what I need, removing something I don’t need or adding something new to solve a problem I don’t have a good solution for.

I always take note when I get annoyed. For example my latest change in my “workflow” for a lack of a better word, is the re-introduction of pocked sized Field Notes. As I said in the blog post, I got rid of them because the format wasn’t the right thing for most of what I were using them for. The format was way too small and limited for managing all of my notes and tasks. But I slowly realised that they were the right thing for a small sub set of my tasks and notes. I don’t always bring my Travelers Notebook when I go shopping, but I always have the room for a Field Notes notebook. There: that is a good place to start.

The reason I focus on having a use for something before buying it, is that most of us have a limited amount of money we can spend on stationary per month and year, and the less I spent on stuff I won’t use, the more I can spend on stuff I will use. It’s not that hard to spend enough on notebooks you don’t use to pay for a Lamy 2000 or something really expensive.

Small or large?

I always try to use the smallest bag I can get away with. This is the kind of where you have room for what you need, and not much more.

My previous bag was perfect for what I needed then. But it is too small because I have to bring my computer to and from work at my current job, something I didn’t need to at my previous.

The one I am using is way too big, and I haven’t found the new “perfect” yet.

My problem with a large bag is that it leaves room for carrying a lot of junk. The result is two new problems, first it becomes full, and then you can’t find anything, because it is full of junk.

The result is that I have to empty it once a week, put back what I need and figure out what to do with the crap.

The thing I like about using a bag where you don’t have much more room than what you need is that you can’t fill it up with crap, and you need to consider every singe thing you want to add. It comes down to how important that new thing is, and figure out what to do. You could chose to not add it, or you could remove something else or get a bigger bag. It all comes down to how important it is.

It always feels like I am doing better choices when I really have to consider everything up against each other. This is one of the ways I try to force myself to do just that.

On when to buy.

I have written many times before about questioning what you use, as a way of finding the best tools available to do what ever you are trying to do. But I have left one very important slot open, and that is when to do it.

It is very easy to buy every single new and shiny thing out there, just because they are new and shiny. But that is just a very simple way to spend a lot of money, and fill your house with a lot of crap you'll never use. The alternate approach is to let the need come before, you buy it; instead of trying to find a use for something after you buy it.

For me, everything stationary I order are in one of two categories: new stuff and more of what I already use. What I mean by more of what I already use is things that I need more of(inks, refills, notebooks etc) and things I need to replace, like pens. While new stuff are new pens and other items that I buy to solve a specific problem.

Let me begin with new stuff. I don’t order anything the first time I see them because I know that it is a fairly big chance I won’t use it much unless I have a plan for what it is going to solve for me. But I add everything interesting I see to a list, so that I have a good place to start when I need something to solve a specific problem. And when I decide to buy it, wait a few weeks to see if I really need to pull the trigger. Some problems aren’t big enough to actually justify it, while others are.

The tricky part is when you want more of something you already own and use. For example inks or notebooks. It’s okay to have a few bottles of ink or a nice pile of Field Notes. But you should in general avoid ordering at a higher pace than you are using. My strategy have always been to order a pile of refills for my Travellers Notebook or a pile of Field Notes and then wait until my stock is almost out before I order more. And seriously: how many bottles of ink do you need? When you are getting close to owning more ink that you can use for the rest of your life, is the moment where you should stop buying; and maybe selling a few bottles before you order more?

Everything matters.

I think I first learned about this concept when I started playing guitar, everything has an impact on the sound. From the strings you use, to the picks and everything about how the guitar is made. The same goes for your pens and notebooks.

When you are trying to achieve something, everything that is a part of that something will have an impact. I always find it useful to write down a few sentences about what my goal is.

The most important thing for me is always short enough dry time without any bleed through, while others might think that no feathering is more important than the dry time. My perfect setup would be instant dry time, no bleed through and no feathering. But that is impossible. You could probably get it with a very thin nib, but I’m not a fan of nibs like that because they are way too scratchy for my taste; and I have thing for a thick line.

You need to start with your goal. Before you figure out what the options for getting there are. But you also need to look at where you are willing to compromise.

My personal experience is that you do get something from picking an ink with short dry time combined paper that are known for shorter dry time. But the key factor is the the pen. How broad and wet the nib is the most important factor.

Using a journal to keep track of habit forming.

I’m more interested in habits and how to get yourself to do what you want than the average human.

Let’s say you want to do something, for example read more books, buy more pens or go more to the gym. A typical solution to this a resolution; they usually come in the form of “Work out twice a week”. There are a number of problems with it though.

The problem with it is that you will fail many times, and the typical resolution don’t take this into consideration. A good goal should be achievable, not too hard, while at the same time pushing yourself. It should be hard to fail.

I have taken a different approach to it the last few years. I set a number. For example “I want to go to the gym 100 times this year”. The total number of times you go to the gym is more or less the same, but it takes into consideration that you will skip a week here and there, without breaking it. If you skip a week while on vacation or sick – then you’ll have to make it up by the end of the year.

This is a fantastic way to use that pile of Field Notes you haven’t started using yet. The way I do it is that I write what the goal is on the first page, the next two pages I use to keep track of how many times I have done it. Then I start writing dates; all the days I went to the gym. You can also write some notes about each entry if needed; this is what I do to keep track of all the books I read during a calendar year. I write the date I completed it followed by Author and Title.

My New Work Notebook.

I have spent a lot of time looking for a good notebook to use at work. My previous work place(I work as a Software Developer Consultant, so I work for as long as they need me, before I move over to the next gig) had a supply cabinet with not great but good enough notebooks, so I used them.

I have been using MYN refills since I started at my current gig, but I don’t think they are the right thing to use at work.

What Do I need?

  • Short dry time
  • Be able to rip out pages
  • A notebook that stays flat, so I can read pages and take notes without having to fiddle with the notebooks.

I considered everything from the Baron Fig stuff to LT1917, Rhodia and so on.

I landed on a notebook that I have been curious about for a very long time: The Field Notes Steno Pad. The paper isn’t the best, but I know it after filling over 50 of the pocket sized Field Notes; they are not the best for fountain pens but work pretty well, everything considered. The dry time is short. It is more or less the perfect notebook for me to use at work.

The format is superior to the “book” format in this context, but I prefer a more book like format if it is a notebook I have to carry in my bag all the time, because they are more durable. But it is perfect for something that just lays around on a desk.

I also think the steno page layout is great for task management; you can use the full width, when needed; but the half width is surprisingly useful while dealing with projects with a lot of simple tasks.

Review Field Notes Wooden Archival Box

I ordered the archival box a while back. This is one of the products I have considered so many times that I don’t know how many times I have almost pulled the trigger. And it have been on my wish list for about two years, probably closer to two and half.

The funny thing is that I have almost filled it up with used notebooks within minutes of getting it.

You get a simple, well designed, but not fancy wooden box. They included some dividers, but I don’t use them. It is a very good solution, if you are looking for a practical way to store your Field Notes, without wasting a lot of space, while still having easy access to the notebooks.

All my previous attempts have been far from effective and straight out annoying and a pain in the ass. They either require ridiculous amounts of space, or makes it very hard to get access to the notebooks.

It is a little bit expensive, but the fact that it works so much better than the other options makes up for it. You have just enough space for the height of the Field Notes, and it it just tall enough for the dividers to fit. The fact that it doesn’t waste any space at all is the thing I appreciate the most about it.

Is it worth the money? Yes!

I’ll probably order another one in a while; but that one will hopefully last me at least two years.

Where to spend your money.

One of the ever lasting, and truly frustrating things about fountain pens is to figure out where to spend your money. It is very tempting to buy something new every single time you have enough in your budget.

I don’t think it is the smartest thing to do so.

The interesting thing about fountain pens is that the value you get isn’t promotional to the price. There are some pens where you get a lot of value for your buck. For example: Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Safari and TWSBI Eco are pens where you get a ridiculous amount of value for your money.

The TWSBI 580AL is a “better” pen compared to the Eco; at least in some aspects, but not all. While the Lamy Al Star isn’t even a better version of the Lamy Safari, it’s just a heavier version, that in my opinion is less durable, and is more expensive.

It is very easy to spend enough money in cheap fountain pens, where the total amount adds up to what you could have paid for a Lamy 2000.

Where to spend your money? Spend some money, get a few nice pens in the $15 - $30 range. You get a lot of pen for your money, especially if you go for one of the pens I mention above. It is hard to find anything that beats the TWSBI Eco or the Pilot Metropolitan when it comes to what you get for your money.

There are a lot of good pens between $30 and $150, but I would not spend much if any money there if I were you. Save a little bit longer and go for a Lamy 2000 (it’s around $150). And I have heard a lot of fantastic things about the Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (between $130 and $225; I don’t get why the prices are so different at Goulet and JetPens on this particular pen).

When you go beyond the $250 mark, that is the moment where you shop after different criteria than value. There are many very cool pens that cost a lot more than $250, but it is more about getting something very cool, instead of how much you get for your money. Are they better than a $150 Lamy 2000? Probably. That much better? I doubt it.

There are some exception to what I am talking about here, and that is custom or special nibs. For example pens with flex nibs can be very expensive. But for most pens above $250, is about a very unique design, high quality products without that much focus on what you get for your money.

I Missed a couple of posts.

I try to keep a reliable schedule here at The Ink Smudge. My goal is to always have a post out every Monday and Wednesday. I tried to do three posts a week for a while, but that became too much, and the result was a short break.

Well, I missed two posts in a row, because I wasn’t feeling that well last week. I’m all better now, but I didn’t get the time to get everything ready for this afternoon. But I’m going to publish the post I planned on posting last Wednesday, and today plus the regular Wednesday post this week.

They are more or less ready to go, and will appear tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday.


The difference between bad and different.

Let’s take a look at a random ink.

Why are people buying it? I’m not that “artistic”, and I don’t own any crazy flex nib pens or anything like that, so I often just look until I find a ink that has a colour I like combined with ink properties I think is important.

It all comes down to the most important thing: what is the most important? For me it is a balance between great colour and short dry time. While others might not care at all about dry time, they just want a ink with all kinds of crazy colour shading voodoo going on when they use a flex nib or even a paint brush. And some care more than anything else about the ink being permanent.

I have some very strong opinions about what makes a good ink, but they are limited to how I use pens and ink and the properties I think is important.

This doesn’t mean that inks that don’t match up with mine or your use cases and priorities are bad, it just means that they aren’t for you.

Does this mean that there are no bad inks? No, of course. not. When you use something, and don’t like it, you either think it is just bad, or you conclude that it isn’t for you. For example Rhodia products and the Lamy Safari. I think both of them are excellent products, while I at the same time know that they aren’t for me. The same goes for the Moleskine.

The difference comes down to when you see the reason for what you don’t like. For example, the reason I don’t like Rhodia is that the ink takes forever to dry, but I understand why it is like that. I call something bad when I don’t see a positive gain from something I don’t like. For example the Lamy black ink, the colour isn’t great, and the dry time is just as bad. That is just bad.


I spent some time this weekend going through my desk, and getting rid of some stuff. Most of it was some kind of packaging for stuff I have bought during the last twelve months. Most of it was from stationary products, but not everything.

This isn’t about the environment, even though it can be a nice bonus.

My typical flow when it comes to product packaging if it is small enough is to unpack it, stuff the box away and then at some later point just throw it away. My two favourites at the moment are Apple’s iPhone packaging and the box my Travelers Notebook came in. Both of them are nice, but the iPhone is the nicest from a pure design perspective. It is a nice card board box, while the Travelers Notebook just came in a folded piece of cardboard.

The thing I don’t like is the obsessive need for sending everything in a “nice” plastic box, that you will look at once, start using it and then ignore until you have to get rid of it.

Both have the same end goal, keep what you bought save until you get it. You make it easy to throw out when something is made out of cardboard. It isn’t a practical thing, it’s just a mental thing: this is cardboard, let’s just throw it out with the rest. While I always for some strange reason keep the damn thing if it is made out of plastic. I’m not sure why, but I expect it is something going on in the back of my mind, like “this is nice, maybe I need it for something some day”.

It would have been really nice if everyone got their act together and stopped kidding themselves and us: make the damn thing out of cardboard, we are going to get rid of it anyways.

This doesn’t mean you have to use something ugly. Apple are really good at it. Making boxes that you can just throw out and recycle without giving us the guilt with a fancy piece of plastic that no single person will use for anything but taking up space.

Ink hoarding.

It is very easy to end up in a situation with bottled fountain pen ink where you own enough ink to supply a school for a generation. I’m lucky enough to not be in that situation.

Here is the thing: you don’t need to buy every single cool ink that shows up in your radar at once.

Like most of you that have been reading this site for a while: I like systems. I think it is partly connected to my personality and partly connected to my job as a Web Developer. I’ve had a mental system for managing how much ink I own at any given moment.

The system:

  • A hard limit of 5 bottles
  • Only once of each colour, unless I’m about to run out of it.
  • Only buy ink that I think is something I could use as my “main” ink for longer periods.
  • Give it away or sell it, if it is something you don’t use.

There are some inks you use more than others, and the only way to learn it, is by trying different things out. And stop buying stuff you don’t enjoy. For example: I don’t like Lamy inks. I don’t like the colours, I don’t like how they behave, so I don’t buy them. I don’t even consider them.

It is fine to have a lot of different inks if that is your thing, but you should try to do something about it, if you feel bad about it.

This is the question I always ask myself before ordering a new bottle of ink: can I use this to write with at work and at home in my main pen, all day, every day, for a couple of months?

The Circle.

I constantly re-evaluate everything I use, everything problem notebooks & pens to apps and electronics. It is the only way to figure out what you need, what isn’t working, and what do I need to change to end up at something better.

It have been over six months since I stopped using Field Notes or any kind of “pocket notebooks”. I might get back into them soon. Not because the change I did in November was wrong per say, but that I think they might still be useful in some aspects. The reason I stopped using them back then was that they wasn’t the ideal fit for a majority of what I was using them for. But I realise now in retrospect that they still are useful for a tiny portion.

I don’t think Field Notes or any kind of notebooks of the same size are the best for managing your paper based getting things done system or journaling. But I think there is a place for them to keep small to-do lists that you need on the go, like grocery lists or to capture things when you are on the go.

The great thing about the format is that you can have a couple of them in your back pocket at all time, something that isn’t as easy with a Travelers Notebook; even though I almost always have a bag. It isn’t just about the size, it is also about how much easier it is to take out a small notebook from your pack pocket and a pen from your front pocket.

I’m a strong believer in leaving stuff behind in order to figure out where their place actually are. This means that you need to try something different and stop using what you were using, to see where the old thing was better, and where the new thing is better.