O-check and other rare brands from overseas... and Portland.

Ever since notebookstories mentioned an Ellie magazine article about trendy notebooks I have been desparte to get something... anything from o-check. I mean, just look at these notebooks:

o-check notebooks. (click to enlarge)

This is really good advertising for someone like me, they capture photographically the mood of using a nice notebook. Sadly, o-check is not easy to get in the US at all. They are headquartered in Seoul, Korea. After attempting to order from the Korea website (without knowing any Korean!) I finally found an Australian distributor that sold them, Plain, Ruled Graph. (Is it just me or are all the cool notebook companies and stationary stores outside of the US?) I really loved the website, but I do not love the $33 shipping fee to the US.

But I wanted one of the notebooks... badly. So I found a few things that I liked and placed an order. It just came today! I'm really happy with most of it. Take a look:

My O-check Notebook

The o-check notebooks was everything I dreamed it would be. The quality is exquisite.

It feels just like a library book.

I also ordered a small graph paper notebook from Red Horseshoe Paper. Only after did I realize that they are in Portland, so I can get them without the hassle of ordering from Australia!

Red Horseshoe Graph Notebook: it has both metric and Imperial sized grids.

A nice touch on this notebook is the red thread used to stich it together. Lovely!

A nice touch.

The paper is *very* good for fountain pens.

I also bought these darling envelops made by Midori (of the famous travler's notebooks, I may try those some day as well).

Midori Envlopes

So why did I say I was only happy with "most" of it? Well, I saw this ruler on Plain, Ruled Graph, it's made by o-check so I thought: Hey, why not?

O-Check Desk Wooden Ruler (as seem on the website)

I have quite a few slide rules, compasses and other drafting instruments. (I will do a post in the future on that.) So maybe my expectations were just too high, based on the photo I expected high quality, plastic edges (but the nice kind of plastic they use for slide-rules) and a darling little brass knob to hold it. Sadly, this is what I got:

It arrived broken, and the wood is so soft you can mark it witha fingernail.

It is made of very soft wood almost like balsa, it's unfinished, the numbers are painted on and the little knob falls right out if you so much as touch it. Now it was only $6, so maybe I'm expecting too much. I will be cautious about non-notebook items from o-check. I'll write Plain Ruled Graph and see what they can do about this. Since everything else was very nice this isn't such a big deal.

What are all those notebooks FOR: Phases in the life of a notebook.

I have shared my blank notebook collection over the course of three posts: part one, part two, part three.

Now I'd like to say a little about what's inside my *used* notebooks.

One of many shelves in our home filled with full notebooks.


Reverence: It's often a little hard to make my first mark in a notebook, the blank pages are filled with so much promise and possibility. This is how I have ended up saving blank notebooks for years before deciding to use them. In addition the proper purpose must be found for a notebook. Thin notebooks for small tasks, thick ones for big ones.

Christening: When a notebook enters service it's named. I'm certain we all have little rituals that go along with starting a new notebook. I like to leave the first few pages blank, as I hope to add a title page and table of contents later, a hope not always realized...but, I still can't stop myself from doing it. Most of my notebooks get labels for their covers, I also collect nice labels, for this purpose-- I especially like vintage labels. (Though finding a way to revive the paste can be challenging.)

Breaking in: The first entry in a new notebook is done with great care, but as the notebook rides in the bag, gets dropped on the sidewalk, is written in on subways and escalators, it gains a few less-than-perfect entries and a few dog-eared pages. It is this stage that determines what happens next, and once the notebook is half-filled it's time to decide:

Accention to book-like status, or demotion to scrap paper: The great notebooks get page numbers and indices, title pages and a revival in the quality of the entries. The poorer notebooks become my "scratch" notebooks, filled with all of the calculations, random notes and lists that no sane person would ever care to read again. (Especially me) The notebook then earns a place on the book-shelf, or a place in the rubbish bin at this stage.

Second lives: Some of the time I try to give a "scratch" notebook a second life. I carefully remove all of the pages with writing, take off the title tag and place it back on the shelf with the other blanks. Now with fewer pages it's better suited to small projects. Perhaps it will "ascend" in its next life time.

These notebooks acceded to book-like status, earning a place on the shelf.

Notebooks from classes I have taught and taken.

Drawings and color add so much to note books, I rarely throw away a notebook with good drawings. Some of the time I'm surprised by the work that I did. It's fun to spend an evening reading old notebooks. My oldest notebooks are from 2nd grade. I was laughing so hard I was crying at some of the stories (and spelling) in them. Some notebooks are time machines.

Notebook Collection Part 3

This is my third post on my extensive collection of notebooks. You can find part one here and part two here.

Japanese Notebooks

I have a lot of notebooks that are manufactured in Japan. Shown here are several of these from Kinokuniya Bookstore near Bryant park and from Mitsuwa Marketplace in New Jersey. I also have a few of the Japanese-style Molskine notebooks, which are not really from Japan, but pay hommage to a very useful binding method. (I wish Molskine made extra large versions of these notebooks.)

The quality of pens and paper goods from Japan tends to be quite high, they seem to have a better selection of pens that write with a very fine lines. The notebooks often have english phrases on the cover, mostly as decoration, the words don't make much sense. So that seems to suggest that in Japan some western things can be desirable or fashionable. In the US Japanese things are fashionable. And I find Japanese things that go for a western "feel" fascinating. Take "campus" notebooks, they try to evoke the classic leafy green American (or maybe British) college campus with their name and designs. I, in turn, buy notebooks that evoke a Japanese paper company evoking an idyllic campus. Soon in Japan, no doubt, it will be fashionable to get American things that are trying to be like Japanese things that are trying to be like American things. This will create an infinite loop and collapse into a notebook perfection cross-Pacific cultural black hole.

What was I saying? Notebooks. From Japan. (Mostly) Let's look inside!

Pure, white pages.

The pages are smooth and "fountain pen friendly" as they say over at The Fountain Pen Network a great online community with it's own collection of notebook lovers! One of the last courses I took for my masters degree was Topology. It was a lovely course and I used one of these as my "final" notebook. (I always reorganize my notes from class in to a neater, more comprehensive format in my own words and a means of studying. I call this the "final" notebook, since to study for the final I only need to sit down and read it.) At any rate the notebook I kept for that course was one of my best ever. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back to take more classes!

Giant mother of a molskine

Would you look at the size of this thing? "The Folio Sketchbook - A3" is just like a regular Molskine (it even has the elastic strap and back pocket!) but it's the size of a movie poster. I saw it and fell in love instantly. I can't quite make up my mind what to put in it yet, but I know something will come to me. What would you use it for?

The vast expanse of pure, white, paper waiting for creation.

Opening this thing is almost emotional. It's like opening the door to a special room that's just waiting for you to shape it in to a wonderful place. There is something about having a book so big that you must turn your head to look around the page that just makes the whole experience more immersive. This is why I love books with big pages so much. Most of my collection is on the larger side, I find I can do more with more space to write.

And speaking of big books. Look at this beast. It's the "The World's Largest Italian Leather Journal" -- due to the leather cover and other fine materials (leather increases in cost rapidly the larger a piece you require) this book costs $2,000. It's mostly used by big hotels and universities as a kind of guest book. At least they don't have to worry about someone wandering off with it!

The World's Largest Italian Leather Journal, I secretly want one.

Wouldn't you love to sit down in front of this with a nice inky pen? What would you create?

This brings to a close post on the collection. But I will continue to review new additions to the collection from time to time. In my next post I'll share what's INSIDE of some of my full notebooks.

Summer courses almost over, "children's" books in the works.

This summer is one I will remember. I taught both differential equations and calculus II for the first time. Seeing these subjects from the instructors side has really opened my eyes to all kinds of details I never noticed before. One of the most striking new insights is how much these two courses have in common. They both rely deeply on sequences and series. Sequences are like a hallway in mathematics, one that connects many many many rooms.

I am working on two math book projects. The first is a Japanese-styled art book on the topic of sine and cosine. It's inspired by many of the lessons I taught this summer.

Japanese-style book about sine and cosine

I want to bring all of the different ways that sine and cosine are presented in elementary and undergraduate mathematics in to one (long) pictorial document. I start with the differential equation, y''+y=0 then solved it (using the series method from differential equations) producing \sin x = \sum^{\infty}_{n=0} \frac{(-1)^n}{(2n+1)!} x^{2n+1} and \cos x = \sum^{\infty}_{n=0} \frac{(-1)^n}{(2n)!} x^{2n}

Next I wanted a pictorial way to relate these power series to the unit circle. I have found it in this spiral (the first image shows how it is constructed as an involution):

Constructing The Involute Pinwheel

a sequence of involutes: the vertical and horizontal components will form the power series for sine and cosine respectively.

The vertical and horizontal components will form the power series for sine and cosine respectively. Take the series of vertical line segments: \sin x = A_1A_2 - A_3A_4 + A_5A_6 - \cdots and so on, the segments repeatedly over and under-shoot the accutal value of sine. The full paper by Leo S. Gurin, "A problem", can be found here.

I'm going to incorporate Gurin's spiral in to my book. I want to show the power series literally flying out of it, like they have come to life. I wonder if I can make it like the famous drawing of the sine curve projecting out of the unit circle?

Naturally, I already have planned to put that diagram in my booklet.

Work in progress

The Japanese-style book is perfect for series and periodic functions It's one long continuous piece of paper:

Yet very compact:

I'm also working on a very silly book about hypercycloids (that's the "math" name for the shapes drawn by spirographs, did I mention I collect spirographs?):

I'm trying to make it like a children's book, fun, light, a little silly:

I can't wait to share the final product.

Notebook Collection Part 2

In which I continue to share my collection of blank notebooks and journals.

These large notebooks have unconventional papers: Rhodia "DOTS" paper, Whitelines graph paper, Bob's Your Uncle "pretty vacant" dot paper. Writersblock dots, and a custom notebook from etsy.com

These are some of my large notebooks, the theme here is "unconventional paper" -- blank paper and lined paper are very nice, but when you spend as much time as I do staring at notebooks a change of scenery is nice.

This is what whitelines paper looks like.

Whitelines paper is a love or hate thing. I know many people who love it and just as many who can't stand it. I'm on the love side. I find it much easier to see my drawings and diagrams without black lines cutting through them. I have rejected many notebooks for having lines that are far too dark. To my eye dark lines look cheap, like those cartoon character notebooks you see in dollar stores.

The Rhodia Dot Pad was my favorite paper until I discovered Writersblok dot paper. As I mentioned in my previous post Writersblok is very much underrated and they make the best dot paper around. I'll show you why:

Three kinds of dot paper: Bob's Your Uncle, Rhodia, Writersblok

Here you see the inside of the three notebooks with dotted paper. The Bob's Your Uncle notebook is very fun, but the dots are so big that they don't really work for graphing. (Bob's Your Uncle graph paper notebooks on the other hand are amazing, very relaxed light green grid, I'd share but I filled them all up so quickly that I have no blank pages!) Rhodia is better, but the dots still stand out on the very white paper. But, Writersblok has it perfect! Look at how fine those dots are, they almost don't even show up in the photo!

What about the green "custom" number? It's a mix of different types of graph paper, dot papers and blank pages.

The green "Custom" notebook.

Next up? Hardcover books:

Hardcover blank books.

I keep my eye out for re-purposed journals with scientific or mathematical themes.

The cover is from an old book of mathematical tables, pages from the original are mixed in.

The burgundy recycled journal has a Coptic binding. (I'm not a huge fan of Coptic binding, but this one is very nice!)

"Mathematics" you'll find the same title on the spine.

Open it to find...

The "mathematics" book has pure white blank pages.

I don't know what to write in the "mathematics" book it is very formal and commanding isn't it?

Boorum Pease makes the most amazing record books.

This RECORD book has a lovely red satin bookmark. These can be found at old house sales, or on Amazon for around $20.

Record book open.

I don't often used lined pages but I'll make an exception. The numbered pages and "Table of Contents" page are the kind of little touches that make me fall in love with a notebook. The red and black record book to the right also has numbered pages....

I think I'm in HEAVEN!

... BUT instead it has quad paper! My favorite. I first discovered this notebook at a Manhattan stationary store. It was very dusty and I literally fished it out from behind a cabinet. It was torn in a few places, but the store owner still wanted $90 for it! I was so in love I almost bought it.

So, when I discovered I could get one on Amazon for $30 ... well that seemed like a deal. I want to take this one camping with me this summer.

I still have a lot more to share, but that's all for today! If you have notebooks that you love let me know in the comments.

Notebook Collection

There is nothing quite as exciting as a fresh blank notebook full of possibilities, well except, perhaps a full worn notebook filled with new mathematics! I can admit that I'm addicted to notebooks. Whenever I see one, with a new kind of color or material I buy it. As such, a shelf in our house is totally devoted to blank notebooks.

The Notebook Shelf

The Notebook Shelf

It was only a few months ago when I put them all in one place that it hit me how many I'd accumulated. These are all blank. I go through about one or two notebooks per week (of the Moleskine Cahier size) So, I have almost a whole bookcase full of full notebooks as well. I use Rhodia, Moleskine, Whitelines, Writer's block and other big brands quite often, In this post I'll focus on the more rare and unique stuff, the notebooks that make my hand tremble with excitement as I get ready to make that first mark on the unblemished page! The notebooks that I cherish, they are almost too good to write in, yet, I await the day that I mark them with such pent-up desire!

Okay, maybe I'm getting a little too excited here, on with the notebooks!

I like large notebooks best, they are best suited for lesson plans and proofs.

Although I like large notebooks best I do have a few small ones that I could not resist. Here we have: Quattero, a generic red notebook, an antique 1950s notebook, Writer's block "Dots" mini notebook and "Tidbit" Free Cut memo.

Quattero notebooks come in all sizes, they are a little pricy, but the paper is so smooth and thick it's worth it, the only thing I don't like about them is that the backs of the papers are blank, you only get the grid on one side, considering that the paper is bleed-proof this seems like a missed opportunity.

Here's what they look like inside: Writerblock "dots", Quattro, and the little red one.

Writersblok is one of the most underrated notebooks around. They are a less expensive version of the "Moleskine Cahier" but, even if they cost more than Moleskine I'd still take them over the Moleskine any day! Why? DOTS. Dots are the ideal method of ruling the blank page, grid paper is too distracting, lined paper looks awful if you stop to make drawings and graphs as often as I do. So dotted paper is one of the main things I look for in a notebook. The dots in the Writersblok notebooks are the best, they are whisper light, so that you'll almost forget they are there. Yet when you look at your pages you'll see that the lines are straighter, graphs are more accurate and the text is evenly spaced. I've been seeing more and more kinds of dot paper, I really hope it catches on!

Antique notebooks fascinate me. Especially those that have survived totally blank and untouched like this one for decades. I love that this little memo book has an even smaller notebook (not an address book!) tucked inside. If I ever think of the perfect use for it I will use it, but for now it remains untouched, it is one of my most cherished notebooks. (*sniff*)

Notebook within a notebook...

Notebook within a notebook...

Ever since I started loving blank books and shopping for them I have starting HATING address books, planners and photo albums. Why? Often I'll see a notebook on the shelf, the perfect size! The perfect color! I reach for it and.... it's a PHOTO ALBUM! ugh. So annoying. I end up wondering who are all of the people who like photo albums and address books so much, have they not heard of Flikr and gmail? I suppose they must be wondering what's with all of the blank books... who needs paper? I have an iPad.

(I will continue sharing my collection in the next post.)

Using LaTeX on the iPad: A review of the best and worst apps for writing mathematics.

LaTeX  is a powerful markup language that allows you to generate beautiful equations like this:

\left\{\begin{matrix} n \\ k \end{matrix}\right\} =\sum_{j=1}^k (-1)^{k-j} \frac{j^{n-1}}{(j-1)!(k-j)!} =\frac{1}{k!}\sum_{j=0}^{k}(-1)^{k-j}{k \choose j} j^n


Without cumbersome "equation editors." You simply type the TeX code for the equation and it appears. (And it looks as good as what you'd find in any research paper since LaTeX is what most publishers use for their typesetting.)

Naturally, if you do math and if you have an iPad you want to find ways to use LaTeX on your iPad. As it turns out there are a few great options, though each leaves a little more to be desired. At this time there is no full LaTeX engine that runs on the iPad that will let you use every typesetting and graphics command that LaTeX offers. But there are a few work-arounds that give you access to that full engine. And there are a myriad of small apps that let you typeset equations. (I often forget that there is far more to LaTeX than just writing equations!) So, here is the round up:


MathBot ★★★½☆

Overall: A bare-bones equation editor that shows your LaTeX equations in real-time as you edit. Most of the important keys for writing mathematics are handy, but, annoyingly, the numbers (0,1, 2, 3,...) are on a a separate screen so typing equations can be quite tedious.  Once you have your equation ready you can export it as an image to email, to the photo album or to other apps.  It also has an "export as TeX" option that lets you move the code in to another editing environment as text. (Though copy/past would work just as well for this, so I don't really see the point.) If you are new to LaTeX you'll find the short-cut keys for most of the basic math symbols  helpful, and the way the keyboard shifts from one view to another is smooth and delightful, fitting well within the iPad user interface.  There are no folders and it is slightly cumbersome to rename files. This app is really for people who are just looking to write one or two quick equations to paste in to an email or document. Naturally, it has no full LaTeX engine and can't make pdfs or postscript files.

Ease of Use: Short-cut buttons are great for beginners. Real-time editing gives instant feedback. However, switching screens to type numbers is annoying.
Customization: Only one font size. Few options for advanced users.
Aesthetics and Flow: Simple clean design, intuitive sliding shortcuts on the keyboard. Classy, no distractions. Designed for the iPad. Uses the full screen.
Price: Free!



Tex Touch ★★★½☆

Overall: Tex Touch is the only LaTeX app (available right now) that will allow you to type documents of any size in LaTeX and generate pdfs as if you were using your desktop... sounds amazing right? Well, the catch is that you ARE using your desktop! The app uses Dropbox (an excellent, free, "cloud" style remote hard-drive) to send .tex files to your desktop computer where a second application installed (and always running) will pick up the file and compile your pdf. Hence, you can create and edit exams, research papers and even books from your iPad. But, as the review implies, the instillation and set-up process, along with the complexity of the program may be too much for some. Once running, it works like a charm and I use it often to revise my exams, (though typing an entire exam in LaTeX on the iPad is perhaps too much even for an enthusiast like myself.) I give it high marks for being the only "real" LaTeX application. But, I and many others, look forward to the day when we can compile our pdfs directly on the iPad without an internet connection, and without leaving a helper application running on our home computer.

Ease of Use: Hard to set up. Not for novices. Requires multiple applications on multiple computers and an account with Dropbox. However, if you were able to install TeX on your iMac you should have no trouble getting this set up. Once running it works like a charm. (Though you must remember to turn the helper application on or you're out of luck.)
Customization: You have access to everything LaTeX can do including things like the picture environment, that lets you use LaTeX to draw graphics on the fly. If it's on your home computer you'll have access to it with TeX Touch.
Aesthetics and Flow: Well designed for editing .tex files, though it would be vastly improved if the code were color coded.
Price: $9.99



LaTeX Help ★★☆☆☆

Overall: This app is a dictionary of common LaTeX commands. They are organized by type (Greek, operations, relations, etc...) Where this app really falls short is in its lack of any kind of search function. For example, \aleph, is listed under "more > misc." and was quite hard to find.  This app is designed for iPhone only, so iPad users will still have to put up with scrolling through the list on a tiny screen with a big black background. I do not recommend this app for iPad. It makes more sense to simply download one of the pdfs containing LaTeX symbols then use your favorite reader to scroll and surf through the document. The pdf will be more functional since you will be able to search! However it is free, so from that stand point, one can't complain. It could also be convenient for iPhone users to have at their side while writing TeX on their desktop.

Ease of Use: It's easy to use, but without a search function often unhelpful.
Aesthetics and Flow: The interface is not bad, it's fun to scroll through all of the symbols. No clutter, easy to read.
Price: Free!

TeX Equation ★★★★½

Overall: If you only get one LaTeX app for your iPad this should be it. It is a bare-bones, yet highly functional application that lets you type TeX mixed with regular text and generate images that are perfect for emails. It includes customizable macros that allow you to speed up your coding by simplifying repetitive character strings. You can set the font size and color. The keyboard is well thought out, including letters, common latex characters and numbers on the same screen so most equations are easy to type without switching. You can cut and paste the images in to email and other applications or save them to your pictures folder.  I find this app handy for conversing with students via email, though I do long for an email client with real LaTeX integration.  The developer runs a forum and is very responsive to user feedback.

Ease of Use: Very easy great keyboard design. Recommend for those familiar with LaTeX as it lacks short-cut keys.
You can change the font size and color and create custom macros for faster coding.
Aesthetics and Flow: A sign of good interface design is when you don't notice the interface. No short-cut keys cluttering the screen. All the keys you need where you want them on one screen.
Price: $6.99

Formula ★★☆☆☆

Overall: I want to like this app, but there are so many little infuriating things about it that I find it unusable. First the interface design: Much of your screen is taken up with cheesy greek columns, it feels like a bad CD rom from the 90s. But, once you get past that, there are a few nice touches: equations appear in real time, copious short-cuts will make this app appealing to the LaTeX beginner.  However, whoever designed it did not test it for writing actual equations. Most  equations contain both numbers and letters, but on the main keyboard you are given access to only a numeric key pad. Try writing something simple like:  x= \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a} and you will end up switching keyboards 7 times! It's very tedious. The app is packed with useless flashy features like voice recognition. In theory you say the name of the symbol and the application will provide the correct short-cut keys... To say this feature "dosen't work" is an understatement. It doesn't work and it is an incredible waste of time!  I have decided that this app is not for people who do math, but rather for people who would like to look like they are doing math.  It's very serious and impressive to look at, and nothing says 'mathematician' like loudly shouting Greek letters into your iPad's built-in microphone. You will be pleased with this app until you try to use it to get any kind of work done. Stay away.

Ease of Use: Looks fancy but poorly thought out.
Customization: You have no control over font size, there are no maros.
Aesthetics and Flow: 1990s CD ROM look. Feels junky.
Price: $3.99