You'll need a nice pen

My last post about this year's "paper system" neglected to mention which pen(s) I use. Most people don't care about pens, but I do.

Assorted writing instruments and notebooks

Assorted writing instruments and notebooks

For me, the right pen to use depends upon what and where I'm writing. There are three "modes" in which I write things down. Each requires a different pen. Ok, "requires" might be a bit ridiculous, but still.

Jotting things down while out and about

If someone at the local pub mentions a great book they just read, I whip out my trusty Field Notes notebook, which is always at the ready in my back pocket. Also at the ready is the Poquito Stylus from Montverde. It's so tiny I barely know it's in my pocket. I'm still looking for something better, though. I prefer this to the usual Fisher Space Pen because the Space Pen requires two hands to operate. Removing and posting a cap is not something I want to be doing while trying to capture something quickly. Seen above with the Field Notes notebook.

Planning, scheduling, and taking notes

For nearly all writing tasks, I prefer the Montblanc Meisterstück rollerball. I've had mine for 15 years or so and it's still my favorite. It's beautiful. I love the way it writes, it feels great to the touch, and fits my hand perfectly. It's the perfect pen. Seen above with the 2013 Hobonichi planner.

Journaling and letter writing

For "serious" writing, nothing beats a nice fountain pen. I've tried dozens of them and found I prefer the Pelican pens. The one I use is a Souverän Black-Blue M 400. I fill it with one of any number of fun inks. Writing with a fountain pen is a tactile and visual pleasure. Shown above with the 6"x9" Epica Leather Journal.

Paper system for 2014

Even though my productivity system has inched toward digital tools, my love of paper notebooks for capture and planning has not waned. I have a thing for notebooks and pens. This year, I'm going to continue using a Hobonichi paper planner along with a trusty Field Notes notebook in my back pocket. The Hobonichi has just the right combination of size, paper quality, and usability. And Field Notes are great for jotting things down on the go.


This means that both the Moleskine and Midori Traveler's Notebook are to be relegated to the unused pile. For now.

State of the System, 2014

I love reading about the tools other people use, so I thought I'd write down a few of the things I'm using these days.

It's no secret that I like to tweak my "productivity system". I don't do it because I think I'll actually become more productive, but because it's fun to play with new things. Here are the things I am into now.



The Brain

The Brain










I've been using Tinderbox every day for many years. I can't imagine doing anything even remotely complex without it. Tinderbox is where I keep notes about everything. It's my daybook, project log, CRM tool, call tracker, spark file, concept mapper, darkroom notebook, book log, and general outliner. 

Although Tinderbox can be used as a simple outliner, and a damn good one, it excels at growing into whatever I need it to be. Some of it is just crazy complex and capable. I find it astonishing that more people like me (meaning geeky tweakers who love stretching the capabilities of software) don't use Tinderbox. It's not only immediately useful, but it's also damn fun to play with.

I wish the Tinderbox (XML) file format was a standard. I long for a world in which I just pass my Tinderbox documents around.

The Brain

The fact that I have an app written in Java open on my Mac desktop all day every day is a testament to how much I like The Brain. I've tried to quit it, but nothing does a better job of managing everything. I put everything into my "brain". Every discreet item I can think of is entered and linked to other relevant "thoughts" in The Brain. People, companies, projects, ideas, plans. Everything is linked together in a sensible and useful way. Navigating these links makes me better at finding and remembering just about anything.


If it's an image, PDF, snippet, or other file that I want to file and find later, it goes into DEVONthink. Every receipt, invoice, or other piece of paper I come across gets scanned and imported. DEVONthink's AI and classification engine makes quick work of digging though thousands of documents. It's my records room and my library.


To do lists are easy to manage, yet I spend more time trying task management tools than anything else. My favorite way to keep a todo list is with a notebook and pen. In fact, this is how I manage all of my personal tasks. For work projects, pen and paper aren't as useful. Currently, I'm back to using Taskwarrior. It's a very capable command line program for dealing with as many tasks as you can throw at it. I love that it's simple as it needs to be, but can be used in very complex ways. As much as I try, I never seem to give up on the terminal completely.


As good as Tinderbox is for managing and visualizing notes, nothing beats nvALT for quick and easy find and capture. I use nvALT as my inbox of sorts. It's also where I keep things I need available in my iPhone or iPad. nvALT syncs nicely via Simplenote. Easy.


Ah BBEdit. The venerable yet still modern text editor. It's not as hip or sexy as Sublime Text, nor as geeky and efficient as Vim, but I've become so accustomed to the way it does things that I always come back.

Other Stuff

I use a few other things of course.

  • MailMate is a wonderful email client that I re-discovered after Apple Mail was hosed on Mavericks. Love it. 
  • Pandoc is how I create LaTeX, PDF, and Word documents from Markdown source (using BBEdit)
  • Twitterrific is how I both stay distracted and up to date with the universe
  • Slack is a fantastic new group chat app that I use to communicate with coworkers.  

At some point I should probably write up how all this stuff fits together, but that's all for now.

Slow going this year, film-wise

I haven't shot a single roll of film in 2014. Must be the terrible weather is slowing me down. Still, not a good sign. Speaking of terrible weather, we're about to get another 8-10 inches of snow today.

With that in mind, here's a photo of my dad flying a kite on the beach.

Ron Baty. Hobe Sound, FL. (2013)

Ron Baty. Hobe Sound, FL. (2013)

Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter passed away this week. I've always liked his photographs. 

"I’m a person who likes to postpone things. I see no reason for being in a rush. When you consider many of the things that people treat very seriously, you realize that they don’t deserve to be treated that seriously. And that many of the things people worry about aren’t worth worrying about."

Some things never change

I posted this photo in April 2007.


Just took this one today.

2013-11-12 15.28.51.jpg

People make fun of me for changing my "system" all the time but the reality is I only take temporary detours. Analog always wins in the end.

Leica IIIf shutter capping

I bought a little Leica IIIf on a whim a year ago and have become rather attached to it. It's tiny, beautiful, and I like how it handles.  

Leica IIIf

Leica IIIf

I went for a walk with it this morning and after developing the roll I discovered that its shutter has begun "capping", which means the second curtain isn't behaving correctly. You can see the results in the examples below. Notice how the right side of the images are darker than the left. 

Normally, I would just send the camera out for a nice CLA and keep it alive. The problem this time is that I want a "real" IIIf. You see, mine is actually a IIIc converted to a IIIf. That's not a big deal but this one isn't quite as "tight" as it should be. It's also been re-covered and I don't love the way the replacement covering feels. I may just decide to replace the whole thing instead. Dilemma. 

Fitbit again


A couple years ago I was fatter so I bought a Fitbit  to help track my activity. I hoped it would trick me into being more active. It did, and as part of a diet-and-exercise plan I lost some weight and was certainly healthier. The novelty wore off eventually. I disliked having it in my pocket all the time, so I stopped using it.

Then I gained nearly 10 pounds. 

Yesterday I went and bought a new Fitbit Flex  as a way to (again) trigger an awareness of my activity levels. It's small, light, and thin enough on my wrist that it doesn't bother me as I type. It is comfortable enough to wear to bed, so this time I'll actually track my sleep, too.

I also started tracking food intake at . I hate keeping track of what I eat, but doing so really helps prevent me from overeating as much as I like to. After 24 hours I've learned that I spend most of my time sitting on my ass eating crappy food. Awareness is the first step to recovery, right?


A Tree Falling in a Forest

For a time I thought I wanted to "build an audience" for this blog. I thought that if I kept to one topic, photography, more people might be interested in stopping by here regularly. That never happened, probably because I don't care enough about "followers". Good thing, since I get almost zero traffic here. That's OK.

I've always used this space as a place to get things off my chest or share things I'm interested in, whatever the topic. There's too much pressure on Twitter or Facebook to be interesting or clever or social. This is more like a quiet place where I can talk to myself. I like it that way. 

So, will go back to being all over the map. I'm going to try keeping my tumblr blog specifically about photography. I'll cross-post anything I think might be useful in both places. Yes, this is the opposite of my original plan. So be it.


Walking around with the M3

I hadn't shot a deliberate photo in a week, so I grabbed the M3 off the shelf, loaded it up with some HP5 and started walking. The goal was to keep going until the roll was used up. 

I was thinking of it as more of a sketchbook of my walk, so I underexposed and overdeveloped a bit. Then boosted the contrast even more, just to prove a point. I like the results and it was a great exercise - in more ways than one. 

Now, about that 35mm film...

My recent foray into large format has made me consider abandoning 35mm film. This started years ago when I began shooting medium format, but I’ve never really come close to giving up on the smaller format until recently.

The idea is that for “real” photography I’d use medium or large format film and for everyday snapshots I would use the X100 or even the iPhone. Both of them make perfectly fine images. I’ll just sell the film SLRs, of which I have very nice copies from Nikon, Canon, and Olympus. The little point-and-shoot Ricoh GR and Stylus Epic won’t be necessary in this scenario so those can go too. No more tiny little negatives to curse when they curl up like a spring. What a relief!

This is a perfect plan, but it falls apart as soon as I pick up one of the old Leicas.

Leica has developed a reputation in recent years of selling over-priced neck jewelry to dentists. This may not be entirely unwarranted, but if you’ve ever shot with something like an M3 you’ll understand why there’s more to it. A Leica film camera is a wonderful tool to use. I could give up even the Leicas, especially since I find it increasingly difficult to carry a camera everywhere. The iPhone is always handy so it’s convenient just to use that. On the other hand, I find that every time I do carry either the M3 or the little IIIf, I’m glad I did. The reason I’m glad is that I end up with something the iPhone or Fuji can’t give me, and that’s a black and white negative I can process and print in the darkroom. Turns out that’s rather important to me.

So, although it makes complete practical sense to abandon 35mm film, I can’t do it. I’ll have to just deal with those fiddly little negatives a while longer.