Midori (Traveler's Company) Traveler's Notebook

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The Traveler’s Notebook is a revered product in the pen and paper community. All the cool kids have one, but for a long time, I wondered what the fuss was about; I was perfectly happy with my Midori MD notebooks and Rhoda notepads. Then, about six months ago, as I was getting to the end of a notebook and deciding what to buy next, I had a bit of an existential crisis. I realized that, each time I finished a notebook, I would put it on the shelf and start over. There was no sense of continuity from one notebook to the next - no set of memories to carry with me. One of the great things about fountain pens is that they aren’t disposable, generally speaking - they become a familiar tool that becomes part of your life, and I wanted the same from a notebook.

The logical choice was the Traveler’s Notebook, so I took the plunge. I looked online, blinked a couple of times at the UD$60 price tag, and then placed the order. The TN comes in two sizes: Regular and Passport, and two colors: brown and black. A camel version will be joining the lineup later this year, and Midori also occasionally releases special editions in different colors - there was a blue version available in 2015. I settled on the Regular brown version.

When you buy a Traveler’s Notebook and open the box, you might be slightly underwhelmed. I spent US$60 for a piece of leather and an elastic band, you might think? It's a very nice piece of leather, but $60 nice? Then, though, you start using it and it starts to develop character, and you start ordering refills and accessories to make that notebook your notebook, and you realize that you haven't spent $60 on a piece of leather. No - you bought an extensible tool that became an indespensible part of your life.

The key to the Traveler’s Notebook is its refillable and customizable nature. Out of the box, it is a blank slate: outside, it’s a piece of rough-cut leather, an elastic band, and a tin clasp. Inside, it is filled with a slim, blank notebook made with Midori MD paper. The only indication that the notebook is made by Midori is a small embossed logo on the back of the journal.

As I mentioned, it’s a very nice blank slate, but the lack of adornment or features is one of the reasons that it provoked the “Huh...” reaction that I had. That design is intentional though - it is intended to be customized. The elastic band can be replaced with a band of different color or threaded with charms, baubles, and beads. Dozens of accessories can be added: pen holders, brass clips, pocket stickers, and zippered cases among them; and almost as many different types of refills are available: lined, unlined, grid, diary, sketchbook, and on and on.

Depending on your sensibilities, the number of options can be overwhelming or empowering. After spending a few months with mine, I’ve found it to be the latter - I love my Traveler’s Notebook, and understand why it has the following that it does. 

Inside front cover.

Inside front cover.

Inside back cover - you can see that the elastic band that stretches around the middle is secured inside the back.

Inside back cover - you can see that the elastic band that stretches around the middle is secured inside the back.

The tin clasp lies at the top of the spine. It fastens the elastic band that holds the refills inside the notebook as well as securing the bookmark.

The tin clasp lies at the top of the spine. It fastens the elastic band that holds the refills inside the notebook as well as securing the bookmark.

The back of the notebook. Here you can see the elastic band that holds the notebook closed emerging from the center of the back cover.

The back of the notebook. Here you can see the elastic band that holds the notebook closed emerging from the center of the back cover.

The only trace of branding on the notebook is this very modest embossment on the lower left corner of the back cover.

The only trace of branding on the notebook is this very modest embossment on the lower left corner of the back cover.

An additional aspect of customization for the Traveler’s Notebook is the ability to add more than one refill at the same time - it can comfortably hold up to three with the addition of a rubber band accessory. If you’re a note-taker and a visual artist, you might choose to have both a lined notebook and a sketchbook. Or you might have a grid notebook, some craft paper, and a planner. In my case, I have the 013 Light Paper Notebook - a version of the 003 Blank Notebook, but with thinner paper and more pages - for note taking and doodling, and the 005 Diary, for my daily journaling.

Two refills side by side. The 013 Light Paper Notebook is on the left and the 005 Diary is on the right.

Two refills side by side. The 013 Light Paper Notebook is on the left and the 005 Diary is on the right.

A closer look at the 013 Light Paper notebook.

A closer look at the 013 Light Paper notebook.

Beyond being a notebook, the Traveler’s Notebook can also function as an organizing solution. One of my first purchases was the 020 Kraft File Folder. The front pocket has been perfect for keeping receipts from business trips - it is called the Traveler's Notebook for a reason - and the back pocket holds sheets of each of the types of paper I use for ink reviews so that I always have them handy. 

The inside front pocket of the 020 Kraft File Folder stuffed receipts. This photo was taken mid-flight.

The inside front pocket of the 020 Kraft File Folder stuffed receipts. This photo was taken mid-flight.

The back of the 020 Kraft File Folder with my paper samples for testing ink.

The back of the 020 Kraft File Folder with my paper samples for testing ink.

A sample of the many available refills.

A sample of the many available refills.

Once you begin exploring, you'll find a range of refills and accessories manufactured by Midori, but you'll also find them manufactured by third parties. Beyond accessories, though, you can even find the notebook itself manufactured by others in a wide range of colors and materials. Leather, vinyl, bright colors, patterns, even two-toned covers are available. They may have exactly the same size, shape, and set of features, or they be wider, taller, thicker, and come with two or three elastic bands to allow you to carry more refills at once. One could conceivably end up with a Traveler’s Notebook manufactured entirely by third parties, without a single component manufactured by Midori.

One other potential point of confusion is that I am writing this review in the midst of Midori rebranding itself as “Traveler’s Company,” so you may see the Traveler’s Notebook referred to as manufactured by either of those two company names depending on when and where you’re shopping.

The Midori (Traveler’s Company) Traveler's Notebook, refills, and accessories are available from many fine retailers, including:

Ink Review: Kaweco Palm Green

Kaweco Palm Green ink

As I mentioned in my review of Diamine Meadow, I am not a connoisseur of green ink. I had a grand total of three specimens (J. Herbin Vert Empire, J. Herbin Vert Olive, and Iroshizuku Shinryoku) sitting on my self until I picked up Meadow. Vert Empire and Shinryoku were too dour to be of interest to me, and Vert Olive is so vibrant as to be all but unusable. Additionally, green isn’t a color that tends to hold my interest, especially when compared to blue, red, and violet, but Meadow opened my eyes to the versatility of green ink.

I mention this so that you know that I am neither damning with faint praise nor speaking from a position of scholarly authority when I say that Kaweco Palm Green is my favorite green ink after Diamine Meadow. It is a lovely forest green that has the best shading of any of the eight Kaweco colors, and which exhibits the excellent behavior characteristics of the line.

Palm Green behaves admirably across all paper types, exhibiting low levels of feathering and a narrow, crisp line even on cheap paper. This comes at a cost of a fairly dry flow, but it is not so severe as to be off-putting. It dries quickly across the board.

Paper Dry Time Bleed Through Show Through Feathering
Copier 1 second Low Moderate Low
Bagasse 3 seconds Moderate Moderate Low
Rhodia 10 seconds None Low None
Midori 10 seconds None Low None
Canson 10 seconds None None None

Kaweco Palm Green water test

Kaweco Palm Green performed identically to all of the other Kaweco colors in the water resistance tests. It has little in the way of water resistance, turing into a green smudge on the smear test (where I run a wet finger across the page), easily lifting from the paper on the drip test (where I let several drops of water sit on the paper before blotting), and washing cleanly away on the incorrectly labeled soak test (where I run the page under a stream of water for half a minute).

I wouldn’t recommend using it in any application that requires water-resistance, like addressing an envelope or signing a check. 

Kaweco Palm Green bottle

Kaweco Palm Green bottle

Kaweco ink comes in two forms: cartridges and 30ml glass bottles, which is the format I used during testing. The bottles themselves are pleasantly designed, and the labels accurately reflect the color of the ink inside them. I have no real complaints about the bottle, other than I had to tip it to the side slightly in order to create sufficient depth to fill my test pen properly.

Of the eight ink colors, Palm Green isn’t quite my favorite - that honor belongs to Caramel Brown, which I haven’t reviewed yet - but it is the one that has gone back into my in rotation more often than any of the other colors since I did my initial testing five months ago. If you need a great green ink that behaves very well, and are willing to put up with a relatively dry flow as a tradeoff, then I would recommend Kaweco Palm Green.

Kaweco Palm Green is available from many fine retailers, including:

Review notes: the handwritten portion of the review was created on 160 gsm, acid free, mixed media paper from Canson’s XL line. All lines, broad and thin, were made using a Pilot Parallel pen with a 3.8mm calligraphy nib.

A bottle of Kaweco Palm Green was generously provided by the fine folks at Kaweco for review. 

What I'm Listening To

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I'm late to the podcast game. While technically savvy people have been listening to the format for years, I never quite found a set of shows that compelled me to listen. I could catch This American Life and Radiolab on my local NPR station, and I had only so much space on my phone, and I tend to go on broad musical explorations that wander from female-fronted symphonic metal to contemporary classical to dubstep to the complete works of Mahler to the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording.

Lately, though, I've been on a podcast kick. I listen to them in the car on the way to and from work, and I've managed to find just the right mix of shows so that I neither fall behind nor run out of content. If the length of my commute ever changes, I'm screwed. In the interest of sharing, here's that mix, with some comments from me:


This first set of podcasts are ongoing series comprised of self-contained episodes. You can jump in anywhere, listen to them out of order, or skip a few, and you'll only miss out on the awesomeness of each individual episode.

Note to Self

Manoush Zomorodi is your charmingly eccentric, slightly anxious, incredibly smart friend who's a blast to hang out with and who always has a great story to share. She also happens to be an excellent journalist who has a podcast about what it means to be human in our increasingly technological world. That podcast is called Note to Self, and it comes from WNYC studios.

Lore

If Stephen King wrote Wikipedia articles about folklore and then narrated them in a style characterized by a love of unnecessary pauses rivaled only by Christopher Walken and William Shatner, you'd have the Lore podcast. If the previous sentence appealed to you, you're probably downloading it now. If not, you might want to move on to other shows in this list.

Mystery Show

Starlee Kine was a producer for This American Life. Starlee Kine is charming. This is a show about Starlee Kine being charming whilst solving the mysteries of everyday life. One episode in the far-too-short first season featured Jake Gyllenhall. Another a belt buckle. Would you believe that the belt buckle episode almost made me cry?

Only Human

Only Human is a show about health told in an easily relatable way, covering everything from the state of the American healthcare system to the search for immortality to people with amazing medical conditions. Their tagline is "...every body has a story." It's the second of three shows from WNYC on this list.

Radiolab

If you're not listening to Radiolab, you're doing life wrong. Listen to Radiolab. This is the third of the three shows from WNYC on this list.

Surprisingly Awesome

The Adam who founded the Planet Money podcast and the Adam who directed Anchorman and Taledega Nights spend each episode trying to convince each other that topics that one finds boring (e.g. mold, interest rates, and broccoli) are actually really interesting. Surprisingly entertaining.

Esquire Classic

David Brancaccio, host of Marketplace Morning Report, examines some of the most popular non-fiction pieces from the Esquire magazine archives. He places each piece in its historical context while talking with other guests about the creation and impact of the piece. It's a very well produced examination of journalism throughout the twentieth century, in addition to re-telling a series of very interesting stories.

Criminal

In the same way that the Only Human podcast is about health, Criminal is about crime. Specifically, it examines the effects that crime has on the people who perpetrate it, are victimized by it, and fight it. The host, Phoebe Judge, has one of the best voices in podcast-dom.


The following three podcasts are serialized docu-dramas that have an ongoing storyline. You'll need to start at the beginning to make sense of them, but each started recently enough that it is still easy to catch up. Just plan to spend a week binge listening.

The Black Tapes

Host Alex Reagan investigates cases of the paranormal with the assistance of the enigmatic Richard Strand, a noted skeptic, and head of the Strand Institute. The series gets progressively creepy and esoteric as it progresses, but still remains well within the bounds of mainstream paranormal activity. One of the highlights of the show is the Mulder/Scully-esque relationship between Alex and Strand. They just launched season two, so now is the perfect time to binge on season one.

Limetown

Take the Serial formula (you did listen to Serial, didn't you) and apply it to the investigation of a mysterious town where every inhabtant disappeared overnight, and you have Limetown. The show manages to dial the creepy up at just the right rate to overcome suspension of disbelief issues and, while it goes slightly astray in the middle of the first season, finishes exceptionally strong. I listened to about half of season one on a flight to LA. I'm looking forward to season two.

Tanis

I'm hesitant to recommend Tanis. It's produced by the same production company as The Black Tapes, but it's overly ambitious, attempting to tie every possible conspiracy theory into one of their own creation. The host, Nic Silver, who is a producer on The Black Tapes, comes across as mostly out of his element in tracking down the mysterious Tanis. What is Tanis? A place, a thing, a force of nature? Nobody knows! Maybe the acerbic-but-charming, near-omniscient, mysterious hacker MirKatnip, who I'm certain has a dragon tattoo, can figure it out for him.

Also, the dialogue is exposition heavy, and mostly written using the following template:

"Blah, blah, blah, important term."

"Important term?"

"Yes, blah, blah, blah, second important term."

"Second important term, you say?"

And so on. Yet, I keep listening. It's currently in the middle of its first season, and I really hope that sticking with it will pay off in some way.

 

Ink Review: Kaweco Ruby Red

I'm a big fan of red ink. Red is my favorite color - I'm drawn to its vibrancy and dynamism. If the color red has a drawback, though, it is the quality that makes it so interesting: the high degree of contrast that makes it stand out from the crowd. In nature, red is an attention getting color, sending one of a number of messages depending on the organism in question: I am poisonous, I am ripe, I am dangerous, I am delicious. Unfortunately, all the extra stimulation that our brains must endure when dealing with the color can cause red ink to be fatiguing to read over a long period of time.

To find a regular spot in my ink rotation, then, a red ink's aesthetic qualities have to outweigh the burden of use. Some colors capture my imagination: Diamine Red Dragon is magical and J. Herbin Rouge Hematite is spectacular while Iroshizuki Momiji is sublime. Kaweco Ruby Red, though, is more prosaic: it's a pragmatic magenta red, and it makes no pretense about being more. It exhibits low to moderate levels of shading, depending on the width of the nib, and provides very high levels of contrast on white, off white, and cream colored paper.

As with the rest of the Kaweco line, Ruby Red is a dry ink that behaves well across all paper types, from the super-smooth Midori MD to the cheap, feather-prone, low-grade copier paper found in most offices.

Paper Dry Time Bleed Through Show Through Feathering
Copier 1 second Low Moderate Low
Bagasse 3 seconds Moderate Moderate Low
Rhodia 10 seconds None Low None
Midori 15 seconds None Low None
Canson 10 seconds None None None

In the water test, Ruby Red showed no resistance at all. The smear test, in which I rub a wet finger across the page, resulted in a red smear that then lifted completely from the page when blotted. The drip test exhibited the same behavior: the ink lifted easily after a drop of water sat for a few seconds. The soak test, in which I run the paper under water, washed away the ink completely.

Each of the Kaweco colors behaves similarly with regard to water resistance: they have none. As long as you keep this in mind, it shouldn't dissuade you from using the ink - just make sure to limit your use to applications that don't require it.

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Kaweco ink comes in two forms: cartridges and 30ml glass bottles, which is the format I used during testing. The bottles themselves are pleasantly designed, and the labels accurately reflect the color of the ink inside them. I have no real complaints about the bottle, other than I had to tip it to the side slightly in order to create sufficient depth to fill my test pen properly.

Ruby Red is a fine red ink - it's well behaved and moderately priced - but it fails to capture my imagination. I don't think it will find its way into my regular rotation for that reason. However, if you are in a position where you need a vibrant ink and you are stuck working with low-grade paper, it could be a very reasonable choice.

Kaweco Ruby Red is available from:

Review notes: the handwritten portion of the review was created on 160 gsm, acid free, mixed media paper from Canson’s XL line. All lines, broad and thin, were made using a Pilot Parallel pen with a 3.8mm calligraphy nib.

A bottle of this ink was generously provided by Kaweco for review purposes.

Words Matter

Words matter. More so than self awareness, tool use, and opposable thumbs, language is the characteristic that best defines humanity. We are a species that has words and knows how to use them: to hurt and to heal, to communicate and confound, to define ourselves and others. On a global scale, wars have been won, lost, and waged over words; religions founded and fractured based on the interpretation of words; cultures cultivated and sustained through the repetition of words. 

Humanity uses words to record its history, its discoveries, its fumbling and stumbling attempts to make sense of its place in the great, infinite, star-speckled universe in which it finds itself. Humanity uses words to write haiku and Herculean epics; to write the Bible and Qur’an and Bhagavad Gita. It yells and whispers and demands and hates and loves and gives through the use of words. 

Hobbes wrote in Leviathan that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short. Humans may have gathered together in those early days of civilization in order to pool their labor, but it was the words that they developed that kept them together. Like Virgil, words guide us out of the gloomy wood and elevate us from a life of brutish survival to a life of discovery and purpose. 

We use words to write the narrative of our lives – the stories that we tell ourselves and which we consequently tell others – so the words that we choose become our lives. Yes, we are cells and plasma and bones and hair and microbiomes, but we are so much more than that. We are our words. They are we and they are us and we are they, and because we matter, because we all matter, they matter. Words matter.