Ask a hacker, crafter or maker and they’ll tell you they measure their life in notebooks they’ve filled — with sketches, circuit diagrams, snippets of fiction, role-playing game scenarios, ideas, thoughts or dreams. So much is going through their heads that paper is the best way to keep track of it all.
The editors of the increasingly popular Make magazine have put together a $20 lab notebook that’s aimed squarely at this demographic, with grid-lined pages, reference charts in the back and fun, hacker-ish stickers to put on the cover.
Bob Thompson, author of The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, devotes a whole chapter to keeping notebooks:
A laboratory notebook is a contemporaneous, permanent, primary record of the owner’s laboratory work.
* Use permanent ink. Erasures are anathemas.
* Record all observations as you make them. Do not trust your memory, even for a minute.
* If you make a mistake, draw one line through the erroneous information, leaving it readable.
He goes on to say that for purposes of proving that laboratory work took place, whether for legal or academic reasons, a permanent record is a must. But permanency appeals — or ought to appeal — to other people, too.
Unless you’re a truly hard-core maker, you’re probably aren’t worrying about documenting patents. What you want, and what the Maker’s Notebook delivers, is an idea-capture tool that can hold up during use and, once filled, will last forever on your bookshelf.
But… a $20 Notebook?!
My initial reaction when investigating the Maker’s Notebook was to cringe at the price. As a fan of composition books for keeping notes, I naturally compared the two. In terms of construction, they don’t really have a lot in common, other than both being bound stacks of paper.
Of course, instead of el cheapo paper, the Maker’s Notebook boasts 150 pages of 1/8" engineering graph paper on 60+ Lynx Smooth Opaque recycled stock paper, bound together book-style. It measures 9 by 6 inches and is a bit less than an inch thick. Each notebook page has a blank header space for entering project names or titles, and there’s a two-page lined table of contents section at the front.
The front and back cover are pure cyan with a white dashed grid — basically, a canvas for your creativity (see photo). Maybe you want to color-code the covers by topic or date, maybe you just want to make it pretty. In any case, you can customize your notebook like it was a Guitar Hero controller: the Maker’s Notebook comes with tons of stickers to help you personalize it.
In classic composition book tradition it has reference charts in the back. But forget kiddie helpers like multiplication tables and classroom reminders. This is grownup stuff: it is a section of handy reference material for makers, hackers, tinkerers and scientists. A multimeter how-to, sewing needles, LEDs. Can’t remember Asimov’s Laws of Robotics? It’s in there. Need a Morse Code chart? Got it. There are twenty pages of this reference material. The book even has a bookmark ribbon and comes with a giant rubber band to help keep it closed.
So can it truly be worth $20? Yes, and here’s why: The quality of paper and binding are far superior than any grocery store notebook. Composition books aren’t made to last 20 years, this is. With a flat spine you can keep track of contents, dates and so on without having to haul the book out of the shelf. And forget spiral bound jobbies, the wire will smush and the pages will fall out. When you factor in the stickers and charts, this notebook becomes a compelling — not to mention fun — way to take notes. Your thoughts are important; treat them that way.
(By the way, the Maker’s Notebook is only $13 and change when you buy it from Amazon.)