Miquelrius: King of the Notebooks
Update: This post was updated on 19 July 2007. Please see the bottom of the post for more information on acquiring Miquelrius notebooks.
A good notebook is an important tool for the physics graduate student; it’s a place to flesh out ideas, jot down references, work out calculations, and remind yourself every once in a while what you’ve done and what you’re trying to do.
Ruled/Graph/Blank. Physics lends itself to graph paper. I catch myself making sketches, drawing graphs, or writing up tables all the time. The vertical rule also helps me align my notes when I’m making an outline. Ruled and blank pages don’t offer enough structure for me to organize things nicely (though I’m sure they’re great for other forms of creative endeavors). The graphing/ruling should be printed onto the paper not too obstructively. If it is too dark or thick it gets in the way of your notes.
Paper. Paper should be thick enough such that your pen doesn’t bleed through. Most American notebooks have paper that’s too light, and are hence really only useful for ball point pens or gel pens. I prefer “ultra-white” (bleached white) pages which give maximum contrast for your writing. (Perhaps a slightly more natural shade is better if you plan on working outside in the bright sun.)
Size. Pages should also be at least letter size, though ideally slightly larger. This lets you insert print outs and such into your notes–essential for a good lab notebook or to include an important photocopy. I’ve tried using pocket-sized Molskine graph notebooks but was turned off because they’re too small for doing calculations. At best they’re useful for daily notes. Also, aim for a one subject notebook between 80 and 120 pages. Anything much larger and your notebook will be too heavy for the amount of information that you’ll likely need at any given moment, anything much less and you’ll need to bring an extra notebook or two whenvever you go to the coffee shop (one documenting your previous notes and one in case you get in a groove and run out of pages).
Binding. I have a strong preference for spiral bound notebooks since this makes it easier to write on small tables or maximize desk space. Metal or plastic spiral binding is irrelevant; plastic is slightly lighter (and does the job just as well for normal use) but tends to be associated with low-cost bargain notebooks.
Cover. Go for something water resistant and durable. Thick paper/cardboard with some kind of laminate is good, plastic is better. If you’re anything like me, chances are that your notebook will have to hold its own against drops and spills. Plastic covers help prevent pages from getting doggy eared.
That being established, I have to give my gushing praise to Miquelrius notebooks. Miquelrius is a Spanish designer/high-end stationer that has created the most practical notebooks I’ve ever seen. Their Note Book 1 (as in 1-subject) and Note Book 4 Spot pass each of my criteria flawlessly.
In addition to having bright, large, graphed pages, Miquelrius graph paper notebooks have a colorful stripe for easy identification (separating volumes of notes, for example) and a horizontal box at the top of each page for titles/dates of entries. The graphed area is also nearly demarcated with a graph-less border, keeping each page nicely organized. (It’ll make other graphed notebooks look downright heathen.)
The only negative is that Miquelrius is nearly impossible to find in stores. I found a couple in a stationary store in Palo Alto (the one next to Palo Alto Toy World) at a price of $6.25. There’s been some discussion about Miquelrius online, and it seems like there is at least one reputable online retailer.
A friend of mine prefers Claire Fontaine, but they don’t carry a letter-sized graph notebook (they do carry an odd colored-paper tabbed multiple subject graph notebook which doesn’t strike me as terribly aesthetic).
I should also make a note that these notebooks are a bit too expensive for course notes (which tend to have a lifetime on the order of months). At over $7 per notebook, I reserve my Miquelrius notebooks (plural, Miquelrii?) for research/reading notes and thoughts that I’d like to save in the long term. In the future I’d like to be able to look to a shelf of Miquelrius notebooks and think of them as a scrap book of my Ph.D. years.
For everyday notes/scatchwork/etc., I suggest using engineering computation pads. These are one-sided pads with dark graphed ruling on the opposite side. This gives the front of the page a clean, organized look while making the graphed lines nearly invisible (and actually invisible when you photocopy them). For scratch work I suggest the usual green-tinted pads that you’ll find in stationary stores. For homework/lecture notes, I suggest the heavier tan/buff paper that, so far, I’ve only been able to find at the Stanford Bookstore.
Update: (8/11/06) I’ve found Miquelrius graph notebooks available online through Kate’s Paperie as well as Miquelrius USA (mentioned above). After I spoke to one of the owners, The Campus Store just off the UC Berkeley campus on Euclid also was able to order Miquelrius graph notebooks. I have heard that The Art Store in Los Angeles also has Miquelrius in stock.
Update (19 July 07): Boy, these guys are hard to find. In the United Kingdom the upscale stationary store Paperchase carries notebooks with Miquelrius paper. The Paperchase notebooks have slightly thicker covers imprinted with the company logo, but the pages themselves have the Miquelrius logo. These notebooks are also a bit thinner with a mix of different line colors. Unfortunately, Paperchase doesn’t seem to sell these notebooks online. If you’re searching online, try using the alternate spelling `Miquel-Rius’ with a hyphen. There’s a review on Amazon, but the 4-subjecte notebook appears unavailable. There also seems to be a company in New York (Lincoln Stationers), but I haven’t tried ordering from them personally. More references from Squidoo (mostly dead links).
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