I'm not the only one!

I guess goddessgina said it best in her post a few days ago--I too am glad to have found "my people." Engineers are notorious for their geeky pursuits, but not even my fellow engineers can understand my fascination/obsession with papers, fountain pens and binding systems. For the longest time I thought I was the only one with these obsessions, but after finding this site a few weeks ago, I realize there are hundreds perhaps thousands with a similar affliction. I have tried everything--Franklin covey, bound laboratory notebooks, custom-made notebooks using GBC regular combs and GBC Pro-Click. After discovering Circa on this site, I ordered a bunch of stuff from Levenger and feel that this may be the ultimate solution. I have a PDA cell phone, tablet computer and two laptops, but I find its still hard to be creative without pen and paper. I have some original hacks that I haven't seen on this site yet and will be posting them after I get some time to fire up the digital camera and take a few pictures.

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Welcome Engineer

Glad to see another one. My fellow engineers don't understand my office supply obsession either. Especially when they are trying to have a serous conversation and I just want to talk about my new pencil. BTW, I've gotten obsessed with wood pencils now. I need fine points for the math I do so I'm sharpening them all the time. My office smell wonderful.

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Wooden Pencils

I read once (in Communications of the ACM I think) that Donald Knuth wrote the original draft for his "Art of Computer Programming" books in pencil on yellow legal pads. I don't know if the the pencils were wooden or mechanical. BTW, Knuth was so unhappy with the appearance of the typeset books that he stopped work on volumes 4 through 7 to invent and document the TeX typesetting language that is so popular in the Mathematics community. Also I remember reading that Robert Ludlum begins work on a new novel by sharpening a box of Ticonderoga Number 2 pencils.

For decades, in my corner of the engineering world, the de facto standard for pencils has been Pentel mechanical with 0.5 mm HB lead. I prefer to do everything in ink, even if corrections get messy, because everything worth keeping winds up getting typed into either TeX or MathType anyway.

Knuthian story

I read once (in Communications of the ACM I think) that Donald Knuth wrote the original draft for his "Art of Computer Programming" books in pencil on yellow legal pads.

There's a similar anecdote concerning Bill Gates writing the first MS-BASIC interpreter on legal pads with a pencil covered the floor of the hotel room he'd hired for a weekend.

I'm not aware of Knuth saying anything about his use of legal pads; not read everything he's written but have gone through much of it. Though there is a story in one of his papers on Literate Programming (I believe) where he recounts how after writing the original source code for tangle he them desk-checked it by running the code over itself tehreby creating (in the process) compilable source code for the program. [Not bad sonsidering he was using SAIL at the time.]

It's possible that Knuth's anecdote is in his original book "Digital Typography" (published by Digital Press sometime in the 1970s). I don't now recall whether he discusses this in volume 1 of TAoCP; been many years since I read them and my copies are elsehwere at the moment so I can't recheck.

Source of Knuth Story

I can't find an explicit mention of legal pads, but Knuth definitely used pencil for the first draft of what became the first three volumes of TAoCP. The quote below is from an interview with Knuth, conducted by Karen A. Frenkel and published in Communications of the ACM, October 1987, vol 30 n10, pp. 816-819:

"The following summer, after graduating, Knuth realized
that he would need to expand the topic further.
He wrote to his publishers and said, “Do you mind if I
make this book a little bit longer, because I think
there’s a need for explaining these things in somewhat
more detail.” And they said, “Oh no, go right ahead.
Make it as long as you feel necessary.” He finished the
first draft, which was handwritten in pencil, in 1967. “It
was 3000 pages,” says Knuth, “and my handwriting’s
very small.” They didn’t realize how badly he had estimated
the relationship between his handwritten notes
and the printed page, Knuth recalls."


Wooden Pencils

It must be an engineer thing. Several guys at my company really get into their Ticonderoga #2's. However I am slowly turning them onto the new Rhodia Pencils. Love that orange an black combo.

Ticonderoga #2 Pencils

I wrote that engineers have a thing for Pentel mechanical pencils with 0.5 HB lead. The Ticonderoga user was Robert Ludlum--he's a novelist.

Your use of "engineer thing" seems just a tad pejorative. Despite what Al Gore might claim, the internet was invented by engineers. The machinery that molds those wonderful little Circa disks is an engineered thing. The Design of that portable punch and clever spacing guide for Circa--also an engineered thing!.

Engineer Thing

I wouldn't worry too much about that wording. Every profession has it's heros and villains, its failures and successes. I've worked as an engineer for 23 years and if there is one thing I've learned its not to take myself or my job too seriously. Nearly every profession depends on a host of others to do their job. I couldn't do a thing without the folks who clean the bathrooms and take out the trash. I work in research and most of us couldn't find our way out of a paper bag without the admin support staff. I tend to believe every job is important even if they don't show any public success.

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"Engineer thing" was meant

"Engineer thing" was meant to indicate that the engineers I work with have a "thing" for their pencils, Ticonderoga in particular. Sorry if I misread your post.

Rhodia Pencils

I only have two Rhodia pencils and one of them is getting very short. I do love them.

I joined the Pencil of the Month Club

Pencil Club

Last month I got two made out of rolled newspapers. They are a lot of fun to sharpen because text and colors become visable.

BTW, although I'm an engineer by day, I write novels in my "spare time." I tend to use my fountain pens (in addition to the new fangeled computer thing) for that. Maybe I should try a pencil.

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Your post (and goddessgina's

Your post (and goddessgina's post) made me want to register and create an account. I'm an engineer too and I can totally relate! I've been lurking on these sites (like a fiend for the next hit) since last week. You don't know what it's doing to me....to see so many people with creative paper organization skills....who appear to love this stuff as much as I do.

My search started when I decided I wanted to make my own planner pad calendar for next year. Turns out, someone already did that and posted it here (forgive me - I can't remember that person's screen name right now). Then I discovered that you could "Circa-fy" it and add all sorts of things. I am loving it right now, and I hope that my quest to become more organized doesn't end up with all the other now-defunct gel pins and zippered binders that I just had to have!

I plan to make a notebook with addresses, weekly menu plan, and work calendar/projects.

Thanks all for the good ideas!


Good to see you. I feel like I'm home here. At least I'm understood. I feel a lot less guilty for changing around my planner on a regular basis, and, since it is DIY, it is much cheaper than buying Franklin Covey and Daytimes in several sizes and formats for every year.

Lisa PT