Review: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

Last month, I was reading an article about Daniel Pink and how he went to Japan to study the art and culture surrounding Japanese comics, otherwise known as manga. He was interested in the format's popularity; this was a book format that people of all ages enjoyed reading. He studied the culture and the form to see how it could be applied to other disciplines successfully. The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is the result of that study. This introductory guide on life design and career planning in today's modern workplace uses the manga format to weave a story about a man who learns more about life and work in six easy lessons. It's a fast read, filled with entertaining scenarios, and some short but powerful ideas on how to get ahead in your career.

Review: LifeShaker; or why I like my to-do list shaken, not stirred

LifeShaker, a desktop to-do list application from Funky Cloud, makes adding items to your daily list almost as fun as crossing them off. It's available for Mac OS X and costs $29 USD.

I'm going to be blunt for a second. Let's get real... I can use a simple pen and paper to track my daily goals. And that's how I typically go about writing down all the things I need to track and when to get them done by. So why would I even bother taking a software to-do list application for a test drive? Because it looks cool and makes entering goals into it more fun than a piece of paper. If you're picky like me, you know a program has got to have something special in it to make me WANT to give it more than a passing glance. And LifeShaker has got that something special that makes me want to use it.

LifeShaker immediately draws you in with its unique interface. The bulk of the window shows you 9 squares, each with a goal or "next action" step for a goal. This innovative grid view allows you to quickly see how many tasks you have without feeling too overwhelmed. The bottom of the screen includes lines for you to add new goals. Click the "plus" button to add your tasks. If your task includes several steps before it's done, then click the "plus" button in the Steps list to add the steps you need to do before that project is complete and the goal achieved.

Review: Write Free, Attracting the Creative Life

Editor's note: Hey everyone, yes... I'm back. I took all of last month to get my mind and life back in order. My husband treated me to a wonderful weekend escape to the coast, I am a bit more secure in what my new job asks of me, and I'm growing accustomed to having one less furry beast running around in the house. Thank you all for the warm wishes and support during my "time" away from DIY Planner. While I didn't respond to every comment from my last post, I did read them all.

One of my 2008 goals is to continue to build on my creative and writing life. I want writing and art to seep from every aspect of my being and help me grow as a writer and artist in this world. However, occasionally the daily grind of errands, doctor's appointments, and laundry push back the available time I want to devote to this practice. Then I heard about Write Free, by Rebecca Lawton and Jordan E. Rosenfeld. The title immediately drew me in. Finally, a book proposing to help concretely build, maintain, and attract a fully functioning creative lifestyle.

Review: First Impressions of the Eee PC 701

Eee PC 701 BlackOkay, I can be a little obsessive. (For example, see my recent posts about fountain pens, fountain pens, fountain pens, and ...erm... fountain pens.) Unfortunately, combined with my persistent belief that my next productivity tool could be the non plus ultra, this can translate into drawers filled with unused gadgets, bookcases jammed with partially used planners and notebooks, and a selection of writing utensils that would shame any office supply store. And, although I am embarrassed to admit it, while I tend towards the intimacy of pen and paper, the tinker in me is certainly inclined towards items demonstrating an almost awkward complexity. But do those help me be more productive? Rarely.

I've mentioned not only my Macs in these pages, but my Palms, my Newtons, and various other attempts to find a perfect portable writing machine that also allows for efficient time management. The Newton eMate 300 (or alternatively, the Newton MessagePad 2100 with keyboard) was the closest thing thus far, as it offered me the ability to write without being tempted by the distractions of the web, use the amazing MoreInfo to structure my days, and have a smallish and rugged package that lasted up to 20 hours. But, as attractive as the Newtons were, I started yearning for the ability to look up online resources, draw small diagrams, send email, sync easily with my other computers, and so on, all of which are possible on the Newtons, but not easy nor intuitive. The thought of typing several dozen pages on a cramped smartphone thumb-board while the battery ticks down didn't seem to offer any respite. What I needed was a very small laptop... a subnotebook, and one that wouldn't cost a fortune. And then, I unexpectedly received one: an Asus Eee PC 701 4G Surf, currently going for an average retail value of roughly $350 USD ($400 for the non-Surf model, which means it has a webcam).

I eyed it suspiciously. Small, clunky, inexpensive, tiny-screened, Linuxy, and therefore decidedly un-Mac-like. Could it fit the bill?

Review: Blissfully Wrong - The Jinhao X450R Fountain Pen

Jinhao X450RSometimes I just love being wrong. So much so, I'll happily admit it in public.

After my post a couple weeks ago on Esterbrooks, Mak, an acquaintance of mine in Hong Kong wrote to tell me that there were plenty of quality fountain pens still selling brand new under the $20 mark. Now, given that the list price of the Lamy Safari is $30 USD and the inexpensive but highly-regarded Waterman Phileas is $60 USD (though they can often be found for about $20 and $30 without converters), I was hard pressed to think of a single example. Even in the eBay "roll the dice, take your chances" game of slugging through remnants of estate sales, it's hard to find something that isn't scratchy, leaky, sac-less, ugly or just plain broken. I expressed my skepticism, but my friend apparently lives in quite a different world, one where good deals are far more common than in the far north of Canada. The next thing I knew, Mak had procured a little $10 gift for me and sent it on a journey half-way around the world.

While I waited for it, I couldn't help but remember one of my first fountain pens. While that "Asia Wood Stunning Pen" cost about $8, the seller insisted that adding a few no-name ink cartridges bumped the shipping price from $10 to $22. When it finally arrived, the cheap cap wouldn't fit snug, the nib was misaligned and scratchy, the "jewel" atop was a dollop of hot glue, and the splinters skirting every corner sent me running for tweezers. Straight into the junk drawer it went.

But, oh, was this one a pleasant surprise.

Review: Doodling for Papercrafters

Part of the fun of owning a blank journal is the flexibility to use the blank page as a canvas for your ideas. You can choose to write or draw on the pages, sometimes at the same time. Most of the time, however, blank books go marked only with the printed word across the pages. Sometimes, rarely, do we ever think to decorate the pages with quick sketches of images our eyes have seen throughout the day. Even more rarely do we ever just practice the fine art of doodling around the entries with a basic pen.

Enter Doodling for Papercrafters, by Maelynn Cheung. Cheung has written a fun, creative, how-to guide to creating original, hand drawn embellishments to your paper arts. This fast paced and quirky book takes you on a crash course through the joys of doodling on paper. The book teaches you simple and complex ways to add some personalized art to your creative works. Learn simple techniques like making lines and squigglies to advanced flower and paisleys. Doodling for Papercrafters is heavily illustrated which helps to show the diversity of doodles artists have implemented in their own works.

Review: The Lamy 2000 Fountain Pen

Being a mere fountain pen acolyte, it's my understanding that part of what led to their resurgence during the 80's and 90's (having been driven underground for several decades by the convenience of the ball-point pen) was their potential bling factor. Well-to-do business people would stuff a $1500+ Mont Blanc pen in their Armani pockets in place of the passé hankerchief and people couldn't help but ooh and ahh at the amount of money that was undoubtedly paid for such a fashionable accroutrement. They were, in effect, jewelry, meant to be displayed but very rarely used.

True, there are a lot of beautiful pens out there, many costing several thousand dollars in special "limited editions" (of course they're limited -- how many $15,000 pens could you realistically expect to sell?), but they remain out of reach for us mere mortals who actually know the contents of their bank accounts. Not to worry, though: more than one fountain pen savant has whispered the industry's little secret to me. Up to $150, you pay for the nib; more, you pay for the sparkle. So, assuming you're not looking for something ostentatious, just a nice reliable daily writer that will last for many years, you're in luck. There's plenty of options that won't require an extra mortgage, ranging from the $25 Lamy Safari and the $40 Waterman Phileas up to the $150 pens from well-regarded manufacturers.

Case in point, the well-regarded bastion of functional anti-bling: the Lamy 2000.

Lamy 2000

Review: Lamy AL Star Fountain Pen

I'm not an expert on fountain pens by any stretch of the imagination, having received my first one about two years ago --an amazing and unexpected gift from Robert Lynch, an Aurora Style. Since then, however, I've certainly fallen under their spell. True, they're not always the most convenient, and I almost always have a little splatter of ink in the corners of my fingernails, but there's something about the way that they glide across the page trailing a fine wet line that glistens even in the dim light of my office. Or perhaps it's the throwback to a calmer, less hectic time when we had time to make words meaningful. So, too, the relaxing ritual of filling my pens with sundry types and colours of ink, even mixing my own concoctions, a past-time that merges my wild ambitions as artist, scientist and writer.

But the mystique of fountain pens can also be mystifying for the beginner. I know it was for me. A glance through various fountain pen websites will quickly bring into focus the highly regarded pens that cost thousands of dollars. Wandering through fountain pen listings and forums will baffle you with an arcane lexicon and conflicting statements about pens, nibs, inks, filling systems, pricing, collectability and custom grindings. Alas, these are barriers to entry for the poor newbie who wishes simply to buy a reliable and inexpensive pen that can be used as a daily writer without pain, confusion, financial ruin or the permanent soiling of one's carpet.

Lamy AL Star Silvergreen Fountain Pen

Enter the Lamy AL Star.

Review: Levenger Stanley Briefbag

Levenger Stanley BriefbagA not-so-secret confession: I like man-bags, though even that term seems to be a recent (but necessary) designation. For many years during the eighties and early nineties, a man's natural instinct to gather and collect has been severely hampered by the stylings imposed by society. Yes, women can carry purses small enough to hold a set of keys or large enough to hold several small dogs and a freaked-out kitty, but --especially in a traditional business setting-- many men have been forced to tote a dark-coloured sharp-cornered briefcase, or else an equally dark laptop bag. Thankfully the shackles are now off and a man can wield a messenger bag, a guide bag, a map bag, and any of a dozen other sizes and styles without being called out as a wild bohemian at the boardroom table. Still, it's not easy to find something suitable to one's personality.

I love my knapsack, but it's more suited to day-hikes than to business. My Eddie Bauer guide bag is too small to hold much besides a Moleskine, a camera and a Newton, and it too is a little woodsy. My laptop bags look like --well-- laptop bags, practical for one use only, and people give me odd looks when they discover no laptop inside. I tried a bunch of canvas bags, but they weren't suitable for the extreme climates in live in. Nylon bags seem cold, modern, and lacking any sort of personality. I had nothing that felt suitable for both office work and dashing outside for errands, meetings, and hanging out at the local café and, in fact, I've been looking for just the perfect bag for nigh on a decade.

Enter the Levenger Stanley Compact Traveler Briefbag, or --as I prefer to call it-- simply Stanley. Could a traditional leather bag be suitable for a modern lifestyle?