Scribbler’s Saga #63 – Elfinbook Reusable Notebook

Posted: April 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I suppose that you’re aware that I’m as susceptible to a Facebook ad for cool writer stuff as anyone (more if you figure that I get to tell you about it and write off these modest hits to my bank account on my taxes). So on my daily skimming of all things Facebook, mostly to clear the red numbers in the corner but occasionally to learn things from fellow scribblers, I come across the Elfinbook 2 notebook. A reusable notebook where you use a special pen and either spritz water on your screw-ups to erase them or you nuke the whole spiral notebook over a glass of water in the microwave to erase the whole book.

Probably because of not fully trusting Facebook retailers, I clicked over to enrich Amazon, yet again. I chose the smaller 6” x 8” size. Two days later, my book and pen arrive via special delivery (Sunday, Ducky) before going to a weekend writers group meeting at a library. I’m ready to rock and roll on the greatest of blog posts about hollow asteroid ships (Nah, hyperbole, Ducky, I left at least a couple threads on the table; fix it in post). What follows are my thoughts on whether or not I wasted $20.99 in my constant search for new toys.

I didn’t come to this purchase completely blind. A friend with whom I share time and tables in my most useful creator community has a notebook with similar capabilities. His is larger and might be from another company. I’ll ask him at some point, when both our notebooks are in the same place at the same time. At the time, I was experimenting with the Livescribe note capture pen (see post), so I recognized the layout of his reusable pages immediately. And then finding more reasons to go back to the good old-fashioned spiral notebook than to stay, I dropped the whole thing…until I saw the ad.

First off, I think I picked the wrong size. I’ve become extremely accustomed to the 6” x 9” paper spiral and I think it showed moving my writing hand across the slightly smaller writing area on each page. Sometimes my wrist bumped up against the plastic spiral in the center where this doesn’t seem to happen as much with a paper notebook. But, each new type of notebook is a bit like a new golf course, find the pin placement and hit a few lethal screamers before settling in for a good round. And these are, as they say, First World Problems.

While other notebooks that do the microwave to erase thing have pages with a plastic like you’re writing on a cheap placemat, this notebook’s sheets feel more like paper, however slightly. The literature and sales blurbs assert that the material is finely ground and milled stone. Stone? After mentally blasting out cool, my next thought is to start up with The Flintstones jokes – “so does it come with a much put upon prehistoric woodpecker breaking his beak as a dictation stylus, too?” Never mind, not much of a joke there.

The pages go with highly specific pens with water-based ink. This is how you get the ink to run freely like mascara when you’re done with a blog post, chapter or notes to self, concerning the next piece of music (still on that one). The makers thoughtfully provide you with your first Pilot FriXion pen, but say that any pen with similar ink will work for writing and drawing.

Later in the instructions that come on a cardboard insert at the front of the book, they tell you to never use oil-based ink or any of the solvents that can break down certain grades of that ink. Or in Real People Speak, dry erase pens and/or solvents like Goo-Gone basically void the warranty. Good to know.

Oh, and this is a minor classic in terms of the Peanut Butter Sandwich Exercise that teaches you to be nauseatingly precise when giving instructions, but this cardboard insert that provides you with your instructions and access code for full use of the smartphone app doesn’t actually tell you to remove the insert before your first full microwave erasure. Pretty much I assumed that the wet mascara ink would bleed all over this insert and so I took it out to store it in the plastic bag earmarked for this notebook.

Picking up the thread of each golf course needs acclimation before you score well; writing with water-based ink creates a few logistical notes. In the same vein as an artist doing watercolors needing to bring or have at hand water to clean brushes, or thin and mix pigments, you’ll need a ready cup/bowl of water if you intend to erase your mistakes as you go. I licked my fingers and rubbed out what would otherwise be cross outs. I solved this stopping off at a supermarket for the smallest kid’s sippy cup I could find, or I’ll just have to live with notes that still have cross outs. Needing to buy extra gear means this notebook isn’t a perfect solution to the intersecting problems of paper waste and having the smallest thing in your bag, but it’s a start.

There’s a minor interesting point to make about created expectation and what comes out of the box. When I read the description for this notebook on both the Facebook ad and the Amazon page, I got the impression when they said “approximately fifty sheets, half lined and half blank for sketching” that I would get a notebook that alternated between lined writing/note pages and blank rectangle pages for drawing. I was worried that this would disrupt my flow with my writing, or that I would have to take time to draw in lines on a sketching page.

The copywriter doing these ads and Amazon pages basically skipped over showing any lined pages choosing too sketch pages. One of these side-by-side sketch pages had enough text on it that it could have been a text page fostering my wrong impression. What came out of the box is approximately 25 sheets of lined paper up front and the similar number of sketch pages in the back of the notebook, so I dodged that bullet. Still, I really don’t want to hire this particular copywriter.

At this point, you’re probably hearing the part about ink runs like mascara and asking the – “How do you preserve the notes and writing that matter?” – question. Elfinbook has thoughtfully created a smartphone app where once you add a special code from that cardboard insert, you rock and roll. Unlike the Livescribe where special sensors in the paper connect with the pen to save your PDFs to the app on the phone, this app simply has you take pictures of your pages with your camera.

The Elfinbook app automatically detects the frame of your page and prompts you to crop the page accordingly. After that you choose the best way to present the text in the most readable/printable way. You could do a batch capture to make multipage documents, but I don’t recommend this. Using the batch setting, yes, I did quickly take a frame of each page of my post. However, the auto-framing crop feature gets sloppy the quicker you try to process your notes. I found it easier to take a good frame of each page individually and merge the pages into one PDF document after the fact. It takes about the same amount of time.

All files are saved as PDF, which means that any smartphone app that likes PDF potentially wants these notes. There are a lot of these apps for the phone. What Elfinbook doesn’t do is process these notes for OCR into texts, emails or, more importantly, MS Word. In one part of their site, the Elfinbook people say they’re working on this capability. In others they already say that limited OCR is already a thing. Oh, right, the OCR requires a super-premium ($18/year) account. At least, my initial opinion is that the product is better than this laughably sloppy copywriting. And don’t get me started, again, on how the Livescribe’s OCR wasn’t fully ready for prime time in my opinion.

Would I use the notebook again and not just because it’s mine now and I’ll probably fail to send it back before the return deadline? Yes, I don’t see why not. As an object for my writer bag, it’s smaller and lighter than my regular spiral notebooks. The text saved to PDF comes out readable and ready to print. Having to keep the special pen handy when I’m already maxed out with pens in my pocket is a little bit of a thing. Bringing a sippy cup for the erase water is a bit of a thing. But, the best reason is at the end of the second paragraph; at $20.99 this notebook is an easy investment. And now, why aren’t you writing?

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