my hpda configuration

My first hPDAI discovered Merlin Mann’s hPDA concept around the same time I discovered the Rollabind disc binding system, and for me the benefits of combining them were immediately self-evident. I hacked my first “field-strength” ring-bound hPDA using covers from an old poly folder, a strap made from an elastic hair band, and three small Rollabind rings; it proved to be rugged, reliable, and indispensable.

The only problem I had was that the thin covers allowed the rings to torque sideways when stored in my back pants pocket, flexing the covers and the cards at their weak hole joints. So when Levenger introduced its CircaPDA this past summer — using the same extra-thick clear poly covers as their other Circa notebooks — I quickly retired my original covers and have been proudly packin’ Circa ever since.

Quality-wise, it was like moving up from a kit car to a Lexus. But regardless of the bodywork, it’s what’s under the hood that ultimately counts. Here’s what’s under mine:

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“no comment!”

TumbleweedI just found out that my blog’s captcha (the dialog box below the comment field that requires you to type in two words) has been malfunctioning, and as a result comments have been flung into the ether instead of being submitted for review. So if you recently buy valium online free posted a comment and are wondering why it hasn’t appeared on the blog, that’s why.

My apologies! I’ve turned the captcha off until I can correct the problem, so if you’d like to try leaving a comment again, it should get through to me now.


three common misconceptions about e-mail

Full TrashJournalist Xeni Jardin recently discussed the perils of storing and deleting government e-mail on her weekly NPR spot, XeniTech. Prompted by the recent controversial decision by the District of Columbia government to purge all e-mails every six months, Jardin presented a brief overview of the complex issue of electronic records retention.

Unintentionally, Jardin’s piece highlights and perpetuates some of the most common misconceptions about the nature of records management in the information age. Let’s take a look:

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getting to “thanks” #2: the power of appreciation

This afternoon I e-mailed a client, the editor of a bimonthly national magazine, with an update on an article I’m writing for her. She promptly wrote back to thank me, and also to let me that she’s been receiving many compliments on another article that I wrote that is about to go to press. “I SO appreciate your valuable contribution to [the magazine],” she wrote. “And I haven’t forgotten that you would like to do more.”

Not surprisingly, for this editor I am willing to walk through fire.

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adapting fiction techniques: character development

Person with books“Nagle was forty years old then, a thin, deeply tanned former Snap-On Tool Salesman of the Year. To see him there, waiting for the fisherman in his tattered T-shirt and thrift-shop sandals, the Jim Beam he kept as his best friend slurring his motions, no one would guess that he had been an artist, that in his day Bill Nagle had been great.” — Robert Kurson, Shadow Divers (Random House, 2004), p5

In one masterfully crafted paragraph, author Robert Kurson not only creates a visual impression of deep-sea diver Bill Nagle, but also conveys the trajectory of his life and imbues him with tragedy. Sure you can get character descriptions like this in any decently written novel. But Bill Nagle was a real person, and Shadow Divers is nonfiction.

Can you draw a portrait in a few pencil strokes? If you want to grab and hold your reader’s attention, you need to be able to create lasting impressions in readers’ minds. Among the most important — and hardest — impressions to craft are those of people.

Fiction writers describe characters as a matter of course. But nonfiction writers must be able to do this as well, and perhaps for them it’s even more important. They are, after all, writing about real people.

Whether you’re writing a celebrity profile or interviewing the new CEO, you can adopt techniques for developing fictional characters to turn real people into memorable characters.

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hPDAphoneWith the iPhone, Apple has once again completely reinvented the way people interact with information. Those of us who rely on our hPDAs know the feeling.

Just for fun, here is a new cover for your hPDA with a familiar interface. Featuring buttons for most of the common hPDA tasks and favorite hPDA- and CircaPDA-related sites, it will wow people when you whip it out of your back pocket to make a note.

Two-year license not required.

Active Voice offers templates as free .png and scalable-vector .pdf graphics that you can download to your desktop and use in your favorite planner. They are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial – Share Alike 2.5 License.

Disclaimer: this template is intended to fall under the satire/parody category of fair use. It cannot be sold or re-sold. No infringement of copyright is intended.

UPDATE, 7/16/07: Since introducing the template, several people have asked me if I’d consider creating a set of templates based on this design. Well, I hadn’t planned on it, but why not? Over the next couple of months, I’ll be introducing templates for each of the buttons. Check the Downloads page regularly for updates.

updated hPDAphone home screenThis decision required me to go back to the original design and modify it to make it more usable as a base for a whole series of templates. I’ve changed the dimensions to maximize the “screen space” and also created all-new buttons that are entirely vector, for improved scalability. So, please start by downloading the new “home screen” template, now available.

Collect them all!



The Japanese expression mottainai has its roots in ancient Buddhist practice. The meaning has evolved over time; today, it is commonly used to mean, “what a shame to waste this!”

The spirit of mottainai manifests in many ways. Nobel Prize-winning environmentalist Wangari Maathai has adopted mottainai as a motto to encourage people to respect and take responsibility for their environment through frugality and conservation. Salvaging wood from old barns to use in new buildings is an expression of mottainai. So is the decision to buy well-built, quality tools that can be handed down through generations instead of cheap ones that will soon be discarded.

I think that the concept of mottainai can be applied to writing as well . . .

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adapting fiction techniques: the freitag triangle

Freitag TriangleNo, it’s not the title of Robert Ludlum’s latest thriller. But it is something you might remember from high school English. The Freitag triangle is perhaps the classic graphic representation of story progression (click on image for full size). Remember? “Every plot has to have a climax and a denouement.”

Did you know that you can apply the same structure to your nonfiction articles to make them as readable as — well, as readable as the latest Robert Ludlum thriller? Here’s how:

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thinking blogs

The motto at the top of my blog has become something of a professional mantra for me. My goal here on the Active Voice blog (and by extension through all my writing and editing work) is to address issues that are of concern to readers and writers — whether practical, technical, philosophical, or whimsical.

Thinking Blogger AwardWriter, certified creativity coach, and journal writing teacher Quinn McDonald, a regular here on the AV blog, has tagged me with a Thinking Blogger Award, a meme started earlier this year by ilker yoldas. Quinn described me as “the thinking person’s writer.”

(*Blush*) Thanks, Quinn! Coming as it does from the thinking person’s coach, that means a lot!

To fulfill my obligations as an awardee, and to help pass on its spirit, I must name name five blogs that I, too, find to be interesting, informative, and helpful. Here are five blogs that make me think:

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a new look

To commemorate the six-month anniversary of the Active Voice blog, I’m happy to introduce its new theme, custom-built by my friend Roan at JustJohnnyWeb. Roan did a smashing job of distilling the look and feel of my site’s Flat WhiteBezel-inspired design into a WordPress template that integrates with the rest of the site while also standing a little bit apart.

A very public thanks, Roan!

Loyal readers: if you’re looking for a web designer who actually listens to what you say and delivers what you asked for (gasp!), or if you’re looking for an affordable and responsive webhosting company, check out JustJohnnyWeb.

And tell ’em Paul sent ya. (I’ve always wanted to say that!)