Personal Analog Device

The PersonalDigitalAssistant (aka HandHeld) is stale and outdated.

The PersonalAnalogDevice is hip and on the uprise.


Benefits over a PDA: Disadvantages, with workarounds: Disadvantages:
I hate to burst people's bubbles, but you don't put a whole bunch of stuff on a single card. Therefore, you have several cards, therefore you can sort/display them any way you want. And with that, the huge advantage of a PAD becomes visible: An pile of index cards can easily expand to a 10 square foot display area at a very modest desk, and easily 2 square feet while 'portable' (walking around with a clipboard/notebook full of index cards). The trick to keep in mind is to let go of the notion that you have to fill every card up before it's fulfilling its purpose.

What I'm curious about is whether this approach can scale to a student's note-taking needs; I intend to investigate this the next time I'm taking some classes. My hypothesis is that the easy ability to reorganize and rearrange the cards to suit the current task will be a boon for most tasks.

Managing many piles of cards might be troublesome however (main in the context of several classes), but I've found that business card holders work quite well for index cards as well, so long as they hold fairly tightly, and are tall enough to take advantage of several piles of cards to offset the wasted 2 or 3 slots at the top. My current setup is an 'executive' style notepad: (8+1/2)x11 clipboard with a cover, which contains 6 slots for business cards (I can use three of them), plus 2 calculator/multi-purpose pockets (which are ideal for thick piles/blanks), among other pockets of less note. It's fine for one job; long-term tasks, daily tasks, info short-term, info long-term, and active tasks (the clipboard). Although I'd imagine that a student's long term piles can and should be one for all classes, I seriously doubt that any other consolidation can occur.

I'm not sure that the cards can replace a (8+1/2)x11 pad completely for general class notes, but depending on the material, and the number of tasks & topics, it might well.

-- WilliamUnderwood

I use the WeekDate? calendar. It's a paper calendar, but works a little like a high-tech planner in that you only write your repeating events, like weekly status meeting, only once. Works in layers so you see your fixed calendar at the same time as your specific daily appointments. They also have a monthly wall calendar. (

I've used the backs (and sometimes the fronts) of my business cards for this purpose. An advantage over 3x5 index cards is that they'll fit in my wallet. Employers give me several hundred of them every year, and I really have no other use for them. -- KrisJohnson (This is known in some circles as a Hipster Mini -

One (PDA-phobic) person I know keeps all kinds of information on the back or inside cover of his cigarette box, which he always has. If someone calls and he needs to write down a number, whips out a pen, no problem. Plus many of them have calendars at the back so appointments are easy. When he changes packs (every day or so) he just transfers the most important information to the new box and/or the 1995 binder he keeps in his desk (now 2003).

My PersonalAnalogDevice is a tiny spiral-bound notebook. My personal rule is It Must Fit in My 5x7 Handbag. In it currently is my wallet, PAD, pen, pager, mini3 digital camera and various other junk.

Women have it easier as a handbag makes a great PersonalAnalogDevice in and of itself. Men have to either carry around a pouch (which if you are not skinny accentuates the obvious and even if you are is cumbersome) or fill your jacket/suit pockets with dark glasses, keys, wallet, cell, pen, earphones, receipts etc etc even if you have the perfect information system (digital or analog) there is not much places to put it. Leave your jacket pocket open they can easily fall out.

[Sorry, but why can't men use handbags? Maybe the definition of handbag isn't as broad as I thought, but there are certainly all sorts of small multi-pocket bags, many of which I'm sure would look amply "butch" for you. I personally use a dark green canvas one, goes over my shoulder nicely.]

Handbags are a very simple and convenient answer to the question, "Where do I put all my stuff?" However, as soon as a handbag contains your wallet and expensive equipment, you have to lug it around all the time and you must take it everywhere. It's an all-or-nothing solution that becomes inconvenient very quickly, for lots of more or less obvious reasons (you can't use a single handbag with every outfit, you end up carrying around lots of stuff that belongs to other people who don't have a suitable container, it gets in your way when you have to run, it's one of the easiest targets for pocket thieves and muggers, etc.). I end up buying only a certain kind of trousers with lots of pockets. Sure, there's a belt clip for every gadget, but I don't want to look like batman. What I'd like to have would be unobtrusive holsters for wallet, cell, palm, mini camera, MD recorder, etc. If anyone knows of such products, I'd be most interested. -- NeKs

Go to and start digging around. In particular, look at the travel wallets section. There are a lot of small bags and pouches that you could probably wear under a jacket. Is that what you're looking for?

You can't really wear them per se, because they don't attach to you - so you'd need a suitable pocket in every outfit again. Some travel wallets have a cord so you can put around your neck, so you could indeed wear them under a jacket. However, they don't provide enough storage space and would become annoying as soon as you put your jacket off. Anyway, thanks a lot for the very interesting link, the selection on this site is huge. (I just fell in love with the flight vest in the backpacks>slings section; it's so Uber geeky that it's cool again, but it would be way too hot in summer. And it would be cumbersome to get it from eBags, since they don't deliver to Austria. -_-) Haven't found anything acceptable yet, though. I have to admit that I am picky. Fanny packs get in your way when you sit down and look geeky. Waist packs get in your way when you have to run and look geeky. As I said, I'd like to have something like a holster, or maybe kind of a minimalist version of a sling bag. These seem to be impossible to find, though.

A few years back, I bought myself a Tilley vest It has a zillion pockets, and serves me as a mens "purse". I wear it anywhere I go, so everything I need is always there. -- StefanVorkoetter

It would be interesting to know how individuals and companies organized their information before modern times. For instance when were file folders invented? 1700s,1800s, early 1900s there might be a pattern to help us make better electronic systems today.

I'm pretty sure that hanging file folders and file cabinets were invented in the 19th century, as a modern, cutting-edge replacement for whatever the previous office file technology was. But I don't have a source for this. Can someone help? -- ApoorvaMuralidhara

In ancient Ireland, a "File" was a person who was to memorize and recount information and events; the King had one. They were to "sing the feats of the champions, the hospitality of the princes and the charms of the women". See Perhaps the best analog helper of all - a PersonalHumanAssistant?

ISBN 0679949771 In this children's book, author claims that Abe Lincoln supposedly used his stovepipe hat as a good place to keep important papers, and most importantly used it as an Inbox (as in GTD methodology). If a letter wasn't in his hat, it never got responded to. Abe Lincoln is described as organizationally challenged in this book.

I use a self-made notebook with exchangable cards (DIN A6) without any different colors, but with various pens. It is very small and thin so I can pack it into my trousers' back pockets without remembering that it is there... I think there is nothing more usable than this for saving information, even if I used a PDA some years ago - it was terrible. The less information you have, the better you can organize it.


I use a Moleskine notebook ( as a PersonalAnalogDevice. It's about 3"x5", so it fits easily in a jacket pocket or in the seat pocket of my jeans. The notebook itself has a pocket in the back where I keep a six or seven 3x5 cards for good measure. It also has an elastic strap to keep things from falling out of it. -- RobertChurch

Apparently Moleskine or something like it was used by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890).

What did people use before that? Cave walls =)

Moleskine also makes a "Memo Pocket", which can be used to store analog data.

I haven't used these products, but Levenger's "pocket briefcases" look wonderful for use as a PersonalAnalogDevice. They're essentially wallets which can also take 3x5 cards. See:

Once again, the WebLogggers leap on an old idea and declare it the Latest Greatest Thing:

The "Hipster PDA": index cards clipped together with binder clips.

Also, you can add index tabs by cutting up the sticky part of sticky notes to the appropriate size.

You can make as many handy notebooks with index cards as you want using Spring Load Binder Clips

There is no direct link to the product but on the site look under Desk supplies and office essentials - clips,clasps and fasteners - bulldog clips and then go down the page.

Here's a link to the frame:

So that's what I've been missing. I've just been carrying a stack of index cards in my pocket; it's been a hassle hunting through the stack for a blank card. The clip helps keep all the blank cards together.

I don't like this idea, I'm going to use rubber bands or sew a cloth container.

The Jan 04 issue of ScientificAmerican has a great article about the first pocket calculator. It was the Curta - completely mechanical a 4" x 2" cylinder with a crank on top that used precision gears - would that count as an analog assistant or is it too advanced? Also the design for it was done completely with pencil and paper with no T-Square or other drawing tools (done in a concentration camp). Check out he CurtaCalculator page.

Curtas also appear in William Gibson's Novel Pattern Recognition. By the way, aren't they digital, rather than analog? -- NeKs

[That is interesting will have to look up the novel. Whether they are analog depends what you mean by Digital. Curtas is base 10 (11 or more decimal places) but there were no electronics, just gears,levers and springs. Would the Tinker Toy TicTacToe ( be considered Digital? They have been shown to be equivalent to TuringMachines]

Would an Abacus be considered Digital? They have been shown to be equivalent to TuringMachines.

The issue of digital or analog is not answered by TuringMachine equivalence. Something digital takes on discrete values, while something analog can represent the infinity of values that exist. Consider the second hand of an analog clock. As it sweeps from 12 and back again, it takes on all the values that exist on the clock face -- 0 seconds, 23.576 seconds, pi seconds, etc.) A digital clock can show only the discrete seconds (or tenths, or hundredths, ...) that it is set up to show.

Looking at my clamshell handheld, I am reminded of my elementary school "geometry set" which was a great personal analog device - sturdy (metal), pencil, pens, rulers, protractors, compass etc. Put folded papers,thin notebook...

Sometimes if it is late/been a long day, and I remember something important but just can't be bothered to find pencil/paper or pull out the pda I put an object as a reminder example: Car needs servicing - put the decorative SUV usually on the monitor on the bed-side table. In the morning, this is reminder enough to then put it properly in my PxA (and put back the SUV in its rightful place). [My partner does this... I laughed the first time I saw a fork in his shoe by the front door, but it's his reminder to turn on the dishwasher before he leaves the condo.]

The issue I have with PAD versus PDA is one of front-end convenience (index cards) versus back-end convenience (Palm or similar). The means for putting and retrieving current information into a PAD are trivial, quick, cheap, portable, and freeform. Long-term storage, archiving, transferring, capacity, and especially searching, unfortunately, favors the PDA. My Palm died a year ago (in 2003) and I have yet to get a new one. I've since moved to an ad-hoc PAD system. I miss having the ability to have my entire 100+ addresses at my fingertips, repeating-entry calendar, a few nice apps, and sync and back-up features such that if I ever lost it I wouldn't necessarily have to re-enter everything. Yet, I enjoy the fact that I don't have to carry yet another bulky electronic device, love that I can put the PAD in my back pocket and can sit on it, and especially enjoy the highly convenient and natural data entry. I've seen scanning and PaperPorting as a possible work-around. I in fact do have PaperPort, it is a very nice tool that I've been using more for archival and information compression than for organization (I have packed a file cabinet's worth of bank/credit/phonebill/what-have-you statements onto a single CDROM and a backup with room to spare). It's definitely not a full solution since the images are scanned, and therefore not searchable without the added work of annotation. However, if they ever perfected hand-writing recognition I probably would never consider going back to a PDA.

The thing I used to like as a child were those little black pads with wax paper you could write on then peel it up and the writing would disappear, leaving the pad free to write again. Form factor not unlike a (monochrome) PDA, but long before they were thought of, and completely analog.

You've left out the big advantage of PDA over paper. It's the Find tool. Granted, you can spend the time shuffling through the stack of cards to look for something. Find on a PDA is always going to be faster. And, if you use FindMemos? on a Palm, it can create a memo that indexes all of the memos with your keyword. It's not PDA vs paper. It's a matter of using the tool that is best suited for what you want to do.

Not that I completely disagree, but the palm is more of an amortized cost of search than free search. Data entry takes longer than with pure paper. Given the extra time, I can do quite well with a manual indexing on paper process; i.e., putting the phone number on the right card, making a double entry on an index card, etc. The point of agreement being that this is obviously not automatic. -- cwillu

I've got 368 memos on my Palm. That's a pretty substantial stack of index cards. That's not counting the data in the address book, date book, & to do lists.

Could I eliminate the crap & whittle it down to only the essentials? Sure, but I don't want to. I like having all the crap, especially since my idea of essential v. crap changes over time. Or simply because it doesn't force me to make the arbitrary decision of where to draw the line.

Plus, I used lots & lots of index cards, notebooks, post-it-notes, &c. before I got my Palm. For me, I might as well have just thrown them away as soon as I wrote something in them. Maybe it's because I don't have a talent for organizing information.

So, for me, the PDA with search capabilities is the preferred choice.

I personally use a moleskine notebook/peice of paper combo --> -- NikhilMulani?

The design of device I tend to use takes the form of ordinary lined index cards with a hole punched in the top right hand corner of all cards. This allows a brass paper fastener to be used to hold the stack together, which can be easily undone to add/remove cards without the bulkiness of a clip (as in the standard "Hipster PDA" mentioned on a number of sites). I call my set of cards my "Pattern Database", because rather than looking at it as a PDA replacement I try to look at it as a store of informational patterns which I'll need in the future. This avoids me from worrying too much about how neat it looks or how well-classified it is, although I do use card colour coding to help me identify the different types - pink cards for projects, blue cards for tasks, green cards for people, and yellow ones for the stuff that doesn't fit into the other three. I use this device to keep track of the various information relating to the projects I manage, and I find that actually a free style information system tends to suit my needs better than a formal information system. I use a similar system for writing brief programming documentation for my own reference, from which I write technical documentation and project reports. Formerly I used a Java application to print on the cards, but I've ditched it in favour of a simple pencil. One advantage about this system is that it causes less "information panic" than PIMs because you are in complete control in the order of which the information is viewed. -- NicholasTurnbull

Oh, by the way - why punch the holes to bind the stack on the right side? The reason for this is that because one naturally writes left to right (in Western languages at least) I have found one is not cramped against the other cards in the stack so much when writing, and - above all - you can easily write all titles on the top left of the cards. This allows one to use proper full-text searching, in the form of riffling through the cards, in answer to the concerns raised above about PADs not having a Find function. -- NicholasTurnbull

See also: IsAnythingBetterThanPaper, IndexCard

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