Ajey Pandey

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Analyst

Season 3, Ep 2: Hobonichi Techo Review



This is a Hobonichi Techo—a Japanese-language stitch-bound notebook with similar dimensions to my hand. It has been sold with constant re-tuning since 2001, coming out of a poll run by the website Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun—Hobonichi. In its 2018 iteration, it offers two-day, one-month, and four-month spreads; a section for notes and contacts; and Japanese-language resources including a list of basic stretches, a phrase translator, a unit conversion table, and a few other sections I can’t make heads or tails of.

This notebook is a daily schedule and meeting tracker. Or it is a diary that forces concise entries. Or it is a platform for Bullet Journaling if you don’t want to start from a dotgrid. Or it is a daily scratchpad for writing phone numbers and calculating tips. Or it is a scrapbook in the making, ready for glitter and doodles and washi tape. 

It’s whatever you ask of it: It offers you guidelines for how to use it, and it gladly lets you ignore all of them.

The Techo is surprisingly hefty. Despite having the area of a postcard, it weighs over a pound. You can cradle this little notebook in one hand, and when you close the notebook with that hand [give audio] you get a satisfying thump—the sound of “You got this.”

When I first got my Techo, it was a paragon of minimalism: plain beige soft cover, a lighter beige tape across the binding, muted colors marking months on the side, and the words “HOBONICHI TECHNO 2018: original” in gray sans-serif. 

The pages inside carry the same minimal aesthetic, yet still have several useful features. You get the month, the date, the day of the week (in Japanese), the day of the year, the phase of the moon, a mini-calendar of the month, and a quote or two on the bottom (also in Japanese). You also get five little tick boxes for tasks you want to check off, a 24-hour timetable that goes from 4AM to 4AM (smart), and a good swath of 3.7mm graph paper. And every month you get a single page with the heading, “Remember This.”

But now, this particular example looks like *my* notebook. The cover is partially held together with clear tape, and it's plastered in stickers and ink stains. I bind the notebook with a broad rubber band from a synthesizer I bought a few years ago. There are Post-it flags marking pages I flip to often, and on the back, I wrote “MEMEZ” with a calligraphy pen. 

And that “me-ness” carries inside the notebook, too. I mark my classes and meetings on the timetable, but then I scribble reflections about my day wherever there’s space. I have a tracker on the monthly spread for whether I should use shampoo or co-wash for my shower. I sometimes cross out tick boxes for tasks that need two lines to explain, and I sometimes draw in new tick boxes for extra tasks. I appropriated the “Remember This” page for weekly tasks, because I think of homework week-by-week. And I sometimes literally write over the quotes if I need the space.

The beauty of the Hobonichi Techo is that it lets you mutilate—er, ~*personalize*~ it in this manner. The page markings are printed in thin lines and muted colors, so nothing will stop me from literally coloring outside the lines. And because the inside pages are printed on Tomoe River paper, they will bring out the best in whatever ink you put on it. 

The Techo fundamentally cares about what matters to you. It doesn’t impose a frame of mind; it simply offers tools that you can use or not use. And because it’s been fine-tuned for almost as long as I have lived, it has countless little details like graph paper on the monthly spreads, red ink to highlight Sundays, little star icons to mark full and new moons, and free space on the one- and four-month spreads for whatever you need. These details matter when you use something every day, and I use this notebook every day. I throw it in my bags, stuff it in my pockets, and open it several times a day to scribble in notes or figure out what the hell I have to do at 3PM. 

Sure, I could just use my phone, but this little notebook lets me take a break from the screens that feed me emails and homework and multimedia content. Reading and writing in this brick of paper is now a moment of solace for me, a chance for me to reflect on my day and plan for what’s next.  

Writing, music, narration, and production by Ajey Pandey. Recording technology provided by the UMass Amherst Digital Media Lab in the Du Bois Library. You can read more about the Techo at https://www.1101.com/store/techo/en/

Thank you for listening.

Season 3, Ep 1: The Violin


The case was covered in dust of unknown origin. The handle was held together with painter’s tape. The strings were in a tangle, and one of the bows was stuck in place by its horsestring.

But it was still here—with a spare set of new strings, a quality puck of rosin that had at least another year of use in it, and a metronome that still had charge in its battery.

I had to.

I repositioned the shoulder rest, pulled out a wooden bow that once was an extension of my right hand, and wrestled the instrument in tune, its pegs now twisted in odd angles. 

I still knew how to hold myself. I still knew how to draw out a note. But I had fallen far from what I had achieved in eleventh grade, when I had the skill to justify buying the best strings in the store, when I had the blessings to graduate from Wohlfahrt to Kreutzer, when I lost the will to continue with the violin. 

Back then, I was still adjusting to the rigors of a magnet school I had transferred to, and I couldn’t shake the sense that playing the violin wasn’t fun anymore—that I was only doing this for the college application.

Sometimes, I wonder what would have become of me had I not transferred to Nerd School four years ago. And every time I play out that alternate history, staring at the mirror next to the front door, an artist stares back at me. Maybe he would have lost interest in school, having grown bored with his Honors and AP classes. Maybe he would have been better at drawing. Maybe he would have stuck with the violin—or maybe he would have doubled down on electronic music production. He certainly would have found more use for the thousand-dollar synthesizer that has sat idle in my dorm since summer.

But I wonder if he would be a better person as a junior in college, majoring in English or music. I wonder if the arrogance that plagued him—that plagued me—in tenth grade would have lingered, festered, metastasized over four years. I wonder if he would still liken the violin to a temperamental girlfriend, or if he would eventually learn, as I did, how to be a better person—a person with a sense of love and joy and care.

But the only thing that remains of that alternate Ajey is this old violin, a violin that pushed what it meant to be “student-level,” that I might have struggled to part with even if I made it to a conservatory.

A part of me wants to bring it back to life: to crack open the peg dope, to return to those arpeggio charts, to relearn how to emulsify vibrato into every weeping note. I would come out a better violinist than the eleventh grader who gave it up—I have dexterity, discipline, and emotional depth far beyond my capacity then. But I don’t need the violin anymore. 

This instrument taught me the power of discipline and raw effort. It sparked in me a reverence for music that I still carry today. It was the first thing I truly cared about and took pride in. But I have other ways to express myself now.

And sometimes it’s okay to give something up.

Perfectly Nice Neighbors, Ep 4: Case Study (Chelsea)

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