For a while (through grad schools and for several years afterward) I took notes and wrote calculations on loose printer paper. In theory, I would collect the notes into folders, or maybe even punch holes and collect them into binders; realistically, I would always lose them.

Then I thought I would start using notebooks. I went to the corner Walgreens wanting to buy a notebook which would be spiral-bound and with blank pages. Spiral-bound because it always stays open flat and it’s easy to tear off pages, and with blank pages because I cannot write math on ruled paper. It turns out that this was an extravagant demand: all notebooks were ruled. I searched some more, to the same conclusion, and then started using “sketchbooks,” which have plain paper and spiral binding, but have heavy, rough, paper meant for drawing.

Then, one day, hanging out in Japantown waiting for a movie to start at the Kabuki theater during a film festival, I found my dream notebook at the Kinokuniya stationery store. Spiral (actually, “double ring”) bound, with thin, smooth and very white paper, and a beautiful cover design. I bought one, and went to the theater, but it was still too early and we had to stand in line for a while. So I took out the notebook and started thinking about the problem I was working on at the time. And right then and there, I had the main idea in the analysis of one of the algorithms in what later became my paper on approximation algorithms for unique games.

So, I kept buying them, until Kinokuniya stopped carrying them, and now there is nearly no trace of them of the internet. (If you want to try look it up yourselves, it’s the “Expedient” notebook made by Kyokuto ltd., in China.)

I thought I was being a little “peculiar” in being so difficult about what to write on, until I talked about it to other theoreticians, and then I found out that there are many people who, in fact, like to write on unmarked paper and can’t understand why the option is so hard to find in America.

As a happy ending, I was out of town for New Year’s Eve, and I happened into a Muji store. It turns out Muji sells plain-paper notebooks with double-ring binding, and while they don’t look as neat as the Expedient ones, they are just fine, and cheap, and now I have four of them, on which I hope to prove lots of new theorems this coming Winter and Spring quarters. Wish me luck!

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