Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Portable computing: pen and paper

One of the side notes on the Dan Roam presentation I attended this summer at BayCHI was his mentioning the prospect of using the pen-and-paper based product Canson Papershow for digitally capturing his drawings. It's been a type of product that keeps trying to get traction, but just doesn't seem to break through. Roam ended up not using it that evening, for some reason. Might have been another story of why the this type of product is not making it.

You can get a flavor of the type of product from this video by Chris Brogan when he talked up Livescribe:

This is the kind of thing that got me to buy a CrossPad XP around 10 years ago:

This was from the same company that makes Cross Pens. Some folks might even have a Cross matching pen and pencil set if they rummage around their drawers. The CrossPad was co-marketed with IBM, and I gave Cross props for trying to get into something that was an extension into the future. You wonder how much better off Kodak might have been if they had gotten into digital photography around the same time. I'd actually bought a digital camera around then, but that's the subject of future post.

While I'm comfortable writing, the ability to sketch just feels more natural, particularly in the heat of a meeting or just getting ideas out. Also, it can be so much more efficient--the proverbial picture being worth a thousand words.

The thing worked remarkably well. The pages could be uploaded to a PC and you could do some text indexing so searching was possible. The only real downside was having to remember to tell it that you were moving to a new page. This involved pressing the pen tip into the circular indentation above the icon:

It got pretty messed up when you forgot to turn the electronic page. Just imagine yourself writing on the same sheet of paper more than once, top to bottom. That's what the notes ended up looking like.

I don't remember why I wandered away from it. I think it was a combination of things like getting refills for that specific pen, hooking up the cable to transfer data from the pad to the PC, and discovering that I really didn't take that many notes.

Today, unless I'm just flat out writing an extended bunch of prose, I'm more likely doodling on a blank sheet of paper or in a spiral bound notebook. But I wish I could get the best of both worlds: the ease of pen and paper plus the adjusting made possible with cutting and pasting on a computer.


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