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Writing with Hi- AND Low-Tech

September 1, 2009

Paul and Jodi‘s posts of the last two days inspired me to revisit a post I wrote almost 8 months ago.

For Christmas I got my fiancee a LiveScribe Pulse pen. I actually got two of them, when I found a deal on a pair of demo models on eBay. One was in perfect condition and one needed some repair work. The one in good shape I gave as a gift, for the other I did some repair work (the manufacturer’s tech department were great in sending me info for software resets, BIOS upgrades, and repair schematics) before I was able to test the pen myself. But now with roughly a semester’s work in my fiancee’s pen and about a week’s tinkering in mine I’m ready to give a rundown.

In broad strokes the pen, which uses special—and rather expensive—paper stores whatever you write in it’s special notebooks. When you dock the pen with your computer the data is transferred to your computer where you can read it. Additionally the pen can record audio. This is most useful when used in conjunction with recording handwriting, so that you can review a lecture while you review your notes.

It sounds clunky, but once you go through the tutorial it’s a breeze—significantly more convenient than handwriting your notes and using an additional voice recorder. The recordings are clear, and you can even set a delay if, like me, you to tend to listen to what is said before you make your notes.

One, very useful feature, is that once your pages are loaded in your computer you can search your handwritten notes for words or phrases. It does this very well—the only times I was able to trip it up were by using my messiest handwriting, or by searching for proper names.

The feature I was most interested in was the ability to convert my handwritten words to digital text. And I was terribly disappointed to discover that the pen doesn’t do this at all. It seems silly to have a digital pen with the ability to recognize and digitize text, and then not take the final step. I wrote to the company to ask them why they didn’t include this. I expected the answer that this was planned in a future software update—as it seems are many auxiliary features of the pen—but I never got a response.

However, another company has rushed to fill the void. VisionObjects, a company with a small collection of handwiting-to-TXT recognition products, has adapted their MyScript program to work with the LiveScribe Pen.

click for full comparison

click for full comparison

I got my fiancee to use my pen so I could test it and the auxiliary software with cursive. She has good, if slightly ornate, handwriting. I asked he to write anything she wanted and that it have some, but not too many, proper names. She chose a Dickens quote. You can click the cursive thumbnail for a complete scan of her text and the converted text. Counting commas, semicolons, dashes and words there were exactly 100 items to convert—and it came back with 3 errors. The first and last error were both the inability to read quotation marks (which weren’t all that clear when written). Discounting those there was only 1 other error. So depending how harshly you want to grade, that’s either 97% or 99%. Not bad for cursive.

click for full comparison

click for full comparison

Then I moved on to a harsher test. This is by no means my worst handwriting. But it’s my standard if I want to be able to read it after more than a couple of days. I chose the first few sentences of a harmonica web page I was reading, and it included letters, numbers, the model name for the harmonica, as well as some musical terminology. I was impressed with the results. I expected problems with the words “is” (first line, third word—looks like “13”), “plays” (second line, fourth word—with an awful “y”), “diatonic” (third line, second word—musical terminology followed by an exclamation point), “Solist” (2 instances—proper name), “player’s” (sixth line, third word—generally sloppy), and “more” (sixth line, third word—looks more like “none”). But it only tripped up once— “fit” with a barely existant “i” and a sloppy “t”. That all equates to about 98% accuracy.

The Verdict:

The LiveScribe Pulse SmartPen:
The Pen itself was comfortable to hold and had a very small learning curve. It can hold an amazing amount of handwriting before needing to transfer it to the computer (less if you’re recording audio as well). It would have been 5 stars if it wasn’t so expensive ($200 for the 2GB model, $150 for the 1GB—although if you compare it to other digital pens it’s got more bang for the buck than most). But for that price it’s disappointing to have to buy additional software to convert handwriting to text.

MyScript for LiveScribe Software:
The software gets 5 stars. It was easy to use, and scored 98% accuracy with my chicken scratch, and 99% with my sweetie’s girlie cursive. And both would score higher with only a little user training. And at $30 it’s pretty reasonable.

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Dale enjoyed writing this post as it gave him an excuse to indulge his often suppressed scientific inner-child.
  1. September 1, 2009 1:33 am

    Oh, so loving the geeky posts lately.

  2. September 1, 2009 6:15 am

    I’m continally blown away by technology. I am impressed this has a voice recorder in it. I am off to a huge political rally next Monday and my MP3 voice recorder seems to have packed it in … so not sure now if I am going to have to scribble down interview comments as I go.

    I wonder if this sort of stuff is available in Australia – and what the price difference is? And your handwriting Dale – isn’t as bad as you seem to think it is!

  3. September 1, 2009 12:00 pm

    This looks awesome. I’m going to have to check it out. I bet it does worse with my handwriting than it did with yours, Dale!

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