The Write Stuff – Digitally Speaking
Imagine taking notes
with a ballpoint pen, then placing the pen in a special cradle and having
those notes magically appear on your computer screen. It’s possible with
the newly available
io Personal Digital Pen from
A Chubby Writing Pen
The io pen from Logitech is a nicely contoured, but slightly bulky,
writing utensil – at least compared to regular ballpoint pens. The io pen
is about 6.5 inches long and about an inch wide at its thickest. A cap
covers the actual ballpoint at the top and the bottom tapers off to a
smooth point and features the Logitech logo.
The reason for the chubbiness of the io pen is that it houses a tiny digital camera and processor – basically a miniature computer. There is an actual ballpoint pen tip in the pen which means that you write and see your notes just as if you were using a regular ballpoint pen. The digital camera in the tip watches as you write, recording every stroke, line, doodle, or squiggle. When you’re done, you pop the pen into a small, compact cradle that’s included with the pen and those notes are instantly transferred to your computer as graphic documents.
Unfortunately, this amazing digital feat can’t be performed with just any paper, you have to use specially prepared pages for the pen to work properly. The preparation involves printing thousands of microscopic dots on a page of paper so that the digital camera has a structure on which to record where the ink is placed. At this point, the paper is available in spiral-bound notebooks produced by Mead and available wherever the io pen is sold. Logitech has also partnered up with 3M so that you can purchase specially prepared Post-It notepads. Other partnerships include the future release of “planner pages” from Franklin Covey.
Software and Training
Before you can use the io pen, you’ll need to install special software on to your PC. Secondly, you connect the cradle to the computer via a USB cable. The USB plug also doubles as the spot for the power cord which means that you’ll be juggling a few cords when you use the io pen. I could not get the cradle to work without the power being plugged in.
One thing I did not appreciate during the software installation was that I was required to install the .NET Framework software from Microsoft. I know this isn’t that big of a deal but the io pen apparently cannot function properly without the .NET software so I had no choice – and neither do you. I’m still not sure how the .NET software works with the pen, but the license agreement mentioned that it was installing several pieces of the .NET architecture from Visual Studio and Visual C++. I haven’t run into problems with the .NET Framework since the installation, but I just don’t like being made to install software that I really didn’t want in the first place. Plus I had to reboot after the installation completed.
The next step involves “training” the io pen – which is a fun process. After the pen is fully charged and ready to go, you open the included “digital” notebook (the spiral-bound notebook referred to above) and turn to the first few pages. On the first page of the tutorial, you can read about the layout of the “digital” paper and then you check the “New Notebook” box at the bottom. Then you proceed to write out the entire alphabet in your own handwriting along with numbers and a few symbols. Next you write your signature and a few other notes to complete the training. After you are finished with a piece of “digital” paper, you have to place a check mark in a tiny “Done” box at the bottom of the page. This simply tells the pen that your work on that page is complete.
The software that comes with the io pen does a good job of integrating with the other programs that you have installed on your computer. For example, if you want to write a note that would appear in Microsoft Word, you can simply check the appropriate box at the bottom of a piece of “digital” paper and voila – the next time you sync up your pen with your PC, the note will appear as a Word document.
Now, as a quick disclaimer, I’m not talking about your writing appearing as text in a Word document. One of the biggest shortcomings of the io pen is the fact that it does not ship with any kind of handwriting recognition. This is unfortunate because any writing, scribbling, or doodling transfers to your computer as just that – writing, scribbling, or doodling. In other words, none of your beautiful penmanship will be transformed into straight text. To be fair, there are other third-party programs on the market today that will recognize your handwriting and convert it for you, but it would have been nice if Logitech included such software with the io pen.
If you prefer to write an e-mail, you can do so very easily on a piece of “digital” paper. Just write the body of your e-mail (which again, will only appear as a graphic of your writing and not actual text) on a piece of “digital” paper and then check the “E-mail” box at the bottom of the page. You also have the option to address your e-mail by printing individual letter characters in the “To” line at the bottom of the page. When you sync up with your computer, an e-mail will automatically be generated through Microsoft Outlook (or Lotus Notes if you prefer).
Can’t Beat an Old-Fashioned Pen
I believe the biggest draw of Logitech’s io pen is that it acts and feels like a regular ballpoint pen. Anyone can use a ballpoint pen to write or scribble and so the io pen doesn’t require a user to learn a special trick to use it – you simply take off the cap and start writing.
Along those lines, the io pen is perfect for meetings. It’s much easier to take notes in a meeting with a regular pen than to take a laptop computer and clickety-clack your notes to the annoyance of everyone else. You can use the io pen and the special “digital” paper to take notes during a meeting and transfer them to your computer when you get back to your desk. This is truly a big advantages of the io pen. And if all else fails, you still have a physical handwritten backup on real paper.
I am very impressed with Logitech’s io pen but I am disappointed with a few things. The fact that you have to have special paper is a bummer (the technology was actually developed by the Swedish company Anoto). The fact that there is no proprietary handwriting recognition software is a serious drawback. It is really fantastic to be able to take a regular pen into a meeting to take notes and have them “digitized” for your PC, but I don’t think that the io pen does quite enough. If nothing else, it’s a marvelous step in the right direction, but we’re just not quite there yet.
Become an “Offline Explorer”
Access to the Internet is mandatory these days but there are still some scenarios where an Internet connection is out of the question. Sure you could use your cell phone as a dial-up modem or something fancy like that, but with a little foresight, you can download complete Web sites and pages on to your laptop and surf them later just like you were on the Net. A handy application called Offline Explorer from MetaProducts Software Corp. in Columbus, Ohio can help you do just that.
A “Time Shifted” Internet Connection
Think of Offline
Explorer (OE) as giving you the ability to “time shift” your Internet
surfing experience. If you know that you’re traveling and won’t have
access to the Internet, you can use OE to download relevant Web pages and
sites that you can surf while you’re away from an Internet leash.
For example, when I traveled for Thanksgiving, I had several Web sites that I needed to visit for research. I knew I wasn’t going to have a connection while on the plane and the relatives I was visiting didn’t have much of an Internet connection at all. So before I left home, I used my broadband connection and Offline Explorer to download all the Web pages and sites I needed. Then it was just a matter of launching the application and clicking around like normal when l wanted to surf.
My example sounds wonderful but I have to admit that it did take me a few attempts to get the “perfect” download scenario. I wanted OE to grab all the text on the Web page and only download the images that were stored on the primary Web server where the page was coming from. That way, OE didn’t download all the banner ads and other extraneous material on the page that would get in the way of a smooth surfing experience. It helps to know a little bit about how Web pages and sites work to really tweak Offline Explorer (OE) to perfection.
When you give OE a URL, it goes out on the Internet and grabs the page – as much of it as you want it to pick up. Each URL is called a “Project” although the “Pro” version of OE will allow you to download multiple URLs at once. You can choose to watch the progress of your download or queue up other downloads as you wait.
Once the Project is done, you can see the page in the internal browser which closely mirrors the functions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Depending on your settings, you’ll see all images, links, and text just like the actual Web page.
Surfing with a Wizard
When you launch OE, you’ll see a “New Project Wizard” that will walk you through the process of downloading a URL. You can name your Project and then select certain options to customize how everything is downloaded.
If you don’t want to mess with a wizard, you can go the “quick” route and just paste a URL up in the “Address” bar at the top. You can then select how many “levels” you want to go down and click on the download button.
Setting the “levels” is a very important part of a Project’s properties. A “level” refers to how deep that OE will drill down into a Website. If you give OE a Project and say 0 levels, OE will only grab the text and images on that page and nothing else. If you set the level to 1, then OE will grab everything on the URL you gave it, plus everything from the URLs that are linked to the first URL. Level 2 will grab links from the next pages and so on from there.
Storage space can become an issue with OE. All of your Projects need somewhere to live when you download them. That place would be your hard drive. OE stores everything by default in the C:/Download directory but you can change this in OE’s options.
Pickin’ on the Properties
The “Project Properties” box is where you can tweak a download to the nth degree. First you can apply “filters” to the type of files you want to download. For example, you can tell it to only download text files with certain extensions. Under “images” you can even tell OE to download images with specific dimensions only.
Under the “URL Filters” you can tell OE to only download files from specific servers, directories, or protocols. l really liked these options since l could tell OE to only download the files within the starting domain, but to load any file within the available directories. These options suited my purposes perfectly but it took me about 10 tries to get it just right. Once l did get it right, l saved all of my settings as a template which l use for other pages l wanted to download.
Lastly, you can set other options like scheduling or passwords.
Viewing a Masterpiece
Once you launch OE, you’ll see a list of your Projects in the left pane with OE’s internal browser on the right. As l mentioned above, the internal browser works and looks just like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. When you double-click on a Project in the left pane, the URL appears in the internal browser. If you don’t like surfing in the small pane, you can maximize the internal browser to full screen. I preferred this setting because it felt more like surfing the real Internet – plus the text on the screen became easier to read.
The Project pane on the left also doubles as the “Map” pane which allows you to view all of the files that were downloaded for a particular Project. This can be both helpful and interesting if you missed downloading all of the information that you were looking to grab.
After you go through all the hassles of tweaking your download to perfection, OE gives you the option of “exporting” your Projects so that you can share them with others. The coolest option here is the ability to save the files and bundle them to burn on to a CD. You can even have OE create an auto-play function so that anyone who receives the CD can just pop it in and go.
Offline the right way
After years of trying different ways to download Web sites and pages, I’m convinced that I’ve found an excellent solution with OE. I’ve tried saving pages through Internet explorer and even saving pages as Adobe PDF files, but nothing cones close to the power of OE in functionality and ease of use. It truly is the best way to surf when you have to be offline.
A Touch of
And now for my “fun” product review …
Touch screens appear everywhere. You probably use one everyday on your PDA. But what about on a watch? The T-Touch watch from Tissot features a touch screen on its face that lets you select among six different functions. And yes, it also tells time.
The T-Touch is a very impressive piece of workmanship. It comes from
Tissot Ltd., a Swiss watchmaker, which
is a company of the Swatch Group.
The main draw of the watch is obviously that the glass face works like a touch screen. When you want to operate a different function of the watch, you simply press the side button, and then touch the corresponding area on the watch-face for the function.
The hands of the watch temporarily
suspend their time-telling function and point to the area that you
touched, showing you what function is active. There is a small digital
read-out at the bottom of the watch face that provides information
according to the active function.
The T-Touch can act as a barometer, an altimeter, or a thermometer. In addition, you get an alarm and a stopwatch. Lastly, it can become a compass where the hands of the watch act as the pointer.
As a barometer, the T-Touch measures the variations in atmospheric pressure and indicates a meteorological “trend.” If the hands point more towards the 11 o’clock position, the weather is getting bad. If the hands point more towards the 1 o’clock position, the “trend” indicates that things are getting better.
The T-Touch uses the measure of atmospheric pressure to calculate the altitude above sea level for the altimeter. This means you do need to calibrate the altimeter fairly often which is easy to do. Once you have it set properly, it’s really fun to check – especially when you fly in an airplane.
The thermometer is great although if you press the function while the watch is on your wrist, you’ll think it’s burning up outside. To get an accurate temperature reading, you need to take the watch off your wrist for about 15-30 minutes. I found this function to be great (just don’t forget your watch when you lay it down).
My favorite function on the T-Touch watch is the compass. As soon as you touch the compass function, the hands smoothly rotate around until they point north. Obviously, just like in boy scouts, you’ll have to hold the watch as horizontal as possible but I found this feature to be fantastic. The T-Touch also has a rotating bezel so you can orient it to a map. I know that a compass sounds a little crazy for a watch, but the function has come in handy several times.
Don’t Let Time Slip Away
As much as I can describe it, you need to see the T-Touch watch to soak in the “cool” factor. The Website at http://www.t-touch.com is spectacular and worth a visit. You’ll find a lot of information about the watch with interactive graphics and pictures.
Hey, if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer this year, consider the T-Touch watch – it’ll impress even the most avid touch screen fan.