Note Taking on the Wane

Listening to the speaker and taking notes at the same time during a seminar, lecture, or press event can be a daunting task, especially if you're like me and can't write rapidly or legibly. If I'm taking notes on something the speaker has said and simultaneously trying to hear and comprehend what he's presently saying, invariably I'll miss some important details of the talk. Yes, I know I can record the entire session with a tape recorder and review it later to extract the information I need. This is time-consuming since I'll have recorded a lot of extraneous chatter intermingled among relevant information. Furthermore, I don't like to lug around another electronic gadget.

According to a recent announcement, there just may be a better tool to help me in my note-taking tribulations. In early 2008, Livescribe, a start-up company in California, introduced the Pulse™ Smartpen that supports, says Founder and CEO Jim Marggraff, the four basic modes of human communications—reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The computer in a pen is slightly fatter than a regular pen but houses, in addition to an ink cartridge, a 32-b processor, an OLED display, an infrared camera, 1- or 2-GB NAND memory, a battery, dual microphones, and a speaker. You write your notes on a special dot-enabled notebook that provides positioning capabilities.

Here's how it works. As you listen to the lecture while jotting down notes on the special paper, the two microphones in the headset, one for each ear, are recording the audio presentation. The two microphones capture sounds much the same way they're heard by your ears, presumably providing better fidelity during playback. As noted on the product's spec sheet, with 1-GB memory, you can record up to 100 hours of audio or 16,000 pages of digital notes.

After the lecture, you head back to your hotel room to try making some sense of what you heard in the presentation. As you scan the paper, you see places where you wish you had taken more in-depth notes. Here's where the dot-positioning system comes into play. Just tap the pen on the note in question and hear what was recorded at that time. Tapping the pen on any written note will bring up the audio exactly corresponding to that location.

Embedded in the paper on 0.3-mm spacing are intelligent microdots that can be read by the digital pen. When writing notes on the paper, the infrared camera tracks the location of the pen precisely as it is moved across the paper. As a result, the recorded audio now is synced with the pen location. As with other recorders, I have full control of the playback. At the bottom of the page, I can select fast-forward, rewind, jump ahead, pause, and more.

With this device, I can envision taking very limited notes and then using the dot positioning to augment the missing text. Perhaps it will allow me to concentrate more fully on what's being said. I think Pulse would be a useful tool for students and anyone who attends presentations while taking notes, especially since the 1-GB model costs only $149 and comes with a 100-sheet notepad and charging cradle. Check it out at

Paul Milo
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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