Skip to main content

The software that will earn you admiration, gratitude, and real money

Electronic media once seemed destined to reduce the use of paper. This certainly environmentally attractive idea is proven wrong daily in any office or home trash-bin. It simply doesn't work. We seem to need the paper. This impression of paper-crave is backed-up by studies that show an ever-increasing paper-production (and accordingly -consumption).
We are doing ok reading a book on kindle, pad or laptop. It is fine for the subway ride to work. It works for leisurely reading a finished text. But if you have to thumb through a financial report of your institution or the first draft of a thesis of one of your students, you want to have it printed out. On paper. You rummage for a pencil.
We need the haptic of paper, we want to spread the sheets all over the table, jump from page to page, change the order, scribble,…
Why can't we stop printing what we see on our screens? Correcting, annotating, highlighting seems just more natural when done with pencil on a sheet. The ever-increasing number of document-modification software that allows for quite nifty scribbles and conversions on your screen-displayed documents is nice but it has not significantly reduced the urge to print.
Ok, so we print.
Once printed we scribble on our documents and then what? The stuff has to get back into our files. Some hand it to the secretary to deal with it, others scan, convert, retype… this is not, well, ergonomic - to say the least (it is outright annoying).
One application will pop up soon - if anybody just codes it. I still wonder why it is not on the market yet. People would kill to get it!
As I don't find time or skill to code it myself I just give the idea away and hope for the best (if one of you wants to write that software, and is able to do it, contact me - we will work something out along the line of: just mention me favorably and give me a free copy, willya?).
You've heard of the input-device that traces what you write with a propped-up pencil on conventional paper and allows you to import it into standard graphics-software (Wacom is promising to have the so-called Inkling out in March)? It uses some infrared and ultrasound sensor that you clip to your paper-notepad. So when you write on that paper you end up with two versions of your scribbles: one conventional (ink on paper) and another, well, also conventional (bitmap, vector-graphic, jpg,… in your computer).
Why not combine that with your document-reader?
You read a manuscript (a pdf, maybe) on a screen-device. Then you decide to really work on it and print it out, because it just feels more natural to work on a paper-version. To that print-copy you clip the scribble-sensor, do some clicks to have orientation and size of the document right and then you start making your comments and alterations with real ink on real paper. What you do there, however, is recorded and transferred to the original file, creating a modified electronic copy. Either as hand-written annotation overlay to your pdf - or converted to text by some text-recognition software.
By moving to the archaic work style you retain all your creative energy from working on real paper and with the scribble-interface you skip the burden of transferring your work back to the electronic document. And your retro-boss, who still only reads emails when they are printed out, wouldn't even have to know that she is modifying the original word-file while she fiddles with the pen on paper. Thinking of it, she may even send the handwritten letter as email by ticking a box on her paper-form...


Sandor Ragaly said…
Dear Carsten, idea-sparkler :-), as you say, paper is easier to handle. The difference between paper handling and on-screen editing/reading can, in my opinion, be said with one term: resolution. While in "reality", doing things with paper, pencil, your body etc. is a hi-res (or more exact: analogue) matter: There is no grid or pixel number to restrict your moves, your remarks, their form etc. - in contrast, on-screen reading and editing is low-res: There are so many restrictions how to move which device where to mark this in that way etc., it's extremely structured, in comparison (like a low-res screen is for graphical content, amongst others) and therefore, it's *not intuitive* - the principal disadvantage compared to free editing on paper.

Now what you try is to have the free, hi-res handling/editing of content you have in the "paper realm", but at the same time to overcome the certain additional work to manually translate the freeer paper results to the restricting screen editing.

But can this shortcut be taken? In my opinion, the translation from free paper work to online-editing must be done anyway. Up to now, you translate e.g. certain symbols or personal underline modi from paper work to the screen work by *fitting it into* the restricting screen conditions. E.g. a quick spiral with two big letters "Br" on paper, which here may stand for "More brainstorming in this aspect, please!" or a quickly-drawn arrow on the paper, meaning "Move this paragraph 1 paragraph down!" are being translated e.g. by short words and less graphically in many cases, or ad hoc by the application of the noted "command" (here: a moved paragraph).

Now when, according to your idea, you write on paper freely, while at the same time, this is put as an overlay into the machine, I think the only difference is that your notes can somehow be overlayed and immediately compared on-screen - what up to now you also do, but with your eyes wandering from the paper lying before you to the screen.

Your overlay method, also with character recognition, must still do the work to transform the text on screen to take effect. In the usual way, you also can apply paper notes directly to take effect or use a quick "inter-noting" as shown above (spiral becomes short word etc.), but as this "inter-notes" are like milestones of (translation) work in progress, they're not really wasted time, I think: You shortly have to think about the appropriate low-res form of a hi-res (paper) not in this case, but that's quickly done - and at the same time, it's part of the editing process already.

So the difference lies more or less in the eyes wandering in the usual way (which can be lessened by a paper holder right besides the screen, doing good to the eyes perhaps because of not permanent watching the same display); and in character recognition - which might pose problems: because I seldom would like to intervene (coded) characters from a correction overlay into my "serious" (or holy ;-) ) text - and also because these notes are often short anyway and partially(?) near-unreadable ;-).

So the question might be: Tech gadget or real gain? (or: Financial gain, but only a gadget? ;-) )
I will not say much after the last comment..except I like the idea.


Popular posts from this blog

Academics should be blogging? No.

"blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now" The London School of Economics and Political Science states in one of their, yes, Blogs . It is wrong. The arguments just seem so right: "faster communication of scientific results", "rapid interaction with colleagues" "responsibility to give back results to the public". All nice, all cuddly and warm, all good. But wrong. It might be true for scientoid babble. But this is not how science works.  Scientists usually follow scientific methods to obtain results. They devise, for example, experiments to measure a quantity while keeping the boundary-conditions in a defined range. They do discuss their aims, problems, techniques, preliminary results with colleagues - they talk about deviations and errors, successes and failures. But they don't do that wikipedia-style by asking anybody for an opinion . Scientific discussion needs a set

Left Brain, Right Brain

At a wonderful summer night I was lying in the grass, my little son beside me. We were staring into the dark sky, debating infinity, other planets, the origin of everything, observing falling stars that were whizzing through the atmosphere at a delightfully high rate. Why did we see so many of them that night? What are falling stars? What are comets. Why do comets return and when? The air was clear and warm. No artificial lights anywhere. The moon was lingering lazy in the trees across the river. Some fireflies were having a good time, switching their glow on and off rather randomly - in one group they seemed to synchronize but then it was random again. It reappeared: a few bugs were flashing simultaneously at first ... it started to expand, it was getting more. A whole cloud of insects was flashing in tune. Are they doing this on purpose? Do they have a will to turn the light on and off? How do those fireflies communicate? And why? Do they communicate at all? My son pointed at a fie

My guinea pig wants beer!

Rather involuntary train rides (especially long ones, going to boring places for a boring event) are good for updates on some thoughts lingering in the lower levels of the brain-at-ease. My latest trip (from Berlin to Bonn) unearthed the never-ending squabble about the elusive 'free will'. Neuroscientists make headlines proving with alacrity the absence of free will by experimenting with brain-signals that precede the apparent willful act - by as much as seven seconds! Measuring brain-activity way before the human guinea pig actually presses a button with whatever hand or finger he desires, they predict with breathtaking reproducibility the choice to be made. So what? Is that the end of free will? I am afraid that those neuroscientists would accept only non-predictability as a definite sign of free will. But non-predictability results from two possible scenarios: a) a random event (without a cause) b) an event triggered by something outside of the system (but caused).