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  Tech Tools Review

News flash! The pen and pad have gone high tech!

December 2008

There are perhaps no tools more ubiquitous in the legal community than the humble ink pen and legal pad. These utilitarian items have served lawyers well, but now they've been reinvented for the digital age in the form of the Pulse Smartpen and Dot Paper by Livescribe. The revolutionary capabilities of the duo are tailor-made for many tasks in a typical attorney's week.

Although it’s slightly larger than an average ballpoint pen, the Pulse feels like a typical writing implement. But this Smartpen offers much more than an opportunity to put text on paper. Its built-in dual microphones can capture the spoken word as well. With the small, lightweight 3-D Recording Headset (which looks like a set of earbuds with little plastic toothpick-like attachments on the cord), it’s possible to record a roomful of talking heads in stereo, or capture the pearls of wisdom that emanate from the mouth of a valued client.

No big deal, you might think. We’ve had recording devices for ages, including some fine digital ones. It’s the marriage of the ink and the audio that makes this different, special, and more useful. The magic is in the ability to synch audio you record on the Pulse to the notes you’ve made on the Dot Paper.

Under the writing tip lurks an infrared camera. When the Pulse is used in connection with Dot Paper, the camera utilizes the thousands of nearly invisible dots embedded on the page to track what you write or draw on the paper. It knows what’s what and what’s where.

Each sheet within the Dot Paper notebook has a strip of navigational controls and feature activation buttons drawn on the bottom. With them, you can take advantage of the features that make Pulse a powerful productivity tool. To begin recording, you merely turn on the pen and tap the Record button that’s drawn on the bottom of the special paper. When you subsequently draw or write on the page, the audio becomes associated with the writing. You can stop or pause the recording at any time.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I talk to myself. Not wacky mutterings, but more like one-person brainstorming sessions. When I have what I think is a bright idea and my mind is racing faster than I can write, I fire up the Pulse, tap “Record” and start chattering away. By stopping and restarting the recording to correspond with different trains of thought, I can quickly and easily revisit my comments on each topic, because Pulse connects each separate audio string with the drawings, doodles or text written with the pen on the paper during the time the recording took place.

If I’m going to be out of the office and need those left behind to complete certain tasks, I’ll pull out the Smartpen while I’m eating breakfast and I’ll talk through what I want done. By breaking it up into separate audio recordings, each corresponding to a separate bullet point per task, it makes it easy for my assistants to choose what they wish to tackle first, listen to my directions, and get the job done. They simply tap on the word or phrase corresponding to the part of the audio they need to hear.

While recording, tapping the Bookmark button at the bottom of the page will set a placeholder you can return to at a later time. Tap another button at the bottom of the page to play back what you’ve recorded. Adjust the speed to make the audio faster or slower. When I’m playing back notes I’ve made to myself, I can listen on double speed and still understand what I’m saying. If I’ve recorded a fast talking Easterner, on the other hand, I can give them a slow Southern drawl in playback mode. A timeline button on the paper allows you to jump to any position within the audio. Separate Jump functions move the playback ahead about ten seconds per tap.

If you failed to set digital bookmarks while you were recording, no problem. You can insert them during playback mode. Once bookmarks are set, you can move from one bookmarked segment to another with a simple tap of the pen.

The headphones that accompany Pulse allow you to listen privately. Without the headphones affixed, the recording will play back audibly from the impressive speaker in the pen. Volume controls on your page allow you tap your way to the desired degree of loudness. Fill the room with sound, drown out ambient noise, or crank it down for your ears only.

A compact, but clear, OLED screen on the side of the pen shows what mode the pen is in. During recordings, it reflects the amount of time elapsed. Each Dot Paper notebook has a page in front with images of status buttons. Tap to see the date or time. Tap to check your battery life. Find out how much storage space you have left by touching the storage image.

The pen is rechargeable via a special docking station that attaches to your computer via a USB cable that comes with Pulse. Each charge provides many hours of recording time, with the actual amount hinging on whether you’re recording 3-D or mono. Pulse comes in two versions: 1 Gigabyte and 2 Gigabyte. The 2GB model accommodates an impressive 200 hours of recording time. The 1 gig model is still impressive at half that amount.

Now here’s the cool part. Let’s say you have a meeting with your partners and not all of them are able to be present . Obtain consent to record, then make strategic use of Pulse, tying the bare bones written notes you make to the different topics discussed on the recording. After the meeting, place the SmartPen in its special cradle and launch the LiveScribe desktop software. Not only can you transfer your notes and the associated audio files to your computer to play them back, store, and organize them, you can also share your notes and audio online! You can designate the uploaded notes and audio as private, then utilize the Livescribe software to email a private link to your colleagues. Even in meetings where all parties are present, having the Smartpen record of what was discussed and decided aids follow-through. To access the audio, your recipients simply click with their mouse on the words and drawings shown on the screen.

And did I mention that if you’re really bored, you can tap a special button, draw nine vertical lines, connect them at the top and bottom with horizontal lines, and you have a functional piano keyboard on which you can torment your officemates by tapping out Turkey in the Straw or Boomer Sooner?

Meetings. Depositions. Strategic planning sessions. Pen and paper reinvented. The uses are endless, and the price is right, too. The 1 GB model retails for $149.00. The 2GB version is just under $200.00. The current version of the software doesn’t OCR the text, but a third-party piece of software, MyScript from Vision Objects, handles that task for an additional $29.95.

Learn more at www.livescribe.com

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About the Author

Mary Beth Guard Mary Beth Guard is a 1980 graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Law. After serving as general counsel for the Oklahoma State Banking Department and later for the Oklahoma Bankers Association, her career took a sharp turn onto the Internet where she can be found today as Executive Editor of BankersOnline.com and BankingQuestions.com. Mary Beth is based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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