Is the pen mightier than the pad?

The keyboard is out and the touch screen is in!

Ever since the Sumerian cuneiform (and most probably long before), the pen, in some form or other, has been a preferred tool of communication: portable, reliable, and fitting perfectly into our opposable thumb grip. But in recent times, the pen has met fierce competition, first by the typewriter, then by the computer keyboard and now by touch screens. As with other tales of technological progress, the history of writing is one long account of skills turning obsolete: Rune carving, illumination, calligraphy, joined-up writing, touch typing (using all ten digits). And now the ubiquitous QWERTY keyboard is being replaced with a touch sensitive piece of glass!

As the world is turning digital, the handmade scribbles are relegated from all areas of importance. My high-school son and daughter are doing their math assignments in Word (!), fiddling endlessly with the Equation Editor. And they have long ago abandoned handwritten letters in favour of emails, texting and social media updates. In fact, receiving a handwritten message from anyone but yourself is rare. And soon we might forget how to hand draw legibly and expressive at all.

But maybe it is too early to retire our faithful companion just yet. The Livescribe smartpen seeks to bridge the brave new digital world and the lost realm of personal scribbles. Using special dotted paper and an embedded infrared camera the pen stores your strokes in a digital image format. It still falls short of making the transition to printed text seemlessly, but with a little improvement in pattern recognition and a couple of nifty software applications to expand the usability, I will gladly push aside the mirror-bright slate and pick up my trusty smartpen in a firm grip.



A wireless smartpen

My “old” Livescribe Pulse™ smartpen gave up on me – well, sort of.

Pulse (left) and Sky (right)

My old Pulse™ (left)
and new Sky™ (right)

Actually the smartpen still works, but the built-in display is done for. I can consequently write an hour of digital notes (incl. audio) only to discover, that the pen has been switched off all the time :-(.

This left me with a nice excuse for getting my hands on the latest generation of Livescribe offsprings: The Sky™ Wifi smartpen. Which I did yesterday.

I kind of liked the sleek metal-body of the Pulse™, and the cheep plastic look-and-feel of the Sky™ Wifi (identical to the Echo™ design) is rather disappointing in comparison. I guess it is due to a price-production optimisation, but still, it is a pity. The OLED display  seems to be identical to the broken one on the Pulse™. Hopefully that one was an outlier!

The most remarkable feature of the Sky™ pen is, of course, the built-in wifi which seamlessly synchronises your scribbles and recordings with the cloud. Connecting to a hotspot and synchronising a note works like a charm!

I have preciously written about the partnership between Livescribe and Evernote, With the Sky™ pen, Livescribe is going all in giving up on their desktop application. Gone is the cradle and the USB cord (except when recharging) and no more pencast notes saved on the computer, you left behind! Your notes go directly to your Evernote account. And when you click on an uploaded note, it is automatically “replayed” by the integrated (HTML5-based) Livescribe Player. A neat and logical development of the whole concept.

But it does leave us “long time users” with an inconvenience. I have to either leave my old Pulse™ notes in the Livescribe Desktop environment (on the computer), in the MyLivescribe account archive (but for how long will that live?) or export them from the desktop application to Evernote as either PDF pencasts or PNG images; where they can rest side by side with my new Sky™ notes. Except the old and the new notes are not compatible:

  • The old Pulse™ notes cannot be replayed in the Livescribe Player (Livescribe assures us that they are working on it)
  • The new Sky™ notes cannot be turned into PDF pencasts (this feature is promised in Q1 2013)
  • There is no easy way of embedding the Sky™ notes in a blog-post (as it it possible with the “old” notes),

And what about the MyScript application from VisionObject that turn your handwritten notes into printed text? The Sky™ notes cannot be opened in MyScript. Hopefully a solution for this is also in the pipeline.

“I’ve got no strings to hold me down”

So, in order to make the big, wireless leap forward, Livescribe apparently had to step back on several of the features that bridge the digital and the analogue worlds (embedding, OCR, PDF). But apart from these small wantings, the Sky™ Wifi smartpen is a promising next step in controlling the Internet with your signature. All we need now is a Sky™ SDK to spark the development of a plethora of new applications. Synchronising your notes wirelessly is of course handy. But instantly launching all kinds of cloud services just by scribbling a few words on paper, that would be terrific!

Just for the record: I have no affiliation with neither Livescribe nor Evernote, and I have purchased my smartpens for retail prices.


The future of schools…

On November 21, I gave the following presentation for Trendbureau Overijssel in Zwolle, the Netherlands.

Press ‘Start Prezi’. Use the arrows to follow the presentation, zoom in/out with the magnifying glasses (right), or point & click on any detail. View best in ‘Full screen’ mode.

The following YouTube videos highlight the transformation process of 12 schools in the municipality of Gentofte, North of Copenhagen, Denmark during 1999-2008:

Hellerup School
Head Teachers
Reading Brains & Folding Tables

The Looking Glass Club

Dark and fast-paced sci-fi thriller, anno 2035, stressing the science bit. The world of 2035 is sketched with emphasis on advances in info- and biotech, and with less focus on other factors (such as social, political, economic and environmental). There are several surprising and unconventional plot twists under way (and a few more predictable ones…). Davies masters both his science, plotting and characterisation – even a canine such! But once in a while the pace is inordinate, preventing you from really reflecting on the important issues of consciousness and reality, the book offers. Let alone taking time to have a crack at the 32 puzzles in the book, that can win you a £1M. !

There are many features in common with Scarlett Thomas’ “The End of Mr. Y” (2007): The maladjusted student drawn towards a charismatic mentor, the campus with a secret basement, unfulfilled love, time-travels, common consciousness, parallel universes and psychotropic drugs as the access key to them. In contrast to eg. Dan Lloyd’s “Radiant Cool” (2004), which has an over 100 pages long scientific postscript, this book’s theory of everything, “Information Relativity ” is only hinted at in the opening notes to some of the chapters. It is not quite enough to get the plot-puzzle to fall credibly into place.

But all in all enjoyable, intelligent entertainment. And then there are plenty of loose ends for a sequel (‘Wonderland’ – already announced).


State of the Future

Jerry Glenn’s and Ted Gordon’s State of the Future is always a pleasure to witness.

Great overview from the Millenium Project. In short: We are winning against poverty and armed conflicts and loosing against temperature anomalies and terrorism.

Check out the 15 global challenges at


Stanley Park

I went for a run round Stanley Park. The morning sunlight above, glittering water below, a green wall of trees to my left and the Vancouver skyline as a postcard panorama to my right. Fifteen kilometres of hard-earned joy.

As I followed the fractal twisting and bending of this unfamiliar coastline, it struck me, that this is similar to seeing into the future. You never know what’s around the next corner, but you keep going, because there still it a high probability that the path continues, that you will not fall off the earth, that the next kilometre will be just as enjoyable. Despite all the unpredictability, there is so much, we can know with near-certainty. Enough to keep us going.


Education as a Service

Here is my contribution to the Education Summit at World Future 2011

[prezi id=”o8a6fnm9g-ji” /]

Click on the image above, and use the white arrows in lower right corner to advance.

In this, I describe a new kind of educational institutions where:

Technology embraces both cognitive, emotional and social aspects of learning.

Environments are social, informal, diverse and supports individuals and groups.

Professional teachers serve the individual learner.


On the border

On the US/Canadian border the Cantrail bus stops and you are required to take your luggage through customs and immigration yourself.

The immigration officer leafs through my beet coloured EU passport and then she looks inquisitorially at me:

– What’s the purpose of your visit?

– Business (Well sort of). I’m attending a conference. Actually, I’m giving a talk (Oh, vanity!)

– What kind of work do you do? (She’s clearly not impressed)

– I am a forecaster.

– What does that mean?

– Well, I make forecasts. I try to figure out what the future will be like.

– The future of what? (She’s still not convinced)

– The future of education, for instance. What will schools be like in…

– Can you support yourself, doing that? What is your annual income?

Wow, that sounds like my bank adviser. I never expected to be accountable for my choice of career right then and there. But that just illustrates how crossing borders can instigate reflection.

Well, eventually I got through. And I am glad, that my mastery of English was sufficient to explain myself. I hate to think that someone was excluded from WF11, because they failed to convince the immigration officer of the usefulness of foresight!


A Marriage in the Cloud II

Some time ago I reported the collaboration between two excellent cloud services Livescribe and Evernote.

Now it gets even better! Livescribe has extented their connectivity to Google Docs and Facebook. along with email and Livescribe’s own cloud service, MyLivescribe. You can now save and share your handwritten oeuvre using the cloud service of your choice.

Watch the video Send and Share with Livescribe Connect™:


A cloud for every need?

How far will the cloud world enter into our lifes. Well – pretty far, if we are to believe the entrepreneur David Fuhrimans latest concept: The Cloud Girlfriend. You can create the perfect girlfriend of your desires and have “her” place automatic messages on your Facebook wall, deceiving your friends (if any) into believing you have found the girlfriend of your dreams. This immediately prompts  the question: What about the cloud boyfriend? Don’t worry – he is there too. Interesting to see if these airy friends will pass a Turing test and how they will tackle Facebook’s terms of service disallowing machine generated profiles.

The service is yet to be released, but on the website the following announcement is made:

Due to high demand we are only able to accommodate a limited number of users to the site. Register early to get in line.

This might just be clever advertising – but then again maybe you should hurry…