Exporting Livescribe Smartpen notes as a PDF
I've been using a Livescribe pen for lab and seminar notes. The pen has a little camera that tracks dots on their special paper to record pen-strokes. Various notebooks using this paper are available, at a reasonable price. Their Livescribe Desktop software is amazingly good at searching my handwritten text, so I don't have to spend time paging through notebooks looking for the data or notes I need. Automatic backup of my lab notebooks, plus search capability... who could ask for more?
Well... a nonproprietary file format would be nice.
NSF is asking for data management plans in grant proposals now, to make sure data are stored in a format that will still be readable years in the future. These pens would be a simple way to meet that requirement, if only:
1) there were a simple way to link lab notes to computer files (photos, sequence data, instrument outputs, etc.), and
2) the handwritten notes were stored in a nonproprietary format.
Proprietary formats like DOC or XLS, which can be changed at the whim of their corporate overlords, are not suitable for data archiving. Livescribe's file format is proprietary, so that seems to rule them out for serious use.
But wait... you can output notes as PDF files. But wait... no you can't, not in the latest version. But wait... by uninstalling the latest version, and reinstalling version 2.3.4, you can. The resulting PDF is just a bitmap, so not easily searchable, but at least it makes it simple to generate a copy of the notebook. I just filled my first notebook and backed it up as a PDF using Dropbox. You can also back up your notebooks on their website, but only in their proprietary format. What happens if they go out of business, or decide to start charging for access to your data?
As long as you don't upgrade the desktop software beyond version 2.3.4, Livescribe's pen and notebook combination is worth considering.