Speeding up your note-taking

Anthony Caruana
29 September, 2014
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Meetings, note-taking, ios, mac, macworld australiaIt’s one of the great hassles of the modern era. Despite all of the great technical innovations out there we are still looking for ways to capture everything that happens in meetings.

The trouble is, as imperfect as it is, a pen and paper still remains the easiest way to quickly capture information during a meeting, presentation or some other event.

However, we are working in an age where solutions to this perennial problem are close at hand.

Smartpens and smartpaper

It was just a few years ago when tacking the letter ‘i’ in front of anything made it seem hip and cool. Now, it’s the word ‘smart’. And while it’s been smartwatches that have dominated tech headlines, smartpens and smartpaper have quietly snuck into our offices, boardrooms and classrooms.

Here’s how they work. The pens look like any other pen, albeit a little bulkier. The extra heft is used to hold a highly sensitive microphone and an infra-red camera. All of these extra bits work with special paper.

As you write, sensors in the pen record what you’re writing. Once you’re done, the contents are uploaded to your computer where the notes are reproduced and synchronised with the audio that was recorded. A pattern of barely visible bots on the paper lets the pen know where you’re writing on the page. Each page has a unique identifier so that the software on your Mac puts everything in the right place.

What this gives you is a record of the meeting where your written notes are supported with audio from the meeting.

The most well known smartpen system is Livescribe. They offer several different pens and you can either buy the smartpaper from many stationers or print your own using a suitable laser printer. The accompanying software works with popular note-taking applications such as Evernote and OneNote as well as Livescribe’s own software.

Voice recognition

For many, getting their Mac to convert their spoken words into text has been something of a holy grail. Well known Apple pundit David Pogue has been using voice recognition software for many years as he has a condition called tenosynovitis which means he can’t type for any length of time. Given that a professional writer can rely on modern voice recognition, it’s no surprise that this is a viable option to help you with your own note taking.

For many years, the ‘go to’ application for voice recognition was Dragon Dictate, now called Dragon Naturally Speaking. It’s a mature product that’s been on the market for almost two decades. However, your Mac has voice recognition baked into the operating system.

All you need to do is press the function key twice to activate it. Then you can start talking and the software will automatically convert your voice into words. The voice recognition is accurate enough that were able to type this sentence without even touching the keyboard. There was no training required even though this used to be the standard thing you needed to do with voice recognition software in the past. It does take some getting used to it, but with a little practice, it’s faster than typing unless you’re a good touch-typist.

You can even issue commands like ‘new paragraph’ and ‘full stop’ so that your grammar and punctuation is correct.

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