Technology--Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
A.T. Cross, maker of Cross writing instruments, has partnered with IBM to develop a new device to get information into the computer. The CrossPad Portable Digital Notepad (PDN) allows users to write on a pad of paper and then transfer what they have written to their computers. Additional features make data upload easy and increase the utility of the information after it is in the computer. The CrossPad makes an excellent addition to the real property lawyer's tool kit, especially for those who do not type, are looking for a way to reduce their reliance on paper and seek to organize notes and information more efficiently.
The CrossPad comes ready to use right out of the box, except for inserting the batteries (included). Included with the CrossPad are the serial cable needed to connect the pad to the computer, a specially de- signed Cross pen and the software necessary to make things work.
How the Device Works
The CrossPad is easy to use. Simply install the IBM Ink Manager software included with the pad and then attach a standard 8" by 11" notepad to the front of the pad (the pad is about 14" by 9" wide). Turn on the CrossPad and write with the pen. The pen contains a tiny radio transmitter. When the user presses down on the pen to write, the transmitter sends information into the pad, which captures it. (The pen, of course, also writes in ink on the paper.)
Along the bottom of the pad are areas that, when touched with the pen, advance pages and allow access to other functions, plus a small LCD panel indicating function and page number. After writing, connect the pad to the computer using the serial cable. Clicking the menu on the pad to upload starts the software automatically. The user's notes are then uploaded into the computer.
The CrossPad allows users to mark certain words as "keywords" while writing. As the information is uploaded, the software confirms that it has translated any keywords correctly, allowing for correction if necessary. This allows for notebook searching (the notebook is where the notes are stored after they are uploaded).
The keyword feature increases the usefulness of the CrossPad, as notes need not be stored in files and searched manually. Instead, notes are kept in one location and can be found easily using keywords. A keyword might be a file name or meeting date or--because more than one keyword is allowed per page--some combination of words. Establishing a system of assigning keywords will help users find notes later.
Converting Handwriting to Text
By default, the CrossPad loads handwritten notes into the computer as a graphic image. It also offers the option, however, of translating handwriting into typewritten text, using included software that is analogous to voice recognition software. To convert text in the notebook, the user selects the text with the cursor and then selects the conversion program. The software then attempts to convert the handwriting to text.
Neither Cross nor IBM emphasizes this aspect of the pad in the literature, and with good reason. The accuracy of the software is not particularly high at this point. Many times conversions of words yield strings of numbers, symbols and other inappropriate returns. Results improve (but not significantly) after the software has been "trained" by performing writing exercises.
The exercises themselves are somewhat time consuming, and the software is easily confused as to what training section is under way if the exercises and uploads are not completed flawlessly. After the primary levels of recognition training are completed, more exercises are provided to increase the accuracy of the software.
Overall, the handwritten character recognition is probably not a reason to purchase a CrossPad at this time. Keep in mind that these problems are primarily software based. Purchasing a CrossPad now most likely would not preclude eventual upgrade of software after Cross improves the recognition quality. Even without handwriting conversion, there still are good reasons to add this piece of hardware to your computer tool kit.
Simply storing handwritten notes in a computer gives one the ability to paste them--as handwritten notes--into word processing programs, many e-mail programs and other computer programs. In addition, the CrossPad lets a user process forms on the pad and then upload the completed text to a formatted digital copy of the form for storage, printing, network accessibility and document management. Given the number of forms with which a real property practitioner is often involved, this is one area in which the CrossPad could significantly assist legal practitioners. Although there currently are no stock legal forms available, the Software Developers Kit from IBM would allow a firm's information technology department or consultant to design forms appropriate to law practice, including integrating the forms with existing information-based applications.
Review and Conclusion
Overall, the CrossPad performed as advertised. It allowed for storage, searching and managing handwritten notes on the computer. Although the handwritten character recognition is not quite ready for mass consumption at this point, it adds a considerable amount of flexibility to how information is digitized for use in and by the computer.
The CrossPad weighs only a little more than two pounds. Instead of carrying around a bulky, battery-dependent laptop computer, take the CrossPad, and the notes are ready and accessible when needed. Because it operates on four AA batteries and the pen operates on one AAAA battery, keeping extra batteries on hand is no great burden. The CrossPad holds up to 50 pages of text in memory, so there is no need to upload information between meetings.
What is the downside? The most annoying thing about the product is that, although there is a place on board the pad to store extra ink cartridges for the pen, there is no place to store the pen itself. More than once I had the pad with me when needed, only to find that I had left the pen on my desk, in my car or at some location other than where I needed it. Also, there were many times when I forgot to advance the page on the pad, resulting in the digitized text being written over existing text. Numbering the pages in the notepad to correspond to the number in the CrossPad solved this problem for me.
Finally, for a smaller unit, Cross offers the CrossPad XP, weighing only one and one-half pounds, at 11.875" by 7.75" in size. Both the CrossPad and the XP require Windows 95, 98 or NT, a Pentium processor (or better), 50 MB of available hard drive space for installation, 30 MB after installation, 16 MB RAM (32 MB suggested), one available serial com port and a CD-ROM drive (for the software installation disk). The CrossPad retails for $299, and the XP for $249. Watch for rebates and special offers for a better deal on either unit.
Technology--Property Editor: Robert A. Heverly, Albany Law School, 80 New Scotland Avenue, Albany, NY 12208. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgProbate & Property Magazine is published six times annually and is included in section members' annual dues.