Stylus input

Dragging the mouse

Graphics tablets

Various tablet inputs devices! Wacom is the most recognisable brand here, but they are crazy expensive and their drivers are awful on macOS, working unreliably and aggressively enforcing obsolescence of tablets. Their competitors’ drivers can surely be any no worse and their tablets cost less. Which competitor is least worst?

Richard Zach recommends StylusLabs Write as the input app, a minimalist sketchpad app that looks convenient for maths and other textual-type stuff. Windows/Mac/Linux.

Stylus touchscreens

Some of these are popular amongst my colleagues, since they allow you to see what you are writing. They have gotten more affordable in recent times. Cheap entry level options which I have not used myself:

Or possibly you already own a touchscreen if you own a tablet computer. See next.

Tablet computer as graphics tablet

I am fond of Android-tablet-as-screen, since it is a cheap device with touch interface and visual feedback. In particular many eReaders are android devices which could notionally share their touchscreen with a laptop.

There are many apps that share android tablets to mac/windows desktop if you want to link to a desktop app. None for linux desktop though AFAICS. Or you could just point it at some webapp for strategic functionality, e.g. an online whiteboard.

This sounds like a good idea, although in practice it has not worked for me. I have an android table right here and I am logged in to the online whiteboard, Excalidraw via the tablet browser. It is not great. Without keyboard shortcuts the workflow is clunky. And the responsiveness updates via the android browser are not good. Maybe if there were a native app this would be better? Or if it were not roundtripping via servers in Singapore or something?

Special case: Remarkable

Slightly left-field. The most hip device for this kind of input seems to be the Remarkable, which has many plugins doing clever things with its open API, so it occupies a kind of specialist niche that is more like a graphics stylus device than a table computer. Richard Zach is once again helpful, settling on a hacky solution that gets output from his reMarkable tablet via srvfb. That particular solution is discontinued but there seem to be several like it.

Mathematical OCR

Turning my scribbles into markup, a.k.a. “Reverse LaTeX”.


How can I combine a real notebook with digitization?

Great question, self. My current solution here is Livescribe, a ball-point pen that remembers what you write if you use special paper. It also has some features I don’t use, such as audio recording. You can find more about that on the internet. It transfers data to special app (macos/io/android/windows) via bluetooth then via a cloud service such as dropbox, google drive, Evernote or OneNote to other devices. This is unsatisfactory. For one the smartphone app is awful, clunky and unintuitive, and unstable; it crashes if you look at it funny. For another, there are, you will observe, no end-to-end encrypted sync services on that list, so everything you write using the pen can be assumed to be subpoena-vulnerable and spook-readable in some jurisdiction or other. And no, there is no option on that list that simply transfers files to your hard drive. It has to go via the hard drive of some unaccountable third party. As such, do not use it to write notes on anything if you do not want police and spooks reading it.

People have been complaining about the app for 7+ years now and it has remained largely unchanged apart from fixes for crashing bugs and compatibility updates, so do not buy the pen in the hope that the app will improve. If this were a priority for the company they would have demonstrated that before now.

A real frustration here is that the writing experience for this device is so good, so simple and easy and intuitive, that it makes the unnecessary pain points introduced by their terrible software even more vexing by contrast. This is so close to an amazing luxurious experience. It is as if you are an aspirational cook and a michelin star chef lends you their staff and kitchen and you can use it all you want, but it is on fire.

tl;dr Great hardware, awful software. Worth it as a metaphor for the inescapable frustration of life itself. Maybe also worth it as a pen; I use it as such.

Here are some links I’ve needed for the Livescribe recently:

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