A Mighty Pen

Wow, Friday already! It has been a busy week, but with some good stuff here and there, I’d say. “Good Busy”, as I sometimes say. I’d like to dig into some work this early morning before the day gets into my head (although I’ve already been emailing with the East Coast) and so I’ll be brief.

One of the things I’ve been doing is experimenting with Pencasts, for PBS. What are those? Well, after I agreed to do one, the main instrument needed arrived in the post. An Echo smartpen, by Livescribe. It is a pen that records (when you write on the right paper) every penstroke you make digitally and you can play back that page elsewhere…It also has a microphone built in, and so what you can do is play back the writings/scribblings/drawings, along with the sounds that were playing at the time you were drawing. You can play them back right from the pen’s little speaker, or upload the whole thing to your computer or to the web and have the whole thing playback there. It is an excellent and powerful tool. The people who make this are heavily advertising it to students as a tool for studying, which I don’t have a problem with, but a lot of the sense of the marketing (and discussions I’ve seen on the web) seem to hint that it is somehow a magical substitute for actually learning how to take notes, since you are recording the lecturer’s voice… That I do have a problem with. Making good notes is an important skill and the act of paraphrasing and distilling what is being said is vital to learning… it is arguably the most important stage now, given that students seem to have less and less time to re-work and supplement the lecture’s material in their own non-class time… These pens should supplement that process, not substitute it… Like all tools, they need to be used properly for best results.

But anyway… Where was I? Yes, so the pen arrived, and I experimented with it a bit and then made a piece (Pencast – a play on Podcast, itself a play on Broadcast…) about Quantum Gravity (what is it? Why is it needed?) for the new blog that PBS has started, called The Nature of Reality. The blog is live, and you can see it here. (Yes, I know, I’m blogging for PBS again, to accompany a TV show… my life is going in circles…Circles are pretty though.)

So what you’ll have is me writing and drawing things while talking about them a tiny bit, explaining the concepts… Seems that from this blog the people at PBS thought I’d be a good person to bring in to do a bit of drawing-oriented matter. That’s really nice, although I don’t really get to do anything more than fast scribbles since I’m trying hard to get what I want to say done in a short time.

In the end, I wanted to do more than just the usual thing of saying “gee, quantum mechanics is cool… hey, gravity is weak for elementary particles and strong for big things” and so on and so forth, and dig a little deeper to give the reader of how things work a bit more, so I wrote something longer with actual content that I eventually broke into three parts. I’ve no idea whether they are going to have them all go up on the blog since it might be a bit too much… We shall see what they say. I’ll ask permission to post them here if that’s the case. I’ll update you soon.


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