I’ve been looking into ways to improve my handwriting, which is ghastly.
I got interested in this after downloading and using an application called Notes Plus ($5.99) for the iPad. You write with your finger or a stylus on the screen, and Notes Plus records the images of the letters, words, and whatever you draw as well. You can write with it as you would on a piece of paper. Notes Plus lets you do some interesting and useful things, like move words around, highlight text, and change ink colors very easily. When you’re done writing in Notes Plus, you can export pages that you created as PDFs then email them our upload them to Google Docs.
It’s really a terrific way to take notes on the iPad, in many ways combining the best of electronic writing and handwriting. I used the hell out of it while covering the IBM Impact conference in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, filling up pages and pages of handwritten notes. Notes Plus took all the pounding I could give it and came back sneering and asking, “Is that all you got?”
One of my favorite features is a magnifying window that can be set up to occupy much of the lower half of the screen. Write big inside the window, and Notes Plus automatically shrinks your text and puts it in its right place on the top half of the screen.
I also looked at a couple of other note-taking apps. I was awfully tempted by UPAD ($4.99), which had a user interface I liked better than Notes Plus and lets you import PDFs and photos and annotate them. But some of the reviews talked about it crashing and losing data, which scared me off.
Notes Plus doesn’t do handwriting recognition, but I got to thinking that if my handwriting was better I might be able to use OCR software on the Mac to translate my handwritten notes into digital text.
My handwriting is awful. Taking handwritten notes as a journalist for more than half my life hasn’t helped it at all. I have tried writing more carefully but that doesn’t really help.
So I did some Googling of course. This page diagnoses my problem sight unseen: I’m doing it wrong. Specifically, I’m drawing letters with my fingers, when I should be using the big muscles in my shoulders. That’s counter-intuitive — we think of small muscles as being better for fine work.
It helps if you rest your forearm on a table or desk, and move your hand around by taking advantage of the elasticity of the muscles and skin of your arm. Sounds crazy, but it works; I’ve been able to write much more readably using these tips.
This doesn’t seem to work that well for the iPad when held on my lap, which is how I’m usually using it. On the other hand, my latest addition to the grocery list in the kitchen was a thing of beauty.
I also discovered this page: A scan of a 1935 textbook on the Palmer Method, which was how children were taught to write for about a century. It’s how I was taught to write. I have no idea if it’s still popular today, or at any time after 1970.
The book recommends how you should sit, how you should hold your arms and hands. I’m told it works splendidly, and I remember being taught to write that way in school.
I also remember ignoring the lessons as much as I could get away with. Even then, I thought I was smarter than anybody else and nobody had anything to teach me. This has proven to be a mixed blessing in my life; in many cases I am smarter than other people. But often I’m not; more often than I realized when I was younger.
This whole experience has taught me how clumsy onscreen keyboards are. The entire world is waiting for someone to come up with a better way to enter information into a mobile computer. Is voice-recognition the answer? I’ve been using Dragon Dictate (free) on the iPhone and iPad more and more and more recently; I used it to dictate the first couple of paragraphs of this post. It works extremely well — amazingly so — but it’s not ready to replace the keyboard.