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Write is Right
by Shepard Gorman

Writing "ain't" what it were. Some elementary schools have curtailed the teaching of cursive writing based on the idea that keyboarding is more important in an age of computer input. This seems to us to be a limited view since, at a minimum,  pen and paper don't often "crash" and seem to work well even in power failures. .That being said, most of us use smartphones, keyboards and, increasingly, tablets. The most popular cellular phone, the iPhone, and its big cousin the iPad, are well designed for input gestures. We "press" icons on a screen as if they were buttons and we can use our fingers to draw on electronic paper as readily as if it were a sketch pad. But fingers aren't the only way to go. Ever since a caveman drew in the sand with a stick, ( We remember it well!) using a stylus has been faster and easier and has allowed more subtle ideas to be communicated. One problem today is that the stylus and the touch-screen don't want to play together very well.

Touch screens come in two types, resistive and capacitive. Resistive screens register a press when two thin panels are pushed together and the current flows between them. These passive devices where used in early generations of touch sensitive screens like the Palm Pilot, because they could be made to work with any pressure source, be it a finger, a pen or a nylon rod like the ones embedded in some special pen cartridges. Capacitive screens, used in newer devices like the iPad and iPod for example, are different beasts. They use a charged transparent conductor in a film that covers an insulator. Touching the insulator with anything that conducts electricity changes the electrostatic field in that area that can be detected. Pressing a capacitive screen with an insulator like a glove or a pen will not be detected at all,  so special conductive materials are needed in lieu of a good conductor like the human finger.

Jerry Leto, the president of TouchTec, a maker of a combination pen/stylus, discovered this several years ago when he found that his iPod didn't work with gloves. His solution? Invent a process to make leather a sufficient conductor to trigger a capacitive device. His enhanced leather is currently incorporated into several designer lines of gloves (www.gaspargloves.com) as well as those for the military and first-responders from companies like Outdoor Research. .

He went further than the original glove by using the leather to make a dome-like cap on a ballpoint pen so that both ends of the pen can "write" depending on the surface. What is unique about the TouchTec pens is that this company can equate "looking good" and "feeling good about yourself" in this deceptively simple implement. According to a recent interview, earlier in his career, Leto was at Stanford University helping to develop easy access to high-tech equipment for the disabled. He never forgot this early work. His initial idea for the stylus tip wasn’t intended to be part of a convenient pen/stylus., Instead, it was designed to be the tip of an under 1-ounce mouth-pointing stick that could be used by people who are quadriplegic. Using a mouth pointer, these folks, who usually cannot move much of their body other than their heads and necks, can have access to computers and mobility devices. During that same interview, Leto related that his leather-topped pen was marketed at a relatively low cost so that part of the increased sales' profits could be used to support continued work with the disabled.

Touch-Tec pens (www.touchtecpens.com) are proof-positive that the feeling good and writing well while looking good can all co-exist.. Writing well on a tablet can be as much of a challenge as is juggling a separate stylus and and old, everyday pen (We particularly find that the required inkwells are really hard to pocket!). In-a-hurry, ham-fisted, perambulating purveyors of information always appreciate simplicity in communication (or alliteration). A combination pen/stylus makes it a breeze to make one's mark on the world, physically or electronically. TouchTec combination pen/styli fill the bill here. They weigh 0.6 ounces, come in two different calibers (7 mm. and 9mm.) and in black or silver two finishes (black and silver ) and they accept standard Cross pen refill cartridges. Either diameter pen is very comfortable to the touch and they are available for approximately $15.  

What's so "high tech" about a $15 pen? Very simply, it allows you to press icons or sketch any on capacitive surface screen (read "i" anything, tablets, smartphones, netbooks) without making marks and often, quite a bit more quickly and accurately than one could do so with a bare finger. The soft, half-round stylus tip on the top of the pen glides easily and responds well to differences in touch.

Let's summarize: Touch-Tec II pens write well as low-tech ballpoint pens or high tech styli;, they look good;, feel good; and "do good"; all at a price that is about half that of similar products and about the same as most single purpose stylii.. While they won’t melt in your hand, they may melt your heart. Sounds like a winning combination! As someone who worked at  providing technology access for disabled students more than 20 years ago, I see this as a "win-win" all the way. Grabbing one today fulfills the NCCFUN philosophy of whistling while you work with the added benefit of a enjoying the feeling that comes from helping others ! 


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