mac modbook, preface


Over the next month I'd like to report on the use of a "Modbook". The Mac Modbook is a third party mashup of a Wacom tablet and a small 13 inch MacBook. It's a single unit that lets you draw directly on screen. I'm interested primarily in the Modbook as a field tool for any discipline that requires field sketching: drawing and design, of course, but architecture and botany, too. Unfortunately, I still don't have software that responds to pressure sensitive pen strokes (ie, Photoshop, Flash); I do have Ink, though; so while I wait for something useful, I can get some unpleasantries out of the way.

I'm thrilled
there's no duct tape to be seen on this third party product.
First, if using a pressure sensitive pen to input naturalistic, antialiased brushstrokes into a drawing application doesn't excite the heck out of you, you may prefer a Tablet PC for mathematics written, and even recorded, on a Connect whiteboard. Or, you might just need a visual demonstration of what naturalistic antialiased brushstrokes are, and a little practice time to familiarize yourself with the tool. I'm up for the latter, but need to get software first.

Second, the Modbook doesn't have a keyboard. There's a little screen utility that comes with it that lets you "type" on a screen keyboard using the pen. For many purposes, that's probably good enough. For most drawing uses, though, designers use the pen in one hand and hit keyboard shortcuts with the other. They might hold the shift key while drawing to constrain the angle and "straightness" of a line; or hit "x" to toggle between colors, "B" for a brush, or "Command-z" to un-do. Having to pause and pull down a menu really breaks your rhythm and the toggle on the pen doesn't allow the wealth of programmable strokes that's needed.

Macs ship with Ink, software that recognizes hand printed input and converts it to machine readable text. It's a clever idea. My experience so far using it on the Modbook is that no one should rely on it except in extreme circumstances. I'm good at hand printing, do it regularly, and have experience with a Wacom pen. I found the input to be tedious at best, intrusive and annoying in the long run. If you have a Mac, chances are you can launch the application and try it with your mouse- you'll get a sense of the software's capabilities and its worth. Open the Ink control panel from your system preferences.

Finally, there's also a bit of a problem with "offset". By that I mean where the cursor is in relation to where you see the tip of the pen. I don't experience any offset at all with my standard tablet; but with my regular tool, I never see the pen tip- only the cursor it's piloting. With the Modbook, the cursor is about an eighth of an inch below the pen tip. That's "below" as in deeper into the picture plain. And with a brisk stroke, somewhat behind the pen, too. When you start using the Modbook, you "calibrate" the pen; meaning, you use the pen utility to tell the computer where you see the tip in relation to where you see the cursor. The Modbook software has you click the center of a cross in the upper left corner, then the center of a cross in the lower right and it figures out just where your eyeball is. I would prefer the cursor always be directly underneath my pen with no "computer enhanced" sense of parallax; my own sensibilities take care of that, regardless of my viewing angle. Much better than the computer, I might add.

Bottom line- I'm thrilled there's no duct tape to be seen on this third party product. Any and all problems may be inconsequential after a bit of using this thing for what it was designed for. More on that as software allows...

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