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Category Archives: gadgets

I recently acquired a Wacom Cintiq Interactive Pen Display and it was worth every penny of the $1999 that it cost me. Sure, that sounds like a lot. However, I work on a lot of maps. Without going into detail, I will just note that my commitment to over-commitment is a problem. I truly need to develop ways to more quickly and accurately compile my mapping in a digital form.

Nothing (aside from LiDAR, maybe) has streamlined my mapping workflow more than being able to map directly on the surface of a high-resolution monitor. It is one-step beyond my previous advice to run out and get yourself a wacom digitizing tablet because it removes the final level of abstraction that separated your eyes from your work. Since the monitor is quite pricey, it may be a stretch for the average ‘joe’ (you know who you are). The next best step, the digitizing tablet, is an excellent way to go if that is your limit. Put plainly, you are a pitiable fool for not using either of them. Sorry to say that, but it is true.  Deal with it.

I will admit that some of my colleagues that I have goaded into trying the tablet (haven’t let anyone touch the monitor yet) have had some issues and, unbelievably, returned to clicking their freaking mice for miles across the virtual landscape. As I have said in the past: can your write your name with your mouse…of course you can’t. Why then do you think you can map your favorite intricate contact with one better than you can with a pen? The digitizing tablet / monitor approach is far more efficient. You can program buttons on the pen and the tablet to substitute for frequent commands you use in the program of interest. In the case of the tablet, you can change its inclination to suit your ergonomic needs and can even freely rotate it through a large range of angles to get the perfect attack on the cryptic  contact you think is so important.

The Cintiq rocks for geologic mapping. Convince your boss to buy one, or write it into your next geologic mapping proposal. Don’t be a slave to a mouse…how embarrassing is that?

Disclosure: I am left-handed but also moderately ambidextrous. I use my mouse with my right hand. I use the pen in my left. I use them both when madly mapping in ArcGIS.

Dr. Jerque hard at work

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Faithful readers–you may recall a previous post when I expressed utter amazement at a field-hardy digital pen that really works. I still use the thing regularly, but have some minor issues with the ink cartridge…more on that later…maybe. Anyway, maybe that idea scared you.  Hold on, though. I recently came across a truly non-field-hardy digital pen that works so well that I have begun to write tons of stuff down that I may not have chosen to previously. It can be coupled with an OCR program that works surprisingly well (better than the MS OneNote version, at least). It is called the Pulse Smartpen and I recommend that you try it out.  This thing works well enough for me to tell perfect strangers about it. It actually has the capability of simultaneously recording audio which is then time-stamped with respect to your note-taking. I have not exploited that application beyond experimentation while goofing around with my kids, but the potential for recording key lectures, brainstorming sessions, and (please no!) faculty meetings is pretty obvious. Below is a snippet of some of my amazingly insightful note-taking and the ocr program’s surprisingly good attempt at deciphering it:Kyle's amazing notes

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Why would you want one of these? Why not is really the question. For one thing it is a pen…you probably use those. For another, it is a digital pen! It creates backup just by being used. Also, you can be truly untethered from your laptop at a meeting (I abhore using a laptop during a meeting and am sure that many people that do are surfing the internet).

Here’s what I don’t like about it…the cradle. Small, but not great. I would rather be able to use a direct connection with the usb cord. The thing can fall out of the cradle very easily, but it downloads quickly. The price is better than you may expect and it has a good hand-feel. It also allows for the use of a variety of inexpensive generally conventional notebooks.


I recently had some success with my new gigapan robot. Got what I deemed the perfect camera to go with it (Canon Powershot SX110IS 9MP with 10x optical zoom) and dragged it out into the field. I can’t embed the images in the blog and am working on getting them on my website. For now you can see them at the following links:

Gigapan of Key stratigraphic section documenting the birth of the lower Colorado River

Gigapan of unnamed wash containing key outcrops of the Bouse Formation

The former one could be larger; the latter one is not thrilling, but it was the only windless place that day.

Turns out that the Gigapan Robot is out of beta…it costs a bit more but looks more finished.


Imagine an ink pen that ~instantly converts your field notes into digital data. That’s right. An ink pen that simply, and nearly instantly, converts all you have written into your field book into a digital notebook. There is one, I have tested it, I really like it, I have no reservations about recommending it. There are few reasons not to use it.

The pen and field book combo is made by Adapx. Through a complex combination of sensors in the pen and embedded patterns (Anoto pattern) in the paper (in this case, an actual Rite in the Rain field book), the pen’s brain keeps a precise record of all the strokes it has made during the day. Once the day has ended, plug the thing into your computer and it uploads all the pages of notes. The latter, and most important step, requires that you use Microsoft OneNote software. This is not a dreadfully negative factor, however. The software is surprisingly useful.

The screen clipping below shows an example of the digital data pulled off of the pen. This (for what it is worth) does look precisely like my handwriting. The sample below is from a recent field stint on the Owyhee River. The embedded image and clean text were added later using simple tools in OneNote. (Read about OneNote here)

Also, OneNote can attempt to convert your handwriting to text. It does a fair job depending on your penmanship. At the very least, it gives you a decent start on converting your chicken-scratches.
The example above shows: 1. Field notes, 2. OneNote conversion, 3. Corrected note (with mistake, whoops)

Geologic mapperz stay tuned. This device is also designed to allow you to draft on to paper maps, yes paper maps, and automatically convert your analog mapping to digital mapping. It works with ArcGIS (must have the .NET framework installed) and has lots of promise. I will be testing this application in the field soon.

Notes: the pen and OneNote add-on cost me $300. Battery power is good for more than 1 day. The ink used by the pen is Rite in the Rain’s proprietary ink. It gets a little thick in the cold. I would kill for a pencil, my preferred note taking device. Alas.


A few years ago, a geopal of mine turned me on to the ‘magic box’…a laser rangefinder from LaserTech Inc. It was a little bulky and came in a box so padded that you were reluctant to keep it out of it for long…also, it cost several $1000. Nonetheless, I coveted that device from afar and borrowed it for several months.

On a more recent excursion, a different geopal pulled out a nifty little yellow number from LaserTech that made all of the same measurements (slope distance, vertical distance, horizontal distance, inclination, height) but came in a much smaller, more rugged package.

Turns out they got the thing on my advice several months prior when I scoffed at their use of a Jacob staff to measure several 100 meters of section (flat-lying rocks). More importantly, it turns out that the smaller, more rugged version is also less than $1000!

Damn right I got one. Maybe you should have one too. This little number could change your life if you sketch a lot of strat sections and guesstimate unit thicknesses or otherwise conjure up various spatial dimensions on the fly. With a little extra thinking, you can also construct an accurate cross section in the field if you are so inclined.

I used mine in the field over the weekend and was thoroughly satisfied with the results.