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Microsoft Hardware Technology

Vintage Collection of Tech Failures 160

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the library-of-fail dept.
StormDriver writes "For every good design there are a dozen failed concepts. Nothing illustrates that better than a great online vintage gadget collection, published yesterday by the Microsoft Research team. The collection is a brainchild of Bill Buxton, one of the principal Microsoft researchers, a guy who's been through 30 years of continuous tech design. Awarded with three honorary doctorates and several professional awards, Bill also likes to gather things – the vintage, geeky kind of things, to be precise. Over the years, he has gathered an impressive collection of prototypes, probably the best I have seen online."
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Vintage Collection of Tech Failures

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  • I’m actually surprised stuff like the Seiko Data-2000 (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/bibuxton/buxtoncollection/detail.aspx?id=235) hasn’t come back! People could twitter even more effectively if they didn’t even have to pull the phone out of their pocket! Facebook status could be kept to near real time!

    All kidding aside, this was kind of one of my geek fantasies having a house that you could control with something like this. I envisioned myself walking around my house tapp

    • by Arlet (29997)

      I wouldn't even want to automate the lights or the coffee pot. It's trivially easy to flick a switch when you enter/leave a room, and it's also easy to prepare the coffee, and do something else (fix a sandwich, use the bathroom, comb your hair), while it is busy. The advantage is that the coffee is guaranteed to be fresh and hot, exactly when you need it, even when I decide to snooze for an extra 15 minutes.

      • by Anrego (830717) *

        I have my lights set up to gradually fade on about 10 minutes before my alarm goes off. Beyond this and possibly having lights go on/off for home security ... there really isn't much point. Having motion sensors turn lights on when you walk in/out is cool for about 10 minutes .. when it even works (and doesn't require you wave an arm around every once in a while while in the room).

        • by Anrego (830717) * on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @12:51PM (#36084866)

          Forgot to add:

          Automated coffee maker... need that. I'm one of those guys with the IQ of a house plant up until about 10am. If I tried to make coffee in the morning, assuming I somehow mustered the ambition, I'd probably boil my keys and put the coffee grounds in my pocket or something.

        • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @01:03PM (#36084964) Homepage

          The lights in my office at my last job were on a motion sensor. Let me tell you, the office of a computer professional is about the worst place for motion activated lights: ::tap tap click tap tap {light out} {sigh} {wave at sensor} ... tap tap tap tap {lights out} {sigh}...::

          • There just isn't a mod-option for me to choose for this post. Because of the line-of-sight between myself and the sensor is disrupted by a divider, the lights going off is an awkward reminder that everyone else left the room... at least no one sees me having to stretch out and wave over the divider for the sensor to see me.
            • by spydum (828400)

              If only the security/automation could be programmed to talk -- a portal/portal 2 sound pack would be awesome.
              "Target lost.. Are you still there?" from the sentry bots.. 30 seconds before the lights power off due to inactivity.

          • I think the best is when a room full of university students taking an exam abruptly find themselves sitting in the dark when the lights time out. Since no one knows where the motion sensor is to wave at it, you find everyone including the professor wildly flailing their arms around for a moment.

          • by SomePgmr (2021234)
            I have the same problem. And worse, it's not how we planned to build out the offices... it was a code requirement.

            Sometimes the zeal to go green, however well intentioned, can be a real pain in the ass.
      • by vlm (69642)

        I wouldn't even want to automate the lights or the coffee pot. It's trivially easy to flick a switch when you enter/leave a room, and it's also easy to prepare the coffee, and do something else (fix a sandwich, use the bathroom, comb your hair), while it is busy. The advantage is that the coffee is guaranteed to be fresh and hot, exactly when you need it, even when I decide to snooze for an extra 15 minutes.

        That's why I use MisterHouse, to turn the lights off when the kids leave the room and forget. The way snoozing is handled is motion sensors. The motion sensing is also adaptive based on time (get a signal at 1am? Stay dark until switch is hit; on the other hand, get a signal within an hour after "wake up time" and then ...)

        Also my motion sensing security lights, and a few other things, adapt their schedule to the changing sunrise / sunset times. Its not as trivial to flick lights on and off when carryin

        • by Culture20 (968837)
          How much energy do the motion sensors and computer use compared to the lights? I applaud the geekiness, but it doesn't seem as energy efficient (assuming that is the goal).
          • by 0123456 (636235)

            Particularly if they're CFLs, which die fast if you keep turning them on and off for short periods.

          • by vlm (69642)

            How much energy do the motion sensors and computer use compared to the lights? I applaud the geekiness, but it doesn't seem as energy efficient (assuming that is the goal).

            No, that's not the goal at all. Energy efficiency would be intelligent rather than traditional architecture, and sleeping whenever its dark. Then no lights are needed.

            The computer use is zero. Its a server that must remain powered for file server use and email server use and DHCP . .. etc etc etc. I suppose theoretically the microscopic computational load is equivalent to milliwatts of added heat, which is actually a year-round net bonus in this climate.

            The sensors round down to zero, compared to the en

        • by Arlet (29997)

          10 lines of Perl, plus installing the hardware, and rewiring the lights, you mean ?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Congrats, all you've managed to do is teach your kids that they don't need to turn off the lights when they leave a room.

          • by uncqual (836337)
            How true.

            At work there are several basins in each rest room. The faucets on all but one basin in each rest room detect (if you're lucky) your hands and turn the water on/off automatically. The remaining faucet has a conventional 'single lever' control (giving you the added benefit of being able to actually adjust the temperature) which you turn on/off manually (I assume this is for handicapped usage but don't know).

            I usually use the automatic faucets, but if there are others using the basins I will en
        • by bryan1945 (301828)

          A very awesome solution to a problem that never existed!

    • by blair1q (305137)

      I'm seriously thinking of working on a phone app that tells my sound system where I am in the house and switches speakers appropriately. Downside is that it would use battery power in the "off" state. Upside is always being where the music is. And yes, Bill Gates had this done to his house a couple of decades ago.

    • by SomePgmr (2021234)
      There's a new fossil watch that's similar to that, and I believe it's the successor to the TI dev watch (as they're now being sold on the TI store).

      http://www.metawatch.org/ [metawatch.org]

      https://estore.ti.com/MSP-WDS430BT2000D-Bluetooth-Wearable-Watch-development-system-with-Digital-display--P2447C42.aspx [ti.com]

      https://estore.ti.com/MSP-WDS430BT1000AD-Bluetooth-Wearable-Watch-development-system-with-Analog-Digital-display--P2446.aspx [ti.com]

      Seems like a neat toy to me. :)
  • Look at the collection and then try and convince me that our slow rate of progress is due to a lack of technology rather than a lack of imagination.

    What the hell does that even mean? Slow rate of progress? Lack of imagination? I'm sure it was beautiful in his head but that thought didn't cross out into the real world all that intact.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      Look at the collection and then try and convince me that our slow rate of progress is due to a lack of technology rather than a lack of imagination.

      What the hell does that even mean? Slow rate of progress? Lack of imagination? I'm sure it was beautiful in his head but that thought didn't cross out into the real world all that intact.

      Ah HAH! Begging the question! Finally, I have a chance to say "this is what begging the question is"... What slow rate of progress was he talking about? The one where we went from a cd jukebox that was 30 lbs and held 1,000 songs, to a mp3 jukebox that is .3 lbs and holds 10,000 songs in the span of about 10 years? Not fast enough for you, old timer?

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        The CD was first sold 1982. The IBM PC-compatible iPod, the first popular MP3 player, was not released until 2002. So twenty years, which is pretty long time to wait.

        • There were a few in the late 1990s, but they didn't take off until iPod in 2001.
        • by jeffmeden (135043)

          CD != CD Jukebox... You missed the point. Try again.

        • CD jukeboxes didn't really hit the ground until around 1990.

          And in 1990, the basic multi-changer was a plastic cartridge type device that you loaded with 5/7/10 CDs and then inserted it into the unit. Very similar to the modern units that you install in the car. There were also designs around 1990 that let you put a few dozen (hundred?) into a unit that fit on your A/V shelf. Those systems cost an awful lot.

          For a modern version that fits on an A/V shelf, look for the Sony CDP CX355, which holds 300 C
    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Look at when the mouse was invented. We switched from ball to optical/laser, one button to a few more, but the principle of the interface is, in general, the same. That was what, 35ish years ago? Keyboards are much older than that. That's the kind of thing he was taking about.

      Nonetheless, the statement doesn't seem to show much in parallel with his gallery, which shows a lot of creativity at performing a task within the scope of a given amount of technology.

      • by flonker (526111)

        Sorry to be a nit-picker, but the original mouse had 3 buttons, and was invented 50ish years ago. The one button mouse concept was an Apple idea, and that was 35ish years ago.

        • by ByOhTek (1181381)

          Actually, I was thinking earlier mice were two button - I didn't realize they were 3 buttons. I knew the reduction to 1 was an apple thing.

    • It's a code. Using Google Translator, I took it from Portuguese to Afrikaans to Azerbaijani, Vietnamese, Chinese, Latin and back to English, and suddenly it all becam clear:

      "To abuse it and I shall manage the more slowly than the degree of progress is the lack of the imagination, not technical it is attached. "

      Hope that helps.

  • You know, that music "decision" engine ?

    • by fermion (181285)
      In as much as the article is about tech that was not successful, the Zune should have been at the top of the list. No matter if the Zune was the best music player that ever was or will ever be designed, it was a flop. The only reason anyone knows about it is because MS has a huge budget to market it and pay people to sell it. It might have failed because it could not complete, or was irrelevant, or was the ugly color of stuff that we don't want to see, but the fact is it is not more. OTOH, MS Windows mo
  • A Dozen? (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @12:10PM (#36084410)

    For every good design there are a dozen failed concepts

    We're at Windows 7. Only 5 more to go!

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by smooth wombat (796938)

      No, Windows 7 will suffice. Those who were involved with its "design" should be taken out back and beaten together until they are bloody pulp.

      There are simply too many "design" issues to list here, but the overall point I'm trying to make is it sucks. Badly. It's almost as if Microsoft was trying to make it impossible to perform the simplest takes.

      I want to say that people who "designed" this crap had never heard of UI testing or the KISS principle, but for what they get paid, I find that hard to believe.

  • Gah! I've been wanting one of these for a long time. Actually, I can't figure out why a mouse beat out something like this: I mean, schools dropping handwriting is stupid, but that being a reason for this being a failure is equally stupid.

    Pop quiz: how many here have had to create an electronic signature with a mouse? Or have signed documents, and then sent the jpg of the signed doc?

    Or, for that matter, wanted to draw or trace something in, say, Gimp?

    • by Anrego (830717) *

      As they mentioned in the entry: writing tablets. A cheap bamboo tablet (you can get these in the sub $100 range) gives you most of the same functionality.

      I'm all for the death of handwriting and specifically signatures. Won't happen for a few generations, but damnit, MY CHILDRENS CHILDREN WILL HAVE THE PAPERLESS OFFICE!!!

    • Pop quiz: how many here have had to create an electronic signature with a mouse?

      The crypto program wanted me to generate some "entropy" by jiggling the mouse. Does that count?

    • Actually, I can't figure out why a mouse beat out something like this: I mean, schools dropping handwriting is stupid, but that being a reason for this being a failure is equally stupid.

      Mice are cheaper to make and work very well as a pointing device. A pen serves both as a pointing device and data input device, but does neither exceptionally well for many uses. A pen/styles was designed for a different technology (paper) which works very well but is not (usually) better as a pointing device for a computer, nor is it (usually) better for (non-math) data entry than a keyboard. Computers use two devices which are individually better at certain tasks than a pen/stylus when the interface is

  • by mu51c10rd (187182) on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @12:15PM (#36084462)

    Why do I sense a large number of Slashdot users hitting up eBay and Craigslist looking for number 5?

  • phah! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thud457 (234763) on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @12:31PM (#36084646) Homepage Journal
    It's not a definitive list of tech failures without the ::cue::cat ! That changed everything! We never browsed the web the same again!

    Hey, whatever happened to their :CRQ "audible URL" technology that was going to allow us to directly link tv advertisements for fine products to the web?
    • It was ahead of its time.
      QR Codes [wikipedia.org] are starting to pop up near everywhere. You just need a smartphone. I love them. No more having to punch in a URL when I'm reading the paper, if I'm interested in an Ad, I just take a picture of it.

      You can also make your own. [appspot.com] Put your 'business card' on the back of your business card and save people from having to type it in. Numerous other uses.

    • Hey, whatever happened to their :CRQ "audible URL" technology that was going to allow us to directly link tv advertisements for fine products to the web?

      It became audio ID apps like Shazam.

    • by Shotgun (30919)

      I still have mine. Found it in the closet the other day.

  • The /. headline is wrong - the iPod is on the list.
    • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @12:49PM (#36084828)

      The /. headline is wrong - the iPod is on the list.

      To you and all the other commenters complaining that great things like iPods and Etch-a-Sketches are on the list: you clicked the wrong link. Actually RTFS and you'll see that the links go to two separate lists, one of failures and one of successes. It would have taken you less time to read the relevant 3 word description of each link than it took you to click the wrong link, come back here and post a complaint, you know.

      • by jdastrup (1075795)
        To you and all those commenters complaining about the commenters that complained about an incorrect headline, you may want to read the headline again. A better headline would be Vintage Collection of Successes and Failures.
      • Actually RTFS and you'll see that the links go to two separate lists, one of failures and one of successes.

        Did you actually click on those two links? Click on the first link and you find the text of the summary in the first paragraph, along with the second link. So that means we have a choice between a blog entry about the Buxton collection and the Buxton collection itself.

        So yes, the headline is wrong. This is not a list of failures, but of notable devices - some of which were commercially successful, but that was not the criteria for the collection.

    • Not all prototypes: most of the items I see in the collection are production models. Not all failures: quite a few of the items dominated a market niche during their time, even if they didn't take over the world and find a home on every desktop, and are still available for purchase.
  • FrogPad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by christurkel (520220) on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @12:39PM (#36084742) Homepage Journal
    The frogpad was not a failure. I work for a not for profit serving the disabled and we used FrogPads all the time. It was insanely useful for those with limited hand movement. It sucked when they stopped making them.
    • Looks like the company may be back in business, check their website.

    • by kEnder242 (262421)

      Frogpad is great! On a whim, I learned the right handed frogpad (left handed mouser), it takes some getting used to. I recommend practicing with any normal keyboard learning software. You won't get 40wpm but 30 is attainable. This was invaluable when I broke my wrist a few years later. None of that ping pong to each side of the keyboard.

      There is a app for the iphone and I believe a new batch of these keyboards are on the way. If you are considering blue-tooth, be warned that although it uses USB to cha

  • Generally, it is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear "tech failure". And being as everything that was new and exciting the last time this site worked properly is now "vintage" I think that label applies here just fine as well.
  • Not sure how you could categorize an Etch-A-Sketch as a failure. Thousands if not millions of these things had to have been sold since 1960
    • I'd also say he left off some newer stuff too.

      I mean, the joystick as an input device, not joypad, joystick, has evolved significantly.

      From leaf switches, to microswitches, then branching off between Euro style joysticks(Suzo brand), American style(Happ brand), Korean(Crown, etc), Japanese(Sanwa brand, etc)... then optical, then hall effect, inductive...

      Not only that but hardy arcade quality parts are now showing up in Consumer goods! Finally!

    • by Zedrick (764028)
      What's wrong with the first Amiga mouse or the 1351? Sure, they're not as good as today's mice, but they're not failures. Also, the Commodore joystick might look a bit sad, but it's actually quite decent and durable.
  • http://www.hpmuseum.org/hp01.htm [hpmuseum.org]

    LED Calculator watch. From 1977. Waterproof to 10 meters, and Magnetic-Field-Proof to 60 Gauss.

    Sometimes I feel we're working backwards here.

  • Failed? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @01:07PM (#36085002) Homepage

    The handeykey Twiddler is still in production and still used by many. It's a godsend to people with disabilities.

    Frnaklin ebookman worked great for when it was viable. It's failure was that publishers were afraid of ebooks. it had good readability unti lthe Rex came about with a far better screen. Both were ahead of their time and only "failed" because of publishers.

    A lot of that stuff were far from failures. they were designed for a specific task. the 3d mousing devices are STILL used to this day in high end 3d CAD.

    I think the submitter needs to understand what "failed" means.

    • by jdastrup (1075795)
      In no way am I criticizing your post, because I think you are correct, but I think it's interesting how many others have complained about the headline using the term Failed and then include a list of successs, yet they get ripped on for not clicking the other link, not RTFA, etc

      I guess when your ./ ID is 5 digits, you get modded up instead of mocked
    • Re:Failed? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday May 10, 2011 @02:04PM (#36085680) Homepage

      I think the submitter needs to understand what "failed" means.

      He's mostly using "failed" in the conventional marketdroid sense - they didn't fly off the shelves making the corporation manufacturing them and those investing in them buckets of cash.
       

      A lot of that stuff were far from failures. they were designed for a specific task. the 3d mousing devices are STILL used to this day in high end 3d CAD.

      That's true of many of the items in the collection.
       
      He labels the overblown Swiss Army Knife [microsoft.com] as a bad design - while failing to consider the purpose of the design. (As a collectible/art piece, which he tacitly admits it was a success at.) The next knife down [microsoft.com] he's equally dismissive of. But he fails to consider that a) there are other methods of carrying (a belt pouch for example), or b) that there *are* people who constantly have something it will fit into handy (a photographer and his camera bag, a fisherman and his tackle box, etc..). The lowest knife [microsoft.com], which he praises, has so little functionality it's only real use is to be impressive to the guy in the next cubicle over because you're the Guy Who Always Has A Knife.
       
      The same with the Nikon Coolpix 100 [microsoft.com]. He seems utterly unaware that there are a huge number of cameras out there... My little Canon A1200 [canon.com] has no extra chargers or cables either.
       
      He praises the Olympic Memory Stick Thumb Drive [microsoft.com] - but take away the 'cool' packaging, and it's just another thumb drive. Maybe he keeps the 'cool' packaging as an art piece on his desk, but I suspect he's one of the few.
       
      Overall Mr Buxton is really, really bad at evaluating the success or failure and the usefulness or not of many of the items he has in his collection.

      • by kat_skan (5219)

        Overall Mr Buxton is really, really bad at evaluating the success or failure and the usefulness or not of many of the items he has in his collection.

        Perhaps, but my impression is he's not collecting them because they were successful or failures per se. He's collecting them because they're interesting. Honestly I think the real failure here is the submitter, whose only thought when he came across a gallery of 30 years worth of input devices was to point and gawk at the weird ones.

        • Overall Mr Buxton is really, really bad at evaluating the success or failure and the usefulness or not of many of the items he has in his collection.

          Perhaps, but my impression is he's not collecting them because they were successful or failures per se. He's collecting them because they're interesting.

          Then why did he label so many of them as successes or failures, giving specific reasons why?

          • by kat_skan (5219)

            I never said he wasn't labeling them as successes or failures, just that I don't think that's specifically the criteria he used for including them in his collection.

      • by antdude (79039)

        Bad indeed. I am wearing my second CASIO Data Bank 150 calculator watch (my first one's mode button came off and battery signals blinking) and Kraft KC3 joystick (loved its splitter cable connector) was good when I used it during my Apple //c and early IBM days.

      • Overall Mr Buxton is really, really bad at evaluating the success or failure and the usefulness or not of many of the items he has in his collection.

        kat_skan is right.
        There's actually two separate articles in this submission. Bill isn't judging the success or failure all the devices in the collection, so the headline doesn't fit. Chris, on the other hand, picks out 5 to make fun of.

      • by Bo'Bob'O (95398)

        Overall Mr Buxton is really, really bad at evaluating the success or failure and the usefulness or not of many of the items he has in his collection.

        Clearly why he fits right in at Microsoft.

        Lots of great talent, but they never seem to know how to use it.

    • If you look at the linked page, the collector says these are "input and interactive devices that he found interesting, useful, or important," not (as the submitter read into it) "failed."

      I'd imagine a high percentage of the collection did fail in the marketplace, simply because there's no point adding a normal PC mouse, for example, to a collection. But neither is this a random collection of crappy failed products, which would be endless and not very valuable.

      I have one of the products, a wireless keyb

  • Amazon Kindle a failure? There is a difference between vintage prototypes, and failures...
    • by Relayman (1068986)
      This is not a collection of prototypes of failures. A lot of the pieces look like production units and the Etch-A-Sketch is definitely not a failure. I'm not sure where the OP came up with the title.
    • Overall Mr Buxton is really, really bad at evaluating the success or failure and the usefulness or not of many of the items he has in his collection.

      Actually, his comments are not evaluating the success or failure of these devices, but rather whatever he notices about them.

      There's actually two separate articles in this submission.

      Bill Buxton's collection is simply a collection of interesting input devices he's gotten over the years. Yes, he makes comments on them, but it's mostly to show off something unique or special about it. Or about why he may or may not use it. Or maybe some history. It's just comments.

      The other article, from some guy named Chris,

  • by gr8_phk (621180)
    Where is Microsoft Bob?
  • Server Error in '/' Application.

    The resource cannot be found.

    I guess the list itself is a tech failure, and thus belongs on this list?

    FULL INCURSION COMPLETE.

  • Anyone else look at the first page and think that "Experience in PivotViewer" was the first example of tech failures? I was looking all over the page for a "page 2" or "next" link.

  • for a Microsoft Research page, there's a notable dearth of examples of Microsoft hardware.
    Draw your own conclusions from that...
  • I don't know if there is some issue on my end of the line. But, gosh, these pages take forever to load and it keeps thrusting silverlight on your face. If you cant handle Firefox + NoScript, I am out of here. On second thoughts, add that web page to your collection failed gadgets.
  • That Timex Datalink watch had an optical sensor. You download data to the watch by holding it in front of the CRT monitor. The software "blinks" and outputs bars on the screen, that is read by the watch to store phone numbers and reminders. It was a microsoft brandname watch with the Microsoft logo. I used it for some 12 years before it conked out. Came with a huge battery that lasted all 12 years. Everytime someone accused me of being biased against Microsoft, I used to show them my watch. "If I am biased,
  • If the point of the post is to showcase "PivotViewer," I am certainly unimpressed. After taking a long time to load, it presents me with a lot of baffling animated bling that fails to help me understand what he's getting at.

    The original Mac "zoomrects" helped you understand intuitively that the window was another view of the same entity as the icon. A good example of using animation to clarify a UI abstraction. The little files with wings flying from folder to folder when you copy files in Windows is silly-

  • Anyone who has actually gone to the site might notice that many of the items there aren't failures, unless you consider the Ipod G1, G2, G3 and Touch to be failures. The Palm Pilot a failure? The IBM Trackpoint a failure? I think not. Most of the mice in the mouse section, not failures. Etch-a-sketch? One of the most successful toys ever, a technical failure? Swiss Army knives, a failure?
  • Well, I guess it didn't really FAIL, it was very cool and effective. However, it failed in the log haul but gave a peek into the future of personal video recording with small and convenient tapes, along with a small and lightweight camera. Quality was terrible, and the batteries lasted for crap. Oh well, we didn't have the tech we do now. I thought it was really awesome having one, even when I was probably 8-9 and got it at a yard sale. I always wanted the monitor setup, but no stores around here sold
  • I've had the white part of that Spectrum Ring Mouse thingy for a few years now. It was a pain trying to figure out what it was, as it only has "Spectrum" on it, and that that is a search nightmare.

    Now i know what it is. Even got some pdf's for it.

    woot!

    still probably sit in the box it's in though...

  • Not even close. Perhaps that generation was, but check out the pens from Livescribe [livescribe.com]. Not only do they digitize everything you write, they also record the audio going on at the same time and sync it to the handwriting. Touch a spot in your notes to hear what was being said at that time. You can even upload the animated file of your writing with synced audio.

    There are a couple of really nice uses for one of these,

    • Taking notes in class. For anything that isn't straight text (math, chemistry, graphics

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