Thursday, June 28, 2012

Livescribe Pens Aren't Meant to be Loaned Out

A Livescribe smartpen is "a ballpoint pen with an embedded computer and digital audio recorder. When used with Anoto digital paper, it records what it writes for later uploading to a computer, and synchronizes those notes with any audio it has recorded. This allows users to replay portions of a recording by tapping on the notes they were taking at the time the recording was made. It is also possible to select which portion of a recording to replay by clicking on the relevant portion of a page on-screen, once it has been synced to the Livescribe Desktop software." (thanks Wikipedia)

I have two Livescribe pens for testing and loaning to faculty. Unfortunately, they are meant to be individual, personal devices. They have worked fine for demos but recently a faculty member was interested in using one to create content for his online class. Since I have two and rarely use them anyway, I said he should just use the one I had to make sure he likes it and wants to continue with it and, if so, we could look at getting him his own.


Of course, anyone is able to write with the pen and record. The problem is getting it to work with someone else's computer to download the pencasts and put them online to share with students. I thought I could download the Livescribe Desktop software on to his computer and have him create his own account and be able to transfer the content. The problem I didn't realize is that the pen itself is linked to my Livescribe account. I vaguely recall having to register the pen. So when we tried to make an account for him and connect my pen, weird things happened and we were unable to get it to work even when I figured out what the problem was. At that time, we weren't sure if he was going to use it, so we didn't stress.

However, he did decide to use it and I had to try and remember what we did before and determine how to fix it. To confound matters further, his Mac was just upgraded to Lion. In the end, I don't think that was a problem for this particular program though. We tried a bunch of random solutions, fully expecting that something would eventually work and we wouldn't know what it was. Here is what I can remember of this process:

  • First problem: apparently before I had changed my password to a generic one so we could share the account but I couldn't remember what it was. Of course. So I clicked "forgot password" and unfortunately it is one of those systems that takes about 10 minutes to send the email. Funny thing is that I just kept trying different options and eventually figured it. 
  • When we did authorize the computer and plugged the pen in, it didn't transfer any of the data, so we removed the pen (under Tools) thinking we could re-add it but either that is not the case or it took too long and we deemed that ineffective. 
  • We also tried uninstalling and reinstalling Livescribe Desktop with no luck.
  • On my computer (Mac with Snow Leopard), the pencasts did transfer but I couldn't get them on the Livescribe site. I hadn't put any pencasts on the site since changing the password, so it kept telling me that it was working but it wasn't doing anything. I had to go into Livescribe Connect and change my password when I finally figured that out. It would have been nice to get a prompt somewhere about that!
  • Since this process took a long time, I offered to get the pencasts off using my computer until we resolved the issue and do some additional research on my own to avoid wasting more of his time. I tried Googling but Livescribe's help info on this topic was outdated and not helpful at all. So I called Livescribe support and got some additional instructions on how to de-authorize and re-authorize Livescribe Desktop and a zip file I could run to remove a corrupt authorization certificate, just in case. Interestingly, if you hold down Control and click on Tools, you get additional functions that allow you to de-authorize the pen without wiping it of the data. 
  • Today I met with the professor and we were all ready to follow these instructions and the darn thing worked! He plugged it in and it brought up a prompt to name the pen, as if it had not seen it before. Interestingly, there was a pen already in his list of pens in Livescribe Desktop which had to have been this one. So he named it something slightly different and did update the firmware of the pen when it prompted him to (I said it would just keep prompting, so we might as well). I don't recall getting that prompt the other day. 
  • So, lessons learned: 
    1. Just keep a generic account for testing and always use that. Get people their own pen as much as possible. 
    2. Update everything.
    3. It may take a while for changes to happen with Livescribe. I wonder if some of our other attempted fixes may have worked, but we moved on too quickly. So, I guess the lesson is be patient. That's really hard when you're tying up someone's computer though. 
Image from the Livescribe website. 

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