If you can’t bring the information to the scanner

By | April 3, 2000

If you can’t bring the information to the scanner…
Do you remember your college days? Days, not daze.

Well, for me, one of the things I remember was research projects and the hassle involved. Once I found all of my source information, I’d usually have to photocopy the pages with the information. Most of these reference journals weren’t allowed to be checked out, so I’d plunk down a nickel a page.

After I’d gotten back to the dorm, I’d read over the pages and highlight the necessary information with a marker. After all of that, I still had to type the information into my report.

Work is really no different, even though technology has tried to help. We get faxes in, we scan business cards, we photocopy necessary customer documents, but we still involve a step of added paper and a step of hand-typing. Some of us even go one step further and run these through an optical character recognition (OCR) program.
For insurance professionals who take the business to the client’s office, the problem is still the same. What do you do? Well, you could whip out your digital highlighter.

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Scan, save, share
Recently, the folks from Siemens/Pocketreader LLC (www.pocketreader.com) sent me one of their Pocketreader units to review. I’ll have to admit, I was a little leery at a handheld scanning device that retails for $99.

Packed into a gadget no bigger than a Baby Ruth candy bar is a full-fledged OCR device capable of scanning and converting text from 8-16-point type into electronic textÐready to be dumped into e-mail, word processing documents or other applications. An LCD screen shows the data as you scan over it and can hold up to 40,000 charactersÐtranslating out to about 20 pages of text. All that one has to do is center the line of text in the scanning area and press down. The spring-loaded wheel triggers LEDs that increase the contrast of the text to the page enhancing recognition. The Pocketreader also lets you make minor editsÐdeleting text after scanning and adding carriage returns.

Once you’ve done your scanning, the device plugs into your computer with a serial cable. Using the included PReader software, your transferred data can be saved in Rich Text Format (RTF) or cut and pasted straight into your documents.

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Steady now
But how does it work? Well, the first few times I ran some scans, I kept getting the “line lost” messageÐmeaning I’d gotten nothing. It took a little practice to be able to hold the device straight and move it at a fairly smooth and uniform speed. It didn’t really matter if it was fast or slow, just as long as I was consistent.

While geared for recognizing “standard” serif and sans serif fonts, I found it to be very good at reading almost any normal font. The color of the font didn’t matter too much, providing there was enough contrast (not too good with red letters).

The software is pretty handy, especially with the ability to cut and paste or save into RTF. This made it really easy to maintain spacing, returns and minor formatting. It can be used with Macs and PCs, and the serial port is not too badÐjust slow. USB or infrared would be a nice feature to consider in newer models.

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Quality versus quantity
For research and information gathering, this could be a very worthwhile investment. I used it to scan paragraphs from books and reports as well as names, addresses and contact information from business cards. Instead of collecting business cards at a trade show or meeting and hand-typing it in, the Pocketreader can take care of it for you.

However, I would hesitate to use it for information where every letter has to be completely perfectÐsuch as policy numbers, serial numbers or other identification numbers. The OCR capabilities are good and the LCD lets you see what the Pocketreader captured, but it’s not that good.

If it’s information that is narrated, then this device is worth using over hand-typing. The reason is that even if the Pocketreader scrambles a letter or two, the meaning is not lost. Scanned paragraphs and text can be fixed up with a spell check-ID numbers and dates cannot. You run the Pocketreader over a long policy number, and you’ve got to make sure that every letter and number you’ve highlighted is correct on the LCD screen.

For the research and writing I do, I can see the Pocketreader being a useful tool. For those who call on their customers and review customer information, the Pocketreader sure beats the heck out of using someone else’s photocopier. With the Pocketreader, you can scan it all without having to lug around your laptop.

—————————————————————-Technocracy is a regular column designed to examine and explain new technology and how it applies to the insurance industry. Readers are encouraged to e-mail questions or comments to John Chivvis at ijwest@insurancejournal.com.

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Insurance Journal West April 3, 2000
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