ordinary whiteboard to web


Scanr is a Web service that claims to “convert photos of whiteboards and documents into searchable PDF files”. The ‘searchable’ bit applies to pictures of documents with typed text (see later). The service certainly makes converting fuzzy badly lit images of (ordinary) whiteboards more readable. The ‘whiteboard’ function can also be used to convert images of flip-chart pages and doodles on scrap paper as shown above. The image above was acquired on a 1600 by 1200 pixel camera in macro mode. I sent the image straight from the camera flash card to scanr as a jpeg file and a few minutes later I received an e-mail with the PDF file enclosed. I then converted the main part of the doodle to PNG in Preview and scaled the image down to 400 pixels wide in Photoshop. I could just upload the PDF file, about 250Kb which is half the file size of the original jpg file produced by the camera. These are quite large files and students who are on modem connections might not appreciate having to download half a dozen whiteboards from Moodle each week!

You can use the ‘document’ service to process images of pages from newspapers and books; below is a detail of a page from Hypertext 3.0 by George Landow as rendered by scanr. The scan preserved my comments in the generous margin of Landow’s book, not bad for a quickly taken photo – this image is reproduced actual size from the output. The real bobby dazzler is that the text is searchable from within the PDF file: on Preview on my iBook, I just searched for ‘blog’ using the Edit | Find command, and all the occurrences of ‘blog’ appeared in the search results pane. So you can use your phone camera to do limited OCR on printed text. On a Mac OS X computer running Tiger, Spotlight will pick up words in these searchable PDFs so that your photos of newspaper articles, posters, planning notices stuck on lamp posts and so on can be found again in a few months.


Perhaps I’ll be capturing a range of whiteboards next week to see how scanr copes with hotspots caused by flash, sunlight and general grungy-ness. There are a number of these Web based services around now, to-do lists, calendars, blogging systems, photo sharing sites, file sharing sites and even a site where you can print customised note paper. Increasingly we can place data online instead of keeping it locked up on our computers.

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