Tale of a Vandal Whiteboard User

For years, I had a wet-erase acrylic board in my writer’s room. That board did not survive the move to the Southwest. Since then, I’ve been back in traditional dry-erase land. Six of one, ay? Both styles have their pros and cons. Both wet- and dry-erase have refillable ink options these days.

While writing, I love having a list of notes hanging on my wall. Easy to see and to be reminded of something I’m not to forget.  Often, I take a photo before the board’s erased. Just in case there’s something I need to refer to (yup, that’s happened).

Hang on, there’s a tale coming, for sure.

Once upon a time—for longer than some of you have been breathing—I searched for a usable OCR product. I wanted something that would accurately translate and transfer my paper notes to digital text. At some point, that search died. The available options were too expensive and too complicated.

Enter my best writer pal—hell,  he’s my best pal—into the tale. He uses index cards like no other person on the planet. A few weeks ago, he sent me a pack of Rocketbook Cloud Cards, reusable “smart” index cards. If you know about Rocketbook, these cards aren’t news to you. But if, like me, you’ve had your head down in the prose, you miss a lot of “things” that come along in the world.

My friend was very excited about the reusability of these index cards. He wanted something that cut down his use of paper, and these cards are it for him.

To reuse a card, simply take a damp cloth and wipe the card clean. I’ve only used two of the cards because I keep reusing the same two.

I haven’t gotten the hang of these cards yet. But I am looking forward to a future project that will require many index cards to get it going.

Hmmm… OCR:  Not only are the cards reusable, but the Rocketbook app can take a photo and transcribe a neat scrawl into digital text. “Neat” because my normal scrawl is unreadable by the best of OCR products. (OCR = Optical Character Recognition.)

Below is an example with just my normal scrawl. First up is the jpg of what I wrote on the index card, followed by the OCR transcription. (In fairness to the transcription, I did write two typos: “recommend” instead of “recommends,” and “by” instead of “buy.”)


Rocketbook transcription. The long title name is the default title created by the app. You can control the title name with hashtags.

Pretty horrible, ay? Not even the worst of what I’ve seen OCR do.

Below you’ll see the result of the index card where I made an effort to write neatly.

JPG of “neat” index card. I used an extra hashtag, “#2,” which slightly confused things in the transcription below.

Rocketbook transcription of “neat” index card. Note the asterisks because of the extra hashtag I used to create the title.

Much better, ay? Although, the transcriptions come out in a kind of poetry mode.

Here’s the original index card of the “neat” scrawl:

Rocketbook Cloud Card

☮ →Note: To create a title for what you’re scanning, use double hashtags. The correct usage for the above card should have been: ## OCR Sample 2 ##. (I put in that extra hashtag by mistake, trying to create “#2.”) A very nice feature.

As you can see in the above photo of the Cloud Card, Rocketbook products have a black border around pages along with a scan code in the corner. The border and code tell the Rocketbook App to scan the page and transcribe the characters into digital text, PDF, GIF, or JPG. Your choice. You can save those files to several places: eMail, Dropbox, Evernote, plus six other places that may or may not be useful to you.

☮ →Note: I tried the scanning app on an old notebook with a handwritten draft. The OCR results were, of course, completely nonsensical. YMMV if you have nicer handwriting. There’s a hack for how to get Rocketbook to scan stuff not written on their paper. Find it in one of the video links at the end of this post.

The Rocketbook App has a second option for scanning called “Beacons.” The same destinations are available to save your scans.

Beacons are reusable orange triangles sold by Rocketbook. These triangles tell Rocketbook’s App a whiteboard is being scanned. Ah… here we go…

To see if Beacons would work for me, I applied a hack to my whiteboard by cutting triangles from orange paper that we had on hand. The triangles were taped to the corners of the whiteboard. The “Beacons” scan option worked perfectly.

The orange paper triangles were not my idea. I saw the hack in this gentleman’s video:

BTW Rocketbook rightfully gets a lot of love from teachers.

The Rocketbook OCR isn’t perfect, but it works for a fundamental need—archiving my whiteboard notes.

The only option to save a Rocketbook OCR transcription to plain text is to send your scan to Evernote. You can save and send both the plain text and a jpg if you like. Everywhere else allows for a gif, jpg, or a PDF of your text. Go figure.

I want plain text, so I’m currently forced to use Evernote to obtain it. (That means I export the Evernotes and reimport them into Joplin, my notetaking software of choice.) The result, even so, is fantastic.

At the moment, my whiteboard holds a task list for editing my novel. It looks like this:

Most of the tasks are blurred out so as not to provide spoilers of the story.

Using Rocketbook App produced a great result in Evernote. All I did was modify the title:

OCR result in Evernote. Again, blurred out the spoilers of the novel. Trust me, all the text was perfect.

OCR is not new, but Rocketbook has given me an easy way to archive my whiteboard notes as TEXT. I’ve wanted that ability forever because text is—obviously— editable, but also, text is faster to search.

Digitizing notebooks isn’t new, either. Moleskine has its Evernote line. Like most Moleskine notebooks, the paper isn’t fountain pen-friendly.

I’m both elated and sad my friend brought Rocketbook into my life. Elated because of the inexpensive digitizing aspect of the whiteboard notes. Sad because the ink in the Pilot Frixion pens is so awful to write with. The ink does what it’s supposed to do: lay down on the special paper, or any paper for that matter.

But… nothing beats the sensual experience of writing with a fountain pen.

When I got into fountain pens so many years ago, it was to stop using throw-away pens. Come away to find, a good fountain pen is a delicious joy to write with.

Weary of chasing paper, I pretty much now use Rhodia pads for hand-drafting because the quality is beyond excellent, and the company harvests the paper using sustainable forestry.

Yet, the lure of a product that’s reusable and 100% recyclable (including the binding) is quite powerful. But there is no fountain pen ink equivalent to Pilot Frixion erasable ink. A fountain pen can’t be used on a Rocketbook product.

The Frixion ink’s not great but is at least refillable. The pens aren’t ergonomic, but they could be hacked to make the grip more comfortable. And there’s always a Pilot Metropolitian rollerball to use with Frixion refills. Dunno. Honestly, dunno.

Rocketbook has me rethinking everything, from my Hobonichi planner to my Rhodia notebooks.

There will be a strong place in my writing life for the Rocketbook Cloud Cards and a prominent place for the whiteboard archiving. The Rocketbook notebooks themselves, I’m not so sure at all.

To experiment, I got a letter-size top-flip notebook:

Rocketbook letter-size flip on top of a Rhodia No.18 top-bound notebook

Now that Rocketbook has been acquired by Bic, will Rocketbook change? For the good or not so good? Oh, dear.

I’ll likely be more careful with my scrawl on the index cards and the whiteboard. But for drafting stories? I don’t have enough time left in this world to adjust my handwriting.

I love writing first drafts by hand.

So the big question is:  am I willing to use Rocketbook to draft stories to save paper?

The current plan is to write a flash fiction story in the Rocketbook flip.

Long time readers of the blog: I bet you didn’t see this twist coming, did ya? Don’t worry. Fountain pens aren’t going away.

Maybe it’s all about the index cards and the whiteboard for me.

More to be revealed as we write along.

Thanks for reading, dear friends. Be careful out there. Keep your masks handy and avoid those COVID variants as much as humanly possible.

See you anon—

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