Jul 28, 2009
Livescribe’s Pulse Pen: The Sequel!
Posted in: MIT Facts
Back during IAP of last year I wrote an entry about a brand new "toy" I bought at the MIT bookstore. This "toy" was Livescribe's Pulse Pen, and looking back at it I realize that that entry sounded a lot like a commercial, like Livescribe had slipped me a $20 under the table to write an entry. The truth? They hadn't, I just bought the pen, was SUPER impressed, thought it was important for prefrosh to know about it, and did a video review and blog entry about it.
I used that pen all last semester and loved it. I'll keep it into grad school and even after that. But why am I talking about it now? That's old news, nobody wants to read the same stuff twice, but Livescribe reared it's head again in my life, so up comes another blog entry.
I saw an ad on Facebook for the "Livescribe Campus Rep Program," a way for Livescribe to have people distribute pens, run demos, and introduce the Pulse pen to people on their campus. It's a smart move, really, because the pen sells itself the instant somebody tries it, but there's really no way for people to try it unless somebody shares it with them. I figured this out 10 minutes after buying my pen, when I showed it to a couple of people in the room. Chris M (of blogger fame) has one now, so does my Toy Design professor, and my friend Ben, just after seeing what my pen did.
"Well shoot, I've already sold like three of these pens, I might as well work for Livescribe and get paid to do it, right? Plus, it's an awesome product that I'm totally behind and absolutely believe will help people with school, why not tell people about it?"
I applied for the job and after a couple of phone interviews and some headshots (for you FPS people, we're talking cameras, not RPGs) I officially got the job! As a college student, employment is awesome, it lets us eat, and it's something to brag about. Livescribe was interested in another person from MIT helping out as well, so I recommended Chris, since Chris and I are friends, see each other often, and both own the pen. More headshots, more interviews, and then Chris had a job!
After the job offer we were immediately put in touch with a travel agent to book a flight to Oakland CA for training. A free flight. With a travel agent. This was a totally new, foreign experience for me. Somebody else booked the flight, somebody else paid, and all I had to do was show up at the airport and get on the plane. Now I know why rich people use travel agents! My flight was scheduled for July 24th at 10 in the morning. You're all applying to MIT, you can do math, and you probably realize that that was on Friday. It's now Tuesday. Is this a blog entry about my trip there? Of course!
On Friday I showed up to the airport and was greeted by a super long line that I thought would take forever to get through. Not that I was concerned, there was plenty of time, but till, who wants to wait in line?
I made it through relatively unscathed (they took my hair gel and my toothpaste!!!) and then surfed the internet until my flight (thank god for airports with free wi-fi). The flight was short, since I'm in Oregon for the summer, just an hour and a half, and then *poof!* I was in California!
I met Stacy from Purdue on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel and we chatted with our driver about what we were doing there and where we were from, typical college discussions. Our rooms weren't ready when we got there, it was going to be two hours, so instead of just sitting and doing nothing we decided to take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to San Francisco and fart around there. A nice homeless guy taught us how to buy tickets, we compensated him for his trouble, and then we hopped onto BART.
Attention MIT students, BART is SO much nicer than the T. Why?
1) It's carpeted.
2) It has plush seats.
3) It doesn't smell like train.
San Francisco was fun, we walked up a giant hill and then back down. We saw some awesome creepy skeleton guys
grabbed a burger from In and Out Burger, I got some calamari, walked the boardwalk, saw Alcatraz off in the distance, and then took a cable car back to BART for the trip back. Back at the hotel I listened to some music and unpacked, waiting for Chris to show up (we were roommates). Items of note in the hotel room include a tv (rarely used), an iPod compatible alarm clock (used extensively) and a mirror (used to take a picture of me).
Chris showed up at 6 and then at 7 we headed downstairs for dinner.
We walked into dinner, I wearing my Burton-Conner shirt and he wearing his typical business-casual attire, and were met with a spread of food, a projector with Wii Bowling displayed, an entire wall of cardboard boxes, and mingling college students. We were spotted by somebody who obviously worked for Livescribe and they came up and greeted us.
"Hi! How are you?"
"Good. My name's Michael." "And I'm Chris."
"Nice to meet you, where are you from?"
"Ah! Our MIT guys, excellent! Well, come on over here, we'll get you all set up!"
We were led over to the cardboard boxes. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I was unaware that I'd be getting any free stuff on this trip. I thought owning your own Pulse pen was a requirement and that we were only going to be given two pens for loan and demo purposes. I, as I was quickly shown, was very wrong.
I was handed a brand new, 2 gig pen, 4 spiral notebooks, two lined journals, and a giant cardboard box.
"Ok, here's all of your stuff. In here you have your two loaner pens and notebooks, plus your new pen and a bunch of paper for you."
"Really? We get a pen and paper?"
"Oh sure, yeah, that's for you."
"Absolutely. Now come over here, we'll get you your hoodie."
Chris and I were each given a hoodie (which, sadly, I lost on the airplane on the return flight) and wandered back up to our room to ditch our stuff so we could enjoy an unladen dinner. I snapped a picture of all the free swag laying on the bed.
Back downstairs for dinner, Chris and I did our best to shed the anti-social MIT stereotype and mingle with everybody. We were surprisingly successful, chatting with a bunch of people, telling stories, and getting to know about all sorts of other colleges around the country. Throughout all of it we kept getting grabbed by people who worked for Livescribe and talked to, mostly about how the CEO, Jim Marggraff, was an MIT alum and that he really wanted to meet us.
"Jim asked us to compile a list of all the campus reps and list them next to their headshots so that he could learn all your names before you got here. He looked through the list, found you two, and said 'Ah, these are my MIT guys.'"
Little did we know, that was when we earned our title, "The MIT Guys." For the rest of the weekend that's what we were called, which was totally fine by me. We sat down at a table for dinner and chatted, ate our fajitas. I went up to get some more fajitas and was intercepted by Jim.
"Hi Michael, how are you?"
"Very well, nice to meet you!"
We chatted for a little bit, mostly about his alma mater and my current asylum (I'm sorry, calling MIT an asylum isn't nice). He asked if I lived in Burton house and I explained that now Burton house is Burton-Conner because they added a new building to it. Then I asked to see his brass rat, which was pretty awesome, class of 82. They looked a lot different back then, they've definitely come a long way. That's when Chris wandered up and joined the conversation. He explained that he lived in Simmons (which, again, didn't exist in 82). After chatting some more I wandered off and rigged up some Rock Band (sans drums) while Chris went back to the table.
I attempted Rock Band for a while but eventually blamed lag and sticky strumming for my suckiness and retreated back to the table with Chris, where he had been joined by Andy Van Schaak, Ph.D., Livescribe's Senior Science Advisor. He was running Chris through a gamut of questions, talking about REALLY interesting things you could do with the pen, and picking our brains. He gave us a little mental workout concerning something I'm pretty sure my NDA prevents me from mentioning, but it was SUPER awesome and gave me a whole new respect for Andy's brilliance.
"What I really want," he said, "is for somebody to just go to town and hack the crap out of this pen. Rip it apart, see what's inside, and do something awesome with it."
"Definitely!" Chris and I agreed, "it'd be awesome to do that, but it's expensive! It's a $150 pen, we don't want to just rip it open, we're in college."
"Oh don't worry about that, I'll get you as many pens as you need, I want to see something awesome!"
wait. what? as many pens . . . as we want? to rip apart? and play with? yes please!
We stayed there for a long time, over an hour, until everybody had left and gone back to their rooms except for some lingering Rock Band players. Chris and Andy "Bump"d their iPhones together, exchanging contact info, and then we went back to our rooms to investigate our swag, debrief, and generally geek out about how much awesome stuff we had and how many brilliant and important people we had just met. Seriously, we were having geek-gasms.
We all hopped on the bus and drove to UC Berkeley while being entertained by the cheery bus driver. On the way there, 4 seats up, we heard Andy asking some of the other kids about the same things he'd talked to us about the night before, the stuff I can't tell you about because of the NDA. He was walking them through it, trying to get them to figure it out, just like he did to us, he wanted to see how their brains worked. After a while he said "You know, I asked this same question to the MIT guys and they got it in 4 minutes." There were some impressed reactions from the kids and they kept at it, trying to get the answer. I guess MIT students just think on a different, more techy tangent than other people.
We got to Berkeley and went inside, where we were treated with bagels and coffee. This was nice, because the coffee at the hotel was the bottom of the pot and burnt, not a pleasant way to start a long day of pen training.
You can see Chris there in the back right, with the name tag standing out on the dark sweater
We sat in a lecture hall, smart pens and notebooks in hand, and it began. It began with people introducing themselves, sharing which college they went to, and describing some kind of random fact or talent. I'll let Chris tell you what his talent was (it's impressive) but I did my standard "Well, I can make a cricket noise." "DO IT!" they yelled. Ok. *cricket noise, cricket noise* "OMG!"
Wait, have I never mentioned that I can do that before? Haha, sorry. Here, I'll teach you, but before I do, know that if you're a trumpet player this will be much easier for you. Step 1: Know how to whistle while sucking in, instead of blowing out. Step 2: Know how to flutter tongue. Step 3: Flutter tongue while whistling and breathing in. Ta-da! Cricket noise! Anyway, everybody was impressed and excited, and we continued around the room, witnessing back flips, creepy contortions, and other cool talents. Then we got down to business.
It's weird to see everybody using a $200 pen
So many pens!
Throughout the morning we were taught about the pen, taught about how to show people about it, which features to emphasize, how to answer questions, etc. Soon it was lunch time. We were promised $10, but first we had to demo the pen to one of the "Demo Gods" and pass scrutiny. Luckily, due to our excellent people skills blended with technical knowledge, Chris and I passed with flying colors.
So, guess who goes to Berkeley? Come on, if you're a true blog stalker you'll know this without even having to think about it. Got it? Ok, I'll tell you, Sam goes to Berkeley! Chris and I got in touch with him and he promised to show us a cool place with ginormous sandwiches and salads. During lunch we caught him up on all the goings-on of MIT, including how messed up dining is, how we lost a bunch of sports, how Hockfield met Obama, etc. He wasn't lying about the salads, btw, they were massive. I ended up with a BLTA instead, but that's probably better because there's no way I could have finished a salad of that size. Seriously.
After lunch we went back to the lecture hall and had some more training before going out and accosting Berkeley. The plan was to have little groups of "Scribes," as we were called, scattered around, giving out demos and raffle tickets to random passersby. This sounded awful to me, I hate when people stop me on the street and try to sell me stuff. Luckily, we aren't allowed to sell stuff, we just tell people about it and, in all honesty, I don't mind doing that because I don't feel as evil. I already tell people about the pen, that's cool. The raffle tickets could be redeemed at the Livescribe table we had set up in a central part of campus.
I ended up stationed at that table, and eventually ended up in charge of the prize wheel we had. That's right, every raffle ticket was worth a spin on the prize wheel, with an opportunity to win a $150 smart pen (I keep changing the cost of the pen between $150 and $200. The difference is the difference between a 1 Gig and a 2 Gig pen). Here's the thing about this wheel. There were twelve spaces, but two of them were "Spin Again" spaces. That means each person to spin had a 1 in 10 shot of getting a pen. I don't know about you, but those are some GOOD odds. The people knew it too, which is why we had a massive line and a lot of interest in the pen. We were showing people, handing out fliers, and spinning the wheel. The guy running the table, one of the head guys with us, started to worry when, after the first two spins, we'd given away two pens. That's right, the first two people both won. We had only brought 5 pens, this was going to be rough. I'll spare you the details, but in the end, after just 2 hours, we had given out 15 free pens, promising to ship the 10 we didn't have.
We all retreated back to the lecture hall and debriefed. The general consensus was that approaching random people on the street was very difficult, very awkward, and socially uncomfortable. Chris, however, was having a splendid time,
"I go to MIT, I'm in socially awkward situations all the time. I THRIVE in socially awkward situations, this was great!"
Sometime, during all of this, there was a disagreement as to the odds of getting a free pen on the wheel. Some claimed that it was 1 in 10, since the two "Spin Again" spaces could be neglected, but others insisted that it altered the odds a bit. This argument lodged itself in Chris's head and he spent a good 30 minutes doing math all over his notebook. I'll let him share the result of all the math, since it was his endeavor, but let's just say that we looked pretty freaking cool standing outside Berkeley, me with laptop open and Mathematica running, while he fed me equations.
And I'm not kidding. Seriously. Scribes kept coming up and asking us what we were doing, wanting us to explain the math to them, and show us how it worked. This was weird. At MIT, ok, maybe somebody would ask, but we were surrounded by former models, marketing and sales majors, and very much not MIT people. Chris and I were confused, but accepted it as cool. If doing math on laptops outside of Berkeley on a sunny California day made us cool and interesting, so be it.
We decided later what it was. Let's say I went to John Q. Public University and was a CompSci major. That would make me a nerd. Just a typical, ordinary, nerd. BUT -- if you go to MIT and you're CompSci or an engineer, you may be a nerd, but you're a legit nerd. You're instantly granted nerd cred, you're allowed to use and share your nerdness for the betterment of others without retribution. This is why MIT is cool.
We went back to the hotel for dinner. Dinner had more conversations and more laughter. Chris and I told the back story of the CalTech Cannon heist, the Victoria's Secret DDoS attack, procuring free pizza, chemical properties of creamer, and various other MIT neatness.
After dinner we retired to our room, again we were some of the last to leave. The evening was filled with stumbleupon, facebook, youtube, showing off 2.006 PSETs, reassuring ourselves after looking up the hotel on IJustMadeLove.com and not seeing anything, and eventually going to bed.
In the morning we met in the hotel conference room and were spoken to by Jim Marggraff, CEO. It's wonderful listening to the CEO of a company, and MIT alum, speaking about what he does. He could answer any little technical detail about the pen, listened to us complain about PRS clickers, and let us see his car.
What's special about his car? Oh, nothing, except that it's a TESLA! Don't know what a Tesla is? Fully electric, 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds, full torque for its entire range of speeds, one gear, and REALLY pretty.
We finished up the weekend with a group picture in front of the car, even showing it off to some of the other guests in the hotel, who thought it was just as awesome as we did.
Afterward we all said our goodbyes, hopped onto the shuttle, and went to the airport. I didn't have any problems with anything, hopped on my flight, and went home, laden with pens, paper, and a bunch of good stories.
It was a great trip and I had a great time! Chris and I have all sorts of exciting stuff planned for the school year, so be sure to stop by and check us out. We both have pens to loan out and we think you'll like it!
So that's that, two MIT students meeting an MIT CEO, geeking out about the coolest pen ever, given free tech swag, and now we get to let you try it.