The Scanner I Wish I'd Had While I Was Researching My Book


This handheld scanner looks like an admirable connector of the physical and digital worlds.


When I wrote my book about the history of green technology, I availed myself of every digital resource I could get my hands on. JSTOR, Google Scholar, Google Books, all the proprietary databases I could get my hands on at Berkeley. All of it. But there were times that the resources I needed -- ephemera, books, etc -- were not available in a digital format.

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For example, the precursor to today's National Renewable Energy Laboratory was called the Solar Energy Research Institute. The documentation of SERI's first 10 or so years of existence were rather well documented in technical reports and such -- but those reports reside in a musty library in Golden, Colorado. No one else had access to them, and I only had a few days to get as much information out of there as possible. So I brought a camera and painstakingly photographed hundreds and hundreds of documents. It was a huge hassle and the quality of the digitization was adequate but nothing more.

So it is with excitement and dismay (why didn't I have this?!) that I introduce you to the PlanOn ScanStik, which was just announced today. About the size of a big fat pen, the handheld scanner lets you simply roll the thing down a page to capture it. They say it takes about four seconds. Mind you, I haven't had the chance to play with it, but from afar, this could be amazingly good research aid.

Flatbed scanners are great, but you don't really want to lug them around and I always worry about the bindings of old books because of how you have to press them down to get a good scan. The ScanStik seems like it would have been a great tool for me, although at $160, it's about $100 more than I'd like.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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