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Ask Slashdot: What Is the Best Note-Taking Device For Conferences? 300

First time accepted submitter Duncan J Murray writes "I will be attending a 3-day science conference soon, consisting mainly of lectures, and was wondering what people thought would be the ultimate hardware/software combo note-taking device, taking into account keyboard quality, endurance, portability, discretion & future ease-of-reference. Is a notepad and pen still king? What about an Ipad? N900? Psion 5mx? A small Thinkpad X-series? And if so which OS? Would you have a GUI? Which text-editor?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Is the Best Note-Taking Device For Conferences?

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  • Livescribe (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:35PM (#39544309)

    I think a livescribe pen may be the best choice.

    • Re:Livescribe (Score:5, Insightful)

      by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:37PM (#39544331)

      Just a pen and paper.

      No other device can keep up, and you get bogged down with operating the device, missing key points.
      Pocket recorder as backup.

      • Re:Livescribe (Score:5, Informative)

        by reason ( 39714 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:42PM (#39544397)

        Which is why a smartpen like the Livescribe helps. It is just pen and paper to operate, but it lets you upload your notes afterwards, makes them searchable, and records sound to go with your notes in case you do miss anything. Knowing that means you don't have to write every little thing down, but can stick to key points and jump to the relevant part of the audio simply by pointing to the note with your pen on your paper notes, or clicking on the uploaded version on your computer later. It can even automate most of the conversion of written notes to text.

        • by reason ( 39714 )

          I should add: The downside of the Livescribe pen for science conferences is that if you have audio recording on all day, the battery is likely to run flat by the end of the day, unless you recharge at lunchtime. The battery is fine if you only want to record written notes, so I tend to switch on audio recording only for the important talks.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Which is why a smartpen like the Livescribe helps. It is just pen and paper to operate, but it lets you upload your notes afterwards, makes them searchable

          How exactly does this improve on taking notes on a paper and scanning them afterwards?

          If anything, I'd think a Livescribe pen will have problems with you doing things like going back to make adjustments to a previous paper, or making margin notes in the presentation material.
          Plus it's bigger and more cumbersome to hold (for those of us old enough to have grown up with and learned to use the greater agility of slim pens).
          Oh, and you might run out of batteries.
          And can't use it without access to a Windows/Mac

      • Re:Livescribe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:45PM (#39544415)

        Any decent conference makes the proceedings available to attendees, so the notes that you need to take will not be the content of the various lectures.

        What you will need to do is make contacts, do a bit of social networking and get to know the other people there (who are presumably in the same field that you are). For that, nothing beats a short written note - technology is far too clunky and it doesn't impress anyone, these days.

        • by reason ( 39714 )

          Depends on the field. In my field of science, for instance, most conferences - even the best of them - do not publish full proceedings, only abstracts. Even for those that do publish proceedings, I prefer to take my own notes rather than search through thousands of proceedings papers to find details of a few interesting talks. Often, in any case, speakers will mention things that weren't included in the short conference paper they submitted six months before.

        • by pz ( 113803 )

          Any decent conference makes the proceedings available to attendees, so the notes that you need to take will not be the content of the various lectures.

          Two false suppositions in the same statement, I'm afraid. Most conferences don't provide proper proceedings, even very good ones (I run a *very* good conference, and we don't provide a proper proceedings). You're luck if you get a set of abstracts. Abstracts are not full presentations. Proper proceedings, which have fleshed out papers, won't have all of the presentations; hardly ever, at least. Each paper is never a complete encapsulation of the presentation, either since scientists are more likely to

          • Re:Livescribe (Score:4, Interesting)

            by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:55AM (#39546305) Journal

            I run a *very* good conference, and we don't provide a proper proceedings.

            You contradict yourself.

            Seriously, every conference I've been to, and every conference I've presented a paper at, has published proceedings with the full articles of the conference. If an article is not delivered to the organizers by the cut-off date for inclusion in the proceedings, it is removed entirely from the conference (some conferences also have a lightweight peer approval to keep out junk). This covers many dozens of conferences over the last 20 years. It used to be that the proceedings were in a book or several, then it was CD+books, nowadays it's often just the CD. The author may choose to put some or all of the presentation as well as the article on the CD. Even those articles relegated to poster sessions are also published in full in the proceedings, not just the articles from the oral sessions.

            Of course, there are events which only publish abstracts, but those events do not contain any articles which present a conclusion or a result. Such an event is not referred to as a conference, but as a seminar or colloquium in which people merely indicate what is being worked on, rather than presenting actual results or conclusions. Seminars and colloquia often occur between conferences, and I have attended a few which did publish proceedings, as well as those which merely published abstracts. However, their primary objective is networking among participants, and note taking at such events is minimal.

            An event whose purpose is presenting results must publish proceedings. Otherwise everything at the event is nebulous - no better than hot air - and citing any article presented there is worthless. Where can the cited article be found? What - it's only an abstract? Then it's a fraud, from any scientific or engineering viewpoint.

            • Re:Livescribe (Score:4, Insightful)

              by reason ( 39714 ) on Monday April 02, 2012 @02:20AM (#39546381)

              Again, this depends on your field. In my field, conferences are where you present your latest results before you submit them as a journal paper, or while they are being considered for publication by a journal, or are in press, or occasionally, have just recently been published in a journal.

              In my field, conference papers are worth nothing on your CV unless you are a student and they are the only publications you have. It is considered poor practice to cite conference papers (even from peer-reviewed proceedings) if there is a journal paper that you could cite instead. In general, published conference papers are read only by those who attended the conference, so they are for the most part a waste of everyone's time.

      • Re:Livescribe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:46PM (#39544419)

        Many people don't understand the value of taking notes during lectures, especially since many of them these days are accompanied by downloadable or hardcopy slide decks which would seem to make the activity superfluous.

        The reason physical notetaking works is that it forces the listener to engage the speaker actively rather than passively, and reorganize/rephrase the speaker's material in his/her own mind in real time, with room for possible challenges to the speaker's POV. At least 90 percent of the value of the notes is achieved by the end of the lecture, so if they turned out to be illegible, or the airline loses the bag on the flight home, you still have the overwhelming portion of the value. You've listened well.

        • by am 2k ( 217885 )

          Agreed, I used to doze off in lectures, until I started taking notes. Now that keeps me awake all day on conferences.

        • I used to take all kinds of notes during a lecture. Then I realized I never used them and worse, since my handwriting sucks it takes me forever to write them and I'd miss key points while scrawling things out.

          My hunch is if you put a fancy electronic note taking device in front of me, I'd spend most of the time either:
          a) fucking around trying to get the thing working
          b) fucking around doing something other than listening to the lecture (checking email, checking the clock, checking... whatever).

          Now days, I l
        • Re:Livescribe (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Mr Z ( 6791 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:52PM (#39545491) Homepage Journal

          I honestly think it depends on the person. I find if I take copious notes, it doesn't help me, and instead I am more concentrated on being a secretary taking dictation than really *listening* (as opposed to just hearing) what has been said.

          That said, jotting down a few choice notes at the right point in the presentation material can be invaluable. For me, it reminds me of the questions and confusion I had encountering the material the first time. These are likely the most interesting places to revisit anyway.

          That said, I make the assumption that the presentations are in your domain of experience, so there is a fair bit of "real time" understanding of what you're learning. There was one class in college I took copious, detailed notes for: RLS331 Religions of the Eastern World. Fascinating, but information heavy and entirely out of my element. I earned a B+, and to this day I think the notes helped more than hurt. In any other class, I never considered notes an advantage beyond serving as a flag to say "look here again".

          • Exactly what I experienced in almost every college class I took (mostly Engineering). Most of the other students seemed to want to write down what the professor is saying almost word-for-word. Normally, I focus mostly on listening and trying to understand, taking very few notes. That left me coming out of the class with a pretty solid understanding of what the lecture was about, and I could usually jump right into solving problems with it. The few times I tried taking really detailed notes, I found that I s

      • Agreed. If a permanent copy is needed it can always be scanned/transcribed later.

        I may be a geek that loves tech toys, but it's hard to beat the utility of a dumb ass pen and a big notepad. You want to get fancy? Get a few different color pens.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        +1 for the pen and paper. Plus, when you transcribe the notes, you're likely to recall more information and add to the notes in addition to reinforcing the information you've already retained.

      • I concur..Pen and Paper, then transcribe your notes to your computer--this way you've went over them twice..and organized them. This helps the memory process.
      • Just a pen and paper. No other device can keep up

        Until a month ago, I'd have agreed, but since then I've had the opportunity to use my Asus Transformer along with SuperNote. It's easily the best note-taking device I've used, and beats pen and paper because you can seamlessly use electronic recording, keyboard and touch. []

  • I like to be able to make sketches of interesting material. The diagrams do more for me than the words. The Livescribe pen captures the audio, and can play it back in association with what I was sketching at the time. The portability is great, too.

  • Go Low Tech... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:37PM (#39544335)

    Does technology *always* provide a better solution? I own an iPad, but really, a yellow pad and a pen and pencil are what I use at meetings and conferences...

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by i.r.id10t ( 595143 )

      This. No charger to worry about, no connectivity issues, no lighting issues, etc.

      Although if a PA system is being used, you may want to take a page from the Grateful Dead and ask if you can plug a recorder into the sound board...

    • I recently purchased a Booqpad case for my new iPad.... Basically, it's a case that holds an iPad-sized pad of paper on the right-hand side when you open it up, and has a place in the middle to hold a pen (or in my case, one of those combo pens and iPad stylus gizmos).

      I like the idea that with it, you're bringing both your iPad and good old-fashioned pen/paper with you, so you're ready to use whichever is more appropriate in a given situation. But what would make it much better, IMO, would be a similar case

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:38PM (#39544337)

    Pencil and Paper (if you want to digitize it later, use a sheet fed scanner or just a regular scanner).

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Pen, paper and 'highlighter', in conjunction with the print our material provided (good conferences always provide handouts).

      This way you don't double up on content provided, you highlight important bits and you add extra information or thoughts to the handouts provided. Slip extra loose pages into the handouts for additional notes and of course absent minded doodling.

  • by Freedom Bug ( 86180 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:38PM (#39544339) Homepage

    keyboard quality: full travel keys
    endurance: 8 hours on 4 AA batteries. Replacement batteries are cheap and ubiqutous
    discretion: no flip up screen
    portability: 3 pounds
    future ease-of-reference: plain text files are the easiest to search & archive

    • by steveha ( 103154 )

      I used to have a TRS-80 Model 100. I've moved on.

      I think you are lowballing the endurance; instead of 8 hours, I think it was something like 25. Crazy good battery life! But I can easily fill 24KB of RAM, and then what? You quoted 3 pounds, but I never went anywhere without the cassette recorder, the special cable, and more batteries for the cassette recorder... more like 4 or 5 pounds.

      Hardware hack: people used to get a bag of those little rubber bands used on braces, and pry off the keycaps on the keyb

    • Oddly enough, I've been using an Alphasmart Dana -- 2-week battery life on 3 AA batteries, and about $40 used on ebay. Just make sure you IR-beam or sync the data to a computer before the battery runs out or you can lose everything. Working well for me so far for just taking notes. That, plus an audio recorder on the podium works well.
  • Get a transformer prime. It can be pretty much whatever you want, and the keyboard is solid, as well as having a USB port if you need something else (could even plug a small wacom tablet if you were that hardcore). Tablet or lap-top, it will do the job.

    Bring pen and paper just in case.

    • I find the speed at which you can enter text using Swype on Android is also incredible ... up there with typing for me, although I'm not the greatest typist.

      • swype (or any similar swiping keyboard) on a tablet isn't so great.

        I also haven't found touch-typing on a tablet to be very good, although I haven't used every keyboard I must admit.

    • Utilizing the Evernote app....the Transformer Prime is the only thing I can think of that would be as good as, if not better, than [smart]pen and paper.
    • If no one mentioned it, I was going to suggest this. I don't go anywhere at work anymore without taking my Transformer Prime and it's all I use for notes anymore. I do tend to have the keyboard on and type for the most part, but some things are just easier on the touch screen. That includes diagrams, which you can't really do with a keyboard as input.

  • by JoeCommodore ( 567479 ) <> on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:38PM (#39544345) Homepage

    I've found the Ticonderoga II and linedPad to be an excellent system for taking conference notes, the graphics, though usually monochrome have had retina capabilities for decades, works with whatever style or language you know and is the envy of everyone else when their batteries fails and you keep writing.

  • OneNote (Score:5, Informative)

    by 404 Clue Not Found ( 763556 ) * on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:40PM (#39544365)

    Microsoft's OneNote is by far the best note-taking program I've ever used.

    1. Simple interface with notes divided by notebook, tab, and then sections.

    2. Fast, indexed search across all your notes

    3. Media-friendly; it's easy to insert hyperlinks, images, etc. and it'll automatically remember the source URL when you copy and paste something.

    4. Option to save notebooks to the Microsoft Cloud (Skydrive) and share them with people. Or you can just save and export as HTML, DOC, etc.

    5. Built-in audio recorder with speech recognition if you want to record lectures alongside your text notes.

    6. Easy content hotkeys -- headers, bullets, stars, question icons, priorities, to-do lists, etc.

    7. Support for inking/drawing with a tablet, including handwriting conversion to structured math equations

    Etc. It's not free and it's not open source and it doesn't run on Linux, but it's still awesome.

    • Re:OneNote (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EvanED ( 569694 ) <> on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:49PM (#39544447)

      I wasn't happy with OneNote on a standard laptop, but I used it for a while with my convertible tablet and it's almost a dream. Seriously, I complain endelessly about virtually every piece of software I use, I use different OSes at work and home in part so that they piss me off in different ways instead of all the same way... and I had virtually no complaints about how OneNote worked. A couple "this would be awesome" feature wishes, but that's different.

      So my standard answer to this question is a convertible tablet + OneNote.

      Benefits over paper&pencil is shareability, backup-ability, and (surprisingly good!) searchability. Drawbacks are high cost, heavy weight, and you have to deal with battery life.

      • by Amouth ( 879122 )

        we use use x200t & x220t 's with OneNote at work and to be honest the battery life isn't an issue unless someone forgets to charge theirs during the night.

    • Yeah, OneNote with a TabletPC (wacom style stylus) is by far the best electronic note-taking tool available. It's really second only to paper (and superior in many ways).
    • The biggest problem I had with it on an older laptop was that it was sluggish. You need to be running significant hardware to get the thing to start in less than 30 seconds.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have to go with an iPad for the range of options. You can record the audio, film the conference or take handwritten notes. If it's a three day science conference there are likely presentations what would be best filmed, and yes I know they weigh 20lbs+ in some people's eyes butt hey are lighter than your average digital camera and I'm sure a stand could be rigged up to support it.

    For other presentations audio recording may be more desirable but other times you may just want to take notes and you'd have th

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @07:40PM (#39544371)

    and hang out at the bar - you'll have a better time

  • No contest. Theft-resistant, cheap, flexible, light, and did I mention cheap. Having been to many a conference, I've never needed to copy anything out of my paper notepad that would have been significantly easier with a tablet.

    YMMV I suppose. If you haven't developed a writing callous, doing anything more than brief point form notes every few minutes will hurt.

  • It really depends on your style. It's hard to beat a pen and paper. A friend had a professor who swore that mental stimulation required special rubbing of a couple wrist bones that could only be achieved by sitting down and writing.

    For keeping the essence of certain types of meetings, as well as for individual brainstoriming, I've found mindmaps useful. Freemind [] is open-source and quite intuitive so I can keep track of the thread of the meeting and go back and edit it later.

  • Pen and paper. Nothing else even comes close.

    What problem are you attempting to solve?


  • Never runs out of juice.
    • A lined spiral bound pad. Never runs out of juice.

      I've never been able to find the battery compartment on mine, and the manual was woefully lacking.

  • iPad plus Notability (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 4phun ( 822581 )

    Apple has been equipping their own employees with Notability.

    That simple fact caught my attention so I bought a copy for myself.

    This app is on a roll with impressive updates.

    It features just about everything you can think of for a note taking app. It includes a recorder with time stamps linked to your notes so tap on part of your note and hear what was being said when you created that part. It has support for drawing, neat handwriting, and typed input.

    You can add photos on the fly along with web pages, PDFs

    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @08:07PM (#39544593) Journal

      I'm still disappointed with the quality of the writing available. Unless you prefer to write like a 5 year old with crayons, the iPad interface is just too low resolution (input) to produce useful text with a meaningful/efficient density. I've tried Notability in several meetings, and I find myself grabbing a steno pad or a piece of scrap paper to write down critical information.

      Of all the things I wished for this time around on the iPad, it was that it would get a Wacom-type interface with pressure sensitivity and a high resolution digitizer. I might look at the tablet sized Note that's supposed to be released this summer, but with the investment in mobile apps on iOS, I'm not sure it's worth the switch.

      • by xtal ( 49134 )

        I've tried for 10 years to find a replacement for engineering paper and a pencil.

        Hasn't happened yet. I will pay serious money for an alternative. The ipad is great but input is very low resolution.

        8.5x11" e-ink with retina resolution input is needed. It'll be awhile.

        In the mean time.. I still buy a box of engineering paper from the university bookstore every year.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The iThoughts app[1], available for Apple mobile devices, can be used for creating a sort of tree-shaped outline, with optional notes, links, and graphics on each node. iThoughts can export iThoughts maps in a variety of formats - including PDF, PNG+HTML, and some popular Mindmap formats - and supports map imports for those mindmap formats, in the same. As well as its own internal app filesystem, iThoughts can integrate with a variety of cloud storage options, including Dropbox, for cross-platform notes sy

    • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

      The iThoughts app[1], available for Apple mobile devices, can be used for creating a sort of tree-shaped outline, with optional notes, links, and graphics on each node.

      9.99USD is pretty expensive IMO.

  • A court transcriber.

  • This is the way I took notes for my MS work, and it's still my favorite for critical note-taking, short of my custom engineering pads. A thin 3 ring binder, a piece of white cardstock with heavy lines (straight or grid), and a stack of punched 3 hole plain paper. Just slip the lined sheet behind the plain paper as a guide and you get very neat notes which are uncluttered with grid for reproduction or re-copying. I've since made up custom pads with a very light cyan grid which doesn't photocopy which I use for general note taking now.

  • If you get access to the slides before the presentation, get them printed and bring the hardcopy to the lecture.
    Then write your notes in the margin beside each slide, using a pencil.
    Then you don't have to duplicate what is on the slides and you get each of your notes in context.

  • No viruses. No need to upgrade. No backups required. No power-brick or recharging necessary**. Large display with minimal weight. If you start running out of "memory", you can always shrink the font-size to extend its capacity. Works great even if you are stuck in a cramped hotel meeting room. Excellent archival properties.

    **Assumes you start out with a fresh pen. Just about any pen will outlast a 3 day conference.

  • My solutions, ordered by feasibility, best solution first:

    1.) Pen & Paper still rules. You might want to go with technical pencil and a luxury eraser. I have three pens, a Lamy Swift Rollerball ( [] ) with black ink for writing, a clear acrylic Lamy Vista Rollerball with red ink for highlighting and anotations ( [] ) and a black Faber-Castell Grip Plus ( []

  • The best (Score:5, Funny)

    by DuranDuran ( 252246 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @08:33PM (#39544777)

    The best note-taking device for conferences is a graduate student. They do good work and only require a modest amount of feeding.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @08:35PM (#39544793)

    How soon is soon? Better use what you know now rather than try to learn some new gadget on the spot. You'll waste the entire 3 day conference fiddling with it if its new to you.

    • by spasm ( 79260 )

      Seriously. I remember deciding to use a Palm III as my note-talking device at a conference in the early '00s. a) notes sucked. b) I don't have them any more. Meanwhile, the paper notebooks I used for conferences both before and after that ill-fated experiment are on the bookshelf in front of me, and once a year or so I actually read through them because they spur new ideas (and I get re-excited by my old brainfarts) every time I read them. I'm sure the tech solutions offered by others on this page are

  • by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @08:41PM (#39544831)

    Spiral-bound notebook and pen

    Scan scribbled notes and diagrams with Evernote afterwards

  • I'd like participants to have some means of recording their own talks,
    meetings, etc. - ideally by recording from a radio signal, received by
    a small receiver, connected to a Zoom H1 MP3 recorder.

    Until the "ideal" comes into existence, I'd like to "wear my H1 out-
    side on my jacket/shirt pocket" so I'd -advising- others that I'm re-
    cording our conversations, meeting, conference talk, etc. -and-
    so I don't record the noise of the H1 brushing against inside poc-
    ket-fabric, from the inside.

    (I'm also interested in

    • by Arker ( 91948 )

      I'm also interested in changing laws to allow anyone to record their own phone calls

      Many places, no change in law is needed. No federal law prohibits this in the US. 12 states have laws that might apply against it, the other 38 do not, so in most of the US this is legal. In many other countries it is too, you should check if it actually is illegal where you are before deciding the law needs to be changed.

  • Depends on your note taking style. No matter what, I would recommend a audio recording fail safe just in case you miss something or simply mishear it. If allowed.

    For when I cover meetings I switch between my tablet and pen/paper as needed. Rarely at the same meeting. Right now, the specific tablet doesn't matter if you are thinking about buying one. They all lack in the stylus department. So unless you are fine writing your notes as if holding a crayon (stylus) or a Crayola Marker (finger) you are bes

  • Some conferences might be better suited to digital note taking than others. If you are going to conferences where you need to be able to draw figures and also write text, you'll likely find that pen and paper is the only reasonable solution. If your conference is instead all text, then a laptop might work.

    Also, some conferences allow you to take photographs of the slides (while others expressly forbid it). This can be very helpful as well.

    Personally, I take all my notes by hand, pen and paper. The
  • I've had a series of small, pocket-size bound notebooks. That plus a good black pen is just enough, always works, and I don't need to carry a bag or anything.

  • Your memory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Intropy ( 2009018 ) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @11:28PM (#39545695)

    I know it sounds like I'm being a smartass, but I don't mean to be. Really, I recommend just putting down the pen, closing the laptop, turning off the tablet, and just paying attention. Everybody is going to be a little different, but since you're asking for advice, that is mine. I found early on in high school that taking notes of the pen and paper variety takes away from attentiveness in favor of trying to become a stenographer. Effectively, my attention would be split between the process of note taking and the lecture itself. And an electronic device is just that plus even more distraction. I find that when listening if there's something I do truly need to review, I'm that much more aware of that need and can go look it up with another resource (the text book, a syllabus, proceedings, internet references) after the fact.

    • Re:Your memory (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ndrw ( 205863 ) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:45AM (#39546263)

      I will also try not to sound like a smartass, but you were doing it wrong. Effective note taking doesn't mean transcribing what the lecturer or presenter is saying, it means noting the key points and tidbits of information that are interesting to you and will remind you of the rest of the material when you review it later.

  • ...but this works for me: a digital voice recorder with a good microphone (better yet, a minidisc with a tieclip or go the whole hog and use a wireless jobby and a netbook to record), and pipe it later through Dragon NS. While that's going, use as basic a notepad-type app as you can get - the temptation to format on a wordprocessor would be too great.

    As keyboards go, you don't want a clicky board, it'd distract everyone else. If you can touchtype, even better since you won't be hitting the keys, more stroki

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