By Joe Stoddard. What if your designer or lead carpenter could sketch ideas for last-minute change orders and instantly e-mail them to vacationing clients for approval? I was at a contractor barbecue when a remodeler friend whipped out his $99 Seiko InkLink. We plugged the tiny gadget's cable into his laptop and clipped the other end to a regular legal pad. Using a special ballpoint pen, we soon were capturing notes and hand sketches in the computer with impressive accuracy. Before long, contractors were crowded around, taking to the InkLink like ducks to water.

The $99 InkLink isn't the first attempt to convert hand notes to computer file, but it's the first I've seen that works. The InkLink tracks the position of the pen on the paper and sends the result to either a computer or PDA (personal digital assistant). The beauty of the system is that there's almost nothing new to learn. Even the most computer-phobic carpenter is comfortable using pen and paper to sketch ideas or add notes to your plans.

Once the sketch is saved, you can reuse the image: e-mail it, upload it to the Web, or cut and paste directly into your change order or proposal documents with no scanner or fax required. You also can collaborate with e-mail recipients using built-in tools to mark up and annotate the drawings. You don't need a jobsite printer either -- simply tear the original sketch off the tablet and leave it as a copy. For more information, go to www.seiko Stoddard, a technology consultant to the construction industry, can be reached at [email protected].