The other day, I swiped some stuff at Wal-Mart. And I swiped some stuff at Publix. And I swiped some stuff at Target.
Don't get me wrong -- I didn't steal anything. I swiped it -- with a new bar-code-scanning pen from A.T. Cross.
Swipe the scanning tip of the Cross :Convergence pen across a bar code and the pen stores the code in its memory. When you get back to your computer, you can beam the codes over and instantly jump to Web sites offering more information about the items you've scanned.
The $80 pen is the first wireless device using the technology developed by Dallas-based Digital:Convergence for use in its CueCat, the cat-shaped scanners being handed out free by Radio Shack, Forbes and Wired magazines and other companies.
The scanners read bar codes on product labels as well as special Cue codes -- marked with a red ":C" -- printed in some magazines, books and newspapers.
Ideally, swiping a code will direct your Web browser to detailed online information, coupons, recipes, video clips or other content. Because the technology is new, however, the bar codes on many products simply take you to corporate home pages that provide no specific information about the items.
But the biggest shortcoming of the CueCat, as I wrote a few months ago, is that it's tethered to your computer. To scan a code, you have to bring the item to your PC -- an inconvenience most people won't put up with once the novelty wears off.
The :Convergence pen resolves that problem, letting you store up to 300 codes that you can transmit at your convenience to your Windows PC via a small optical coupler. The included CRQ software then lets you quickly jump to related Web pages without typing lengthy Internet addresses.
The pen, in a trendy translucent case, worked as advertised for me, after I got the hang of the scanning technique (a quick flick of the wrist, not a slow drag). But many of the codes I swiped led me to Web sites that were less than helpful. A couple of the bar codes weren't linked to any Web pages.
Digital:Convergence spokesman Peter Eschbach said his company has a small army of Web surfers who match bar codes with relevant Web sites. Many smaller companies don't have Web sites, he said, so there will be some misses among the hits. Companies that pay Digital:Convergence a licensing fee can specify that their codes link to particular Web pages.
There's more to this technology than advertising, however. …