As an undergraduate at the
university of Washington, I chose to fulfill a science requirement by enrolling
in an oceanography course. After nearly four decades, two concepts continue to
answer my needs.
First, I can do a pretty
fair job of keeping beer cold on a
hot day without refrigeration. How one does that will have to be the subject of
another article because the second concept--a thermo cline--is more directly
related to the topic at hand.
Briefly, a thermo cline is
a layer of water in a lake or ocean that separates the warm surface layer from
colder deep water. You can visualize a thermo cline as a barrier of sorts, and
there are dramatic differences in the environment above and below it.
I was reminded of the
concept while watching a group of students solve a problem. The task hand
required scheduling a series of meetings and exchanging contact information.
Countless generations of students and professionals have solved this type of
problem by circulating sheets of paper listing their phone numbers and available
meeting times. The current crop of students approached the task in a way that
told me we have passed through a social thermo cline of sorts.
Rather than circulating
scraps of paper, these students pulled out their PDAs—primarily Visors and
Palms—and began beaming information to one another. Whether their way is
faster or more efficient is open to debate. But, it certainly was more elegant
and entertaining. And, most significantly, it was a wake up call for me; I could
either join the digital generation or allow myself to slip into the category of
people my students address as “Sir!”
So, motivated more by a
desire to appear contemporary than by clear notion of what I’d do with a PDA,
I went shopping. A bit of advance research (thank you,
In the few months since my
shopping expedition, I have settled into an easy dependence on my Visor. For
those who have yet to take the plunge, here’s how I use mine along with some
notes of features I’ve chosen not to use.
Appointments and contacts
are the lifeblood of my business. In my pre-Visor dark ages, both were managed
in Outlook on my office PC, and I carried printouts of both in a leather folio.
The system was efficient and had served me well, but there were certain
annoyances. Changing an appointment, updating a contact, or adding new contacts
required editing the print outs and entering the data when I returned to the
office. Worse yet, new contacts often took the form of business cards that
usually got entered when I had a spare moment or two. I say “usually”
because I seem to have a unique knack for losing the cards. I suspect there are
several hundred curled up in suit pockets, stuffed in seldom worn shirts, or
secreted into various file folders.
Today, the folio has been
replaced by my Visor, a stable and trustworthy companion. Appointments are
recorded and contacts updated or added “on the fly” along with copious notes
about meetings, tasks, and plans. And, all of these vital records are stored in
triplicate. The original resides on the Visor while a copy is secured in Outlook
every time I update my PC—a two-minute task that experienced users refer to as
“syncing.” The third copy is on my home PC, also the result of daily
syncing. Yes, the second cradle is connected to my home computer.
Not only do I feel more
secure than in the pre-Visor days, but my drycleaner spends significantly less
time removing shred of paper from my shirts and suits.
Quicksheet by Cutting Edge
Software, Inc., was the second addition to my Visor. I don’t recall how much I paid for it, but it has paid for
itself many times over. Whether others will find it as useful depends on their
jobs. In a typical week, I may find myself in a dozen or more detailed
discussions concerning enrollment trends, revenues, budget projections, and
utilization of our facilities. In my pre-Visor days, I used to carry printouts
of Excel spreadsheets in addition to memorizing selected key metrics. Try as I
did, I seldom had either the right spreadsheet at hand or the right statistic in
mind. As a result, about a third of the discussions would end inconclusively
with all of the participants returning to their desks to dig out additional
information followed by rounds of phone calls, emails, and heaven forbid, faxes.
Now, all of the key data is
readily available to me at virtually every meeting. In addition, I can quickly
compare expected and actual performance and run various scenarios in ways that
would be impossible no matter how many printouts I carried.
Finally, I do a great deal
of my writing—including the first draft of this review—on my Visor. Ideas
seem to have lives of their own, popping up on their own schedule and rapidly
moving on if not recorded immediately. Like many creative writers, I formed the
habit of carrying note cards to capture ideas when they showed themselves.
Today, the note cards,
along with cocktail napkins and other scraps of paper, have been replaced by my
Visor’s memo function. With a bit of practice, I found the required Palm
script easily mastered and I record ideas almost as rapidly as I could write
longhand. In fact, I’ve gotten so facile that I even take notes on staff
meetings with my Visor. All of the minutes, memos, and other bits of scratching
are copied to my PCs every time I sync.
Text from the Visor memos
is readily moved to Word for final edits, printing, and distribution.
While I’ve probably
become inordinately fond of my Visor, there are a couple applications I’ve
chosen not to use. Neither the to-do list nor expense record match my work
style, but others may find them more valuable. Significantly, I’ve also chosen
not to purchase the mobile phone module. While the idea of being able to
automatically dial anyone on my contact list is attractive, I think the Visor
remains too fragile. Having dropped it twice, I can attest to the value of
Handspring’s replacement policy and the quality of their customer service.
However, I simply can’t be without my phone for even 24 hours.
So, where does that leave me? A dedicated Visor user! Although I began with no clear idea how I would use a PDA, it is now fully integrated into my personal and professional life. I can’t imagine working without one and it that respect, it may have a lot in common with other innovative technologies. Just as the current generation is figuring out how to use PDAs, my generation figured out how to use the personal computer, Internet, and mobile phone. From crude ideas and unformed desires, each of these technologies have developed into applications that have transformed our lives. Faster and more functional PDAs are already available and I will be upgrading to a Visor Platinum as soon as I accumulate a few more pennies.
For a more formal discussion, see www.oceansonline.com/thermocline.htm
For news about the latest as well as available accessories, visit www.handspring.com
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Last modified: November 08, 2002