by Egbert Verbrugge
The way I manage my personal information changed forever last summer when I purchased a Sharp Zaurus ZR-5000 keyboard assisted personal digital assistant. It was my first electronic organizer, even though for months I had nagging feelings that I should have one.
Let me tell you a little about me. I am an electrical engineer by training. Twenty-seven years ago I entered the work force. Most of that time has been spent as a user and vendor of computers and computer systems. Others consider me to be an early adopter kind of person, a reputation that I have justly earned I suppose. For example, I was one of the first purchasers of Commodore's PET Computer with full size keyboard, a whopping 32k of memory and a BASIC interpreter. I spent many happy hours programming applications in BASIC and playing early games such as space-invaders. I currently have a 486 desktop computer at home running Windows 3. On my desk at work is a Pentium PC that runs Windows NT and is part of a LAN.
My current work involves many varied activities, usually of a duration of under one hour each. There are a large number of unscheduled interruptions resulting in chaos every now and then. There are lots of meetings to attend that result in a myriad of things to do. I travel some, but am mostly around the office.
Despite periodic urges, I held off buying an electronic organizer of any kind for many years. I managed my contacts on a PC database and printed them out on a paper directory. Handwritten updates were added as needed, followed by occasional electronic updates and reprints. For appointments I had always used a small book daytimer that fit nicely in my inner suit pocket. For "to-do's" I used a number of methods from lists to a separate steno pad. Follow up on my "to-do's" is a big challenge, even today with my PDA. For word processing, I have used a desktop computer for many years. I learned to touch type in high school and am faster on the keyboard than the average person. When travelling I usually took along a laptop computer. However, after two hours of continuous work the batteries were drained and subsequently I had to stop my work.
My PDA purchase was premeditated and is worth a brief description. I phoned to a few places and found a local specialty computer store that carried organizers. At the store I told the salesperson what I wanted: a highly portable Personal Information Management (PIM) tool with word processing, spread sheet. He led me to a HP200LX palmtop. After a few questions I realized he didn't know much about the unit, so I asked to look at the unit and user manual by myself for awhile. After one hour of study, I was impressed with the computer power in the palm of my hand. However, I decided that the total investment was too much for what I wanted out of it. I reasoned that I did not need a unit that could run DOS, as long as I had the applications that I wanted. Several weeks later I heard about Sharp's top end organizer. I went back to the same store and asked another sales person to let me look at the Sharp Zaurus. This person did not know that a number of days earlier someone else had steered me to HP. I spent 1 hour by myself again, mostly reading the manual and pressing a few buttons and working with the wonderful touch pen / screen and graphical user interface. I wrote down (on paper of course) the prices and then went home to think about it and try to cost justify what I knew I was about to do - BUY.
I convinced myself that I needed the Zaurus ZR-5000 along with a "few" peripherals. It did not have a spread sheet built in, but I decided to overlook that shortcoming. During my next visit to the same store, I became the proud owner of the Zaurus as well as a PCMCIA fax/modem 2400/9600 baud, a 2 Megabyte Flash RAM Card for backup, a Sharp IR Parallel printer module; CE-1R1, a serial cable CE-133T & PCLink software, an AC adapter. A few days later after surfing the internet, I mail ordered a software utility, Intellilink, for moving files from my PDA to my desktop computer applications and back. Now I was fully armed for PIM.
Learning how to use my PIM armaments was the next challenge. I like to teach myself how to do things. What works with me is to sit with a manual and system and then start doing simple things. As my familiarity and confidence grows, I expand to new areas and more complex tasks in previous areas.
After I arrived back home with my Zaurus I immediately sat with it and the user guide for most of one weekend. I entered data from my business card files, data from the family address book including weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. I come from a family of six children who have since grown up and have spouses and children. This meant lots of experimenting with data entry, sometimes starting over to get it right. As an engineer and computer systems architect, sketching is one of my habits. I played with the drawing / scrapbook and handwritten notes application and in no time was happy that I was able to use those applications for real things. After a little work I was able to send off some trial faxes, hand drawn happy faces included. I worked to see if I could touch type on the keyboard. My fingers are a bit too big to do it properly. Now I use a two finger on each hand half / hunt & peck style if I am trying to get a string of data entered in a hurry.
The next big hurdle was the unveiling of my new tool at work. In the presence of others I was somewhat self conscious, knowing that I wasn't fully proficient with it. However, I was determined to make my investment pay for itself as soon as possible. The reaction by others ranged from ignoring it totally - to making negative remarks (perhaps in an effort of self consolation) - to one person going out shortly after seeing mine and then buying an identical one too. I experienced speed challenges from some colleagues to see whether their manual methods were faster than me and my expensive tool. Guess what? After a few days I started winning the races. All of those silly games have since vanished. Many times I can quickly pop up that phone number or name right where we are, while my colleagues look helplessly on... YES!!!
I now have two AC adapters, one for the office and one for home. When in my office, my PDA is plugged in and remains turned on when sitting on my desk by the phone. I use the three contact lists (external contacts, company contacts, family & friends) frequently. The ability to sort by company and sort by name on demand is really handy. Sometimes the text search capability is the easiest and most convenient to locate an entry. I just start typing and it sends me into the search menu. Then PRESTO, I have the entry I was looking for on the display. Alphabetic touch tabs at the bottom of the screen are convenient for going to a part of the list; then I can tap on the menu sidebar to move down a screen at a time. In very little time I have what I want on the display.
My personal uses are as follows. I have a family and friends telephone list. I frequently update a personal diary document file for the current month. This desire for keeping a diary was transmitted to me by my genes I think! My grandparents and also my mother used to keep a paper diary religiously. Up until I had my PDA, I never kept a diary. Now, with my password protected diary files I frequently record events, my thoughts and moods. I write poetry periodically. My Zaurus is handy when the inspiration to write poetry strikes. It is great for editing and tweaking the original version. A poem may evolve over a week or more until I get it the way I want it. Whenever I want hard copy , I send the data out the infrared (IR) port to the IR parallel printer module which is connected to my HP 4P laser printer.
Another use I have found is to store essential and confidential information in a password locked (hidden) file: credit card numbers, insurance numbers, etc. Recently I took my car into a local auto chain store for repairs. When it came time to pay, I realized I had forgotten my wallet at home with the plastic card I was going to pay with. I had my Zaurus in my pocket and it came to the rescue with the required card number. Another time I prided myself for having the wisdom to buy a great tool was one month after I had the unit. A family emergency occurred one weekend while I was many kilometres away from home, touring some business visitors. I had to contact brothers & sisters and travel to my parents home another 3 hours away. All the information I needed was at hand. Also, I knew exactly my schedule for the next few days and was able to react accordingly.
Another interesting episode unfolded during a sales call by an old-style salesman visiting the office. He was selling his ability to be an agent for high technology products. At the end of the meeting he decided to schedule a meeting for next year. He pulled out his big old beat-up Daytimer from his brief case and made a fuss that he didn't have a good place to record the meeting. I was not impressed! Here was a struggling salesman that had failed to keep himself up to date and his hi-tech image fell apart in full view of those he needed to impress. A PDA certainly could have helped the man!
After I was comfortable with using my PDA for the range of things I wanted to do and found innovative ways to do new things, I began customizing and playing with more advanced features such as customizing field names and changing column widths on the display to suit my preferences. Next I stumbled on to its graphical database capabilities. I sent a copy of my black and white passport photo via fax to my desktop PC and then I did a screen cut and paste into a blank PCX file that I had uploaded from the Zaurus to the PC. After the cut and paste, I downloaded my photo into my ZR. Now a good looking photo of "yours truly" is in my Zaurus. When I show that to others, the response always is; "How did you do that?"... Guess who then just GRINS... Other PCLink and download experiments included downloading a ZR-5000 demo program from Sharp's Bulletin Board in Toronto to my PC and then into the Zaurus.
The outliner application was the hardest application to become proficient with. It wasn't intuitive enough to expand and contract topics and sub topics, without referring to the online help and then the manual.. Once I figured it out, then it worked ok.
For experienced users wanting to be really efficient, there are some keyboard short cuts such as date, cut, copy, paste, drag & drop, as well as other combinations of the 2'nd key & cursor control key.
Some nifty newsgroups on the internet for tips and tricks on PDA's etc. are a) comp.sys.palmtops b) comp.sys.handhelds. If nothing else, it keeps me in touch what the hot items in the field of PDA's.
My Zaurus use has pretty much stabilized now. It is always with me wherever I go. It is always close at hand ready to work. My replacement two AA batteries are at the ready, even though one set lasts me 2 months on the average. I am permanently bonded to it like a duckling is imprinted to it's mother. It is beside my bed with its morning wakeup alarm set. Before breakfast, I check appointments for the day to decide in how much of a hurry I must gobble up my food and be on my way.
When I first starting using the Zaurus, the audible key strokes gave me additional confidence that a character had been entered. I like using it now with the keystroke beeps off. At work all my appointment scheduling is done on the Zaurus alone. Its weekly graphical view helps to spread out appointments during busy weeks. If down time is looming, such as waiting for a meeting to start then I will create a document that later may or may not end up in my desktop computer. Three of the daily seven standard alarms keep me on schedule: morning wakeup - noon - going home. I find my PDA most useful for meetings that run over their allotted time. An audible alarm for the next meeting intrudes and is a reminder that it is time to finish this appointment and move on to the next. This is especially useful when the meeting has been intense and we have lost all sense of time.
Being a computer professional, regular backups are a part of my discipline. Once a week I back up the entire data to a named archive on my 2 Megabyte Flash RAM Card (currently 550K data is done in 40 seconds). Backup to the PC takes about 12 minutes.
I have since bought some inexpensive useful add ons. FaxScanner fools devices to believing they are connected to a telephone line. This allows using the fax machine as a printer for my Zaurus. It is also great also for demonstrating the faxing functionality of the Zaurus. Another add on is the Office Konnector from Konexx for allowing the Zaurus to send faxes or make modem connections from my office telephone through the office PBX.
I find myself explaining to others around me occasionally the features of my Zaurus, when they express a curiosity as to what its capabilities are. It just feels good using what I know is the latest personal productivity enhancing technology.
Regarding cost justification, here is a simple rule of thumb you can calculate in your head. The capital investment daily cost is .001 times the purchase price. This assumes that you are writing the purchase price of the unit off over 3 years. Hence if you have invested $1000. in total then your unit really costs you the equivalent of $1. per day. If you value your time @ $30 / hour then you only need to save 2 minutes per day to break even on your investment. If you value things like remembering your spouse's birthday reliably and always being on time, your justification just got better. You may even be able to convince your employer to buy you a unit to use. Most employers assume it is their responsibility to provide you with proper computing tools, which of course includes a PDA! Prepare your justification and go and talk to the boss! You can even promise him / her that you will always remember his / her & spouse's birthday hence forth! Yes, this is a fair tactic.
Good luck in being as productive and satisfied with your PDA as I have been with mine.
Please feel free to email us at email@example.com with your comments, Zaurus questions or your PDA story.