Tag Archives: Personal digital assistant

Bye Bye, Laptop?


The day seems to be getting closer when we can do something that would seem to be pretty obvious: access our pocket-sized smartphone via a bigger screen, keyboard and a mouse. Celio Corp says it’s close.

Celio Corp have two products: their Mobile Companion (pictured above), a laptop like thing that includes an 8″ display, a full function keyboard, and a touchpad mouse. At 1 x 6 x 9 inches and weighing 2 lbs, the Mobile Companion promises over 8 hours of battery life and boots instantly. After loading a driver on your smartphone you can then access it via a USB cable or Bluetooth. (You can also charge the smartphone via the same USB connection.)

Uses? Well, you can say goodbye to coach cramp, where you’re unable to use a normal laptop. You can input data more easily than you might if you just had your smartphone with you. And, of course, you don’t need to bring your laptop.

The second product might be even better. The Smartphone Interface System is, from what I can work out, a small Bluetooth device that connects your smartphone, not to the Mobile Companion, but to a desktop computer, public display or a conference room projector  — these devices connect via a cable to the Interface, like this:


The important bit about both products is that the Redfly software renders the smartphone data so it fits on the new display (this will be quite tricky, and, because it will carried via Bluetooth, would need quite a bit of compression. The maximum size of the output display is VGA, i.e. 800 x 480, so don’t expect stunning visuals, but it’ll be better than having all your colleagues crowding around your smartphone.)

The bad news? Redfly isn’t launched yet, and will for the time being be available only for Windows Mobile Devices. Oh, and according to UberGizmo, it will cost $500. The other thing is that you shouldn’t confuse “full function keyboard” with “full size keyboard”: this vidcap from PodTech.net gives you an idea of the actual size of the thing:


this is the keyboard size relative to Celio CEO Kirt Bailey’s digits:


Until I try the thing out and feel sure that the keyboard doesn’t make the same compromises as the Eee PC, I’d rather use my Stowaway keyboard.

For those of you looking for software to view your mobile device on your desktop computer, you might want to check out My Mobiler. It’s free software that purports to do exactly that for Windows Mobile users.

Internet Radio in the Bedroom


I’ve lately been looking for a way to listen to Internet radio away from my computer. This looks like a good, albeit somewhat expensive, answer: the WiFi Radio from Acoustic Energy (about S$600, that’s $415ish).

The WiFi Radio connects to your router and stores more than 5,000 radio stations by country, updated each time the machine is switched on, which you can scroll though via the somewhat pokey LCD display on the top. There’s a buffering delay but once the station kicks in the sound is great. You can also use it to stream music from your computer.

It’s a classy solution to the problem. But I think there might be a simpler one, if you’ve only got a handful of stations you want to listen to, and just want a small device you can carry around the house with you. Perhaps I could even use an old PDA with WiFi built in? Where’s that Tungsten T3 I saw lying around?

wifi radio – further information : acoustic energy

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Wikipedia Via Wi-Fi

I enjoyed reading this piece, somewhat belatedly, from Oliver Starr’s Mobile Weblog, where he describes a future where Wikipedia is no longer confined to the webpage but could be all around us: Location

Using your phone, as if it was a PC mouse, you uncover snippets of information from the world around you. You click on an old house in the road and a wealth of digital information comes onto your phone screen. Some contain video and audio links.

The technology that would allow this to happen is discussed, but it seems that Oliver doesn’t mention another option: Wi-Fi Positioning. I’ve been researching this for this week’s column (out on Friday, subscription only, I’m afraid), and it sounds to me a much better option, at least in urban areas.

I imagine it would work like this: Your Wi-Fi device (which soon will be as ubiquitous in a phone as in a PDA or laptop) will figure out where you are using Wi-Fi positioning (or, I suppose, if you’re at Stonehenge, this could be done via GPS).

If you’re prepared, you would have uploaded the PDA/phone ready version of Wikipedia for that part of the world, and the Wi-Fi positioning would pluck passages relevant to where you are (“you’re standing on a cobbled street built in 1765; the cobbles are hewn from a nearby quarry run by elves. Click here for directions to the quarry. Click here to meet an elf”.) Or it could give up a map of nearby entries and routes to them (with Wi-Fi positioning this could be inside a building as much as outside).

If you’re a visitor who hasn’t uploaded anything prior to the visit, participants in the project — local councils, individuals, owners of attractions — could store the relevant information on their Wi-Fi network and allow your unit to download it for viewing. This would not only mean that users who hadn’t thought of downloading the information before would still benefit, but folks who didn’t even know the service existed could prep their devices to make use of it. Needless to say, this downloaded information could also contain advertising.

This is in some ways similar to podcast guides, or sightseeing tours, or podguides, which offer spoken commentary on places. Wi-Fi positioning could make these all powerful tools, with little or no extra outlay on the part of end-users.

Getting Excited and Depressed About Scalable Interfaces

This isn’t new, and it’s not even supported anymore, but it’s a great Outlook add-in that is both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because it shows us what we could be doing, depressing because there’s nothing really like this out there that fulfils this kind of potential. It’s Datelens – A Revolutionary Scalable Calendar Interface:

Calendar applications for small handheld devices such as PDAs are growing in popularity. This led us to develop DateLens, a novel calendar interface that supports not only PDAs, but a range of devices, from desktop computers to Tablet PCs. It supports users in performing planning and analysis tasks by using a fisheye representation of dates coupled with compact overviews, user control over the visible timer period, and integrated search. This enables users to see overviews, easily navigate the calendar structure, and discover patterns and outliers. Moreover, DateLens takes advantage of each device, running quickly on PDAs and supporting ink on Tablet PCs.

To get a proper sense of it download the movie/screencast on the page. What impressed me is not the graphics, which are clunky, with too many lines and not enough charm, but its malleability to the user. Or what is called ‘scalable user interfaces’. For example

  • By zooming in on the entry, day or month you’re interested in you can see more of what you need, right down to the half-hour segment itself, but with lots more context;
  • Search for events doesn’t throw up a boring list of matches, but a colour-coded range of matches, plus more colour markings on the scroll bar to show you what else is matching offscreen;
  • Easily assign more space or less to weekends, or months, or weeks;
  • The video/screencast (actually it’s not really a screencast) shows how even something as complex as these features can be explained really easily in three minutes.

Oh, and it’s free. I would love to see this kind of thing introduced into ordinary software. I’m not an Outlook user, which it plugs into directly, or a PocketPC, which it also works well with. But hopefully Microsoft are thinking along these lines. (All this reminded me of the late Jef Raskin’s zoomable user interfaces. What a shame no one ever got that kind of thing onto the desktop computer in his lifetime.)

Canada Gets The Hipster PDA

Nice piece by Tralee Pearce in The Globe and Mail on ‘The hipster PDA’ :

On BlackBerry-addicted Parliament Hill, NDP press secretary Ian Capstick turns heads with his newest organizational gadget: a stack of 3 x 5 index cards held together by a black bull clip.

The hipster PDA, of course, is Merlin Mann’s idea, and the piece quotes liberally from Merlin — visit his website at 43Folders. An interesting article and worth a read.

The Moleskine Report, Part IV

Here’s another bit of Moleskinerie, this time from Merlin Mann, who was also kind enough to answer my questions about the notebook phenomenon. His answers took the form of a short essay, which I offer in its entirety:

There’s still a desire and a market out there for PDAs–particularly when they’re well integrated with your mobile phone, like on the Treos. The problem is that there’s a practical limit to how many little boxes you can lug around everywhere. Since the iPod has caught on, I think digital music players have displaced a lot of folks’ PDAs from that coveted number two spot (right after mobile phones, of course). Carrying more than two or three digital devices requires either a bag or a relaxed disposition about looking like a bit of a dork.

I think people are often attracted to notebooks and index cards because they’re cheap, immediate, and endlessly configurable. They never run out of batteries, won’t break when you drop them in a bar, plus they just _feel good_ to write on. There’s a sense that you’re committing to something more mindfully if you take the time to write it down in a beautiful notebook with your favorite pen.

Moleskines, for example, each come with a cool little accordion pocket in the back. I use mine to hold an extra public transit card, a mini-copy of my Amazon wishlist, and an emergency $20 bill. So, for people like me, the notebook starts to function like an analog hub for whatever you might foreseeably need on the go.

The Hipster PDA addressed a real-world problem for me. I share lots of information with people wherever I go–records to buy, sites to visit, and so on. And I don’t always want to drag a big notebook or a Palm around when a modest stack of cards will do. Add a Fisher Space pen, and you’re ready to go anywhere.

People are sometimes surprised at how quickly they adapt to the habit of carrying a notebook–they really start relying on it and very much notice (and curse) the times when there’s no paper around to capture an idea or a reminder. I think that, after a week or two, your mind sort of loosens up since you know there’s always something there to catch thoughts while they’re fresh.

Thanks, Merlin. You can find a lot of cool tricks and productivity tips at Merlin’s website, 43 Folders.

The Moleskine Report Part I

This week’s column, in tomorrow’s Asian Wall Street Journal and WSJ.com is about Moleskines and how they seem to command the respect of a lot of technorati/blogging elite members (known as BlEMs). Lots of stuff I wasn’t able to include the column, which I’ll feed into the blog over the next few days. Thanks to everyone for their help.

Here to start with is emailed answers by Marc Orchant to my questions about how he uses his Moleskine:

What do you use, exactly, in digital and paper terms?

My primary PC is a Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC. It has revolutionized my approach to everything else I use. My primary capture tools are a small NoteTaker wallet I bought at a David Allen Getting Things Done seminar years ago (small notepad and a collapsible Rotring pen) and a small Moleskine journal (actually it’s the sketchbook model – blank pages). I also have a Sony Clie UX50 (Palm OS) that is total overkill for my current PDA usage which is checking my schedule or looking up a phone number when I’m out and about.

How do you use them?

I almost always have the Tablet PC with me and capture as much into this primary system as I can – either with the pen or keyboard). In the less frequent situation where I don’t have access to the Tablet, I use the Moleskine for note-taking of any consequence and for creating and working action lists. The NoteTaker is for quick disposable notes (as in “Honey – can you pick a few things up at the store on the way home?”) or actions I want to get into my task management system on the Tablet as soon as I get back to it.

Why still use paper?

There is an immense amount of satisfaction in writing on paper – we tend to forget that in this digital-toy-crazed world we live in. The Moleskine has lovely paper – crisp, creamy, and smooth – that is a pleasure to write on. I use a four-nib Rotring pen that has a mechanical pencil (great for sketching), a roller ball pen, a bright orange dry-lighter, and a PDA stylus tip – all contained in a very precision-machined metal barrel.

I also enjoy flipping through my journal pages, reviewing sketches, diagrams, and ad hoc notes. With the Tablet PC, I get a near-paper experience but the best thing about paper is that it requires no batteries!

Are you alone, or does everyone you know follow the same practice?

Very few do, actually although, given my status as one of the resident gadget freaks at my office, I have made a lot of people *very* curious ;^)

Do you get odd looks for using paper?

See above. Yes – very definitely.

Do you see any broader significance in all this? Or is it a fad? The demise of PDAs?

I spend a good amount time in the Getting Things Done discussion forums and there seems to be cyclical pattern to the adoption of, tweaking of, and abandonment of electronics like PDAs. I’ve been using a PDA since the original Newton MessagePad and have probably owned at least a dozen different models over the years. Right now (at least), I’m at a stage in my personal cycle where I don’t want to put up with the hassles a PDA presents. Whether it’s battery life, readability in direct sunlight, a cramped and frustrating text entry UI, or the myriad other things that “suck” about PDAs, the Moleskine has none of these issues.

For me, what has killed the PDA is the Tablet PC – but that’s probably another article. It has completely transformed my approach to computing and, as the Storyteller (my actual title – translate in suit-speak to Marketing & PR Director) at a software company that does all of its business online, I *live* in my computer. It is my primary business tool – even more than the telephone in this day of VOIP and a ubiquitous public network.

Do you think paper and digital might merge, a la Logitech’s io Pen, or is that the wrong way of looking at things?

I hope that’s not how it goes. I hope the Tablet PC approach emerges as the winning form factor. I’ve used both. The Tablet (admittedly a more expensive proposition) is an infinitely better solution for students and business people.

Thanks, Marc. Here, fyi, are Marc’s blogs:
http://office.weblogsinc.com (a blog about Microsoft Office)
http://tabletpcs.weblogsinc.com (a blog about Tablet PCs)
http://blogs.officezealot.com/marc (Marc’s Outlook on Productivity)

A Geek’s Lexicon

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 1 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c)   2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
It’s unsurprising, given the kind of people who design and play with computers, but I’ve always felt there to be a chronic shortage of terms to describe what we actually do with our technology. So I’ve come up with some of my own. And, in case I’m accused of merely adding words to the English language, I’ve used existing words, in this case from the villages of the United Kingdom (I make no claim for originality here; the late author of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, did it first with a marvellous book called The Meaning of Liff. I also offer a nod in the direction of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter). Here’s my contribution (these are all real place names, so my apologies in advance to offended residents):
appledore (n) Someone who touts the superior benefits of Macintosh computers at parties, even after the dancing has started.   

aynho (n) Someone who forwards inane jokes, hoax virus alerts and cutesy e-mails to everyone in their address book, however much they’re asked not to. Usage: Who is the aynho that keeps sending Saddam  jokes?

biggleswade (v) The process of scouring through tonnes of Word files, spreadsheets, and e-mails to find a crucial document. As in: I’ve been biggleswading all afternoon and I still can’t find the dang thing.   

branksome (adj) A temperamental Internet connection. The Net’s been really branksome today.  

chettle (collective n) The debris, such as crumbs, dead insects and lint, that gets stuck inside your computer keyboard.

chew magna (v) When your floppy or ZIP drive, instead of reading a disk, grindingly destroys it.   

chipping norton (n) The point a PC reaches when it requires the use of an error-fixing program such as Norton Utilities. As in: I’m   sorry, guv, but your computer’s chipping norton.

crackington haven (n) A Web site that is home to ne’er-do-well hackers, crackers and credit-card fraudsters.   

cridling stubbs (n) The stunted, misshapen fingers and thumbs of teenagers who have spent too long sending text messages on their cellphones.

devizes (n) Gadgets you bought, used once and then, realizing they took up more time than they saved, threw in a drawer.   

fiddleford (n) A person who jabs away on a personal digital assistant in public places.

fladdabister (n) A sore or bruise that appears shortly before the onset of cridling stubbs (qv).   

foindle (v) The (usually) unconscious act of stroking a much loved gadget in public.

fugglestone (v) Frustration experienced after failing to   master an item of hardware or software. I’ve spent three hours on this dumb   program and I’m completely fugglestoned. (Not in polite usage.)   

gnosall (n) A person who frequents newsgroups and appears to know the answer to everything, while having no apparent qualifications or job.

hanslope (n) The slouch adopted when text messaging in public.   

hayling (n) The gesture made by someone answering his hand-phone during a meeting or meal, signifying it’s important and they’ll be with you in a minute.

hordle (v) The noise a modem makes when it is trying to connect to the Internet. As in: My modem isn’t working. I can’t hear it   hordle. (Also see millom)   

inchgrundle (v) To assist, reluctantly and grudgingly, a customer with their recently purchased computer.

keevil (n) A small icon residing in your Windows system   tray, the purpose of which remains a mystery.   

lostwithiel (n) The remote area not covered by your cellphone operator. As in: I would have called you, boss, but I was in lostwithiel.

melbury bubb (n) The noise of people talking on their handphone on public transport, unaware they are driving fellow commuters to distraction. How was your day, dear? Fine, but the melbury bubb on the train   home was awful. What’s for dinner?  

melplash (n) An annoying window that pops up on your screen   when you’re trying to do something important.

millom (n) The period of blissful silence when, after hours   of fiddling with settings and wall sockets, your modem no longer hordles   (qv) and connects to the Internet.   

much wenlock (n) The belated realization that you’ve been typing with the cAPS lOCK oN.

odstock (n) Gadgets and peripherals you can no longer use because you’ve lost the cables, software or power adaptor for them.   

padstow (n) The place where all your mousepads mysteriously head for when they go missing from your desk.

puncknowle (n) A geeky teenager who knows the answer to all your computer problems but never seems to actually get around to fixing them. 

scrooby (adj) When a computer screen starts behaving oddly for no apparent reason. Common usage: Jeremy can you come round and take a look at my computer? It’s gone all scrooby again.

swaffham bulbeck (n) The pseudo-authoritative spiel delivered by computer-store staff in the hope of browbeating a sale. As in:   I tried to find out which was the best computer to buy but the guy just gave me a load of swaffham bulbeck. I’m not going back to that store again.

tibshelf (n) The area near your computer where you keep software and hardware manuals you never refer to.   

ufton nervet (n) The suspense experienced upon rebooting a crashed computer, fearing that valuable data has been lost.

upper tooting (n) An insister error beep, the source of which cannot be identified. As in: I have no idea what the problem is, the   thing just keeps upper tooting.  

wantage (n) The shortfall between your present computer’s capacity and that required to run the program you just bought.

whitnash (n) The pain in your shoulder at the end of a long laptop-carrying trip. As in: The trip went fine, but I’ve got serious   whitnash and need a bubble bath. What’s for dinner?

Whatever Happened To Downloadable Calendars?

Whatever happened to those downloadable diary items for Palm and other handhelds? I’m pretty sure I recall a time when you could visit a site, see a schedule you wanted in your Palm and download it with one click.

I guess it might have been vCalendar but that seems to be dead as a dodo. I notice some people still offer this kind of service, but using CSV files, which can’t be that graceful. I notice that Palm offer DualDate, which allows you to share and compare your calendar with someone else. Some worthy folks would offer this kind of thing a few years back as freeware, but I can’t see anything updated in the past couple of years.

But it seems to be me a trick has been missed by Palm and others over this kind of thing. I would like to be able to visit a website, say, of my favourite soccer team and download their whole fixture list into my Treo. Is there no easy way to do this? It should be like RSS: a recognisable button on every site that allows downloading in Palm content straight into a calendar, or address book, or whatever. Looking back, this kind of thing might have saved Palm.

Or am I missing something?

Infrared Snarfing?

Is the Infrared port on your computer a security hazard?

LA-based Ligatt Corp, a computer security company, reckon so. In a press release issued yesterday, the company says it was able “to gain entry into two out of ten computers and started copying files” belonging to customers at a local Borders bookstore using a Windows CE-powered PDA. This was done by simply pointing the PDA at the target laptop and using a custom built program to grab, or snarf, files on those computers that had the infrared port switched on.

Ligatt’s conclusion: ”The good news is that Microsoft has been careful in deploying appropriate defaults so that it would not be easy for someone to maliciously send you a virus or worm. Amazingly enough, little attention is paid to the infrared port that comes standard with most laptops on the market.”

Ligatt, in fact, is not alone in recognising the vulnerabilities of the infrared port, although it does not appear to be a point often made. I found references to it on websites like LabMice.Net, a laptop security site, and Nottingham University’s inform online, both of which advised users to disable the port, as does Ligatt.

So how big a deal is this? The knee-jerk answer is: Not much. Infrared works over pretty short distance (my tests indicated four feet); you need to have the infrared ports on each device pointed directly at each other; in Windows a notification window pops up should any infrared connection be established; and finally, connection speeds are pretty slow, so snarfing files of any size is probably going to take to long to be that stealthy.

That said, I think Ligatt probably have a point. Infrared is on by default, both with Windows and PDAs (I think). I imagine it’s relatively easy to write software that could bypass the notification window in Windows, and distance (and angle) are not going to deter the committed industrial spy. Infrared may not be the best way in to a computer or PDA, but it is a way, and it’s probably best to turn it off on your machine until you use it.