Category Archives: PDA

Blackberries and Coups

It’s long been my contention that the Blackberry device, with its instant ability to send and receive e-mail, is a detriment, rather than an asset, to one’s professional abilities.  I’ve known too many people who fire off an instant Blackberry response to an easy question or to good news, but disappear for weeks when asked something requiring actual thought.  And I’ve had too many instances of confusion over someone’s half-baked Blackberry answer.  (For my part, I have a cell phone with Windows that can send and receive e-mails.  But it will only do it when I ask: it won’t poke me in the ribs when a message comes in.  And I usually wait until I’m at my computer to answer the e-mails, unless it’s genuinely urgent or the phone is the only device at hand.)

Now the Blackberry has tripped up the apparently former Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, Malcolm Smith.  There are 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans in the State Senate, and Smith is the leader of the Democrats.

But this week, two Democratic state senators decided that they would caucus with the Republicans instead, tipping the balance of the Senate.

And how did this happen?  Apparently some time in the recent past, Smith had a meeting with Tom Golisano, one-time candidate for Governor, who recently moved to Florida, amid considerable publicity, to avoid heavy New York State taxes.  And at this meeting, Smith apparently offended Golisano by paying more attention to his Blackberry than his guest.  So Golisano set the wheels in motion for a Republican coup.

As far as my reaction to the coup itself, I have none.  The New York State Legislature is a nexus of evil in the modern world, and I don’t believe that it matters which party is in power.  I can’t say that the Republicans are better or worse than the Democrats (within the NY legislature), and I can’t say whether the coup was a blow for democracy or an exercise in corruption.

But it’s good to see a Blackberry addict get what he deserves.

In a Funk

Last week, I was on a most remarkable business trip.  I was sitting in a park there, starting to write up my observations, when something happened that caused me to reconsider everything I was thinking.  I’m going back again in the near future, and will write about it then.

But since returning on Monday, and in spite of the business-class seat on the airplane on which I could actually sleep, I’ve been in a funk.  I’ve been tired and not wanting to do very much.  And in all, it’s been a crappy week:

  • My PDA phone seems to have failed.  The battery, which used to be good for 3-4 days, barely lasts one day now, and about 70% of the time that I try to make a call, it fails.  I’m back to using my old phone for communication.  I know that I can probably get a replacement if I go to the AT&T store in midtown, but beyond that, the PDA phone hasn’t been as useful as I imagined it.
  • New York State is going broke, but the Legislature doesn’t want to do anything about it.  Both the Democrats and the Republicans are beholden to the public employee unions, and so will not do anything that would inconvenience the civil service.
  • It was another barf bag week for Dow Jones, with the Industrials closing below 8,000 on Wednesday and Thursday night before gaining ground on Friday.
  • In yesterday’s paper, there was a report of something that I knew would happen someday, but hoped never would: a young man killed himself while broadcasting the experience over the Web.  He took an overdose of sleeping pills and tranquilizers, and it was only after a few hours of watching him immobile in his bed that something seemed wrong.
  • And the Sunday Daily News, which cost $1 since the 1980s, went up today to $1.25.

This week can only be an improvement!

New Toy

After all my hemming and hawing, I went out today and bought a new AT&T Tilt, realizing that it’s essentially the only game in town.

Now that I have it, I love it and I hate it.

The keyboard is small, but it’s functional, and it’s backlit, so that I can type in the dark.  And my first operational test of the PDF reader–one of my Giant Spec Books from work–passed with flying colors.  I’m typing this entry on the subway home from work, so I can now officially consider myself among the ranks of honest-to-God bloggers.

But there are annoyances, too:

  • It runs Windows Mobile, which includes a pocketable version of Windows Media Player.  Wonderful, I thought: I can load up some music on an SD card, and listen to it on the way home.  But even though it has Bluetooth and works with my headset, it only plays music over its speaker.  (Perhaps I’ll have to read–gasp–the instruction manual.)
  • I had a picture that I used as wallpaper on my old phone, and I thought it would work well on the Tilt, because it’s dark and the text that the system displays is white.  But for reasons that escape me, the picture appears washed-out as Tilt wallpaper, so it’s useless.  I’m stuck with the default colors of Flaming Red, Boring Blue, and Bilious Green.

But it does one good thing that none of the other PDAs in my life ever did: it synchronizes through the cell phone network, so it always displays the correct time.

I think I’ll keep it.

*          *          *

The afternoon’s e-mail brought me a missive from Personnel Concepts, purveyors of fine workplace posters.

By law, employers are required to post things like the minimum wage and one’s right to Worker’s Compensation for their employees. And it makes sense to post notices about how to work safely.

But a look at Personnel Concepts’ ‘Break Room Posters’ is instructive.  There are posters for:

  • Avian flu
  • Earthquake preparedness
  • Foodborne illness
  • Homeland security
  • Hurricane preparedness
  • Pandemic flu
  • Tornado preparedness

I have to wonder about a company where they would put all of these posters in their break room.  I would have to believe that the employer’s real motive is to discourage people from taking breaks.

Or encouraging them to be very, very afraid.

Tilting at Windmills

A couple of days ago, I got a mailing from Con Ed, the local electric company, asking if I’d like to sign up to get wind power for my home.

One of the more inane things that have been inflicted on us in recent years is the idea of ‘choice in electric power.’  Once upon a time, electric utilities owned both the power plants for generating power, and the distribution network for delivering it.  Power companies tied their networks together with the goal of keeping the lights on for everyone, as far as possible,  It may have been a little boring, but it worked.

But more recently, the electric utilities divested themselves of their generating plants: power would be generated by ‘electric supply companies,’ and we, the consumers, have a choice of which company whould supply our power.  If you’re a big industrial customer, it probably makes sense: the cost of distribution is a small fraction of the cost of the power itself.

But for one’s home, most of the cost of electricity is the cost of distributing it.  If the power appeared on the grid through elfin magic, at no cost to anyone, my electric bills would not disappear.  And if I say that I want my power from this source or that, what actually happens? As far as I can tell, nothing: the electrons are still the same color when they come out of the socket.

I rail against the American oil habit: I haven’t written about it much here, as I just started last week, but I will.  Is this my chance to strike a blow for energy independence?

Well, wind power costs an extra 2.5 cents per kilowatthour: it’s about a 10% net increase in my electric bill.  (So much for elfin magic.)  And most of the electricity used in the New York area does not come from oil: it’s mostly hydroelectric, nuclear, and natural gas.  So if I pay more, what will it accomplish?

I’m skeptical….

Meanwhile, my fruitless PDA quest continues.  From my research, there’s one manufacturer (HTC) that makes something like what I want.  An HTC machine is sold by AT&T as the Tilt, so that’s my logical choice.  But when I finally found one at an AT&T store, I was bitterly disappointed.  The device has been shoehorned into someone’s arbitrary concept of ‘small,’ and the keyboard is so tiny and contorted as to be useless.

Still, I really need a PDA.  Maybe I should get an Asus EEE: with a 7″ screen, it’s not shirt-pocketable, but it’s small, and maybe it can replace my laptop for some tasks.  But it won’t really fit in my briefcase together with my laptop.  So what should I do?  Get a shoulder bag for it?

Maybe I can take apart my Revo and replace the batteries….

The PDA Quest

Some time ago, I kept a Web journal (we didn’t call them ‘blogs’ yet) about my experiences as an engineering manager in a really large organization, and a single parent.  It was interesting, but time went on: I got a new job where I had to sign a real non-disclosure agreement (meaning that the ongoing soap opera of my working life was off-limits), and I found true love and got married.  My original motives for blogging faded away, and I stopped keeping it up.

But more recently, things have changed.  The world has become a more difficult place in the last few years.  When I wrote my old blog years ago, weekends were still weekends: I could put most of my thoughts of work aside on Friday afternoon and relax for a few days.  But now, Sunday, which is a workday for my wife (a choirmistress), has become just as much of a workday for me.  I was sick two weeks ago, and am still trying to make up for lost time.

Since I wrote my pages years ago, I’ve gone into business for myself.  I’m earning a living, but it isn’t easy.  Someday, I’ll tell the story of how that happened.  Someday, I’ll also discuss my disgust with the politics of this year’s Presidential elections.

But my annoyance for today has been a search for a PDA.  Ten years ago, I had a Psion Series 5, which was a wonderful machine: it had a nice keyboard, a comfortable screen for composing text, and capable software.  If there were a machine like that today, with a few incremental enhancements (a PDF viewer, wireless networking, and a little more speed), I’d buy it.

But when it fell apart after a few years, the closest thing that I could find was a Psion Revo.  It was a cheap plastic imitation of the Series 5, but it still had a decent keyboard.  Alas, since then, Psion has moved on to bigger and better things.

When the batteries for the Revo gave out, in 2003, my next machine was a Sharp Zaurus.  It was cool being able to carry an entire Linux box in my pocket, and even though the PDF viewer wasn’t the greatest, it was a decent machine.  With a gigabyte SD card, it could easily haul around that subset of my stuff that I carry for ready reference.  But I put it in checked baggage for a business trip, and the bag was never seen again.

So now, I want a machine that includes:

  • a keyboard that I can actually type on;
  • a screen big enough to hold a complete thought;
  • word processor and spreadsheet that can at least take a whack at opening Microsoft Office documents;
  • a PDF viewer;
  • a datebook and personal phone book;
  • wireless networking;
  • a Web browser and e-mail client;
  • and it fits in my shirt pocket..

Is that so hard?

I don’t want a BlackBerry: I’ve encountered too many BlackBerry assholes, who pride themselves on the ability to instantly answer an e-mail, but don’t bother to actually read the message before answering it. 

And it’s not really that important that the device also be a cell phone.  I have a cell phone: I talk to people on it.  If someone really wants to send me a text message, that’s OK, but it doesn’t happen often.

So what’s out there?

There are lots of machines that do entertainment: playing music or video, with wireless Web browsing and texting.  But they don’t do word processing or spreadsheets.  Am I the only person who likes to sit and compose my thoughts?

For better or worse, the only machines that seem to do what I want run Windows Mobile.  But only one manufacturer makes Windows Moble machines with keyboards.  There’s also the OQO, which is a full-bore Windows machine, but it’s expensive, heavy, and doesn’t fit in my pocket.

Stay tuned….