Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Decisions, Decisions… almost Decided!

Posted by Michael Brown on October 11, 2008

Earlier this summer, I wrote about some of the things I, or anyone else who depends on a PDA or smartphone, should consider when thinking about changing. It boils down to one key concept; my data is my Life! It doesn’t matter if you’re digital or analog (i.e. Day Planner binder). In the days before I used a PDA, my binder held all that important data. I had to ensure it didn’t get lost, stolen, or destroyed, and I had to ensure I had a backup of critical data in case of disaster.

In today’s digital lifestyle, it’s much easier for me to backup and access my data from many platforms, but I still rely heavily on my mobile device, since it is my daily companion much like my old binder was many moons ago. So, my criteria for a mobile platform are:

1. Easy and open access to my data. I don’t like “black box” products. It’s my data, and I want to know where it is, and how it’s being stored. And it needs to be stored in such a way that multiple front-ends can access it. A good example on the desktop is Microsoft Office & OpenOffice.org for documents and spreadsheets, Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Reader for PDF’s, etc. I look at the handheld/smartphone platform the same way.

2. Let ME choose the right tool for the job. Like everyone else, I have my own way of doing things, and my own requirements for how I want my tools to work. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Palm OS platform. It provides all the basics one needs to get started, and yet is easily extensible to meet everyone’s unique needs. When I got my first Palm IIIx, I used the basic calendar/task tools for about a week, then I bought Datebk3. It used the same databases as the built-ins, but gave me the ability to customize how I worked with my data and how it was presented and organized. Similarly, I use other tools like psMemo and MemoLeaf to work with my Memos database. Like my Dad’s always said, “use the right tool for the job”.

3. It’s not the OS that’s important, it’s the applications! Ok, well, that’s not totally true, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The point is, you can only choose the right tool for the job if you have a selection of tools to choose from. If there’s no selection, then you’re stuck working with what you find. The platform(s) you’re considering switching too should have a selection of applications that work for you NOW; after all, you plan on using it now, right? You can’t choose a platform based on what MIGHT come out sometime in the future, unless you plan on making do until the mystical, super-productive *IT* comes out.

Now, to my point about the OS not being as important. The OS is the heart of a handheld or smartphone, but the apps are what give it the “smarts”. There are things that the OS provides that are like the foundation of a house; it gives developers what they need to build on. If those things are left out of the foundation and left up to the developers to build, then they may end up implementing them in different, confusing or incompatible ways. Consumers ultimately pay the price when platforms are too tightly, or too loosely, controlled.

4. Money. You might be able to get a good deal on a new smartphone, but is it really going to be such a good deal weeks or months down the road? The cost of the phone is one thing, but what about other things like chargers, memory cards, cables, headsets, and other peripherals? What about software? Can you leverage any of your existing investments, or will you have to start over and buy new for the new platform? Are you going to be committed to a certain minimum cost of service package in order to get your new device? All things to consider before buying; a productivity device should never be an “impulse buy” based on price or slick advertising.

5. How do I get from A to B? No, I’m not talking about GPS systems, although I do want one on my next device! I’m talking about all my life’s data in my old system, that I need to get into my new system, preferably with the least amount of effort and problems! This is something I can’t stress enough, unless you have a lot of time on your hands to re-enter all your stuff! Other things to consider are:

  • Will I have to implement workarounds for features I used to have that aren’t on the new platform? Think of things like notes, data fields in contacts, task features, alarms, templates, that kind of thing…
  • Is there a corresponding application on the new platform for everything I did on the old one? Let’s say you regularly created office documents on your old platform, but you can only view them on the new one? How will you handle that? What about things like journals, voice recording, capture tools, business-specific applications, etc? Can you get everything over to the new platform, and how will you do it?

6. Get touchy-feely with it! C’mon, get your mind out of the gutter; this is a tech blog! Ask yourself, how does it feel to use? Is this something I can and want to carry with me all day? How does the device work for me, compared to my old one? If you’ve come from a phone-style device, chances are you’ll be ok with something that uses T9 style keyboards, be it physical or touchscreen. If you’ve come from using a large QWERTY-style keyboard, then you may not be as comfortable with a T9 keypad or a small touchscreen. So, if you’re thinking of a drastic change, maybe you should go to a store or borrow a friend’s and play with it for a bit. Sure, there are devices with high-res touchscreens, soft keyboards, and other fancy features, but if you can’t type anything it to it, how productive will you be? Another point to consider is how you use your device; do you create a lot of content, or just consume it? Are you a one finger typist, or are you a two-hander?

7. What am I willing to live without in order to switch to the new platform? Chances are, if you’re looking to change platforms, then you’re tired of dealing with something on your old platform. But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, so you have to ask yourself what changes are you willing to make in order to switch? What compromises will you have to make? What do you need, what do you want, and what are you prepared to live without on the new platform?

This post is about all the things I’ve had to consider given I’ve made the decision to switch off of Palm OS after 9 years of using it, and these are all things other potential “switchers” should consider carefully. I’ve been through a Palm IIIx, a TRG pro, a Handera 330, a Tungsten T, and Treo’s 600 & 650, my current device. I’ve invested hundreds of dollars in Palm software and peripherals over the years, dozens of hours getting it tweaked just right, and I have years worth of data on my Treo, data that I depend on in my daily personal and professional lives. I know Palm OS like the back of my hand, and I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what it can do for years now. But, I’m wanting to replace my hardware, which is getting a little tired, and I’m not willing to give up hardware features any more, just because the aging OS5 can’t support it. These days, most new devices have high-resolution screens, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, high-speed celluar data (EVDO or HSPDA), GPS, more memory and storage, high resolution cameras, and other new hardware features. Similarly, some other OS’s have new user interfaces, more advanced PIM databases, multi-tasking, more Bluetooth profiles, and other OS or built-in software features. Palm OS is no longer a cutting edge productivity OS, it’s rapidly becoming a beginner’s , but productive, smartphone OS.

So, of all that’s out there right now, what would I choose?

I was heavily leaning towards the iPhone for a while before it’s launch and for a few days after, but no more. The iPhone 3G’s 2.x software, while great for a feature phone, mobile internet device and media player, is less productive than Palm OS 2 was. Apple is targeting mass market consumers with the iPhone, and while some previous smartphone owners have bought it, most are finding it less productive than their last device. Combine that with the relative immaturity of the SDK, API’s and the lack of standardized built-in PIM applications and sync conduits, and it’s a no-go for me. Eye candy is nice, but not at the expense of usability or productivity. It may be something in a year or so, but not yet. In fact, many people are using other devices like Palm OS handhelds or other PDA’s in addition to their iPhone to make up for it’s lack of productivity applications.

The next one that typically comes to people’s minds when they think mobile devices is the Blackberry; so, is it the one for me? I don’t think so! The Blackberry is an excellent corporate platform with push e-mail and built-in PIMs rivaling those on the Palm platform. So why won’t I get a Crackberry? Basically, two reasons: the OS and the software. It’s really intended to be a corporate device, which is how RIM’s been marketing it until recently, but adding Media players and cameras doesn’t make it a personal platform. Other than themes, it’s hard to customize how you interact with the device; you have to use the menu system to do anything, you have to use the scroll wheel or function+nav keys to get around (although the trackball does make it a bit better on the Curves). There’s no touchscreen except on the just-released Storm, and it will be a while before a lot of software uses it to it’s full potential. Only the recently released Pocket Informant for Blackberry really leverages the built-in PIM’s information close to it’s potential, but it’s still behind software running on other, more-mature platforms.

Symbian/Nokia? Software is it’s limitation too, but I expect that will change in the next couple of years with their decision to OpenSource the Symbian platform. Nokia makes good phones, and sells lots of them, but most people don’t load anything other than content on them. So, not a productivity platform right now. And with Nokia killing off IntelliSync, it’s not certain where they’re going as far as desktop synchronization, so that’s another negative for me.

Google’s Android? One phone, the G1 made by HTC, has been released running Android. More are due, and none are in Canada at this point, with Canadian releases likely at least a year away. In my opinion, it has the same problems as the iPhone; the SDK is immature, as is the software ecosystem. A year or two from now, it could be a whole new ball game, but that doesn’t help me now.

So, that leaves Windows Mobile, previously known as Windows CE. A ways back, Palm users used to joke about it; it made you wince (WinCE) everytime you used it. Well, it’s grown up somewhat since then. Palm OS still beats it hands down when it comes to ease of use, but Windows Mobile is now the more capable operating system. It’s mature, has a stable and thriving developer community, with lots of enhancements being made to address it’s usability issues “out-of-the-box”. HTC and Sony Ericson are making touch-friendly front-ends to WinMo, making it more consumer and finger-friendly, and less like your parents old WinDoze. With all the WinMo handset makers out there, which ones made my shortlist?

I looked at hardware features, OS revision, bundled software, manufacturer reputation, and most important, how much of an active user community there was. I also looked at what kind of third party software was available for each device, which addressed deficiencies in that device, or added value to features the manufacturer didn’t exploit to their fullest. And most importantly, I looked at what I use my mobile for, how and where I use it, and the ergonomics of how I use it; those are three important factors in choosing the type of mobile device to buy. In my case, I use my mobile both one and two-handed: one-handed as a phone or camera, and for information viewing or retrieval (reading mailing lists, news, web browsing, etc.), and two-handed for information capture, e-mail, and content creation (like this blog post, written in a memo on my 650). So, a device has to work both ways for me to consider it. Based on all that, the Treo Pro was a no-brainer as one choice for me. Does that mean it’s a slam dunk for the Treo Pro? Nope! It made the shortlist, but it’s not a shoe-in. It’s facing heavy competition from HTC’s Touch Pro, the Touch Diamond’s big brother.

I had initially ruled out the Diamond (and the Touch Pro) because of concerns about the usability of the device. The Touch’s screen is physically smaller than the iPhones, and the software keyboard took up 2/3 of the screen when exposed. On the Diamond, it was a deal breaker; I lost too much screen real estate to the method of input. But then I started to really look at the ergonomics of how I interacted with my present 650 while I did my common tasks, and I realized I do use it differently based on one or two handed use. For serious content creation, the Touch Pro has the slide-out QWERTY keyboard, whereas one-handed use usually involves the D-pad navigator and the menu keys, or the phone keypad. There’s the odd exception to the rule like today, where some of this was typed one-handed on the 650’s QWERTY keyboard while standing on the bus, bouncing down Limebank Road. So, given that perspective, I only ruled out the Diamond, and kept the Touch Pro on the short list.

The Touch Pro betters the Treo Pro in most hardware specs: more memory, faster CPU, dedicated graphics chip, better camera and better video frame rates on video recordings, higher resolution VGA touchscreen, and accelerometer, light and magnetic stylus sensors. On the other hand, the Treo Pro has a QWERTY candybar/slab style the same size as the iPhone, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a larger battery, and lots of hardware buttons for common actions and functions. They both run Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, with similar software bundles, with the major differences being in their software User Interfaces. The Touch Pro has TouchFlo 3D, which adds some iPhonesque finger swiping interfaces, while the Treo Pro eschews eye-candy for a more business-like Today screen with added features. Being that both devices are manufactured in HTC’s facilities, their build qualities will be the same; HTC actually provided some design experience on the Treo Pro, and Palm chose to license some HTC software for use on the new Treo.

So, which one will it be? Like the Highlander says, “There can only be one” (in reality, it’s because that’s all I can afford; I do have kids to feed!). Like a reality TV show, you’re going to have to wait for the results post when I reveal which got cut, and which went home with me, and why. Stay tuned!

Originally published at PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Blackberry, Change, iPhone, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | 1 Comment »

Decisions, Decisions…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 9, 2008

Lately, I’ve been thinking about switching cell phone carriers. I’ve been with Bell in Canada for years, but Bell’s never been really quick about getting new devices out to market in a reasonable period of time, and lately they’ve been dropping the ball with regard to smartphones. They no longer have any Palm OS devices for sale, and the only Palm Treo’s they have are the Windows Mobile 5 versions, the 700wx. Now, with today’s announcement that Bell and Telus (two Canadian CDMA carriers with cross-service agreements) will be charging for incoming Text (SMS) Messages, that’s merely another reason to start looking elsewhere. In the past, keeping one’s telephone number was a kind of handcuff tying you to your service provider, but since number portability has come to Canada about a year ago, there’s nothing tying you to your provider other than your contract and the quality of service you receive (both technical, like coverage, and customer service).

Bell and Telus’s announcement could not have been planned any worse. The much-hyped iPhone 3G is coming to Rogers this Friday, and Rogers announced that they will be continuing their existing policy of free incoming text messages, which may inspire some people to switch not only carriers, but phone platforms. But not all is happy in Ted Roger’s neighborhood; Rogers is taking huge flack from **potential** iPhone buyers (remember, the iPhone hasn’t made it up north legally, yet!). Their phone plans for the iPhone are nowhere near what they are like in the US. Realistically, ALL our phone voice and data plans are nothing like the US market’s plans. To understand why, you need to understand the Canadian wireless market.

Up North, we have two CDMA carriers, Bell and Telus, and they have cross-service agreements. Bell is entrenched in the East, and Telus in the West. To gain access to each other’s markets, they’ve made deals to make use of each other’s infrastructure, so there isn’t going to be a huge difference in plan pricing, since ultimately your service could be carried over the other’s network. On the GSM side, we have a similar situation; about a year or so ago, Rogers bought up the only other major GSM provider, Fido, and rolled Fido’s network and clients into it’s own fold. There’s Virgin Mobile and Koodo, but they’re not major players here and they only do feature phones, not smartphones, so I’m basically discounting them for this analysis. So, as far as pricing for wireless service goes, you have two choices: your present carrier or the other one (your classic “us or them” scenario). With no real competition up here, there isn’t any competitive pricing for consumers. So, choice up here really comes down to the phone platform itself. If you want a particular device, you are choosing a particular carrier. If that carrier has an exclusive on a device, then they can pretty much do what they want for pricing and plan details. It’s this kind of lack of choice that has led to the creation of Bill C-555, The Get Connected Fairly Act, which I’ll come back to later.

So, at this point in time, choice really comes down to the phone PLATFORM. Why Platform? Because you’re choosing a combination of hardware features, OS, and the biggie, Applications! People use the phone platform to DO something; talk, message, listen or watch media, surf, take pictures, that kind of thing. Feature phones have done these things with a closed OS and application set. If the phone didn’t do something out of the box, it never would. Smartphones allow you to install other applications to add features that aren’t present in the “out-of-the-box experience”. With iPhone firmware 2.0 and the iPhone 3G, it is transitioning from a closed platform to a more open one, which has people excited about it’s potential as a new smartphone platform. For new smartphone users, the iPhone should be a great experience as a platform, since it’s user friendly and “sexy”. For existing smartphone users, it’s not so clear-cut, so it’s time to make some decisions…

If you’ve been using a PDA or smartphone up to now, chances are you’ve got a lot of data wrapped up in various applications, and you have your productivity geared up for performing certain tasks on you mobile device. So, jumping to a new device just because it’s new and “sexy” may be productivity suicide if you suddenly find yourself without the applications or data you need to be productive. And yet, you’re still locked into a multi-year contract with your provider for your new toy, which you can’t use as well as your old one. So, the important thing to remember is “do your homework!” Research the platform(s) you’re considering changing too. Look at the tasks you presently perform with your mobile, and what data you need in order to be productive or entertained. Where is that data kept? How will you migrate it to the new platform? What other tasks do you use your present mobile for, and do they have equivalents on the new platform? How does it feel to use, and how well can you interact with the user interface? What accessories do you presently use with your mobile, and are they compatible with the new one? If they’re not compatible and you really need them, does an equivalent one exist for the new platform? If it has extra wireless features like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, will it work with your existing accessories or other products (like access points or headsets that can have many different protocols or profiles)?

In my case, I have a large investment in Treo peripherals. So, I would obviously like to reuse them where I can. If I choose a platform that doesn’t support my peripherals, I would want to make sure that it supports standards that would avoid “proprietary connectors” wherever possible, so I don’t have to go through this whole “incompatible peripherals” situation again in the future. I also have a large investment in Palm OS/Treo software, so it would be less expensive and less work for me to choose the Centro from Rogers from a software perspective, but the Centro is over priced on Rogers ($299 vs $99 on AT&T in the US!). The other downside is that it’s the same old Palm OS that’s been around since my Treo 650 came out years ago, running on similar hardware with minor upgrades in features, software, RAM and camera, but major upgrades in stability.

Then there’s Windows Mobile, available through Rogers as the Treo 750. Instant compatibility with all my hardware peripherals, but only moderately cheaper than the Centro, believe it or not, at $274. I would have to invest in software replacements to achieve the same functionality I have now on Palm OS, so there’s added expenses there, but I know that all the applications I presently use have an equivalent on Windows Mobile. I would gain a Multi-tasking OS, more memory, and a better camera, a newer Bluetooth stack with Stereo Headset profile, but no Wi-Fi. I know I could bend it to my will if I have too, much like I’ve tweaked my Treo 650. To figure out how much of my software I would have to replace, I could do some testing on the Windows Mobile software simulators available from the Palm Developer Center. So, more work, a bit more money, but a newer OS that has some advantages over the Palm OS that I’ve known, loved, and sometimes cursed, for so long. Were the Treo 800w to come out this week, it might be a more clear cut winner as a platform choice, but it’s only rumoured to be coming out in the US on Sprint around July 13th. If it were to come out in Canada, I think Telus would be the first to get it, since it’s CDMA and they’re quicker on the ball than Bell when it comes to new devices. There’s even a Palm OS emulator (StyleTap), so I could run some of my Palm OS applications on Windows Mobile to smooth out the transition to the new platform.

And then there’s RIM’s Blackberry. With the devices available right now, it’s not really an option for me. It’s lacking stuff at the OS level (no vCal, no sending via Bluetooth, no DUN via Bluetooth), and it’s really lacking in the PIM applications, as well as for other applications I use right now. There is no Blackberry equivalent to DayNotez, nor is there a touch screen I can draw on when I want to like Notepad or Diddlebug. There are other applications I use regularly and would need to replace, adding to the cost of changing platforms, and in general Blackberry applications are considerably more expensive than Palm OS or Windows Mobile applications. Most of my peripherals wouldn’t work with it, but RIM does use standard connectors and protocols, so that in itself is good for the future. Wi-Fi and Docs To Go are coming on the Blackberry Bold, due out around the last week of July, which is a good thing, but still doesn’t address some of my other application needs. I don’t need push e-mail, the Blackberry’s claim-to-fame, so overall, it’s still a no-go for me.

And finally, there’s the iPhone 3G. It’s hyped, it’s new, it’s sexy, and it’s a complete mystery as to what software will be available for it until after this Friday. Out of the box it still can’t do copy & paste, or Stereo Bluetooth Headsets (A2DP). It also doesn’t do MMS, but that’s something I’ve never even used on my Treo 650, so it doesn’t matter to me. It does have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a stable Unix-based OS, and a pretty UI. I’m fast with a Treo or Blackberry keyboard, but I have no idea how well I’d be able to use the virtual keyboard on-screen (I can try out the keyboard at least on an iPod Touch). The price is Right at $199, but then there’s those ridiculous service plans starting at $60/month + stuff like caller ID and voicemail. There aren’t any software simulators to try out, no demo units in stores (at least until Friday), and I have no idea what software will be available that would replace my present applications, nor is there any idea what the pricing structure will be like. How well will it sync with Outlook, and what exactly will sync? How are other applications to Sync? There is supposed to be a version of the StyleTap Palm OS simulator software coming soon, so that’s a plus for smoothing out a transition. There’s also a lot of iPhone/iPod accessories available, so that’s a plus, as well as the rumored user-replaceable battery. So, basically it’s a holding pattern until after this weekend as far as the iPhone is concerned.

So, I still have some of my own homework to pursue, since I want to see how things shake out with the iPhone launch and how the early adopters fare. I try to avoid being on the bleeding edge when it comes to my personal productivity devices. But the best thing about the iPhone coming to Canada isn’t the iPhone itself. It’s the attention it’s bringing to the whole issue of wireless pricing in Canada. The $6.95 Wireless System Access Fee we all pay on our bills was initially created in the 90’s in order to help promote the development of wireless telephony throughout our country, and not just in major population centers. It’s no longer mandated by the CRTC, but the carriers are still charging it as a pure cash grab. Until now, it was hard to prove just how unfair Canadian wireless plan pricing was, since it was easy for them to say “Different hardware features, different software features, different service features”, etc. But the difference is black and white when you can compare Canadian Apples to American Apples when our currencies are so close in value. So, I would encourage Canadian readers to contact you local MPP about supporting Bill C-555, the “Get Connected Fairly Act”. Sign the online petition at http://www.davidmcguinty.com/english/Take_Action/Petition_The_House/Petition_C_555_Frais_d_acces.html or if you’re incensed about Rogers pricing for the iPhone, sign the petition at http://www.ruinediphone.com/ or better yet, sign both! The iPhone launch has a lot of media attention right now as does Bell & Telus’s SMS announcement, so it’s a great time for Canadians to rise up with one voice and tell the carriers, and our elected government representatives, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”

Initially published to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Blackberry, Change, iPhone, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Borrowing from our children and our future…

Posted by Michael Brown on January 3, 2007

I live in Ottawa, Canada, and normally on a day like today, we would consider a balmy day in January to be about -15 Celsius. As I’m writing this, it’s a really balmy +6 degrees out. It’s like the Great White North has been exported south this year, and I actually saw some geese flying back here this morning. And we all play a part in this…

The sheer number of people who are on earth only accounts for a small percentage of global warming; what really accounts for it is industrialization and large industrial processes. So, most people figure that there’s nothing I can do, it’s all these big operations that are causing the problems. That’s where you’re wrong; there’s a lot everyone can do. And it’s really the little things that can add up to a big difference.

In our house, we’ve swapped out almost all the standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, which will pay for themselves in energy savings within the first year. The standard bulbs we’ve left in are all on dimmers, so they never run at full power. I re-built my server and desktop computer this past year, and they’re more energy efficient than the older products they replaced, while being more powerful, and the parts used meets the RoHS directive for restricting hazardous substances. I also avoid printing things if I don’t have to; instead I rely on print preview or carrying the information around on my Treo. I’m also starting to eliminate paper bills, and relying on electronic statements and PDF printing wherever possible. And those are just some of the technological steps we’re taking (after all, this is a tech blog!). We also recycle whatever is recyclable.

In today’s consumer driven environment, we CAN vote our conscience with our wallet. Buy products that are energy efficient or eco-friendly, even if it means spending a little more. If enough people do that, they’ll all become energy efficient or eco-friendly, and cheaper, in order to compete. Use print preview instead of printing something to “check out how it looks”. Look for other ways you can make a difference; a whole lot of little bits can make a huge difference, especially when you multiply it by hundreds, thousands, or millions of people.

There’s an old Indian proverb about the earth; “We don’t inherit it from our grandparents. We borrow it from our children.” Let’s not leave it a mess for them.

Posted in Change, Eco-friendly, Environment | 6 Comments »

Expectations, discipline and habits…

Posted by Michael Brown on February 13, 2006

People tend to look for quick fixes, something that will make things better now. So, people tend to buy technology solutions (both hardware and software) that will fix their life NOW. Sometimes those solutions get shelved when they don’t meet the person’s (unrealistic) expectations. It may have been the right solution for the person, but their need for a NOW fix for their problem meant that they would not build the habits nor the discipline to make the solution really work for them. So they either go back to “old way” of doing things, or worse, look for yet another quick fix that will likely get shelved for the same reasons.

The tricks to making technology solutions like smartphones and handhelds work are to apply three elements: discipline, expectations, and habits. You have to take a disciplined approach by determining what your solution should accomplish, and by having realistic expectations as to what it can really do for you. After all, it’s a tool, not a miracle. Once you have obtained your solution, you have to be disciplined about using it, thus building habits. You also need to have realistic expectations as to how fast you can incorporate your solution into your daily life. It takes a minimum of 21 days to build a habit, so you should persevere for a month to see if something is or isn’t working for you. If something’s not working for you after the month, try to identify where it’s not working for you specifically, in comparison to the work you did previously determining what it should be doing for you. This is what we call “gap-analysis”; finding the little differences between what we expect and what we have. Often what’s wrong is something small, something that can be addressed without having to trash the whole solution.

Handhelds and smartphones are productivity tools, and as such we have to build habits to use them effectively, and that requires discipline. All too often the quest for productivity enhancing tools can turn into a productivity draining black-hole, simply for the reasons I mentioned earlier. It’s very easy to get lured into spending time and money – both very valuable resources – pursing the siren song of the quick fix. The way to avoid that trap is to have realistic, clear expectations of what you want your solution to accomplish for you. It needs to fit into the big picture of your life, providing maximum integration and benefits, while minimizing disruptions. The way to ensure that is to do your homework.
Define your NEEDS and your WANTS by figuring out what you need from the device, and what would be nice to have. Look at all the tools you currently use (computer, software, phones, planners, etc.) and see how you can reduce the number of items to carry, while maximizing how you use them together. A Palm handheld or Treo Smartphone can “plug into” a lot of the computer-based tools you are already using, and with the right set-up, the right software for your needs and some good habits, it can make your life a whole lot more productive and enjoyable. Just don’t expect it will happen overnight… It will take a month of determined effort on your part to make it a life management tool.

Next time, I’ll be talking about my upgrade from the Treo 600 to the Treo 650, and the differences I found between them.

Posted in Change, Habits, Productivity | Leave a Comment »

Attitude is everything

Posted by Michael Brown on December 7, 2005

I’ve always believed that attitude is everything, and is one of the key predictors of one’s future outcomes. How you approach things in life is just as important as what you do in life. Having a positive attitude towards continuous learning can really help you get what you want out of life, and make it pleasurable to learn, as opposed to fearing the changes that life tends to bring. In my own case, I went through college twice and earned two diplomas; the first in Radio & TV Broadcasting when I was 18, and the second in Electronics Engineering (Technician) when I was 27. The second time was more interesting as I was much older that most of my classmates, but my accumulated life experience to that point had made the 2 year course much easier and I graduated with honours at the end of the course. My secret is very simple: Learning is like exercise – the more you do it, the easier it is. If you don’t use it… You lose it! By being willing to learn, and by exercising that skill by reading, doing courses, attending training, working on self-study, or learning by other means, you will be better able to cope with the dramatic amounts of change we face these days, especially the rapid technological change we face today.

My Mom is a perfect example of learning being a life-long skill that must be exercised. When I was still a kid, Mom was taking University correspondance courses, bettering her education in her field so her future options would be open for her. Mom did other courses and forms of learning throughout her career, as well as doing special interest courses. At work, she also received computer training (as well as taking evening courses) and learned how to use the Internet. 8 years ago, her continuous learning skills served her well in a time of crisis; Mom was diagnosed with Cancer. Many people just wither when faced with such a drastic change in their lives, leaving their fate strictly in the hands of the medical professionals who treat them, or they simply give up and let what will be, be. Not my Mom; she scoured the Internet to find out all she could about her form of Cancer, including all possible forms of treatment. Mom was always informed (because of her research) when it came to her doctor’s visits, so they were very productive sessions. Mom also sought out homeopathic solutions as well as conventional medicine approaches to dealing with Cancer. Her learning about all possible treatment options allowed her to progress through her Cancer treatment with the peace of mind offered by “knowing your enemy” and how to battle it. Since she had searched out all possible treatment options, she was better prepared to face the challenges that the treatment of her form of Cancer would present her with. With the combination of conventional and homeopathic medicine, she and her practitioners were able to successfully treat her Cancer, and forced it into remission.

A few months ago, Mom discovered that the cancer was active again. Like her previous experience, she scoured the Internet to find the latest information on treatment regimes and homeopathic solutions. She consulted her naturopath and her doctors, and was prepared to discuss treatment options knowing full well what they entailed. Mom said it was pretty much “old hat” in having to face treatment again. This time, it was going to require two types of chemotherapy, and the possibility of Radiation treatment. Mom left the management of her treatment schedule to Dad (and his Palm Tungsten E), and focused on getting herself through the treatment program. She’s not quite finished the program yet, but she has responded so well to the two types of chemo that her doctors have declared that there is no need to pursue radiation therapy.

Both Mom and Dad know that all the technological toys we have these days are TOOLS. They are designed to serve a purpose; we merely have to learn how to use them effectively. Many people are afraid of computers and similar devices, simply because they don’t understand them, and are unwilling to learn (or maybe have not had someone who could teach them appropriately). The thing is, technology is here to stay, and it gets more powerful and complicated every year. But, as you can see, they make for powerful tools for good. The Internet provided Mom with bookloads of information on her cancer. Dad’s Palm helped them manage the numerous doctor’s visits, as well as carrying a lot of reference material and notes. They even loaded it up with pictures of my two-year old daughter in order to show friends and staff at the Cancer centre (yes, a Palm can be a great brag book!). You just have to be willing to learn how to use these tools. Mastering them can bring great benefits, so don’t forget – attitude is everything. You can do it!

On a personal note, thanks to those people who wrote to ask how my Mom is doing. She is doing well, and has her usual positive attitude towards her treatment and life in General. She’s looking forward to spoiling her granddaughter (my daughter) this Christmas and spending time with the family. Thanks again to those who wrote, or sent silent prayers! Just remember, knowledge is power; as Louis Pasteur once said, “fortune favours the prepared mind”. May your fortunes be favorable ones!

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You’re never too old…

Posted by Michael Brown on October 19, 2005

Almost everyone’s heard the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Well, that generalization isn’t always the case. My Dad is a perfect example of that. Dad’s in his early-sixties with no formal post-secondary training. He did receive trade specific training and some computer training during his career, and he also received some time management training using paper day-planner binder systems. Well, Dad bought a Palm handheld from me earlier this year to replace his day-planner, and he’s been using it to manage both his and Mom’s schedules ever since. Dad didn’t receive any formal training on the Palm from me (although I have given him tips and tricks now and then); he’s pretty much taught himself how to use it, because he enjoys doing it that way. Similarly, Dad’s been getting into digital photography/digital darkroom as a hobby, and he’s been learning it on his own and through special-interest classes.

What differentiates Dad from the old cliche is that he knows learning is a life-long process. Dad is self-taught in many respects; he wants to do something, therefore he learns how to do it. He’ll read books, take classes, watch instructional videos, talk to people, and then he’ll put his hand to it. And even though both his sons are computer experts, he only calls us for help with his when he’s exhausted all his possibilities for solving the problem himself. Dad knows that you learn more by doing it yourself, and even by fixing your own mistakes, than you do if someone else solves your problems for you. He’s not afraid to ask questions; as the old saying goes “the only dumb question is the one left unasked”. Similarly, he’s not afraid to get formal training to learn something; it’s just that sometimes it’s more fun to do it yourself.

The thing is, Dad isn’t alone. I follow trends in the handheld industry, and there are a lot of older people adopting handheld computing into their lifestyle. Doctors and nurses, fields where learning is a life-long skill requirement, are big adopters of handhelds. They realize that handhelds, coupled with medical references and related software, are valuable tools for their work and personal lives. In some cases, these people are picking up handhelds after years or decades of working in their field. A handheld is an effective health care tool, and it’s great to see these people using technology that will help them help others. I have a lot of respect for healthcare professionals; they work under conditions that many others simply could not – or would not – deal with.

So, the next time you tell yourself that “I’m too old for this” or “this is too complicated for me to use”, don’t sell yourself short. Learning is a life-long skill that we have to practice in order to cope with change. Change, as I’ve written about before, isn’t easy, but it is a fact of life these days. We’ve seen more change in the last 100 years than humanity has seen in the last millennium, and that trend looks to be continuing. Our ability – and willingness – to learn new things is one way to handle this continual state of change we find ourselves in, and it empowers you to have more control over your future and your ability to deal with all this change. Change can be good, even though it may not be easy, and learning is closely related to change. The best way to handle it is to envision the outcome; what will I be able to do/accomplish once I’ve learned this, and how will it better my life or the lives of those around me? When you know what it is you want to accomplish, it becomes a lot easier to persevere through the process.

So, I’m dedicating this blog to my Dad, who has taught me many things over the course of my lifetime, but more than he realizes. I hope to have the same kind of influence (as a role model) for my kids, as he has been to me. Learning new things can be a challenge, but it can be a rewarding one. Dad initially got the Palm for fun as much as for a life management tool; now it’s become a valuable tool in managing his and Mom’s schedules, especially now that Mom is going through chemotherapy and has numerous treatments and doctor’s visits to keep track of. Next time, I’ll be writing about attitude and learning, which is something my Mom has really exemplified over the course of my life.

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How to handle change.

Posted by Michael Brown on April 19, 2005

Change isn’t easy; like I said last week, we inherently dislike change as we typically fear the unknown. So, that tends to make change difficult. Now, I’ve always believed we value something that we have to work hard for, so when we do make a hard won change, it’s something we can be proud of. Here’s a few suggestions as to how to face any changes you want to make in your life:

  • Don’t be afraid. Ultimately, YOU are in control of your changes. Even if change is forced on you by external circumstances (like the loss of your job) YOU are still in control of your own actions. Change can be very rewarding, so look at it as an opportunity.
  • Envision the successful outcome of your change. That’s your carrot, or the light at the end of your tunnel. When you have a clear picture of where you want to be, it will help you figure out how to get there, as well as help you deal with the inevitable “course corrections” you’ll need along the way.
  • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Implement your change in smaller, manageable “bite-size” pieces. This will keep you from getting discouraged, and will help you gain confidence that you are progressing towards your goal.

Change isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding. I’ve gone back to being self-employed after having worked for big tech firms for 5 years, and I find it very rewarding. I have a client who made a total switch from paper-based organization to a Treo smartphone, and he’ll never go back. So, don’t be reluctant to change; be bold, envision your desired outcome and go for it! You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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Change is a good thing (usually)…

Posted by Michael Brown on April 12, 2005

People who’ve known me for a while know that one of my favourite sayings is “The one constant in life is that things change!”. No two days are the same, yet many of us have a “routine”; we try to make days run the same way every day. Why?? One reason is to impose a form of order on potential chaos, so that we have control over events or our environment. Another aspect of that caters to a more basic part of our pysche, the part that feels safe and secure in knowing what to expect from life each day. Raising my daughter is a perfect example; she’s a happy kid when she knows when she’ll be eating, when she’ll be playing, and when she’s going to sleep. She’s free to explore the world and develop because she knows what to expect each day, without worries about whether or not her basic needs will be met. Similarly, adults feel more secure when we know what to expect. When changes occur, we no longer know what is going to happen, and that scares a lot of people.

So, based on that, routine is good and change is bad, right? Well, yes and no. Routines are good. Routines help us to handle aspects of life, from basics like eating and sleeping, to more advanced concepts like work or school tasks. Routines help us impose order in our lives, and that helps us to achieve more than “the basics”.

But change is good too. Change makes us look at our routines, and make sure they’re still valid. “Stuck in a rut” is a routine gone bad. Change is an opportunity, a chance to evaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Some good general questions to ask yourself when you’re facing change are:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • How will this benefit me / my family / my employer?
  • Is this the best way/tool to accomplish the matter at hand?
  • Is this consistant with my beliefs, values, or behaviours?

There are many more things to consider, but you get the idea. Change can be an opportunity, a chance to make the changes YOU want in your life.

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