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Bridging the PDA - paper gap, perhaps

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  • Bridging the PDA - paper gap, perhaps

    [Moved this over here because it really is an implementation thing, not a concept thing.]

    (This is my third or fourth posting of stages in the evolution of my system. For those wanting to filter this quickly, I'm using an unmodified Palm m515 to implement everything but filed papers.)

    My last post (Thinking out loud ...), set forth a system of DateBook, ToDo Lists for NAs, and Memos for Projects, Someday/Maybe, and Reference.

    I ran into another detail of Palm application handling that got in my way, after a short while. Every time I wanted to put an NA in Someday/Maybe for a bit, I found I had to cut the ToDo text, then switch to MemoPad, start a new entry, paste the text, and hit Done. Whew... now I also found out that if you try to export ToDos and import them anywhere else, you can't. Only back into ToDos.

    That issue, along with other advice that some of the best hackers use just a flat text file, got me thinking that I could put everything into Memos, and use the categories and alpha sorting with symbols to arrange everything.

    So now, I have contacts in Addresses, and *everything* else in Memos. I can sync to my Desktop, select "All", and export my entire system to a text file in one shot. Backups, snapshots before major changes, whatever I want. Or if I ever lose/break/??? my Palm, I can go paper in a minute or two.

    I implement contexual NA lists, a tickler section on each of those lists, an Active Projects list, a huge Someday/Maybe section, and an "Info" category for reference material that doesn't require archived paper. I use the sort order of symbols prefixed to each type of entry to get them arranged in the "All" view just the way I like, to facilitate quick "What to Do?" scans all the way up to my Long Term Reviews; but I do most of my system scanning in the category views so I see just the focus items.

    Comments / devil's advocate? / Contrasts?

  • #2
    All right, I'll be the devil's advocate.

    First of all, I believe that no one needs to change his system if it works for him, even if he maintains it on the backs of envelopes (like my dad does). So if your system really works for you, I have no criticism.

    But I for one would not be tempted to switch to your system any more than I would go back to a typewriter after using a word processor. And for large documents with graphics, I wouldn't go back to a word processor after using LaTex. My opinion is that vanilla Palm apps suck. Switching to more sophisticated tools has enabled me to be much more productive while being much more relaxed doing many more projects that are much more complicated.

    -andersons

    Comment


    • #3
      Plain vanilla PDA.

      Originally posted by andersons
      My opinion is that vanilla Palm apps suck. Switching to more sophisticated tools has enabled me to be much more productive while being much more relaxed doing many more projects that are much more complicated.
      Aren't you afraid of the software complexity? I mean that loading external applications increases the likelihood of the software failure and data loss. So I'm trying to limit the number of software packages I'm using. You can use plain vanilla Palm for GTD, but for complicated projects I prefer the Desktop PC.
      TesTeq

      Comment


      • #4
        Just the sort of commentary I was hoping for, andersons. I'm reminded of one of the major reasons I've gravitated toward this Memo-only thing.

        Part of me has grown frustrated with so many different possible tools, some with bugs, some with reasonable-but-irritating-anyway limitations, that I've chosen to do without. (Yes TesTeq, that possibility enters into my thinking too - I don't want somebody's "I'm not going to support this program anymore" to bite me in the butt later.)

        I'm also trying to reduce my 'system-tweaking as procrastination' tendencies. (DateBook 5 and LifeBalance were serious black holes of perfectionistic tweaking!) Ok, I can fiddle and tweak with any system, true, but I tend to do that less to my personally created systems than to somebody else's adapted tools.

        And part of it is following the "Who Owns Your Data?" idea that I described in my original post... that sort of lock-in issue makes me go looking for an alternative that doesn't impose arbitrary limits on my workflow.

        I understand very well your idea of using tools of the right sophistication to optimize your system's performance, and I agree with that, other than my specific exception on this topic. I've chosen to take more of the administration manually, to gain the freedom of defining the rules myself.

        Thanks for a very illuminating contrast!

        Comment


        • #5
          Aren't you afraid of the software complexity? I mean that loading external applications increases the likelihood of the software failure and data loss. So I'm trying to limit the number of software packages I'm using. You can use plain vanilla Palm for GTD, but for complicated projects I prefer the Desktop PC.
          No, I'm not afraid of the software complexity. The risk really doesn't seem that great and is easy to minimize, while the benefit of different applications is huge. To me it's like being afraid of driving a car because of the risk of an accident. I have had a couple of hard crashes with my PDA, but the first occurred in a vanilla configuration. Apparently the Palm OS itself (or in combination with the Sony hardware?) crashes when the power gets sufficiently low. Fortunately, it's quick and easy to back up data and restore it.

          I have lots of great applications installed on my PDA that make the PDA tremendously more useful to me. I wouldn't want to sacrifice the benefit I get from that functionality, day in and day out, just for fear of the possibility of an occasional crash.

          -andersons

          Comment


          • #6
            There is another drawback of using many different applications for Personal Information Management:
            Despite the manufacturers claims their applications do not like to share the information with other applications.
            Everybody uses proprietary file formats and there is no common protocol to exchange the data between the software packages. Of course there is SyncML, vCard, vCal, and synchronisation to Microsoft Outlook but I cannot directly synchronize my Palm with my Nokia phone. The easiest way is via some kind of text file (export from one device, small manual modifications and import to another device).
            There is also no guarantee that the information I backed up yesterday will be directly readable after five years. To support new hardware you must upgrade operating system and applications and your data may become unreadable. The only stable standard is text file (fortunately the Unicode revolution did not break the backward compatilbility in this area).
            TesTeq

            Comment


            • #7
              Applications for PIM

              Way back in the dark ages (early 1990's?) I started using an HP95lx for information management. By the time I moved to an HP100lx, I had a hundred or so people in my address book, and some good information in various applications.

              After I got my first Palm, I was able to move all that information to it by creating Tab delimited files and moving it all over; it was a relatively painless process. By this time I had a few hundred people in the address book and a few relatively small files.

              I now have several hundred people in the address book of my T3, and a lot of important information in memo format, in Shadow, and in the datebook. I want to make sure that when I move to something else, I can transport that information. Think of the future, and make sure your information is transportable somehow!

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Applications for PIM

                Originally posted by MarcR
                Think of the future, and make sure your information is transportable somehow!
                How can you know if PalmOne will survive and will continue to manufacture and support PDAs. Sony abandoned Palm compatible devices. Once upon a time there was a REX Organizer - PCMCIA-sized device...
                I cannot predict the future so I cannot predict if my data will be easily transportable. Even you had to use intermediate text file for conversion. That's the whole point - text files are the only standard, cross-platform way to store information.
                TesTeq

                Comment


                • #9
                  text files are the only standard, cross-platform way to store information.
                  To a slightly lesser extent, RTF is a pretty good cross-platform alternative to text files, but I do agree completely with TesTeq - Text is best.

                  Because of this, I've made the decision (and kept with it, pretty well) that as much as possible I will keep my information in an open format.

                  I do not use tools that do not allow me to save as RTF or export my data to an open format. For the exceptions, I usually get by with saving the final file as a PDF (using the free PDFCreator).

                  Regarding PIMs specifically, many will sync with Outlook. Do so, and then use the open source tool "Outport" (search http://sourceforge.net) to get your data in a more open format.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Applications for PIM

                    Originally posted by TesTeq
                    Originally posted by MarcR
                    Think of the future, and make sure your information is transportable somehow!
                    How can you know if PalmOne will survive and will continue to manufacture and support PDAs. Sony abandoned Palm compatible devices. Once upon a time there was a REX Organizer - PCMCIA-sized device...
                    I cannot predict the future so I cannot predict if my data will be easily transportable. Even you had to use intermediate text file for conversion. That's the whole point - text files are the only standard, cross-platform way to store information.
                    TesTeq
                    Of course, you are correct that we cannot predict the future, so limiting yourself to using tools that either save natively in some sort of more open format (RTF? plain ASCII text? comma or tab delimited files?) or have a mechanism to export to such formats seems to me to be a necessity to ensure compatibility with future systems. You are also correct that I had to use an intermediate text file to bring my information along to a new generation of devices. That was my point-the tools I used had the capability to do that. If it was in some proprietary format that was not exportable, I would not have been able to transfer my files to the newer devices.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      A while ago I had the same concerns about having "just enough" collection buckets. Instead of looking at just the PDA vs. Paper dillema I mapped the pathways and processes that my stuff/information physically traveled, starting with the various inputs/inboxes I have (computer, notepads, Inboxes, & PDA).

                      Needless to say it was quite a web and it seemed rather byzantine. However, the exercise made me think about why was a particular path/process necessary. Then, I made changes and streamlined it to a point where each instrument/device/method had its utility defined. Anything else I just chucked.

                      Admittedly this was a huge tweak/hack but a useful one. I just reivewed the map I made a while ago and I can say that I've stuck to it pretty well since I first generated it.


                      So what do I use:

                      on the PDA: Life Balance (The master GTD program & To do list management) and Day Notez (Memo/Diary/Input) & the corresponding Desktop applications. I have DateBk5 but I dont use a lot of the functions such as the journaling

                      on my person/paper:a Clairefontaine notebook for meetings and a Hipster PDA for all other times.

                      As I said the mapping exercise was very useful in tying all the gadgets and programs I had and made me justify their usefulness.

                      Hope this helps...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        How can you know if PalmOne will survive and will continue to manufacture and support PDAs. . .
                        I cannot predict the future so I cannot predict if my data will be easily transportable. . .
                        I can't predict the future either. But I'm not going to restrict my data to an impoverished representation now just so that I'll perhaps save myself a bit of work in the distant future if my PDA dies and there are no more available to replace it.

                        Whatever happens 5 years from now, I will not need much of the data I have in my PDA right now; it will be obsolete. I can certainly see the value exporting critical data to a text file for backup purposes in addition to backing up the regular, non-text files. But I don't do that either. Just backing up is the important thing because losing data sucks. As long as I have data I can later convert, I'll be OK.

                        If worst comes to worse (and yes, I sometimes wonder if PDAs will survive or if Llamagraphics will continue to support their software throughout my lifetime), I'll convert my backed-up data to whatever new form I need, only if and when the need to arises. It very well may never happen.

                        A much scarier potential problem for me is that all my research data reside in an old Sun workstation. All the raw data are in text format, but thousands of data objects are in the proprietary format of the statistical package I use. It's not possible to do meaningful statistical analysis of large data sets in text format. Sooner or later I will have to convert the files to a format for a Linux or Windows machine. It will probably take a day or two.

                        Bottom line, even text files cannot prevent the need for some tedious data conversion when entire hardware architectures become obsolete.

                        -andersons

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Perfect file format.

                          andersons,
                          I think my quest for a perfect file format is the evidence of my "inverted perfectionism". I mean that being disappointed by some deficiencies of other file formats I am restricting myself to the simplest solutions that possibly restrict my productivity. So usage of perfectly forward- and backward-compatible text file format may limit myself to basic productivity level. I must rethink it.
                          Thank you.
                          TesTeq

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Only part of my original post, but a significant one...

                            I guess I'm not too surprised to see that this thread generally wandered onto a subtopic I'd thrown in there.

                            Just to leave my last two cents, and let it be from there, the largest reason that I decided to move all my datebook and todo entries was the fact that they only export to their own proprietary archive files - no translation / migration possible there.

                            The second reason I decided to move away from todo entries is that on the Palm itself, the only way to move info to or from a todo entry is to Select All / Cut / <change apps> / <start new entry> / Paste. Since I preferred to have only the things 'do-able now' in the ToDo lists, that meant copying to/from memo's occasionally. Not that easy with the above limit, so I chose to drop the todo app rather than incur that overhead.

                            I have designed a very intuitive, quickly modifiable Memo prefix system that gives me just the sequence/priority of entries given the different combinations of relevant start and end dates, times, and possible recurring-ness (didn't have a better word.)

                            And away I go, with a less-tempted-to-tweak, Very Personalized GTD list system.

                            Thanks again, everyone, for very helpful commentary.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Information Loss and Programming the User

                              This interesting thread reminds me of all the different ways of getting things done! Two observations:

                              1) I'm not worried about proprietary data formats, for the following reasons:
                              My todo list and calendar are ephemeral. On the GTD Fast tapes, DA says something like "if my palm died, I would just pick up this paper organizer and pick right up." Your lists naturally regenerate because they reflect what's on your mind. Furthermore, there are lots of tricks that can be used to get from one data format to another. Worst comes to worst, I can retype or cut and paste from one format to another in a few hours. Sometimes we want to automate processes that aren't worth automating. Rewriting your lists is one of the oldest forms of review.

                              2) I am always impressed with people that have the discipline to impose a complicated coding scheme on their lists. You know, where "*Adm-hi-&" means a high-priority administrative project with a due date. I have found I can only do that some of the time, and it quickly becomes worthless to me. I need a system that is "fault-tolerant" when I fall off the GTD wagon!

                              Happy Holidays,
                              Mike

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