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    The Medical Palm Review

    January, 2007 (V8N1) - New Year, Same PDA

    It was mid-December and I hadn't bought any tech toys in months. Really. Just a memory card for my daughter's cell phone. No new hardware or software to tinker with. Not even any repairs. The withdrawal pains were severe. So I debated about getting a new PDA.

    Palm has recently introduced several new models. I took a look at the reviews of the Treo 680 and 700p smart phones but they offered only incremental improvements over my 650. There's even a Treo 700w now, running Mobile Windows instead of the Palm OS but that transition is not worth the hassles. None of these new devices has Wi-Fi, so checking e-mail still requires cellular phone minutes, which is too expensive in my view. Nokia, the cell phone manufacturer, is now offering the 770 Internal Tablet with which can connect to the Internet with Wi-Fi or with cellular telephony. Why can't Palm offer something so nifty instead of only smart phones? Now that I already have one (the Treo 650) I don't find the new versions compelling enough to spend more money (although, if I didn't have one, I would be more likely to get a smart phone than a LifeDrive which has wireless but no telephone communications ability).

    Finally, I slaked my thirst for a new gadget by upgrading my office desktop PC. I already have a laptop, and a PDA. Why (you might well ask) did I need a new PC? For all the usual geeky reasons, gentle reader. The new box has a bigger and faster hard drive, more memory and faster Core Duo CPU and graphics cards. As is usual in these matters, the new box cost less than a comparably decked out laptop.

    Now that I shoot masses of digital photos as well as some video with my Treo 650 and with my Casio digicam, I need a more capable machine to store and catalogue the results. The new brute can far more quickly create an index in Picasa (photo management software from the folks at Google) and flip through the thumbnails to find what I need for a presentation or web site. Video editing is also much faster. The laptop has never been particularly good at these tasks. At least, this is how I have rationalized the expenditure to my wife.

    And the new PC allows me to beef up my PDA backup procedures. As longtime readers know, I am immoderately obsessed with preventing data loss on my Palm gizmos. Usually I HotSync my Treo 650 to the laptop. I HotSync with Backup Buddy because it saves my PDA configuration settings as well as the application data, appointments, and so on. Backup Buddy even has an applet that saves a backup on the Treo's SD memory card.

    For even more redundancy, I installed the Palm Desktop application on the new PC. This quite functional personal information manager is free to download onto as many PCs as one wishes, whether or not one uses a Palm PDA. I configured the HotSync Manager settings so that the PDA overwrites the Desktop data by default. I usually HotSync to the laptop, but if I periodically HotSync to the desktop PC, it will acquire the PDA's settings and data. Should the PDA ever get reset, or lost, and the laptop too, I will still have another copy of my core info preserved on the new PC. I just have to remember to reverse the settings to Desktop overwrites PDA when I want to restore the PDA data from the PC. I should also point out that I back up my desktop PC's data directories to CD or external hard drive at regular intervals. Thus my data backups are distributed in time and space for redundancy and survivability.

    Numerous options, apart from what I use, are available for backing up your Palm data. A good place to start is the list of backup programs at PalmSource. Another collection of backup software can be found at PDAStreet. Some additional popular choices: BackupMan, CardBackup, Mobile Backup, and Teal Backup.

    The one trick I don't use (yet) is synchronizing to the Internet. But that is probably coming. As WiFi networks proliferate, and PDAs get WiFi capability, I expect I will be making Voice Over Internet Phone calls instead of cell calls, checking e-mail and web-browsing without using cellular data minutes, and linking to personal data held in an online repository for access and backup from anywhere. Once that day arrives, data loss will become impossible. Almost.

    Face The Music

    My daughter has an Apple iTunes account. She also has a cell phone that can play music files. She asked me if there was a way to play the music on her phone so she wouldn't have to carry two devices (the kid thinks just like her old man!). But Apple encrypts its music files to prevent playing them on mobile devices other than iPods.

    Since my daughter has no intention of sharing this music with others, I assume that it is legal for her to play the music she has purchased on whatever device she herself owns. So I looked into the question of how to transfer the music.

    Interestingly enough, my daughter's Motorola cell phone can Transflash card with adapter for SD card readeraccommodate a tiny transflash memory card and, with a synchronization cable, can download music files from a PC. The memory card can also be removed from the phone and inserted into a card reader to transfer the files even faster and without straining the phone's battery (See the photo of the card and adapter).

    iTunes does permit one to burn music to a CD. From a CD, one can use a range of free software to convert the CD tracks to MP3 files. Then one can transfer the music to a cell phone or PDA. In other words, juggling cards and readers and CDs can get the job done, but it's not exactly convenient.

    While exploring this capability, I discovered that Motorola provides software with the sync cable for this phone. This software includes contact management, appointment book, and other capabilities. It's not as sophisticated but its functionality is similar to that of the Palm Desktop package.

    Hmmm, this phone accepts memory cards, plays music, takes photos and videos, has personal info management software, syncs with a PC. And it's half the price of a Palm smartphone. Palm must be experiencing pressure from this sort of device.

    In which case, Palm probably feels like being squashed by the just-announced Apple iPhone. Reviewer Jennifer Berger at PCWorld described it as being like Palm's LifeDrive, except it includes a phone. In other words, it's a smart phone with WiFi and the clean interface of an iPod. Apple's Steve Jobs has modestly expressed hopes to sell ten million of these over the next two years. Ouch.

    One thing for sure, if my daughter owned one of these, she wouldn't need to ask me juggle all those components and cables and cards to get her music from her iPod onto her cell phone.

    Medical Computing

    The December 05, 2006 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal has a helpful article on digital photography in clinical office work (Digital photography in the generalist's office, D Riba Torrecillas et al, CMAJ, December 5, 2006; 175(12)). A photograph of a skin lesion or extremity injury or infected ulcer can be very useful to a clinician both for documentation, for requesting a consultation, or for tracking illness progression. As digital cameras in our PDAs and cell phones achieve higher resolutions, it becomes ever more practical to add images to medical records or to e-mail colleagues. This article discusses how to take advantage of a digital camera in your clinical work.

    I should point out that the Canadian Medical Association website offers members a variety of PDAs and software for sale.

    Nuts and Bolts

    Convergence or divergence?

    The Economist (the November 30 Technology Quarterly Supplement) had an interesting take on cell phones which they compared to cars in a recent editorial. Now, instead of one's car as a fashion statement, one uses cell phones. They assert that cell phones, far from becoming all singing all dancing and all things to all people will ramify into various models depending on the user and the needs of the moment; something with digital camera for work, a sleeker model for dining out.

    I think they may have slightly missed the point of recent social and technical developments. People want their music with them all the time, their phone always on, the ability to share a photo for work or with friends. Such a personalized device might be too important to give up for a change in daily activity. Continuing improvements in network coverage, component size and power needs, and the steady improvement in digital camera optics means that the mightiest gizmo will be light as a feather. I have even seen camera phones with flash units, despite the impact on battery life. Better networks mean that data and software will be hosted online rather than on the mobile device, making the most demanding applications and heftiest databases inherently mobile.

    Add to that the continuing popularity of "reality" TV shows, YouTube, and America's Funniest Home Video (they recently dropped the "Home" from the title) means people will never want to be without their multi-role devices, to capture those spontaneous pratfalls and tender moments...

    It has been claimed that large firms will not be keen on distributing such devices to their employees, for fear they will waste their time while at work. I think that this misses the new work paradigm. Work is no longer something that happens from nine to five and only at the office. Employers will be happy to let you listen to iTunes in the office, knowing that they can reach you by cell phone or e-mail or Instant Message anywhere and any time. With an electronic leash you never really have the evening off.

    Judging by the new handhelds from Nokia, Motorola, Palm and Apple, I say that convergence will continue and even accelerate. The need for distinct fashion styles will result in proliferation of Bluetooth powered accessories rather than different types of handhelds themselves, which will grow ever smaller and more unobtrusive as many functions that used to be integrated into the PDA itself are hived off to wearable and portable peripherals.

    This debate over convergence is not a new preoccupation of handheldNEC's P-ISM handheld concept device developers. One of MPR's faithful readers alerted us to a news item in GizmoWatch in December, about a pen-size computer. Sounds nifty but the idea originated not in 2006 but in 2003 as the NEC P-ISM, according to the Snopes Urban Legend web site. Notice how the NEC designers created their multifunction PDA as a set of pen-sized devices connected by Bluetooth. There appears to be a projector, a camera, and a laser projector keyboard. Although it looks cool, it's just as well they haven't come to market as I am constantly losing my pens as it is.The five pen-sized gadgets that, together, comprise the NEC P-ISM

    More to the point, developers are constantly striving to put your entire suite of office electronics into one pocket. That quest didn't begin in 2006 and it won't end anytime soon.

    In Times to Come

    There will be some changes in the Review this year. I find my eye roving to developments in other mobile technologies that might be applicable to medical practitioners. Palm is no longer the only game of interest. And I am getting busier with my other work.

    All of which translates into a change to more eclectic material, and probably a longer interlude between issues of the Review. As always, I will notify subscribers as each new issue goes live.

    Until next time, then, enjoy!

    This is one of a continuing series of newsletters about Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals, educators and other people who need tools that work. The Review is published monthly on our web site. Subscription is free; the principal benefit is receiving e-mail notification of new issues.

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