On Keeping Technology in Perspective

Lately I've been contemplating how to best integrate technology into my life so that it balances well against non-technical things. I've come to the conclusion that while high-tech often has great value, it is also important to deliberately choose low-tech solutions and spend time in no-tech activities.

For instance, the past few months I've noticed my desire to work on my Mac during weekends has diminished greatly. Not very long ago, I could be found on my computer on weekends, checking email, surfing the web and so on. Now I feel much happier leaving my hi-tech devices idle on the weekend. Instead I visit the library, read a good book, sketch, run errands, and spend quality no-tech time with my wife, son, family and friends.

After years of high-tech experience, I've reached the point of getting enough of technology during the week. This might be better stated as a realistic view of technology. I work in a high tech field (web design) and several of my hobbies are high-tech (Palm handhelds and Macs), which fill my week with high-tech input. I'm now finding I really need weekends away from technology to decompress and recover.

I've also always had a bit of resistance to the idea that technology is the "great solution" to all problems. I'm no Luddite, but I do think technology may not necessarily be the right solution for every problem we encounter — often low-tech solutions are better. Maybe this resistance is because my life experience pre-dates computers being entwined into daily life.

The Benefits of Learning the Old Ways

As a young graphic design student in college, I was fortunate to have been taught the traditional, manual methods of art and design, using pencils, pens, chalk, pastels, brushes, paint and paper. During my early career as a graphic designer, I can still recall days when the power would go out at our design studios.

The computer systems running Quark Express, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator would shut down, yet I was able to grab a pad of paper and a pencil and continue working, while many other designers were lost without a computer.

Now, I don't mean to knock computer systems, but rather want to point out how valuable a traditional, low-tech design education can be. I believe too much reliance on computer hardware tends to dull a designer's creative mind, hands and eyes.

Think Deeply About Technology Dependence

What's the point I'm driving at here? I think we all need to think deeply about how much we rely on technology. High-tech solutions are great where appropriate but I also believe we should also seek to incorporate low and no-tech solutions and activities into our lives.

Activities and solutions that are not reliant on high-tech can help provide a break from the constant pressure a high tech life generates. Further, maintaining a low and no-tech aspect to our lives gives us opportunities to explore our human creativity in ways that don't require a computer or high tech device.

Turn off your computer, leave your PDA and mobile phone behind. Forget about your email. Go have a cuppa coffee or tea with good friends, read a great book for pleasure, take time to write a real letter to a friend, sketch something, take a walk on a sunny day, go for a bike ride, visit the beach, explore your own hometown. Whatever it is that you enjoy that doesn't require a high-tech device to do... do it!


Email Carefully!

I've always tried to make the email messages I write "safe for public consumption", because I never know where an email message might end up. I was reminded of this guideline after reading the eye-opening story Misfired Messages Roil Businesses at Wired.com. The article is a cautionary tale filled with email horror stories like this one:

In a note intended for a few friends, marketing executive Alex Clark once mocked his company's CEO and his inability to properly attach a document to an e-mail message, only to discover he had sent the missive to the chief executive himself. "Working with the IT department and the CEO's personal secretary," said Clark, "I attempted to intercept the message before it reached his inbox -- to no avail. Later that night, I received the response. The CEO made his outrage abundantly clear in the most scathing e-mail I have ever received."

For me, the article makes obvious just how easy it is to send disastrous messages if you're not very careful. Because email is almost a blend between written notes and phone conversations, I think it's often treated a bit too casually.

Combine the relaxed nature of email with its immediacy and multiple recipient capability and you've got a recipe that could potentially cook up a batch of serious trouble.

The moral of the story? Be careful what you write. Consider it "safe for public consumption", because you never know where any email message might land.

If in doubt, don't send it out!

Enjoy your weekend! :-)


Palm Tipsheet 2.0

Palm TipsheetWell, it's a done deal. The Palm Tipsheet, the free monthly e-zine that I started in 1997, as a newsletter of Palm tidbits for a few family and friends, has a new owner. And you know what? I feel great, because I know that the Tipsheet is in very capable hands.

Some of you who have come to my blog via the Palm Tipsheet are probably aware of the story behind its new ownership. If you're not a Tipsheet reader, here's a recap: I made the decision to halt producing the Palm Tipsheet because it had stopped being fun for me and instead had become a grind. Further, it was absorbing too much free time, (something I have very little of with a new 4 month old son).

I announced my intentions to halt the Tipsheet in issue 39. Following that announcement, I was contacted by several parties, including Brian Beeler of bargainPDA.com, who was very interested in carrying on the Palm Tipsheet. We came to terms and in issue 40, I announced the good news -- that the Tipsheet would live on.

So, the Palm Tipsheet is officially under new ownership and leadership and I couldn't be more pleased. I have full confidence in Brian's knowledge of Palm handhelds, PDAs and his experience running a PDA-oriented website. I believe he'll do the Tipsheet proud.

I'm pleased that something I began on a whim has gained over 11,000 regular subscribers and many more readers of the HTML, AvantGo, Mobile and Palm editions. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision I'd be publishing a newsletter with worldwide reach and so many loyal, friendly and gracious readers. I'm honored to have seen the Tipsheet grow into what it is today. I guess you could say I feel like a proud parent of an e-zine. :-)

Finally, I'm glad that long time readers of the Tipsheet will still get their monthly fix. I was showered with well-wishing emails when I announced I'd be stepping down. It was great to not only hear of readers' support for my focus on being a better dad, but also to hear their kind words about the Tipsheet. Seeing the Tipsheet continue getting to its readers is really like icing on the cake!

I wish Brian the very best as he takes over. I know he will do a superb job carrying on the tradition of the Palm Tipsheet.


Hello iBox!

iBoxWired is now featuring a new Cult of Mac story about John Fraser, a Minnesota guy who's developing the iBox(or whatever it might be called), a low-cost, pizza box Macintosh for $250-350. The final product is still 4 months away from production, and may face various legal problems.

The pizza box shape was last used by Apple in the 1990s, on their LC, Performa and Centris product lines. The low-profile shape works great for many users, because it takes so little vertical space on a desk and can be easily toted around by those who do not need something as ultra-portable as a PowerBook.

My guess is Fraser will be forced to sell just the basic box with RAM, hard drive and whatever else he can legally install, leaving buyers to locate, buy and drop in their own motherboard. Maybe Fraser can sell all the parts in a kit and provide easy-to-follow instructions. This might make the process a little less painful for the less technical.

Whatever Apple does legally, it's still a very slick idea: build a basic flat pizza box that can house a standard Apple Macintosh G3 or G4 motherboard, hard drive, RAM and other parts, letting buyers provide their own operating system. For a few hundred bucks, it should offer many budget-conscious users a perfect desktop Mac, now that the CRT-based iMac is no longer sold by Apple.

Go iBox! :-)


Palm OS on Pocket PC

Pal OS 5.5According to some of my sources in the PDA industry, I've learned that PalmSource is planning on releasing Palm OS 5.5 late in 2003, though they will show a demo at the PalmSource Developer Seminar, May 6-7 in San Mateo, CA. What makes the new OS release groundbreaking is that it upgrades current OS 5 devices like the Palm Tungsten T, and XScale based Pocket PC devices!

The 5.5 upgrade should be available in retail stores in both CD, and SD formats (no Memory Stick version has yet been announced) and for direct secure purchase and download from PalmSource's website. The $59.95 SD version will be an especially a good deal, as the 128MB cards the upgrade will come on can be erased after installation of the upgrade and used as normal removable media. The CD version and web download are to be priced at $29.95.

As for other details, I'm told Palm OS 5.5 will run on any Pocket PC that uses an XScale processor but unfortunately there will be no StrongARM processor support for various technical reasons. The upgrade is said to use only 8MB of ROM and includes a new memory management utility to add other applications to ROM (similar to JackFlash).

From what I've learned, the Palm OS 5.5 Flasher will check the device you own and upgrade Palm ARM devices directly. Pocket PC devices on which the update is run have two options: completely removing the Pocket PC 2002 OS or a dual boot feature. However, it's made clear before choosing dual-boot option that the Pocket PC 2002 OS takes approximately 32MB ROM which could be used for other applications bundled with the update.

Aside from the ROM image and special Flasher Utility, the rest of the card includes a variety of applications, including the latest versions of QuickOffice Premier with native file support and SnapperMail along with the latest Palm Desktop installers for both Macintosh and Windows.

As for performance -- I'm told that OS 5.5 runs incredibly quickly on Pocket PC XScale devices, providing tangible proof of just how lethargic Pocket PC 2002 is in comparison to Palm OS 5.5 on the very same chips. Pocket PC devices are said to run the new OS "Amazingly fast" and my sources call the visible difference in performance compared to Pocket PC 2002 OS "A real eye-opener".

It should be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to PalmSource's alternate OS option on their own PocketPC devices. To even mention the upgrade would give it added notice, while not mentioning the alternate OS option might indicate Microsoft greatly fears what Palm OS on Pocket PCs represents.

Get more info here...