My New Personal Analog Assistant

So I have a buddy who is a gadget geek. He got a Sony Clie when they arrived on the scene, he has an iPod or two (or three maybe), one of which does photos. His Clie takes pictures. He got one of the new latest cameras that fit in your pocket and is 5 megapixels and does video, etc. He has the geek car (the Acura) that does bluetooth, and of course his Blackberry is all set up with that. If it has a built-in camera, IR port, bluetooth, WiFi, or some other geek buzzword, chances are he either owns it, or wants to. He is ever ready with a Leatherman, and is just all around the perfect boy scout, ready for anything.

Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll find that one of the things he likes most about gadgets is pointing out where they fall short. They all fall short somewhere. I don’t remember them all from heart, but each gadget has some major shortcoming that, in my eyes, makes it not worthy of spending insane amounts of money on it. With the Clie I think it’s that you can’t access a CF card and use WiFi at the same time, so you can’t copy things over a network to a CF card. With the Blackberry there’s some information that’s there but isn’t presented to you in the car, for no good reason. The iPod pretty much requires iTunes, which has its own limitations, especially where things like migrating music libraries between machines and sharing is concerned.

As for myself, I hate gadgets because I know the technology exists for them to do more than they do, so I view any shortcoming in the technology to be blatant planned obsolescence, and a fleecing of the public. There’s no reason a Blackberry can’t do what a Palm Pilot does, which would make it hands down the most wanted gadget of every human on the face of the Earth. Conversely, there’s no reason Palm Pilots can’t have built in phones and bluetooth and get your email for you, like a Blackberry. But as it stands, it’s impossible to use a Blackberry as any sort of real day planner, and it’s impossible (as far as I know) to use a Palm Pilot for phone and email. I’m required to carry a Blackberry, and it does what it does quite well, but I’m not going to get a several-hundred-dollar Palm to make up for the Blackberry’s shortcomings. What I really want is a Blackberry that replaces the keyboard with a slightly bigger screen and one of those graffiti input areas, and preferably running a PalmOS emulator so I can run real planning software on it.

Since that doesn’t (and isn’t likely to ever) exist, tonight I went out and bought one of those “old-fashioned” Franklin/Covey planners. It’s the devil I know I guess. I used this system religiously from 1997-2001, so I already know how to use it effectively. Even after being away from it for 5 years, I’m immediately comfortable with it again. I don’t have to learn graffiti, I know exactly what to expect of the system, it hasn’t changed in over a decade (my father used the system ages ago), and so won’t be deemed obsolete any time soon, and best of all, it Just Works(tm).

It won’t crash, it won’t freeze up while syncing to my desktop system, I won’t have to fret about losing the stupid stylus, or a drained battery, or failure to boot up, or whatever. If I lose it, it’s like $50 down the drain instead of ~$500. Where exactly is the $450 in the value-add proposition of the Palm anyway? It’s small? Big deal! I carry, at any given time, either a laptop case or book bag anyway.

This was all kicked off by a talk by Tom Limoncelli I attended. Tom works for Google, coauthored “The Practice of System and Network Administration”, and authored “Time Management for System Administrators”. I have both books. During the talk Tom spoke of a PAA, or “Personal Analog Assistant”, which is exactly what I have now in my new planner. He basically reminded me that a PAA is still an option, which I guess slipped my mind, being that I’m surrounded by technology all day. Even though there isn’t much new to me in his newer title on time management, it’s still a great reaffirmation of time-tested, proven techniques for managing a crazy schedule.

So for anyone who is like me and hates gadgets, don’t forget that, in the end, paper is still your friend.

  • Andrew

    Great Post! I have the same thing on my blog:

    “I had a Palm Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) I kept notes on but it was black and white and not very easy to use. Then I got a Palm Tungsten C with qwerty keyboard required for an engineering class. It worked great, color screen, great touch, and kept notes easily. The touch screen eventually failed probably from impacting my keys in my pocket. I replaced the screen with a glass touch screen that was even better than the original. This lasted until the plastic was worn down and it began to power off randomly due to bad connections. After not being able to use it, I found mini composition books at Walmart that are 4.5″ x 3.25″ 80 sheets, 160 pages, don’t wear out in my pocket, need charging, or crashes.”

    More of my post at: