Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pocket PC - impressions after the first week

So, I spent the first week (or a little more) with my new Pocket PC, and here are my impressions.


  • The screen: it is nothing short of gorgeous. Reading from this screen is a pure pleasure; games look just great.

  • File system: it’s good to have at last a normal file system, to be able to easily put any files on my handheld (Palm didn’t want to work with unknown file types – at least, without some special utilities. I’ve heard that it’s no longer an issue with more recent Palms – but I had to live with this).


  • No vibration. I don't understand this - it always seemed to me that vibration alert is one of the most useful features for a PDA. I just loved being able to switch my Palm T2 to vibration mode, and safely get my alerts while being at some long meeting. Why didn't Dell include this feature? Anyway, I miss it. And with the standard reminder sounds being soft and short, this becomes a real problem for me.

  • Synchronization. I think my situation should be pretty common: I use Outlook as an organizer at home and in the office. I want to be able to synchronize my PDA to both of them - but I want to be able to prevent some of my items from being copied to the office Outlook. With Palm that was easy. With my PPC, I didn't find a good solution yet.

  • Stability. I don't remember having so many glitches with my Palm. Nothing serious - I mean, nothing which can't be fixed with a soft reset - but annoying. Though I am currently in search for PPC equivalents of my favorite Palm programs, so I'm installing and removing a lot of software, and not all of the programs work well with WM5 - that might be the reason. But still, overall feeling is shaky.

  • ActiveSync. I don't know what made Microsoft switch to using TCP for syncing PDA with desktop. Probably, they had their own reasons. But as a result ActiveSync causes problems with firewalls - I was unable to make Sygate firewall work with ActiveSync.

  • Responsiveness. I know, this is a common problem of people converting from Palm to PPC - but I have to say it: Palm was much more responsive! Sometimes the slight pause between click on a control and the reaction just drives me crazy.

Don't get me wrong - I am not going to discard my new PDA just because of those issues. I probably will find solution for some of them, and will get used to others. But, still, the impression after one week is less than excellent.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Good bye, Palm! Hello, Pocket PC!

Ok, so, at last, it happened! After using Palms for 8 years (or even more – I’ve bought the very first model, the one without the backlight) I betrayed them and switched to the Pocket PC. The reasons for this heinous act were multiple, but they all boiled down to one: for last couple of years I was looking for a new Palm, and was completely disappointed with the new Palm devices.

I remember several years ago I was making fun of my PPC-enthusiastic friends. I laughed when they were carefully putting their bulky devices into special cases, while I easily and elegantly slipped my sleek Palm into my shirt pocket. I laughed sarcastically at the stories about registry problems. I criticized ugly and cumbersome Windows CE interface, showing my friends the simple beauty of Palm.

But time flies – and soon I’ve noticed that PPCs are becoming thinner and smaller; that the screen of the newest devices supports VGA resolution; that the UI becomes more and more elegant. Then my friend bought a Pocket PC which had both WiFi and Bluetooth (my palm had only Bluetooth), slots for both SD and CompactFlash cards (mine had only SD slot – and at the same time the dimensions of his new machine were just a little bit larger than the size of my beloved Palm.

And Palm Inc…. Well, I don’t know what they were thinking about. Probably, they were too preoccupied with Treo – which is really a nice device, but I don’t like combining phones and PDAs together. Anyway, for quite some time their newest and most powerful devices didn’t support WiFi (all but a few models), didn’t provide dual flash card slots… And slowly, I stopped believing in Palm.

Well, now I’ve got Dell Axim x51v. I know, that quite recently Palm has released Palm TX – the model which has both WiFi and Bluetooth. It still has only 320 x 480 display, supports only SD cards – but I hope that people at Palm recognized their faults and soon will release new models which will be on par with Pocket PCs. Then maybe I will come back… And meanwhile I will have to learn how to use my new gadget.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Design flaws + unneeded creativity = trouble

Two examples, found in the same day:

In the database, a record for some object has a field for its name. At some moment, some developer wanted to add comments for these objects (“generated automatically…” or something like this). Unfortunately, there were no field for notes and comments. A burst of creative thinking  – and the comments are now appended to the end of the name. Which means that, since the users usually do not want to see the comments, the results returned by a SQL query should now be post-processed. Which is not always easy – sometimes there is no good place to insert this post-processing.

Another one: the same database, but different table. The table holds data for some objects, which are divided into several categories (actually, a hierarchy of categories). The categorization feature was added later than the table was designed, so the table doesn’t have any field to mark the place of each object in the hierarchy of categories. The developer didn’t think about the necessity of such a field. The users needed it, but, instead of asking the developer to add it, they decided to be creative and invented their own naming convention, so that the name of each object now has some keywords embedded. Everyone was happy – until I had to design a report, where the data from this table would be sorted according to the categories…

Creativity is a great thing. But sometimes I just want people to stop being creative, and simply ask for help instead.
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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Testing Lexxe

Emily Chang in her eHub blog posted a link to the new search engine called Lexxe. The unusual thing about this engine is that it claims to be able to answer questions written in a natural language. To be more precise, it searches the web and extracts the answers from the pages it found.

I gave it a shot, and it kinda works – sometimes. More often, however, it produces answers that are far from being precise.

Q: Who was Lenin?
A: leader of the bolsheviks a violent
(I don’t know why it picked such a strange fragment, but this is true).

Q: What was the real name of Mark Twain?
A: Samuel Clemens

But the same question about O’Henry caused a problem – the answer was marked as “not reliable”, and contained some words related to the “Seinfeld” show.

Q: Who discovered America?
A: China

Q: When was America discovered?

Q: What is the size of proton?
A: 1 Million
(1 Million of what? Hmmm… Let me try again…)

Q: What is the size of a proton?
A: 10-18 Meters One
(Too scientific for me…)

Q:What is the weight of the Earth?
A: 150 Million Km
(…no comments…)

Q: Who invented radio?
A: Horzepa Stan Surfin’…

Q:What do butterflies eat?
A: Nectar

Q:What do elephants eat?
A: Pounds of Food
(Great answer!)

My last question was: What is Lexxe? And the system proudly answered: 3rd generation search engine.

The answers are not the only output of the system: it also produces clusterized search results, links to the definitions of the key words in the question etc. And these features look good. The engine is still in the alpha stage, so we can hope for improvement.

I like the idea of the search based on natural language requests. I definitely will keep an eye on Lexxe, and will add it to my bookmarks. But for the time being to get answers I’d rather use Google+Wikipedia.
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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

How to find a human

One of my friends recently sent me a link to “The IVR Cheat Sheet", which is a list of companies together with instructions on how to bypass their phone-answering computers and get directly to human. The list definitely goes straight to my bookmarks collection – I prefer talking to human being whenever it is possible (though, I have to admit it, couple of times I’ve encountered really helpful answering systems). At the same time, the mere existence of this list points out a couple of interesting things:

1. A very simple idea: not everything that can be automated should be automated. Deciding what can be done by a computer and what should be left to human is an important part of the design process.
2. The question itself: “How to get past a computer to a human being” is a disturbing one. Sounds like something from a sci-fi book – maybe we live in one already?

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