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Any Question Anywhere Any time

by Pat Hughes

When you were young did you look things up in the encyclopedia? Did you use a dictionary to find out not only the meaning of new words but also how to pronounce them correctly? I remember that I not only read voraciously but constantly used these tools in the quest for knowledge--or amusement, and if they are the same that makes me want to learn more.

Why did I stop looking things up? Too busy, too much like work... or just no handy access to the resources needed. When I bought my Zaurus PDA 6 years ago one of my main purposes was to look up Japanese words and characters. I still use it for that occasionally but after a while the thrill wore out and I wished it also had a good English language dictionary.

Now we have the Internet with a wealth of information on every topic imaginable and many that are not!! It has even become user-friendly with search engines that can actually get you where you want very quickly. But that has really meant being tied to a computer that is plugged into the 'net.

Portability--Cell Phones

Cell phone dictionaries have come and are good for a quick check on words or tiny websites. If I got into the habit I might even enjoy this method. But I am not really into the midget keypads and as for reading long explanations on those tiny screens... not to mention that the majority of websites are not really meant for those little screens. nor topics like who sang what song or was in such and such a movie.

I'm sure you can guess where this is going and of course some have already gotten there ahead of me. In fact I have had everything I needed to try the following out for almost a year... but I never got around to buying the necessary cable to connect the pieces until a month ago. Of course I mean...

Portability--Wireless PDAs

I have always thought that a marriage of the PDA with wireless technology would be a huge success. I am surprised it has taken so long to catch on. There are a few ways to approach this:

1) Cell phone cable

Since almost everyone has a cell phone these days this is the quickest and cheapest way to achieve wireless access. That is the reason I spent 3,240 for a cable instead of over 10,000 for a card.

Of course, connecting to a DoCoMo Keitai means only 9600bps unless you have a PHS phone or a Dochimo either of which provides 64k. You might think this is not a big deal since the size of your screen is small... but in fact you are still loading full pages and except for Java applications you can get almost all the benefits of a computer connection--and much more than an i- mode phone of course!

Still, it was enough to convince me that I did like the ability to surf the web (albeit slowly) and check my mail using only my small Zaurus PDA and my cell phone. In addition, despite what the sales people say, it appears that DoCoMo does still connect better on trains than the PHS system does. Of course, PHS is more likely to work underground but I figure I travel above ground more often anyway.

Slow as 9600bps is I have been convinced enough to move up to the next option.

2) Data card (small PC-Card)

Depending upon your model of PDA there are a couple of different cards you can plug into it to get wireless connectivity. P-in Master from NTT is one option but you need a newer Zaurus than mine. AirH" Petite and other compact flash cards come to mind. 32k or 64k are the speeds you can run at--and suddenly it will be a pleasure to jump around the web looking up anything you feel like with full colour pictures and text!

Now I just have to decide whether I get a card for my current 2-year old model or get a new PDA and a new card. Of course, I might stray away from Sharp next time but that is a whole new topic. The major point with my current PDA is that it has a horizontal format which goes well with the data in it as well as the web and mail. Everyone other system I have seen is vertical which means less width to display data. I may just have to wait until they make the screens as wide as the thing itself!

Any Questions Any time Any Where

There is one question that comes up when I get all this ironed out and have the access I want. It goes back to a debate that is not new at all.

Does access make you smarter or just more dependent upon the technology--unable to answer any question without your computer?

I am compelled to think that while it does not make you smarter, it does not necessarily maker you dumber. Did dictionaries make people stupider? Did encyclopedias? I think not.
This argument has been played out before. Anyone over 30 will remember the debate over calculators in school. "Students will forget basic math skills" was the call of those against their use. Well, I used to be able to do square roots in my head (I worked for the government at the time and the job was boring). I can no longer do that but I don't see this as any great loss. My addition skills are not bad and I do multiplication longhand when I have time to kill but for accuracy and speed give me a calculator any day. (Or abacus in Japan--I've seen people confirm computer and cash register results on an abacus and it always amuses me.)

Can't do your times tables very well? That much should be learned but I would hardly propose turning back the clock to doing all things by hand. I truly enjoy the hardship and boredom that technology has saved us from.

In fact, I am a big fan of the eBook idea and I hope it takes off. Not only do I want to be able to look up random words quickly using my wireless connectivity but I would like to be able to quickly look up words and phrases in books and articles I am reading. Imagine being able to just click on the word for a definition!

In addition, I like to read a couple of books at at time but the weight and size is awkward. Having several books in one handy (book size of course) computer would be great! Thrown in dictionaries and perhaps illustrations and why would this market not take off? Just think of how many trees you'd save-- the environmentalists would be embarrassed not to own one of these devices--assuming of course the manuals were inside them and not printed out. (Bad memories of the 349 page manual that is far larger than my DoCoMo cell phone!)

The tools are out in some markets and being announced in others. Once the pieces are put together I have a feeling that we'll see fewer people throwing around newspapers and mangas in the trains in Japan and instead perusing a good book on their PDAs--just like they check i-mode mail, stock numbers and play games on their cell phones now!

Now to go and price out that wireless card again for my Zaurus... perhaps that second hand shop around the corner from First Kitchen on the corner of Shinjuku Minami exit.... see you next time--maybe on- line and hopefully as I'm walking along or taking a train ride to somewhere outside Tokyo.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

December, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN