TR: How do you keep track of your own commitments?
DA: Frankly, all I need is lists. One of those lists is a calendar, and the others are lists of things that hold potential options, things I can point myself to go and do depending on where I am, like “@work,” “@home,” etc. I don’t need anything but these eight or nine flat lists. Anything that manages lists works fine for that. I used a paper planner in exactly this way. It’s just a little easier to carry a Palm. But I could look through the planner more easily than I can look through the PDA.
TR: What about smart phones like Palm’s Treo, with calendars, e-mail, and so forth? They let you keep to-do lists and make calls from the same device.
DA: My Sony-Ericsson phone is much more fun to have in my pocket than a Treo, which lots of people like, but PDAs are clunky little things. I’d rather mix and match my Palm and my phone than smash them together. If one goes down I want the other one to work. And the phone’s tiny form factor is a plus. I was just out for a walk in Boston. I put the cell phone into my pocket. I didn’t want to take the Palm. If I had a Treo, I’d have to take them both with me, and then I’d have that big clunky thing in my pocket.
Also, a lot of PDAs are becoming like tiny computers, where you have to go through two or three clicks to find your lists. If you’re trying to map 43 different categories in Outlook on your Windows Mobile device, but you just want to make a quick call, how many places do you have to look? I understand that if you’re really geeky this becomes a habit – then you’ve broken down your unconscious resistance. And a lot of this stuff works on our own inner geeks when we’re at home on Saturday fooling around with the gadgets. But when you’re in the throes of reality, when you’re recovering from the flu and you feel like crap, it had better be real simple and real accessible to you.
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.