Racing Toward the 21st Century

I tend to stay on the trailing edge of technological development. I figure that the latest and greatest will always have bugs that need to be worked out, and I don’t care to be the exterminator. I stick with the old methods until the new ones become old. That way, I know that whatever I’m doing has already proved itself.

I have a house full of computers. Most of them were manufactured in the 1980s. They do a great job. For instance, the main machine in my office, with which I run my plumbing business, is a TRS-80 Model 4, slightly upgraded. It boasts 128K of RAM, a blinding clock speed of 4 MHz, two 720K floppies and two 360K floppies. I can dial up and connect to the university where I sometimes teach and, from there, access the Internet (text only). With that machine and others just like it, I produced all of my Ph.D. work in the ’90s.

I’m never one to stay in a rut, though, so I’ve made a recent breakthrough. I acquired a refurbished Palm IIIxe this week. Postage and all, it cost $35, which is about 10% of what the latest and greatest handhelds are running.

This quantum leap in equipment was occasioned by my recent addition of fifty blank 4×6 cards into the file drawer where I keep my job records. My original attitude, when I opened this business three years ago, was “Technology? We don’t need no stinkin’ technology.” I opted to implement the KISS system wherever possible: Keep It Simple, Sewerman. My to-do list was kept on a scrap of note paper in my shirt pocket and discarded at the end of the day. Shopping lists, reminders, notes from phone calls or conversations were all entered into a little notebook I kept in my hip or shirt pocket at all times. Jobs were written on 4×6 cards and tagged with a colored paper clip to signify status: scheduled, awaiting payment, postponed. Completed cards were filed by address and contained a record of what I did at that job, complete with any necessary drawings on the card. Plans for life in general went into a calendar made of blank 3-ring forms bought at the office supply store.

But when I added the last fifty cards into my file drawer, I began to face an ugly fact: that 12″ drawer is now full. I began three years ago with a small box for the job cards. Eventually I went to two boxes: A-L and M-Z. Then I moved to this big “recipe” file drawer. It works really well, especially since I drilled a hole in it and inserted a bolt which I can use as a lock to keep the drawer from sliding out of its case accidentally. But in a few weeks, that box will be obsolete.

You see, I have to take my job records into the house at night and back to the truck in the morning. If I left them in the truck and “something happened,” I’d lose a major feature in my customized, personalized customer service strategy: I know my customers and what I did at their homes. Lugging the big box isn’t too hard, once you learn how and where to grip it (along with the attache case, etc.) But two big boxes? It ain’t gonna happen.

To remain a one-man operation and to maintain close contact with my records, I figure I have to digitize. *sigh*

At first I tried to find a way to do it with the cell phone, but my phones just aren’t that sophisticated and I didn’t want to buy $500 worth of smartphone and accessories along with a big bill every month. So the $35 Palm IIIxe looked like a good place to start experimenting. With 8 megs of memory it can easily hold all of my job records, my customer database, and whatever accounting apps I might decide to run.

This model became passe over two years ago, so it’s just about my speed.

Yeah, one day I’ll rear back in my rocking chair and tell my great grandkids “back in ought-4, I got me my first handheld. You couldn’t talk to ’em; no sir; you had to poke ’em with a little plastic stick and write what you wanted ’em to do. And they didn’t know anything unless you wrote it in first. Had to put batteries in ’em every few weeks. Times were hard back then, yes sir . . . ”

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