May 12, 2004

PDA's and GPS

Just before I left the Air Force, the unit I was assigned to purchased Geodex systems for every officer. Geodex was similar to DayRunner or File-o-Fax and was basically a notebook full of the myriad details that you needed for life.

Alas, Geodex is no more. This truly sucks because it was one of those instances where the implementation lived up to the promise of the original concept.

Anyways, one officer I worked with didn’t want his Geodex because he already had a system that worked for him, so he gave the whole thing to me to use. I loved it and used it for several years, finally giving it up when I could no longer get the annual refills needed to keep it current.

Since then, I’ve relied on post-it notes, various lists jotted here and there and numerous notebooks and steno pads. Nothing very formal, nothing very organized, but good enough to get by with.

Obviously, I’m not one of those people who runs right out to get the latest and greatest technology. I still don’t have a cell phone, let alone a PDA. A PDA always fell under the category of ‘nice to have’ – if I ever had a few hundred dollars to spare. Being married with teenagers in the house, you can imagine how often that happens.

GPS was kind of interesting, but for me the main idea would be using it to triangulate the position of a rocket when it landed, hopefully cutting down the time spent searching for rockets that come down out of sight. The kids and I have always used the human method, where one stays back and marks a distant landmark, then uses hand signals to direct the searchers to the correct line to follow. It works better than guess-and-by-golly, but it’s far from perfect.

GPS always fell into the ‘nice to have’ category too, but my sensible (and better) half is starting to convince me that it’s time to modernize all-around (hint: when convincing me, it helps to use a bigger 2x4).

I’m feeling the need for a PDA, and Garmin makes a model – the Garmin iQue 3600 – that combines the features of a good PDA with everything I need in a GPS system. The damn thing is almost $500.00, but Liz made the point that with the amount of money I’m risking per rocket launch nowadays (motor parts, electronics, chutes, etc), that if the GPS helps me locate a rocket or two that I might otherwise lose, then it’s practically paid for itself right there. Like I said, she’s the sensible member of the team.

Still with me? Cool. This is a long, meandering way to finally get around to asking if you have a PDA or GPS, and if so, what it is and how it works for you? What do you like about it? What do you hate about it? What would you change about it?

Don’t have one? Why not? I’m curious and collecting experiences and opinions here. Thanks.

Posted by Ted at May 12, 2004 11:33 AM
Category: SciTech

I bought my wife a Zire 71 last summer. She loves it, and was in dire (zire?) need of some org help juggling school and work. The pics it takes ain't great, and I don't see the point of that feature, but it's there.

Myself, even in my most stressed mode, when I was a grad student and working 2 part time jobs, I never got past post-it notes. I can't remember my own birthday, but I can dependably remember where I'm supposed to be and when. Funny how that works.

And let me add re your inner geek post from the other day: anyone who knows his way around ADQ and ads for Uncle Albert's Auto Stop and Gunnery Shop is OK in my book.

Posted by: GeekLethal at May 12, 2004 12:45 PM

I actually have a cheap Casio PDA that I got for free when I signed up for something, but I never use's WAY more work that scribbling on a post it! Plus, if you lose ONE post it, you still have all the others...

Posted by: Susie at May 12, 2004 12:57 PM

Handspring Treo. chose it for the little thumb keyboard vs learning to write in a special script. Can't live without it.

Get something that can sync your computer - in case you lose it you can at least replace all of the data on the new one.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at May 12, 2004 03:14 PM

The only GPS experience I have is navigating sail boats. Fantastic stuff that. Finding an object with a known position (Channel Marker) within a few feet in dense fog is a pretty cool thing. Not sure how it would help you find a rocket though unless the rocket was carrying a GPS device that could link up with yours.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at May 12, 2004 05:44 PM

Handheld GPS can be accurate to, at max, something like six feet (two meters) but is more likely to be 3-5 meters. Finding a rocket in brush will normally require much better accuracy than that. Furthermore, GPS tells you where you (or, rather, the receiver) are located; it can't tell you where anything else is.

For finding rockets, you might check out the "chirp" radios that are used for, e.g., tracking animals. Modern ones use fairly high frequencies, so the search antenna is smaller and lighter than the big Yagis they used to use.

What you might be better off with is a set of cell phones with walkie-talkie (free conversation between members of the set) capability. They could be used instead of hand signals between searcher and fixed-point post.

I have a very old Casio organizer, not a real PDA. It's handy for phone numbers and schedule reminders, if I can remember where it is... having all the info in one place can be either convenience or disaster, and with me it tends strongly toward the latter.


Posted by: Ric Locke at May 12, 2004 11:38 PM

I have a Palm Tungsten T2 which has a really nice 320x320 color screen. The screen is partially covered by the bottom control buttons which you pull down to expose the full screen and it will power up the device automatically. When it's closed up it's a little bigger than a deck of cards. I'm in the corporate world, and we use MS Outlook for scheduling. By synchronizing the Palm with my PC, meetings and assignments are downloaded onto the Palm. I have lots of pictures on it which look really good considering the screen has 65,000 (2**16) colors. I'm a power user so I use a stylus and Palm's Graffitti hand writing symbols to enter items into the Palm. It also has Docs to Go, so I can download Excel, Word and Powerpoint documents for viewing. It has a built in rechargeable battery that you charge through the docking cradle. I haven't tried playing MP3's yet, it accepts SD memory cards which you can use to store the songs. Don't know much about GPS on the Palm.

I really like the T2. I think if you shop around you can get one for $200 to $250. Palm has a T3 which does everything the T2 does plus more, they cost about $150 more.

Posted by: roberto at May 13, 2004 03:23 AM

Compaq iPAQ. love it, though it has a few quirks. there's a gps add-on,but i haven't really pursued it. mostly use the pda as a email/contact/schedule organizer and as a walking-home web-browser (i have a list of pages that it downloads automagically and the pda has a baby internet explorer)

Garmin GPS III+. love it. have had it for 3 years or so. use it almost exclusively on my motorcycle. i am addicted to the concept of a map with a moving you-are-here symbol!

i am not sure how a GPS would help you find your rockets though. the receiver tells you fairly precisely where it is, but cannot tell you anything about where anything else is unless that object has its location entered in the GPS system's database.

i think that a small ham radio beacon would likely be the best bet for that application.

Posted by: chris at May 15, 2004 03:59 PM

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