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The occasionally original illumination :-)  The nearest I come to consciously writing a Weblog ;-)

Latest idea: Truly Handheld Computing and the Tablet PC

1. Lifesaver Applications

It is well known that software production experienced up until the late 90's an amazing growth, bolstered by the explosive growth of the Internet . A particular characteristic of this boom was the 'killer application,' software that surpassed its rivals, fitting niches, and usually sporting a whole host of additional useful and not so useful features.

Set against the current dotcom downturn and the general climate of sustainability, I would like to herald a new generation of software under the category of 'Lifesaver application.' Whereas killer applications had a rather internal focus - in terms of technology, lifesaver applications are compact and very much focused on people, intended to make their lives easier, especially to save on time and other resources.

Prominent among this new type of software service will be intelligent mail agents that will reduce the burden of sending and receiving mail, presenting different views on information received, typically presenting the most pressing and relevant messages first, abstracting from the morass of details that are traditionally presented with little distinction between mailshots and important letters from loved ones. It will know what information to keep near the surface and what to recycle.

So the next task, is to create the barebones design of this application. Any takers???

- Paul [2 July 2001]

2. Mind Activism

Most people are familiar with the term activist in a social context. Here is a basic definition:

"An activist is someone who takes action to make things better. "
(see e.g.

My own view is that things are part of a continuum that is characterised loosely as internal and external.  The Buddha Gotama taught, "Mind is the forerunner of all things."  What we see as external is but a reflection of the internal (if we choose to differentiate).  We should respect the need to properly develop our minds, so I would like to promote the term, mind activism.  This is the purification of the mind, making it brighter and clearer.  It is a form of training rather than philosophical discourse or speculation.  Meditation is not a passive activity for day dreamers! So,

A mind activist is someone who takes action to improve their mind.

I think the introduction of this term is timely as many disciplines are pointing increasingly to our subtle interconnectedness.   Those who spend time in meditation have a significant impact on our environment and so should be encouraged to improve their mental environment which will in turn improve the physical environment.

Actually there is already a Buddhist term that conveys this: bhavana.   It is typically translated as "mental cultivation".  I would like the meaning of bhavana to become mainstream, and hope the more common words of mind and activism may help to achieve this.

- Paul [3 March 2002]

3. Data Mining the Search Engines' Indices to repair broken links

Scenario: I come to check the links of my burgeoning Web site and run a link checker. Oops!  It reveals dozens of broken URLs. How can I fix them? Well, I generally go to a search engine and type in one by one the title of the page or some equivalent and see what comes up ...

All of which is very laborious ... and then I think ... that among the many potentials for data mining the search engines indices, there lies an opportunity for automated link repair....

Solution: A simple approach is as above to type in the search term. However, if the search engines archive their indices, then a more intelligent system can take the broken URL, go back and find an old index when it was still a valid URL, and extract or reconstruct a phrase from text that was stored with that document.  This can then be entered as the phrase on which a new search can be conducted using the current index, hopefully to reveal the URL of the current site (along with the other info such as page title). Failing that, it could give some related links or even indicate that such a page probably no longer exists (latter sounds like a reasonably suitable application of fuzzy logic ;-).

This process could be repeated for a list of broken URLs and a report provided that suggests replacements for the list. A typical list might be URLs for a whole site, as when doing periodic site maintenance. Incidentally, such a list could be automatically generated as part of the spidering and indexing approach - do search engines notice HTTP errors whilst doing the trawling? If so, it can index these too and hence be ready to generate on demand a report for a domain/site/ etc that can be outputted to Web or sent by email.

There are probably lots of variations on this kind of service.  Surely one of them can ease the perennial burden of manually searching for correct URLs.

- Paul [9 March 2002]

4. Truly Handheld Computing and the Tablet PC

Following the introduction of the Tablet PC, I'm wondering whether this would be a good opportunity to reconsider the potential of what were called Handheld PCs (as opposed to Palmtop PCs)? I am referring to the 'clam shell' form factor that has a built in keyboard, e.g. the HP Jornada 720 series. (HP's official site require some navigating, more informative is the user community site).  They've rather gone out of fashion at this time, but I wish to show that there is a great opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

I recently purchased one of these to support my work at a UK university computing services and it is certainly proving a boon in several ways, but these thoughts concern school education, particularly for children aged about 8 to 12. As I understand it, Tablet PCs are designed to be replacements for laptops, so come with a full desktop operating system, namely an enhanced version of MS Windows XP (see official MS site), but I think that may prove too powerful for many uses and has a number of fundamental drawbacks for mobility.

It is worth noting the following about the Jornada 720:

Taking the concept of the Tablet PC, you could analogously, take the WinCE-based Handheld PCs and twist the display through 360' to get something equivalent and design a device that gives you the option to detach the keyboard altogether. It is a similar idea, but much more portable. 

The existing palmtop form factor in devices produced by Palm and the Compaq iPaq, Toshiba e570 etc have much smaller screens, less expandability and generally shorter battery life, especially for colour models.  The popularity of add-on keyboards, is evidence that for more than light amounts of data entry, it is fundamentally inadequate.   Yet, the extra keyboard renders them not so very portable.

So I think that an all-in-one mini Tablet PC, running some derivative of PocketPC, but using a form factor evolved from the clam shell Handheld PC would be very useful.   The design would benefit from the analysis of each of the following as complete products - the Jornada 720 form factor, the Tablet PCs as current, and some palmtop plus add-on keyboard; and if that doesn't provide a satisfactory solution, then one could go back to analyse each component that is to make up a complete computer, noting how the components inter-relate, the ergonomics, and see what can evolve. 

[Note: I posted an earlier draft of this idea on the HP Jornada 720series forum at: (archived) (Date Posted: 08:13:06 11/10/02 Sun)]

- Paul [1 December 2002]

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Paul Trafford

Page created: 3rd March 2002
lsat updated: 1 December 2002.