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Writers take note: Paper’s passé

Some habits die hard, and some never die at all. My home office is piled high with an assortment of giveaway notepads that continue to gather dust.
Why, you ask? It’s because I never take notes – period!
This is not a case of brilliance or long-term memory. I have discovered a better and easier way to write articles and author books.
The tedious habit of note taking ended with the introduction of the Palm Pilot, a device that ultimately morphed as a synonym for PDAs, or personal digital assistants. Skipping a decade, the more current models, the Palm Treo 650 and 680, also serve as smartphones for e-mail and calling. I only use an unlocked device so I can buy a SIM card (a portable memory chip) whenever I travel so I can pay local calling rates. I have an electronic traveling office.
When I say that “my office” goes with me, I mean everywhere. Whether wading a trout stream or trolling for billfish, the Treo, protected by a small dry bag, is in my fishing vest.When I am scuba diving, it is in my dry box or on the camera table. No more entries for the dive logbook.
On a daily basis, the Treo fits in my small purse or fanny pack. If I need to remember some guide-shared information, as they speak their words go right into a work-in-process document.
My fingers may be nimble when it comes to typing letters on a PDA, but I also have a full-size wireless or Bluetooth keyboard. When I don’t feel like pecking, especially in a hotel room or on an airplane flight, the keyboard is handy.
I will typically research a destination or book chapter, and then edit, add or delete while I travel. All the useful information I receive in a press package gets synchronized from a computer Web version into the Treo. By the time I return from an assignment, the article is finished. It’s a continual addition or change of bits and pieces of valuable information. One final edit and I am on to the next project.
Backup is the operative word while using this system. Before I leave home and the moment I return, all documents are synched with my computer. Whenever traveling between my residences in Tucson, Ariz., and Vancouver, B.C., I carry all backed up documents on a small external drive and a memory stick, and in the case of my book, a DVD. Am I paranoid? If you have ever had a computer crash, you can relate to the obsessiveness of backing up hours of work.
The programs I use are named Wordsmith and Word Complete. Documents to Go, is another option. I can’t say enough about Word Complete. When you are pecking away, the word “outdoor” is recognized when you have only typed the three letters “o-u-t.” The program gives you the choice of using “outdoors,” “outside” or “outhouse,” and with a tap on the screen, the word you select is added to your document. This saves a tremendous amount of typing. I just wish I had the Word Complete on my home PC.
I also have a love/hate relationship with my Treo. Over the years, Palm products have become more streamlined. Thinner batteries mean less time in use and more charging. Programs become corrupted and overall stability is more fragile. In other words, too many crashes to my liking. If you have ever called Palm for technical support, you will soon know the entire worldwide call center and still not have a workable resolution.
After years of happiness working on the road with my Treo, disaster struck. Returning from a bicycle trip in Portugal, the 650 died in New York City. When I say died, I mean it had instant rigor mortis.
It’s not like I could go out and buy any phone or even a snazzy Blackberry. I needed a device that was unlocked because I have a discontinued AT&T program that allows me to call between Canada and the United States for less than $10 a month. Switching to an unlocked PDA with a keyboard, one that would require a mobile contract, was out of the question. That short-term U.S.-Canada calling offer is invaluable. Faced with losing a written assignment, not to mention a dozen chapters of my latest book, I “upgraded” to the Treo 680. It was sleeker, sexier – and less stable. It crashed whenever I looked at it, and almost always when I touched the touchable screen.
Fortunately, I have an alpha geek Webmaster who was able to repair the 650 when Palm headquarters and all the call centers around the world couldn’t.
In the twilight of its life, its backspace key no longer functioning, I am setting out on a new adventure. This time I am buying a Nokia E71. Not only does it have its own keyboard, I will no longer have to convert Rich Text documents to Word, and it comes with my favorite: a Word Complete equivalent.
A few other inclusions are a GPS and free mapping software, e-mail support for multiple e-mail accounts and the same Web browser used on the Mac and iPhone. There’s more. A program called WorldMate provides updated weather forecasts, current currency converter and exchange rates, and a world day/night map and clocks. For an additional fee, I can get all the information for my next flight.
If I take a break from working, the Nokia has both audio and video software that allows me to listen to podcasts, books, movies and more. The  PDA even has a 3.2 megapixel flash camera that will produce both still images and movies. Its WiFi will allow me to access a hotspot anywhere in the world.
Stay tuned. My new traveling office sounds like it has the potential to also become my future entertainment center.  ◊
Mary L. Peachin is a freelance writer, and publisher and editor of the award-winning travel Web site www.peachin.com. Her latest book, “Scuba Caribbean,” will be out in early 2009.
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