A while back I outlined a typical work day for me and demonstrated how the Toshiba e-805 allowed me to be more productive given my mobile lifestyle. The VGA screen resolution on the Toshiba allowed me to leave my big laptop at home and use the e-805 exclusively during the day. This combination of the e-805 with a wireless keyboard goes a good 90% towards leaving the laptop at home all the time. As many of you are aware I recently got my hands on a Sony U-70 ultra-portable computer (UPC) that I’ve converted to a true Tablet PC. I’ve been using the U-70 for a month now and felt it was time for me to share with you how the U is being used in my typical work day and let you see if you think it stacks up.
First a quick refresher about what I do for a living in the real world. I am an independent consultant that provides project management and technical supervision services for oil companies, most of which are based in Houston where I live. I handle seismic imaging projects that oil companies use to determine optimum locations for drilling oil wells. These wells can cost them as much as $40 or $50 million dollars so they take it pretty seriously. Raw field data is recorded by seismic data acquisition contractors and this data is then processed through a lot of geophysical algorithms until a 3D image of the subsurface is produced. This image is the tool oil companies use for determining what is going on below the earth’s surface geologically so they can determine if a genuine well prospect exists and if so, where to best position the drilling rig to reach the objective. This seismic imaging processing is done by one of a couple dozen seismic processing contractors and is a very specialized work requiring good experience of the imaging techniques as well as the area being investigated. This is where I come in as a QC consultant. I act a a quality control specialist on the behalf of the oil company that is my client. I provide project management along with the technical expertise to make sure the project is handled properly and in a timely fashion. I interact with the client and also the seismic contractor’s team and communication is critical to insure I provide a good service for my client. I normally handle 3 or 4 projects and clients at the same time so organization is very important so I can stay on top of everything.As I stated earlier the Pocket PC setup works very well for me providing 90% of what I need from a mobile device during the day. When I first saw the Sony U-70 I immediately started wondering if it could provide the remaining 10% of functionality I need, and whether that fulfillment would be worth the price. After using the U for a month I can state a resounding YES to that question. To help the reader determine for yourself if that functionality would work for you I’m offering this look into a typical work day with the U. The work day I’m chronicling here was not a special schedule or anything- it’s just one of my days. So here goes.The alarm goes off at 5 am as I’m a glutton for punishment. Fortunately the coffee maker is just finishing the brew that’s programmed the night before and the smell of fresh coffee helps the eyes open a little wider. I grab a cup and pull the Sony U-70 out of it’s dock in my home office. Settle down in the easy chair in the living room and with the local news playing on the tube I fire up the U and open Outlook to check my email. I get over 200 emails a day and there are always 30 or 40 waiting for me each morning. It’s a part of my daily routine I really enjoy- leisurely drinking that first cup of joe and catching up on the night’s emails. I frequent a lot of tech and Pocket PC forums and have all of them configured to send me email notifications when new posts are made to threads I subscribe to and a lot of the email deals with that. It’s really nice on the U to have full Outlook for the email- click the link in the email and it fires up Internet Explorer and jumps to the topic of interest so I can follow posts made since my last visit to the web site. This works well on the Pocket PC too, but the 800×600 resolution of the U makes it much nicer to view. Web browsing is quite a bit faster on the U than on the Pocket PC, too.Once the email routine is done and I’m ready to go out I check the schedule in Outlook to see what’s in store for the day. I have a meeting across town at 9 am with both my client and the seismic contractor I’m supervising. The purpose of this meeting is to review some preliminary results the contractor has produced and to determine the game plan for the rest of the project based on what we see. After this meeting I’ll have lunch (which is free for today as nothing is scheduled), and then there are two meetings in the afternoon at two different seismic contractors. Getting ready to hit the road is easy. In the mini-backpack that has become my gadget bag and briefcase replacement I throw in the following: U-70 in the Sony case with integrated stand for working with a keyboard. The U can be easily removed from this case for using it in hand as a small Tablet PC. The Stowaway keyboard goes in next with it’s short cable. Next in is the USB cable to attach my cell phone to the U for those times when WiFi is not available. Of course I have the headphones for the U and last goes the Canon S-50 with the mini-USB cable for attaching the camera to the U for photo transfer. I have both the standard and extended Sony batteries for the U-70 and usually attach the extended battery which gives me over 5 hours of constant use. It lasts so long I don’t even carry the power adapter with me and so far have never run out of juice. So off we go to get started.My car has a factory navigation system which is used constantly throughout the week when I want to know the best route from one site to another. If I didn’t have the nav system in the car I would definitely use a bluetooth system in the U. Traffic is lighter than usual for some unknown reason and I’m 20 minutes early for the client meeting so I head down to the coffee shop in the basement level. They have a free WiFi hotspot so I can kill the extra time. In addition to checking my email I also open up OneNote and check the notes from the last meeting covering this project and my daily notes since then. Takes only 10 minutes but makes sure I am up to speed for the meeting ahead. OneNote is such an integral part of my work day it will stay open all day.Meeting time rolls around and we get started. I have installed the Tablet OS on the Sony which lets me use it as a real Tablet PC. This gives me very complete inking capabilities so at any time I can use the U without a keyboard if desired. For longer meetings where I know I will have a lot of text entry I can use a portable keyboard instead. Since this meeting is expected to cover a lot of ground and a couple of attendees already have laptops out I pull the U out and open the Sony case with the integrated stand. I open up the Fellowes Stowaway USB keyboard, plug it in, and hit the Standby button on the U. Two seconds later I’m up and running. I use OneNote for all my project note taking due to it’s organizational ability and it’s great utility with inking on a Tablet PC. Each client has their own section in OneNote and each project it’s own tab. All daily notes are entered directly into OneNote in the proper place. All email correspondence also goes into OneNote so I don’t have to spend a lot of time searching through Outlook for an obscure email. This system works so well for me that at the end of a project when I am writing the final report I find everything in one place. The lack of a OneNote equivalent on the Pocket PC is a large part of the 10% of missing functionality I referred to above. It’s that important to me. Having the Tablet OS on the U-70 makes OneNote even more useful than before. I have full inking capability so I can either type notes in, write them on the screen and leave them as ink, or ink them in and have OneNote convert them to text later. Very versatile. There are also two PowerToys for OneNote SP1 that I use daily. One of them lets me click a OneNote button on the Internet Explorer menu bar when I see a web page with information I want to save for later use. The whole web page is sent to a tab in OneNote under the Web Clippings section, complete with all text, links, and images. I often capture information I want to write about for one of the web sites this way and it works great. The other PowerToy lets you send any email directly to a OneNote page of your specification. This is how I get important client emails into OneNote for later referral. These two tools greatly expand the utility of OneNote and fit my work routine perfectly.As the meeting progresses we discuss various aspects of the project, from the technical to the financial. We review current intermediate results of the seismic processing, make decisions on how best to proceed, and recommendations for the upcoming work. I have all seismic contractors take screen images of important stages of the data processing and sent to me in emails. One of the contractor representatives makes a comment about a previously reviewed step that I don’t feel is accurate and I’m able to pull up the screen image backing up my statement. The client comments on how well prepared I am and how great this technology is. Two points for me. The meeting winds down with a review of the project timeline, which I have pulled up in MS Project. It’s easy to spot the slippage on the timeline and recommendations are discussed for getting back on track. The meeting has lasted an hour and 45 minutes taking me to lunch time.I don’t have a client lunch scheduled so I head to a little Mexican restaurant not far from my first afternoon meeting. This place has OK food and is cheap, but that’s not why I go there. Since I’m often out in the street all day I actively look for WiFi hotspots so I can stay connected when the opportunity presents itself. This restaurant doesn’t have free WiFi access but the business next door has a wireless network that is not encrypted. Bad for them, good for me. So I have a good lunch and when I’m done eating I pull out the U for some quick online time. As soon as I am connected an IM window pops up. The owner of Pocket PC Tools (where I am an admin) needs to chat with me for a little while. We discuss site business, discuss some Pocket PC rumors, and sign off. Our discussion has created a need for me to email all the admins and contributors for Tools about an important issue with the site. Having Outlook with me makes this task much easier, as I open the contact list filtered to just the Tools contacts and send an email to the Tools Admin distribution list. This is much easier to do than using Pocket Inbox on the Pocket PC. It’s a real boon to have Outlook, along with all the MS Office programs always with me. After the email goes out, I deal with the rest of the email that has come in, and then check out the Tools web site. Part of my discussion with the Tools owner has led to a small article that we need to run on the front page so I take care of that with Internet Explorer. This only takes five minutes to do and there will be one less thing that needs to be done when my work day is over.With lunch time come and gone it’s time to head to the next meeting. This meeting is with a seismic contractor and I am going to review intermediate results they’ve obtained since my last review session. I arrive right on time and they take me to an available conference room where I will review over 100 paper QC plots for the project. Rather than tie up their personnel I tell them I’ll be fine on my own so they leave me to do my work. I have to work fast as I have another meeting after this one and I have a little over an hour to review this and get out of here. Before I get started I pull out the U and set it up for Tablet work, as I need to enter notes as I go. I also have an Excel spreadsheet that has all of the sub-project steps in tabular form so I can easily check off each step as I review it. When an hour has rolled by I am right on time and I have reviewed everything. Since I’ve been entering everything as I go into OneNote my findings are all ready for giving to the contractor so they can address any problems I’ve uncovered. This company does not have a WiFi network in-house so I attach my cell phone to the U with the cable supplied by Verizon Wireless and connect to the Express Network. I have a Socket Bluetooth card that fits in the U’s CF slot and if Verizon ever releases the Motorola v710 (their first Bluetooth phone) I’ll have one less cable to carry around. Next to Starbuck’s hotspots the Express Network is my best friend. I deal with a few emails and then send the pertinent notes to the contractor from their own conference room. Another thing I don’t have to take care of when I get back to my office at the end of the day.Traffic is light again for some reason so on the way to the last meeting of the day I stop at the nearby Starbuck’s, my office away from home. I have a nice cappuccino while dealing yet again with email and checking the forums on Tools for anything I need to deal with. I have T-Mobile’s unlimited monthly plan for hotspot WiFi access and I use this service daily. Spending so much time in Starbuck’s I get a chance to see a lot of people stopping to use the WiFi access. Today I get a kick sitting there in one of the cushy chairs with just the U-70 in my hand as the table next to me has 3 people who’ve stopped to have a meeting. The little round table is carefully balancing 3 full size laptops, all of which are plugged into a 4 plug outlet they’ve brought with them. They are trying to take paper notes, refer to information on the laptops, all while other patrons are almost tripping over their cables that are stretched from the table to the wall outlet. I do my web business with the U-70 and pen stylus in hand. So much better.With that I’m off to the last meeting of the day. This meeting with another seismic contractor is to address some technical concerns that they have with their latest processing results. I love proactive contractors like this one! We spend some time reviewing their results on a big screen they have on the wall. This projection system is attached to their Linux workstation so we can easily review whatever images we need. It’s quickly apparent their concern is valid as these images show a geological situation that doesn’t fit the expected geology. It is critical we get the client’s opinion before we can proceed and until that happens the project is basically on hold, which is expensive for everybody involved. I ask the contractor if we can make a conference call to the client who is in another state and try to get it resolved. While they are getting in touch with the client I pull out my Canon S-50 and take several photos of the results on the screen. This is easy to do as the images are projected and it’s not as difficult as shooting images on a CRT screen. Once I have the images I need to show the client I attach the camera to the U and the Windows XP wizard pulls them into the UPC. I consider just attaching the JPG images to an email but I am familiar with this client who is a computer illiterate. We will likely spend 30 minutes waiting for him to find an IT person who can show him how to view the images. So, to avoid that wasted time, I pop the images into a Powerpoint presentation on the U. This client is a manager at an oil company so he is very familiar with Powerpoint and how to use it. I attach a brief description on each slide along with a photo and while he’s on the line I email it to him thanks to the wireless network the contractor has in their office. In five minutes we’re having a good discussion of the anomaly on the images and are able to resolve it. The contractor is able to proceed with the work, the client is impressed with all of the technology we’re applying to his project, and the contractor is happy that a difficult situation was handled very well. All in all a good meeting.This was the last meeting of the day so I’m able to head back to my home office. When I arrive I pop the U-70 into it’s docking cradle, which has a DVD burner, mouse, keyboard, and an external monitor attached (1280×1024). I polish up my notes for the day in OneNote while they’re fresh on my mind, do some email, check the various web sites with which I’m involved, and do all the other stuff I do at any PC. The Sony U-70 is a complete computer when docked like this, and is capable enough to be the only computer for most users.This has been a typical work day for me, and it’s evident how much easier my day is with the U in tow. It is a complete solution for me and I can’t imagine being without it for very long. The small size and weight allows me to take it everywhere and I never fail to get stuff done when unexpected free time finds me. I am continually blown away how great a difference the Sony U-70 has made in my work routine.