Strange approach

I am responding to the Power User column, 'Does anyone agree on the worst ideas of the last millennium?' [GCN, Sept. 25]. I guess any item must achieve a certain level of acceptance before it is a target for such a column, similar to the lists of worst-dressed movie stars in supermarket tabloids. Still, I thought it was strange for a technology tabloid to list mice, 5.25-inch diskettes, Microsoft Windows 3.1 and Unix as bad ideas.

Is the puffy statement implying that cell phones are appropriate only for emergency use typical of the quality of thought in this column? While cell phones can be distractions from driving and their users can be inconsiderate, why shouldn't I use my cell phone for long distance calls if the rate is cheaper than my other options?

Since columnist John McCormick asked, a reason for a mouse is that it provides random access to any point on the screen, rather than the sequential access given by the arrow keys on the keyboard. Most software provides for both inputs, but I don't have to remember all of the seldom-used codes and key combinations with the mouse.

Before there were 3.5-inch diskettes, we got a lot done with the so-called micro-sized version of the 8-inch diskettes used in minicomputers. Windows 3.1 was also part of a continuous evolution.

I never warmed to the cryptic, nonintuitive command language of Unix, but the idea of a full-function operating system that can be used on just about any computer has great merit. We use an OS called FreeBSD [from Berkeley Software Design Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo.] because it meets our needs to run software developed for workstations.

McCormick mentions keeping documentation for operating systems that would never install on IBM PS/2 computers. If they weren't installed, why would he keep the manuals for 15 years?'

Alfred French

Research leader

Agricultural Research Service

New Orleans

All feds need paid-for PDAs

In your excellent article, 'Federal users are in sync with handheld capabilities,' everything Richard Walker writes about personal digital assistants is true [GCN, Oct. 23, Page 21]. They are among the greatest efficiency boosters of all time. They are cool, easy to use, portable and able to synchronize with your desktop PC.

I think, however, there was an inadvertent but important omission that I attribute largely to federal bureaucrats' collective lack of self-esteem.

I think you will agree that the PDA is a tool, like a computer, phone, desk, pen or letterhead paper. All of those items I listed are supplied, without question, by the government as essential support items for work.

My guess, however, is that everybody Walker interviewed in the course of researching his article purchased their PDAs with their own dime. I know that in my agency our policy-makers wouldn't know the difference between a PDA and Captain Kirk's phaser.

There's no way in the world that my agency's administrators would even think about supplying the ordinary paper pusher in my office with a PDA. In fact, what I've witnessed convinces me that non-techie administrators fear PDAs and similar devices because they do not understand them and can't control their use.

This pervasive, Luddite mentality in the federal government has serious future productivity ramifications and works against a more productive and efficient work force.

The main issue isn't just that I want somebody to buy me a PDA. Rather, it's that I want government policy-makers to understand that PDAs and other technical tools should be embraced and promoted throughout the government. Every federal worker should be assigned a PDA with an accompanying keyboard.

Ron Acker

Visa regulations coordinator

Visa Office, Legislation and Regulations Branch
State Department


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