Saturday, October 29, 2005

Remembering Stuff

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As a disabled person, I find there are a few things that pose difficulties for me. Keeping track of things is one of them. Things? Sure! Things like telephone numbers, addresses, dates, appointments and other small bits of information that we need and use every day. I realize that some of you reading this aren’t disabled but would still like to have all that information at your fingertips, and for the same reason.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have your very own Personal Assistant? Sure it would. In fact, there’s a lot of corporate upper management folks (like Chief Executive Officers, Chairmen of the Board, Presidents, and Vice Presidents, etc.) that have a Personal Assistant working with them in their office. They do all sorts of things needed of them like researching information, keep track of schedules and appointments, and keep the manager on schedule by reminding them of events, and so on. Some folks make a good living being a PA.

But what about us? We can’t afford to hire someone to keep track of things for us. But it sure would be nice if we had something like that, wouldn’t it? Well, we can! There are several software packages out there on the download sites that can do all of those things and a lot more.

This rather broad group of software called PIM (or Personal Information Manager) usually ranges from the extremely simple to the mind bogglingly complex. The complexity comes mainly from the database system used for the most part. Everything else is just interface to the database. Building the database is usually easy since the package includes the necessary forms to fill out to build the various records, one per address or phone number for example. Once the information is entered, the program is basically ready for use. This is true for the entire group. However, some of the group adds features and abilities that tend to extend far beyond the scope of a PIM. When that happens, it becomes a PA. A PIM will remember names, addresses, phone numbers, web site addresses and other similar types of information organized in some order you specify and can retrieve with a mouse click or key stroke. A PA goes further. A PA will maintain your TO-DO list, appointments, schedule of meetings, and other date related information and give you reminders or alarms at specified times to help you stay on track. Some PA’s will even help with research on a topic by running Web searches for you and presenting you with a list of appropriate sites that contain the requested material. There is even one that will talk to you and TELL you the information!

So, let us begin. We’ll go for the simpler ones first and then move to the more complex ‘systems’ available. I will say this, though, before we start. These programs I’ve selected are what you might call All-In-One in that they are comprised of several functions. There are various and sundry programs that do just one thing like Address books and such. I’m not going to cover those this time. My feeling is there are so many different functions involved, why have a dozen or so programs loaded on your system when one would do as well.

EssentialPIM This absolutely free personal information manager can store, manage and encrypt data: day/week/month/year schedules, to-dos for keeping of all your tasks in shape, notes (pictures, tables, any formatted text), and contacts. It offers Rijndael 128-bit encryption, MS Outlook import/export, Windows address book import/export, search capabilities, versatile print-out capabilities, and adjustable contacts storage with unlimited fields. Automatically import your existing data from Outlook, Outlook Express, or pretty much any PIM software that just isn't doing it for you. All your data in one place, interconnected so you don't have to mess around, and just the data you need without a lot of clutter. Get information whenever you need it. Print whatever you want and only what you want! Save your data to HTML, RTF, CSV or TXT. Every feature you need to organize your life: scheduling, contact info, To Do lists and versatile notes, easy import from MS Outlook or Outlook Express, simple printout of any or all modules and quick export of your data into the most useful formats strong data protection using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm, and, last but not least, multilingual interfaces. This little gem of a program is small enough, even with its database, to be loaded directly onto and work from a USB Flash Memory device which makes it truly portable.

Kirby Alarm, is an alarm clock and task scheduler that will pop up a note, or run a program, or play a sound, or send an email at user defined intervals. Various options are available to set alarms (or programs) to run every few minutes, hours, days, months, years, or the last Friday in the month, or the last day in the month. Plus lots more!!

This one is my personal favorite. Ultra Hal Assistant is an artificial intelligence conversation simulator. It is capable of being your digital secretary and companion. Talk to Hal in natural English language and Hal will speak back to you. Hal has a huge conversational database and will discuss anything. Hal speaks out loud to you in one of many high quality voices and has several 3D animated characters to choose from. Hal will learn from every sentence that you tell it and over time it will learn the things you do, and to talk about topics you like to talk about. In addition to being able to chat with you for entertainment purposes, Ultra Hal can also act as a personal information manager (PIM). Hal can remember and remind you of appointments, it can keep an address book, it can keep a phone book, and it can dial phone numbers for you. Hal will also run programs and display recent documents on voice command, and can help you browse the Internet. You can also run your Hal bot on the AOL Instant Messenger network. Sound good? Well, don’t get too excited because there is a catch to Ultra Hal Assistant. I mention it because the Assistant isn’t really free. It is available for a small price though; less than $40 will get you the full version with all the bells and whistles mentioned above. They do offer a free version that is really nice but it doesn’t include the voice recognition software that the full version uses. Conversation is by program speech and keyboard entry and not voice recognition. The free version has the bot, and all the tools, a handful of voices, and a couple of characters to talk to you. I do want to mention here that the voice generation on ALL of Zabaware’s packages is extremely good. Some of the voices, in fact, sound totally normal and not machine generated. www.zabaware/ is the web site so slide over there and take a look.

As you can imagine, I’m only scratching the surface with these tools. There are a bunch of them available. Do be careful, though. If you aren’t going to pay to register, don’t place any serious information into one if it’s going to need to be registered to work beyond a specified amount of time. All of the PIM packages I mention here are free or have no limitations imposed so start with them.

That should get you started. HAVE FUN!