General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice


Vol. 9, No. 3



iPhone-ix Rising

Many of you shared with me the agony of parting with the dear old Palm (see “ Cold and Dead, From My Hands,” March 2010 Technology eReport), which, it seems, was the last PDA soldier standing. My little buddy went bye-bye shortly after the article was published, but it didn’t go down quite the way I had anticipated.

Oh, I had seen the warning signs, but like anyone else in the denial stage of grief, I failed to take the steps to migrate my data that would have saved me hours and hours (days, actually) of work. My first clue was when I couldn’t load the desktop application that came with my Palm onto my new Vista 64-bit OS laptop. My only option was a link from the Palm website to a download from a third-party provider that had originally written its software for Windows XP and hadn’t updated it since. Suddenly, I could no longer sync between the Palm and the desktop using the USB cable. It took me a couple hours of tinkering to rig a Bluetooth sync workaround.

My second clue came a few months later, when I was printing out hard copies of my calendar in anticipation of the upgrade to Windows 7, and the desktop application crashed several times, requiring nothing short of full computer reboots to bring it back. After the upgrade, the desktop application worked for about two weeks. Then, one morning in April, nothing. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling it twice, but it was like performing CPR on a corpse already in rigor mortis. Adding insult to injury, in my euphoria over its initial successful operation, I had deleted all the .csv and .txt backup files I had created in preparation for the upgrade.

I can’t remember much about the next few hours other than pacing, wringing my hands, and hyperventilating. Finally, I stumbled to my car and rolled numbly down the hill to my local AT&T store. The panicked expression in my eyes must have delighted the salesman to whom the floor manager assigned me when I walked in. He circled like a California condor, figuring I’d be an easy sell. He didn’t anticipate getting hung up on my multiple detailed, technical questions. For all the business-friendly features that were important to me, I knew that my decision would be from among the tried-and-true BlackBerry, the smart and dapper iPhone, and the sexy, mysterious Droid (which would also mean changing service providers). The AT&T rep was an expert in the BlackBerry only. I was leaning toward the iPhone 3GS, but was also Droid-curious. So I rolled another couple of blocks to the Apple Store, where the smart and dapper salesman was better able to explain the iPhone’s ability to meet my needs and contrast its features with those of the Droid.

I was too burnt out from the day’s excitement to go to a Verizon store and see the Droid in action, but already knew I wasn’t ready to have my backup data 100% in the cloud with no desktop sync. I also knew from my research that a full-sized, portable keyboard (a requirement for me) was in development for the iPhone, and the buzz on user group postings also indicated a strong customer desire for one.

Taking pity on the condor, I returned to AT&T and gave him the sale. I brought home my new iPhone, then curled up into a ball to sleep off my post-Palm depression, knowing that the arduous task of freeing my data from its 3" x 4.5" cage lay ahead. The good news is that I managed to capture my entire 13 years of calendar data, notes, and contacts, which had multiplied like tribbles. The bad news is that I had to do multiple backflips to convert the various groups of data into usable form. First, I had to find a computer operating Windows XP, load the old Palm desktop software onto it, sync it with my Palm, then export the data files to .csv format. I had already given my XP laptop to my nephew, who was 1,200 miles away. Fortunately, my husband (the rocket scientist, remember?) still uses that platform on his computer.

The one file that couldn’t be exported into a form readable by Outlook was my calendar, the very application I had to get up and running first! I tried importing it into Yahoo, then Google, both of which supposedly can read the Palm’s .dba Calendar file and sync it with Outlook. Both found my .dba file to be unreadable. After an exhaustive internet search, I stumbled upon Neil Gerstenberg’s tidy “Dba2Csv” conversion program ( Neil is a programmer based in Scotland who wrote the program to convert his own Palm calendar files when nothing else would. For me, it was well worth the ₤30 investment ($47.29 U.S. on the day I bought it).

Dba2Csv allows you to convert your calendar from either the Version 6 Palm desktop application (the one I was running on my Windows 7 laptop before it crashed), which preserves the repeating dates, or the earlier Version 4, which duplicates the repeating dates as single events. For the latter, be aware that you should choose a cutoff date for repeaters when importing into Outlook. I didn’t do that at first, and by the time I realized it was taking way too long and hit “Cancel,” it was up to the year 2032 and still crunching. Although I redid the import, it took a good two days to find and set all of my repeating dates, then correct them when I discovered, after they didn’t show up on my iPhone, that the “all day” entries in Outlook inexplicably started the day after they ended. (Later, when I upgraded to the iPhone iOS4 operating system, a random few of the events in my calendar ran amok, further fueling my longstanding hatred for Outlook. Some events duplicated themselves and some all-day events became multiday events.)

Now that I had rescued my Calendar, I was ready to start playing with my new puppy, leaving the conversion of my other exported files for another day. I had never understood how people could become addicted to their smartphones until I took a hit of iCstasy, discovering the world of iTunes and the App Store. And I fear the iPhone is the gateway drug to the iPad.

There are numerous apps that have Windows desktop counterparts to sync with, like DataVault, which securely encrypts and stores my passwords and other sensitive information, and Documents to Go, which allows me to copy, read, and edit files created by the programs in the Microsoft Office suite. There is a document scanner app with OCR. All of the GPS apps are positively mind-Googling. I love the resident Google Maps app with optional traffic and Google Earth overlays, so I can see when I’m about to hit a traffic cluster while driving, or look at the surrounding topography while hiking. Then there’s the TomTom app, for when I’m in a strange city and need to navigate to my meeting place while keeping my eyes on the road.

I realize this new tool really is a minicomputer in every sense of the word, much more so than any of my Palms ever were. If only my Palm had held out two more months, I could have had an iPhone 4G. Apple threw me a bone by offering an upgrade to my 3GS operating system, which I hungrily gobbled up, and which—lo and behold!—offered Bluetooth keyboard connectivity. With iOS4, I can multitask (like typing notes while on the phone). I found a portable Bluetooth keyboard by Menotek that is fun, functional, and affordable. With a flexible silicone housing, it is rugged and waterproof. It folds up neatly into the space in my handbag once occupied by the Palm and its keyboard, with room left over for my reading glasses. The iPhone fits into the pouch clipped to my handbag strap where my candy bar-style cell phone used to reside. No need to get a bigger handbag after all!

Once I finished my initial iCstasy jag, it was time to sober up and get my contacts converted. That also took days. Before importing the .csv file into Outlook, I exported the Outlook Contacts file so I could organize the Palm data using Outlook’s own field names, only to have Outlook not recognize many of them—requiring manual mapping—when the time came to import the file back in. (Did I mention I hate Outlook?) But I do enjoy the smart, dapper, young iCandy hanging off my arm.

Samantha Blake has been admitted to practice in California since 1993. She is a director of EXTTI, Incorporated, which provides consulting services in the employment area, including expert testimony, training on the avoidance of harassment and discrimination to managers and employees, workplace investigations, assistance with disability accommodations and the interactive process, and executive coaching.

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