Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A TabletPC, Agilix GoBinder, and this Mobile Technician

In yesterday's blog entry, I briefly mentioned that I use Agilix GoBinder for taking notes and organizing documentation on the job. Now, I want to go into some detail, and explain just how I use GoBinder (and therefore my TabletPC) in my work.

Some people think that we computer techs know all the answers (at least, that's what they will often tell us). True, lots of times we know immediately how to install the software or hardware a user needs, or how to diagnose and fix operating system issues, but when a tech doesn't know right away what to do, a good one knows where to look for answers. When it comes down to it, other people look to me to provide the answers to their problems, and since they can rarely pick up their PCs to come to me, I need to be able to take my answers to them, whether that means a vendor's instructions for installing or troubleshooting a custom software package, lengthy Microsoft KB articles for resolving an issue with the OS or an Office product, or some gem of advice gleaned from a Google search. I don't want to have to search through hundreds of documents in various document folders on my hard drive. I've done that, and it's a waste of my time, my employer's time, and my users' time. I also learned to dislike keeping printouts lying around waiting for the next time they might be useful, even if I did keep them alphabetized in a 3-ring binder.

This is why I find the Binder aspect of GoBinder to be the most valuable. Don't get me wrong, the synchronization of Outlook tasks, appointments and contacts is neat and convenient, and so is the ability to take handwritten notes on customized paper types -- I've cobbled together a few paper types, myself.


One of the neatest things about GoBinder is its virtual printer. Yes, I mean something similar to the Acrobat Distiller, Microsoft Journal Note Writer, or the Microsoft OneNote printer. It's easy enough to import Word documents, Adobe PDFs and web pages from within GoBinder, itself, but if I'm searching the web, reading email, or combing my group's shared documentation on SharePoint or Exchange and I find a useful tidbit, I can simply use the File Print dialog, and choose the GoBinder printer, and the document will be dropped right into GoBinder. If GoBinder wasn't open at the time, the doc is queued to wait until I run GB. If GB is already running, it will drop the document copy into the current folder and/or tab; or if none have been selected, the note will be created in the first folder available for note creation/editing. Once my info is in GoBinder, annotation/highlighting is as easy as selecting a pen type and scribbling to my hearts content....

In the picture above, we have a shot of my GoBinder Work database (I also have one for playing at home with my other computers, and an experimental one for eBooks). GoBinder defaults to having tabs for Calendar, Contacts (the People tab), Syllabus (well, it IS geared toward students and other members of the academic community), Notes, and Courses. I hid the Syllabus tab and created my own tabs, such as one for my notes on issues related to clinical applications and hardware, and one for non-clinical. One department in particular has a great deal of specialized software, so it has a tab all to itself. On the left--and this was the selling point for me--I have folders within my tab and folders within the folders, basically a vertical explorer-like listing. I can expand/collapse where needed. If I need a refresher on how, for example, to get somebody's PocketPC to synchronize again after XPSP2 has been installed, I know I can find my answer in the Microsoft\PocketPC folder in the Non-Clinical Apps/Hardware tab.

Initially, I thought I had no need for the Outlook synchronization feature of GoBinder (they refer to it as "Mobilization"). Eventually, it occurred to me that it might be handy to have contact info in the same place as my documentation, especially since my documentation might instruct me to combine my effort with another support group. Rather then opening up another application, I can just switch to another tab to locate that programmer's phone number or that sysadmin's pager number! If I don't already have the needed content info, I can just write (and I mean write, as the illustration above shows, not type) the info in after I get it, and I can mobilize it into Outlook whenever I am ready.

The last picture demonstrates how I use GoBinder to submit forms. After 6 years as a PC tech, I am still flabbergasted by the amount of paperwork with which we have to deal. Honestly, I thought paperwork was for other people! At any rate, I show an example of a sort of checklist we fill out when we have to re-load the OS of a PC. The purpose is to let the user know what we will and will not back up and restore, and to remind us not to leave something out. Once a form is filled out by the user and me, and the job is done, I email a copy directly from GoBinder to my supervisor. We have a very similar form for PC replacements. I also have forms for inventory changes, for requesting time off and for off-site re-location of campus equipment. I'm still trying to convince our office assistant to let me fill out mileage forms in GoBinder!

There are a couple of ways to have these forms in GB. The easiest way is to import or print blank forms into GoBinder and fill them out. I prefer to create custom paper types, which isn't easy yet, but it looks better for forms with tables (the last time I checked, the note-taking apps had problems with tables displaying as desired). I grab a screenshot of the desired document to use as a background image, then copy and modify another paper type, which is defined in an xml file located in the GoBinder program folder. Switching to another paper type is quick and easy.

So that's enough on GoBinder, but you'll see it mentioned again, when I discuss my efforts to go paperless.

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