Stan Cox

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Electronic Preaching

Using a PDA

First things first... What is a PDA? The following definition is from

    Short for personal digital assistant, a handheld device that combines computing, telephone/fax, and networking features. A typical PDA can function as a cellular phone, fax sender, and personal organizer. Unlike portable computers, most PDAs began as pen-based, using a stylus rather than a keyboard for input. This means that they also incorporated handwriting recognition features. Some PDAs can also react to voice input by using voice recognition technologies. PDAs of today are available in either a stylus or keyboard version.

    The field of PDA was pioneered by Apple Computer, which introduced the Newton MessagePad in 1993. Shortly thereafter, several other manufacturers offered similar products. Today, one of the most popular brands of PDAs is the series of Palm Pilots from Palm, Inc.

    PDAs are also called palmtops, hand-held computers and pocket computers.

For the organizationally impaired, (including yours truly), PDAs are wonderful devices. Used properly, the device can be wonderfully helpful to the busy preacher.

It is important to distinguish a good PDA from the inexpensive, and difficult to use electronic gadgets that you may have received on your birthday 5 or 6 years ago. A PDA is a computer. It has the capability of synchronizing with your desktop or laptop computer. This is extremely important, as it greatly enhances the usability of the device. If I had to enter all the information I have on my PDA using the little keypad that those gadgets have, I would no doubt have ended up throwing the thing in the trash. However, using the desktop software supplied by the PDA manufacturer, I can input all the data I want using my desktop, with its monitor and keyboard, and then send it to the device by punching a single button. Less than a minute later, and it is all on the PDA. If I make changes on the PDA while away from the computer, a single button again brings both desktop and PDA up to date.

Too, there are countless software programs, both freeware, and commercial that greatly expand the usability of the PDA.

Common Uses for a PDA

  1. Address and Phone Book. Now I am never without the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses of anyone and everyone I would ever contact! I simply write the first few letters of the last name in the space provided, and up pops the record!
  2. Calendar. All appointments, gospel meetings, and other scheduled events can be viewed by the day, week, month, or year. Alarms can be set to remind you of important events. Scheduling conflicts can be ascertained and avoided.
  3. Memo Pad. I have included in memos on my PDA: a list of future gospel meetings for quick reference; notes taken of sermons I have heard; sermon and article ideas; notes on personal work contacts; announcements for Wednesday night, and the Sunday bulletin; birthday and anniversary lists of the members where I preach (copied and pasted from the directory in about 15 seconds); all the passwords from all the web sites and services I use in publishing Watchman; and directions to all the high schools and middle schools we must travel to as we watch our kids play their sports.
  4. To Do List. A great place to have your "Honey-Do" list, shopping list for office supplies, and you can list them by priority and category. When the job is done, a click on the box, and it is either checked, or deleted. It sure beats sticky notes!
  5. Expenses. There are numerous expense programs you can download from the internet to help keep up with mileage, meal and travel expenses.

Note: Above are the typical applications that come with a PDA. However, they are the tip of the iceberg. Note what else I do with my PDA:

  1. Electronic Bible. For $18, I purchased on the internet the full text of the NKJV, in a fully searchable format. Now I am never without a Bible. For those who prefer the KJV, the text is completely free.
  2. Big Clock. A freeware program which allows you to use your PDA as a clock, a timer which counts up or down, and an alarm complete with snooze, and multiple alarm settings. The alarm is loud enough to wake me (and I am a very sound sleeper). The interface is very easy to use, and the numbers are large and easy to see.
  3. CSpotRun. A freeware document reader. This allows you to read books on your PDA. While some may find it a bit uncomfortable due to the small screen, I have fully enjoyed this feature. I regularly use the backlight to read for a while before going to sleep at night. The light does not bother my wife, and the reader sports 3 different sizes of fonts. There are many free books on the internet, just about anything where the copywrite has expired. Sherlock Holmes, H.G. Wells, and anything by Sir Author Conan Doyle are personal favorites of mine. (You notice how I keep mentioning the free stuff? Preachers love free stuff!)
  4. Games. O.K., I admit it! (Though most of the games on my PDA are for the kids... that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!) Personal favorites are Solitaire, Hearts, and Yahtzee. All (you guessed it) free! Also, I purchased a $10 program that allows me to keep stats on my kids as they play basketball.
  5. AvantGo. This software (also free) is, by itself, reason enough to buy the PDA. It is a free internet information service that allows you to download "channels" off the internet to read at your leisure. Brother Phil Martin has a web site,, where he has developed an AvantGo channel. Watchman Magazine has a channel as well. I am sure more will follow.

    The way this works is simply amazing. Presently I have signed up for 8 channels: Watchman Magazine; Gospel Defender; CNN/Sports Illustrated; a channel about Health and Fitness; a channel with tips on hobbies such as woodworking and photography; TV Guide Online; USA Today, and a channel that gives me news about PDAs and software. Each time I synchronize my PDA by pushing that little button, the software on my desktop goes to the internet, and refreshes the information at each channel. Anytime new content has been posted, it deletes the old content, and replaces it with the new articles and news. It takes only seconds, and is like having a newspaper in the palm of your hand. Reading material is available to me at all times!

    Imagine getting an email from Watchman that the new issue is online. Synchronize your PDA, and while you are in the doctor's office, waiting to pick up the kids at school, or with some spare time on your hands anywhere, reading Watchman on your PDA. Or the latest news from CNN or the New York Times, or the latest of Barry Bonds quest to break the single-season home run record, you get the picture.

    My thanks to Phil Martin for making me aware of this wonderful, free use of PDAs.

Finally, some uses for a PDA that even I have not tried as of yet. Some PDAs, (for example the Handspring Visor, which works off the Palm software, and has modules you can click into its top), have an ability to expand, and allow the following:

  1. Email. Add a modem to your PDA, and get your email online. (Monthly charge for the service. If it isn't free, I'm not interested).

  2. Wireless. Using a wireless modem (cell technology), you can get your email and internet information anywhere, anytime. (Monthly charges).

  3. Cell Phone. Turn your PDA into a cell phone.

  4. GPS. Turn your PDA into a Global Positioning System, complete with GPS receiver, and map software. Never get lost again!

  5. MP3 Player. Listen to music using your PDA and a set of headphones.

  6. Digital Recorder. Tapeless recording (Up to 3 hours), with the ability to transfer recordings to your desktop for emailing or filing. (I want this one!)

What To Look For in a PDA

I'm not an expert in this, but I will tell you what I know:

  1. There are Two Basic Types. Those that work on the Palm Platform (Palm Pilots, Handspring Visors & Sony Clies), and those that work on a Windows CE platform. (Compaq and Hewlett Packard have several models out). Palm types seem to be a bit more intuitive, as the software was developed specifically for PDAs, and are less expensive. Windows CE based PDAs are more expensive, and have an interface that is similar to your Desktop Windows system, but allow for a greater integration with desktop programs. For example, Microsoft Word is found in a pocket edition on the PDA, and you can read and edit Word documents while away from your desktop.
  2. Color and Greyscale Displays. Color is more expensive and more versatile. While I personally have a greyscale display, I believe that eventually just about all PDAs will come with vibrant color displays.
  3. The Faster the Better. PDAs are a bit slow. For example, when searching my PDA Bible, sometimes it is a bit frustrating. Newer PDAs have faster processors. Faster is more expensive.
  4. More Memory is Better. Just like with a computer, the more memory you have, the better. I have a PDA with 8 megabytes of memory, and at present, with all the stuff I mentioned above, I have just over 1 megabyte of free space. Fortunately, I can add a memory module for up to 16 more megabytes. My son has a 2 megabyte version that would be limited if he used it as I do. He would have to purchase the memory module to expand. Some of the more inexpensive PDAs do not have expansion capabilities.
  5. Handspring Has Modules. The Handspring Visors have a unique feature in that you can add modules with games, memory, or specialty functions that turn the PDA into a cellphone, GPS receiver, MP3 player, Digital Recorder, etc. Not all PDAs have this capability. Plus, Handsprings are competitive with the Palm Pilots in price, and are completely compatible with regard to software applications. What the Palm Pilot runs, the Handspring runs.


Personally, I own a Handspring Visor Deluxe, which has 8 megabytes of memory, a greyscale display, and is compatible with all Palm Pilot programs. It cost me $199, but I have recently seen them for sale for $129. The expansion modules mentioned above range in price from $49 for a memory module to several hundred dollars for the cellphone adapter. I have spent a total of $33 dollars in extra software (Bible, Basketball stats). All other software that I have is freeware, or came with the Visor.

If you have read this entire article, you are either a masochist, or you have a real interest in the Palm Devices. If you have any questions you think I could answer for you, don't hesitate to email me.

Imagine, being able to read Watchman Magazine anytime, any place............

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