Commentary: Help for jet-lagged PDAs

How do you keep your mobile gear from getting jet-lagged? Enterprise's Alfred Poor wonders.

I recently took a cross-continent jaunt to spend a week talking with people about display technology. On just one of those days, I had 18 appointments. Yup, 18.

Fortunately, I had my Pocket PC handy in the weeks leading up to the conference, and was able to keep track of my schedule and fill in the holes as people called to make appointments. And I could easily sync with my desktop PIM to keep all the information up to date.

However, when I arrived on the other coast and dutifully reset my Pocket PC to local time, guess what happened? All my carefully scheduled appointments were off by three hours! Grumbling, I switched my PDA back to my home time zone, and then reset the time display to local time. Then I had to remember to reset it when I got home.

In talking with other Pocket PC owners, I discovered that I'm not alone in finding this to be a nuisance. One workaround I heard was to change to the destination time zone when scheduling new appointments, while keeping track of your local schedule using your desktop set to local time. This sounds tiresome to me, though it might work.

Multiple time zones aren't a problem with PIMs such as Outlook that are used on desktops, because by their nature, desktops don't get moved from time zone to time zone. However, it is problem with Windows-based notebooks. Change time zones and your schedule is off. Leave the time zone alone and just change the clock time, and you're OK.

What we really need is for Windows to recognize this problem and give us an option, such as a simple check box in the scheduling module that lets us tell the PDA, "Do not change schedule times when changing time zones." Windows already knows how to do this when changing to daylight-saving time--the schedule times don't change--so why not do the same when changing time zones?

This problem doesn't exist on Palms, because Palms don't recognize time zones at all. Just change your Palm to local time, and then change it back when you get home.

If you would like to teach your Palm about time zones, however, you can. Pumatech's new $19.95 IntelliZone utility (available from Pumatech's Web site) adds support for worldwide time zones to your Palm and automatically resets the clock when you change time zones.

It also can watch for daylight-saving time changes and alert you when they have occurred. And it can even check with your computer before you sync to make certain that both are set to the same time zone, so you don't corrupt any records.

But the best news of all is that when you apply a change of time zone, a window appears on your screen with a check box marked, "Update calendar/email records." Clear this box and the program does exactly what I want it to do: It changes the time zone for the computer, it changes the Palm's time clock to the correct local time, and it leaves the times in your calendar unmolested! If you want the Palm to behave the same way as Windows does, then leave the box checked. Hooray for freedom of choice!

The next time I have to travel across the continent for a bunch of meetings, I'm going to leave my Pocket PC behind and take my Palm instead, because it can keep track of times and appointments the way I want it to.