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Anywhere, anytime

Mari Booker, secretary of the schools committee of the British Computer Society, talks to Chris Abbott

Which information technology product has made a difference to your life?

My Psion Series 3a palmtop. I always have the facility to word process wherever I am because I always carry it with me. I can write up observations, reports on children (I'm a pre-school support teacher with the London borough of Croydon) and minutes of meetings whenever I have some time to spare. I use it in a wide variety of places - in my car, at my desk, in the garden or even on the beach (I live in Brighton). I also use it on the train or in a cafe or even in an out-patients' waiting room (where I am now). I can then use the MacLink software to download the files on to my Apple Mac and print.

The database can give me speedy access to Computer Society members' phone numbers, addresses and I can use a "key word" to find which members are in which working groups.

I have also put details of all my CDs on to the database so that while browsing in a record shop I can quickly check whether I have a certain piece of music. Ask me if I have music from Albania or Zanzibar and I can soon tell you.

My daughter had a great deal of course work for her A levels, so in the evening she used the Apple and I used my Psion and downloaded later.

What do you like or dislike about your Psion?

It is small and compact enough to fit into a handbag or pocket and not too heavy. The password ensures protection. The spell-check is comprehensive and it has a good thesaurus. The calculator has the facility to keep the previous calculations on screen, which I find helpful.

At first, the keys were a little small compared to a normal keyboard, but I have become used to them. I do worry about the strength of the plastic case and how long the hinge will last. The manual is huge and rather daunting.

When did you start using it?

A year ago. A friend lent me an Acorn Pocket Book (a schools version) for a week's trial and I realised how versatile a palmtop could be.

Who decided to buy it and were you involved in the choice?

I decided and bought it myself. A grateful parent had given my father, who had been a primary headteacher, a signed first edition of Sir John Soane's Description of His House and Museum. My mother suggested we auction it and gave me half the money to buy the Psion. I feel sure my dad would have approved and also been amazed, both at the value of the book and with the Psion.

How does it compare with other ways of tackling the same tasks?

I tried out the Apple Newton a couple of years ago and felt it brought back memories of a magic slate and was too limiting. A friend lent me a laptop for a short time, but I always had to make a decision whether to carry it. I still use a note pad and pen when doing a child observation, as I am often sitting on the floor among the children and toys.

I have yet to really start using the diary. I still like to flick through proper paper pages both for my work and personal diary. And I can't tell you about the spreadsheet, because I have no need to use one at the moment.

Do you think it could be improved?

The manual could have a basic guide for those who don't want to plough through the text - maybe a video with visual explanations. I have noticed that some newer models (such as the Siena) are less expensive, and thus more accessible to teachers, lecturers and students.

If you had more funding what would you invest in?

In some training, along with the spare time to explore my palmtop's further options. Luckily, I have friends who share their expertise with me.

u Psion palmtop computers cost from around Pounds 200 to Pounds 500 in the High Street. Psion UK, 1 Red Place, London W1Y 3RE. Tel: 0990 134224. u Acorn Pocket Books (Psions adapted for education) from Xemplar, The Quorum, Barnwell Road, Cambridge CB5 8RE. Tel: 01223 724724.

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