Dr. Lowman’s latest Nature’s Secrets column in newsobserver.com:

New PDAs (personal digital assistants or hand-held computers) are flooding the market with their myriad sound bytes, applications (apps), and jargon. As the proud owner of an iPhone, I must admit that its ever-changing, innovative uses (other than conventional telephone-calling) are not only addictive, but seem to provide just about every service under the sun except washing the dishes (maybe that is next?).

My iPhone provides navigation, locates restaurants and even makes reservations; files hundreds of addresses; updates weather reports for any city in the world; and houses photo albums, music, a to-do list, a calendar of appointments and, of course, emails – all in one pocket-sized, battery-operated gadget.

In its emerging role as a community forum, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences recently hosted a conference called Mobile Data Collaboration, with a theme of inspiring partnerships between industry and science to solve environmental problems using hand-held technologies. The forum, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was standing-room-only as scientists, consumers, app designers, students and industry came together to discuss the complex challenges of coordinating data gathered by mobile technologies. For example, the USDA hopes to detect invasive species by harnessing citizen scientists to photograph strange insects observed eating their trees or vegetable gardens. Project Budburst, based in Boulder, Colo., collects nationwide observations of budburst and flowering activities to document changing climatic conditions.

And new apps range from traffic congestion reports to personal health assessments.

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