Vietnam Wall Goes Wireless
When Ron Worstell, a service delivery manager at Fujitsu Transaction Solutions, first started volunteering at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington three years ago, he had to use a five-pound paper directory to find an individual name listed among the 58,229 inscribed on the memorial.
Worstell, who served with the Army 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, found the process slow and frustrating, and figured there had to be a better way to search for names on the memorial, commonly known as The Wall. The names are arranged by date of death, not alphabetically, which makes finding the names of comrades and loved ones even more difficult.
Then Woestell learned that Dallas-based Fujitsu Transactions, a subsidiary of Fujitsu in Tokyo, started selling handheld Windows CE-powered iPad computers as portable point-of-sale terminals to its retail and grocery chain customers.
Thanks to Worstell's interest and advocacy, Fujitsu Transactions donated
20 iPads to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built and maintains The
Wall. This weekend, instead of carrying a five-pound book, Worstell, who
carried a 25-pound radio on his back in Vietnam, used an
The lightweight hardware required some heavyweight programming to configure the memorial database to operate on the iPad, said Frank Guglielmo, vice president of enterprise engineering at Soza & Co. in Fairfax, Virginia, which did the conversion at no cost for the memorial fund.
Soza, a systems integration company that works primarily on federal government projects, was the logical choice for the database conversion because it already maintains the memorial fund's Web site, said Guglielmo.
But Frank Fruehwald, a senior software developer at Soza, said squeezing all the data from the Web site's SQL database of the 58,229 names on The Wall (derived from a mainframe computer tape acquired by the memorial fund from the National Archives when it started planning the memorial more than 20 years ago) wasn't an easy project.
The iPad has only 32MB of memory. It typically allocates 16MB for memory, and 16MB for a program. Faced with this limited memory, Fruehwald said he first had to delete some data fields available on the Web site, such as the locations in Vietnam where casualties occurred, to compress all the relevant information (name, hometown and state, date of death) into the iPad's memory. Even then, Fruehwald said, he had to borrow 3MB of memory from what was allocated for the program to accommodate a database that wouldn't drop below 19MB.
Soza had an ongoing project to port the Vietnam Memorial database to a Hewlett-Packard iPaq running the Pocket PC operating system as a "proof-of-concept" exercise in shrinking large databases onto handhelds, Fruehwald said. But since some of the data calls in Windows CE, which he described as the "embedded OS in its raw form," are different from the Pocket PC, it took him about a month to write the program and the GUI in embedded Visual Basic.
Fruehwald also sounded a note of warning to handheld program developers: While Microsoft makes it sound as though a developer can use point-and-click tools to build a program, it takes a lot of grunt work to develop a finished project, he said. After writing the program, Soza fine-tuned it, and then burned it into the 20 iPads.
Worstell said that the handhelds will be used daily at The Wall from now on, with 15 units in the hands of regular volunteers assisting the 4 million people who visit the site annually. Four of the units will be kept in storage at the Memorial Fund for use by out-of-town volunteers, and one will be held in reserve by Fujitsu.