Paul Farmer gets that faraway look — and maybe suppresses a giggle — when he thinks about the future.
Farmer is owner of Famhost, a company that hosts logistic software for large-scale sewer services, landscapers, trash haulers and other field services.
The software emerged about 30 years ago out of his family's business, Roto-Rooter, which the family still owns. Famhost is housed at 2030 S. Mead in an unglamorous metal building south of Roto-Rooter.
Farmer's sister, Jane Jantz, wrote the logistics software and has continued to develop it, adding complexity and sophistication over the years such as GPS tracking. Her business is called JaRay Software.
Famhost and JaRay serve about 200 Roto-Rooter franchises in the United States and Canada, and scores of other businesses as far away as Australia.
But what gets Farmer excited is a new technology he and his sister developed called Linkwriter and Linkmodem.
He hit upon the system in 2005 when a typhoon forced him to spend an idle day in his hotel room while in Hong Kong.
He was surfing the Net and found a Swedish company that makes pens that record as the user writes or draws. He called the company and met with its representatives a few days later in Boston.
With the pen in hand, Farmer and Jantz set about building a modem to connect the pen to a company's computer system. It took years.
"We didn't want to do this," Jantz said. "We tried all kinds of ways not to do it."
But now they are within months of putting it into production.
An employee will use the pen to fill out a form, and with a single touch can instantly download the information from the pen through the modem to the home office.
It will allow dispatchers to check forms for mistakes and credit card companies to process a payment — all before the trucks have left the job. The technology cuts mistakes, cuts data entry time and speeds up payment, Farmer said.
It performs much of the same function as a laptop computer with a wireless Internet connection but is less expensive and, Farmer ruefully notes, eliminates the temptation to surf the Internet.
It can be used not only by service technicians on the road, but by doctors and nurses, highway patrolmen, clerical workers and waitresses.
"Really, anybody who fills out paperwork can benefit from this," Farmer said.
The demand for such a device, he said, is immense.