Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mad Enough to Kill a PDA

If I had one of the programmers or engineers responsible for the Palm Pilot, Desktop or OS before me right now, I'd probably throttle the life out of them.

How this came to be

Many of you know that, as a result of owning two Palm Pilots of different Generations (The IIIxe and the T2), I had come to hate the brand with a broiling passion I normally reserve for select politicians.

My T2 died a hard death. Even the screen stopped working in the end.

I was so disgusted with Palm that I decided to ditch digital PDAs and go back to Paper.

The plan was simple. Print up my contacts and notes so I could put them in the old Day Planner I used for close to six years, most of it during college. Make notes in in and periodically update the contacts on the computer and print up a fresh copy.


Well, if my contacts weren't in the Palm software yes. Even exporting to CSV in the Palm software does things like dump all the "primary" contacts into one column, with no way of differentiating between Call, Home, Work and Fax numbers. For some contacts, their e-mail address was dumped into this column.

I did a good deal of research, and found that the easiest way to get your contacts out of the Palm Software and into something else was to sync the Palm Pilot to Outlook instead of the Palm Desktop. This works nicely as OUtlook has a template that appears to be perfect for my day planner!

The problem of course being that the T2 is dead as a doornail and can no longer sync.

The Event

So Whuffle generously offered to let me use her Handspring for the data transfer. I would sync her handspring to my desktop, wipe the handspring, and then use it to get my data out of the Palm Desktop and into Outlook. I would then put her data back in the handspring.

Whuffle went to work, and as I had an hour and a half until I had to leave, I set about hooking her Handspring to my computer.

The first thing I noticed was the battery was low on the Handpsirng, so I changed the batteries and checked to make sure the contacts were still there.

They were. Everything was fine after the battery change.

I then created a new username in my Palm Desktop install and started the sync process to get Whuffle's contacts onto my Palm Desktop.

I then went to get dressed.

When I got back, I noticed the Handspring had a message saying it needed to be reset. I pressed the little "Reset" button on the screen, knowing that the Palm Pilot would do nothing but give me that screen until I reset it.

I then found myself staring in horror at the screen. The Palm Logo had come up, but was distorted, as if it had been drawn on an etch-a-sketch that was subsequently shaken.

I grabbed a paperclip and hit the reset button. The Palm Pilot went through it's "New Palm" wizard. When I went to the contacts, they were empty except for one entry for Handspring tech support.

Panic set in.

I launched the Palm desktop on my PC and took a look at the username I'd created for Whuffle.

No contacts. No calendar events. Nothing.

I checked the sync log.

The Palm software had, in it's typical wisdom, installed an OS update for Palm OS 3.1 on the handspring, INSTEAD of syncing the damn contacts.

The end result of course being that all the data had been wiped form the Handspring.


I can not describe the rage I felt at that point. I can't remember being that angry without my mother being involved. My hands were shaking, and had my T2 not been a dismantled heap on my desk I would have smashed it into oblivion then and there.

For a frame of reference, imagine Bill Cosby's routine about his wife finding him giving the kids Chocolate Cake fro breakfast. Then imagine that her reaction would be considered "mildly annoyed" compared to my mental state.

All I did was try to hotsync, and it lost all it's data.

I called Palm Tech Support.

They were closed. They don't open until 9:00 am EST.

I called their sales line, which promptly hung up.

I called their sales line again. This time the rep who had hung up on me stayed on the line, explaining that he was only in sales, and that there were no technicians he could go grab from another office. He reiterated that I would have to call their tech support line. I advised he find a job with a company that makes products that DON'T mangle customer data on a regular basis.

I'm a bit calmed down now.

Intellectually, I know there's nothing I can do to recover Whuffle's Handspring data. I have a year plus old copy of her contacts in one of my Palm Pilot categories, but that had GOT to be seriously out of date now.

I haven't been able to reach her on the phone yet. She's still on the bus getting to work, and her cell phone is off.

My goal is to get all my data out of the Palm Desktop. Even with the Palm Hardware dead, the damn desktop insists on continuing to screw me over.

I will never, as long as I live, use another piece of Palm hardware or software. IF I ever had an employer who handed me a Palm Pilot and told me I HAD to use it, I'd be seriously tempted to find a new job instead of continuing to use an unstable, unreliable piece of garbage like the Palm Pilot.

Friday, October 21, 2005

My Palm Tungsten 2 is dead

So, that monstrous little beast from Palm has finally died. After a few weeks of keeping a charge for all of four hours, the screen stopped working. If I smack it I can get half the screen to display, but generally it just comes up white with a few pale vertical streaks of color.

This is my second Palm Pilot, and given the way my IIIxe died, I'm concluding that the entire product line is flawed. My horrific experiences with Palm's tech support further cemented my distaste for the company. A flaky piece of hardware I can forgive, but keeping me running in tech support circles until my warranty expires I can't.

So now that the sucker is dead and gone, I find myself contemplating a replacement.

Naturally, anything Palm related is out of the question.

Whuffle offered to let me have her old Handspring so she could get a newer entry level Palm Pilot. While the idea appeals, it would mean she would be stuck not with a Handspring that she's been using reliably for years, but with one of the new Palms, which are running what appears to be a buggy, cobbled together OS in desperate need of replacement.

So I started thinking, what do I REALLY need a PDA for?

Games: Nope. That was true at one point, but I don't really play that many computer games anymore, and the ones I do like tend to not be available for the Palm Pilot. Aside from Solar Trader, The only Palm game that really stuck with me was Bejeweled, but I have that on my cell phone. Nethack runs on Pocket PC though...

Addresses: Yes, but my Palm Pilots have frozen and crashed during hot sync so often, that it's been years since I actually updated records on the PDA. I generally took notes on a slip of paper, made the changes on my computer and began the "Will it sync or crash" dance. I could accomplish the same thing by printing my addresses, putting them in a day planner, and periodically updating the printout. Hell, I can put my addresses on my iPod in a read only mode.

Memos / Notes: Only in theory. The Palm Desktop has become a convenient place to toss recipes and notes on my trips, but there are so many other options for that it's silly. If I'm on a trip, a piece of paper with my itinerary is more convenient than a PDA anyway.

Writing on the Road: While this is something I always thought I would do, the fragile nature of most Palm keyboards, combined with the 4k limit on Memos and the lack of a decent and reliable Palm text editor or word processor renders the idea moot. I've gotten more actual writing done in the last year using a travel notebook and a cheap pen than I did on both Palm Pilots combined.

Ebooks: This was the major use my Palm Pilots ever got. After getting an iPod and moving my audio books to it, I still found Plucker and Adobe Reader for Palm to be the major applications that I actually used on the Palm Pilot. A cheap e-book reader or something that integrated Plucker with the GameBoy ebook reader may very well be all I need for that. It would also be cheaper and more durable than a PDA.

Encrypting your address book, in case it's stolen: Cute in theory, the lack of a decent way to keep the addresses updated while still being able to sync them makes it, once again, impractical.

An Alternative Comes to Mind.

Then I remembered a very nice leather day planner I got as a high school graduation gift and used throughout college. All I really need is a way to easily print my address book so I can just put it in the binder. I'll make any changes I want to by hand, and then copy them to the CSV file containing the addresses later. Every few weeks / months I'll print a new copy if necessary.

Then again, I might just get generic memo pages for the planner and a package of mailing labels. Microsoft Word already has templates for printing on mailing labels. Of course that would be far more time consuming than I would like.

Assuming I resolve the printing issue, my old analog planner takes care of my addresses and a few pieces of notebook paper. iPod and Cell Phone take care of audio books and random games respectively, and the Game Boy takes care of "Driving cross country or flying for several hours" gaming.

So one question remains. What would you, my dear friends, recommend for an inexpensive, portable, non-Palm platform for reading ebooks, preferably with Plucker support?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

More on John Loftus

Subject: Subject: RE: Is London Bombing Leader Haroon Rashid Aswat A Double Agent For MI6?

I recently came across an article on your site which mentions John Loftus as the primary source. I thought you might like to know that Mr. Loftus' credibility and ethical standing has come under scrutiny.

The URL is:

On August 7, 2005, on Fox News' "Inside Scoop with John Loftus" he gave out the home address of an Orange County CA home, claiming it was the residence of a known terrorist.

The couple, who have no known ties to terrorism, have been harassed and their home vandalized. The local police have stationed a squad car outside their home to protect them 24 /7.

The "suspected" terrorist moved out of the home three years before the broadcast.

John Loftus has demonstrated a singular disregard for accuracy and public safety. His actions seemed geared towards inciting mob violence and the public lynching of innocent people.

I would avoid him in the future, as his lack of ethical standards and inability to distinguish truth from fiction will mar any article in which he is used as a source. His name will bring into question the accuracy and credibility of those who reference him.

As of this writing, FOX news has offered a one line apology in one online publication, Loftus has posted an apology to his web site, and he's sent an e-mail apologizing for his actions to the family.

FOX news has not published or aired a retraction or apology that even comes to the kind of exposure the original threat received.

Because of his reckless and dangerous behavior, I'm encouraging others to stop giving this dangerous and highly unstable man a forum. Any statements from Mr. Loftus are unlikely to "send shockwaves around the world" as he has demonstrated that reality and accuracy are not considerations when he says or writes anything. A growing number of people are realizing that Mr. Loftus is not a reliable source, but a fountain of misinformation. Only those more interested in sensationalism than accuracy should use him as a source.


Of course, the above e-mail bounced back when I sent it to the address listed on their site, which is also the address in their whois data.

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

Technical details of permanent failure:
PERM_FAILURE: SMTP Error (state 9): 503 This mail server requires authentication when attempting to send to a non-local e-mail address. Please check your mail client settings or contact your administrator to verify that the domain or address is defined for this server.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

iTunes 6.0 is out

iTunes version 6.0 is out, adding support for Video Syncing. No other features appear to have been removed, which is a refreshing change for an iTunes release. Anyone else remember the plug-in for copying songs FROM your iPod, killed in iTunes 4.5? Anyone know if this workaround to enable iPod Download still works?