Technology Boondoggle

Palm IIIc & Keyboard

I enjoy technology as much as the next techie, but there are times when it can conspire against all known logic.

Last week my Palm TX decided to call it quits, just after its warranty expired. These things happen so I wasn’t too upset. I suspected the problem was nothing more than a dead battery. I’ll get a new one from eBay or an online battery store, I thought, until I read up on what replacing the battery entailed.

The TX battery is soldered onto the TX system board. I could get a replacement battery from eBay for $15, but I’m not very good with small objects and I was nervous about the task of taking the TX apart. But soldering on top of it? I’m an absolute klutz with a soldering iron. When I was a boy scout I attempted to put together a small shortwave receiver from a kit. When I plugged it in, it spit, sparked, and splatted before imploding. The smell of charred, melted resistors and capacitors permeated my bedroom for days. I’ve experienced soldering-iron avoidance ever since.

Okay, says I, I’ll maybe send it to Palm and let them fix it. A little research showed that they would indeed fix it, for $150. Hmmm, that’s halfway to the price of one of the new ultracompact portables running Linux or XP. It didn’t seem like a winning strategy.

Keeping my equanimity very nicely, I decided to relegate the TX to my ‘history’ bin, and start using the Dell Axim X50v I used before I had the TX. It had much better battery life, the battery was user replaceable from the outside, and it had some nice features, such as Word and Excel built in. I wasn’t as fond of the ThinkOutside Stowaway BlueTooth portable keyboard though, mainly because it only has three rows of typing keys. To type numbers and symbols requires holding a blue or  green function key down first.

I’d used it before and assumed I could get used to it again so I charged the unit, reconnected the Windows cradle and attempted to install the  required driver for the keyboard. Every time I tried to install it, the keyboard control program would install but the critical driver itself would not. The error message said try again, so I did, about a dozen times, with no joy.

Because the unit had lost all its loaded software when the battery died from non-use, I thought maybe I’d applied an upgrade patch at some point. I roamed the Dell site and found two upgrades I duly installed. Then experienced another half dozen failed attempts to install the keyboard driver.

ThinkOutside, the company that made the Stowaway keyboard had in the intervening time been bought by another company, and that company no longer lists either ThinkOutside products or support. No knowledgebase to tap into. The keyboard has been orphaned.

At this point I actually thought about purchasing one of those nifty ultracompacts, like the Acer Aspire One, but I already have a 2-lb Neo that is fine for writing. Its only drawback, which is shared by ultracompacts, is that toting it around requires either a shoulder bag or backpack. In order to keep my photo walks light on weight, I prefer using a PDA with keyboard that will slip easily into a belt pack.

Unwilling to admit defeat, I dug deeper into my history bin, where I pitch bits of electronics and other things I can’t quite bear to throw away. There in the drawer was my old Palm IIIc with original Palm Portable Keyboard. The cradle was there too. I looked in my software archive CD folder and found the keyboard driver. I even had a copy of Palm Desktop 4.1, the version that always worked flawlessly with the IIIc.

Okay, I knew I was retrogressing but I needed a portable writing machine and didn’t want to buy a new one if I could get by with an old one. Besides, I recalled the Palm IIIc as not being all that bad.

I deleted the more recent Palm Desktop that came with the TX and installed the old 4.1. No problem. Then I installed the keyboard driver. No problem. It went right into the Palm Desktop which said it would stuff it into the Palm IIIc next time I synchronized.

The IIIc was finally charged and ready to go so I pushed it onto its cradle and looked for the serial port on my Dell portable. Right. No serial port. Old technology I guess. I looked at my Dell desktop. No serial port there either — just a honeycomb of USB ports. That rang a bell, so I went back to the history bin and found it: a USB-to-Serial converter. By gum, the driver for this was in my CD archives.

It worked. Everything sync’d and I had a working Palm IIIc with folding keyboard. Looking through my software archives I found the PalmOS text editor I once bought, called QED. Then I found the  registration key. It registered and I had an excellent little editor ready to use.

I grabbed a copy of eReader for the Palm and downloaded a few interesting eBook titles from — a great site for reformatted Gutenberg Project texts. I was feeling grumpy so I downloaded some H.L. Mencken.

Yesterday I used the combo for the first time and at first I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see the screen. To call it as dim as George Bush might be an understatement. Then I remembered to set the default font to bold. Voila! Suddenly I could see it as well as I see my Neo. And the keyboard? Mon ami, le keyboard, c’est douce. It’s the best full-size keyboard of any folding keyboard I’ve used. I’d forgot how fine it was.

The adventure of getting a PDA with keyboard working for me again generated enough tension and swearing for one week, I thought. I wasn’t prepared for the boomerang headed my way from HP.

We bought one of those little HP PhotoSmart inkjet printers. A wireless one that connects to my wireless router and can be parked anywhere in the house. Nice little unit. I installed the HP software on my Dell Portable. It seemed sluggish but not bad — providing a kind of photo kiosk experience. Useful, I thought, for those times I don’t want to do serious editing before generating a print.

When I rebooted my laptop it took so long to boot up and connect I thought my wireless connection had failed. I rebooted again before waiting more patiently. Eventually it connected and I was back on the net. Neat. I tested the printer using the HP software and got a nice 4×6 colour print.

Then I tried Photoshop CS3. I have Photoshop set so that in addition to RAW files, ACR opens jpegs as well. I find it a nice front end for making basic editing adjustments before the image goes to Photoshop for fine tuning. Every time I was done with ACR and clicked Open, Photoshop would hang. Totally unresponsive to clicks or profanity. Crikey. I live in Photoshop — this was seriously discomforting.

I next tried Photoshop Elements 6 so I could edit an image and send it to the new printer. Same thing. When it went from ACR to Elements, it hung as utterly as Tom Dooley. I suspected the HP software. The time-honoured First Rule of Troubleshooting says “what was the last thing that was changed? Look there first.”

I opened the HP software again and saw it was now sucking copies of all the images from my hard disk into its internal database. Without my asking it to. Well shit. Last night I deinstalled all the HP software. As soon as it was gone and I rebooted, both versions of Photoshop worked again. Nice work, HP.

Today I re-installed the print driver only, despite the installation software’s insistence that I needed the other packages to get the most from it.  I rebooted and the startup times were normal again. Best of all, Photoshop worked.

It could have been worse. Instead of XP I could have been using VISTA.

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