An Engineer in Wonderland – PDA woe, and where are the E Ink ones?

I like to keep data in one place, and for years I used a Palm III

palm-iii-v2.jpgI like to keep data in one place, and for years I used a Palm III

And was mostly happy with it.

It ran for months on two AAA cells, which is my idea of good battery life, rather than two days between charges.

Then, spontaneously, the backlight came on with a buzzing noise and it erased all the data.

Once the battery was flat, it seemed to recover completely.

But spontaneously unreliability is never acceptable, so I replaced it with a second-hand Sony Clie SJ10 – the only Clie to run on AAA cells.

The Sony was about half as good on batteries compared with the III and, like the Palm, it lost all of its data when the battery flattened.

However, it did have flash (MemoryStick) card back-up, although this was excruciatingly slow and only worked safely on a brand new battery.

Battery change had to be completed in about two second per cell – I exaggerate not – or data was lost. I understand the problem was faulty supercap memory support – a known issue.

In the middle of owning the Sony, some kind of bug in my primary PC, which is at work, erased about half of my Palm data, and I did not spot this until after synchronisation.

So I accidentally erased half my data for good.

Back-ups on my home PC and the flash card were several months old, so it took ages to piece together a ‘best’ old data set from the available back-up sources.

Then there was at least a year of no problems.

iPhone or Android

During that year, I dreamed of moving the whole lot to either an iPhone or an Android phone to get properly-reliable modern hardware and maintained software.

The migration is not trivial, and before I reached a conclusion the Clie died spontaneously.


Not having anyway to transfer or synchronise backups, I had to go entirely paper-based while I found a replacement.

With speed of the essence, I bought a second-hand Palm TX.

You would have thought this migration would be easy,

but it turns out the TX will not sync with the version (4.x) of Palm Desktop that is essential for the III and the SJ10,

and my update to palm 5.x/6.x was wrecked by the interjection of security software on my work PC.

Luckily, I had taken a copy of the backup files before I started this time – which are inexplicably in different formats for Desktop 4.x and Desktop 5.x/6.x.

You have to use software that comes with the TX – which the security took exception to – to do the conversion.

Eventually, after multiple false starts on the home computer, which necessitated the complete re-installation of 4.x and 5.x more than once, I have fully restored* the data set of a couple of months ago on the TX and both computers. 

* where fully = the four main Palm applications. All else had to be discarded because of 4.x-5.x/6.x non-compatibility.

Would you believe it, there was a point at which I plugged the empty TX into the PC and the PC said something like ‘no sync possible, please rename user’.

And when I renamed user, all Palm data was erased from the PC.
What if I hadn’t copied the back-up files????

Why did I ever go the Palm route!

By the way, quite like the TX – except that it uses Graffiti 2 which is far less elegant than Graffiti 1 – but I need to go Android before this one dies.

And the TX is going to degrade, because there are known issues with the screen and on-off switch.

In my dreams

In my dreams, there would be a slim monochrome Palm-compatible that used E Ink for display.

No power-hungry colour, no phone, no application bloat.
I don’t want movies and I don’t want to play audio.

Just a diary / address book / data store, without wireless link complexity as I can use a USB cable. 

– one that could display .pdf files would be a luxury.

Something like a small ebook with a PDA app.

Yes, that is it, an ebook with an app to dream of.

Before ebooks go colour and eat their batteries…. 


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One comment

  1. It would be nice if some sort of standard for PIM/PDA data was established. The best I’ve found so far has been to export my Palm data in CSV format. At least I can use the data if my Palm suddenly expires.
    Add my name to the list of people who prefer B&W LCD’s for utilitarian electronics. The power draw is almost nil, and it can be read in daylight. I’ve got a little mp3 player with a color display that is all but illegible in daylight. The earlier generation player with a B&W display is just fine in dim light or daylight.
    Let’s not forget the virtues of gadgets using replaceable batteries! If the device uses AA’s or AAA’s, you can get replacements at the corner store, or carry a few NiMH spares. With my latest gadgets, you’d better have access to a USB port to charge it on a regular basis. I can’t believe that this is considered to be progress! I think I’ll have to start shopping for a small solar panel or hand cranked generator with a USB port.
    Steve Kurt

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