Palm Tungsten Blog


Saturday, January 31, 2004

Another off topic post

Some people think the lack of face to face contact over the web makes for impersonality and, even worse, for bad manners. While much evidence can be cited in favour of this opinion, it is delightful to find counter-evidence. Two people I have recently had e-mail exchanges with, each of whom I only know through common interests on the web, have stuck me as exceptionally polite. I am talking here about genuine politeness, which, unlike 'customer-service politeness', means giving time and attention to another person however minor the business in hand. So my personal awards for the best manners on the web, based on a ludicrously small and not at all random sample, go to:

[cue drum-roll]

Shaun McGill and Mike Rohde.



Off Topic

I have started using Mozilla Firebird this week, and it is excellent so far. The reason for the switch was a website designed for MSIE6 which would not work in Safari. I am now using Firebird for Blogging because it gives access to all Blogger's features and not just the streamlined version I see in Safari.

The website, Welsh Whisky, is worth a look because I bet you did not know there was such a thing as Welsh Whisky. My wife was thinking of buying me a bottle of the Single Malt for St. David's Day, until we installed Firebird and saw the price tag: 200 a bottle not including taxes! Charging prices like that is a sure way to keep the existence of Welsh Whisky hidden from the world.


Friday, January 30, 2004

UKPUG Meet

The details of the next UKPUG meet are available at www.ukpug.org. I won't be going, but that does not mean it will be a flop ;-)

Membership of the UKPUG just means signing up for the Yahoo Group. At the moment we have 273 members, so just 27 more and it will be time to celebrate!



Blogging from a Palm

This is not something I have tried to do, mainly because, as you might have noticed, I am not an obsessive all-day blogger, so if I begin to think of something away from the desktop, I just jot it down in pedit and upload it later.

But J.G. has an active blog and has posted about his experiences trying to get AvantBlog to work with a T|C. I remember Craig tried with his T|T and a T68i, and managed a few posts.


Wednesday, January 28, 2004

It's here

Well, the Hutton Report and the Covertec case I ordered arrived about the same time. The latter took 13 days from when I placed the order. I am sure they could find a cheaper and quicker distribution method than this.

So now I have two. It cost me 29.79, it is still sealed in its plastic packaging, and I will sell it for a mere 22 ono including First Class recorded post in the UK! I.e. not only will you save money over buying one from Covertec, but also it will arrive much much more quickly. Here is a reminder of what it is.

What the Covertec website does not make clear is the proportion of leather to nylon. The answer to this is that the insides of the case and all the functional bits like the closure are in leather, and the outer covering is in black hard-wearing, water-resisting nylon. The leather from the inside of the case folds over the edges and is stitched into the nylon with the trademark Covertec beige thread. The effect is very smart and rather hi-tech.

Personally I cannot believe that replacing one piece of leather with nylon makes the case so much (30%) cheaper to manufacture, so I think Covertec are trying out a new line of cases with this one.

If you are interested, drop me an e-mail.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Covertec and Headphones

So the last 24 hours has been love/hate with the Covertec case. It is really nice to use: the Palm is held firmly, but not hidden behind acres of leather, the buttons are accessible, and because the back of the case is narrower than the Palm, it feels good in the hand.

But then there is the headphone problem: the case will not come anywhere near closing with the headphones plugged in. 'If they can drill holes to let the sound out of the speaker, why couldn't they make a whole or the headphones?' I kept asking myself. After all, that is what the E&B Slipper case does.

Then I twigged. If you do that on a flip-top case, then you cannot open the case while the headphones are plugged in. So you cannot Play, Pause, change track, adjust volume, or anything else without unplugging the headphones.

I guess Covertec are not just plain stupid, but if there was a cut-away for the headphones, at least I would have the option. I guess that is the difference between a French design and an American one.


Monday, January 26, 2004

For Sale

Fellow Foxpopper Alan Barlow is selling a T|T3 for 150 plus p&p (Uk only). That seems a real bargain. I have bought stuff from him before and it has always been of excellent quality.

You can contact Alan direct: alan foxpop co uk (fill in the blanks for yourself)

or via me.



Zaurus

It turns out that the guy who runs www.shirtpocket.co.uk is a friend of ELisabeth Liddell's, the editor and webmistress of Foxpop. I might be getting the loan of a Zaurus SL-C750!



Covertec Update

Still no sign of the case I ordered on the 15th, but we have a clue: they charged my credit card on the 22nd, so assuming they charge on dispatch, it might be here soon.

Ironically, I today received samples of both the leather and the leather/nylon Covertec cases via Craig. I had rather given up on these arriving. They came just as I was leaving the house, so I just grabbed the nylon/leather one. My first impressions are positive (once I had cut through the packaging!) and I may become very attached to it, EXCEPT that there is not cut-away for the headphone socket. As regular readers will know, I often listen to Audible books while walking, but I may not be able to with this case.


Sunday, January 25, 2004

BlueDock

I followed a story on PalmInfocenter and went to
http://www.synosphere.com/
to find out more about this product / vapourware.

It is difficult to be sure, but it appears that you put you PDA in the dock and then attach a standard monitor, keyboard and mouse. The screenshots appear to show QuickWord and QuickSheet running on a 15" screen.

It is not clear how this works. For a start, the description says it works with 'SDIO Enabled Palm(TM) and Pocket PC Handhelds', which seems odd, since it would be more obvious to use the Universal Connector. But I guess SDIO allows this sort of thing and means they do not need loads of different models to match different hardware. However, the two devices they show in the BlueDock (an iPAQ and a m515) do not seem to be connected by their SDIO slots.

However, there must be some clever software on the BlueDock, since Palm OS does not support that sort of screen size, nor mouse input. If that software works well, this could be a really interesting product.



Sharp Zaurus

I have found a UK based localization and import service for the oh-so-desirable Zaurus SL-C860.

I have coveted one of these for a long time, but interestingly, a photo taken to promote it has finally put me off. Take a look at this comparison with T|T. The Zaurus is so small that it will not be able to perform the main dreamed-of function: being a writing tool.

You see, I have so far bought 4 different keyboards for Palm's with this thought in mind, but found I never used them. Why? Because the screen is too small. This is not a matter of resolution, but absolute size. I need to be able to see at least 150 words on the screen at once, and in a font large enough to read as easily as normal print. Palm screens are just too small for that. With 320x320 resolution, I can use a small font and see loads, but not read it easily. Or use a readable font and only see about 30 words at a time.

I had kind of assumed that the VGA screen would have forced the Zaurus to be more the size of a Geofox, which had a 640x320 screen. But that photo shows how small the Zaurus screen must be, despite its amazing number of pixels.



Matters of size

The charming Chloe from Proporta sent me a T|E aluminium case, which I will review in detail for Foxpop. Having used a variety of alu cases for a variety of different devices over the years, this strikes me as a pinnacle of design: everything has been thought about and works.

Thinking about cases I was reminded of a comment Jeff Kirwin once made over at his WritingOnYourPalm website. Discussing the T|T slider mechanism he mused: whatever made Palm think that height is an important factor in perceived size?

So which is the most important factor in perceived size: height, width, or thickness?

Well, visually thickness is quite irrelevant and height is very important. Or to be more precise, both absolute height and a lowish height/width ratio are important, since narrow objects tend to appear visually taller than they are. However, while visual size is important for attracting attention to a product, it is 'size-in-the-hand' which will sell it.

Tactually, I think thickness is only significant if it goes outside a certain range (my estimate: 5mm-17mm). Too thin and the device will not feel solid enough, too thick and it will be uncomfortable to hold. For example, the T|T is 17mm without any sort of cover, and that feels just great, but add the thickness of the plastic cover and it is clunky. But the T|E at 12mm does not feel significantly thinner than the naked T|T. But it does feel wider and taller.

First tentative conclusion: Sony's, and to a lesser extent PalmOne's obsession with thinner PDAs may be a red-herring.

Width, however, does strike me as important. I have fairly average sized hands and I find things wider than 80mm slightly uncomfortable to hold. Adaptationists can probably tell a story about this, to do with the sorts of tools hunter-gatherers used, but whatever the explanation, there must be some maximum width beyond which a PDA turns into a brick. But is there some minimum? The answer to that does not matter, since at some point the loss of screensize will over-ride other design considerations.

Which brings us back to height. I think it does matter. The two PDAs I have owned which have felt smallest were the Sony SL-10 and the Tungsten T. BUT the Palm m100 feels very small in the hand too, in fact, smaller than the T|E, but when you lay them side by side, you see it is actually slightly taller and narrower. This is because the m100 has another design feature which affects its perceived size: the very rounded base. When you pick it up, the bottom 2cm of the unit are not in contact with any part of your hand. So, tactually speaking, that are not part of the device at all (and since it is very light, there is no perceptible imbalance).

Second tentative conclusion: height itself does not matter, only the length of the edge which is in contact with the hand. PDAs will feel smaller if they are designed so that only part of them is gripped by the user.



Thursday, January 22, 2004

Covertec Delivery

7 days, 7 minutes since I placed the order, and still no sign of the case or even a confirmation of dispatch.


Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Covertec Deliveries

I ordered a case for my T|E from Covertec last week. I was a little disconcerted to find that their shipping charge was 12, i.e. more than 8, for a small, light item. This seems to be because they use FedEx.

So I had a good scout around the website to see if they gave any indication of how long it would take to arrive. After all, Expansys only charge 4.20 for guaranteed next day delivery of items in stock. And they give you the Royalmail tracking reference so you can discover if it has been delivered at home while you are at work. But Covertec do not give any indication whatsoever of how long it will take for the case to arrive. There is not even the usual weasel-ish mail order disclaimer 'Goods may take 28 days to be delivered'. So when will it arrive? 5 days and counting so far.


Sunday, January 18, 2004

Proporta 3-in-1 stylus Review

Proporta are marketing a replacement stylus for the T|E which has a ballpoint pen under the stylus tip (it is called '3-in-1' because it has a rest pint as well). Now I have never been a great fan of these multi-function replacement stylii because the designers have either been focussed on making a decent pen and end up with a second-rate stylus, or they make a decent stylus but the pen is fiddly and uncomfortable to use. I am pleased to announce that the Proporta model has neither of these vices. In use as a stylus it is almost indistinguishable from the perfectly good one which comes with the T|E, and because you access the pen by simply pulling off the plastic stylus tip, which is held on by friction alone, the pen function is just as well balanced and easy to use as the stylus.

Proporta 3-in-1


Here are a few detailed observations:
1. It feels solid and well-balanced but actually weighs slightly less than the original stylus (8 as opposed to 9 grams). I guess that this is because the shaft is made of aluminium, not steel.
2. The plastic stylus-tip is considerably longer than the one on the original and hollow to incorporate the ballpoint. The consequence of this is that it has a little 'give': if you press moderately hard the tip bends very slightly. While this feels a little odd at first, it is actually a benefit, since it makes writing feel more natural (a pad of paper will give slightly when you write on it).
3. The reset pin is very long and takes quite some time to unscrew - If you often have soft-resets, you might want to install Crash.
4. There are no instructions for changing the pen refill. It took me a few minutes to work out that you have to unscrew the reset pin and then push the ballpoint up the barrel. It helps to have an instrument to do this: I used a 2mm Allen key.
5. Kudos to Proporta for the packaging. Though it is plastic, it is easy to open with your bare hands and is easily resealable, which answers the question: where do I keep the original T|E stylus while I am using this replacement?

Ballpoint Tip


Reset pin


At only 6.95, and with Proporta's very low shipping charges, this is a must-have if you regularly find yourself without a pen, and a good value, good quality replacement if you lose or damage your original stylus.



Slap

I have been trying out Slap from Handshigh again - I say again because this must be the 3rd or 4th time I have thought to myself: 'That is a really good idea for an app. I am sure it will be useful.' And again I have been disappointed.

I am generally a great fan of Handshigh software, and have been using ToDo+ and ThoughtManager since I got my first Palm. ToDo+ has been largely superseded by the Tasks app on the T|E, but Thoughtmanager is still my favourite place for lists. There are list managers and outliners out there with vastly higher levels of functionality, but Thoughtmanager comes closest to the pen and paper experience and that clinches it for me.

Similar thinking seems to have gone into Slap: paper users tend to write everything down on a sticky note or the back of an envelope, then transfer it to to-do lists, diaries, address books etc. later. Slap is just that, a scratchpad where you can write down information as it comes in, which allows you to transfer it to the appropriate place on your Palm at a later date. Just highlight some of the text in Slap and tap the relevant icon for Calendar, Contacts, Tasks or Memos and Slap does the rest. If there is a date in the highlighted text, it will make your appointment or to-do at that date, and similarly for times. And if it can work out which bits of your notes are names, which address, and which phone numbers, it will automagically put those bits in the relevant fields of a new contact.

Very clever, and good value at $12.95, but somehow I can't quite get on with it. And if I strain my memory back to the time when I used a Filofax, I can work out why. I personally feel much more confident if, the first time I write down some information, I put it straight into the right place for it. Only that way am I sure that I will not miss or lose something. Which brings me round to one big criticism of Slap. When you tap the 'Clear' button to clear the scratchpad after you have presumably transferred all your data elsewhere, it gives no warning and does not archive what was there. So if you have accidentally missed one of the items on your list, it will disappear forever. It is much much safer to use a memo as your scratchpad. (In all fairness I should mention that Slap does have an 'Export to Doc' option in the menu, and it is easy enough to copy all the text to a memo before hitting 'Clear', but these are things you have to do. If you use memos, there is no need to remember to save, since there is no need to delete anything in the first place. And if you are tidy-minded and do not want to have all those virtual backs of envelopes littering up your Palm, they will be archived on the PC.)


Sunday, January 11, 2004

Text from Palm to Desktop: SiEd

As is now well-known, Docs to Go v.6 can open and save MSWord files. That is very useful indeed, either for sharing files with others via email, or for transferring files to and from a desktop which does not have the Palm Hotsync software installed (all you need is a USB card reader). But sometimes I don't want to use MSWord, either because I cannot guarantee that the recipient will be able to read it, or I don't want all the garbage that Word adds to a file. These are the times I use plain text files on the desktop (example: I maintain the mailing list for Foxpop as a plain text file so that I can simply copy and paste it into the BCC field and know that all will work).

Now, the Palm DOC format, as used by such editors as QED, is in its uncompressed form just a plain text file with some garbage at the beginning. So it is possible to save a DOC file to an expansion card and open it on the desktop in a text editor such as Textedit (Mac) or Notepad (Windows). Unfortunately there are still problems with this method. One is that the garbage, though limited, is still there, so whoever opens it needs to know what is garbage and what is not. Another is that the file on the SD card with have the .pdb extension, and thus cannot be opened on the desktop by simply clicking. In other words, the recipient needs to know what to do with the file. What would be ideal is the ability to save text files to the SD card with no garbage and a .txt extension.

Enter the curiously named SiEd. It is a capable freeware text-editor with one very special function: files saved to the expansion memory are plain text and can be given any extension you like. (Which also means that, like a desktop text-editor, SiEd will open any file one your SD card, though the result may be gobbledegook.) Now I am unlikely to ever use anything other than pedit for actual text editing on the Palm, but SiEd provides by far and away the simplest means for getting the text back and forth from the desktop. And if you are reluctant to shell out $30 for pedit, SiEd has some nice editing features such as split screens.


Saturday, January 10, 2004

Disappointment

Recently I had a re-organisation of the cabling in my study and dusted off the 4-port USB hub. Now we all know that the T|E takes a trickle charge via USB, so I had a thought: the USB hub is powered, so perhaps it can deliver the trickle charge when the Mac is turned off, say overnight.

Unfortunately this proved not to be the case: 8 hours plugged in to the powered USB hub made no difference whatsoever on my battery level. That's a pity.

HOWEVER, I have bought one of these cables from Brando, and it is rather good. The basic idea behind the Syncdicator cable is that it is a sync'n'charge cable with a Hotsync button and a coloured LED to tell you that charging or sync-ing is going on. But the T|E version is slightly different: not Hotsync button and two connectors for the PAlm. One is the mini-USB, the other a power supply. Given that the T|E can charge through its USB connection, this might seem rather pointless, but it is not. It appears that it charges much more quickly from a USB connection directed into the AC input than one only directed into the USB input. [At some point in the last sentence my vocabulary gave out - but I am sure you get the picture: with an ordinary USB cable the T|E can trickle charge, but with the Syncdicator cable it can charge at something approaching the full rate.]


Friday, January 09, 2004

RadioTimes

I have noticed a problem with the RadioTimes conduit recently (that is, I noticed it recently, the problem may have been there longer but I doubt it). If the Hotsync Manager is in the background, the 'Writing to Handheld' phase can take >10 minutes, which is totally unacceptable for transferring 600kb of data in RAM. 'Writing to Handheld' has always been a bit slow, and it is a greta deal of complex data which is being synchronised, so I expect that, but the problem here is a massive difference in the speed depending on whether the Hotsync manager is on the foreground or not. Surely that should not happen on a true multi-tasking system (OSX 10.2.8, 1GHz G4, 512mb RAM)?

This may be Mac specific. Anyone else had a similar experience?


Thursday, January 08, 2004

Calendar/Tasks/Contacts etc

Bryan has written in asking about whether one can use the new PIM apps on a T|T2. Well, I don't have a T|T2 (but aren't they good value at the moment?) but I do have a T|T, so I did a limited test. I transferred the Calendar app and localization from the T|E to the T|T.

It works!!! That is, the Calendar app runs and writes to its own database. So Calendar and Datebook can co-exist and write to different databases. The version of PalmDesktop which comes with the T|E has a conduit to sync CalendarDB, so data entered into Calendar on the T|T appears on Palm Desktop. Cool or what?

However, it appears that alarms do not work, because Calendar is not liaising properly with the OS for that sort of thing. I have not tested this rigourously, but it is likely to be the downside for those looking for a simple but illegal way to upgrade their T|T.

I think I will waste some more time messing around with this idea, since it sounds fun.



Fisio 825 driver

Andre from Mainz has written in to say that Palm (well, PalmOne, to be precise) have rather quietly released a phone driver for the Fisio825. To save you looking for it, I have posted it here.

Standard disclaimer:

Please, please, please back-up your Palm before installing it. AND make a back-up of the back-up. I make absolutely no promises that it will or will not do anything. Look I am just trying to be helpful, so don't blame me if something goes wrong.



Happy New Year (belatedly)

Sorry about being quiet for so long. You know, the usual hassles: work, family etc. ...