Friday, December 17, 2004

Reverence for gadgets

This morning while I was getting for work, I got to thinking about the gadgets that so many of us take for granted every day. I was thinking about ENIAC and how tremendously large that system was for how little it did (by today's standards). We now carry orders of magnitude more computing ability in our smartphones than this first computer packed into more than 30 tons of wiring and vacuum tubes. ENIAC’s designers would probably not believe the modern computing achievements.

I work for a firm that develops computing silicon. We pack millions of transistors into an area the size of a penny. How can you not sit back and feel bewildered about this ability? We're talking about stuff that's so small you can't see it with a normal microscope - isn't that amazing? The development that has taken place over the last 100 years has been absolutely amazing. Just think about what technology was like a century ago:
  • Experiencing state of the art communication meant you received a telegraph
  • Higher octane fuel for your transportation meant oats instead of hay
  • Engineering faster computing meant creating a slide rule that experienced less friction
  • Word processing meant arranging the movable type in the one press in town

So what’s the point? Stop and think about your gadgets and what they do for you and do something nice for them. Get crazy and clean all of those fingerprints off your PDA or splurge and buy a set of Duracells for your GPS. In all seriousness, we’ve got it pretty good…every once in a while it’s good to sit back and remember that when we’re complaining because we’re only getting download speeds of 150 KB/s.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

MSN Desktop Search problems

I downloaded the MSN Desktop Search tool yesterday, but got pretty frustrated because I couldn’t get it to index my email. I use Outlook as my default email client, but the search options would not allow me to select Outlook (it had selected Outlook Express and wouldn’t let go).

Josh helped me get around my problem by suggesting that I change the default mail client on my start menu and switch it back. At first, I questioned this because I had tried this solution yesterday through the Internet Options in the Control Panel. After a moment, I came to the realization that I had nothing to lose, so I followed his advice and it worked. So, if you find yourself in the same dilemma, here’s what you do to fix it:

  1. Right-click on your “Start Button” and choose “Properties”
  2. Make sure you are on the “Start Menu” tab and click on the “Customize...” button
  3. In the drop-down menu for the E-mail app at the bottom of the window, change your client to “Outlook Express”
  4. Click “OK” to close the window and “OK” on the next window to close everything.
  5. Repeat steps 1-3, but this time, select “Microsoft Office Outlook” for your email client
  6. Tell Microsoft Desktop Search to “Index Now”
  7. Voila - that’s it…now search your email!

Happy searching!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Mobile computing applications

I have noticed a monumental difference in the software available on the Palm platform compared to the PocketPC.  I think this difference is best summarized by noting that Palm has the breadth and PocketPC has the depth in the software solution space. 


I have to say that I have been impressed with the variety of apps available for my Palm.  I get the impression that there are more Palm developers out there, but that the platform doesn't easily lend itself to feature rich applications.  Perhaps the most obvious application that illustrates this limitation is Adobe Reader for Palm.  This has got to be one of the most disappointing downloads on the internet.  The presentation, features, and usability are all light years behind the same title for PocketPC.  I personally think this is probably due to Palm’s concern over providing backward compatibility with previous models.  Sure, you can find some little app that will track your pets' birthdays that will work on your brand new T5 and your neighbor's ten year old Palm Professional, but chances are it is going to look horrible on both.


On your  PocketPC however, it will be harder to find those cool little obscure apps (and they're more likely to be shareware than freeware) but what is available is often more appealing and feature-rich.  For example, if you want to expand the basic PIM functionality on your PDA, you may look at Pocket Informant for the PocketPC or Agendus for the Palm.  Having used both, I can say that Pocket Informant has more functionality and considerably more eye candy than it's Palm equivalent.  There are exceptions of course.  For example, there is a fantastic freeware calculator for the Palm called Easy Calc that I absolutely love.  I searched high and low for an equivalent application in my price range for my PocketPC and never found anything that was even close.  My general observation has been that exceptions aside, PocketPC applications are generally more appealing.


All of this having been said, I am not ready to declare a champion either way.  The jury is definitely still out on the issue, and I will try to post more on this subject at another time.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Laptop design requirements

I have discovered that I have a design requirement for laptops that I was unaware of. At work, they had to swap out my laptop due to power management issues I was having with my previous unit. The replacement is exactly the same except for one thing - the keyboard. This new keyboard is the loudest keyboard I have typed on in a long time! It makes it very difficult to work in meetings or other places where you want to be quiet.

Each keypress is loud. It's probably not as loud as I think it is, but it feels like I am trying to sneak up on someone in the forest by riding an elephant. Maybe if I would listen in meetings instead of send email and write blog posts, I wouldn't have this guilty conscience! :) As it is, I feel about as stealthy as a bank robber using a bright-yellow school bus for a getaway vehicle.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Getting GMail on my T3

I think one of the things that my Palm is best at is reading text.  I read tons of e-books, web pages, email, and other content on it all the time.  I was excited when I read that GMail was going to make their email POP accessible, but I ran into a bump trying to get it going on my T3 today. 


The configuration is very straight forward with the configuration information that Google provides except for the fact that Versamail will not support STARTTLS (or SSL) for SMTP connections.  The workaround:  use a different provider for SMTP access that uses ESMTP for authentication (or none at all if your email provider does not use authentication).  No one ever said that you have to use the same provider for your outgoing mail and mail recipients don't know any different either.  It works perfectly and looks like it came from my gmail address. 


I don't know if anyone else out there is going to have issues getting it configured, but just in case someone does a Google search for "receiving gmail on Palm T3" maybe this post will help some.  I'll answer any specifics via email if it ever comes up.


It is time to clean house!

Man, I sat down in front of a PC at school last night that was lightening fast!  It responded to commands almost instantly and applications opened in the blink of an eye!   When I completed the tasks I initially set out to do, I went to the system stats to see what was under the hood of this speed demon.  I couldn't believe that it was only a 2 gig system with 512MB of RAM.


The only real difference between this system and mine at home is how little is installed on it.  It has MS office installed and almost nothing else.  It made me realize how encumbered my system at home has become after a couple of years worth of installs and uninstalls of the software interest of the week on it.  This experience has really stirred my desire to rebuild my system (something that I periodically succumb to).


That fresh build performance is calling my name and I can't ignore it!  The countdown has begun to rebuild and you can bet that the time to rebuild will be measured in days now, not weeks or months.


How about you, how often do you purge your system?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Contemplating an MP3 player

Many may disagree with me, but I think that MP3 players fall safely within the geeky category. Agreeably, some are more geeky than others, but even though they have been adopted by the masses, I still think they're geeky.

I have held off on buying one about as long as I think I can. In the search, I think I have narrowed the choice down to just a few. I want something large enough to carry my whole MP3 collection (which isn't all that big), but also want to be able to use it as something of a portable hard drive. The leading options are the Apple iPod (20 GB version) and a new-found interest, the iAUDIO M3 by JetAudio.

The M3 is a pretty cool device that would allow me to record NPR's Car Talk on Saturday mornings (since both my wife and my children beg me to listen to something else) and then listen to it later in the week. It would also allow me to listen to local radio stations without burning my employer's network bandwidth. It's certainly not as standard as the iPod is though (didn't think I'd ever say that about an Apple product!).

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

If you have an opinion, I would take it...

Palm T3 battery life

Over the weekend I experienced what I thought was better-than-average battery life from my T3 that I wanted to share.  The last time before the weekend that I charged my Palm was on Thursday (since my cradle was at work and I worked from home on Friday).  I used the device as I always do (powered on about two hours a day) over the weekend.  I was surprised that on Monday morning, the battery was still showing 40% - not bad for what turned out to be 4 days of use.


Another thing that surprised me is that it recharged back to 100% in about 40 minutes during my first meeting of the day on Monday.  The reason why I wanted to share is that the recharge time made me realize that this performance was noticeably better than my iPaq 2215.  Both the discharge and recharge times were superior to my T3's predecessor.


It doesn't take much to get some geeks excited!


Thursday, November 11, 2004

True mobile computing

This has got to be one of the coolest setups I have ever seen!

This is so close to my vision of true mobile computing that it is
frightening! I think that this type of solution is truly the computing
platform of the future. You can work from anywhere you are with full
processing capability. About all I can say is that I am terribly jealous -
way to go JK!

CF Hard drives?

Yesterday I read that compactflash manufacturers have now hit the 8GB storage milestone. It got me to thinking again that one day solid-state media may find itself installed in laptops in place of hard drives. As an IT professional, I found that hard drives are by far the most common failure in laptops...that wouldn't be so with solid state media. In addition to greater durability, there may even be power benefits to using solid-state media for storage as well. The one thing I am really not sure about is that solid-state media is rumored to have a limited number of write cycles (????).

I know there are performance issues with digital media being slower than typical hard drives, but I think that one day we will see that problem overcome. It's already conceivable that you could use RAID with these smaller existing CF cards to stripe data and increase performance. I wouldn't mind having a laptop without any moving parts, how 'bout you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Some thoughts on platform

I have been enjoying a new sense of platform independence lately. With the use of my USB storage device as my primary drive for current documents, I find that I am able to work on documents on many different computers (part of the time on my home PC, some on my work laptop, and some on computers at school). It dawned on me last night that not only am I working on different hardware, but also different platforms and doing it fairly seamlessly. For example, I did part of my work last night on a Mac at school when I am primarily a Windows person...but Word, Adobe Reader, and Internet Explorer didn't care about that!

I am excited to see software developers make the effort to make applications cross-platform friendly. I personally envision a day when not just your data, but your applications will also follow you around on a portable device of yet-to-be-determined form. If your word processor was installed to your portable device, not only could you work on documents anywhere, but you'd get to keep your familiar toolbar layout and other personal preferences. At that point, the hardware each person uses may become even less of an issue than it is today. I could be completely wrong here, but I think that mobile computing is really still in its infancy.

If today I can work on my IBM laptop, home-brewed desktop system, school-provided HP PC's and Macintosh G4's, and my Palm PDA...what great stuff is coming in the future? I am not sure, but am excited to find out!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Some thoughts on OpenOffice

In an earlier post, I said that I am more inclined to use a product based on its merits than on it's brand. As a testament to that claim, I have been finding myself using OpenOffice more and more lately. It is a good product that does a number of things very nicely. Now don't get me wrong, I love Microsoft Office and consider myself a very good salesman for the product, but it is not a perfect product.

There are a number of things I like about OpenOffice, but let me give just one example of something it does very well. For school, right now I am doing a lot of article writing of pieces that are getting posted on a web page I don't control. To insure that my work remains my work, I wanted to publish PDF files. I am not personally aware of any way to save a Word document in PDF format, but OpenOffice has a "publish to PDF" button on the toolbar. The resulting file maintains formatting almost perfectly.

There is a LOT of room for improvement for OpenOffice, but rest assured that this geek will be keeping an eye on it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Feeling giddy about being blue

Bluetooth has been one of those technologies that I have really wanted to embrace, but couldn’t find much of a use for it. Well, that issue has been resolved and I am glad to say that Bluetooth is treating me very well. I spent several hours trying to get things configured so that I could surf the web wirelessly at home with my Palm via Bluetooth and finally came off victorious! I can now surf the web via GPRS (through Bluetooth) when I am away from home and via Internet Connection Sharing (through Bluetooth) when I am home.

Connectivity is better than I feared it would be. Our home is pretty small and the Bluetooth coverage is just about perfect for connectivity without worrying about whether my neighbors or some wardriver are stealing my internet connection (which I have never been too paranoid about anyway). It works through the walls as well as upstairs and down. Only when I combine the floor with multiple walls between my USB Bluetooth dongle and my PDA do I lose the signal. It seems just as fast as 802.11b was on my iPAQ.

Now that I have it working, I think this is a great technology that is under-utilized. The whole notion of a PAN (Personal Area Network) has taken on new interest for me. Not only can I share my internet connection with my PDA, but I can sync over the same medium and the possibilities beyond that are exciting. I thought that the car PC’s (previous post) Bluetooth connectivity through GPRS was a great implementation of this technology. There really are a lot of uses for a low-power, close-range network connection. I guess now I need to buy a new Bluetooth mouse, keyboard, headphones . . .

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Car PC - way cool!

Alright, so I saw one of the coolest geeky things I have ever seen at J.P.'s Car PC Weblog.

There is something about the concept of having a PC in your car that is interesting to me. I was actually thinking about this concept a few months ago (that it would be nice to be able to have GPS and at least part of my MP3 collection in particular). It would also be cool to let the kids play their computer games on the road. We have been thinking about adding a DVD system to our family van anyway - instead of spending $400 on an entertainment system, why not put that money toward a car PC?

Well, to be completely honest, I thought that some of those stripped down pictures of J.P.'s Jeep made me a little nervous. I think that my wife would kill me if I started taking interior panels off our Odyssey.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Enough with the holy wars already!

I’ve been using my Palm for just more than two weeks now and I am pleased to say that I am enjoying it quite a bit. I have largely adjusted to the small nuances that bugged me at first and have found an actual increase in my productivity with the Palm. I find it very interesting that Microsoft’s support for their own office documents is so weak in the Pocket PC world (or even more surprising that there have been no real changes to the applications since they were first released). That’s another post though.

Thinking about the switch-over has returned me to a long-standing question about the technology holy wars that so many people propagate. I have worked in the IT industry for years and if I hear even one more Windows vs. UNIX vs. Macintosh discussion, I will probably just fall over dead on the spot. Then there’s MS Word vs. WordPerfect or Intel vs. AMD or Pocket PC vs. Palm. I have even heard people debate firewire vs. USB 2.0. Is there no end? Let’s get over it people!

I have said for a long time that there is no point in arguing who is right, but only what is right. In the world of computing, my simple rule is, “If it works for you…use it.” Well, truth be told, my real rule is probably something more like, “If it’s new…I will wish I had it” – but I digress. Just because I prefer using a PC doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t consider Macs (I actually enjoy using one every once in a while down at school). In reality, the computing world has never been this cross-platform friendly. Go ahead and try to name a word processing program that won’t allow you to save in RTF…I dare you!

Nobody has a perfect product. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Use what works best for you and leave the next user to their own opinion. Just remember that not everyone thinks that your Zarus PDA running Linux that you connect to your OS 2 system to download OpenOffice documents is cool.

There you have it – my two cents on the technology holy wars…what’s yours?

Friday, October 01, 2004

No respect!

I would say that most of my geeky interests go unappreciated at home. Sure, there have been those days when the GPS really came through or I was able to pull up great uncle Bedford's sister-in-law's phone number while we were on vacation, but most things are endured instead of appreciated in our home. Add blogging to that latter list as of last night.

I showed my wife this blog and gave her the 10 second explanation about what a blog is. Her only reaction..."That's weird."

Well, it is a little strange, but in a cool kind of way. It's one of those ''why...because I can kind of things" that just may stick for one.

What about you? What does your significant other think about your blog?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

So now what?

l spent about a half-hour last night at Office Depot looking at the Palm T3. Now l am as desperately confused as ever! I have 3 major observations about the device:

First, that screen is an absolute work of art! It is bright, clear, and nicely sized. It can make even the smallest font render beautifully! I really think I would like the whole slider concept...I don't think you need the full resolution all of the time. Score one for Palm!

Second, data entry on Palm devices is sub-standard (except for devices with built in keyboards of course). I used Graffiti for years, but now l don't Know how I survived it. The one letter at a time madness is enough to kill a person! Transcriber on the Pocket PC is way better. Having to hammer out one letter at a time (as compared to writing in my native cursive script) may be a show stopper. Score one for Pocket PC.

Third, the version of Documents To Go that comes on the T3 doesn't do it for me. The functionality of Excel is even more limited than Pocket Excel on the Pocket PC and Word has less functionality than WordPad on your PC. Sure, you can upgrade to the next version and get the functionality that I want for a mere $30, but I could also buy Textmaker for a PPC device during their next sale. Score no points for either platform for lousy Office interoperability (how many millions of people want to have the same functionality I am looking for?).

So, the score is 1 to 1. I am going to continue to think publicly though. To be continued…

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


You know, I totally expected the cons to outweigh the pros by a long shot (not nearly as balanced as they turned out to be). I think that my issues are just things I am pretty passionate about. Honestly, there is also the issue of just wanting a change. My conclusion: after much deliberation, my PDA is on Ebay in preparation for the next phase of it's life. I have turned my attention to it's successor. The question has become, "What do I replace it with?"

All l know at this point is that I REALLY doubt it is going to be an HP. I'm thinking either Dell or Palm. What's your opinion?

2215 Con's

Things that have been a problem with my particular (?) 2215:

  • My experience has lead me to believe that HP support is a joke. They were not willing to help me with problems that came up in the weeks that followed my warranty expiration (unlike Honda who covered our van 1,300 miles out from under the warranty even when it cost them a LOT more than it would have cost HP to replace my side grips). I have had to send in my unit multiple times for the same problems (and so has a friend). Their instant chat support online is terrible and support agents have been unfriendly more than once.
  • One of my premier complaints with this handheld is that the directional pad is WAY too sensitive. I read a lot of ebooks on my device and if I had a dollar for every time I jumped two or three pages instead of the one I intended, I would be able to feed all of my geeky needs with the proceeds.
  • The side grips are defective on this device HP knows it. They have published documentation about installing the replacement grips and a video on their web page for how to remove the defective ones. So many people have had this problem that third party vendors offer replacements. When you call in under warranty, they have a whole kit they send you (with grips, battery door, and CF slot plug), but if you're not under warranty they charge you $25. Grrrr...
  • Stability with my particular unit has been a problem. This is very likely a combination of the software that I have installed, but I am not completely sure about that. Even after a hard reset and nothing but Calligrapher installed, my device still locks up periodically.
  • Again, if I had a dollar for every time I have soft reset my device, I would... I think it is really pathetic that you can't rely on this PDA for an alarm clock due to the fact that it doesn't always wake up for alarms. This is just one of many bugs in the hardware/OS combination that has frustrated me.
  • The paint has chipped off my unit in a couple of spots (like right next to the power button) and the unit is only 14 months old. I really don't think that should happen at this point in the handheld's life.
  • I really miss a side button for scrolling. I know it is a personal preference thing, but handhelds I have owned in the past have had it and I have learned that I value that as an option. It just makes reading on the device so much easier.

2215 Pro's

Let me start with a disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the next few posts are my opinion only. My experience with HP and this unit may be atypical, but it’s all I have to work from. Your mileage may vary.

Here are the things I have enjoyed most about the iPAQ 2215:

  • I have used the CF expandability quite a bit. I frequently use memory, wireless, and GPS all through the CF expansion port. With the dropping price of SD memory and trend for new devices to have 802.11 and Bluetooth, this physical expandability is becoming less important.
  • The stylus is better than a lot of PDA’s (like the goofy popsicle stick style from the HP 548).
  • The battery life is pretty good (not like the old Palm III days of weeks of usage on a pair of AAA batteries, but pretty good for a modern, high-powered PDA). Plus, the fact that the battery is removable is a bonus.
  • Bluetooth connectivity through my Nokia phone has been very nice. I have been able to surf the web and get myself out of a pinch in a couple of instances.
  • I like that I have been able to use some of my older accessories from my 3955 (like the travel charger and the travel sync cable).
  • There are lots of third party accessories available for the device.
  • The unit is fairly compact and even wearing it on my belt isn’t too bad…geeky, but not too uncomfortable.
  • The display on this handheld is better than many of its generation. It is bright, clear, and the variable brightness functionality (having more than just 3 brightness settings) has been nice.
  • Processing power has always been totally adequate.

So stay tuned for the list of my gripes about the handheld. I will take a while to make sure that I am fair and don’t let a negative attribute or two overrun my rationality.

Time to pull the ol' switcheroo

I will begin by saying that I am a self-proclaimed geek and that the tone of things is about to lean that way pretty hard. I am the type of person who would be an early adapter of every technology out there if my pocket book would support me in my obsession. It’s sad, but true.

I’m no stranger to the PDA world. I have owned more than my share of handheld computers including the original Palm Pilot Professional, a Palm III, an HP 620lx, an HP 548, an iPAQ 3650, an iPAQ 3955, and an iPAQ 2215. This has been no cheap undertaking and is something my good wife is surprisingly supportive of. I’m just afraid the replacement rate is quickening pace – but don’t tell my wife!

Well, I have been feeling the itch lately to get rid of my PDA and replace it with something new. Since making that decision, I have become obsessed with handheld computing solutions. My old unit is just not doing it for me any more. You know how when you’ve started to notice something bad about an item that you would love to replace that it opens a virtual flood of complaints? It has infected my mind and overrun my concentration. I have read review after review and have no conclusion except that my 2215 is going to have to go away.

I thought I would post an entry or two about the pros and cons of the iPAQ 2215. In all fairness, I will post the pros first and the cons second since this really has been a good unit that I have enjoyed a good deal.

So a next post should be on its way soon extolling the virtues of the 2215.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Been MIA for a while

Alright, I’ve been out of the loop for a while.  Someone has introduced me to a distraction that has taken me away from my geekiness.  I purchased a Digital Rebel from a friend and tinkering around with it has become my latest distraction.  I’m excusing myself, however, because it still runs on one’s and zero’s and I’ve always claimed that as the requirement for my interest in anything.


It’s kind of sad that I didn’t check in to and until after 10:00 this morning!  :^)

On the other hand, I had caught up on,, and well before then.


Truth be known, I have been into photography for a very long time.  I just haven’t had a capable camera in some time.  It’s fun to get back into the world of photography without having to spend a fortune on developing and wait for the results.  The question now becomes whether this is going to be a passing interest or will it last?


Friday, June 11, 2004

First post

Well, I let my friend Josh talk me into starting my own blog. I am still trying to figure out exactly what I will blog here. I'm thinking it will end up being a random collection of musings of mine...or maybe my personal soapbox. I am never short on opinion. We'll see where it goes!