Gwnewch y pethau bychain

Tag: gadgets

Bloody Expensive Weekend

This weekend was the weekend of unexpected expenses.

It began on Friday, while I was at work. My group has inherited the MIS functions of the local office at work, and towards the end of my day, I was underneath a desk setting up a new computer for one of the VPs. Being slightly unable to reach the spot I needed to plug in one of the cables, I rolled slightly onto my side, on top of the carry case of my phone. Unfortunately, the case has one of those ball-in-socket clasps, and it concentrated all of my weight onto a single point. I heard a muffled crack, and my heart sank. A quick check of the phone revealed that yes, the screen had cracked.

Now, my phone is more than just a phone. It’s also my PDA, and a remote Internet device, and it’s something that I really rely on for work. Being able to get on the net from anywhere, anytime I need to, being able to track my meetings and task lists, all in a handy single place. It’s my portable brain, and I feel somewhat adrift without it. Unfortunately, phones that can handle all these functions well tend to be relatively expensive. I had been previously using a Sidekick II, which served me well, but had a variety of annoying features.

I did a bit of research and determined that the best option for what I really wanted was finally available from T-Mobile. Long ago, I’d wanted a Treo 600, until I actually got my hands on one. I didn’t care for the way it felt in my hand, and though the keyboard was too small. The Sidekick had the substantial feel i wanted, but was hamstrung by a non-extendable OS and some very peculiar design choices that were frustrating. But finally, someone has made the all-in-one PDA Phone that I’ve always wanted, and it’s name is the T-Mobile MDA.

The MDA is a Windows Mobile device, which means that there are are a huge variety of 3rd party apps for it, and it has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for the maximum amount of networking capability. Some of the reviews criticized its phone performance, but I had an hour-long call with catalana last night and it seemed clear and strong to me, even with only 1-2 bars of signal. I’m still playing with it and figuring out its idiosyncrasies, but I think that I’ve found the perfect (for me) phone/pda/portable brain.

Saturday, another unexpected expense bit me. kitanzi and I were playing a bit of City of Villains, when suddenly my computer froze and the monitor switched off. When nothing I did seemed to be getting it back, I powered everything down, then back up. All I got was a white screen with pink pinstripes spaced about an inch and a half apart. Muttering profanities, I shut everything down, opened the case, and poked my finger about for a bit. (Note to my female readers: guys do this with computers, appliances, and automobiles whenever they break. It doesn’t accomplish anything, but we don’t want to admit yet that we have no earthly idea what’s wrong.)

After some checking of connections and the working-ness of fans, etc, I managed to coax it back to booting, but it was clearly an unhappy PC. I got a windows error that it blamed on the video driver, and some odd artifacts just after the boot-up was complete. Then it seemed to settle down. I checked e-mail, surfed a couple of web pages, then fired up CoV again. Within 10 minutes, the display with splotchy, then crashed the entire machine again.

At this point, I was reasonably certain that this was a video card failure. Its often hard to prove that, since you cant’ do a lot of troubleshooting on a PC you can’t see anything on the screen for, but it was the most likely of the three likely components to have failed (the other two being the motherboard or the power supply). So it was off to Best Buy to replace the vidcard and hope that I’d made a proper diagnosis. (Luckily, this isn’t House, or my first diagnosis would have nearly killed the computer and it’d have taken three more tries to find the real problem just before the last commercial break.)

Unfortunately, the replacement of the phone the day before meant that I really couldn’t afford the super gee-wiz-bang top of the line graphics card my gamer’s heart truly desired, because gosh they’re way too expensive still. I had been pondering upgrading said card sometime in the next few months when the price dropped down, but for now, I settled for a BFG GeForce 6200OC, which is still an upgrade on my old 5500FX, and means I don’t have a large powerful useless computer on my desktop, which would have made me very cross.

Unfortunately, these unexpected purchases put us back at least a month on our debt-reduction plans, and mean that it’s highly unlikely, barring a sudden windfall, that we’ll be making it to ConCertino. (It was highly unlikely we were going to make ConCertino anyway, but I was keeping out hope until the last minute, because, dammit, wanna….), and I’m not even really sanguine on ConCarolinas, which at least has the virtue of being local. We’ll see about that one. Meanwhile, back to the drawing board on the whole “paying off the debt” campaign. And the war was showing such promise!

Hey hey hey, it’s that Master Control Program everyone’s been talking about

Ever since I officially got promoted to a more managerial position at work, it’s has become painfully obvious to me that I needed some sort of external brain to keep track of all the things I need to be tracking. I can keep notes on paper, but its hard to keep everything organized, and my PC is easy to keep organized, but not portable. The solution was obviously to replace my long-abandoned Palm Pilot.

Back in 2001, i got a free Palm m100 when I bought my cell phone. It was a Best Buy promotion, and it was attached the phone I had already researched and wanted to buy anyway, so I regarded it as a curiosity. It was a useful address book and calender, but with only 2mb of memory it really couldn’t do much. It was also large and bulky, and I eventually stopped carrying it around. Eventually, I gave it to telynor, but soon after that it stopped syncing up and became officially useless.

kitanzi and I had decided to get telynor a replacement Palm for her birthday in time for her to take it to London with her, so I had already done a significant amount of research on what was available, and I ended up buying for myself the same one I selected for her: a Tungsten E. The T-E really does have the best price/performance ratio of any of the units out there. (If the Zire 72 had Wi-Fi in addition to it’s 1.3 mp camera, it might have been worth the extra $100. But at $200, the T-E is hard to beat.)

I had everything working beautifully at home, but at work I had a small problem: I don’t run Windows, and Palm doesn’t officially support Linux. But all I really need to have working here is the Calender and Tasklist, and Evolution will do that. All I had to do was get my Debian Linux box to talk to the Palm, and I should be in good shape.

Step one was finding out that my current installation had no USB support. I still had the kernel source from when I had to recompile it to enable multi-processor support, so I figured it’d be a fairly simple process. (Especially since I had great instructions from fleetfootmike on how to accomplish that). Unfortunately, the newest version of gcc appears to not like the 2.2.20 kernel source.

Well, I’d vaguely been thinking of upgrading the kernel anyway. Not that I had a pressing need to do it, but it was something I honestly had never really done, and horizons are for seeking. So I downloaded the newest non-development kernel, 2.6.6, and set to work.

I had a few rough spots, as I kept finding stuff that I had left out that I needed, but this morning I was able to boot, and a couple of recompiles later I got back networking and serial communication. 🙂 Finally, after searching, I found a great website specifically aimed at demystifying what bits were needed to get my Palm device talking to Linux. One more recompile later and I was able to set up my Palm and sync it with Evolution. Yay!

I’m inordinately impressed with Debian’s kernel management process. The last time I had do this, it was a much less painless procedure, which is one of the reasons I’d been putting it off for so long. Yet another reason I’m glad we’re moving towards it as a platform for our work servers as well.

This was a pleasing way to start the day.

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