Wednesday, January 09, 2002

A Catatastrophe in my Pocket

Geez, once again it's been forever since I posted anything here, but hearken now while I tell a tale filled with disaster, intrigue, redemption and triumph.

The Shock

The morning of Wednesday January the second, 2002. The day after I got back from my Christmas/New Year's vacation (which was superlative, thanks), I was recharging my Palm IIIc in anticipation of heading to work. Clad in my nice warm rubber-soled sneakers after walking the dogs, I walked to the kitchen (across yards and yards of soft wall-to-wall carpeting) for a glass of water (as the air in the apartment had become so dry), and then back to the computer, as I'd forgotten to grab a phone number from the IIIc that I had to call.

Scuff, scuff, scuff, reach... ZAP!

Yes, static electricity. Enough of a shock to hurt the touching finger like a "pinprick" blood test. Begin the swearing.

As a little background, when I was let go from Dominion Virginia Power I lost the machine that had been my primary HotSync location, i.e., where I usually backed up my PDA. I dutifully transferred the backup files from it to my home machine before leaving, but neglected to get the home PC set up to allow HotSync-ing itself.

Translation: the last time I'd backed up my little brain pack, the Taliban still held 90% of Afghanistan.

Thickening of the Plot

Transition back to present time. Visions of apocalyptic data loss (twelve weeks of phone numbers, appointments, diary entries!) filling my mind's eye, I push the hapless unit's green power button. The backlight comes on, but the screen is blank. Choke down panicky feelings as I push the plastic Calendar, Address Book and Memo Pad buttons. Some buttons cause the thing to power down, others yield blank screens, others cause furtive beeps of protest. The PDA won't stay powered up for more than five seconds. The walls are closing in.

Eventually I realize the thing is simply locked (thanks to my paranoia, I'd installed a locking program that requires a password after 35 minutes of inactivity), and takes some patience (among five-second power-offs) to get it to show the password entry screen full of graphical buttons. Well, fine: there're the buttons, let's enter the passcode. No dice - looks like the power-surge scrambled the touch-screen calibration. Still, there's good news - if I'd lost everything, the locking program wouldn't have been there to stymie me. Hope dawns. I take the ailing device to work, where I have my plug-in keyboard for it.

At work, I can use the keyboard (more hope), and I unlock the device and it seems that all my calendar and contact info is still there, or at least as much as I can navigate to without the touchscreen. Whew. If I can just perform a full HotSync with BackupBuddy, I can rebuild after a full wipe of the machine, or after snagging a new one somewhere. But I don't have a docking cradle or cord to do this at work, so I take the machine home Wednesday evening, full of purpose, only to realize I'd left the keyboard at work, and that the IIIc had re-locked itself thirty-five minutes after I came up with my grandiose plan.


Thursday. It snows. Richmond is shuttered. I pace my apartment, despondent.

Brain Transplant, Step One

After work Friday, I return with the keyboard, and re-unlock the IIIc. I get the necessary software installed on Mondo Beep K7, socket the IIIc, and hit the HotSync button. The lights come on, the PDA and the PC both show the transfer beginning. Five seconds later, the PDA powers down. The connection is lost. The Fates laugh.

I ponder: is it possible that Palm Inc. made the HotSync protocol robust enough to allow for brief power outages? I.e., if I just turn the device on again really quickly after every five-second power-down, will the synchronization continue? I try this. Five seconds - power button. Five seconds - power button. It seems to work!

More background: there are roughly six megabytes of data on this little machine, and I have HotSync configured for 57,600 bits, or a measly sliver (0.68%-ish?) of a megabyte, per second. All told it takes around half an hour for this virgin synchronization to complete, between a slow data rate and powering down and up every five seconds. It's a walk of faith - there might be great swaths of garbage blasted through the data, either from the static shock or from the spit-and-baling-wire sync operation. I would wax philosopical, but every five seconds I have to punch that damned button. Something like 360 or 320 times I push that button.

At long (long) last, synchronization completes. I download the Palm OS Emulator from the Palm Developer's website, hoping I can at least check the data without buying a new machine. It needs a ROM file that I can't construct from my own IIIc due to its brokenness, and can't download because I'm not a registered developer, and it seem Palm Inc. doesn't field e-mails asking to be registered developers on the weekends. In a state between catatonia and disbelief, I turn everything off and go to bed.

Brain Transplant, Step Two: Redemption

Saturday. I attend to the morning's obligations like choir practice and a birthday lunch for a friend. I get home and decide that I'm never going to get better results from a HotSync operation than I did last night, and thus perform a full reset on the IIIc, wiping it utterly. The power-off and touchscreen problems aren't resolved. Time for a new device.

Off to Best Buy, where I bought the IIIc (and a Special Bonus Extended Magic Warranty - one of only three I've paid for lifetime), and therein to a returns line, to see if they'll refund or replace as they said they would in the SBEMW above. Against all odds, they decide to honor the old agreement, and since IIIc's are no longer being made I get to replace with a machine of equal or lesser value, which means I get a new Palm m505!

After a little accessory shopping (must protect the screen, get a plug-in backup card, etc.!), I get the unit home, charge it and sync. Wonder of wonders, all the records are present! There's a little balking with one gimmicky word processor I installed, and a delete & reinstall solve that. Success!

So after much wailing, gnashing of teeth, misstepping and finally painstaking diligence, I am now the owner of a new m505, and once again a contented person.


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