Dave Beauvais

Professional geek, avid cyclist, and nature lover

When technology just works

After getting to Bowling Green, Ohio for the the conference I mentioned in Thursday's rant, I found out that I was only about ten minutes away from a good friend of mine. As I had never been to Bowling Green before, I used my XV6700 and Bluetooth GPS receiver with Mapopolis to guide me and track mileage for reimbursement next week. On the way up, I listened to some Fair Game podcasts in Windows Media Player on the PDA via an FM transmitter on my car’s stereo, while Mapopolis and the GPS guided me safely to the hotel with accurate directions. As I drove, someone called me, Media Player paused itself, and I answered the call on my Bluetooth headset with the press of its button. When done, the call ended, and Media Player resumed right where it left off.

After I got some time away from the conference at the end of the day Thursday, I arranged to visit my friend and his family at their house. As I'd never been there before I was not familiar with the area, he gave me directions, but I decided that I wanted a little technological backup. I fired up Microsoft's Live Search on the phone, told it to use the GPS, and asked it to generate directions to his house from the current GPS position. It worked perfectly, downloading map data as I drove via the EvDO connection and updating the display with the next turn as I approached it. While it doesn't do text-to-speech, spoken directions, rerouting in the case of a missed turn, or many other driver-friendly things that Mapopolis does, it definitely shows where navigation technology might be headed in the near future. As wireless data becomes more ubiquitous, things like this will become much more useful and common. I look forward to devices having built-in GPS receivers so the need for a separate receiver is a thing of the past.

I went to his house again after the conference ended on Friday afternoon, this time giving Google Maps for Windows Mobile a try. I found it to be much more clumsy than Live Search; it lacks the finger-friendly features of Live Search which make it simple to locate things with a minimum of typing. The GPS position indicator is small, hard to see, doesn’t indicate the direction of travel, and I found that it often didn’t center on my location automatically after switching from map, to directions, and back again. I do like the large finger-friendly zoom in/out buttons on-screen, which seem easier to use than Live Search's method of zooming.

The one thing I did notice is that Google often has more current, and much higher resolution satellite imagery than Live does, but Live Search wins in just about every other way in my book. Neither one is a full replacement for dedicated navigation software -- yet -- but I do see myself using Live Search more than Mapopolis in the future.

Hmm, somehow this became a product mini-review... The point of this post is that my trip was a technological success. My gadgets all just worked with the exception of my laptop and the hotel's Internet access which never worked. Except for when I was on my friend’s wireless network, the laptop never got used and in retrospect, I could have just left it at home and not had to tote it around the conference. I was able to keep up on e-mail, listen to some fun podcasts, read my RSS feeds via Google Reader, and was able to find new places and meet up with friends because of my PDA, a reliable phone network, and mobile technology that did what it was supposed to do. I was very impressed!

Windows Mobile annoyance: can’t dismiss reminders

Update: I posted a solution to this problem that I discovered. Let me know if it fixes your problem.

I’ll start by saying that this isn’t the reminder problem that many Windows Mobile users are used to hearing about. (You know, the one where your reminders never fire at all and you miss your appointments?) The problem I am writing about today is irritating on the other end of that scale: my reminders do go off, but I can’t see what they are and have no way to dismiss them. I first noticed this about two months ago, and it was very rare; maybe once per week. Now, it’s happening almost every time a reminder goes off and it’s driving me insane.

If I’m looking at my XV6700 when the reminder fires, I can see that the "toast" — the little notification window that slides up from the bottom of the screen — appears for about one second, then disappears. The reminder bell icon in the title/navigation bar at the top of the screen also disappears. The reminder sound, however, continues to repeat and there’s no way to make it go away other than to soft reset the device. Switching from portrait to landscape mode does not help, either.

I did find reference to another person having the exact same problem. Suggestions were to use MemMaid to clean up bogus or duplicate entires in the notification queue, or to hard reset the device. I don’t have any orphaned or other invalid notifications in the queue, and I am really not thrilled about the idea of having to hard reset my otherwise rock-solid device just to fix this infuriating problem. I started Outlook 2003 on the desktop with the “/cleanreminders” switch to rebuild the reminders, made sure it was synced up with my Exchange account, and then synced the PDA. None of that helped.

I don’t understand why reminders continue to be such a problem for Windows Mobile devices. This is such a basic thing that even $15 electronic organizers get right — reliably — and I just can’t comprehend how devices this advanced can get so very wrong.

I’ll post again if I find a solution to this which doesn’t involve a hard reset, but it’s looking like that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend. I’m in a position to make device recommendations to users and problems like this make it extremely difficult to recommend Windows Mobile devices. Imagine having to tell your boss that the reason he missed his meeting with his boss is because his handheld can’t show reminders reliably.

Funny Star Wars Episode III movie summary

This is, quite possibly, the the best movie summary ever! Warning to the kiddies out there: the page contains a few naughty words.

I guess I should warn anyone who hasn’t yet seen Star Wars Episode III that you might actually want to skip reading the linked page since it could be considered a plot spoiler. (Pssst... Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Ooops! Did I blow the surprise ending? Silly me.)

A fallen hero

A damaged Toshiba e405 display store display unit.

I would like to ask that all Pocket PC users take a moment to silently grieve for the mortally wounded Toshiba e405 pictured here, killed in the line of duty. While diligently standing watch in its kiosk in a Columbus, Ohio Micro Center store, serving to advertise the capabilities of its brothers and sisters to passing customers, it was struck down in a brutal attack by an unknown assailant. Unable to flee from the attack due to its restraints, the valiant device was subjected to multiple forms of torture as its kiosk mates looked on in helpless agony. The touch screen was deeply gouged repeatedly by a sharp, possibly metal object, and its buttons were damaged by being pressed with far more force than they were intended to withstand. Ultimately, the mostly defenseless e405 was unable to hold out any longer, and powered down one last time.

Terrified by the horrible acts of terror they had just witnessed, the other devices in the kiosk were found to be suffering from multiple forms of shock and mental stress. One iPAQ was found to be stuck in a soft reset loop, while a second iPAQ, a tiny h1945, was suffering from complete memory loss, its settings and demo software lost as a result of an apparent self-inflicted hard reset. It's possible it had attempted to purge its memory of the horrific events it had recently witnessed.

Fear not, poor Pocket PCs, for your legacy shall live on in the minds and pockets of users such as us who faithfully care for our own Pocket PCs and mourn over the conditions you are forced to live in. Many of us also take it upon ourselves to keep you and those like you in proper working order -- despite neglect by those who are supposed to oversee you -- by performing healing soft resets, cleaning you of useless data entered by uncaring consumers, and occasionally beaming you a clean set of themes to make you more attractive to passers by. We salute you.

My mobile device history

This is a list of the various electronic organizers and PDAs that I’ve owned over the years. Some folks are interested in this kind of stuff for whatever reason!

PDA and Organizer History

Sharp 128K Wizard

  • Status: Gave to a former girlfriend
  • OS: Proprietary
  • CPU: Unknown
  • RAM: 128 KB
  • Screen: 16 character, 4 line black and white display, no backlight
  • Misc: Keyboard input, clamshell case

Casio 256K B.O.S.S

  • Status: Stolen
  • OS: Proprietary
  • CPU: Unknown
  • RAM: 256 KB
  • Screen: Black and white, EL backlight
  • Misc: Keyboard input, clamshell case

Texas Instruments Avigo 10

  • Status: Sold
  • OS: Proprietary
  • CPU: Unknown
  • RAM: 2 MB
  • Screen: 160×240 (I think) 4 grayscale, EL backlight
  • Misc: Built-in protective flip cover, touch-screen stylus input, on-screen keyboard, and T9 predictive input

Uniden Unipro PC100A

  • Status: Sold
  • OS: Microsoft Windows CE 2.1
  • CPU: 33 MHz MIPS
  • RAM: 8 MB
  • Screen: 240×320 4 grayscale, EL backlight
  • Misc: Built-in 28.8 Kbps modem, CF II slot

Palm m505

  • Status: Sold
  • OS: Palm OS 4.0
  • CPU: ?MHz Dragonball
  • RAM: 8 MB
  • Screen: Reflective TFT, 160×160 16-bit color

Casio Cassiopeia E-200

  • Status: Exchanged under CompUSA warranty exchange for Toshiba e740
  • OS: Microsoft Pocket PC 2002
  • CPU: 266 MHz Intel ARM
  • RAM: 64 MB
  • Screen: Reflective TFT, 240×320 16-bit color
  • Info: I went through four defective units before finally deciding to make use of my CompUSA TAP to get a different model Pocket PC.

Toshiba e740

  • Status: Exchanged under CompUSA warranty exchange for HP iPAQ h5455
  • OS: Microsoft Pocket PC 2002
  • CPU: 400 MHz Intel Xscale
  • RAM: 64 MB
  • Screen: Reflective TFT, 240×320 16-bit color
  • Info: Two defective or malfunctioning units made me use another CompUSA TAP to get the following Pocket PC...

HP iPAQ h5455

  • Status: Exchange under CompUSA warranty exchange for HP iPAQ hx4700
  • OS: Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC (Upgraded from Pocket PC 2002)
  • CPU: 400 MHz Intel Xscale
  • RAM: 64 MB
  • Screen: Transflective TFT, 240×320 16-bit color
  • Info: The first h5455 I bought had a defective touchscreen, but the second one performed virtually trouble-free for about thirteen months. It developed a problem with the charge/sync connector which I lived with for nearly another year. When plugged into a PC, Windows would display an error bubble which stated “Unrecognized USB Device.” I tried three different cradles on four different PCs with both Windows XP and 2000 with the same results. Additionally since the connector was damaged, I could no longer charge the device in a cradle. Instead, it had to be placed flat on the desk with the charge cable plugged directly into it. In order to make contact, something had to be placed under the charge connector to hold it up at an angle. Aside from that problem, I loved owning this device and had no complaints whatsoever. To date, I owned that Pocket PC longer than any other PDA.

HP iPAQ hx4700

  • Status: Actually still have this. My mom uses it to play a couple old games that do not exist for modern devices.
  • OS: Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for Pocket PC (Later upgraded to Windows Mobile 6 via cooked ROM)
  • CPU: 624 MHz Intel Xscale
  • RAM: 64 MB
  • Screen: Transflective TFT, 480×640 16-bit color
  • Info: Wow. Just wow. This was the best Pocket PC I ever owned or used. The large VGA-resolution LCD was simply stunning for its time. The CPU was speedy and for everything that’s crammed inside, it’s remarkably thin. It's also nice to have dual card slots back so I can use large CompactFlash cards again.

Palm Treo 700w

  • Status: Sold to former coworker
  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Microsoft Windows Mobile 5
  • CPU: I don’t remember
  • RAM: 32 MB
  • Screen Transflective TFT, 240×240 16-bit color
  • Info: Aside from the front-facing keyboard, this phone was very disappointing. Not enough RAM and the tiny screen really killed this one for me. Simply loading a Web page in IE would consume so much RAM that all other apps running in the background would quit.

Verizon xv6700

  • Status: Still have it somewhere, but never use it
  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Windows Mobile 5 (Upgraded via cooked ROM to Windows Mobile 6, which really revitalized it and got rid of a lot of the useless Verizon crap. I used this phone for almost another year because of that upgrade.)
  • CPU: Don’t remember
  • RAM: Enough to get by
  • Screen: Transflective TFT, 240×320 16-bit color
  • Info: Slide-out keyboard. Very brick-like, even for its time, but a very capable phone. The keyboard backlight was blue, and very difficult to see. I believe the Sprint version had a white backlight, which would have been much more usable.

Samsung BlackJack II

  • Status: Gave to a coworker, whose wife needed an AT&T phone
  • Carrier: AT&T Wireless
  • OS: Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition
  • CPU: Don’t remember
  • RAM: Don’t remember
  • Screen: Non-touch transflective TFT, 320×240, 16-bit color
  • Info: Probably the best non-touchscreen Windows Mobile device made. Lack of touch really got frustrating, though.

Palm Treo Pro

  • Status: Sold
  • Carrier: Unlocked, use with AT&T Wireless
  • OS: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition
  • CPU: Don’t remember
  • RAM: Don’t remember
  • Info: Best. Treo. Ever. (In my opinion.) Still like this phone, but finally so frustrated with Windows Mobile that I felt I needed to move to something else…

Google (HTC) Nexus One

  • Status: Sold to a coworker's son, who needed a new AT&T phone
  • Carrier: Unlocked, use with AT&T Wireless
  • OS: Android OS 2.1
  • CPU: 1 GHz Qualcom Snapdragon
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Screen: AMOLED 480×800, capacitive touch
  • Info: My first non-Windows Mobile Phone in almost twelve years. I was expecting the transition to be painful, but I miss only two things about Windows Mobile: seamless Exchange support, and S/MIME support for e-mail. Seriously, that’s all I miss. This is one amazing phone. It has some growing pains to get past which I hope will be addressed with a future software update, but I really love this phone quite a bit.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Verizon)

  • Status: Still own, use on Wi-Fi for various purposes.
  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Various versions of Android, ending with the official 4.2.2 release
  • CPU:
  • RAM: 1 GB
  • Screen: AMOLED 720x1280, capacitive touch
  • Info: Overall, the best smartphone I've owned. (Not the best one; just the best I've owned.)

Nokia Lumia 928

  • Status: Current primary mobile device
  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Windows Phone 8
  • CPU: ?
  • RAM: 1 GB
  • Screen: AMOLED 768x1280, capacitive touch
  • Info: My first foray back to a Microsoft mobile OS. Overall a positive experience, but the OS has not been without its share of frustrations, mostly around app availability. This is improving on a regular basis, but I doubt Windows Phone will ever get above third place in mainstream mobile OSes.

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