Quick note on Palm iCalendar Sync

A couple weeks back, I upgraded my copy of Missing Sync to the latest version, version 5.1.0. Last night I noticed that event deletions from my read-only calendar subscriptions had stopped propagating properly to the Palm. I probably should have suspected something was amiss.. every time I ran a sync, I was getting a sync services dialog telling me that the sync was “changing more than 5% of the calendars on this computer.”

I also had the event deleting problem when I first installed Missing Sync. At the time, the Mark/Space support folks gave me a procedure to erase everything on the Palm, reset the sync history, and sort of “start over”. It worked then, and it worked this time too. I documented the procedure in this post.

Looks like I might want to do this every time I upgrade Missing Sync, just to make sure I’ve got a clean slate and nothing gets wonky.

I’m still happy with Missing Sync. Now I’m pining for a desktop Mac, so I could do a bluetooth sync from anywhere in the house without worrying about firing up the laptop….

Gripe du Jour: Palm eReader

I think I’ve figured out why eBooks are not more popular.

I’ve recently warmed up to the concept of reading books on my PDA. It’s actually a much more pleasant experience than I expected. The PDA came with a free eBook reader, and the books I’m reading are in the public domain, so my total outlay on this new hobby so far has been zilch. So, why am I complaining? Well, I refer to a dictionary fairly frequently when reading books. Currently, I use a printed dictionary even with my eBooks. It would be really cool, though, if I could just tap on a word, and see the definition. To do this I’d need an electronic dictionary on the PDA, and support for it in the software. Well, I can get this, but it’s not free. For $9.95, I can get the “full” version of the eBook reader, which includes a dictionary with software support. That’s a fair enough price for the dictionary and the functionality. I have no problem paying that. So, again, why am I complaining? The dictionary bundled with the $9.95 package is Merriam-Webster’s “Pocket” Dictionary, which has only 40,000 words. That means that most of the obscure words which I want to look up, probably aren’t going to be there. If I want a “real” dictionary comparable to my dead-tree version, I need to get the Merriam-Webster “Collegiate” Dictionary, which eReader.com is selling for $23. Now, what’s the problem here? Amazon.com sells the dead-tree version (Hardcover, no less) of this exact same dictionary for only $15!!!

So, let’s get this straight… The electronic version of this dictionary costs essentially nothing to reproduce and distribute, yet eReader.com is charging 50% more for it than the dead-tree, hardcover, much-more-expensive-to-produce version of the exact same dictionary. If I want the electronic lookup, I have to shell out $9.95 for the “full” eReader software, plus $23 more for the wildly-overpriced electronic dictionary, for a total of $32.95. For that price, I’ll stick with the dictionary I already have, thanks.

eReader.com isn’t the only bad guy here — I checked several other online sources for eBook-friendly dictionaries, and the prices were all similarly inflated.

There’s a lesson for the eBook vendors here — you need to price your products competitively (read “cheaper than the equivalent dead-tree copy of the book”), or people aren’t going to buy them. Let’s hope they figure this out soon, because it truly is a great format with lots of potential.

3-month Palm Review

I’ve had my Palm Tungsten E2 for about 3 months now. The verdict so far: I’m getting my money’s worth. I’m using it more, and in more ways, than I did my old Palm m105 a few years back.

First though, let’s dispense with the bad stuff. The only thing I’m disappointed with is the overall fit-and-finish of the unit. Specifically, mine has something that rattles around inside it every time it gets jarred, turned upside down, etc. It’s extremely annoying. But, it doesn’t seem to affect how it works, so I’m just putting up with it. Once my warranty expires, I’ll pop the case open and see what’s going on in there. Also, I’d like to have rubber covers to protect the headphone jack and the SD card slot. As it is, they sit there wide open, waiting to collect dust and debris.

With that out of the way, here’s what I’m doing with the thing:

  • PIM. The PIM stuff (particularly calendar and tasks) is improved somewhat from older versions of PalmOS, and it’s very useful when combined with good sync software. This is what I bought a PDA for, and so far I’m happy with it.
  • Games. Great for chewing up time. There are a lot of good freeware games out there, but finding them amongst the lemons can be a challenge. Some of my favorites are: FreeJongg, Vexed, and StaBu362 (an Othello/Reversi game).
  • Music. With an SD card, a pair of headphones, and the bundled RealPlayer app, the Palm turns into sort of a poor man’s iPod. It works pretty well. RealPlayer leaves a bit to be desired (it’s very bare-bones and the interface is a bit klunky) but it’s certainly usable. There are supposedly some other MP3 players available, but I haven’t tried any of them yet.
  • Books. This one was a bit of a surprise. At first I thought the Palm would be a horrible platform for reading books. Anyhow, I stumbled across the University of Virginia Etext Center, which has hundreds of classics available in Ebook form for free, so I downloaded “A Tale of Two Cities” and tried it out with the bundled eReader software. I actually like reading books in this format. I can search for specific text, and read in total darkness, neither of which I can do with a paper book. And apparently if I buy an electronic dictionary, I can also tap on words to get definitions. I’m sure not everyone is going to like this format, but I’ve become a fan of it.
  • Photos. The color display does a pretty good job of displaying photos, so I can keep updated pics of the family handy.

The Tungsten E2 is reasonably priced for all this functionality you get, but you do have to factor in the cost of add-on accessories and software. I’ve purchased several things that I would consider essential to getting the full value out of the Palm:

  • Missing Sync for PalmOS ($40). Absolutely essential for synching with a Mac. Really should be bundled with the Palm. Palm should consider offering this to Mac users in lieu of Palm Desktop.
  • 1gb SD card ($99). Required if you want to play MP3s. Great for storing data like music, photos, ebooks, etc. and for transferring files to and from other computers. Shell out the extra money and get the fastest card you can find; it’s worth it.
  • Softick Card Export II ($15). Makes the SD card show up as a USB mass storage device, so I can mount it anywhere and use it like a USB key drive. This is great for getting files and applications on and off the device. It’s another app that really should be bundled with the Palm.
  • Cheap pair of headphones to listen to music at the gym ($15). Nuff said.

All in all… the Palm has been worth the money so far. We’ll see how it goes.

Poor Man’s Screen Protectors

Palm (among others) sells these screen protectors for use with their PDAs. Currently, their web site lists them at $19.99 for some unspecified quantity of them. One came packaged with my E2. It’s essentially a disposable piece of plastic with an adhesive backing. You’re supposed to trim it to fit the PDA’s display, and stick it on. The claim is that it protects the display from scratches and “improves handwriting recognition.”

At first I wrote these off as totally worthless, but then I tried the included one, and I was surprised to find that it actually does help with Graffiti. I can’t see using it with one of Palm’s older B&W LCD screens, but with the color screens it does seem to make a difference.

What is a rip-off, is what Palm is charging for what is essentially adhesive-backed sheets of plastic. Always the cheapskate, I went poking around the house, and found a roll of medium-grade sheet plastic that my wife and I bought a few years ago at Jo-Ann. No adhesive backing, but I decided to try it anyhow, hoping that static cling would hold it on the display. I trimmed it to fit, wiped it clean with a damp rag, and tried it out. So far so good. It clings to the display just fine, and seems to work just as well as the real thing. And, I can buy several yards of the stuff (enough to make hundreds, if not thousands, of screen protectors) for less than what Palm is asking for a single pack of theirs.

Do I rule, or what? I’d better go now, I need to go look for my life.

Softick Card Export II vs. Missing Sync Desktop Mount app

Now that I have an SD card for my Palm, I decided to try out a couple of apps that allow me to mount the card on my desktop computer. I’d like to be able to copy files (mp3s, documents, etc) directly to the card from my Linux box(es). Then, I can write a script to copy mp3 playlists to the device, etc.

First up: The desktop mounting app that came with Missing Sync. This works as advertised on the Mac, but unfortunately, when I plug into my Linux box it’s not recognized as a USB mass storage device. It might just be a matter of updating the Linux hotplug subsystem to assign the usb-storage driver to the device. But the fact remains that it didn’t work out of the box. I’m not sure if it’ll work at all actually.. the documentation isn’t really clear on how the app works. I’m assuming that somewhere it’s emulating a USB mass storage device, but I’m not sure if the emulation is being done by the Palm app, or the Missing Sync app on the desktop. Next time I’m in the office, I’ll try this out on my Mac there, where Missing Sync is not installed. If it works, then that tells me the Palm app is doing the emulation, and I should be able to make this work under Linux. Stay tuned.

The next app I tried was Softick Card Export II, which costs $15, but provides a 21 day evaluation. On the Mac, it worked identically to the Missing Sync app. When I tried it on the Linux box, it immediately recognized it as a USB mass storage device, and I was able to mount and browse the card. So if I can’t make the Missing Sync app do what I need, it looks like I can use this.

The “dark horse” option here is to not use the Palm at all, and just get a USB SD card reader. I’m sure this would work great, but it’s one more gadget I’d need to carry around. If I’m already carrying the Palm around anyhow, I might as well use that. Still, if I’m going to consider shelling out $15 for Card Export II, I might as well price the USB readers as well.

Update 12/29/05: I tried the Missing Sync desktop mount app on the Mac in my office (where I have not installed Missing Sync) and it didn’t work. So, it looks like I can rule this out as a general desktop mounting solution. I think for now, I’ll go ahead and buy Card Export II (which did work on the office Mac, BTW). I think it’ll always have some utility for me, even if I do eventually pick up a standalone USB card reader (which, BTW, can be had for less than the $15 that Card Export II costs).