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The Palmtop Adventures of a Publican from Dublin

The Palmtop Adventures of a Publican from Dublin

From CP/M to the HP 95LX to the OmniGo700, this pub owner from Ireland recounts the best of his computer adventures.

By John McGowan

 I visited a Radio Shack in 1983 and enquired about learning a computer language to write my own programs; simple stuff like accounting programs, databases, and stock control.

The attendant asked me if I drove a car. "Yes." Did I service it myself? "No." Would I consider building a car for myself? "No." So why would I want to write my own programs when they're already written?

 Not much the wiser, the next outfit I got in touch with sold me the last CP/M business computer for sale in Dublin, complete with twin floppies and suites of Peachtree Software. It still works, and when I came across HTML ten years later I got a weird feeling of deja vu. It looks and feels just like my old Peachtext word processing software.

 When I switched to Windows, Bill Gates threw a party

 Over a feverish Easter weekend in 1993 I eventually upgraded to Windows, and Bill Gates threw a party in Seattle. "Hey fellas," he said. "We got it made. That guy in Dublin has shifted over to us!"

For a hassled few days I had to transfer a load of spreadsheets to the new 486 and get used to an unfamiliar operating system with the sometime help of a techie who claimed to have seen it all. He thought!

 His reaction to an enquiry as to how to remove a cigarette butt that somehow got stuck up the mouse was an astonished, "Yeah John, that's a first."

 An HP 95LX as part of the deal

 The only reason I moved to Windows was to accommodate a new on-line stock control program for my business. Part of the deal included a handheld for entering the information about the stock and uploading it to my PC.

 My first meeting with the new handheld was timid. The box was too big and too heavy, but when I opened it and took out the manual, things got better. I slid out the HP 95LX, inserted the batteries, and we talked all night and the following day until it got tired and said, "Main Battery Low." HERE was my kind of computer.

And some relationship we had. In the four years I had it, I never bought it a thing except new batteries. I ran the business with it, and it came everywhere with me.

People didn't understand; they'd ask me a question and I'd open the black box, ask the oracle by tapping a few keys, and give them an answer.

 My palmtop startled the jewelry assistant

 After a year the "Backup battery low" sign came on. I went to the jewelers to get a replacement, ever so carefully removed the backup battery, handed it to the assistant behind the counter and asked her for "one of those."

As she turned to get a battery, the 95LX beeped, "Main battery Low," and I said, "Oh dearie me." It must have come out as something else, because her glasses came loose and dropped off her nose and she nearly knocked over a case full of Waterford Glass in the rush to get me the battery.

By this time the screen had gone blank and I didn't discover until I was out on the street that she'd put the battery in upside down. When I pressed "ON," and an unfamiliar screen said "System time? Date?" I must have said, "Oh dearie me" again, only louder this time, because when I became aware of my surroundings women were dragging children to the other side of the street and everyone was looking at me fairly wide-eyed.

Another "Oh dearie me" occasion happened when I turned suddenly and my open 95LX slipped out of my hand at the top of two flights of stairs. I remember the occasion in slow motion.

 The palmtop flew upwards for a couple of feet, slowly turning in the air, managing to close itself in flight, somersaulting down 12 feet to a tiled landing and passing out of my line of sight as it continued after the first smash down the next flight of stairs. Half of a second later I picked it up and heard an unfamiliar tinkle as I opened it.

There was no outward appearance of damage, and I switched it on and everything still worked! The tinkle of a loose part can still be heard from it to this day, and my brother (to whom I gave it) keeps saying he's going to get it fixed, but can't part with it for long enough.

 Why I liked the HP 95LX

 The best feature of the 95LX? In my opinion, the layout of the keyboard in general, and the position of the arrow keys and number pad in particular. I'm right handed, and the ability to scroll down a spreadsheet and enter data while holding the palmtop in one hand makes taking stock a doddle.

 I looked at the HP 200LX about a year ago. The Applications Manager screen looked too much like Windows to me, and I put off upgrading.

My 25th wedding anniversary came around and I couldn't get away due to a major expansion and refurbishment of our Pub, but I committed myself to a holiday in The Canary Islands in February of this year, thinking the builders would be gone by then.

I had threatened never to get a mobile phone, but could see the need to stay in touch if I was going to be away from the business at a critical time. This is the mode I was in when I opened the newspaper and saw a picture of a Nokia phone piggybacked on a familiar looking black box.

 The OmniGo 700

 The OmniGo 700 is one amazing piece of kit. The design is knockout, the lines superb. It draws as many glances as the E-type Jaguar did in the sixties. Most people's first guess is that it is some sort of new-fangled charger for the phone. But when you open it to show them...

 The casing on the OG700 is bigger than the 100\200LX, but it's not as robust. I already managed to spring the hinge wide open with a drop (phone attached and phone side first) of three feet onto a carpet. An amount of praying, pressing and heaving managed to click everything back into place.

It's not as neat as the 100\200LX, and would play havoc with the line of an Armani suit. The first company to supply a belt or shoulder holster in light leather, with the phone still easily detachable, has the sale.

FAXing at 60 mph

 The phone has three different ringing tones and three different telephone numbers, one for voice, another for FAX, and the third for data communication. And, listen up folks. If you think answering a mobile call when you're driving is dangerous, just try answering a FAX, or DATA call. Opening the OG700 to press the open "fax-app" key and F8 (to receive) at 60 mph is not recommended. But if, like me, you prefer not to look at the rear-view mirror after attempting it, you won't see the carnage you leave behind. And anyway, the fax will be stored for you for later retrieval.

 The GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network covers most of Europe now. All the communications companies have "roaming" agreements with each other, so when someone in Dublin dials my number, I get the call no matter where I am.

As you travel in a car or train with your phone on, the network for the area you're in shows the telecom company that serves that area. Thus, in the northern part of Grand Canaria, "Movistar- GSM" appears on screen, and thirty miles south, "Airtel-GSM" is the legend.

 So there I was in The Canary Islands, 2,000 miles from home, sitting by the pool, floating a few beers and firing off FAXes to keep the job going - the only way to work!

The sign writer thought he was making a local call

 While exploring the inner mountainous region of Grand Canaria a voice call came in from someone who assumed that I was in Dublin, and I undocked the phone to hear coins dropping. The conversation proceeded:

 "Hi, John here."

"Hello, is that Mr. McGowan?"

"Yes, John here, who's this?"

"Vinny. Oh #@%&#!, this phone is eating my money."

"Is that Vinny the sign writer?"

"Yes." (sound of more coins dropping.)

"Vinny, just tell me how much the job will cost. Fast."

"850 pounds."

"0.K., do the job. I'll see you when I get back."

"Thanks be to #@%&#!"

 At home, an enquiry to Vinny as to how much the call had cost elicited the following: "I don't know. I was in a pub at the time, but I remember telling the barman, 'Put on a balaclava, you thieving #@%&#!, and get the phone fixed.' "

 Home from holidays, curiosity got the better of me and I sent off for The HP Palmtop Paper. It arrived a week later. I read it cover to cover and an hour later sent off for The HP Palmtop Paper's CD InfoBase with all the trimmings. The package arrived last week.

Since then a 6Mg Flash disk with scanner, and a heap of software has been added, and I'm on a guilt trip regarding my neglect of my old 95LX.

 The only applications I don't use are Cc:MAIL., cc:mADE (no servers in this neck of the woods) and the games, though I've recently noticed that my eight-year-old son has decimated enough squid to supply the Tokyo market over a holiday weekend.

 A cure for insomnia

 With the receipt of the CD InfoBase and its attendant software, I've discovered a KILLER APP for any readers who may suffer from insomnia.

Just follow these easy instructions: Click a big Flash disk into your A: drive, plug in to a power source, download Vertical Reader to your palmtop, followed by part 1 of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from The Gutenberg Texts. Now open the file and start reading. Within five minutes you'll be away with the fairies for a good six-hour crash!

 [If any techies reading this know how to embed a black and white .pcx scanned signature in the body of the text in the built in fax application on the OG700, I'd appreciate an e-mail. HP support UK tell me that in theory it can be done, but they haven't managed to do it themselves yet. John McGowan.]
 
 

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