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Touchy-Feely Technology : Redux

Posted 2008.05.18 0.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

Recently I wrote about anthropomorphising electronics, and the sadness I felt when erasing and boxing a laptop that I no longer needed. Little did I know that I’d be facing another little dilemma so soon, along the same line.

For over 3 years now, my HP 200LX PDA has been a near-constant companion. Although an antique, it does exactly what I need, everything I need, as far as organizing my schedule, reminding me of projects and appartments, keeping all my contacts’ phone and address info, and having a handy database application which I used to create several custom files for all manner of things, even wine-tasting notes.

The thing with antique technology — as I have written before — is that you have to be prepared to act as your own parts-depot and repair shop. HP is not likely to have a stock of parts handy for something they sold 12 years ago, nor are they likely to have any staff in the service dept. who know what it is, let alone how to fix it. To that end, I have a small supply of spare parts, even a couple spare units. A year or two ago, I sold one of my spare units. (Actually my best, almost-mint spare.) No problem, at the time there were a number of good-quality replacements still on ebay. However, as more time passes, there are fewer and fewer good quality replacements. Those who use and love the LX are undoubtedly doing like me – stockpiling parts and spares.

About six months ago, I realized that my beloved LX was starting to succumb to the infamous “Hinge Crack” problem — the right-hand screen hinge has the resistance that holds the screen up, and therefore all the stress of opening and closing against that resistance goes on the plastic surrounding the right-hand hinge. Eventually the stress is too great and the plastic starts to give. And ultimately, it breaks completely. It’s not like this is the first thing to go wrong with my LX, by the way. The lid clip broke, it’s not springy any more. I stuffed some rubber band bits into it to try and make it springy. And the plastic overlay that surrounds the screen, fell off years ago. I tried putting a new one on, but it feels ‘wrong’ now.

Anyhow, when I saw the hinge crack, I got on ebay and eventually found a replacement that had the same upgrades as my main unit — overclocked to 2x speed, and 8MB memory. It cost a pretty penny, but you do what you gotta do. Soon enough, I had the replacement. I ran a backup of my HPLX and then restored to the new one. But…

I just couldn’t bring myself to use it. The new one was not ‘new’ or pristine, it was used. Yeah it’s in better shape than mine. But mine is mine. It has the melted bits in the lid where I lasered it. It has the teeth marks on the case where I chewed on it. (Don’t ask.) I’ve gotten so used to the ‘face’ without the plastic overlay. The ‘new’ one was just too…unfamiliar.

So I kept the new one in a drawer and went right on using my old, beat up, well worn LX. I knew that every day the hinge crack got worse, every day it cracked a bit more. I kept telling myself that I could maybe fix it, maybe epoxy, metal, nuts and bolts, something would save it. I just needed to take it out of service for a week or so, while I worked on it. And still I couldn’t do it.

Finally, recently, the crack made it all the way around, back to front. It stopped being cracked and started being broken. Its time had come.

I got out the replacement, did the backup/restore again. And still! I can’t use it. I just can’t use the replacement. I went to my spare parts box and pulled out all my LX parts. I went through them all to find one that had a good screen and case. Then I opened up my old one and the spare one, and swapped motherboards. Now I’m using the same old motherboard in a relatively good case. For all intents and purposes, it *is* the old one, just in a fixed shell.

But damnit, it doesn’t feel right. I’ll put up with it for a little while — long enough to try and fix the crack on the ‘old’ case. Then I can put the motherboard back where it belongs, and hopefully I’ll be happy. And hopefully my LX will be happy too!

HPLX - Broke
My beloved HPLX with the dreaded Hinge Crack highlighted.

Ethical Dilemmas of

Posted 2008.05.17 0.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

Anthropomorphising Electronics

Many people do it. Some more than others. Think of your computer, PDA, cellphone, etc. as a ‘him’ or ‘her’, rather than an ‘it’. Attribute some feelings or emotions towards it. Perhaps even feel bad / upset if it gets damaged, lost, or stops working. Maybe even feel bad if one doesn’t use it for a while and it gets ‘neglected’.

Although I have been described as having a very logical mind, I confess I do anthropomorphise some of my equipment. Not everything, and perhaps not to the extent that others do. I don’t give things names or address them as him or her (at least, not too often) but I do have a strong emotional association with some of my electronics goodies – primarily, the ones I use the most, the ones that are around me the most.

For me, the association is not strictly with hardware, nor is it strictly with software. For instance, updating the operating system on a computer which which I have a strong ‘bond’, is something I view as merely upgrading the computer, it rettains the same ‘personality’ but just gets better, faster, more-capable. Conversely, upgrading the hardware is the same: It ‘goes to sleep’ in an old box and ‘wakes up’ in a shiney new box that’s better, faster, stronger. In either case, I suppose (warning, techspeek coming) because it wakes with the same IP address, the same user interface / GUI, and all my documents and programs and customizations intact, it ‘looks’ and ‘feels’ like the same entity, just improved in some ways.

In this way, I can trace the ‘lineage’ of (eg.) my current desktop computer back through a number of hardware ‘incarnations’: In 1999 I got a strawberry iMac G3 (one of the ‘bubble’ ones). Since then, hardware-wise, I’ve had an MDD G4-dual processor, then an Intel iMac 17″, and now an Aluminum Intel iMac 20″. I’ve gone through OS9, and a few version of OSX. But to me, they’ve all been “the same computer” emotionally – they’ve gotten faster, better, stronger, more-capable. But I do not feel sadness when a hardware box is retired – what gets retired is an empty shell. That which makes the computer Mine is moved on to the next one.

In 2000 I got an iBook, one of the clamshell ones, it was the Lime Green one. Later that became a white iBook, then an aluminum Power Book. There may have been another iBook in there somewhere, I don’t remember. As with the desktop computers, it’s always been the same Computer to me, just different incarnations.

Here is where things get troublesome, for me: What happens when a ‘line’ is retired? Not upgraded, not moved to a new hardware box, but simply comes to an end?

The iBook/Powerbook line is a fullsize laptop line. I’ve always prefered a smaller format, the micro-pc / sub-notebook / mini-laptop format. Since 1998ish, I have had a Toshiba Libretto 100CT – a laptop computer slightly larger than a VHS cassette. By today’s standards it’s ridiculously outdated. Yet I’ve been using that for ten years, and it still works. It’s undergone only a single hardware reincarnation – and that was not an upgrade. The old hardware simply wore out so I found an identical replacement on ebay and shifted its essense (OS, GUI, data) to the new box. Now after 10 years, I’ve finally found an upgrade for it. The eeePC is the same format but with modern hardware. The ‘spirit’ of my Libretto has migrated to the eeePC, and the eeePC has become my primary laptop.

So the Powerbook is redundant, unneeded, and unused. I’ve made arrangements to sell it to someone who will undoubtedly treat it very well. However, in preparation for sale, it had to be wiped and boxed.

This was the first time in perhaps 10 years that I’ve retired a line. Every other time I’ve wiped and boxed hardware, it was because the ‘essense’ was already in a newer, better system — it had already reincarnated — and what was left was just the shell.

By now you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking I’m a nutcase. Maybe. We’re all entitled to our own opinions and emotions. But as I sat there with the system disk in there, finger on the wipe button, I did feel a strong sense of sadness. This was not just my Powerbook, it was all my Mac laptops dating back to 2000, and all the experiences I’d had with it. All the work I had done to customize it, all the work I had done using it. Eight years of experience.

I did eventually hit the button, and continued to feel uncomfortable as the drive was wiped and a fresh OS installed. When it was over, what was left was just a computer. A laptop. But not my computer, not my laptop. End of the line.

Closing the Box
Closing the Box, Ending the Line

HP Palmtop 200LX Computer…

Posted 2007.02.06 1.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

About 2 years ago I got all excited about the HP 200LX palmtop computer. I had one in storage for a year or two without using it, but the time had come. My venerable Newton Messagepad 2100 had seen a few years of hard heavy use and was starting to show signs of age. Plus, I was getting a bit bored with it. And finally, I was needing some customizations to the phonebook, and wanted other specialty databases that I couldn’t (easily) find or make on the Newton.

Anyhow, long story short, I blew the dust off the 200LX and had a closer look at it. Before long, my Newton was retired and the 200LX became my PDA of choice. The irony is the 200LX predates the Newton by a few years. Yeah, the 200LX is about 13 or 14 years old now. And know what? The damn thing still works like a charm, beats the pants off just about any modern PDA I’ve seen.

So, I’ve been using it 2 years, it’s great. So great, I don’t even think about it. It’s just always there, always ready. This past weekend though, I loaned one of my backup 200LXes to a friend. She needed a PDA, or wanted to find out if a PDA could replace her pen-and-paper scheduler book thingy. So rather than make a big financial committment, I loaned her a 200LX so she could try-before-buy as it were.

We spent a few hours in the tutorial phase, as I told her how it worked, helped her get started with her To-Do list, Appointments, Phonebook, and a few Notetaker databases. It’s funny, how teaching someone something makes it that much more clear to one’s self.

I was also struck by how great the 200LX looks brand-new. The unit I loaned her was in almost-new condition, a 9 out of 10. My own 200LX has seen 2 years of hard use, and was used when I got it… Still, I haven’t thought of trading in or up or whatever. I’ll be looking on the Bay though for another backup unit — if my friend falls in love with her 200LX like I have with mine, she’ll be keeping the loaner and I’ll need to put a replacement into my ‘stock’, just incase. The only drawback with obsolete technology, IMHO, is you have to be your own parts- and repair- shop.

So, after taking my 200LX for granted so long, I’m looking at it again with new appreciation and excitement. Maybe this time, I’ll finaly finish my 200LX website – under construction for the last 2 years… 🙂

Stephanie’s HP200LX Pages

My 200LX