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Sunday, February 20, 2005

The flight of the (Tungsten C to) Phoenix....

I've become a bit of a gadget freak, and among those toys that I've played with over the past several years is the handheld computer that goes under various names. I think the generic term is actually an acronym: PDA, which stands for "personal digital assistant" (although in some text messaging circles those initials can be used to represent "public display of affection"). More often you'll hear people refer to their "Palm", reflecting the success of a brand name similar to the way the British refer to vacuum cleaners as Hoovers (an association less likely to be heard in the US where the Hoover brand is unfortunately and incorrectly associated with a former US President who carries the blame for the Depression among large segments of the older population).

Whatever the name, I've been using Palm/PDAs since they first came on the market as Palm Pilots. I've tended to move up the product ladder as new and more advanced versions hit the market. My latest investment was in the Tungsten C, a relatively expensive unit (listed at $499 at the time I purchased it, and still selling for around $399 at list, although you can get it for less) that I purchased around June 2003. This handheld is truly close to being a small personal computer, with a powerful processor, substantial amount of memory, and the capacity to operate as a WiFi wireless. I was so impressed, that I convinced my daughter to purchase one a month later.

In one sense this was overkill, for as it turns out my access to WiFi outside my home was rather limited at the time of the purchase. But in the US, WiFi has been spreading, and today there are many locations where it can be used either for free (as, I am told, in the town center of Salem Massachusetts) or for a fee in various bookstores and coffee shops (e.g., Borders and Starbucks). But as it turns out, my fellowship in Belfast began in September 2003, and I quickly found out that the availability of WiFi was very limited in this area.

What made things worse were the problems I started having with my Tungsten C unit. While over here in Belfast, I've had to get the unit replaced or repaired twice. The service and turnaround for PalmOne (the company's new name) products in the UK is actually not too bad, but it meant going for long periods without the use of or access to my favorite toy.

And then there was the final straw. Several weeks ago I made the mistake of putting both my Tungsten C and my cell phone in the same pocket, and at some point during the morning the pressure of the phone against the protective cover of the Tungsten C must have proven too much. Turning on the PDA, I found myself staring at what looked like a very interesting piece of abstract art. There was nothing wrong with the physical screen (not a scratch, and no indication of any external or surface damage), and it is obvious that the unit itself is functioning quite well (the alarm continues to go off at set appointment times). It even continues to make the appropriate sounds when I touch the keys. But there is nothing but a piece of interesting artwork to see on the screen.

I began the process of figuring out whether I was covered under warranty or whether I had to seek other ways to recoup my obvious loss. So for the past three weeks or so I've been e-mailing was speaking with folks at the UK PalmOne support office as well as the American Express Buyers Assurance office in the US (since I purchased the unit with the American Express card, my warranty had been extended an additional year under their plan -- one of the great benefits of using American Express).

During that time interesting things were happening with the Tungsten C. The pattern on the screen was actually changing from day-to-day, and it became obvious that some interesting liquid substance was running amok behind the screen without actually impacting on the operations of the unit. When I first saw the pattern involved an almost thumb-like imprint in the lower right corner of the unit that extended as a thin line arcing to the upper left corner. The thin line at that time showed splatters on both sides, with the screen colors being a darker blue shade below the arc and a very light shade above it. Like I said, very interesting.

Since the unit was useless to me, I put it aside while I made the various calls to the support center. Eventually they came back and asked for a picture of the screen. At that point I took out the Palm (which had been sitting in a box next to my desktop in the office, ringing its alarm at designated times) and to my surprise I found that the pattern of change in an interesting way. The thumb-print area had become smaller, and the splattering along the arc line had disappeared, presenting the picture that you see here when we scanned the unit face on 1 February. It is almost as if the Tungsten was healing itself.

{Thanks to Sociable Geek for the scanning}

As a process of trying to figure out how to deal with the problem went on, the Palm's alarm continued to go off on schedule and the "picture" continued to change. The scan below was taken a week later. Very bizarre indeed.

Yesterday I finally received the information I needed to ship the unit off to the American Express people so that they can deal with it. It looks like my Tungsten C is going to become "salvage" and that I will be able to get funding to replace it. This is turning out to be a costly process, for shipping it to Phoenix, Arizona cost me about 47 British pounds (about $90). I dropped it off yesterday at the UK equivalent of Mail Boxes Etc., and it will literally be flying off to the US by Monday night on its way to Phoenix for delivery on Wednesday.

But now it's decision time, for as anyone who has been a child knows, broken toys must be replaced. The question is, is there another Tungsten C in my future? Or is it time to take the next step up to a PDA smart phone, such as the Treo 650 PDA Phone that combines the look and feel of the Tungsten with the functionality of a cell phone?

Oh, the dilemmas we face in life....
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