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Palmtop nostalgia is tinny music to my elephantine ears

Pause, play, rewind, break… buy another pair

By Alistair Dabbs, 3 Mar 2017

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Up and down, I’m up the wall, I’m up the bloody tree. Yup, this week finds me back on the trail in an unnecessary hunt for inessential portable kit I probably won’t use.

It was triggered, as these things usually are, by something I read here on The Register. I should know better than to allow myself to be so easily influenced by one of our own news stories, especially now since those well-known guardians of honesty and integrity – politicians – have exposed everything journalists say and do as fake.

Besides, gadget fans generally should stick their heads in the bowl and flush repeatedly around this time of year, at least until Mobile World Conference is over. To do otherwise is to send oneself into a very non-Buddhist frenzy of desire to acquire.

Andrew Orlowski’s report this week on Planet Computing’s crowdfunding project to bring a Psion 5-style pocket computer to market set me off.

Back in the day, I worked my way through two – or was it three? – Psion 5 computers. While colleagues lumbered around with heavy laptops at one extreme or limited stylus-operated palmtops at the other, the Psion 5 allowed me to write stories at the drop of a hat – on a bus as easily as on a train or plane – and file them to my editors from ski resort hotel rooms using a pocket modem.

I had been inspired to do this by a fellow freelancer a year earlier during an international press jaunt to a product launch. As the rest of us were getting pissed on gins-and-tonic during the flight back to Blighty, he was writing up an entire report of the event, including a first-look product review, on his Psion 3a.

These were the days before consumer mobile data services but it still meant he was able to email his stuff to editors at his leisure the moment he arrived home. No doubt at that same moment, I would have been stumbling through my front door with a vague notion that I ought to sit down and write something about the product launch just as soon as I could clear the gin haze enough to remember what it was that had been launched.

It took a long time for me to reach the joys of the Psion, though. By the time it came along, I had worked my way through a sequence of Palm handhelds, each one brilliant and yet as equally useless as the previous model. What was I thinking?

Even after buying a Psion 3a, I was dissatisfied, not least with the flimsy battery cover that would fall off when the wind changed direction, and jumped at buying the 5 when it came out. And then the upgraded version after that. And a Psion Sienna. But none of them were quite what I wanted.

Perhaps I was simply pining for a smartphone at a time when they didn’t exist. Even so, it was an expensive exercise in general dissatisfaction. The Psion 5 might have been terrific to my mind but I still managed to go through three of them: they must have been built like crap.

And yet here I am, wondering whether to order a nostalgic Gemini from Planet Computing, for a rather un-nostalgic $600, when I already own a frankly fantastic smartphone, multiple tablets and a thoroughly spanky notebook. I must be mad.

They keep me running round and round. Well, that’s all right with me.

I do the same with earphones: I keep buying them and they keep letting me down, so I buy more. They’re uncomfortable, they don’t sound right, they don’t have the right button controls, the mic is too far away, they’re the wrong colour… and so on.

The solution? Buy another pair!

At any one time, I must have four or five sets of earphones on the go. There would be even more lying around my office if they didn’t stop working or spontaneously fall to pieces. Logic suggests that this is because they have been manufactured like shit and I am being ripped off.

The solution? Buy another pair that are more expensive!

My experience is that pricey brand-name earphones are just as bad, if not worse. Even the priciest models I have purchased seem to have a working half-life measured in nanoseconds. The point at which the cable emerges from the moulding around the stereo jack is always the first bit to go.

The solution? Buy another pair and slap some Sugru around the jack!

On my desk at this very moment is my fifth set of Sennheisers, my second pair of Beats, a painfully uncomfortable over-ear pair of Jams, a ridiculous pair of Jays – they insist on wriggling their way out of my apparently gigantic earholes, sometimes with an audible pop, within seconds of being thrust forcibly in there – and a hideous snot-green set of Bluetooth sports earbuds made by Philips that makes pounding drums sound like someone rattling a biro.

In terms of gullibility, I must rank alongside those lonely women who regularly fall for online romance scams despite all the warning signs.

Fair enough, it may not be terribly obvious at first that your distant internet correspondent is not the real deal. His armed forces rank such as Major Minor or General Specific, his pidgin English, his chronically sick mum/daughter/wildebeest, his innocent demands for you to transfer £150,000 to the Bank of Nigeria – anyone could mistake these for candid demonstrations of affection.

Surely the giveaway, though, is the scammer’s unambiguous expression of love. From what I’ve read, these tend to be as subtle as a Shakespearean soliloquy, often taking a form such as: “My beloved, your effulgent beauty brings me back to life and swells my heart!”

As my wife points out, no man talks to a woman in this way. You’d be lucky to get a Swayze-style “ditto” – or as he actually says in the film, “diddo” – from a man over a romantic dinner, during which he will continue to fiddle with the TV remote control.

Nor is it his heart that’s doing the swelling: it’s his, er, bank account. That is, according to various scamwatch webites.

So I can hardly claim to much different from this when I see new versions of mobile products that have repeatedly and unfailingly let me down in the past, convince myself that the advertising blurb is true, decide that “everything will be different this time” and buy them.

Ooh, there’s a point, the rechargeable battery on my latest wearable device has just worn out again. I must get myself one of those scamwatches instead. It’s love at first sight!

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He has retained none of his old palmtops, not even those that still worked OK, so he can’t be as nostalgic as all that. The only ancient electronic gadget that he steadfastly refuses to relinquish is his treasured early-1980s “fire engine red” Sony Walkman 4, which runs on four AA batteries and is as big as a house brick, albeit heavier. Unfortunately, the original headphones broke so he had to buy new ones.

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