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Handheld

7 April 2004

In the realms of the greater stupidities of men, it probably doesnít count for so much, but in my own personal universe there is probably not much I could have done that would be more foolish than installing a whole new operating system when Iím in mid-book with an urgent deadline looming. Not that itís thrown up many problems so far - but the one distinct difficulty that I canít resolve lies absolutely at the core of my practice. What do I depend on? My word processor. Whatís not working properly? My word processor. What seems to be happening is that everything I type is fed into a buffer, and doesnít make it to the screen till I stop typing. I gaze at the screen and see nothing while my fingers thunder away, and every half a line or so I have consciously to stop and let the screen catch up. Itís amazingly disconcerting. Admittedly I do use an obscure little German WP program (Textmaker for Linux), and I do have a fallback if I have to use it, but I like this one and I donít want to give it up. So I asked them if they could help, and they needed some technical details about my system; so I asked my system to divulge them, and found the other little problem that I have post-upgrade. It wonít tell me. Or canít tell me, rather, it freezes every time it tries. So I asked Suse (thatís Suse Linux, the distribution that I use), and they declined to help. It seems that although I bought Suse 8.0, and now Suse 9.0, both of which come with free installation support, that doesnít actually cover an upgrade from 8.0 to 9.0, I suppose because they know it causes problems. Their only suggestion was to wipe everything and start again from scratch with a whole new installation. Grrrr...

So I wasted my morning hammering at futility, and then went storming off into town. But - because I am a good boy, and Iíve had a couple of really good working days, and I really didnít want to lose that - I took my old handheld with me. I love this machine; itís five or six years old now, a Packard Bell Easymate 770. Itís what, nine inches by five when itís folded up, and it opens just like a laptop, so that is also the size of the screen and the keyboard - which means itís big enough to type on properly. And it weighs nothing, the batteries last ten hours between recharges, and it cost four hundred quid. It runs a cut-down version of Windows, alas, but thatís okay, Linux can read Windows docs. What I donít understand is why these machines disappeared. Theyíre a halfway house between PDAs and laptops, but in no sense a compromise; the virtues of both as far as Iím concerned, and the drawbacks of neither. But nobody makes them any more. People are always asking me where they can get one. Sorry, guys - have you tried Ebay?

Anyway, took the handheld to the Lit & Phil, and itís that thing that happens when Iím working away from home, I find an extra degree of focus, I suppose. An hour and a half solid, fifteen hundred words, rat-a-tat. Maybe I really should think about getting an office, but Iíd probably only fill it with distractions. Better to work in libraries and cafes. And pubs. Of course I did go to the pub on the way home, swathed in virtue as I was; and it seems I canít go into the pub these days without a friend finding me, and buying me more beer than I meant to drink. Ah, me...


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.