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    UHN Palm Newsletter (November 2000) - "He's Dead, Jim"

    Well, last month my Palm IIIx stopped working properly. Every time I pressed on the screen, instead of generating alphabetic characters I got funny pixellations and moiré patterns. Not cool. But I didn't panic - at first. What follows is the story of how I repaired the beast and what I learned along the way.

    The first thing I did was HotSync to my desktop PC to save all my data files. I then copied all the files in my PC's Palm "Backup" folder to some floppies. That way I would have extra copies of my data (appointments, medical references, memos, etc.) even if something happened to my PC. I also made sure I had copies of any applications (document readers, web browsers, hacks, etc.) that I would have to reload when I got things working, in case the Palm lost its memory. I checked to see if there was still juice in the Palm's batteries (there was). I then tried a soft reset by sticking a paperclip in the little hole on the backside of the Palm case (the Palm restarted but the screen stayed wonky). Then I did a hard reset (removed the batteries for a few minutes). This clobbered my applications, data, preferences, user ID and everything else that had ever personalized my Palm. The radical brain surgery didn't help, however: the screen still did not work properly. Oh well, at least removing the batteries had erased any private data in case I had to send the Palm anywhere for repairs.

    That's when I reached for the warranty card. Unhappily for me, my Palm was three months out of warranty. (Alright, X-Files fans, you can stop smirking right now.) I phoned the company that sold me the Palm. The manager advised me that I could send it in to Palm Canada or bring it to them - and they would send it to Palm Canada. Palm Canada would send it to the boneyard in the USA where it would be cannibalized for parts. In exchange I would receive a refurbished working model. I would have to do without a Palm for several weeks while waiting for the refurb to arrive although, to save time, they would send it before receiving the dead one. It should be pointed out that Palm Canada is really a company called Keating Technologies (, (905) 305-6530) that has the contract to be the pointy end of Palm USA's operations here. Keating/Palm has a reputation for slow and sometimes irksome service. The cost of trading in a broken Palm IIIx for a working one with a 90 day warranty is about C$180 including shipping. Compare this to the cost of a new IIIxe with double the memory of my IIIx and a one year warranty: C$350. Hmmm.

    There used to be a company in Mississauga that did Palm memory upgrades. I emailed them to see if they did repairs but learned that they were out of business - too many new models with extra memory on the market, and no profit in the repair side of things. Apparently, there's only one other outfit "in Canada" that does repairs ( You contact them only through email - there is no phone number or mailing address on their website - but the work appears to be actually done in the States. How could I know if they are reliable?

    I called Palm Canada and spoke to a technician about the problem. They suggested I remove most of my software and gave up when that idea didn't pan out. I called Palm in the States (847-262-7256) and also checked their website ( From them I got a whole different set of suggestions (they thought it was a broken screen or internal connection) and I was advised to send the Palm in to Palm Canada for replacement, or to purchase a new one. Sigh. By now I had made do without my little sidekick for two long working days and was dismayed at how much this had disrupted my routine.

    I finally decided that, since the warranty had expired, I risked little by opening the hood and having a peak at the engine. I'm no forensic computer pathologist but I knew enough to lay the deceased Palm on a piece of anti-static plastic (part of the packaging from my PC) and to touch something grounded before starting. The case opened easily once a handful of small screws were removed. The first thing I noticed was that there was alot of dust inside. While carefully wiping some of that dust from the case I moved the glass screen and found that the flat ribbon cable which connected it to the guts of the PDA was loose. I tightened it and closed up the case. To my surprise, that corrected the problem.

    After reloading all my software and data files, I am back in business. Total cost: C$20 for phone calls to Palm USA and several hours reloading software and fiddling. I prefer this outcome to sending away for a refurb (for C$180) but I was lucky: nothing was actually broken. Several of you have written to me about broken Palms and I did some reading: it seems that series III devices are prone to broken screens or loose internal connections - usually about a year after purchase.

    So here's the bottom line. A broken Palm has to go back to Palm Canada for replacement. If it's out of warranty the cost of replacement will make you think about buying a new one instead. Some problems may be fixable yourself but you shouldn't count on that. And, last but not least, there will be a cost to you in terms of inconvenience and time restoring your system configuration. Before anything else, make sure you have backed up all your data and have copies of your applications as they will have to be reinstalled on your new or repaired Palm.

    One final note. If your Palm does die, think before simply getting another one just like it. Perhaps you would be just as happy with one of the less expensive M100s for nothing but managing your appointments? Perhaps you need more memory for medical reference books and should consider an upscale device by Palm, TRG ( or Visor ( Perhaps you should get a Palm-enabled cellphone to reduce clutter in your pocket? Do you want to be able to attach a digital camera or other gizmos? There are lots of reviews and information online. Check out ZDNet, Cnet and other websites.

    Hack of the Month

    MidCapsHack permits you to enter capital letters using Graffiti without bothering with that upstroke. A copy is attached for you to play with.

    Medical Computing

    For a look at what is happening in Medical Handheld computing currently, check what a UK housestaff doc is up to ( Also, UC Davis medical students have a web page for medical use of Palm devices at

    In Times to Come

    Do you use the built-inToDo list and Scheduler programs on your Palm? Did you ever wish you could peruse BOTH appointments and tasks at the same time? Next month we'll have a look at software that permits that and more.

    By the by, if you are the first to write back to me and identify the source of the quote on the banner headline at the beginning of this issue, your name will be featured among the stars next month.

    Until then, enjoy!

    This is one of a continuing series of newsletters on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals and video game afficionados at the UHN. Feel free to pass copies around electronically or on paper. To subscribe, unsubscribe, present burnt offerings, obtain back issues, change your email address or complain, contact the author at:

    Visit our website for the latest Medical Palm Review newsletter and the archive of back issues.