The air car

Posted by jerry on March 22nd, 2006 — Posted in Journal, Technology, Travel

One of the more interesting items on this evening’s Beyond Tomorrow TV program was the air car – two versions: one made in France, the other in Australia.

In Nice in France the air car is about to enter production – capable of up to 110kph, and runs for two hours on AU$2.50 worth of compressed air. So it’s completely non-polluting (at least no more polluting than the electricity grid), exhausting only air back into the atmosphere. You can fill the tanks in about 20 minutes, or four hours using the onboard compressor by plugging it into your domestic power supply.

French air car
The Australian air car uses a specially designed rotary engine, rather than the conventional piston engine of the French one, and was designed by Italian-born Australian Angelo DiPietro – a former Mercedes rotary engine designer. His engine is designed for use in buggies, forklifts, and even scooters!

I wonder if by using a variable valve cutoff this could be converted to steam – that way the engine could use the expansive properties of steam to get even more power for the size 🙂


The garden bench

Posted by jerry on March 21st, 2006 — Posted in Journal

Yesterday being a cool day, it seemed the right sort of day to head into the garden and counter some of the entropy of the past couple of weeks – it’s now looking almost like an English cottage garden…

Front garden

But one thing a garden path needs is a bench to sit on to admire the view. This weekend I assembled a bench kit I found on sale at Magnet Mart – there is an ideal spot for it in the front yard on the path – what do you think?

Garden bench


Renaissance-person – the rules

Posted by jerry on March 20th, 2006 — Posted in Journal

On Moleskinerie the other day I came across the rules for Renaissance-man-dom – this is a really positive way of looking at the world, and of one’s own development. The blog is kept by Colin Marshall, who revises these rules about every six months. Some key ones for me were:

1. Every day, either learn a new skill or hone one you already have.
A progress-free life is extremely depressing, a downward-sloping one suicidally so. Keep the old inner demons at bay by making sure that, in one way or another, you develop, if only a little bit, with each rotation of the Earth.

2. Don’t instinctively say “no” when presented with possible new interests.
The mind of the polymath demands a constant stream of new influences; letting them grow as diverse as possible doesn’t hurt.

11. Never miss the chance to approach what initially seem like troubles as opportunities.
“Every cloud has a silver lining.” “A door isn’t closed without a window being opened.” My favorite is “Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention.” Pick your platitude, but it’s within your abilities to harness for your own benefit what originally appeared to be a reversal.

And one of my personal favourites:

13. Keep a notebook handy.
You never know when you’ll run across a valuable piece of knowledge.

I guess I would probably rephrase No 2 as: Tell me under what conditions I can do something, rather than why I cannot. – the latter is just lazy thinking.


Psion 5mx compared with iPaq2750

Posted by jerry on March 19th, 2006 — Posted in Journal

General comments 

Travelling with a laptop can be a pain – especially with the airport hassles –  whereas  a handheld device fits in a pocket, is always with you when you need to take notes, and these days, can do pretty much everything the laptop can. Enter the Psion – I bought a Psion series 3  in 2000, and decided it was quite good, but it really needed a decent keyboard.  Enter the Psion 5mx with its integrated keyboard with keys large enough almost to touch type, but certainly quite practical for note taking. Even now I get impressed comments when I pull it out and start typing – usually about how small they are making computers these days. I then point out that Psion stopped making them in 2001 – so the most recent ones are now five years old. Well – not quite: they are still being made in limited numbers and you can still buy them new. But the technology is at least five years old.

And so to the iPaq2750. I had issues with getting the psion to print to a canon BJC50 printer, and I had heard how with wifi you could use email facilities and web access at airports and hotspots, and that with the new handhelds you could get keyboards as extras, so I finally  succumbed to the lure of an iPaq 2750 and Freedom keyboard.

On my way home from that trip I browsed the web and sent emails from London’s Heathrow airport while sipping coffee in the lounge area. I found a third-party printer driver and the iPaq happily printed formatted pages on the canon printer – the Psion still has issues, although other users report having no problems printing to that printer.

I still maintain that if the psion had gone to a USB connection, installed wifi and bluetooth connectivity, put in a colour screen, and stayed with the latest iteration of the Symbian operating system, I would willingly have paid double what I paid for the iPaq. In other words, if they had kept up with the handheld technology, the form factor would have beaten all other competitors.

The iPaq and keyboard together make a package that is more than twice the bulk and weight of the Psion, and what tips the balance is the newer technology. The iPaq will dock happily to the mac (using third party sync software), and will also connect to the mac via bluetooth. Both the iPaq and Psion have IRdA and compact flash card storage – the iPaq also takes smart media cards.

Battery life

For battery life, the Psion wins hands down, and because it uses two AA batteries, replacements are available at every corner store in most countries – and they last between a fortnight and a month depending on usage. With heavy note taking and report writing I find that the batteries last an entire week-long trip, including the flights from Australia to Europe and back, whereas the iPaq is struggling to last one of the flights without recharging.

Form factor

The Freedom keyboard is neat, easy to use, and the bluetooth connection to the iPaq is generally very stable – notwithstanding the driver issues I had when I let the iPaq batteries run down. The keyboard requires a solid surface – such as an airline seat table or cafe table. Take a hardcover book if you want to use it just on your lap. The Psion integral keyboard has real keys (not buttons) and is easy to almost touch type on. The Psion keyboard is not articulated, so it can be used on your lap.

Both the iPaq and Psion have touch screens, and with third party software you can input text to the Psion via the screen using a stylus – but it is awkward to do so as you also have the keyboard to deal with. The iPaq is clearly designed with stylus-only input in mind.


Both can connect to the internet – the iPaq has built in wifi, bluetooth and IRdA for direct connection at hotspots or connection via phone or bluetooth modem. The Psion can be connected to a landline connection via an infrared modem. Internet Explorer for the iPaq is excellent, and web page display is clear and bright and in full colour. The Psion – forget the built-in browser – called Web – and install the Opera browser. Again good layout albeit in greyscale – 16 shades.


Writing – the iPaq has all the features of Microsoft Word and is fully compatible with the desktop equivalents. The Psion Words application has many of the more commonly used style elements of MS Word, but is not natively compatible – using nconvert (a third party piece of software) you can convert to rich text format (rtf) for easy transfer of formatted written documents.


For spreadsheets – the iPaq is again more compatible, having a version of Excel pre-installed. The Psion Sheets application has many of the standard spreadsheet features, but again requires third party conversion to produce compatible files.


The iPaq easily takes images via CF card from the camera, although I have not been able to establish an IR connection with my phone to download images via that route. The Psion also can take images from the CF card – but slow processing speed means it can take several minutes for an image to display – and then only in 16 shades of grey. Strangely, the Psion has no difficulty whatsoever connecting with the phone via IR and readily transfers images from the phone. The Psion’s readiness to connect with the phone makes it easy to type an SMS message and send it via the phone – something I have yet to do successfully with the iPaq.

There is no doubt that the iPaq wins hands down on its features – it has one of the brightest full colour screens on the market, it has excellent connectivity with a wide range of options – wifi, bluetooth and IRdA, and it has pocket versions of most of the microsoft suite. And it takes both CF and SD media cards. It is a pity about the form factor and the battery life.

On form factor, with its integrated and well-designed keyboard, full width screen, the Psion wins hands down. The IRdA connectivity – especially with the sagem phone is excellent. The reliability and easy of use of the applications is excellent, and the battery life is truly amazing on the Psion. As a lightweight pocket substitute for a laptop, I greatly prefer the Psion form factor. If I could somehow shoe-horn the iPaq internals into the Psion – even with the sacrifice of battery life, and add a colour screen: I would buy it like a shot – in the meantime, I shall take both travelling, knowing that if all else fails, the Psion will remain a reliable workhorse.

Here is another review of the Psion compared with palm and pocket PC devices.



iPaq and Freedom Keyboard

Posted by jerry on March 18th, 2006 — Posted in Journal

Some time ago I mentioned that I had finally succumbed to the lure of wifi and bluetooth in my travel technology with the purchase of a Hewlett-Packard iPaq2750 and a Freedom Keyboard – as a replacement for the trusty Psion 5mx. A few weeks ago I was about to head off to Darwin and dragged out the iPaq which I hadn’t used since the trip on which I bought it. Hmmm – I had let the battery completely drain – bad move… the machine had reset itself to factory settings – which did not include the drivers for the keyboard. What about the CD? That’s fine if you have a PC, but I’m a mac user and so .exe files are useless to me.

Next stop the Freedom keyboard site – no problem, they have a downloads area – including of the .cab files for those like myself who use macs. Loaded up, pressed the soft reset and set about establishing a bluetooth connection with the keyboard: “cannot connect to this keyboard, please check the power status and try again”. I tried – new batteries to no avail. So back to the Freedom site and put in a ticket to their service centre. I had a response very quickly to say that the .cab file on the site was an old one, and that the new one was in the .exe file – but they would extract it and send it that afternoon. Wow, I thought – that’s good service. A week passed and with no further response I put in another ticket.

Another fast response apologised for the delay, and then said a new driver was being written and would be available in about two weeks. Well this was more like it – an honest reason for the delay. And sure enough almost a month to the day since I found the problem, I got an email with the new .cab file as an attachement – and it worked perfectly!

Well done Freedom Keyboard! I understand that programming drivers can take time, and I appreciate the fact that I was not just given a story and palmed off – and that your service department provided genuine service. I shall now feel more confident in taking the iPaq and keyboard away on trips – albeit with a copy of the driver on a CF card.

As for the Psion 5mx? Yes I took that instead and despite its age (made in 2000) it worked perfectly to take notes and write up the trip. It also will continue to travel with me as a backup to the iPaq.

So now they are working, how do they compare? That will be my next blog post