Friday, 17 June 2022

My MacBook Air has gone and died on me

 My MacBook Air died today.

I’d just finished using it to read my email and had plugged it in to the wall to recharge.

I noticed that the light on the MagSafe connector was staying green, which I didn't think looked good, so I opened the lid and tried to power it up.

Not a sausage. It was most definitely not going to come on. Dead as a very dead thing. 

Now, this is a 2011 vintage Air that I’d bought second hand in 2015. By any measure I’d got my money’s worth out of it, and I’d already started planning for its demise by buying myself a little lightweight Lenovo to take travelling last year, after I’d had a crash course in Apple chargers after the one the Air came with had died.

That said it was Apple, and even though it had long ago dropped off of OS support updates, I expected to be able to keep on using it until the day Chrome said ‘Nah, too old’.

The last few months I’ve been using it in place of my Chromebook to read my email in bed in the morning – I could use my tablet but I prefer doing it with a computer with a keyboard, and it’s been filling that role admirably.

But obviously not any longer.

And that left me with a problem.

When I get rid of old computers I usually wipe them because there is a whole lot of personal information on local storage. If I couldn’t get it to boot I obviously couldn’t wipe it, and that meant it couldn't go to the recyclers. 

So I did what everyone else would do, and asked Google how to get it to boot. Usefully, Google came up with the CTRL-Shift-OPT while holding down the power button trick.

That worked, and what’s more showed me the source of the problem – no battery. The Air was no longer recognising the battery.

I’d had the battery replaced about two and a half years ago, and that had cost me $150 at the time – call it $180 today, and of course there was no guarantee that it was the battery – it could be something on the motherboard.

At the same time, some google searching showed I could get a freshly refurbished 2011 vintage Air for around $350, about the same as a decent refurbished Thinkpad.

Basically a repair wasn’t going to be worth it, especially as I’ve ended up with more windows laptops than I really need, so the obvious answer is to wipe the Mac and take it to the e-waste people for disposal (Just for fun I checked on Apple's website to see if they would give me anything for it against a new MacBook Air, and the answer was most definitely no, but as you'd expect with Apple, they were very nice about it and told me that recycling it would be a win for the planet ...).

Friday, 3 June 2022

And did it work

 Well today I tried using the revived Palm Pilot for real work, and I've got to say that it worked for me, especially given that it was barely 5C and I was wearing fingerless gloves to type on my regular computer all day, as well as the usual blue gloves when handling artifacts:

And of course the whole glove/conductive screen problem is one of the reasons I use a little Nikon point and shoot to take documentation pictures, even though the camera in most recent mobile phones is more than adequate for the task - I did after all use my old Samsung Galaxy until a couple of years ago, even though it was bit of a pfaff with one hand gloved and the other ungloved.

So given that it seems to be a success, how did I do it?

As I said before I used one of my original Palm Pilots - I was actually lying when I said this, I actually have 2 Handspring Visors, which are Palm Pilot clones,

The model I used was the Visor Solo (my other model is a Visor deluxe - more memory, translucent case, same black and white screen and OS version).

The key fact is that both run PalmOs 3.1 and are effectively clones of the Palm III. I bought mine back at the start of the century when they were new and shiny things. If  you want to pick one up second hand there's still a healthy trade in them on ebay with ones in good condition going for between $100 and $150.

If you do buy one, make sure it comes with its USB sync cradle - basically you plug the cradle into your computer and put the pilot or visor in the sync cradle, which gives you a setup something like this:

For a host, I used my old Thinkpad which runs Ubuntu 20.04 LTS these days. To install jPilot I downloaded the and scripts from,and then ran the download script, and then used sudo to run the install script.

In the course of doing this I discovered that the libcanberra-gtk-module was missing from my Ubuntu install, but there is an easy fix using sudo apt install libcanberra-gtk-module.

Once you've got the software installed and the devices connected up you will need to create a pilot user id from the file menu in the app prior to doing your first sync or backup. After that it's a case of simply doing a sync. 

As I've said before, you need to run jpilot from a privileged account - sudo jpilot from a terminal command line should do the job ...

[update 16/09/2022]

Battery life is also incredibly good - despite being in weekly use I've only just changed the batteries ...

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Retro computing with a purpose

 When I'm documenting the contents of Dow's Pharmacy I sometimes need to make little work in progress notes, and sometimes notes to myself to check something out.

And to do this it's basically either a post-it in my day to day workbook, or else a note on my little 7" ipad mini and keyboard combo.

But I have a problem - I'm invariably wearing my blue examination gloves when doing so, and let's just say that has some problems

  • handwriting is scrawlier than usual, which given that my handwriting is an appalling scrawl to begin with, means that sometimes I actually can't read my own writing
  • typing on a 7" keyboard with rubber gloves on is a bit hit and miss (literally) for much the same reason that handwriting is worse than usual - diminished sensitivity
  • conductive displays, be they ipad, phone or tablet displays don't work very well if you're wearing rubber gloves
so basically to make a note of more than two or three words I have to deglove, which slows everything down.

And then I had an idea, inspired by my recent post about still using paper diaries. I still have both my old palm pilots, and they of course use a stylus with a 'hunt and peck' keyboard to enter text.

So first of all I dug out my original old black pilot, stuck a couple of AAA batteries in it, and it woke up just like that

Half the problem solved - I had a working device. 

I reckoned that most of the work in progress notes wouldn't need to be saved, but there would be some that did.

There is no real viable working solution for Windows, but there is for Linux, jPilot, which I first played with back in 2017

It's recently been updated, but it's still a little bit fragile, and needs to be run as sudo, but it does work

so I've now got a viable solution to get data off the device if required.

Of course, none of this means that this is a sensible or workable solution, but a bit of testing in the field should prove that either way ...