Working Remotely

Having given WiFi a miss for now with my iPAQ, I’ve not given up on the theory of connecting to it wirelessly – I’ve managed to sync with my PC using just Bluetooth (BT).

I bought a cheap USB Bluetooth dongle a while back, mostly so I could sync and backup my phone without resorting to fiddling with the rubbish cover for the phone’s USB port. The dongle was still plugged-in, so why not give it a go?

Well it took some faffing around – mostly because the first thing I tried was Bluetooth syncing with my Lenovo W500 laptop. Unfortunately that has some proprietary Bluetooth drivers installed and these don’t work in the same way as the native Windows BT stack. It took ages for me to concede defeat and realise it wasn’t going happen without a driver fix (and I’m running the most recent drivers).

Connecting to my home PC was reasonably straightforward, once you get the concept of what the BT devices are actually trying to do. It would seem Bluetooth creates a virtual serial port for you, and your application (in my case ActiveSync on the desktop) just listens for a serial device communicating using ye olde serial porte. I can now just use my iPAQ to say “establish a serial connection with DAISY*. That then triggers ActiveSync on the desktop and data is exchanged as usual.

There’s a couple of caveats: BT is a slow communications protocol – only ever really designed for low quantities of data (business cards, audio headsets etc), so transferring files and installing applications is a no-no. It also appears that ActiveSync doesn’t play very nicely with the fact both Katrina and I logon to the PC using separate accounts (and thus start-up new instances of ActiveSync). I’ll need to get round to changing that so it just starts for me.

On the plus side, both the iPAQ and the PC are “class 2” devices which have a range of about 10m, meaning I can be pretty much anywhere I want inside our house to successfully sync.

Who needs WiFi?

* DAISY is the name of my main PC

A Bit Too Protected

I’ve been trying to get my new iPAQ working with my home wireless network with no success.

I had a chat online with the HP technical support, who walked me through the standard scripted stuff with no luck. The wireless card definitely works because if I switch security to either off or WEP-only it works fine. For the iPAQ 5550 you need updated firmware and drivers to support WPA encryption (as per my current network config) and these have been applied.

After much digging, there is a suspicion that the problem lies with my Linksys WAG54G2 wireless router. In the wireless security configuration, setting it to “WPA” mode provides just one encryption option: “TKIP or AES”. I’m no WiFi security expert, but TKIP is a software-only thing (basically some wrappering around basic WEP functionality), while AES is hardware-supported functionality.

The theory behind the Linksys option is that devices which support AES can use that encryption method, while others can default back to TKIP. As a result of AES requiring hardware, this isn’t supported with my (relatively old) iPAQ. Unfortunately there seems to be a problem with the iPAQ talking to the router correctly with this proprietary system.

After much Googling, I discovered two things:

  1. There have been lots of people struggling to get Windows Mobile devices to talk to WPA networks
  2. This has been discussed at length on the Linksys forums, most specifically in this thread.

I also spoke to the Linksys technical support people, who were rubbish and couldn’t give me any advice.

It looks like my best hope at present is either to swap my current router for another one (I’m not that desperate for wireless connectivity), or hope that it is addressed in a future firmware update. Unfortunately the Linksys helpdesk person couldn’t tell me when this would be, so it looks like I’m stuck for now.

More iPAQ

I’m just starting to appreciate quite how good my new device actually is. It’s an HP iPAQ 5550 (with PDF link), which apparently was the PDA to have 6 years ago.

It comes with 128MB RAM, which to me sounds quite small but back in 2003 it was considered state-of-the-art. I’m now starting to see why though. The Windows Mobile 2003 OS it runs on is just so efficient. For a while I was very careful about having too many applications running at once, but starting up Word, Excel, Windows Media Player, Jawbreaker (a game), Internet Explorer, Contacts and Calendar all use less than 15MB of memory. With just under 64MB allocated for programs, that should easily be enough for my purposes.

I’ve yet to start downloading applications from the web to make it even more useful, but I’ve now got all of my contact and calendar data stored on it. In fact, it’s pretty much doing everything I wanted of it now. I can one-way sync from my work Lotus Notes calendar using Lotus EasySync, plus two-way sync with my home calendar. That lets me always know when I need to be in the office without firing up my laptop. It also lets me check to see when we’re supposed to be visiting family in the North, or when people are visiting us. Add to that governors’ meetings and the collection of contacts I’ve built-up over the years and it’s becoming near essential already.

The only thing I really want working now is the wireless, which seems to be a bit tricky at present, despite flashing to the very latest firmware and putting the newest drivers on.

iPAQ? Well Packed!

It’s here!!! There’s a parcel van just pulled up, so with baited breath, I spy on him from the upstairs window… Boo!!! That’s a huge box and so can’t be my parcel. Hang on – he’s coming to our house. What the… ?

When I sign for the parcel, I notice the Paypal invoice stuck to the top: yep definitely mine. So how come the box is so large? To give you an idea of the size of the thing, here’s a picture complete with a Coke can for scale (click all pictures for a bigger version):

Big package

Big huh? All of that for a hand-held organiser, albeit boxed with a few accessories. How big are my hands supposed to be? Ripping the parcel tape off the top revealed a solid mass of unknown “stuff” wrapped in plastic:

Mystery stuff

After much pulling, twisting and generally getting annoyed, I manage to pull a solid lump of foam out of the box and realise how this has been packed.

There’s a bottom layer of polystyrene chips, about 2” deep, with the electronics on top (which had been wrapped in bags in big bubble wrap). Then, there’s a plastic liner, which has been filled with expanding foam to make everything snug.

Polystyrene chips

Taking the foam outside shows a beautifully formed lump around the electronics.

Foam mass

All-in-all, very well packed and that suddenly makes the £12.50 P&P seem very reasonable. What actually came out of the box was the following:

New kit

I’ll post stuff here as I play with it more.

New Toy Number 2

Last night I won an eBay auction for an HP iPAQ h5550 PDA. I’ve been looking at getting such a device for a short while and this one came up on the global tat bazaar for a reasonable-looking price. Included in the package is the iPAQ, a spare high-capacity battery, two docking stations, two mains chargers, a car charger, a case, plus an external folding keyboard (also in a case), all fully boxed with the software bundle.

This was an absolute bargain at just £50 including P&P. When they were first launched (mid-2003), this was the state-of-the-art PocketPC machine to have: fingerprint scanner, wireless connectivity, bluetooth, SD expansion capabilities, plus a massive 128MB of RAM. List price was a hefty £500 though.

After a quick exchange of e-mails with the seller last night, he’s going to post it today and I should have it by tomorrow.

Shiny!