Hollering from a Fresh Platform

by LF (6/6/00)

Well, I finally broke down and moved from North Carolina to Columbus, Ohio in February. It's taken me a while to get back online for a couple of reasons, the primary one being that I was tired of wasting countless hours dicking around on the Web chasing after stupid junk, replying at length to nasty e-mail, and pulling down increasingly useless porn (like the fella said, does a starving man need pictures of bread?). So when I came up north I swore that I'd go cold turkey for at least four months.

Now I'm back, thanks in part to persistent needling by John Bergstrom. But the biggest goad was that today is the third anniversary of the LF page's inception.

In the interim I got cable TV for the first time since like forever, and am really enjoying it. Not shitty locked-in monopoly cable like I was paying for in downtown Raleigh, but beautiful high-capacity digital service. Let's hear it for (sort-of) competition! Highlights are SpeedVision, the racing network (I've really been getting into Formula One, and they'll be running the full 24 hours of Le Mans this year), the Independent Film Channel, and about 50 audio-only commercial-free music channels.

A final big bonus that will unfortunately be going away soon is a HBO and CineMax combo package which provides ten movie channels for ten bucks extra a month. Some of 'em I never watch, but I'm a big fan of ActionMax now because they've been showing uncut, widescreen, subtitled Hong Kong flicks like the awesomely weird Sword of Many Loves. May's special treat was actually a Japanese item called Hana-Bi (US title: Fireworks), a total vanity project by Takeshi Kitano, an actor best known in this country for his supporting role in the ridiculous David Bowie homo cringefest Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Kitano's specialty is quiet, sad, contemplative films in which buttloads of people get croaked in very bloody ways.

Please enjoy the new stuff I've been working on, but forgive any typo's as I'm still adjusting to my new toy, a Hewlett-Packard Jornada 820. It's what they call an HPC (Handheld Personal Computer), a sexy cross between a palm PDA and a gen-yoo-ine subnotebook like the IBM ThinkPad 240. I gave my old 200MMX machine to my parents when I moved, and am using the Jornada as my temporary Web device while deciding on exactly how much I want to blow on a replacement desktop -- a real temptation right now is to go for a video editing setup with a fast bus, IEEE 1394 support, monster hard drive, etc., so that I can get a digital camcorder and finally shoot and cut together Manic Flesh, a hillbilly zombiefest project I've been kicking around for almost 20 years.

The Jornada 820 is cute as hell: 2.5 pounds, 8.4" 640x480 pixel VGA screen, 56K modem, and an astounding ten-hour battery life (seriously -- I've been banging on it fairly heavily for two days now, and still have about five hours of use left before I'll need to plug it into the AC adapter to recharge), and a suite of basic applications that don't soak up resources because they're EPROMmed-in. Unfortunately, the operating system is Windows "CE", which stands for Compact Environment, so you can't simply port over standard programs and expect them to work.

I looked at all of the comparable units on the market, but most were just too small for me to touch-type on. My first choice was actually the somewhat heavier Compaq Aero 8000, which boasts an 800x600 SVGA screen and a larger 18mm-width keyboard (19mm is standard, and unless you're a hunt-and-pecker the Jornada's 17mm keys are comfortable only because their fore-to-aft depth allow for normal finger travel, which disqualified the otherwise neat NEC MobilePro 800 and Vadem Clio), but it ran a whopping $230 more. I paid a total of $607.98 with shipping for the HP, which I consider to be a much better investment for something that I'm going to be taking into bars and might accidentally dump into a urinal.

Before ordering the Jornada, I was poised to get one of the ThinkPad 240s mentioned previously. I tracked it down via a Web shopping bot, grabbed the phone with one hand with my Visa card in the other . . . and found out that the bastards had the "lowest" price because they charged FIFTY-SIX BUCKS for regular UPS shipping/insurance/handling, which cooled my ardor. But the main drawback to the subnotebooks is battery life. Most of the 3-pounders operate for two hours or less, which does not provide for a lot of spare listening time while the fascinating souse on the next stool rambles on. And if you're running Windows 98 or later, most of that will be wasted watching progress screens during the boot sequence. The Windows CE machines I've seen are ready to go in less than two seconds, so you won't have time to order another drink, so you won't lose that precious thought that you, you . . . well, goddammit!

They don't have hard drives or even floppies (info is exchanged via cables or CompactFlash cards, just like a digital camera), so they're not a replacement for even a cheapo $500 desktop from Best Buy. But if you're a writer who needs something friendly and ultra-portable to tap on, or a light PC user who only wants to be able to e-mail and fax and stuff like that, check the HPCs out. Unfortunately, it's now an uncrowded marketplace because their "heyday" evaporated over a year ago. Most of the previously-enthusiastic manufacturers have abandoned this microniche because consumers apparently prefer carrying either a 12-ounce stylus-interface PDA or a full-on laptop weighing seven to eleven hefty pounds. But rest assured, HPCs will come back strong as soon as they can run all those really critical applications like Resident Evil and Leisure Suit Larry 17: Vulva Lust Vegas.

Up the spout