Wikipedia as Unix man page

Lately, I’m finding an unanticipated (but not entirely surprising) use of Wikipedia as richer extended versions of Unix man pages. Who needs man man when you have Manual page (Unix)? I came to this conclusion when I was looking at the wget man page in my terminal last night and I kept having to re-run man wget as I paged past the options I wanted. Of course, man pages have been on the web for a long time (as the link in my prior sentence shows), but Wikipedia offers a lot more, at least in the case of wget. You learn how to use wget, but you also get criticisms of wget, history, and information on the development and release cycle, among other things.

From now on, man pages will be the last place I look. If I need to know how to use wget again, it won’t be man wget, it will be a search for “wget“. Try “tar” or “gzip” to see it working with other commands.

What to do when sending an SMS makes your Treo 650 reboot

Aside from a post about a certain college sports team’s legal troubles, the most popular post on this blog is consistently “Making built-in Contacts app the default on a Treo 650 with Goodlink.”

I’ve run into another semi-persistent problem that required a bit of research, so I’ll post a solution here. Every now and then, simply sending an SMS to anyone causes my Treo to reboot. It happens every time I try to send an SMS, so I’m essentially without text messaging capability until I fix this (the SMS never makes it to the recipient in this scenario).

When the Treo comes back from the reboot, I dial #*377 (or #*ERR) and it shows me an error that is something like this (the #*377 trick works for any error on the Treo):

A reset was caused on 05/18/06 at 9:31am while running "TreoSMS Stub":

Line 1297,
MessageStoreOpenItem: item open already

The application that causes the reboot varies, but it’s always the same error related to the message store. Here’s how you fix it (and beware — this deletes all the text messages on your device!):

  1. If you don’t already have it, you need to download and install FileZ on your Treo. All this does is give you access to all the files on the Palm OS filesystem. This is a tool that must be used very carefully, since you can move, copy, and delete any files on the Treo, even ones you didn’t know were there. It’s one of the most useful Treo utilities you can have.
  2. Run FileZ on your phone and choose “View and Edit Files.” In the next screen, you should see “Internal” under Filename. It might also say “ROM.” If you have an SD Card, you should also see “External” or “SD Card.”
  3. Click on the little wedge beside “Internal” to expand the list of files on your Treo.
  4. Find Messages Database and delete it (you do this by checking it, choosing “Details,” and then clicking “Delete”)

That’s it! Your phone should be in working order again (if there’s not something else wrong with it — anyone with a Treo knows how flaky they can be).

Laptop power on planes: observations, tips, and lessons

Before I get into some recent experiences getting laptop power on planes (both failed and successful ones), I wanted to give a plug for If you want to know which seats are most comfortable on a plane (with detailed commentary on specific seats), whether or not power is available at the seats, etc. go to It’s an awesome (and free) service — check it out.

Recently, I decided to get the gear necessary to get power at my seat on planes. For years, I have always packed an extra battery to get me through long flights, but my recent trip to Bangalore and London (over 50 hours in planes) made me reconsider. Many domestic flights offer in-seat power, though it doesn’t seem to be well-promoted or even understood at a basic level by the flight attendants (as I learned on a recent Delta flight — see below). Here’s what I’ve learned about in-seat power on planes (British Airways has a decent primer on in-seat power in their planes that seems to be generally applicable based on my experience):

You need a device called an “inverter”. I’m not sure it was the best choice, but I picked up the XPower Pocket Inverter 100 at Radio Shack just before my trip to Bangalore. The inverter has one plug that goes into the plane power socket and then you can plug any typical two or three-prong device into the inverter using a regular power supply. The inverter simply transforms the plane power into power you can use. (If anyone has advice on the best inverter to get, please leave a comment!)

The power jack in the plane is known as an “Empower” jack. It’s not the same as a cigarette lighter adapter (it’s substantially smaller), though some inverters come with a cigarette lighter plug that you fit into the Empower interface on the inverter so you can also use the inverter in a car. I don’t think I’ve seen an Empower jack anywhere but on a plane, so the plug looks unusual. In fact, I would go as far to say that the Empower interface is poorly designed since I had some trouble with it (more below. . . the photo with this post is of an Empower plug, by the way).

Flight attendants might not know anything about the power systems on their planes. On a Delta flight last week, I had checked beforehand for the plane I was taking, and it showed power between every seat in economy. When I boarded, I asked the flight attendant about laptop power between the seats and she clearly had no idea what I was talking about — she said there was no power for laptops in coach. Sure enough, once I sat down, the Empower power port was easily found between the seats, and it worked (mostly anyway).

Don’t assume the power port at your seat will work. On four legs of British Airways flights, I had these experiences: 1) power worked flawlessly, 2) power didn’t work at all, 3) someone had stuffed chewing gum and paper into the power port and I wasn’t willing to dig it all out, and 4) power worked, but only if I held the Empower plug from my inverter at a certain angle with one hand (roughly the same experience you might have with cheap headphones that you have to twist to hear an iPod or other audio device). Of course, this makes it difficult to type or do anything productive.

On my Delta flight last week, the Empower port that my flight attendant didn’t know about actually worked, but I had to hold the plug in the socket to keep it connected properly, which was kind of a pain. It might be my inverter, but the Empower interface just doesn’t seem to click in tightly. It seems like a flimsy interface in general. I suspect that the tight quarters in planes encourage accidental abuse of the ports when they are being used, which makes the plugs wear out over time, leaving a looser fit for future users.

The inverter can get really hot. This could be worse with the particular inverter I got, but I suspect it’s true across the board. When you’re in a coach seat with your laptop running, there isn’t a ton of room for much else. In my case, the inverter sat on my leg and the heat was pretty uncomfortable — think “twice as hot as a laptop” and you’ll get the picture.

You might be able to use your laptop and charge your battery at the same time — or you might not. I don’t know enough about electricity to understand this, but on the British Airways flight, I could use my laptop but the battery wouldn’t charge. On the Delta flight, I used my laptop and the battery charged. On the British Airways flights, they said you could only use laptops with their power system, i.e. you couldn’t charge iPods or run portable DVD players. This doesn’t make sense to me — anyone have more details?

Overall, it’s a good idea to check and pack an inverter in your carry-on if you might need power on a long flight — but make sure you don’t have to do the work you’re expecting to do on the plane, because you might have problems.

Email inbox management in a new job (or how I learned to stop worrying and love 5100+ messages)

My blog has been fairly silent over the past several days because in addition to my usual job, I’m spending a lot of time getting things organized. In the past two years, I’ve had a lot going on in both my personal and professional lives, and it was time to take a breath and tie up some loose ends. I decided to join the Getting Things Done (or GTD) cult, so I bought the book last weekend, read it, and starting organizing things based on those general principles. More on my larger GTD experience in a later post — it’s in my “defer” folder (inside GTD geek joke, and not a very funny one at that).

Among many other things, this means cleaning out my e-mail inbox, and it’s a mess. Only 22 weeks into my job at Yahoo!, I’m looking at an inbox with 5100+ e-mails, since I have deleted absolutely nothing since I started — and that leads to the point I want to make about getting organized in a new job. It might be GTD heresy, but in a new job, I think you should let your inbox fill up for the first 4-6 months. You should probably set up a filing system that is just enough to keep you from going insane, but don’t delete anything. Then, 4-6 months later, when you’ve really begun to make sense of your role, the organization, and how it all works, spend a few days churning through that old inbox and doing some filing.

That’s what I’m doing, and I’m finding e-mails on topics that were inscrutable to me in my first couple of months, but are now immensely valuable. I’m finding e-mails from people who I’ve gotten to know, but didn’t know when I received the e-mails. I’m finding informational e-mails from HR and Finance that didn’t make sense when I got them, and now do. I’m finding e-mail threads about projects that were just one in an overall soup of projects, but are now very specifically pertinent to what I’m doing now.

Bottom line: it’s very tempting to walk into a new job with a fresh start and use it as an opportunity to keep your inbox clean and manageable from Day One. Don’t do it. Any job worth having is messy and unclear in the first few months, so embrace the mess and let your inbox fill up without guilt. Just be sure to schedule a massive inbox cleanup 4-6 months into the new gig.

Update: My inbox is now empty. Zero messages in my inbox. That doesn’t mean I’ve followed up on everything, but now I know exactly what to follow up on and I’ve got an absolutely killer filing system in place.

Unix cal command: a key part of my calendaring solution

I noticed both Tim Bray and John Roberts‘ recent ruminations on the perfect calendar solution, and while I don’t have the answer, in thinking about it I realized that I have a quirky calendar-related habit that has stuck with me for over a decade, throughout all my own various experiments with Palm Desktop, Outlook, iCal, etc. On a daily basis, I use the Unix cal command to help schedule my life. I don’t know what I would do without it.

When looking at broad swaths of time (say, a whole year), nothing beats the good ol’ cal command for quickly giving you a lay of the land when you’re making scheduling decisions far in advance (for conferences, vacations, etc.) Just type “cal 2006” and you’ve got the whole year laid out before you:

Of course, the Unix cal command is a read-only environment, so once I determine whether a particular date works for whatever I’m doing, I have to put my commitment on a writeable calendar somewhere — but I still couldn’t do without my cal.

Anyone else out there do this?

Quick review: Plantronics MX150 Headset for Treo 650

Plantronics MX 150 Headset A while back, I asked for recommendations for a Bluetooth headset for the Treo 650 and the consensus from that post and other conversations was to get a wired headset. I happened to be near a Best Buy last night, so I decided to drop in and grab one that looked like it would fit my requirements without doing any research in advance. I grabbed the Plantronics MX150 for $27.99 (not the $44.95 listed on the Plantronics site), hoping that it would fit these criteria:

  • it should fit snugly in my ear, but at the same time, not feel like I’m getting an ear exam from a doctor
  • it should feature something to hold the earpiece onto my ear, but the less something, the better
  • it shouldn’t look too Star Trek-y
  • the volume of the person I’m talking to should be clearly sufficient through the earpiece
  • the person I’m talking shouldn’t notice I’m using a headset

After my first commute making a few phone calls, the verdict is clear — it’s just what I wanted. The earpiece fit nicely, but it didn’t feel like an ear exam. As you can see from the photo, there is a small clip that holds the earpiece to your ear, and it does its job effectively, though it slips slightly if I look over my shoulder (YEMV. . your ear may vary). It’s not too Star Trek-y for my taste. Finally, in a conversation with my mom, I could hear her clearly and she never asked me what was wrong with my phone. If you need a simple and relatively inexpensive wired headset that works with Treo 650, I highly recommend it.

Making built-in Contacts app the default on a Treo 650 with GoodLink

(if you don’t have a Treo 650 with GoodLink software installed, you probably want to skip this post entirely)

When I left InfoWorld recently, I got a very nice send-off and an utterly amazing cake, but as much as I wish the company-issued Treo 650 I had grown to love (after some serious hate) could have been a parting gift, it wasn’t meant to be. The telcom folks there were nice enough to give me an old phone they had in a drawer for a good deal, and I was able to transfer the account into my name and keep the SIM card, thereby keeping the number I have had for a long time. I got my Yahoo! Treo last week, and despite some porting issues, I carried the same number over to it and it’s all working now — except for one thing that was driving me crazy and was a bit delicate to fix (instructions are below). The GoodLink software that hooks the Treo into the company Exchange server links up to the contacts database stored on the Exchange server, and makes it the default contacts app on the Treo.

This matters to me because:

  1. I already had hundreds of contacts in my vanilla Palm contacts database and didn’t really want to sync those up to the Yahoo! Exchange server (stuff like aunts and uncles numbers, my favorite local Chinese take-out place, my friends’ numbers, and bars in SF with good jukeboxes)
  2. The Treo uses caller ID to display a contact’s name on an incoming call if there’s a match in your contact database. I love this feature, but if the GoodLink Address Book is the default, it looks there for a match, and if you don’t have all your contacts on the corporate Exchange server, you get nothing but the number on an incoming call.
  3. All the shortcuts to “Contacts” on the Treo go to the default app, which makes it more difficult to make phone calls easily (since you have to work a bit more to get to the old Contacts app)

On the other hand, the GoodLink Address Book includes a lookup facility for everyone at Yahoo!, including e-mail address, desk phone, and cell phone in some cases, so I didn’t want to wipe that out completely either. I just didn’t want it as the default. After some research, I found a way (and the whole process made me a bit nervous — kind of that same feeling you get when you login as root on a unix box to do something delicate).

First, I recommend that you run a GoodLink backup to your SD card. Open the GoodLink app, go to Preferences in the bottom pane (all the way to the right), select it, choose Backup, then run the backup (you’ll need to know your handheld passcode — ask your administrator. But don’t tell your administrator what you’re doing or you’ll probably get your hand smacked.)

Then, if you don’t already have it, you need to download and install FileZ on your Treo. All this does is give you access to all the files on the Palm OS filesystem. This is a tool that must be used very carefully, since you can move, copy, and delete any files on the Treo, even ones you didn’t know were there.

Next, use FileZ to find the file GoodAddressBookApp.prc on your Treo and select it. Look at the filename you have selected, count to ten, then look at it again to make sure it’s the right one. Then delete it.

After I did this, the built-in Contacts database on my Palm became the default, and I was back to managing my contacts on Palm Desktop and using HotSync as I did before. Even better, the GoodLink contacts database still works, but I have to get to it by going to the GoodLink app, then navigating to it in the bottom pane. No big deal. For some reason, though, the caller ID didn’t seem to work properly until I did a soft reset on the Treo 650. Now incoming calls once again display the name of the caller if they are in my personal contacts database.

Of course, I’m putting this out there because it worked for me, but if you blow up your Treo doing what I described, I won’t really be able to help you. Do this at your own risk.

One last thing: my decision to do this is no knock on GoodLink. It’s an awesome product, and I’m loving it so far. E-mail is pushed to the Treo Blackberry-style, and I can manage my calendar and meeting requests just as easily as I can using Outlook on the desktop. I highly recommend it.

(Some credit: one of the posts by dennisl on TreoCentral got me on the right track.)