A brief history of Psion PDAs

David Potter is the Psion King
David Potter is the Psion King

Clearing through a number of boxes that I hauled down from the attic, I discovered the following brief interview with David Potter, CBE founder of Psion—the former personal digital assistant (PDA) pioneer.

(Unfortunately, I didn’t record which magazine this was taken from or the year. Maybe you recognise it; if so, please leave a comment below and I’ll update this post.)

Horace and the Psioneers…

The history of Psion PDAs is not quite what you’d expect!

How did Psion get started?

In 1980 David Potter started a software development company above an estate agent’s office in North London. He had one employee, Charles Davies.

So they’ve always made handheld computers?

Nope. They made games for the Sinclair Spectrum. The first flight simulator available for the Spectrum was a Psion product. Later they released Horace Goes Skiing, which was part of a huge series of famous Horace games where the eponymous character fought spiders and dodged traffic.

Er, right. When did the first Psion PDA come about then?

Not so fast! Before the term PDA was even coined, Psion produced the Psion Organiser, virtually creating the electronic organiser industry by itself. Launched in 1984 the first Organiser had 8K of memory, could hold around 120 phone numbers, had a non-QWERTY keyboard layout and lasted a week on its AA batteries. Then came the Organiser II in 1986, which had twice the memory and was the first device to use a solid-state “disk drive” for non-volatile storage. Marks and Spencer adopted it for stock control and British Midland used it for its ticketing staff. There was also a brief attempt at a laptop in the shape of the MC400 in 1988. This was used by British Gas sales staff. Psion was floated on the stock market in that year.

Blimey. But how did we get from there to my Series 7?

In 1990, Psion took over Dacom communications and became Psion Dacom. A year later it released the Psion Series 3, which used 16-bit technology, had 128K of memory and a proper QWERTY keyboard layout. It sold one million units in two years! This success was quickly followed by the Psion 3a with 2MB of memory, and the 3c with 4MB. There was also a ruggedised industrial machine called the Psion Workabout that included built-in short range wireless communications.

In 1996 the Series 5 was born. This device has a 32-bit architecture with true multitasking, 16MB of memory and a better keyboard. 1996 also saw the launch of the Siena, which was a smaller machine, the precursor to the Revo. The Revo itself wasn’t launched until last year, along with the 5mx — an improved version of the Series 5 — and then the gorgeous Series 7, which sports a colour screen, laptop keyboard and PC-card slots.

Where’s David Potter now? Sold up and living in Bali?

No, he’s still Chairman of Psion. And Charles Davies is his Development Director. They now have a £160 million turnover and 1,500 employees worldwide.

Why are all the machines odd-numbered?

The jump from 3 to 5 occurred because the number 4 is unlucky in China. Now that Palm have copied this numbering strategy, Psion says it may release a Psion 16 in the future, just to confuse everyone. Nice.

Source: www.mcu.co.uk, page 87

Of course, they didn’t release a Psion 16. Next up was the netBook, which eventually became the netBook CE running the Windows mobile operating system, plus a Revo MX, and then they iterated on the WorkAbout range for business.

I have very fond memories of my Psion machines. They were great.

How to activate cheat codes in Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition on Steam

Voivod the Fighter and Imoen the Thief standing in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near Candlekeep
Voivod the Fighter and Imoen the Thief standing in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near Candlekeep

I’m not a big gamer by any standard. I have quite a few computers games but they mostly fall into five categories:

  1. LEGO games—I love these, as do my three boys.
  2. Call of Duty/Battlefield first person shooters—I only play the story-mode versions on easy level for the cinematic experience.
  3. Story/walking simulator style games (Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, Firewatch).
  4. Multiplayer, party-style games for my children (Screencheat, Sonic All-Stars Racing, Mini Motor Racing Evo).
  5. Baldur’s Gate family Dungeons & Dragons’ role playing games.

Apart from the LEGO games—which are part adventure, part puzzle games—for the most part, I enjoy games for their cinematic and story-telling properties. I want escape and entertainment rather than spending hours building an empire or working out some kind of complex strategy.

Cheat / debug mode

So, for the last few years in Baldur’s Gate (in the few moments that I’ve had a chance to play it) I have activated the cheats (or debug mode). This gives me access to the entire game inventory to equip my character accordingly and a better chance to survive the adventure.

Clue: I have never yet completed Baldur’s Gate, despite owning it since about 1999 (I still own my original copy on five CD-ROMs).

Having just reinstalled my PC, I was disappointed to discover that the old way of activating cheat mode (by editing baldur.ini) had changed. This is how I managed it today (on Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, with OneDrive installed).

  1. Locate the folder at Documents > Baldur’s Gate – Enhanced Edition. On my desktop PC this was in the default Windows 10 Documents folder within OneDrive; on my laptop it is in C:\users\<username>\Documents. It will depend on how your computer was set up.
  2. In a proper text editor (e.g. Sublime Text or Notepad++ or TED Notepad) open the file Baldur.lua.
  3. Add the line SetPrivateProfileString('Program Options','Debug Mode','1').
  4. Save and close the file.

Now when you run the game, you can enter the game console by pressing Ctrl + Spacebar. It looks like this, at the bottom of the screen:

Enter your code then press Enter
Enter your code then press Enter

This allows you to enter codes that generate items, amongst other things. For instance this code allows generates a set of Ankheg Plate Mail armour for your current character:

C:CreateItem("PLAT06")

The older versions of Baldur’s Gate used the code CLUAConsole: but this has now been shortened to a single, uppercase C: followed by a colon.

Here’s how my intrepid fighter character started his adventure in Candlekeep:

Armed to the hilt, this fighter can even take on the Ogre Mage on the way to the Friendly Arm Inn,
Armed to the hilt, this fighter can even take on the Ogre Mage on the way to the Friendly Arm Inn,

Download the cheat codes

Feel free to download my full list of cheat codes, arranged by type (clothing, jewellery, weapons, magic, and miscellaneous).

You can look up what each item is on the Baldur’s Gate Wiki.

Baldur’s Gate EE cheat codes (DOCX, 30 KB)

Updated

2017-04-17 Updated the location of Baldur.lua as it was in two different locations on two PCs running Windows 10. It depends, I guess, on whether Windows 10 is told to use OneDrive as the default save location.

Time for some PC forgiveness

Blue screen of death parody
Not a real blue screen of death (BSOD) but I’ve seen too many worrying ones this week.

It never rains but it pours, so the saying goes. On top of a chest, throat and ear infection and general exhaustion (more on that, perhaps, in a future post) my desktop PC has now started to play up. It’s time for some PC ‘forgiveness’, reformat the C drive and start again.

With most other versions of Windows that I’ve used (98 second edition, XP, 7, 8 and 8.1) I have performed a full ‘factory reset’, a clean install of Windows, every nine to twelve months.

For me though, Windows 10 has been the most stable version of Windows to date—at least, this side of Windows 3.11 for Workgroups. I have had very few issues with it, and until last week very few blue screens of death: fatal system error messages that suddenly bring your workflow to a crashing halt.

Backup

So, when my PC started acting up a few weeks back I reached for both my trusty Trello board that documents for me what software I have installed, what order things need to be installed, and notes about any installation woes, and my external hard drive to check that everything was backed up okay.

Then my external hard drive died.

Over the last three or more years I’ve been running a nightly back-up, using SecondCopy, to a Seagate Backup Plus drive (1TB USB 3.0).

I have extracted the 3.5″ SATA hard drive from the enclosure to check if the drive itself has failed or just the power supply. But in the meantime I ordered myself a Seagate Backup Plus Slim portable drive (2TB USB 3.0) and have spent the weekend progressively backing up everything: drivers, application files, game progressive backups, music, videos and photos.

As I write this, I’m currently virus-scanning the backup on my laptop to ensure data integrity.

Once that is done I can start the reinstall.

Reinstall

Here’s my general order of doing things:

  1. Reformat the hard drive(s).
  2. Install Windows 10.
  3. Motherboard drivers (including chipset driver, Intel management engine interface, network card, and diagnostic tools).
  4. Graphics card drivers.
  5. Windows 10 updates.
  6. Google Chrome.
  7. .NET Framework.
  8. Soundcard drivers.
  9. Keyboard drivers.
  10. Mouse drivers.
  11. Webcam drivers.
  12. Scanner drivers.
  13. Laser printer drivers.
  14. Gamepad drivers.
  15. Install software…

I generally start with a few system tools and accessories before moving on to the bigger guns like office applications and graphics, multimedia, web development, and lastly games.

Essential tweaks

Over the years I’ve learned a lot from Koroush Ghazi’s TweakGuides tweaking companion documents. But Windows 10 is the most complete Windows operating system that I’ve used to date. I now have to make very few, if any, tweaks at all.

I still rely on the following applications to give me additional functionality:

  • Agent Ransack
    I use this instead of the default Windows search. It’s much faster and more configurable.
  • allSnap
    This makes windows snap together and to the edge of the screen, as though they are magnetic.
  • f.lux
    F.lux adjusts the colour of my monitor depending on the time of day. It helps me sleep better at night by reducing the blue light in the evening, which is what keeps you awake.
  • Pixel Ruler
    This allows you to measure stuff on your screen, in pixels.
  • PrintFolder Pro (paid)
    This allows me to list folders within a directory. It can be really useful.
  • PureText
    This converts any text on the clipboard to plain text, removing all formatting. It’s the quick equivalent to pasting something into Notepad, then selecting all and copying it back to the clipboard.
  • TED Notepad
    This is my Notepad replacement of choice. It has some really nice features like sorting, case changing, trimming spaces, etc.
  • TreeSize Free
    This is really useful for checking the size of directories, say for backing up or pre-zipping.
  • WinSplit Revolution
    This has been discontinued, but I still use the old version. It allows me to quickly move windows around my desktop, for example, align two windows side-by-side, or one to be one-third and the other two-thirds.

I’ll see you on the other side (unless I blog before then from my laptop).

Using TreeSize Free to increase disk space

A couple of days ago, when I switched on my PC and opened My Computer I was presented with a bright red drive tile icon, indicating that it was running short of free disk space.

Drive C is red and reports 10.0 GB of 111 GB free
Drive C isn’t looking very healthy

I was puzzled as I had only recently run CCleaner to collect unused files, old browser caches, un-required file settings and bin them all. I was sure that I had over 13 GB of free space.

TreeSize Free

I turned to TreeSize Free to help me identify what was taking up so much space. I first blogged about TreeSize Free in 2011 in a post called My top free Windows 7 add-ons.

Once installed, all you do is right-click a folder (or drive), select TreeSize Free from the context menu and after running for a moment the application will tell you how large that folder and all its sub-folders are.

This is what it looks like.

Screenshot of TreeSize
TreeSize shows me that I have 5.4 GB of music in the Amazon Music directory

What I learned the other day was that four items were taking up the most space:

  • Podcasts (14.8 GB)
  • Amazon Music (5.3 GB)
  • XAMPP Apache server (2.9 GB)
  • Adobe CS4 applications (2.7 GB)

I deleted the podcasts and music—I keep the music I listen to on another drive, this is simply where I download them after purchase.

Then I uninstalled Adobe and XAMPP, and reinstalled them on a larger drive.

Now I have a much more healthy 36.0 GB of free drive space.

Drive C now shows 36 GB free
That looks more healthy

If you are in a similar situation, I thoroughly recommend TreeSize Free. As they say: if you don’t measure it, you can’t control it.

Microsoft Excel save dialog… what on earth?!

Every time I have to save a document in Microsoft Excel and I’m presented with this drop-down list of available file types I cry a little inside.

I often use Excel to create files of events to bulk import into Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar or The Events Calendar (WordPress plugin). And each time I need to convert from the default Excel Workbook (*.xlsx) format to CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) format I cringe when I see this mess of a list.

Excel save dialog showing file types not in alphabetical order
Whose idea was this listing?!

I find it hard to believe that this order has been the result of extensive user-testing.

Would it be too much to ask for an alphabetical list?

I mean, sure, put the default Excel format at the top, but then list everything else alphabetically. That would work for me, and I’m sure lots of other users too.

Current list

This is the list as it currently looks. I can appreciate that the most commonly used formats are near the top (Excel, old Excel and XML) but after that… where is the logic?

Try quickly finding CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) in this list.

  • Excel Workbook (*.xslx)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm)
  • Excel Binary Workbook (*.xlsb)
  • Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls)
  • XML Data (*.xml)
  • Single File Web Page (*.mht, *.mhtml)
  • Web Page (*.htm, *.html)
  • Excel Template (*.xltx)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Template (*.xltm)
  • Excel 97-2003 Template (*.xlt)
  • Text (Tab delimited) (*.txt)
  • Unicode Text (*.txt)
  • XML Spreadsheet 2003 (*.xml)
  • Microsoft Excel 5.0/95 Workbook (*.xls)
  • CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv)
  • Formatted text (Space delimited) (*.prn)
  • Text (Macintosh) (*.txt)
  • Text (MS-DOS) (*.txt)
  • CSV (Macintosh) (*.csv)
  • CSV (MS-DOS) (*.csv)
  • DIF (Data Interchange Format) (*.diff)
  • SYLK (Symbolic Link) (*slk)
  • Excel Add-in (*xlam)
  • Excel 97-2003 Add-in (*.xla)
  • PDF (*.pdf)
  • XPS Document (*.xps)
  • Strict Open XML Spreadsheet (*.xlsx)
  • OpenDocument Spreadsheet (*.ods)

More user-friendly list

This order would make much more sense to my mind. The default Excel format is at the top, to make it easier to find, but after that everything else is in alphabetical order. I’ve also removed the “Microsoft” prefix from Excel 5.0/95 as it’s the only Excel format that includes it.

Now try finding CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) in this list.

  • Excel Workbook (*.xslx)
  • CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv)
  • CSV (MS-DOS) (*.csv)
  • CSV (Macintosh) (*.csv)
  • DIF (Data Interchange Format) (*.diff)
  • Excel 5.0/95 Workbook (*.xls)
  • Excel 97-2003 Add-in (*.xla)
  • Excel 97-2003 Template (*.xlt)
  • Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls)
  • Excel Add-in (*xlam)
  • Excel Binary Workbook (*.xlsb)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Template (*.xltm)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm)
  • Excel Template (*.xltx)
  • Formatted text (Space delimited) (*.prn)
  • OpenDocument Spreadsheet (*.ods)
  • PDF (*.pdf)
  • SYLK (Symbolic Link) (*slk)
  • Single File Web Page (*.mht, *.mhtml)
  • Strict Open XML Spreadsheet (*.xlsx)
  • Text (MS-DOS) (*.txt)
  • Text (Macintosh) (*.txt)
  • Text (Tab delimited) (*.txt)
  • Unicode Text (*.txt)
  • Web Page (*.htm, *.html)
  • XML Data (*.xml)
  • XML Spreadsheet 2003 (*.xml)
  • XPS Document (*.xps)

Now, isn’t that easier to use? Microsoft… please make this a thing.