March 03, 2003

Last year in May my wife gave me a new Palm m515 handheld computer. This replaced my previous Vx handheld which I had purchased used from eBay. I use this handheld everyday and carry it with me everywhere. About one week after I got it the USB cradle stopped working. I called Palm Technical Support and they mailed me a new cradle. When it arrived it didn't work either. By this time I had purchased a serial cradle that worked fine so I just tossed the two USB cradles into my junk drawer and forgot about them.

With the acquisition of my Powerbook G4 and subsequent switch to Macintosh computers I needed a working USB cradle to continue to synchronize my handheld ~ the laptop only has USB and FireWire ports. So I called Palm again and this time they sent me a Backup/Restore chip that also had software embedded to fix the synching problem. I followed the directions and backed up my handheld to the chip and then ran the reset process. This takes 8 hours, and requires a 2 hour charge afterwards. The next day my Palm once again worked when I tried to synchronize it using the USB cradle.

However within a week or so it had stopped working. I decided that one of the cradles must be bad and when I used it I was causing the problem to reoccur. So I ran the 10-hour reset process again and tried synchronizing with my cradle at work. It worked fine. Repeated synchronizations also worked. So I decided the cradle at home was the problem and only used it for charging.

Another week or so went by and once again the Palm refused to connect using the 'good' USB cradle. So I tried the other one, still no luck. I called Palm again and this time they explained what the problem was: static electricity. It seems that the chip in the Palm that handles the USB connection is somewhat sensitive to static electricity buildup. Once a certain threshold is reached it no longer works. The rest of the Palm circuitry is fine; everything else I used the Palm for worked, I just couldn't synchronize it. In talking to the technical support guy I mentioned that I carry it in my coat or pants pocket. The movement of the metal chassis of the Palm against the fabric of these two pockets is enough, it seems, to generate a small static electricity charge. Enough to block the USB chip from working.

Once again I ran the reset process and now I am able to synchronize the m515 from either USB cradle. I have ordered a hard shell carry case from Palm to house my Palm in when it is riding in a pocket. In the meantime I rescued an old 'static shield bag' that a laptop hard drive had arrived in and I am using it when I carry the Palm in my pocket.

You'd think they would be able to shield the chip from the static electricity. But I guess there is more money to be made selling static electricity proof cases than in correcting what appears to be a design flaw.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.