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Once upon a time: A lonesome Psion LZ in China - 1987

by Boris Michael von Luhovoy (publishing editor, Palmtop-Pro magazine)
translated from german by babelfish & Boris Cornet

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China was really unstable when the era of the red brigades had come to an end. The communist party was in a painful internal consolidation process, the 'gang of four' and parts of the red brigades were before court while other parts were directing the courts. About that time I got the job to examine several cargos of Chinese cotton to autorise the dispatch.

To receive a visa under these difficult circumstances required a direct agreement of the central committee in Beijing at that time. But it turned out quickly that the concerns the foreign media had about China were only designed ones.

There were no non-stop flights from Europe to the Far East yet. So my itinerary led across Anchorage/Alaska and the north pole to Beijing. From there I continued partly by train, partly several days on a former British gunboat up the Yangtse. I had suspected beforehand that heavy luggage would be hindering on this long winded journey so I left the large batch of manuals at home. In my suit-cases were only the most necessary documents and as a substitute a Psion Organizer II.

The Psion Organizer II was and is an uncommonly durable small computer, which is capable of all the essential things a person may need, although this sometimes gets a little bit intricate because of the small display. It has an unlighted black/white display, two slots for memory or program packs and a RS232 port on top. The Organizer runs almost eternally with a single 9 volt battery. It comes along in an unobstrusive combination of industrial plastic and metal, probably indestructible in this world. It is equipped with all important applications, or better said, all applications which were considered important in the pre-internet era: database, calculator, appointment calendar with alarm function, clock with stop and timer function, notepad and further usefulnesses. Particularly useful is OPL, the "Organizer Programming Language" developed by the Psion founder David Potter. It is enabling everyone to adapt the Organizer for its specific purposes. I have used it in order to program the standard routines for the statistical analysis of the investigations in China and further special programs.

At my visit to the cotton research institute I was led into a hypermodern laboratory, which was equipped with the most expensive and best laboratory measuring instruments of the swiss company Uster. To my surprise an attractive, unbelievably pretty Chinese woman welcomed me as laboratory chief - in perfect Swiss German, which she had learned during her training at Uster's. Directly behind her a threatening armada of mathematicians, statisticians and cotton experts emerged, with whom I was to determine the qualities of the cotton which was to be shipped.

We took our samples together, determined the values at the laboratory instruments and then started the calculations. I used my Psion, the Chinese used an abacus - no joke! We sat face to face like poker gamblers, at least 30 sound experts on one side and me on the other side - everyone with their notes at hand. I uncovered my results first, which was not very intelligent, because our results diverged. Not for much, but the results were obviously not congruent.

Because I knew that I could trust the computing arts of my Psion and the OPL programs, the error was probably with my vis-a-vis. A tricky situation. It is more important to save the face of the opposite in China than to insist on being right. Thus a good solution had to be found. So I showed and explained the crucial OPL program to my partners. Together we developed an insignificant modification, which produced the same results as before, but the Chinese had been able to save face by removing the "error" on the computer of the "long nose". In consequence they recognized our "internationally compiled program" as valid for the entire procedures.

This exemplary occurence shows: The first PDAs have been shrunken but still genuine "computers" in a mobilely manageable format. They did what they were designed for - they helped the user to become more effective and were useful tools in many situations of life due to their individual configurableness. Not for 2, 4 or 10 hours, but for weeks with only one battery. Additionally the Organizer II would also have served to drive nails into wood...

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The remainder of the article is a tartly discussion of the present developments at the handheld market ("play & pay", Psions implosion in a "furious fireworks of marketing impotence", the "lemmingly copied shape of the Palm",...). The full article (in german) may be read in the may issue of the Palm Top magazine (release date May 7, 2002) or here (german, some pictures)

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