Looking for a Wi-Fi-capable, ~30MHz, preferably Linux-compatible pocketable device

Discussion in 'Linux Hardware' started by i336_, Nov 22, 2013.

  1. i336_

    i336_ New Member

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    Hi everyone.

    I am very sensitive to electromagnetic and radiofrequency radiation and most electronic/"computerey" devices stress my nerves out, tend to make me angry/combative and leave me unreasonably tired all the time, and for this reason I sadly can't really use computers and the like on a long-term/consistent basis (despite my interest in and aptitude for technology in general) if I want to avoid these issues, which are irritatingly consistent in their occurance.

    This has been a big problem for me for some time particularly with regard to communication: I've frequently needed to be able to communicate ad-hoc with my family when they and/or I need to split up for whatever reason, but because of my sensitivity, even a basic cell phone would not work for me long-term to the fact that the cellular radio network is by design "always on" and thus always transceiving (see very end of post for more details). This issue has had me scratching my head for a few years now, a little while ago I came up with a possible solution.

    About a year ago I found an Ericsson Mobile Companion PDA-type device in an op-shop, and grabbed it thinking I might find it of historical interest at some future point in time when I might be "fixed", fully expecting it to tire me out (or worse) if I tinkered with it. Happily, though, as I tentatively then more confidently used it for longer and longer, I was surprised to find I suffered no ill effects as a result of using it. (Note that the device incorporates a web browser and email program, but actual radio connectivity was originally accomplished via an IrDA connection to a compatible cell phone.)

    As one of the first "computerey" devices I think I can actually use on a consistent basis without problems and which does not seem to fatigue my nervous system, which is abnormally sensitive to practically everything electronic for some as yet unfortunately unknown reason, this PDA has opened up a world of possibility to me. It may not surprise you to hear that I actually typed this post on it... but I had to transfer it to a PC via a CompactFlash card in order to actually post it. Wi-Fi connectivity, which I know from experience I am okay with for very short intervals, would be a real boon to have: I not only wouldn't need a full computer to be able to browse the Web, but most importantly, I'd be able to employ the growing myriad of free Wi-Fi hotspots in urban centres to connect to some kind of chat or communication system. This idea might sound like something insignificant in this day and age, but it would be revolutionary for me.

    Sadly, however, I have one major concern about my MC218 which leaves me very reluctant to try and get Wi-Fi working on it (although I *probably* could find a way, thanks to the fact that it seems to run Linux (2.4) reasonably well): durability. This PDA is almost freakishly delicate. I read shortly after finding it that the LCD ribbon cable on the Psion Series 5 (which the MC218 is a licened clone of) - which is is flexed every open/close cycle - has an artifiially limited lifespan due to a silly manufacturing design decision, and since I've no idea if I'm susceptible I try to leave the lid/screen open whenever I can, and I am particularly careful with the device in general, but despite these efforts - and the fact that this device was actually in practically as-new condition when I found it - over the few months I've had it, the case, which is made of very solid-looking but thin, brittle plastic, has cracked in about 5 or so places, the most disasterous being the entire screen-hinge-foldback mechanism (which I managed to fix with thin wire hidden inside the chassis, so thankfully I can still close the lid perfectly if I need to), and the DC power input socket (thankfully it has one!) has recently started to play up as well (I think it's at the beginning stages of coming unsoldered :(). I guess this is to be expected of a 13 year old device though. :p

    So with fixes in tow, this PDA is still puttering along, but I'm on a (slightly urgent!) quest to find PDA 2.0, something as electronically identical as possible to my current device but with a slightly tougher, more rugged design and which I can *somehow* cram Wi-Fi connectivity into, if it's not already on board. Additionally, it needs to be self-contained enough that I don't need a computer (or a perpetual Wi-Fi connection to one - I did say "short intervals" before, meaning a few minutes or so) to maintain the device and (of paramount importance!) write apps for it like I can with the BASIC-like OPL programming environment on my current PDA (which is IMHO its awesomest feature and star attraction). Ideally this would be an on-device C compiler....I can hope (and I really do). :)

    I've done some digging to see what's out there that might fit, but Google isn't particularly good at abstract/horizontal/categorical searches like "find really slow devices that have had Linux - or something just as relevant and flexible - hacked onto them regardless of what OS they officially run" (or shortened search phraseology thereof), and so far I have been presented with PDAs and gadgets which are ~70MHz but only run Linux 2.3 and are highly likely incapable of having Wi-Fi added; run Linux 2.6 and are freakishly obsessed with 300MHz+ CPUs (meep), color screens (meh) and some form of accelerated graphics processing (nooooo); or which are 75MHz, run Linux 2.4 and incorporate Wi-Fi but only work (driver-wise) with a commercial Linux environment (ack!) and which would be particularly fruity to hack a touchscreen and battery onto. *Give up* *Formulate post* *Locate likely-looking forums* *Submit* :p

    I've also found that most of the things I've seen which I did consider for a moment or two often don't seem exist anymore or are inaccessible to buy today. Thus, I'm particularly interested to hear from people who remember and/or have experience with specific, obscure/unorthodox/out-of-the-way, not-so-simple-to-find devices which might work out for my requirements. In other words, I want to hack something together. :p

    So... my current PDA's specs, and PDA 2.0's requirements:
    • CPU: this MC218 is powered by a 36.864MHz - yes, I just said 36MHz - ARM710T (arm4vl class) CPU, and my next PDA cannot be much faster than that - I'm thinking 60MHz, tops. Yeeah. :p
    • RAM: I currently have 16MB of RAM to play with which continually dukes it out with an interna OS-juggled RAMdisk. I'd like 32MB at least for my next device, and ideally 48MB+ which would let me start thinking about basic on-device C compilation, but I draw the line at 8MB-16MB.
    • Storage: Despite the fact that it would have probably cost $80,000 at the time, this PDA actually works absolutely fine with the 2GB CompactFlash card I tentatively bought for it (!). Thus, I'm currently comfortable (well, sorta) with 2GB of storage, but at the very least I need 256-512MB for user data (ie, not counting OS storage requirements), considering I can probably store/archive/access most everything else I'll need using Wi-Fi.
    • LCD: I currently have a backlit, touchscreen, monochrome LCD to poke at and play with, which the ARM710T directly drives, GPUlessly, in either 4- (typically) or (at most) 16-greyscale mode. I would very much like a backlight in PDA 2.0, and I am neutral on whether it is monochrome or color, but... (see next)
    • GPU: The device cannot have a GPU in it, since I've found myself to be particularly sensitive to these on multiple occasions. No exceptions.
    • RTC: An onboard RTC is vital so the device can (with the obvious exception of the RTC) sit completely in standby/sleep mode - the only state in which I'll accept having it in my pocket long-term - and periodically wake up every 20-45 minutes to check for new messages. My current PDA also has "instant-on": both Symbian EPOC 1.05 (its native OS) and Linux "wake up" when I press the On key to whatever I was looking at when I put the device to sleep, and this would be a nice (and very practical) finishing touch to RTC wakeup, and make the message-check process much quicker too.
    • Keyboard: I love the keyboard on my current MC218, despite the fact that to type this sentence correctly I had to press Backspace approximately 12 times. I think a keyboard would be nice, particularly since PDA 2.0 will justify its place in the budget as a communication facilitator, but a physical keyboard is... not *totally* essential :/ (But it will of course need a touchscreen if it has no keyboard!)
    • Wi-Fi: 802.11a APs are already few and far between, and -b and -g will eventually disappear as well as more and more 802.11n- and -ac-only units come online. Ideally I want to be compatible with everything - especially -ac since I then won't have to worry about upgrading for years, if it should come to that - but I draw the line at at least b and g, and preferably b, g and n.
    • Alerts/notifications: Some kind of audial and/or vibrating alert mechanism is *slightly* neccessary so I know when new messages come in (!), but it doesn't have to be fancy: a single-tone beeper would suffice at the very (funky) minimum, although something capable of (even basic) PCM playback would definitely be a plus.
    • Battery (life): If I hadn't built a little (linear - no SMPS for me!) 6V PSU for this PDA, I'd have gone insane eons ago with how it chews through a standard pair of AA batteries in around ~20 hours (I use it continually continually xD). Rechargeable battery(s) would be very nice, but aren't totally necessary.
    See my problem? :p

    This is by far one of the trickiest, most difficult questions I've ever asked on/of a forum, and while I have absolutely nooo idea what you'll all come up with, I'm open-minded, and am certainly looking forward to your responses and ideas.

    I'm not beyond building this device myself, but it does still need to be able to fit in my pocket ;)

    Due to the fact that I don't have this device right now I won't be able to check this thread particularly frequently (catch 22!), although I will try to poke my head in at most a week or so from now.


    -i336

    PS for anyone who might raise the issue of cellular radiation vs. Wi-Fi radiation:

    From an RF testing perspective, AFAIK most tests measure Wi-Fi radiation at a few meters, and cell radiation (from the tower, not the phone!) quite a bit further away, so of course the cellular radiation levels in such tests always measure lower. Just what I've heard.
    At the end of the day, a cellular solution would *probably* actually work out okay from a RF sensitivity perspective, since the RF bursts would be intermittent and very short (a few seconds every 30-45min. or so).

    My real problem is this: the average "basic" cell phone is built such that that the cell radio and its associated microcontroller(s) can notify the phone's main CPU of incoming calls at any time, and also so that keypad actions will wake the screen up instantly. As such, it would be completely irrelevant for a phone CPU to go to "sleep" in the way I've talked about in this post, so no phone firmware would incorporate the capability. Also note that the CPU in a basic cell phone is I think nearly 100MHz. Furthermore, only the newest, fanciest 400MHz+ CPUs provide the "oomph" neccessary for sufficient on-device functionality to justify a software cell-module off-switch. Thus, the only type of cellular solution I'd be able to use - one I could completely switch off - would likely be some kind of geometrically overgrown slow-as-molasses serial-to-cellular GPRS modem module type thing, and this would very much be a last resort because it would not only be so insanely slow (Wi-Fi is very attractive in this regard! ~54Mbps+ vs. ~25kbps? Ha!), in this 4G-obssessed day and age it would be nigh impossible to find a cost-effective data plan for it - I'm aware that telcos offer obscure yearly-prepaid plans for miniscule amounts of data or SMS transfer, but I'd also want to use the wireless link for occasional web browsing and data synchronization, which would not only crawl with GPRS, but it would boot me out of the "minimal data transfer" category, my only recourse being to pay for a 3G SIM card with a data cap I'd never be technologically capable of fulfilling (a lot of mobile plans specify "no continuous downloading", which would be my first requirement if I were to try and fill out a 100MB limit at 20kbps). In other words: circumstancially speaking, it would never work out. :p And Wi-Fi is freee :D
    DevynCJohnson likes this.
  2. Machin Shin

    Machin Shin Member

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    Having read through your description of the problem I wonder if I might suggest a solution going in a totally different direction. Your focus seems to be on keeping radiation to minimum by keeping with really low power device.

    My suggestion is to instead look into use of something like a faraday cage. You should in theory at least be able to take a more high powered device and just wrap it in a case built to block the radiation that bothers you.

    It is kind of hard to say how to best go about this though without knowing what things seem to bother you and what doesn't. If for example you know that LCD screens are fine then you could get a raspberry pi and shield it in a lead box having just cables come out for monitor and peripherals. With a bit of work that could be built into portable platform.

    The advantage of this though is that you could possibly even shield a full size desktop.... In fact I feel confident that with a bit of effort it should be possible for you to build a full powered desktop that does not bother you.
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  3. i336_

    i336_ New Member

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    Hi :)

    Heh, I've actually crossposted this message onto a few forums; I find it extremely interesting that every single response so far has been EMR-sensitivity related.

    Some facts to get an idea of what this sensitivity means:

    - It all started when I got a secondhand PS/2 in 2009. After using it for a couple of days I felt adrenally "dead". That's the best way I can put it. I was almost completely emotionless, the mental equivalent of a Windows BSOD caused by insufficient system resources; "nothing left; must halt." Not an emotional "oh-I-can't-take-it-anymore" must-die thing, just a nothing nothing left sense of drainedness. No. Not fun. Not going there again. =P

    - Prior to the PS/2, which "toppled me over", I had insomnia so bad I was going to bed an hour before the night/day before. I have previewed all possible shift-worker sleep options. :p I was also behaviorally very stubborn, felt that my capacity to learn/"keep up"/stay mentally focused was a dead piece of chewing gum, and I was chronically fatigued and perpetually depressed. The PS/2 basically showed me that all this actually *could* get ten times worse... to the extent that I've not used a computer seriously for the past 5 years - and have been insomnia- and chronic-fatigue-free since getting off computers. I was able to use this 800MHz Duron for a few months from the start of 2013, but beyond that, my PDA has pretty much been it for me.

    - Not blaming anybody (it was a great test!), but a DVD player was accidentally left on overnight recently. *Next morning* "Hey, the power button's in..!!" *Some time later* "OH THAT MIGHT BE WHY I COULDN'T SLEEP LAST NIGHT" and I felt depressed and unable to think clearly that day.

    - When I got a set-top box in 2009 as an experiment I happily set it up and queued half the EPG (it had a little HDD inside). It got left on overnight (some of the programs came on at 2AM and 6AM) and after coming home from going out the following day I was so distressed by its electromagnetic presence that I proceeded to manually delete each show one by one, for the very reason that I didn't want to do that, and that I wanted to keep them. This is an example of the annoying "combativeness" distress response that EMR generates.

    - I recently tried listening to my iriver S10 (through speakers), one of the smallest MP3 players in the world. I was quite irritable for a day or so afterwards. :/

    - The Australian analogue TV signal will be cut on December 3rd of this year, in two weeks or so. That is when I - and sadly the rest of my family - will stop watching analogue TV. I seem to be fine with analogue CRT TVs, but as stated above, STBs are a nightmare.

    - The Casio CFX9850GB+ scientific calculator uses a 4MHz ZX933 CPU and a tri-color (blue/orange/green) 3-layer LCD. I **seem** (!!) to be okay with it at the moment, but when I used it a few months ago I was only able to use it for a few days or my brain would start to become so spaced out I would not be capable of really engaging in anything. I remember going on a bus ride home after having used it for a while and feeling like if I was going to talk, I'd say something inappropriate - not "bad attitude" inappropriate, but self-conscious/"out of place" inappropriate. I've since learned that the front of the brain controls speech and the appropriateness of our conversation, based on context; ie, it's on overdrive at formal functions, but reasonably relaxed around friends and family. Thus this shows that my communications with this area of the brain was somehow impacted. I also found myself visually perceiving some kind of "flopping" sensation in front of my eyes after using the calculator for a time; I didn't "see" an object as such, but rather percieved it as a visual sensation, that something was physically up with my eyes. I'm using an LCD screen at the moment though, albeit with a CRT screen glare protector on the front (which looks hilarious but means my eyes don't feel like they've swallowed a hive of bees after I've used the computer for a while).

    I started thinking about faraday cages weeks or at most months after behing hit wit this sensitivity in 2009. I concluded that because cables would need to come out of the cage, the effect would be neutralized.

    In addition, sound or images radiated out of the cage also fall within the electromagnetic spectrum and I think these can be "entrained" with the frequencies from the rest of the equipment/setup, and this would thus be exported and radiated too. I think I'm sensitive to this kind of radiation also, although I'm not sure (if it even exists).

    In short, my PDA is quite (!) simple, but one of the first things I've found that really actually does seem to work out for me. I say seem; I'm half-waiting for the day I start feeling tired from using this PDA, and that won't be a nice day. I think EMR makes my nervous system go ballistic; half becomes fatigued, the other half goes hyper. The two duke it out for a time, like an air conditioner sat next to a heater. Eventually, in the same way the proverbial homeowner encounters the resulting energy bill, my nervous system finally gets fed up, shuts down, and I start going wobbly. The first thing to go is my behavior; I have a curious tendency to beeline the most argumentative or contentious aspect to a communication or conversation, and I fuel it. It's weird. Then, depending on the frequency/amplitude/whatever-else-it-is-that-I-don't-like, I either get angry (as with iPads, their insanely huge graphics buffers/processing DSPs make me want to go find some sledgehammers and walls to throw the sledgehammers at), sad or tired, or some combination.

    I *am* open-minded, but... *wrinkles face* yea. Bit problematic. =P

    -i336
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
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  4. Machin Shin

    Machin Shin Member

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    That does seem to be a very strange problem as to what will and wont bother you. What you appear to be using now though is what they used to call "palmtops". I remember when I was a kid wanting to get my hands on one but at the time they were unbelievably expensive. Somewhere along the way everyone lost interest and they quit making them.

    Good news is though, a search on ebay for "palmtop" will quickly bring up a large selection of devices like you are looking for. They are small computers with very little power and they now seem to be selling for $50USD to around $300 depending on model and condition. I will toss a link or two below.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Very-Rare-I...tage_Computers_Mainframes&hash=item41798ca859
  5. i336_

    i336_ New Member

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    Thanks for that info. Even though that particular device only uses a 33MHz CPU, I've found that laptops can pack sufficiently enough hardware (in the rest of the chipset, the internal power supply, etc) to be a little irritating. Not as much as an iPad or an octocore i7, but enough for me not to be able to use it consistently. My very basic ARM-based Ericsson MC218 PDA, would seem to be electromagnetically "quiet" enough to be okay long-term.

    Besides this issue, um, I can't fit that in my pocket :p, but the other devices listed are interesting possibilities. Thanks for the info!

    I've been having a some interesting conversation over in these three threads on the Brighthand forums about using a 33MHz Palm device for what I need, although I'm not totally sure if the Palm OS will work for my requirements at the software level.

    Any other suggestions appreciated, and thanks for reading :)

    -i336
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2013
  6. DevynCJohnson

    DevynCJohnson Well-Known Member Staff Member Staff Writer

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    The emotionless feeling you described is called euthymia - a neutral emotion.

    If you were to buy a computer directly from Dell, can they offer some special feature to block the radiation?
  7. husnalb

    husnalb New Member

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    I would love to answer your question, but for that I would like someone to answer my question:

    Is there a device or a HDD in which a person can store an OS *and* there data. I should be able to plug the device in on any computer or laptop and I should have my personal desktop.

    I need a quick answer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  8. arochester

    arochester Well-Known Member

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    @husnalb

    - http://www.linux.org/threads/basic-forum-courtesy-rules-to-follow-for-all-forum-users.4688/

    Yes, it is possible to install to a pendrive or HDD and to boot from that. See e.g.
    http://sparkylinux.org/sparkylinux-full-usb-stick-installation/
    http://www.pendrivelinux.com/usb-suse-installation-from-linux/
    http://www.pendrivelinux.com/installing-ubuntu-to-a-usb-hard-drive/

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