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The Smallest Alicebot

January, 2005

The A. I. Foundation acquired a new computer, the Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000. The Zaurus is either the world's smallest notebook computer or the world's most powerful PDA. Pictured here

next to the Foundation's "mainframe" HP Pavilion notebook, the Zaurus C3000. One marketing angle is, "The only PDA on the market with a built-in HDD". But with a pre-installed Lineo Systems Linux OS built on the 2.4.20 kernel, 64MB RAM, a 416mhz processor, 4GB hard drive and a full qwerty keyboard, that makes it more like the smallest Linux notebook on the market.

We don't have the ALICE A. I. program running on there yet. But there is plenty of power and room for just about any version of the free AIML software. You can open up a shell console and run commands from a bash prompt.

Hooking up the USB cable and transferring files between the Zaurus and our "mainframe" did not require a Ph.D. in computer science. Reading the installation directions on the accompanying CD Roms may require a Ph.D. in Japanese (see below) however. The Zaurus has software to open word documents, spreadsheets, image files and MP3's. Some people say it looks like and iPod when it's closed.

Yes, you can get online. There is pre-installed web browser. We bought the optional CF-slot 802.11g wireless networking card. The CF card was the only thing not working out of the box, and it was a drag. Why is wireless not built it? Well, for one thing, the Zaurus C3000 is not available in the United States. It is a Japanese computer imported by a business in Chicago that specializes in the leading edge Japanese consumer electronics we can't obtain from CompUSA, Wal-Mart, or Circuit City.

Dynamism carries a lot of cool products besides the Zaurus C3000. Check out this ultra-thin Sony 5 megapixel digital camera . Does everyone know ALICE's tenth birthday is November 23, 2005?

The OS has been tweaked to make it "97%" English. But it still helps to know a little katakana. You have to figure out which key on the keyboard alternates the input mode from English to Japanese, and the key is labeled in Kanji only. "97%" of the rest of the keyboard is in English.

Back to the wireless problem. It seems that there are more wireless options available to the Japanese consumer than to us image conscious Americans, so they leave the architecture open. The 802.11g card we got first was a Lynksys CF card from Cisco Systems, like a PCMCIA card only smaller, and it doesn't seem to work. The first thing I tried was inserting the CF card into the C3000 CF, "just to see what would happen", even though I wasn't around a wireless network (not counting the neighbor's, that would be stealing, even though he leaves it wide open).

It seemed odd to me that neither of the two LED's marked "Line" or "Power" came on or blinked. On the "mainframe" we use a PCMCIA card for wireless, and there is usually some LED activity even when there is no network around. Much of the rest of the day was spent at Starbucks, with both machines, signing up for a T-Mobile wireless plan I didn't really want, trying to debug the CF wireless card. The made-in-USA Linksys package came with an install CD Rom but that didn't seem to help because the MS software is looking for a Palm OS or a MS product on the receiving end, not Linux. Anyway I didn't think that was what the the problem was. It seemed like either a broken CF card, a device driver problem in Linux, or worst case scenario a hardware problem with the C3000, in which case we could ship it back to Chicago. But who would want to part with this work of beauty? I was headed out on a lengthy road trip so an immediate return of the merchandise was not in the cards.

After I wrote the first draft of this review, the Dynamism sales office called my cell phone to say, sorry they don't support that version of the CF wireless card. They would be happy to send me a replacement 802.11b card and refund the difference. Because I was on the road and 3000 miles away, I asked them whether I could just drop in Circuit City and buy a compatible 802.11b card. The sales guy seemed pretty sure I could, and offered to reimburse the full price of the 802.11g card. I said I would hang on to it and get back to him, because in the meantime something else had come up.

But first, let me jump ahead and say that for about half the price of the first card, I was able to buy an Ambicom 802.11b wireless CF card and had it working within minutes at a nearby Starbucks. At last, the A. I. Foundation was on the web with the littlest Alicebot. Well, not quite ALICE on the web, we were only a client, not a server. But at least all the hardware was working.

The "something else" was that we found out that some of the offices we use are wired (unwired?) for 802.11g only, because it provides higher security in the corporate environment than 802.11b. So we decided to take the risk that Dynamism or someone else will develop a driver for the "g" card as this standard becomes more commonplace, and hang onto the card for now.

The road trip revealed the ultra-long battery life of the C3000. This little computer's battery easily outlived the notebook's and the cellphone's by 2 or 3 times.

Web Resources

Zaurus Forum: SL-C3xxx : Zauruses with an embedded hard drive

Zaurus User Group

OE Forums C3000 General Discussion


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