Palm OS? Really?

Okay, I realize that devices like Palm handheld computers have long been supplanted by Android and iOS smartphones, but that wasn’t yet the case in in 2001 when I originally wrote this ham radio contest logger for the Palm. They were still pretty cool devices back then. Heck, I was using a Palm T|X up until about 2010 when I finally purchased an Android smartphone. There’s no way I’d give up my smartphone now, though, and go back to the Palm for daily use.

Despite getting left in the dust by smartphones in terms of capability and usability, the old monochrome LCD Palms still enjoy two advantages over smartphones:

  • They use disposable batteries and don’t need a charger, and
  • They can run for days on a set of batteries

There are still a few situations where those advantages are important, and one of these is when you’re off the grid. Take Field Day, for example. For many hams, Field Day means a huge tent with lots of rigs and antennas being supported by big batteries and generators. Not for me–if I get to play in Field Day, I’m going to be out in the middle of the woods for the weekend, with only as much equipment as I can carry in my backpack. That means a QRP rig, a gel cell battery, a wire antenna, and not much else. I could certainly carry along a smartphone or tablet, but if I used it for contest logging, its batteries would run out long before the contest was over–and its charger would do me no good at all in the woods!

Sure, I could log on paper, but after a few dozen contacts it becomes a pain to manage a log sheet and a dupe sheet, especially when you’re likely sitting on your butt under a tree in breezy conditions. That’s why I wrote GOLog–so I could ditch the paper and the manual dupe checking and just have fun in the contest.

But wait! There’s more! The old Palm OS devices have a serial port which you can use to connect a portable keyboard (let’s face it, using Palm’s Graffiti to enter data can be a pain). GOLog is keyboard-friendly, and those stow-away keyboards actually work pretty well. I worked Field Day in 2011 from under a tree in the woods using a Handspring Visor, a Targus Stowaway Keyboard, and my trusty Elecraft K1. You can find used Palm devices and keyboards on EBay and other places for a modest price.

If you’re really adventurous, you could try building the Serial CW Sender (described in the GOLog user’s guide). It’s a microcontroller-based device that plugs into the Palm’s serial port and interfaces with the rig to provide contest keying of the rig. While it works great, you can’t use the Serial CW Sender and a keyboard at the same time, and most folks choose the keyboard.

GOLog is free software and may be freely distributed for noncommercial purposes. GOLog includes a Palm Desktop conduit for Windows-based PCs so that your logs can be transferred from your handheld computer to your PC in text form. No support exists for Mac, Linux, or other operating systems.

GOLog requires a Palm OS handheld running Palm OS 3.0 or newer. You must also be running Palm Desktop version 4.0 or newer on a Windows computer in order to transfer the GOLog software to the Palm and to transfer your contest logs back to the computer. The latest version of Palm Desktop is 6.2 and is still available for download here. I use Palm Desktop 6.2 on my Windows 7 64-bit desktop with a USB-serial conversion cable to hotsync my old Palm devices via their serial cables. Before you hotsync for the first time, I recommend opening Palm’s HotSync Manager and disabling synchronization of the Package Installer application, which otherwise may cause some fatal exceptions during the hotsync process with older devices.

Download the Windows installer for the current version of GOLog

Download the GOLog user’s guide (PDF) (included in the GOLog installer)

Download the source and hex for the Serial CW Sender



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