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COLUMN: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

COLUMN: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Ed Keefe shares his initial discoveries with the 95LX, including a procedure for extracting a vertical rectangle of characters from a MEMO file.

By Ed Keefe

Why use the title, "Through The Looking Glass," for a column about palmtop computing? Why that particular title rather than something more computerish?

I suppose the reason I chose this title is because Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice In Wonderland, is one of my favorite literary figures. Few people know that Lewis Carroll was really Charles Dodson, a university instructor in math and logic. He lived and wrote in the 19th century, long before the invention of computers.

Yet, I sometimes wonder how Lewis Carroll would have reacted to a modern computer. Would he have only seen his face in the looking glass screen of a computer, or would he have gone through the looking glass and envisioned how a computer worked? Would he have fully appreciated that computers are the crystallized version of the logic he loved to teach? Would he have guessed that millions of people would use such logic machines to write books, play games, cook their meals, keep track of their daily schedules, or solve math problems?

 And what would Lewis Carroll have made of a computer that could fit in the pocket of his waistcoat? Would his sole response have been "curiouser and curiouser" or would he have learned to use it? Would he find delight in telling others about the marvels of his Little Black Logic Box?

I don't know how Lewis Carroll would have reacted to computers. I do know that I have always been fascinated with them, ever since my first taste of Fortran programming, back in 1960.

Since that time, I have continued to use computers in my teaching of logic, math, and physics. I currently teach hundreds of students how to begin using computers. I show a select few the subtle secrets of computer programming.

 My real pleasure comes in sharing with others my fascination with computing. I enjoy participating in people's initial frustration with computing and watching them, eventually, master the machine.

The feelings of frustration and fascination, along with a sense of mystery and mastery, are my daily cup of tea. I get these feelings every time I face a new computer or pop the shrink-wrap on a software package.

As an instance of both frustration and fascination, let me tell you about my initial reactions to the Hewlett-Packard 95LX.

Look What They've Done to My Keyboard

 Soon after getting the HP 95LX, I tried entering a sample spreadsheet. I was on a roll until I got to the @avg() function. It me a long time to discover it, unshifted next to <MENU> where it should be.

 Next I tried the MEMO Editor. It didn't take long to decide that I would not be using MEMO to write this column. I was doing all right in it until I tried entering a front-slash character (/). All I got was a pop-up menu. Eventually I resorted to using the gray, division key in the number pad. This didn't seem right, but it works.

 I soon discovered that all built-in applications use the gray division key to enter a front-slash character. However, when in DOS, pressing <MENU> will enter a front slash.

 Look What They've Done to My Spreadsheet

 I explored all the built-in 1-2-3 templates and found them to be quite well written. Having tested them thoroughly, I decided to delete them, only to find that I could not. The .WK1 files in the C:\ directory are write protected. I transferred a program called CHANGE from my desktop computer to the 95LX and tried using that program to change the write protected status of the Lotus files. The program failed to do the job. The computer told me that the disk, itself, was write protected.

It turns out that there are files in the Root (C:\) directory that are built-in and reside in Read Only Memory (ROM), while others reside in RAM. Here is a great mystery. I have not figured out how HP made this happen. I've been working with MS-DOS since 1982 and I've never seen anything like this before. Fascinating!

While working with 1-2-3, I pressed <CTRL> and saw the words "COPY PASTE" appear on the bottom of the screen. I thought I had found a glitch. I'd never seen anything like this in all the years that I've used 1-2-3. Out of frustration, I put a question to the folks on the HP Forum of CompuServe. They quickly informed me that this was no glitch. It was the normal method to access the clip-board in 1-2-3, and would I please "read the manual?" I read it again and discovered a trick.

 Suppose you have a text file, created in MEMO. Suppose, further, that you want to extract the first ten letters in each of the first ten lines. How could you do that?

Here's my recipe. Use 1-2-3 to import the text file. Get into Lotus by pressing <123> and then press <MENU> file import text. Then go to the _DAT\ subdirectory to get a listing of the .TXT files. You do this as follows. If the message at the top of the screen says: File to import: C:\*.prn use the arrow keys to move the highlight bar to _DAT\. Then press <ENTER>, type *.txt and press <ENTER>. Otherwise you can type in c:\_dat\*.txt after the "File to import:" prompt and then press <ENTER>.

 Next, press F3 to get a two column listing of any and all .TXT files. (The NAME key {F3} sure beats scrolling file names across the top of the screen, doesn't it?) Point at the MEMO file you want and press <ENTER>. This imports the file into the spreadsheet. Next press <MENU> worksheet global column 1 to make the column widths all 1 character wide. Press <CTRL> to activate the clipboard. While holding <CTRL> press F2 to start the COPY operation. Move the cursor to the first character to be copied. Then press the Period key to lock the start of a block and use the cursor keys to high-light the characters you want to extract. Press <ENTER> when the range is set. Press <MEMO> and F4 to PASTE the text into a MEMO file. Granted this is an offbeat discovery, but it is something unique to the HP 95LX. Fascinating. What other discoveries are yet waiting?

Further Frustrations

 To add to my initial frustrations, I tried getting my 1-2-3 "Grade-Book" program to work. I use "GradeBook" on a daily basis in my teaching. It is replete with menus and "pick lists" I've added during the five years I've used it. It wouldn't work on the 95LX.

The problem, as I soon discovered, was that my Menu labels were too long. What was even more frustrating was that, when I looked at the lines that were supposedly too long, they all appeared to be well under the 40 character limit - not so! Even though the labels had less than forty visible characters, it turned out that they also had more than forty trailing blank characters. The only way this showed up was when I pressed F2 (EDIT key) and examined the labels. Sure enough, the editing cursor landed far to the right of the last visible character. This is something to be aware of whenever you adapt a spreadsheet to the 95LX's small display.

From my point of view, learning something new is more fascinating than the computer itself.

 I'll be sharing more of this learning in future columns.

Until then, Happy Porting!
 
 

iPhone Life magazine


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