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HP Palmtops Help Organize a Unique Experiment in Crime Prevention

The authors organized and administered a conference involving thousands of participants. The HP Palmtop helped them evaluate conference facilities, negotiate accommodations, order the appropriate number of meals, and stay on a budget.

By Phil Malkinson and Ken West

We arrived in Washington D.C. in the Spring of 1993 to lay the groundwork for a major scientific experiment on the Transcendental Meditation Technique (see sidebar next page for more on the project). The project involved over 5,000 participants from the U.S. and 80 countries worldwide who stayed in Washington D.C. for two weeks to two months during that Summer.

In a city already heavily booked with summer conferences, this project presented unique organizational challenges. Over 30 facilities were utilized to provide the necessary accommodations, food, and meeting rooms for the thousands of people arriving and departing over the two month period. The HP 95LX Palmtop proved invaluable in meeting this organizational challenge.

Palmtop the Right Size if You're Always on the Go!

Organizing a project of this size in a short time frame required the ability to quickly organize and analyze information and then make decisions. But because we used many different facilities, the executive planning committee spent a large amount of time traveling each day throughout the city, going from one meeting to another. We could not take the time to return to an office and use a desktop computer. Even a notebook computer seemed too heavy and inconvenient to lug around Washington on hot summer days. As a result, we found ourselves using the HP 95LX while driving in a car between various meetings, while touring hotel and college campus facilities, and during the negotiations with the management of these facilities.

The HP 95LX appointment book allowed us to keep track of numerous back-to-back meetings. We used PHONE to create a large contact directory for the project.

Lotus Helps Us Stay Within a Budget

We found Lotus very useful for these many purposes. For example, during the process of negotiating conference participant accommodations with the management of various facilities, a spreadsheet was used to provide on the spot analysis of the various cost factors involved.

Hotel Comparison Spreadsheet:  Graphic

 We used the spreadsheet above (HOTEL.WK1, found in HOTEL.ZIP (ON DISK ICON)) to enter data for three different hotels in columns B,C, and D. Room charges (single occupancy in this case) were entered in row 3, meal charges (two meals per day) in row 4. The number of rooms available is entered in row 7, additional cost for the meeting room is entered in row 6. We divided the meeting room cost by the number of participant rooms available and entered that in row 5 (Mtg Rms Av). Row 8 (Per Room) shows the cost per room, including the average cost of the meeting room per individual, (B3+ B4+B5). This let us quickly compare participant costs for different hotels. Total (row 9) shows the total cost per hotel of a block of rooms, the sum of the individual costs multiplied by the number or rooms available. For the hotel listed in column B, the formula in B8 was (B3+B4+ B5)*B7.

Row 10 showed us the average cost per room of the three hotels together, (B9+C9+D9)/(B7+C7+D7). This was valuable because quite often we had to use more than one hotel to meet our accommodation needs. Row 11 shows our pre-determined per day budget. Row 12 shows the variance between what we budgeted and what we actually had to pay, +B11-B10. (The figures used in this example are fictitious.)

The spreadsheet took into account the various cost factors and compared the cost of using a particular hotel (or group of hotels) with predetermined budgets. The proposed pricing of the hotel management was input into this spreadsheet during the actual negotiations and the resulting budgetary impact was instantly assessed. This information as well as other factors allowed us to determine if the proposed hotel charges were acceptable. If they were not, then we could continue to negotiate with the hotel management focusing in on the area of pricing that was too high. This allowed us to quickly finalize the services while at the hotel.

Another challenge was arriving at the most cost-efficient configuration of the many possible combinations of various hotel accommodations available matched with the various accommodation categories projected for the conference participants. This was further compounded by the varying availability of many facilities over the two month period. Another spreadsheet was created which aided the matching of available facilities with the conference participants request in the most cost efficient manner. Each hotel along with it's space availability for the various types of rooms and pricing was listed on the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet calculated the average cost per person at each facility. This allowed each facility to be categorized within each quality level from most cost effective to the least cost effective. Based upon this information, conference participants were assigned to the most cost efficient hotels in the highest quality level.

Special Challenges

During the July 2 registration we were presented with an unexpected challenge. Two thousand people were arriving to be registered and provided with hotel and campus accommodations. The day before we had learned that two of the major hotels had overbooked their available space and several significant room blocks that we were depending on were no longer available. On the day of registration we set up temporary office space at the registration hotel and then contacted several hotels who might be able to accommodate our need and arranged to have their representatives meet us. While two to three hundred people waited patiently at the registration housing station, we met with the representatives of the various hotels who were interested in hosting our group. At one point, we were simultaneously negotiating with representatives from three different hotels. Each was offering a different cost arrangement. We quickly created a lotus spreadsheet to evaluate the costs of the hotels and compare the total average cost per person to an established budget. Based upon this analysis we were able to negotiate and finalize the housing arrangements on sight and immediately give the housing assignments to the conference participants.

Another time we had the challenge of relocating a block of rooms for 200 people who were arriving the following morning. After spending most of the day calling hotels, we located one luxury hotel which might be able to accommodate our large block of rooms. We began our meeting with the hotel management at 4:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. We discussed numerous considerations involved including: the rearrangement of other hotel bookings, available meeting space, special dining requirements, leasing of adjacent office space, and cost negotiations. We entered the different variables into Lotus and were able to compare various scenarios to determine the most economical configuration that still met our needs. We finally concluded our arrangements just before 9:00 p.m. The contract was signed the following morning one hour before the group arrived with two semi-trailer trucks of luggage. A separate Lotus spreadsheet was also useful in keeping track of the many payment schedules for the various hotels and facilities.

HP CALC Helps Control Meal Costs

Many of the facilities used for dining scaled the costs per meal based on the quantity ordered. For example, 0-199 meals might cost $15 per meal, whereas 200-400 meals would cost only $12 per meal. To purchase the optimum number of meals it was necessary to consider both estimated number of meals required as well as the scaled costs.

To determine the least expensive method for ordering the number of meals required, a solver equation was utilized with four variables.

Meal Costs with Solver Formula Shown:  Graphic

 The equation above is archived in HOTEL.ZIP(ON DISK ICON). The equation reads:

LOWCST*MINQNTITY=HIGHCST*MAXQNTITY

Enter the lower cost of the meal in LOWCST (say, 12); the higher cost of the meal in HIGHCST (say, 15); the minimum order quantity for the lower cost in MINQNTITY (say, 200). Then solve for MAXQNTITY. In this example, the answer should be 160. This is the `break-even' point (160 x $15 = 200 x $12), where the greater number of less expensive meals equals the smaller number of more expensive meals. Therefore, if the number of meals required exceeds 160 but is less than 200, it actually cost less to order 200 meals.

Another variable in meal planning for a large group is estimating the percentage of no-shows at a given meal and incorporating this factor into the daily order. To accurately gauge this factor a spreadsheet was utilized which tracked the actual attendance at each meal. This spreadsheet was also useful when reviewing the meal charges. Through the use of the solver and Lotus, it was possible to effectively manage the food costs which became very significant for such a large group over an extended period of time.

MEMO Helps Evaluate Conference Facilities

Many facilities had to be visited and evaluated for possible use. When touring these facilities, the 95 LX's memo pad was used to make detailed notes of square footage of conference space, dining accommodation space, and numerous other requirements. These notes could later be reviewed with other members of the planning committee in deciding whether the facility could be used.

APPT To-Do Priorities Become Special Categories

A more specialized use of the appointment book's To-do list was employed to stay on top of the many projects unfolding hour by hour. The first 4 `priorities' in the to-do list were used to prioritize general to-do's. The other 5 priority categories were designated for five specific projects. For example, category #9 would contain all of the to-do's for a specific project. An index was inserted on the top line of Priority One indicating which project was contained in each priority category.

ToDo Priorities on 95LX: Graphic

 To facilitate rapid access to categories 5-9, the first line of each category contained the number of the category preceded by a slash (/). The F7 (Find) command was then used to quickly locate the to-do's for a specific project. I consulted the index at the top to remind me of the category number I was looking for (e.g., category 9 related to large group meeting facilities). Then I entered a slash followed by the corresponding number. For example, I pressed (F7) /9 (ENTER) to go to the beginning of Priority 9 in the to-do list. (The slash-number format was used to avoid locating various addresses, telephone numbers, etc with the Find command). This proved to be much more efficient than scrolling down a long list of to-do items to reach the priorities located near the bottom of the list.

Because of the international scope of this project, the World Time Clock was utilized on many occasions in order to know the appropriate time to telephone or send faxes to other countries. If particular cities were missing from the default list, they were added to the clock's database.

The Best Waits for Last

The one function of the HP 95LX that we were unable to take advantage of during our work in D.C. was the various games available for the Palmtop. We were too busy working day and night seven days a week to enjoy this feature. This waited until the successful conclusion of the conference and experiment.

Fighting Crime with Meditation

iPhone Life magazine


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