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Living with Big Fingers and an "Itty Bitty" Keyboard

Living with Big Fingers and an "Itty Bitty" Keyboard

It fits in your pocket, it increases your productivity tremendously, and typing on it for any length of time is not a fate to be wished for. Ed gives some very good tips on how to get by on the Palmtops' Lilliputian keyboard.

By Ed Keefe

Large Keyboard Hooked to LX:  Graphic

 Downsizing is one of the current buzzwords in data-processing circles. Many programming shops are abandoning their mainframe computers in favor of more economical solutions to enterprise-wide computing.

The school where I teach is also in the process of downsizing. Starting next year the venerable campus mainframe will be replaced by a small "UNIX box."

We Palmtop users don't have to look very far to see another example of downsizing. Downsizing has its benefits: consider that the little black box in your pocket has all the capabilities of a computer that would fill up the back seat of your car ten years ago. The one serious drawback to palmtop-downsizing: there is nothing to replace the heft and feel of a standard keyboard. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I still can't get used to typing on a tiny keyboard.

The ultimate hardware answer is to get a "real" keyboard and plug it into the HP Palmtop, which you can now do with the 95LX and Centronics new Dock 101 keyboard (see sidebar, next page).

The software answer is to innovate and automate: look for ways to make the Palmtop do your typing for you. That's where keyboard enhancement programs and System Macros come into play. Most of this article will look at software solutions.

The "user adaptation" answer is to learn "new" typing techniques that allow you to type comfortably on the Palmtop. Many users who do extensive note taking have reported success with this approach. However, this appears to have a lot to do with the individual's physical size, manual dexterity and determination.

REMKEY (ON DISK ICON) Lets You Use Your Desktop's Keyboard

I can already run my HP Palmtop from my desktop PC's keyboard. This feat of magic is accomplished by a small software program called REMKEY .COM. With a desktop PC and Palmtop connected via the HP PC Connectivity Cable (HP F1015A) and REMKEY running on both computers, I can be typing away on the desktop, press a hot-key and be controlling the HP Palmtop from the desktop's keyboard. (I still have to look at the Palmtop's screen.) Let me illustrate what using REMKEY is like.

It's the end of the semester, and I'm deep in the throes of grading student projects. Since the students submit their projects on disks, I need to use the desktop computer to review their work. On the other hand, I keep all grades on my HP 100LX. The 100LX is just out of reach on my desk. It's connected to the desktop via the serial cable.

After I've reviewed a student's work on the desktop and entered several comments, I press (ALT)-(/) to take control of the Palmtop. I call up the Lotus spreadsheet I use to track grades and post the grade in my 100LX. Then I press (ALT)-(*) and continue with the next project on the desktop. (See an example of Ed's spreadsheet "grade book" on page 38 of the Jul/Aug 93 issue.)

If I want to post an appointment, I can press (ALT)-(/), bring up APPT on the 100LX and type the appointment in from the full-sized keyboard. Or if I need to use a calculator I can use CALC, on the 100LX, without touching the tiny keyboard. It's almost like using several TSR programs or running a task-switching program like Desqview or Windows.

Even when REMKEY is active and running on both machines, the keyboard of the Palmtop is still responsive to keystrokes. By reversing the roles of REMKEY on both machines, it's even possible to use the keyboard of the Palmtop to run a desktop. (I can't imagine why anyone would want to do this, but it can be done.)

There are, of course, a number of keys on the Palmtops that don't exist on a desktop keyboard. If you are controlling the Palmtop from your desktop, you press (ALT) to access the MENU key, press (CTRL)-(ALT) to access the CHAR or FN key. Press (ALT)-(1) to access FILER, (ALT)-(2) to access cc:MAIL or COMM, etc.

The only one problem I've discovered with REMKEY is that it takes over the serial port of the Palmtop completely. This means that if you want to transfer files or communicate via a modem, you'll need to exit System Manager completely and, at the DOS prompt, key in REMKEY /u which will un-install REMKEY. Then you will be able to use the serial port with FILER, communications software like COMM, DC95, ZIP, etc., or with a modem or printer. Even with this limitation, the convenience factors of REMKEY far outweigh the nuisance factors.

REMKEY works quite well on the HP 100LX. It should be out of testing and available for general use by the time you read this. REMKEY for the HP 95LX may be available in a "trial version" at that time. The author has dropped support for the 95LX since he no longer has a 95LX on which to do his own testing.

REMKEY is the work of Craig Payne. It is freeware and comes with assembler source code. It's a "must-have" program for anyone who uses an HP Palmtop and a full-sized computer.

Get By with a Little Help from Your 95Buddy (ON DISK ICON)

Before the 100LX, there was only the 95LX, and before all other keyboard enhancement programs, there was only 95Buddy. 95Buddy is still the best enhancement program available for the 95LX. It has been reviewed and recommended in many past issues of The HP Palmtop Paper. It's available on the 1993 Subscriber PowerDisk from Thaddeus Computing and CompuServe's HPHAND forum, Library 7.

95BUDDY is a clever piece of software engineering that lets you customize many features of the 95LX and adds a long list of keyboard shortcuts for almost every built-in application and for popular add-ins like WEEKABK (ON DISK ICON) and VDE (ON DISK ICON).

Here is a short list of some of 95Buddy's more popular keyboard short cuts:

GENERAL SHORTCUTS:

Keys Feature

(MENU)-u update file without quitting.

(MENU)-@ quit, saving if necessary

(MENU)(DEL) MassExit (close all apps)

(( (pressed twice) produces :

)) (pressed twice) produces \

= = (pressed twice) produces _

Editing in MEMO, PHONE, APPT:

(CTRL)-(D) insert the date as text.

(CTRL)-(T) insert the time as text.

(CTRL)-(P) look up word in Phone.

SHORTCUTS IN FILER:

(ENTER)(ENTER) will automatically open the file using the appropriate application based on the file's extension.

( ) goto a:

( ) goto c:

- serial port off

+ serial port on

DOS SHORTCUTS:

(MENU)(@) exit

(MENU)(DEL) exit DOS and Filer

(CTRL)(*) toggles cursor tracking.

MEMO SHORTCUTS:

(F10) (Case) change case of character at cursor and advance the cursor.

(MEMO)(MEMO) quick access to default directory.

LOTUS 123 SHORTCUTS:

(123)(123) quick access to directory display.

PHONE SHORTCUTS:

(F4) (Paste) copy from clipboard when editing a card.

APPOINTMENT BOOK SHORTCUTS:

(APPT) when in APPT goes to WEEKABK

(<Shift>)-(<RightArrow>) goto next day

(<Shift>)-(<LeftArrow>) goto previous day

(ENTER) in Day view while at an unscheduled (blank) appointment will do an automatic "Insert".

(F6) will open a note (or create a new note), and APPT will return to main view when editing an appointment

(F6) (="Memo") for expanded note (a beep means new file created) when editing a note.

WEEKABK SHORTCUTS (VERSION 3.7):

(F2) (Update) will rewrite the Appointment Book file.

(ENTER) will insert new appointment (if the hour is vacant) or goto and view an existing appointment (if the hour is occupied).

System Macros: The Built-In Software Solution

95LX 100LX

To save keystrokes in System Manager I use CHAR (95LX) or FN (100LX) System Macros. The use of such macros has been discussed in past issues of the HP Palmtop Paper, July/Aug 93 page 42 and May/Jun 93 page 46, and will most likely be the topic of future articles.

System Macros, along with most keyboard enhancers belong to a category of software that I call "keyboard stuffers." These programs usually take text from a file and insert it into the keyboard buffer. The result is the same as if you had typed the text on the keyboard.

System Macros will let you stuff up to 255 keys into a special keyboard buffer. If you need more than 255 keys, on the HP 100LX you can have one system macro chain to another and another and another.

The only problem with system macros is that they won't work in DOS on the HP Palmtops. So, to save keystrokes in DOS, you need to use other programs.

UMA (ON DISK ICON): Useful Macros for DOS and System Manager 95LX

Useful Macros is a full-featured macro program that lets you record and play back key sequences on your 95LX. UMA is small (15K) and can work across both System Manager and DOS applications. Originally designed for the PC, this version is adapted to the 95LX and its unique keyboard.

Macros can be stored under any key combination and can contain all of the 95LX keys, including the blue application keys. Additional features include programmable delays, shift key status support, and synchronization with on-screen events.

KEY100 (ON DISK ICON): Reassign Macros to Any Key 100LX

In the absence of a program like 95Buddy for the HP 100LX, several users have found KEY100 to be very useful. It will let you reassign to any key on the machine macros that will work in System Manager or DOS.

For example, you can create a macro to terminate all applications and set it up to be activated by pressing (&...) twice, create a macro to restart System Manager and have it activated by pressing (FILER) twice.

If you haven't tried this program, be sure to do so. But, be aware that KEY100 works only if you have read all the instructions and followed them closely. KEY100 is available on the 1993 Subscriber PowerDisk from Thaddeus Computing.

KEYSTUFF (ON DISK ICON): System Manager "Keyboard Stuffer" 100LX

MS-DOS creates a keyboard buffer that can remember the last 16 keystrokes you enter. When you enter a keystroke, it gets "stuffed" in this buffer if DOS isn't ready to execute it. When DOS is ready, it checks the buffer and executes the keystrokes it finds sequentially.

Keystuff is another program for the 100LX from the author of REMKEY. It lets you "stuff" a character or a series of characters into the keyboard buffer, causing the Palmtop to execute them. Functionally, it lets you enter a string of characters or commands, just like a macro.

Keystuff uses the Path field in the AppManager as its source of characters. This allows you to "stuff" up to 64 keystrokes into the keyboard buffer. The program is freeware and worth taking a look at.

DOS Only Keyboard Enhancers

Prior to 95Buddy, I tried several other keyboard enhancement programs. All of these programs work at the DOS prompt. They let you recall and use previously entered DOS commands. They also let you redefine the keyboard so that pressing one key will do the work of several keystrokes.

X.SYS (ON DISK ICON): A Bigger Keyboard Buffer

100LX

The problem with many keyboard stuffing routines is that they are limited in the number of keystrokes that can be put in the keyboard buffer. As mentioned earlier, DOS allows only 16 keys in the buffer. The System Macro programs, on both HP Palmtops, create their own keyboard buffer with room for up to 255 keys. You can "stuff" more keystrokes into this buffer, creating larger macros.

X.SYS is a freeware program that lets you expand the size of the keyboard buffer on either Palmtop, up to 255 keys. This will allow you to create larger keyboard macros with programs like KEYSTUFF.

NANSI.SYS (ON DISK ICON): Redefine Keys in DOS

95LX 100LX

Lately, I've been experimenting with NANSI.SYS, a new version of the ANSI.SYS driver, one of the oldest keyboard enhancing programs for MS-DOS computers.

ANSI.SYS has been available on MS-DOS computers for almost 12 years. I was surprised that it was not included among the built-in programs on the HP Palmtops. Then I realized that ANSI.SYS is also a screen driver. Its use could mess up the non-standard display of the HP 95LX and wreak havoc with the Zoom function on the HP 100LX. For this reason, I do not recommend the use of ANSI.SYS on either machine.

However, I have found that a similar program, NANSI.SYS, does work on the HP 100LX in DOS and doesn't interfere with the Zoom function. It lets you redefine almost all of the keys when you're using DOS. The only shortcoming is that it doesn't allow you to redefine any of the blue keys or Fn keys on the 100LX.

NANSI.SYS TIPS

You install NANSI.SYS by putting the following line in your CONFIG .SYS file:

device=c:\nansi.sys

(You may use any directory in place of "C:\". Just be sure that NANSI.SYS is located in that directory.) Once you've modified the CONFIG.SYS file, you'll need to reset the Palmtop by pressing (CTRL)-(ALT)-(DEL) so that DOS can load the NANSI.SYS driver.

I have created the following key redefinition:

(F7) -- runs the ZOOM (ON DISK ICON) program from the 1993 Power Disk, which lets me set the screen to a 40 X 25 mode (something that can't be done with the Fn Space keys);

(F8) -- types in "EXIT" which lets me exit from DOS and return to System Manager quickly;

(F9) -- is set to "CLS" to clear the screen in DOS;

(F10) -- runs Stereo Shell (ON DISK ICON), a DOS file manager program.

To reassign these keys on the Palmtop, I use a batch file called KEYS.BAT (found in TLG13.ZIP (ON DISK ICON)), explained below. (Some lines wrapped due to formatting constraints. Indented lines are part of the previous line, with no blank spaces between the two):

::KEYS.BAT

@echo off

if %K%==0 goto on

echo [0;65;0;65p[0;66;0;66p [0;67;0;67p[0;68;0;68p

set K=0

echo Keys Off

goto end

:on

echo [0;65;"ZOOM C2";13p [0;66;"EXIT";13p[0;67;"CLS";13p [0;68;"STS";13p

set K=1

echo Keys On

:end

This batch file is what I call a "toggle command". You can run it once to define a set of keys and run it again to undefine the keys. This toggle is necessary because some programs get confused if the NANSI.SYS key definitions are in effect. For those few programs, you'll want to turn the definitions off, run the program and turn the definitions back on when you're finished with the program. KEYS.BAT makes this easy to do.

The batch file checks the value of the environment variable, K, to determine which set of commands to execute. If K = 0 then the batch file jumps to the :on label, sets the key definitions in the second echo line and then sets K = 1. The next time the program is run, K is 1, which causes the batch file to run the first echo line to reset the key definitions, reset K to 0 and then jumps to the :end label to end the batch file.

The echo command above contains a set of ANSI "escape sequences". Each of the sequences begins with the Escape character. (In many text editors this character will appear as a small arrow, as it is indicated here.) When NANSI.SYS is running, the echo command will not appear on the screen. Instead NANSI.SYS will intercept the code and use it to redefine the keys.

The second character in the sequence is an opening square bracket. The numbers 0;65; represents the scan code for the key that is to be defined. For instance, "0;65;" stands for the F7 function key. When the F7 key is pressed, it sends both a NULL character (0) and an ASCII code (65) to the computer.

On the other hand, if you want to redefine a non-function key, just omit the 0; . Thus, to redefine the CTRL-Fkey you'd use the number 6 as in [6;. The ASCII codes for the different keys may be found in the user's manual that comes with MS-DOS.

Following the semicolon, we get to the meat of the definition. In the above example, I defined the F7 key as "ZOOM C2". I could have used any string of characters as long as they're in quotes. This is the string that will be stuffed into the keyboard buffer and then appear at the DOS prompt.

Finally, the key redefinition ends with ;13p, which tells the computer to put a Return key in the buffer. If you omit 13, the code will appear at the DOS prompt and wait for you to add more to it, to press (ENTER), or to press (ESC) to cancel the command.

The sequence [0;66;"EXIT";13p assigns EXIT to F8, the sequence [0;67;"CLS";13p assigns CLS to F9, and [0;68;"STS";13p assigns F10 to STS, the command that starts Stereo Shell. The escape sequence that resets the key to its original state is [0;65;0;65;p . This simply defines the F7 key so that it sends its usual scan code to the keyboard interpreter. Each key that was reassigned gets assigned back to its original scan code. If you want to play a trick on yourself, you can try something like [0;65;0;66;p , which would set (F7) to send the scan code for the F8 key.

To "prime the toggle", I include the following lines in my AUTOEXEC.BAT file:

echo [0;65;"ZOOM C2";13p[0;66;"EXIT";13p [0;67;"CLS";13p[0;68;"STS";13p set K=1

This is the same echo line that defines the keys in the KEYS.BAT file. Putting this line in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file assures that every time I reboot the 100LX my function keys are reassigned.

DOSKEY: DOS Command Line Editor 100LX

This TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) DOS command line editor is built into the HP 100LX (D:\DOS). It allows you to recall previously entered DOS commands, edit the command before pressing (ENTER), and type several commands on one line.

In addition you can create, run and save command "macros" with DOSKEY. For details on how DOSKEY works, look at a DOS manual or a good DOS reference.

STACK 2.6 (ON DISK ICON): DOS Command Line Editor 95LX 100LX

This small, freeware DOS command line editor works on the HP 95LX in the DOS mode only. It stores the commands you type for later recall. It is configurable, has a pop-up window that shows you the last commands to choose from and has programmable function keys for your own special commands.

TODDY (ON DISK ICON): DOS Command Line Editor 95LX 100LX

This TSR DOS command line editor makes the entry and editing of DOS commands easy. It saves commands for later retrieval, and provides resident macros that work like simple batch files.

ALIAS (ON DISK ICON): DOS Command Line Editor 95LX 100LX

This TSR command line editor lets you edit previously typed commands and abbreviate long command strings as short synonyms, or "aliases." It also has features such as the ability to do command.com shells.

Finishline (ON DISK ICON) Completes Words for You 95LX 100LX

Finishline 1.1 is another kind of keyboard enhancement program. Finishline turns your Palmtop into a multiple-choice machine. When you type the first few letters of a word, FinishLine pops up with two or three choices from which you may choose to complete the word or phrase. If your use of the HP Palmtop involves writing memos or reports using an editor other than the built in MEMO editor, then Finishline will save you countless keystrokes. It even "gets smarter" the more you use it.

Other Keyboard Enhancers

Next time, we'll look at two of the built-in keyboard enhancing programs, PUSHKEYS and KEYBEZ and see how they may be used to enhance the tiniest computer keyboard around.

Until then, Happy Porting.

DOCK 101: Attach a Big Keyboard to Your Palmtop

iPhone Life magazine


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