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USER PROFILE: Surviving Short-Notice Trips

USER PROFILE: Surviving Short-Notice Trips

The HP Palmtop helps this short-notice traveler stay organized, travel light, and keep the home fires burning productively while he's away closing those big deals.

By David Shier

I can't think of a better place to begin writing this article than here: Seat 5A of United Airlines Flight 670 from San Francisco to Chicago. That's because it's here, on the road, where my 100LX really pays for itself.

My job as Director of Marketing and Sales for a small electronics manufacturer takes me all over the world. True, the telephone and fax machine have reduced the need to travel. But the technical details involved in making sure that what we build is what the customer wants, are best handled face-to-face.

This current trip serves as a great example of just how often, and in how many ways, I use the HP Palmtop and the little "Road Warrior" kit I've assembled. I started with the 95LX about two years ago, and purchased the 100LX two days after it was released. This article deals with my use of the 100LX, but almost everything I discuss can also be done with the 95LX, so read on.

Short Notice Trips

It started like so many of my trips, with one working day's notice before I had to leave. To make matters worse, I would have to go to Korea before my planned trip to Columbus, Ohio. When I'm visiting multiple customers, I usually carry a pilot's case instead on my normal briefcase. (A "pilot's case," sometimes called a "catalog case," is available in most luggage stores for $50-$500.) In it I keep my project files (yes, I still use paper!) and all the "toys" for the computer: the Citizen 48 printer, GA-935 serial converter, PPI pocket modem, and Konnex Koupler.

I would be gone for two weeks, but still had to take care of work I'd planned for during that period. I had to quickly decide what I would do in the short time before I left, what I could take with me, and what could wait until I returned.

This job was handled by a custom database I've created on the 100LX. Because APPT's ToDo's tend to slow down the 100LX appointment book, I have created my own TODO.GDB[ON DISK] database on the 100LX, containing the following fields:

ToDo Database:  Graphic

 I enter the task name and assign a priority level. Levels 1 to 9 are available, but it's too hard to divide priorities into nine levels. I generally use only: 1, 2, and 5. (where 5 is used for the low priority but allows for room on both sides.) I included date stamps for both the due date and the completion date. The completion date is used for tasks that I need to maintain records of for future reference. Since I am currently supporting two businesses, I use the "group box" to select the business (SHIER Systems, or my old company - CKT) the task is associated with, or personal if it's not a work related task. A database subset can then be used for viewing only tasks associated with business A or B. The type field is used to assign a category for the task (for example purchases.) I use the "link" field to insert the name and phone number (using SmartClips) of the person to which the task is associated. This allows me to quickly find the name in the phonebook. If the task is used to prepare for an event, then the link field contains a clip from the appointment book. Finally, the note field is used for any details about the task.

Fax that Can't Wait Closes Deal

One of the tasks that couldn't wait was faxing to a customer some product information. The customer was going to be making a purchase decision while I was gone, and the fax had to be on his desk first thing Monday morning. About $2,000,000 was at stake here, and without this fax I was sure they would buy from our competitor.

Unfortunately, our fax machine wasn't working. This was the Friday after Thanksgiving, so I was the only person in the office! Fortunately, I had my Palmtop.

I made a copy of the fax file and removed all the non-text formatting. I then copied the file from my desktop PC to my 100LX and added a note informing the client that the fax may be a duplicate since our office fax was not working properly. I sent this fax using CompuServe Information Service's (CIS) E-mail's Fax gateway (see Quick Tip, page 52 this issue). The next time I accessed CIS, I had a message in my mailbox confirming the delivery of my fax.

Upon my return from the trip, I learned that we received the order. I believe that my efforts to get the information to the customer, even when the fax machine wasn't working, helped him to believe in our customer support and played a small part in his decision.

More Faxing: Updating Christmas List

The next task was to provide some work for the people in my department while I was away.

My assistant needed to get our company's Christmas cards in the mail to clients, vendors, etc., the following week. I had planned to have the updated list to her on Monday. Again, my Palmtop came to the rescue.

Since she uses ACT! for Windows for such tasks, I copied her ACT!/ WIN contact list to my Palmtop and edited it on the plane using my own copy of ACT!/95 on the 100LX. I saved it as a report file. I then used MEMO to insert the file into a formatted text file which has my fax header in it.

I use a Citizen 48, battery operated printer with my 100LX. I chose this printer because it is the smallest full page printer available. It also fits on an airplane tray table and is quiet enough not to be noticed too much in the airplane. The only downside is that it needs a serial-to-parallel converter to connect to the Palmtop.

I took the printer from my briefcase and printed out the two page Christmas list fax to be sent home from the hotel's fax in Seoul. (I knew I'd be tired and didn't want to have to fool around with CompuServe when I got to Korea.)

I have a folder in my briefcase which is filled with blank paper, letterhead, second-sheet letterhead, and transparency film. If I need to produce any special effects on my printouts, I have a file on the 100LX which contains all of the control characters for the Citizen printer. I merge this file into the MEMO text file I'm working on, delete the control codes I don't need, and CUT and PASTE the ones I'm using to the appropriate place in the document. I used this to create large characters for my Fax header. This is a useful technique since some special characters (such as ESC) can not be entered from the keyboard into MEMO.

Lotus 1-2-3 and MEMO Close Another Deal

The trip to Seoul was to try to close another major contract that was deadlocked. I knew that we were not the lowest bidder, but we had a technical advantage. It would not be easy to get the contract since the customer's purchasing director would be looking for a cut in our price, which we could not do given the scope of the job.

Still, I wanted to be prepared to handle anything. For example, it's not uncommon for a customer, at the last minute, to change the configuration of the equipment he's ordered to bring the project under the budget. Fortunately, I copied my cost analysis spreadsheet from Excel to 1-2-3 on the 100LX. If I needed to modify our proposal, I would have all the data with me.

As it turned out, the customer offered to change the terms of the order if I would lower the price. The customer was also ready to give me a purchase order if I would confirm our company's acceptance in writing. I wrote the acceptance letter in my hotel room, printed it on the Citizen printer (using the letterhead paper in my briefcase) then had the letter delivered the next day.

PhoneBook as a "Poor Man's" Relational Database

While you can customize the Phone Book format by loading it into the Data Base application, I use the default format. If you modify the phone book's format, it won't work with the 100LX Connectivity Pack software or the OmniBook. While I don't currently have either one of these, I don't want to trap myself. Besides, the default phone file format has almost everything I need.

The one thing missing is a link between the appointment book and the phone book. This is a feature found in ACT!95 that I sorely miss. [Editor's note: 100Buddy [ON DISK], now provides such a link.]

My own crude approximation of this feature is to add a short record of when a meeting or phone call took place in the Note field of a phone book entry. I go to the Note field, press (Fn)-(,) to date stamp the entry, and add a short descriptive note. If the meeting was with a customer, I save the appointment book entry.

I also make paper notes in a small notebook with the date of the meeting in the upper corner of the page. Sometimes, months later, questions come up about the meeting discussions. In such cases, most people end up searching through lots of notes looking for the date of the meeting. Using my date stamp, I can find the dates of all meetings with a given customer. Since my meeting notes (in the paper notebook) are in chronological order, the date stamp makes them easy to find.

Since I know who the meeting was with, this date stamp acts as a "poor-man's relational database."

Still Use Pen and Paper in Meetings

I can actually type quite fast on the Palmtop's tiny keyboard. For most tasks, my fingers have no problem keeping up with my brain. I've only seen a few people actually taking notes on a notebook computer during a business meeting. When I was speaking, I found the person who was typing to be very distracting. It seemed that he was simply transcribing and not really listening. This may not have been the case, but I don't want to leave others with the same impression of me. Therefore, I always use old-fashion pen and paper for note taking. The 100LX doesn't sit idle though. I use it as a reference tool (such as my spreadsheets) to add any action items to my appointment book or ToDo list.

The 100LX is fairly unobtrusive in my meetings, although it almost always is a topic of casual conversation after the meeting or during breaks.

Staying in Touch on CompuServe

I use CompuServe extensively both in the office and on the road. The 100LX is all I use to access CIS and upload/download messages. The acCIS program for automating CIS messages handling is invaluable, saving on-line connection charges, as well as allowing me to read and write messages whenever I have a few free moments.

I communicate using a Practical Peripherals (PPI) 14400 pocket modem connected to the 100LX serial port. I selected the PPI because it got the highest compatibility rating in a computer magazine review of high-speed modems. I considered a PCMCIA card modem, but the Palmtop only has one card slot and I need that for a memory card.

The one problem with the PPI modem (as well as many others) is that it uses a non-standard connector for the serial port. You have to connect the PPI modem to a proprietary cable that comes with it. You connect the cable to a 9-pin null-modem gender changer. You connect the gender changer to the HP serial cable. Finally, you connect the HP cable to the Palmtop.

I hate this kind of bulk!

Fortunately, I found a source for the small, circular connector used on the PPI modem, cut my HP cable in half and mounted the PPI connector. I now have a single cable to directly connect the two pocket devices together. (I have since offered to make these cables for other LX/PPI users.

Why a Palmtop?

While most of the things I do with the 100LX can also be done with a larger computer, I can have the Palmtop with me all the time. I always have my appointment schedule available, and can read messages on the various CIS forums whenever I have a few minutes of free time.

The Palmtop's battery life is something that no notebook computer can hope to match. I started using the Radio Shack Hi-Capacity NiCds. (the ones with the silver and blue labels) and I get a little over 20 hours of use per charge.

I used to carry a notebook computer with me for the "big jobs." One extended international trip with both the notebook and the 95LX, cured me of that practice. I was ready to throw the 7 pound notebook in the ocean after carrying it around and never needing it. When I returned, I gave the thing away to some poor soul at the office who doesn't have a Palmtop.

I upgraded from a 95LX to a 100LX because of it's superior display and improved ability to run DOS programs. I was using ACT!/95 for my contact and appointment needs, so the 100LX's better built-in applications alone were not enough to get me to run out and buy the 100LX.

I'm on the road a lot, and the 100LX lets me carry DOS programs like CheckFree (bill paying service) with me wherever I go. There's a problem with CheckFree's display, because the program expects a color screen. The contrast for some of the program's displays is very poor. If someone would provide a custom program for the Palmtop that replaces CheckFree, I'd buy it in a second!

Even with problems like this, the 100LX's ability to run PC-compatible software is unique in the palmtop world.

The Future:

The Palmtop tends to get a lot of attention when I use it on airplanes, especially from airline pilots and flight attendants. The thing that they were most interested in, was accessing their airline's mainframe computer to bid on their flights for the next month. There seems to be enough interest in accomplishing this task from the 100LX, that I have formed a company to develop and market such products.

In the coming months I will update the Palmtop Paper on the progress of this new venture and the products we will be offering for the Palmtop user.

iPhone Life magazine


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