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User to User

User to User

Plenty of tips and topics in this User to User, including: Palmtop wrist straps, food databases, Palmtop competition, binders for the Palmtop Paper, tips on selecting passwords, how in-flight restrictions affect you, avoiding slow read/write times, and a world traveler's ultimate HP Palmtop.

By HP Palmtop Paper Staff

Wrist strap for Palmtop?

Drop your HP Palmtop lately? Some users have suggested that the HP Palmtop needs a wrist strap like they have on small cassette players and cameras. Unfortunately, there's no easy place to connect a strap. One suggestion was to run a loop of high-test monofilament fishing line around the screen and hinge area and then attaching a nylon loop to that. A home-grow solution like that might look a little strange, and the fishing line might work its way into the hinge and damage something. Another suggestion was to mount a plate on the Palmtop which would stick out a little, letting you attach the clip end of a camera wrist strap to a hole in the plate.

Wrist Strap for Palmtop: Graphic

 Maybe some third party manufacturer could make such a mounting bracket. Better still, make it a combination mounting bracket and name plate.

Finding tasty foods

Page 27-29 of the May/June 94 issue of The HP Palmtop Paper described a number of nutritional food analysis programs, including Personal Food Analyst, Assurance Nutrition, DietHelper, Food 1.0, and Food95. These programs let you track carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc., and help you select appropriate foods for your diet. But sometimes there's more to your culinary life than "appropriate" foods.

Leaving no stone unturned, we found three Palmtop databases to help you to explore the subtle qualities of exotic cuisines:

  • Sushi or not Sushi?: That is the question

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Every Palmtopping Japanese cuisine aficionado will enjoy these database files. SUSHI.PBK Sushi database for the HP 95LX. It contains English equivalent names for common types of sushi, along with a description of each sushi and best season to consume that fish. SUSHI.GDB is an updated version of the .PBK file, converted to the 100/200LX's .GDB format. It lists more types of sushi in both Japanese and English, and includes additional fish, ingredients and how they're used, Sushi-making tools, and major categories of sushi. Both of these files are available in SUSHI.ZIP .
  • Fast food -- Mexican style

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Aficionados of fast North America cuisine should check out TACO .ZIP, which contains TACO.GDB, a 100/200LX Database with pozole, tacos, mixiotes, and some of the most common Mexican fast foods. No raw fish here, but if you like it fast, hot, and south-of-the boarder, check out this small database.
  • Favorite restaurants

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Every 100/200LX comes with a sample restaurant database that is a convenient way to record your dining experiences and rate the restaurants for possible return visits. The file RESTR.GDB is created the first time you open a new database. It should be found in C:\_DAT.
  • Splitting restaurant bills

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Good food is always more enjoyable with good friends. But at the end the bill always comes. Whip out your Palmtop and use the spreadsheet BILLSP.WK1 to split up costs. BILLSP calculates tip, taxes, exact share, even split, and can even split a guests bill and allocate shares to each payer.

You can create your own food database by using one of the databases mentioned here as the basis, and modify it to meet your needs.

If you're looking for some additional culinary guidance you'll find several interesting databases on CompuServe, including: Zagat Restaurant Guide (go zagat); Adventures In Food (go aif); Bacchus Wine Forum (go wineforum); and Bed & Breakfast Database (go inns).

After you've enjoyed a great meal, you can use one of the food analysis programs mentioned earlier to plan how to get back on your diet. Bon appetit!

Competition for the HP Palmtop?

We focus on the HP Palmtops, but many subscribers have seen or heard of Newtons, Psions, Zoomers, and more. Yes, there are other palmtop computers (or "PDAs") out there. The question is, is there any real competition to the HP Palmtop? Here are some thoughts on the subject, based on some feedback from HP Palmtop Users.

The Newton

Almost everyone has heard of the Newton PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). Apple Computer made sure of that a couple of years ago by big spending in press relations and advertising. Unfortunately, the apple of Apple's eye wasn't quite ready to ship. And when it did ship (months later) it was not well reviewed, particularly its handwriting recognition capabilities. Even though Apple should be lauded for introducing new technology, a 90% handwriting recognition level is not good enough for real-world computing.

Newton sales floundered after the initial introduction, but the second version was better received. Compaq, one of the other major players in the pen-based, is rethinking its pen-based handheld device in light of Newton's weak showing. HP Palmtop users that have tested the Newton are pretty ho-hum about it.

Apple does some things well. You certainly could not accuse Apple of under-marketing the Newton. And Apple thinks big. For example, Newton is not a machine, it is an operating system. Apple's plans include Newton phones, faxes and microwave ovens? Additionally, Apple supports its Newton developer channel. Reports from one subscriber indicate that the Newton developer package includes environment, toolkits like the Windows SDK, sample code and even training conferences!

The general feeling was that the Palmtop is a functional business tool and the PDA is an "emerging technology." Time will tell with the Newton. HP has the upper hand -- for now.

The Psion

The Psion has a slim design (ever-so-slightly smaller than the HP) and it's easier to type on its slightly larger keyboard. Its built-in applications were generally well received, and included a text editor, spreadsheet program, calendar, database, a less-powerful calculator, and Psion's own programming language.

Users found the command key combinations a bit awkward and complained about Psion's lack of function keys (you have to access commands via the menu bar). The Psion uses a proprietary architecture, operating system, and card slot. This "closed system" approach tends to hinder development of third party products. However, one user reports that there is lots of shareware available for the Psion because of an excellent, easy-to-use internal programming language. Backing up files on the Psion requires the use of a proprietary SSD memory card or a custom PC cable (priced at $125-150 depending on source).

One user said to think of the Psion as a "cool organizer with some sound capabilities," good for those who don't need to run DOS programs or access standard PCMCIA cards.

HP Palmtop is more standard

One user described the HP Palmtop as a "pocket sized, general purpose DOS personal computer which happens to have a great set of PIM programs built into it." Users liked the fact that the HP Palmtop (particularly the 100/200LX) is a standard DOS computer. It has thousands of freeware, shareware, and commercial programs already available for it. In addition, it has a standard PCMCIA slot, letting you use larger mass storage cards that can be used with other computers. Programmers like the fact that you can develop on the Palmtop in BASIC, C, Pascal, Forth, and other languages. And if you need more information on the operating system, you can go into any bookstore and get 20-30 books on the subject of MS-DOS.

Exchanging files, if not easier, is less expensive with the HP Palmtop. Standard PCMCIA memory cards are more affordable, and so is a connectivity cable ($25 for an HP cable as compared to $125 for a Psion cable).

The Newton and Psion aren't the only competition. Sharp, Casio, and others are marketing palmtop pen-based and keyboard PDAs. The future will bring more entries to the palmtop race, and make choosing between palmtops more difficult -- for some!

For the time being, based on industry reviews and subjective reports, the HP Palmtop is still the best palmtop PDA in the marketplace.

Binders to hold the HP Palmtop Paper

A number of subscribers organize and protect back issues of The HP Palmtop Paper in binders. Three-hole binders are readily available in stationary and discount stores. Subscriber Iver Erling Aarva suggested using binders with a clear plastic cover and spine that let you customize the binder. For example, you could slip a photocopy of the front of The HP Palmtop Paper in the cover and place a piece of paper with the words "PTP -- Fall 1991 to Nov/Dec 1993" in the clear spine of the binder. You can use a sturdy three hole puncher on each issue or attach hole punched strips to each issue as suggested by subscriber Jini Scammell-Tinling.

Another suggestion by subscriber Fred Kaufman was to use binders with six metal rods or wires that run from top to bottom. Each rod would hold a PTP at the staple fold in the center of the mag. The rods usually hinge at the bottom and fasten at the top for easy removal etc. Subscriber Ronald Vieceli reports that these binders are also available with the clear insertion pocket on the front. This type of binder is a little less common than the three-ring variety. You'll probably have to get it through a stationary store or catalog.

In-flight restrictions on portable equipment -- law or lunacy?

There has been some recent controversy over restrictions on the in-flight use of portable computing equipment. Federal Aviation Regulation 91.21. applies to this situation. The pertinent section of the regulation states:

... no person may operate, nor may any operator or pilot-in-command of an aircraft allow the operation of, any portable electronic device on ... aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operation or operating certificate.... (The above) does not apply to: ... any other portable electronic device that the operator has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be operated.

On the FAA list are:

DEVICES THAT CAN BE PROHIBITED AT ALL TIMES: AM/FM transmitters and receivers, portable or cellular telephones, remote controlled toys, all other devices not on the Acceptable list.

DEVICES THAT ARE ACCEPTABLE AT ALL TIMES: Electric watches, hearing aids, heart pacemakers.

DEVICES THAT ARE ACCEPTABLE ABOVE 10,000 FEET ONLY: CD players, electric cameras, electric shavers, electric calculators, electronic games, portable audio tape records and players, portable computers, accessory printers and tape or disc drives.

Based on this regulation, many airlines have placed restrictions on the use of palmtops and other electronic devices during critical phases of the flight below 10,000 feet (i.e. takeoffs and landings).

Opinions about the restrictions vary widely. Some in the computer industry consider the in-flight bans on portable computing equipment arbitrary and contradictory since the FCC requires that portables pass stringent emissions tests. Two prestigious technical groups, the Radio Technical Committee for Aeronautics and the Electronic Industry Association have said that the bans are not necessary. There is even a suggestion that such restrictions could be used as a way to force passengers to use entertainment and computing devices provided by the airline - for a fee!

The other side of the argument is that the FAA regulation clearly states that the operator will not allow the operation of such a device unless the operator has determined that it does not interfere with critical devices. There have apparently been a small number of events involving odd readouts in the Electronic Flight Information Systems (EFIS) of some airplanes. In addition, more aircraft are using "Fly by Wire" technology, which operates the control surfaces (rudder, elevator, etc.) with digital signals. Rather than take any chances with this equipment, or leave open to interpretation what devices are or are not acceptable, many airlines are requiring that all electronic devices be off during takeoff and landing.

If the use of palmtops during the takeoff and landing phases of a flight is really important, palmtop users should pressure the airlines directly. Require the airlines, or the FAA, to test portable devices and make the regulations more specific. Of course, this may cost the tax payers millions of dollars.

In the meantime, flight crews cannot be expected to determine whether a particular piece of equipment does or does not interfere with the operation of an aircraft. Their primary concern is the safety of their passengers. They are not the ones to hassle about the interpretation of the regulations.

Selecting Passwords for your HP Palmtop

All HP Palmtops provide some form of password protection. The 95LX and 200LX provide a global feature allowing you to password protect the entire computer (you can't turn it on unless you know the password). The HP 100LX lets you password protect individual files (you can't load them into an application unless you know the password). But even the best password protection feature can be circumvented if your password is obvious.

The advice from the experts is not to pick your girlfriend's or boyfriend's name or something that obvious. Most people pick a meaningful password so they can remember it. But the first thing a determined password-breaker will do is a little research (like Matthew Brodderic's character did in War Games). They will try these possibilities first.

One approach is to select a string of meaningless characters (e.g. &%n#+p). On the 95LX you can use any of the characters of code page 850 as defined in the Palmtop User's Guide (except the control characters). An argument against this approach is that such a password is difficult to remember. However, as CompuServe HP Hand forum member Gerard Lesser [74537,5151 pointed out, you could generate a seemingly meaningless, but easy-to-remember string of characters using the Palmtop's special characters capability. So, for example, when asked for a password, a 95LX user named John could hold down the (CHAR) and key in john. The four characters entered are quite different, yet it's easy to remember this procedure.

Another approach is to use an easy-to-remember name or word, but put an odd character in it, or capitalize a couple of letters. Instead of John, you would use jOh@, or J/?n. This is still easy to remember, but not as easy to break. If you include all the characters of code page 850, you have approximately 2254 or over 2.5 billion four-character password combinations.

The Palmtop's password "algorithm," (computer code) seems to be pretty good. One CompuServe user (A. Meshar [71414,2112]) did a more rigorous test of the 95LX's algorithm using "some very sophisticated tools." He says the "password took a lot of beating and did not crack." Mr. Meshar suggested using six character passwords, letters and numbers only. This still produces over 2.5 billion possibilities. He gives further password advice:

  1. 1. Don't leave your Palmtop lying around in the first place.
  2. 2. Use 6+ character passwords.
  3. 3. Don't use the same password all the time. Regard them as under wear - to be changed daily.
  4. 4. Change the length of the password regularly, sometimes six, sometimes nine, etc.
  5. 5. Never use obvious words, like the name of your children, your company, etc.

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The best advice is to pick something meaningful and easily memorized, but not obvious.

Frustrated with slow read/write times

Some 100/200LX users have been disappointed with the Palmtop's speed of saving and loading files. The Appointment Book application comes under particularly strong criticism in this area. User's find it particularly puzzling, considering the fact that the 100/200LX has an electronic RAM disk for file storage.

Appointments save faster in smaller appointment books. Some oft repeated APPT advice is to keep your appointment book as small as possible by removing old appointments. Press (MENU) File Remove and specify the date before which you want all Appts, Events, and ToDo's removed. You can check the Save Removed Items... box, key in a filename, and save your removed APPT items to an archive file for later reference.

You can also create fewer appointments and ToDo's. Some users log most ToDo's into a custom contact (.GDB) database. From there, they use a system macro to transfer selected items to APPT.

The ultimate HP Palmtop for an around the world trip

HP Palmtop user Kent Schliiter posted a message on CompuServe recently. He and his wife will be traveling around the world for the next 18 months and the only piece of technology they're taking with them is a new 2MB 100LX. He requested advice on using the Palmtop for extended on-the-road travel. Summarized below is some of the advice he got:

  • Main batteries - Bring extra batteries. Users consistently recommend Eveready's long-life lithium AAs as main batteries. They cost more but last longer, so you will not have to carry as many. Carry enough extra lithiums to make it through the entire trip because you don't know where you'll be able to find them.
  • Rechargeables and a solar-powered charger -- As you move from country to country, voltages and plug styles change. Plugging your Palmtop into an AC adapter to run it or recharge it's NiCd batteries is not always feasible. Solar chargers are available from a number of sources, including CampMor (201-445-5000). Bring an extra set of NiCd AAs and keep one set charging all the time. Bring some regular AA's just in case.
  • Extra backup batteries -- The coin-sized backup battery (3-volt CR2032) is supposed to last over 10 months, but if your main batteries die, you can drain it fast. Bring 2-3 extra backup batteries, more if you have SRAM cards backed up by these batteries.
  • Memory cards for file backup -- Bring extra flash or SRAM memory cards along for file storage and back-up. Flash cards are preferable because they don't use a backup battery. Get them as big as you can afford. 10MB-20MB flash cards are available, 2MB SRAM with file compression software.
  • 95Buddy or 100Buddy a must -- This software utility adds a number of very useful features to the HP Palmtop (95Buddy for the 95LX, 100Buddy for the 100LX, 100Buddy not fully functional on the 200LX). These features include the ability to lock the serial port off and save batteries, view battery voltage information and the number of hours you've used the current pair, and view a night and day overlay on the WorldTime map (registered version only).
  • Battery-powered modem -- If communications is important to you, bring along a battery-powered modem or a PCMCIA card modem that gets it's power from the Palmtop. Another user strongly recommended bringing along an acoustic coupler to connect to phone systems around the world (one with alligator clips).
  • Communications issues -- the built-in Comm program should suffice for most needs. If you use another communications program, make sure it allows for manual dialing. Communications via CompuServe (or Internet) was highly recommend by one user because messages could reach you anywhere in the world. Check with CompuServe for node phone numbers in the countries you'll visit. A user also mentioned that you could back up your files on CompuServe, avoiding the cost of extra memory cards. Communications can drain batteries, so don't linger on line.
  • File transfer issues -- you may find it necessary to transfer files between your Palmtop and another PC computer. The IR port is all you need for Palmtop-to-Palmtop file transfer. You'll need the HP Connectivity Cable and may need additional adapters to connect your Palmtop to another PC. Both computers will need compatible file transfer software. Carry the file transfer software with you on 3.5" and 5.25" low-density disks. That way you can transfer it to another PC if you need to. You can bring the Connectivity Pack software with you or use another file transfer program like ZIP.COM . (See May/June 94, page 49 for more on file transfer and communications.)
  • Repairs and replacements -- HP Express Exchange in the U.S. will not ship out of this country. Before leaving the country arrange for a friend to act as your intermediary. If you have a problem, call HP Corvallis (503-757-2004, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time) and explain it to a technician. If it is covered by Express Exchange, have them ship the replacement HP 100/200LX to your U.S. friend, who will ship it to your overseas address. When you get the replacement, send your broken one back to HP Corvallis via some insured carrier. One user suggested a simpler approach - take a spare 100/ 200LX along with you.
  • Games kill time and batteries -- A great way to pass the time is to play games on your Palmtop. Users recommended Sokoban , Worm , Klondike , Leaper , and Seahunt as worthy time "while awayers." Be aware that games that rely on graphics will also while away your battery life.
  • Pros and Cons of Carrying cases -- A great way to carry your Palmtop in less formal settings is to use a belt pack of some sort. (See Nov/Dec 93, page 5 for more on Palmtop cases.) These packs are connected to your belt and are relatively secure. However, they also visibly advertise the fact that you've got an expensive electronic device. The coat pocket may be safer in some circumstances. Ziplock bags are a cheap and effective way to seal out humidity, rain and dust. User's have been known to zip an open Palmtop into a clear bag and type away to their hearts content.
  • Other suggestions -- A company named Globalink makes cards that let you translate back and forth between English and Spanish, German, and French. You might get one of those commonly used phrase books for the countries you'll be visiting, scan it into a text file and download it to your Palmtop. Check with The Center for Disease Control and find out the inoculations needed for the areas you're visiting. Take notes on various emergency medicines you might be taking (Fansidar, etc.). There are places where you can't even get penicillin pills. Check the Department of State travel advisories and make notes on the political situation in countries to which you'll travel. Bring along a medical\first aid reference.

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Finally, subscribe to American Express Gold Card (services include mail, emergency medical evacuation, emergency funds, emergency messages, recommendations on local doctors, lawyers, etc.)

iPhone Life magazine


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