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User Profile: The HP Palmtop: The Ideal Portable Terminal with Versati

User Profile: The HP Palmtop: The Ideal Portable Terminal with Versatile PIMs

He only wanted a portable terminal for data communications, but he got more than he bargained for with the HP Palmtop.

By Victor Roberts

My HP 100LX, like the 95LX I had before it, has become my indispensable "information companion," but it did not start out in that role. I first acquired the 95LX because I was looking for a lightweight portable computer terminal to use to access our company electronic mail system.

Ideal portable terminals for E-Mail & communications

The company I work for makes extensive use of E-mail for intra-company communications. E-mail is not only used within the site where I work but also used to communicate between our multiple world-wide locations. I manage a small R&D group in our central R&D Center, and use E-mail to run my "business."

My job requires that I take many short one to two-night trips via air to work at other company or customer sites. While away, I still have to connect up to the company E-mail system to send and receive messages. This sometimes necessitates bringing along a portable terminal.

I don't like to wait to collect baggage at the airport, so I carry all my luggage with me on these short trips. Usually I have one small suitcase with clothes and a second with my papers and such. The standard two bag carry-on limit (and my own physical endurance) makes lugging along a portable terminal in the form of a standard laptop computer (with its extra batteries and charger) highly undesirable.

The small size, light weight and long battery life of 95/100/200LX computers make them ideal portable terminals. More on that later.

HP Palmtop provides a decent VT100 emulator for file transfer

I started traveling with a portable computer when Tandy introduced its Model 100, which weighed about two pounds and ran for 20 hours on 4 AA batteries. It changed my life dramatically. I later moved on to the slightly smaller Tandy Model 102, and then switched to a Cambridge Z88 computer.

My company used a VAX for office E-mail. The VAX is a minicomputer that supports many computers networked to it. I used an MS-DOS desktop computer to interface with the VAX. To do so, the desktop ran Columbia University's Kermit as a VT100 terminal emulator and file transfer program.

The Tandy and Cambridge could be used as portable terminals for the office VAX system, but I needed a special setup on the VAX full-screen editor for these machines. Since I used a VT100 emulator on my desktop PC, I needed to change the editor profile when I left and returned from a trip. In addition, I had to remember a different set of commands for each situation -a complicated solution.

Since the Tandy and Cambridge lacked VT100 emulation capabilities, neither supported the Kermit file transfer protocol. I needed to use XMODEM, which is much more primitive.

When I read about the HP 95LX I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Here was a real MS-DOS machine with built-in VT100 emulation that could fit in my pocket and run for weeks on a pair of AA batteries. That meant that I could carry around in my pocket the means to access my office VAX E-mail system.

I obtained a demo unit through the local HP sales office and immediately tested the built-in VT100 emulator, DataComm. It worked, but the function keys that I needed to run the VAX editor did not seem to be there. (I later learned that DataComm emulates only 4 of the 18 keys on the "Application Keypad" of a real VT100 terminal.) (See Vol.3, No.4, Pg. 61 for more on accessing all 18 keys.)

My next test was to load an MS-DOS version of Kermit <Available ON DISK> and Turbo Lightning (no longer sold by Borland) and see if that combination worked. Much to my delight it did. Borland's Turbo Lightning is a spelling checker used to reduce on-line typos and misspellings. Unfortunately, Turbo Lightning does not work with MEMO or any other System-Manager application. I can only use it with DOS applications like Kermit, Tapcis and PC Outline <Available ON DISK>. Turbo Lightning is a TSR spelling checker. It sits in the background and checks words as you type them. If you use a word it does not recognize, it beeps at you and you press a hotkey to bring up a list of alternate words. Select a word from the list and Turbo Lightning will automatically replace the incorrect word with the correct one. This works not only when you are composing a file, but more importantly when you are on-line doing E-mail. It is quite amazing!

Turbo Lightning can also be used to check a screen of text. In this case it highlights the suspect words, but does not suggest replacements. Turbo Lightning does not spell check files like Webster's Spelling Checker does.

I was hooked on the HP 95LX, and decided to keep the demo unit instead of ordering, and waiting for, a new machine. The main role I envisioned for the machine was as a portable terminal. I did not learn until much later that some DOS terminal emulators will not work correctly on the 95LX because of a bug in the serial port. If Kermit had not worked when I tested it, I probably would not have kept the 95LX.

I have since upgraded to the HP 100LX and use it as a portable terminal. I also used Ted Dickens TIMEOUT <Available ON DISK> program to automatically increase the automatic shutoff time to 10 minutes when I am using my terminal emulator. (With the my normal value set to one minute, my Palmtop would often shut off and drop the phone line while I was reading a long or complicated E-mail message.) I have a .BAT file that sets the new time out value, starts up Turbo Lightning and Kermit, and returns the time out value to 1 minute after I quit Kermit.

I have not yet found any FAX software for my 100LX that I like, so for those infrequent times when I must FAX a business document, I upload the ASCII file to the VAX at the company where I work, and use the FAX machine connected to that computer to send it out. For example, I was once using PC Outline to develop a program plan with a new customer in another city. When we were done, they wanted a hard copy of the plan. I had my printer cables, but all the printers at this company had cables that were screwed on tight by the computer "high priests" and no one was willing to disconnect a cable so I could gain access to the printer. I printed an ASCII version of the outline to a file on my 100LX, used my modem and their phone to E-mail the document to the VAX at my office, and had the VAX fax the document back to my customer's location. It was an overly complicated solution, but it worked.

Finally, I am a member of the CompuServe Information Services and use TAPCIS on my desktop for automated access to CIS. When I am traveling, I also use TAPCIS for CIS messaging on my HP 100LX.

APPT and other PIM's grow on you

The built-in applications were "nice", but at first I was not interested in a computer to keep meeting notes or my appointment book. After all, I had my pencil and paper. However, once I had my 95LX, I found that its array of built-in applications provided many more uses than I ever imagined.

I first began using the Appointment application to organize my schedule. (I added WEEKABK <Available ON DISK> to the 95LX to get a weekly view that was not provided by Palmtop.)

Whenever I travel I set up all my flights in APPT as appointments with 30 minute lead times. Since most of my flights require a connection, I set an appointment to remind me when it is time to head to the gate. APPT provides a record of all flights.

I also use the 100LX as a wake-up alarm when traveling. Usually this is only a backup, but last year the hotel I was staying at in Cleveland had lost power due to a big thunderstorm, and the 100LX was the only wake-up alarm I had. This summer, while camping in Yosemite, I used the 100LX as a wake-up alarm after I missed hearing the alarm on my watch the day before.

On the 100LX I found that having many "carry forward" ToDo's really slowed down the APPT application. I have over 100 and the performance was terrible! I solved this problem by separating my ToDo's into two groups. The first and smallest group are items that are time-sensitive. They remained in my appointment book. These include things like paying my monthly mortgage and credit card bills, semi-monthly utility bills, and annual events such as tax bills, car inspections and magazine renewals.

The second and larger group of ToDo's includes things that are not tied to a specific time, such as reminders to look up a certain bit of personal or technical information, order something, send something to someone, or do something. I placed these ToDo's in a customized database file.

Custom ToDo Database: Graphic

 [Editor's note: See the article on page 42 of this issue for a more detailed example of using the Database application to track ToDo's.]

In addition to TODO items, I use the Database application to track my frequent flyer credits, to keep track of the project charge numbers we use at work, to track restaurants and, of course to read Stanley Dobrowski's database of HP Palmtop freeware and shareware files in the HPHAND libraries (HPHLIB.ZIP <Available ON DISK>) .

Many uses for Memo

I also use Memo to keep lists of all sorts of stuff from books I want to try to read, to computer hardware and software I read about and want to try, to the serial numbers on travelers checks I purchase and the date and place where I cashed them, and data on new car prices and insurance rates (when I was shopping for a car). Last Spring I used Memo to write performance appraisals for half of my staff while flying home from a business meeting in France.

I also use Memo to take notes in business meetings and program reviews. I have found that the small size of the 100LX makes it much less intrusive than a normal notebook computer. The screen is small enough to not get "in between" me and the other people in the meeting. The long battery life is also a great advantage. While the folks with notebook computers are hunting for power outlets, my 100LX keeps going and going and going.

I have an old copy of WordStar 4.0 on my Flash card. Most of the notes I write are delivered via ASCII E-mail. I still use WordStar on my desktop PC for all these notes, since the files are easily converted into pure ASCII with a simple program I wrote that strips out the WordStar formatting code. When I first got my 95LX I continued to use WS4 for most notes that would be E-mailed from my Palmtop. I gradually shifted to writing everything in Memo and then using WS4 to spell check the file and format it into 65-column wide lines. I have recently purchased a copy of Webster's Spelling Checker from Thaddeus Computing. It is great! I am considering removing WS4 from the 100LX since the combination of Memo and Webster's provides all the text editing, formatting and spell checking I need on a Palmtop.

100Buddy and InfoSelect and features to 100LX

Moving to add-in applications, my favorite is 100BUDDY. I don't have room to list all of it's many features, but my favorite Buddy-added features include the following:

  • Battery voltmeter and timer -which help know when its time to change batteries;
  • Highlight and start -which lets you highlight a file in FILER and press (ENTER) twice to open it in its associated application;
  • Quick exit and save -which lets you exit any application and save the open data file by pressing (MENU)-(.);
  • Assign files/directories to Fn keys -which lets you assign frequently used directories and/or filenames to the Fn keys;
  • Quick exit of System Manager -by pressing (MENU)-(<Shift>)(DEL);
  • Display macro names -lets you display macro names above the Fn keys;
  • Double-clicking -lets you press a key twice to get its shifted value. Also lets you double click a Blue key to get its alternate (Ctrl-Blue key) application;
  • Reassigning Blue Keys;
  • Pressing (FILER) twice -takes you to Set Up.
  • Exiting SetUp by pressing Q;
  • Using Fn keys in SetUp to access SetUp options.



100Buddy has many, many more useful features.

[Editor's Note: We understand that 200Buddy is under development.]

I also use a DOS program called InfoSelect to track all sorts of random bits of information. Stuff like vacation days taken each year, the type of batteries used in all my electronic gadgets and the date they were last changed, serial numbers of stuff like my 100LX and the identification numbers of my cars and keypad maps for the VT100 emulator I run on my 100LX and desktop PC. (See InfoSelect article, Jan/Feb 93, pg.35.)

Project planning with Lotus 1-2-3 and PC Outline

The organization I manage does contract-funded research. I use 1-2-3 on my 100LX to track the budget for my group. The spreadsheet (PROJ .WK1 in PROFILE.ZIP <Available ON DISK>) includes the salaries of all my staff, the overhead rate, the number of vacation days each person has, the projects they are assigned to and the non-labor costs for each project. My goal is to balance this spread sheet in two dimensions: the columns assigned for each person must add up to 52 weeks, while the rows assigned to projects must add up to no more than the authorized funding level for that project.

I also have a smaller spreadsheet (QPROJ.WK1 in PROFILE.ZIP <Available ON DISK>) that I can use to quickly estimate the cost of new projects.

Project Costs Estimates Worksheet: Graphic

 The worksheet consists of the name of the person, salary (if applicable), the cost per man week, an estimate of the number of weeks the individual will be needed, and the total cost. While I could use my desktop PC or a notebook for these tasks, the 100LX allows me to have my budget information with me all the time: at staff meetings and when visiting customers to discuss new projects. I also use 1-2-3 to maintain expense accounts when I travel, to record and graph NiMH battery voltage vs. use time and various other tasks.

I use PC Outline (PCO.ZIP <Available ON DISK>) for quick project planning and to maintain action item lists for my staff.

For more detailed project planning, including task scheduling, resource leveling and cost estimation I use Timeline. While I have loaded Timeline 4.0 on my flash card, I must admit I have not yet done any serious work with it on my 100LX. It runs so slowly on the 100LX that I always fall back to PC Outline when visiting customers and used Timeline back in my office. I take my DELL notebook on trips where I knew I had to run Timeline.

Solver used for technical work

Even though it sometimes seems that I spend all my time managing the budget, I do have time for occasional technical work. We design high-performance fluorescent lamps, among other things, and I use SOLVER equations on occasions for calculating the magnetic field in transformer cores based on the core area, determining the frequency and volts-per-turn of the design, finding the vapor pressure of mercury as a function of temperature (see VDR.EQN in PROFILE.ZIP <Available ON DISK>).

What about hardware?

I use an HP 10MB Flash card with Stacker 3.0. I also have 2MB and 512KB SRAM cards from my 95LX days on which I store infrequently used programs. I use an external modem, so the PCMCIA slot is available for data storage. I started with a Worldport 2400 baud modem, and now have a Worldport 9696 FAX/ data modem. For access for weird foreign telephones, I have an acoustic coupler that plugs into the modem. (CP+ Telecoupler II). This provides universal access.

I have been using NiMH batteries from Real Goods for over a year. I charge them once a week on Saturday night, using the standard charge cycle. In a typical week, the Buddy battery meter logs 12 hours of battery use, and I have gotten up to 16 hours per charge from these batteries under high use conditions. I have stopped taking my notebook on vacation trips, as the 100LX serves all my needs. On business trips I never take my notebook computer anymore unless the trip is long enough to require that I check my suitcase or I just must run Timeline or some Windows application to be compatible with my customers.

Instant information access, and fun

I primarily use my Palmtop to maintain my TODO list or write memos. But in the few spare minutes I do have, the HP Palmtop provides me with "intellectually stimulating entertainment" in the form of a Tetris clone called HPTRIS <Available ON DISK>, a chess program called GNUCHESS <Available ON DISK>, and my current favorite, a maze game called SOKOBAN <Available ON DISK>.

The HP 95LX and 100LX have truly changed my life. My Palmtop travels with me wherever I go and gives me instant access to the information I need. Now all I need is a little more free time for the intellectually stimulating entertainment.

Using Time Value of Money

iPhone Life magazine

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