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The HP Palmtop as a Reference Tool
HP Palmtop users carry with them a world of information -- from movie guides to star guides.
By Hal GoldsteinOne of the great boons of carrying the HP Palmtop is that we have instant access to reference information when and where we need it. Almost every HP Palmtop user accesses his Phone and Appointment Books for phone numbers, To-Do's, and appointments. Many of us also take advantage of the built-in Database and NoteTaker files to create and store information as varied as a list of local restaurants, the books in a personal library, or the collection of projects we manage.
Because the HP Palmtop is a DOS computer, Palmtop users can take advantage of commercial databases with information written for PC's. Doctors with Pepid software can access diagnostic and pharmacological information needed in emergency situations. Programmers can use ExpertHelp with hundreds of language-specific functions. And dieters can even monitor their caloric intake with Mirical's Personal Food Analyst.
There are a number of products as well that we can use whatever our profession. For example, later in this column I talk about several excellent dictionary/thesaurus combinations and language translation tools, and on page 18 of this issue you'll find a review of Bible software that works on the HP Palmtop. I personally have the American Heritage Dictionary/Thesaurus, Random House Webster's Electronic Dictionary/Thesaurus, Spanish Assistant, Banner Blue Movie Guide, and PC Study Bible on my Palmtop. In addition I have Gilles Kohl's Vertical Reader and some Guttenberg Electronic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, poems from Poe , stories of Sherlock Holmes, and the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. But before you run out and buy a particular product you might want to examine the possible problems/ challenges of installing relatively large reference databases on the HP Palmtop. If these products do not come customized for the HP Palmtop, you might need a little patience and experimentation, as well as enough disk space on a PCMCIA card. (See page 16 for installation suggestions.)
One nice thing about reference programs. Once on your Palmtop, they are usually easy to learn and use. Most have obvious user interfaces to conduct searches and a help system.
Webster's Electronic Dictionary & Thesaurus
I really like having an electronic dictionary/thesaurus always available. I had been using the American Heritage Dictionary (reviewed Vol.3, No.4, Pg.24, 1994) for some months and was reasonably pleased with it until I started using the Random House Webster's Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus. The Webster's is much faster and more comprehensive. However, the speed and comprehensiveness come at a price. At 10MB, Webster's takes twice as much disk space as American Heritage, so you need a large Flashdisk. In addition, American Heritage can be configured to run from within the built-in applications provided 384K of RAM are free. Webster's must be run from DOS after exiting all applications (press (&...) (MENU) Applications... Terminate All...). To return to Application Manager type 100 on the 100LX or 200 on the 200LX.
You can run Webster's in stand-alone mode or as a memory resident (TSR) pop-up program. Suppose you are typing along in your word processing program. When you hit the hotkey in pop-up mode, it will look up the word that your cursor is on at that moment. You will want to use a DOS word processor if you use it in pop-up mode since it will not run with MEMO in System Manager. Personally, I use it in stand- alone mode. I terminate all applications and start it using a batch file (see batch file command listed at the end of this section).
Besides being useful, an electronic dictionary is fun, a good way to learn about word origins and increase your vocabulary. Webster's contains 180,000 words and 275,000 synonyms. Definitions may include hyphenation points, derivations, etymology, idioms, and usage notes. (If you want to save disk space, you don't have to install etymology or pronunciation).
HOW TO USE WEBSTER'S
For example, let's say I look up the word "ancestor". I would get the following screen:
I see the word "progenitor" and I am not sure exactly what it means, so I move my cursor to "progenitor" and press (F2) (Dictionary) to get its definition.
On the "progenitor" screen, if I put the cursor on "ancestor" and press (F3) (Thesaurus) I get this screen.
A related feature allows you to type in a word and find all definitions containing that word. You can even enter Boolean expressions -- for example, you can search for each dictionary word that contains the word "element" and either "toxic" or "radioactive" in its definition, by searching on "element AND (toxic OR radioactive)". This feature requires some patience though since on the Palmtop, it is a bit slow.
Another feature lets you do "fuzzy" searches using "wild cards." So, for example, if you can't quite remember what DNA stands for, you could type "d*ribo*". Or if you remembered that the word for the denomination of Italian currency (Lira) was made up of four letters starting with "L" and ending with "a", you could enter "l??a".
Finally, if you misspell a word that you are trying to look up, Webster's will provide you with alternatives. If you give it "maen", it will let you select from "amen, mean, men, men-, main, and mane." For you Scrabble and word puzzle fans, Webster's also does anagrams -- it forms a word by rearranging the letters of another word.
To run Webster's I use the following command:
rhwd /p /dba:\dict\
The /p is optional. It tells the program to run in stand-alone mode rather than as a pop-up TSR. The /dba:\dict\ is required -- it tells the program that the files are on the A drive in a subdirectory (I arbitrarily named it \dict).
Language Assistant Series
I have tried a number of language translation tools on the Palmtop, and in my mind the clear winner when considering both Palmtop compatibility and features is the Assistant series. The Spanish, French, German, and Italian Assistant programs take between 2.5MB and 3MB each of storage space.
The main translation program must be run from DOS after exiting all applications. However, the gem for Palmtop users is an Assistant utility that can be run from within System Manager. The utility requires only 256K and can be run from Application Manager with other applications open.
LANGUAGE ASSISTANT OPTIONS
When using this utility (SPANTOOL.EXE for Spanish Assistant) from Application Manager, the following screen appears:
"Spanish" is a basic Spanish-to-English dictionary and "English" is a basic English-to-Spanish dictionary. Both versions "English" and "Spanish" are quite useful for looking up words quickly.
Say, for example, I selected "English" and typed walk. I would get the following screen:
"Verb" lets me see how a verb is conjugated. So, for example, to see how the Spanish verb "decir" is conjugated, I would select "Verb" and type decir.
As you can see, the present tense is listed and other tenses can be selected.
"Topics" is a great feature for coming up to speed in the language's grammar. For example, when I select "Topics" I get the screen below.
If I select "Possessive Pronouns" from that screen, I get the following screen.
"Accents" and "Hotkeys" -- the remaining options -- are essentially help screens. "Unload" lets you unload the program if you ran it as a pop- up TSR from DOS.
The main Assistant program must be run by exiting the built-in applications. The program lets you translate a sentence or a document at a time. You can give it a file, and it will translate the whole file.
However... beware. The state of the art in language translation is not all that advanced from an uninitiated user's point of view. Language is ambiguous and idiomatic. When using any translation program, prepare to laugh at (or be disappointed with) a significant portion of the translation.
The nice thing about the Assistant programs is that, at your option, you can take part in the translation. If it encounters an ambiguous word, it will ask you if it is a noun, verb, etc., as well as the word translation you prefer. The end result may still be far from ideal, but the interaction helps.
I used Spanish Assistant to translate a 95LX help document I wrote for my brother-in-law in Uruguay. He seemed to understand what I wrote, and the process was faster and more accurate than if I had attempted it with my broken Spanish.
Here's how I installed Spanish Assistant. If you purchase French, German, or Italian Assistant, follow the same procedure, but with that program's appropriate files.
In Application Manager my Path contained the following:
a:\spanish5\spantool.exe /t /l|256
The /l is the LCD option and dramatically improves screen readability. The /t tells it to run in stand-alone mode, not as a TSR. |256 tells AppManager to allocate 256K of memory in DOS for SPANTOOL to run.
To run the main program from DOS -- exit System Manager by pressing (&...) (MENU) Application Terminate All... and run the whole program by typing: spanasst /l.
Banner Blue Movie Guide
I've written about this program in the past (see January/February 1993). For most of us who like movies it is a jewel. I am disappointed that it hasn't been updated for a year and a half because of lessening DOS sales. However, the current version still has movies introduced through 1993 such as The Fugitive, In the Line of Fire, and Jurassic Park.
This 850K program is great for video store browsers. When you're at the video store and you spot a possible video, look it up in your Palmtop for a detailed description and critic's ratings. Or start from the Palmtop and list a number of likely hits using one of many search options. For example, you can search for all four star movies from the 1980's, all academy award winning best pictures, or all Jimmy Stewart movies.
AN INSTALLATION TIP
Once you transfer the files to the Palmtop, the program runs fine and is readable. However, running MONO8025 from DOS and adjusting the contrast of the HP Palmtop display by pressing (ON)-(-) and (ON)-(+) can make DOS program displays even clearer.
Browsing software bins in computer stores is a great way to discover inexpensive Palmtop products. Recently I came across Correct Quotes in one such bin which contains 5,000 quotes searchable by subject matter or author.
The example below shows a list of "F" topics.
Highlighting "Facts" on this display and pressing (Enter) reveals the following screen:
The program takes 500K. Selecting LCD from the File Display Options menu maximizes readability.
Some Installation Tricks
There are several potential impediments to running a piece of DOS software on your Palmtop. Here are some suggestions:
Secondly, sometimes the software will configure the system for the desktop's capabilities (e.g.. VGA graphics) rather than the Palmtop's. Many users prefer to test the program and configure it properly from the desktop before transferring it to the Palmtop.
If you're lucky, the configuration file may be a simple text file, in which case you can edit it in MEMO -- you can search for C: and replace with A:. If you make a mistake you could damage the file, so be sure you have a backup. Also, in many cases, technically altering a file may void your license agreement.
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