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On the Road with the HP Palmtop

On the Road with the HP Palmtop

This Palmtop user hauls cars to testing grounds, motion picture film sights, and car races, while tracking trip details in Lotus 1-2-3 on his 200LX.

By Rick Hurtle

I am a cross-country truck driver and have owned my own truck since 1980. I work in association with a company that transports show cars, test cars, and prototypes throughout the United States. If there is an auto show in your town, I have probably been there. This year's work includes transporting test cars up to the Northwest Territories of Canada for cold weather testing, working a photo shoot in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and delivering to a dealer's show in San Diego, California. This job is definitely not boring. It's fun and allows me to go to some great places where I couldn't afford to travel for vacation.

From shoe boxes to Palmtop 1-2-3 files

When I first got into trucking, computers were not in many households and certainly not in mine. I didn't know anything about them and I didn't want to know. I kept all of my receipts in a shoe box and at the end of the year I would sit down with the adding machine and hope that I wouldn't forget or lose anything. Then I started keeping a ledger in the truck and entering expenses at the end of each day. It was a better way of doing things, but receipts would still go into the shoe box never to be seen again.

Eventually my father volunteered to keep track of my expenses on his PC, using Lotus 1-2-3. This led to my wife and I getting a PC at home. The only problem was that I still didn't know how to run it. So my wife entered my expenses, but we were back to figuring it all out at the end of the year. I was glad she had plenty of shoe boxes.

I received my HP Palmtop as a birthday present from my father two years ago. Although I certainly appreciated the thought, I wasn't too crazy about the gift. I didn't know the first thing about DOS or Lotus. Finally, after two months of looking at my 200LX laying on the floor of my truck, I decided it was time to learn something about it. I saw an infomercial on TV for video tapes about DOS and several computer programs. I ordered them, viewed them, and found they were a great help. Between the tapes, my father, and the great guys in the HPHAND Forum on CompuServe, I finally entered the computer age. Spreadsheet works well on the road

Lotus 1-2-3 is the program I use the most on the Palmtop, working in separate spreadsheets for expenses, loads, gas mileage, and truck maintenance.

On one spreadsheet I keep track of my meals, hotels, repairs, tolls, insurance, and all truck-related expenses. I record totals each month, and at the end of the year I can enter all of them on another spreadsheet to give to my accountant. I keep the titles and columns in a file called START.WK1 and then each month I just copy it to the spreadsheet for the currant month like JUN96.WK1.

Wherever I am, I try to take time each night to enter travel data. When I get home, I transfer all of the data over to Lotus 1-2-3 on my desktop using the HP Connectivity Pack. Then with all of my expenses already entered, my wife can add the business expenses that she pays from home, and we'll have a complete record.

The Quick LX typing aid program, which I purchased from Shier Systems and Software, has been a big help with 1-2-3 worksheets. I often stop at the same truck stops, motels, and restaurants on a weekly basis. Quick LX "remembers" words you frequently type. Enter a few characters, and the program finishes typing out the word. This saves a great deal of time when entering receipts.

I also keep track of the loads I have hauled and incoming revenue on a spreadsheet. I used to try storing most of this information in my head. Now, while on the road, I enter all the information about the trip in 1-2-3 and later, when I get paid for the trip, I enter the revenue. This way I know my exact gross income at all times.

Another important use of 1-2-3 is for tracking fuel mileage. With the high price of diesel fuel these days a sudden drop in fuel mileage due to a mechanical problem can cost me a significant amount of money. After entering my mileage in column B, the gallons in column A, a formula entered in column D figures mileage. Every time I fill up I have my fuel mileage in a few quick easy seconds.

The last 1-2-3 worksheet that I use is for truck maintenance. I can quickly check the date of a repair or see if it's time for an oil change. I have my oil changed every 10,000 miles and a grease job every 5,000 miles. This is usually a monthly expense and I need to keep close track of it. Not getting the oil changed at the proper mileage can cause future mechanical problems. I keep track of all repairs on the worksheet so that if I have a repair made and the same part fails again six months down the road then I can quickly check the date of the first repair for warranty purposes. When I sell or trade the truck (for a new one with toilet and shower) I will be able to print out a nice spreadsheet of all maintenance and repairs for the new owners. They will know exactly what has been done to the truck, when it was done, and what shop did the work. Before the Palmtop, I would list all of this in a small spiral notebook. After three or four years the notebook would fall apart. A neat spreadsheet of the maintenance and repairs will be a good selling point.

Built-in applications organize life on the road

I used to have business cards scattered throughout the truck. Fortunately, PhoneBook replaced that mess. I keep contact information on friends and co-workers, along with truck repair shops and dealers I do business with -- all in one PhoneBook file.

For hotels, since I travel a lot, I try to keep track of where I stay so I can call ahead for reservations in the future. I store hotel data in a file named HOTEL.PDB. I use a macro to toggle between the two *.PDB files. (The only reason I keep hotels in a separate file is that when I am looking for a hotel they are all together in one file and it makes it easier to find the one I want.)

I use the Appointment Book application more for personal uses like recording birthdays, anniversaries, etc. One anniversary I didn't think I needed to include in the file was my own. Guess what? I forgot it this year. It is now in the file.

If you happen to have a job in the trucking industry where you have several appointments on each load for pickups and deliveries, then Appointment Book is very helpful. You can enter all of the appointments in APPT and then the daily greeting every morning when you turn your Palmtop list your daily appointments.

NoteTaker is great for keeping route information, and it's easy to read the directions from the Palmtop while driving. Before the Palmtop, I would always write this information on scrap paper that I would usually lose very quickly. Now I keep them in NoteTaker for future reference. For example, if I'm at a pay phone taking down directions, I have my Palmtop with me and enter the information directly into a NoteTaker file. It may be a year before I will need the directions again, but it will save me a phone call at that time. Every month I will delete entries that I know I will never use again.

NoteTaker useful for storing load information

I use Pocket Quicken to keep my checkbook balanced. It is very easy to use and has eliminated my monthly mistakes. If you are uncomfortable using 1-2-3 then it is also a great way of tracking your expenses. You can create categories like fuel, repairs, hotels, etc. Then at the end of the month or year you can print out a nice summary of all your expense categories with the totals. It's neat and really quite easy.

Staying in touch with acCIS and CompuServe

Last, but not least, I use acCIS and CompuServe to communicate with family members and friends while I'm on the road. I started out with a Zoom PK14.4 external pocket modem with acCIS on a 2MB SRAM card but it didn't take long before I needed much more storage capacity. I just purchased from Shier Software Systems an EXP 8MB flash/modem card. This card has modem capabilities and flash memory built into one PC Card. It works great. I now have plenty of memory and don't have any extra equipment to carry into the truck stops when I want to log on to CompuServe.

Most truck stop restaurants have phones at the tables, so I can usually just unplug them and plug in my modem. Where phones are permanently mounted to the table I use an acoustic coupler, though I don't always have the best luck logging on with it. Eventually, I would like to get a wireless modem so I don't have to bother going into a truck stop, but that is on my wish list. When I am in a truck stop it is amazing how many people will come up and say "What's that? "or "Is that a computer?" I have yet to see another truck driver with an HP 200LX. They seem to be a well kept secret. Laptops are getting fairly popular with a lot of drivers, probably because they haven't heard of the Palmtop.

There are several forums on CompuServe that I access. HPHAND is a must for anyone with a Palmtop, especially a beginner like myself. The members there are very quick to respond to your questions and are most helpful. Another popular forum that I and a lot of truck drivers visit is Motorsports (Go Racing). NASCAR and Indy car racing is extremely popular and I can keep up with qualifying and racing as the events happen. I usually just have time to check race results, but if I read something that I want to comment on, I do. When time permits I "lurk" around in a few other CompuServe Forums, like the Wine forum and the Car forum.

Staying on top of things in a changing world

Trucking has changed so much through the past years and good maintenance and financial records are a must. Good financial records really make it a lot easier in an IRS audit. If you have your expenses printed out in a nice summary or spreadsheet it makes the audit go faster and usually puts the auditor in a very happy state of mind.

The HP 200LX Palmtop has definitely made my life much easier. It's provided me with much more accurate bookkeeping and a number of very useful built in applications. It does everything for me that a laptop would do at a much lesser cost and without taking up a lot of storage space in a small truck cab. It definitely would be an asset for any truck driver or small business owner.

 Rick Hurtle with his 1996 Freightliner (equipped with custom stereo system, sink, microwave, refrigerator, and 18" DSS satellite dish) and HP 200LX Palmtop.

 A portion of the expenses template I use to track meals, repairs, tolls, insurance, and all truck-related expenses. Expense categories continue to the right off screen.
 
 

 A template I use to track fuel mileage, with actual data entered. Formula entered in column D automatically figures mileage.
 
 

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