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Find it Fast . . . . . . . . . .with Flexpad

Find it Fast . . . . . . . . . .with Flexpad

Replace most of your built-in applications with a surprisingly flexible text editor.

By Ralph Alvy

For the past few weeks I haven't been using my Palmtops Appointment Book, Phone Book, Database, NoteTaker, and Memo. In fact, I've stopped using one of my favorite third-party software programs, Micrologic's InfoSelect. The new object of my affections is Flexpad, a surprisingly flexible text editor authored by Paul Kramer.

Flexpad provides fundamental text operations, including edits, searches, and cuts-and-pastes. But Flexpad's unique flexibility and power comes from its Views and Labels features.

The Only View

The View feature lets me quickly look at different data I've collected. For example, I can use the Only View feature to display each line of a text file containing a specific word or phrase. I have a text file containing contact information (i.e., names, addresses and phone numbers data normally held in HP's Phone database). If I use Only View to search for adams I get a screen similar to the one at the top of the next column, showing all the Adams in my file.

 Flexpad's Only View showing all the Adams in the Flexpad file. Highlight bar rests on the first match (visible on Palmtop, but not on this graphic).

 Note that the text searched on is displayed in the upper left corner. A highlight bar rests on the first match (Daniel Adams). I can use the ArrowKeys to move the highlight bar to any match. When I press (ENTER), Flexpad displays the entire text file in Text View and puts the cursor on the line I selected in the Only View. So if I selected Daniel Adams and pressed (ENTER), Flexpad would take me to the section of my text file with that line, allowing me to review or edit my contact information on Daniel.

The Palmtop's built-in Phone Book and Database program let you specify categories for each entry, to help you narrow down searches. For example, you can associate Phone Book entries with the category Restaurant and create a Subset that will let you display only the Restaurants in your Phone Book.

You can do a similar thing with Flexpad's Only View and its Label feature. Let's first look at the solution using Only View. Say I have contact information for restaurants listed in the text file I described above. Somewhere in each restaurant listing, I might type *rt' to signify that this is a restaurant listing. The entries might look like this:

Leo's Deli *rt

 123 Elm St.

 Los Angeles, CA 90024

*rt Art's Seafood Cafe

 345 Oak St.

 Santa Monica, CA 90403

I could then do an Only View search on *rt' to get a display like the this:

 An OnlyView search on *rt displays a list of the restaurants in the file.

 As in the previous example, I can highlight either entry and press (ENTER) to get additional contact information. Note that it doesn't matter where *rt' occurs on any given line. Since a Flexpad file can be as large as available memory can accommodate, it can be quite large, allowing a single file to house all my Phone, Database, and NoteTaker data.

Other Views use Labels to organize your data

One way Flexpad helps organize your data is by letting you assign one or more Labels to a specific block of text. For example, you could assign the Category Label HOME to a paragraph that describes your plans to remodel your living room. You can then View all entries with the HOME Label attached.

Flexpad provides a number of Label options to let you view your data in different ways. You can create a number of different Category Labels to view data related to, say, HOME projects, WORK projects, FUN things to do, etc. Section Labels mark the start of a new subject in the file. You can place a Bookmark Label anywhere in a text file and jump back to it quickly.

As with the above Only View example, once you've located and highlighted the labeled text, you can press (ENTER) to view the text associated with the label. Unlike the Only View, however, only the text to the right of the label is displayed. This means that you should place the Label at the beginning of the text you want associated with it.

Time specific Labels let Flexpad replace Appointment Book

Flexpad lets me insert time specific Labels in a text file, providing an easy way to track appointments and ToDo's. For example, I pressed (F8) to go to the Insert Label menu:

 Flexpad's Insert Label menu.

 To enter an appointment I select Day from the menu. I can also select ToDo or a number of other options. When I select Day I get this dialog box with Flexpad's current date filled in as its default:

 Flexpad's Appointment dialog box lets you select the Date, Time, and Alarm status for your appointment.

 If I really wanted a ToDo, but chose Day by mistake, I can press (F3) at this stage to convert the Appt dialogue to a ToDo dialogue, with its Priority field filled in with whatever I've configured as my default Priority:

 Flexpad's ToDo dialog box lets you select the Date, Priority, and completion status for your ToDo.

 After filling in the Time and Alarm information, I press (F10) and insert a description of the appointment. After inserting a few Appt and ToDo Labels in the file, along with their text descriptions, I might have something like this in Text View:

  • 4/25/96 9:00a-9:30aTalk with Sue
  • 4/25/96 9:30a-10:00aMeet with Jim
  • T:4/29/96 P:1 Call about Santa Barbara vacation
  • 4/24/96 9:00a-9:30aConference call with Jack
  • 4/24/96 8:30a-9:00aStaff meeting
  • T:4/25/96 P:1 Arrange Hapkido class for Jason

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Note that some of the above entries are appointments and some are ToDo's, and that they're just in the order I entered them. I use Flexpad's Views option to sort them into a useful order. First I press (F3) to call up the Views menu:

 Access Flexpad's Views options menu and select Day to get a sorted view of day's appointments.

As you can see in the above menu, there are a number of different views available. If I choose Day (for Day View), I get a sorted display of date-labeled lines for the date Flexpad is set for. Normally this is the current date, but you can change this (described below). The display will look something like this:

 Flexpad's Day View screen, shows current day's appointments ordered by time and ToDo's ordered by priority.

In the above Day View screen, the date of the appointments and ToDo's is displayed in the upper left corner, above its week number. The system date (i.e., the current date), time, and week number are displayed in the top right of the screen. Then come the appointments for the selected date, sorted by time, followed by incomplete ToDo's for that date or earlier, sorted by priority. Hitting (H) hoists the first ToDo to the top of the screen, and hitting (H) again hoists the first appointment to the top (similar to toggling between (F9) and (F10) in Appointment).

I can move to the next or previous date in Day View by pressing (+) or (---). I can go to the next or previous week with Right or Left Arrow. Similar conventions hold in weekly and monthly Views. In all Views, pressing (F5) prompts me to Goto date? At that point, I can enter a different date or hit (F5) again to see a pop-up calendar (like the one you see when you press (F5) in HP's Appointment Book). From here I can move the cursor with the ArrowKeys to select the desired date.

Whenever I press (F5) and am prompted for a date, I have yet another powerful choice. I can enter a one- or two-digit numerical string for the next occurrence of a numbered date. For example, I would enter 21' for the next occurrence of the 21st of a month. I can also enter a two-character string for the next occurrence of a given day. For example, I would enter mo' for Monday), to' or t' for today's date, y' for yesterday's date, or tm' for tomorrow's date. Press (ENTER) and that day's appointments and ToDo's are displayed.

Flexpad allows data to be viewed by the week, month, and other ways but so does HP's Appointment Book application. Let's see what Flexpad offers that Appointment Book doesn't.

Let's say I see today's schedule shown in the previous screen, and want to call Sally Adams before our 1:00 p.m. meeting. Using the Palmtop's built-in applications, I would have to switch to Phone Book to look up Sally's phone number. With Flexpad I simply do an Only View on sally adams' to get the following display:

 Flexpad's Only View displaying entries associated with Sally Adams.

 The above Only View shows all lines in the text file that contain sally adams'. The n next to the first two lines in the above graphic indicates that a Label is attached to the text, as opposed to plain text. The first line displayed a completed ToDo (a ToDo Label with the date 3/21/96 in its Done date field, followed by plain text describing the ToDo). The second is the appointment for the upcoming meeting (an Appt Label followed by the date and time of the appointment, followed by a plain text describing the appointment). The third has no Label, composed entirely of plain text, and is the first line of my entry for Sally Adams and her personal information. The fourth also has no Label, again entirely plain text, and is about a different person altogether. I move the highlight bar to the third entry and press (ENTER). Flexpad now displays this in Text View:

 Flexpad displaying Sally Adams contact information.

 While talking to Sally, she asks me about a check I was supposed to send her. I press (F4) to return to the Previous View (which brings up the Only View on sally adams') and note the date associated with the first entry (i.e., the completed ToDo telling me to send the check). She asks to change the time of our meeting, so I press (F3) (Day) to return to the Day View and see if there's an alternative time to meet her today.

Other time management possibilities using Flexpad

Here are a few other ways I combine the use of the Only View and Labels, to offer me time management possibilities.

  • I'm on the road and have some time for some errands. I do an Only View on *rd'. (I put *rd' on any ToDo line referencing an action requiring being in my car). Flexpad displays a list of only those ToDo's.
  • I have time to return some phone calls. I put *cc' on any ToDo line that's a phone call to make. I do an Only View on *cc' and go from there.
  • I want to thank the people who referred new patients to me. I always put *np' on the line that contains a new patient's first visit. I do an Only View on *np' to display a list of new patients. I then do another Only View, this time on that patient's last name, to find my official entry of their personal information in my file. There I'll find the name of the person who referred them. One more Only View will take me to that referral source's phone number.

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Weekly and Monthly views help further to manage time

The Weekly Grid View can be used, as it is below, to get an overview of the schedule for the week. I use it to see where new patients are this week (*NP* indicates this), and where further notes are included (I use ...' to indicate the entry has more than one line in Text View).

 Flexpad's Weekly Grid View displays appointments for the week.

 Unlike Appointment Book's Weekly View, Flexpad's Weekly Grid View wraps lines when this won't interfere with other lines on the same day. Note that it wrapped on Wednesday and Saturday, but truncated instead of wrapping on Monday and Tuesday.

Monthly Graph Views

The vertical lines in the Monthly Graph View displayed on the next page show the time slots that are filled. The time intervals are set to one half hour (the dots between the hours are the half-hour indicators). These settings can be changed using the configuration file option. The TODAY marker keeps you aware of today's date. (The block cursor you see is created by a third party utility I use.) In the screen below I moved the cursor down to the item occupying the 12:00 pm slot on April 2 to see what's there. Its contents show up in highlighted text at the bottom of the screen.

 Flexpad's Monthly Graph Views give you a month-at-a-glance look at your appointment book. Vertical lines show time slots that are filled.

 The double-corner symbol at the bottom of the screen (not shown in the above view) indicate multiple appointments further down the list. If I move the cursor to this icon, the additional appointments are displayed at the bottom of the screen.

Final analysis: The advantages of Flexpad

Here's a summary list of some of the advantages I think Flexpad has over the built-in Appointment Book.

  • It doesn't automatically save a file with each edit. I must manually save by pressing (F10). This is an advantage because it allows me to exit the program without saving a file that I have made an error in.
  • I noticed my batteries were lasting longer after I switched to Flexpad. I assume that this is because the Palmtop is not saving files after each edit.
  • Since all data is stored in simple text files, it's less likely that your data will get corrupted.
  • I have direct access to raw data with any text file viewer or editor. Only inserted Labels appear as binary junk in a text file viewer.
  • Searches are faster, and when you get used to the different data entry paradigm, data entry is at least as fast or faster. This is especially true when you start entering two-character strings in date fields.
  • It allows me to combine data that would have required separate files in Appointment, Phone, Database, NoteTaker, and InfoSelect, making cross references easy and quick.
  • Its data files are smaller than the Palmtop's built-in application files with the same data.
  • It allows multiple views of the data linked by a common character strings, not just dates. For example, I can display all lines with adams in them. The Palmtop's Appointment Book lets me display data with a common date, or in the same week or month only. I can do an F4 search in Appointment Book, but I don't get the convenient View mode like I do with Flexpad.
  • The Flexpad program can be updated because it's not built into ROM. Its author is active on CompuServe's HP Handheld Forum, developing the product.
  • Flexpad is a character-based DOS application that can run on any PC. It can be configured to run on a PC in 80x25 mode, as well as 80x25, 64x16 and 40x16 on an HP 100LX and 200LX, and 40x16 on a 95LX. Appointment Book runs on PCs only with Connectivity Pack loaded, requiring CGA or better display.
  • It makes it easier to write random notes, to be organized later, in the same file that houses appointments, phone numbers, etc.
  • It makes it easier to convert any appointment to a ToDo, and vice versa. This is very convenient when it comes time to convert a ToDo to a committed date and time slot, or when I might decide to postpone an appointment indefinitely, converting it to a ToDo.
  • Its clipboard allows me to append as well as overwrite. And, because its clipboard is file based, I can edit it, use it to paste text between files sequentially loaded in Flexpad, or use it to pass text to and from a file in a different application.

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Shareware/freeware mentioned in this article

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