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Mechanical Engineer Helps Link Palmtop Community

Mechanical Engineer Helps Link Palmtop Community

In addition to using his 200LX for faxing, e-mail, spell checking, databases and viewing digital photographs, Mitch Hamm discusses his use of the Linux operating system.

By Mitch Hamm

I received my first Hewlett-Packard handheld for my 22nd birthday in the form of a HP15C programmable calculator. Eleven years later I still have a love affair with my latest HP, a 5-Mb 200LX with a 20-Mb flash disk. My HP goes everywhere with me, helps out in countless ways throughout my day, organizes my life, manages my finances, entertains and teaches me, introduces me to wonderful people the world over and keeps me in contact with home and office when I travel.

When traveling, I always have my HP either in the perfectly-sized outside zipper pocket of my Tumi briefcase or snug in its Ripoff case clipped to my belt. My modem of choice is a Megahertz XJACK PCMCIA data/fax cellular model due to its compact size and low price. I also have a backup Zoom 14.4 Pocket modem with a custom-made 12-inch serial cable. I used to use the Zoom exclusively until I found out how convenient an XJACK can be. A friend and I built our cables from the bare-ended EduCALC cable and some Radio Shack 9-pin serial cable ends.

I use several different software packages to keep in touch with the outside world. acCIS is always ready on my palmtop to whisk me on and off of CompuServe so I can keep close tabs on the HPHAND Forum or participate in software beta tests. My office has a fairly robust cc:Mail system in place so I use my palmtop, modem and cc:Mail to send and receive e-mail when I'm away from the office. For Internet e-mail, I use David Colston's NetTamer =; and for faxes, I use Anthony Mai's Quickstar Fax Pro =. Finally, my newest toy is WWW/LX, which I use for cruising the Web and to access my home PC while away.

My desktop PC is a hub of worldwide palmtop activity

This brings me to my next big passion, the Linux operating system. Linux is a free UNIX clone for the Intel PC platform (and others) which has almost entirely replaced my home use of Microsoft Windows. I am constantly amazed at all I can do with Linux, and it has given me the means to get even more involved with the worldwide palmtop community.

I use my Linux computer to host the HP Palmtop Mailing List which was born in early September 1996 and at the time of this writing has over 700 members from all over the world. Anyone interested in subscribing to the list should send an e-mail to majordomo@ palmtop.net with "subscribe hplx" in the message body. I run the free majordomo mailing list software, which takes any question or comment e-mailed to the list and automatically resends it to the list's subscribers. My Linux machine also hosts the list's Web site at http://www.palmtop.net/hplist.html. I use programs called "Glimpse" and "Hypermail" to index e-mail and convert to HTML format every word in every e-mail message sent to the list so previous exchanges can be retrieved at any time.

Linux is really just another UNIX operating system. Because of this, I can easily let other users access my system. My friends Jorgen Wallgren (Singapore), Tom Gibson (of The HP Palmtop Paper), Murray Barton (Western Australia), Peter Watkins (Washington, D.C.) and Jeff Davis (Indiana) all have accounts on my machine. They often drop in via telnet to "chat" with me from wherever they may be. My system actually acts as another Internet provider for some of my friends, since it provides telnet, ftp, file storage, Web space, mail, news and use of the powerful applications that reside on other UN*X systems. Jorgen, Murray and I have become fast friends due to our many common interests, and we are now working together to engineer an awesome Web site devoted to palmtops. The Web site is called "The Palmtop Network" and its home page can be reached at http://www.palmtop.net. It is a work in progress, but has become very popular with tens of thousands of accesses from around the world in only two months. It currently offers:

  • S.U.P.E.R The Simply Unbeatable Palmtop Essentials Repository is a growing collection of the best palmtop software available. The S.U.P.E.R Team is comprised of Mitchell Hamm, Toshiki Sasabe (Tokyo), Jorgen Wallgren (Singapore), Peter Watkins (USA), and Rattipat Aramwatanapong (Thailand). Files are neatly ordered with good descriptions, screen shots where applicable, mail links to authors, versions, sizes and the date added. There is a good search engine to find exactly what you are looking for in palmtop software.
  • Database Repository This is a collection of databases to use with the HP Palmtop and covering a myriad of topics. It is maintained by Murray Barton (Western Australia).
  • Currency Conversion Macro Generator This page, created by Peter Watkins, allows you to update the currencies in your HP CALC application any time you need to. Rates for 69 currencies are updated daily and the page will build a custom macro for you with any combination of the listed currencies.
  • Palmtop.Net.Store This page is home to hard-to-find items for the palmtop. The most popular item for now is a neat little clip-on flashlight that you can use with your palmtop in dim light.

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I also use my Linux machine as a file server to access the Palmtop Paper's CD InfoBase in one of its eight CD-ROM drives. With this arrangement, I have access to all of the software on the InfoBase, including the Gutenberg texts. Since I can telnet to the system, I can access the information even while traveling. Since I can't run Windows applications on my Linux system, I use a program called Samba to export the InfoBase CD as a Windows for Workgroups "share". Then my Win95 machine can run the InfoBase's HyperWriter search engine and access the CD across my Ethernet just like the disk was in its local CD drive.

Andreas Garzotto has written LXTOOLS =, an excellent set of software tools for manipulating files between the palmtop and a machine running Linux. I can easily transfer files to and from my palmtop and can backup my palmtop drives to any disk on my home network. The LXTOOLS package contains lxdir, lxcopy, lxdel, lxrmdir and lxmkdir whose names define their function. To backup an entire drive to hard disk, I connect a serial cable between my palmtop and my computer running Linux and enter the command:

lxcopy -r a: /home/mitch/backup/hp/a

The -r switch in the above command line means "recursive" and causes all of the palmtop's subdirectories to be backed up. The path statement that follows -r tells lxcopy where to backup the files.

Favorite Win95 trick

I still use Windows, but only for a few things. I like Win95 because of its ability to intelligently manage PCMCIA devices. I have an SCM Swapbox PCMCIA drive installed in a hand-built desktop machine running Win95. The Swapbox uses one of the PCMCIA controllers that Win95 supports in enhanced mode. (I checked this out before I bought it). This means that most devices that you insert into the card slot (like modems, flash disks or network cards) will be recognized and automatically configured by the system.

I run Quicken 3 for Windows and the HP Connectivity Pack on the Win95 machine. Though all my Quicken transactions are entered on the palmtop, I periodically merge new transactions to a master Quicken file on the Win95 desktop to save space and to provide quick, detailed reporting. When it's time for a merge, I pop my palmtop's flash disk into the Swapbox, the disk gets recognized and mounted as drive F, and I merge right from my flash card to the desktop. It takes about 5 seconds.

The Swapbox also makes backups incredibly fast. I periodically backup my palmtop's C drive to my flash disk in the palmtop's card slot using Jorgen Wallgren's clever LXBatch-based backup utility (ftp://ftp.palmtop.net/pub/lxbackup.zip). All I have to do to backup the entire palmtop is slip the flash disk into the Swapbox card drive, and do a quick drag and drop in Windows Explorer. My entire 20 Mb card is copied to hard disk in about 40 seconds. If I want to get really fancy, I can map my Linux machine's Syquest EZ-Drive or Iomega Zip drive as a Win95 drive and drop the files across the Ethernet right to a cartridge. To do this, I open one Explorer window for my destination drive and one for my source drive (the flash disk). By right-clicking on the Task Bar and choosing "Tile Vertical," I get two side-by-side drive windows just like in good old File Manager. Finally I go to the source drive, do a "Select All" and then drop the selection set onto the destination drive.

Keeping data on the HP Palmtop

I keep a detailed record of all the gasoline fill-ups for my vehicle. I have fashioned a Lotus spreadsheet to handle this, with some help from Tom Gibson at The HP Palmtop Paper (ftp://ftp.palmto p.net/pub/mileage.zip =). I have a Lotus macro that accepts new data, such as the date, location, amount spent, price per gallon and odometer mileage. The spreadsheet keeps a running tally of all sorts of numbers like average miles per gallon, total spent on fuel, average miles driven per day, etc. There is also a macro to view a graph of the mileage over time.

Since gas mileage is an excellent indicator of a vehicle's health, this lets me know when I need to spin some wrenches and correct problems before they get serious. All of my maintenance records are kept in a little GDB database so I will always know when it's oil change or tire rotation time.

I also have GDB databases for my book and CD collection, phone area codes, Internet domains and interesting sites, and even one for the members of the HP Mailing list with their pictures. iPeX =, by Tsumori "Brahma" Masaki, is a brilliant program that will allow you to show PCX or ICN files inside your database files. By loading a small TSR, you can show a picture by including a simple code in your database or DataCard templates.

 This Lotus spreadsheet keeps track of fuel costs, miles driven per day, and miles per gallon.
 
 

 Screen dump: Maintenance records are kept in another database.

 I have separate phone books for personal contacts, CompuServe dial-ups, business contacts, airlines, hotels, rental car companies, HP friends and even my company's interoffice directory. Finally, I keep the data needed to build all of my Web pages in other databases. When I need to make changes like adding a file to the S.U.P.E.R. Site, I do that on the palmtop and print the updated database to a delimited text file using a custom clip that orders my fields correctly. Then, I use LXTOOLS to move the files to my Linux machine where I process them with a Perl script. The Perl script opens the text file and goes through line by line extracting the data and formatting it into a new Web page. The pages are generated automatically; I hate to write HTML by hand.

Not long ago, I found an old copy of The American Heritage Dictionary by WordScience corporation in a discount bin. Six years ago, it was a $60 (U.S.) program that filled in for the lack of dictionary capabilities in the word processors of that time. I bought it for $1.95 (U.S.) and found that it works great on the palmtop, but it really needs to be run from the DOS command prompt (see sidebar on page 28).

I have given up my use of Software Carousel since finding a great piece of Japanese software called MaxDOS = which can run any program right from the System Manager. It does this by swapping your current session out to disk and giving you all available DOS memory for your application. Now I can run memory-hungry programs like PC Globe, language translators or astronomy software like Skyglobe =. With my handy little flexible pocket flashlight clipped to the screen, I can star gaze and use Skyglobe as my reference tool.

Another great reference tool that's right at home in MaxDOS is an old copy of AutoMap for DOS. By configuring it for a black & white screen and dumping some of the unnecessary overlay files, I reduced the required disk space to a bit less than 3-MB. It's a bit slow on the 80186, taking about 45 seconds to figure a trip from Miami to Seattle, but it's definitely a "gee whiz" application to show the doubters in the crowd.

 iPeX lets me display photos in my HP Mailing List Database.

 I could go on and on about the great applications and uses I've found for my 200LX, but you get the idea that it is an indispensable part of my life. Thanks, HP, for such a wonderful product and thanks to the palmtop community in general for being so friendly, informative and interesting.

Launching a DOS program with input

Contact Information for products mentioned in this article

Shareware/freeware mentioned in this article

iPhone Life magazine


Notice about Palmtop.net
The Palmtop Network with its S.U.P.E.R. (Simply Unbeatable Palmtop Essentials Repository) software is now available under the domain name of hp200lx.net.  

 
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