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Topping-Off Your Palmtop

Topping-Off Your Palmtop

Personalize your Palmtop by creating a set of custom Topcards. All it takes is the right tools and Gene Dorr's definitive recipe.
By Eugene Dorr
As any good carpenter will tell you, the right tools makes all the difference between doing a job well or not doing it at all. The same is true when creating Topcards for your Palmtop.

 Selecting The Right Tools

 Although it is possible to create Topcards using just the Palmtop itself, the best tools for the job are those that work on a desktop PC with Windows (3.1x/9x/NT). Here are a few of the software tools that I and other users have tried. Start with a couple and add others as needed. The more tools you have the easier it will be to create Topcards with pizzazz.

 Commercial Drawing Software

 If you have a commercial drawing program from Adobe or Corel you've got the best tool already. On the other hand if you're looking for something less costly here are a couple of shareware and freeware programs that will perform almost as well.

 Paint Shop Pro

 Paint Shop Pro (PSP) is an image conversion and enhancement program available for all versions of Windows. It's shareware and is available on CompuServe in the Graphsupport forum. PSP will let you convert color images to black and white, change their brightness and contrast, sharpen or blur them, resize and crop them. It will also let you magnify an image up to 16 times to fill in details. It can import almost any type of graphic file and convert it to a .PCX file.

 Graphic Workshop

 Graphics Workshop (GWS) is a graphic enhancement and conversion tool from Alchemy Mindworks. It does almost everything that Paint Shop Pro can do except for drawing. It's available as shareware in the Graphsupport forum of CompuServe. There is even a version of GWS that will work on the HP Palmtop; but on a standard speed machine, GWS is aggravatingly slow.


 WinGIF lets you adjust the brightness and contrast of images and convert color or grey scale images to black-and-white. WinGIF is available in the "Windows Software" library of the CompuServe ZENITH forum. On the World Wide Web, you can find it at www.rad.kumc.edu/win31/ viewers.htm.


 Stephan Peichl created the LXPIC program for the HP 100/200LX Palmtop computers but it will also run on any DOS computer. LXPIC will let you convert color images to B&W and save them in .PCX format. On top of all this, it's only 6K in size and it's freeware! You can find LXPIC at www.palmtop.net/super.html.

 Optional Hardware

 If you plan to create Topcards from photographs or print media you'll need a scanner or a digital camera. If you want to draw your own pictures you can try using a mouse but most computer artists prefer a digital pen and tablet.

 Finding Images

 Once you've gathered the right tools the next task is to find or create images that will eventually become Topcards.

 Unless you're rich or famous you won't find images of yourself or your family floating around in cyberspace but you can probably find something that relates to your life, your heritage, your hobby or your job.

 There are literally millions of images available on the World Wide Web and CompuServe. These images range from clipart to prize-winning photographs. One of the best sources for these images is the Art Today web site at www.arttoday.com. It has over 750,000 copyrighted images and fonts: enough to fill 160 CD-ROMs.

 You can download as many images as you want and use them for any purpose once you pay the $30 per year subscription fee. However, you may find what you're looking for on one of the free Web pages devoted to graphic images.

 The HPHAND forum on CompuServe has several collections of Topcards but many of these have not been correctly sized for the aspect ratio of the HP Palmtops.

 When you're looking for images, select those that have moderate to high contrast and don't depend on fine detail. A picture with over two million colors may look great on a color display. but will look like a random pattern of black and white dots on the Palmtop.

 If you want an image to fill the Palmtop's screen, the original image should have a landscape or horizontal orientation and be about twice as wide as it is high. If you find an image that doesn't meet this criterion, you can crop it to fit the Palmtop's screen.

 Resizing and Cropping the Image

 The Topcard image on the HP Palmtop requires a black and white image of exactly 640 by 200 pixels. Here's how to create an image that will fit.

 Start Paint Shop Pro or WinGIF on your desktop computer and open the image file on which you want to work. If your image is too large or too small reduce or enlarge it so that the width is 640 pixels. Let the program adjust the height so that the resized image has the same height to width ratio.

 The next step involves "cropping" the image. Follow the instructions for your graphic program and select an area of the image that you want as your Topcard. The trick here is to crop an area of exactly 640 X 240 pixels. Later in the process you'll reduce the size to 640 X 200.

 If the area you select is less than 640 pixels wide, then resize the image again so that the width is 640 pixels. Let the program maintain the same height to width ratio.

 When you enlarge or reduce an image it will sometimes appear grainy. This effect will disappear when the image is converted to black and white.

 Adjusting the Aspect Ratio

 Once you have a 640 X 240 pixel image that looks good, use the Resize command in your graphics program. This time de-select the "Resize to Scale" or "Maintain Aspect Ratio" checkbox. Then, change the width to 640 and the height to 200 pixels and click the OK button. The image will appear somewhat flattened but that's the way it should look at this point.

 Converting the Image to Black and White

 The goal in this step is to produce a two color (black and white) version of the image. Two colors is the maximum that the HP Palmtop's Topcard viewer can handle.

 If you're using Paint Shop Pro use the Colors, Grey Scale command. If you're using WinGIF continue working with the color image. Use the contrast and brightness commands in your graphics program to get a bright, high contrast image. Then, and only then, convert the image to black and white. In WinGIF do this by selecting the Edit, Monochrome, Dither command. In PSP use the menu and select Colors, Decrease Color Depth (2), Error Diffusion, Floyd-Steinberg. This will "dither" the image i.e. turn pixels on and off to emulate different shades of grey.

 At this point you should have a good idea of how the image will appear on the Palmtop. If you don't like what you see try adjusting the brightness and contrast and dither the image again. Repeat these steps until you are satisfied.

 Reversing the image

 Since the Topcard viewer in the HP Palmtop presents a "negative" version of the image, you'll need to create your own "negative" image so that the two negatives will make a positive.

 Paint Shop Pro will let you create a negative image with the Colors, Negative command.

 WinGIF does not have such a "negative image" feature. Instead, save your image and switch from WinGIF to the DOS prompt and run LXPIC on your desktop. Just load the positive image into LXPIC, press the "I" key to invert it and press F5 to save the screen as a B&W .PCX file. Give the file a new name and press Enter. Load the negative image file into WinGIF to see what it looks like.

 Adding Text (Optional)

 Paint Shop Pro will let you enter text in an image; WinGIF will not. In the latter case, you can use an older version of Window's Paintbrush to add text. In that case, use the "outline" font style to make the text stand out against a grey background.

 When adding text, pick a font that sets off the image. Make sure the text stands out from the background. Use font size 12 or larger and make the text bold.

 When you're satisfied with the composition of the image save it on your PC. Use whatever transfer method you prefer to get the image onto your Palmtop.

 Using Setup to Select New Image

 Tell your HP Palmtop about your new Topcard by opening the Setup application (CTRL + Filer). Press MENU, Options, Owner..., ALT + Picture and pick the .PCX file you created. Press F10 (OK), F10 (OK), MENU, Quit. Close all open applications, and admire your new Topcard.

 If you want owner information to appear in the middle of your Topcard you must store your .PCX file in the C:\_DAT subdirectory with the name TOPCARD.PCX.

 If the Topcard does not appear and you hear a beep, then there's something wrong with the Topcard file. Either there are too many colors remaining in it or the size is incorrect.

 Sample Topcards

 I get bored looking at the same pictures all the time. In my office I change the wall hangings every so often. On the other hand, I let my Palmtop change its own Topcard. I use the following two System Macros to do this.

 Select a Topcard


 Finish selection


 You'll need to adjust these macros to suit your own setup. If you end up with a collection of Topcards on your Palmtop, you may want to create a subdirectory just for storing Topcards (mine, as you can see from the above macro, is a:\usr\pcx). n

Three Spheres

Bayeux Tapestry

MIR Space Station Topcard

Graphics Terminology

Freeware/Shareware mentioned in this article

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