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The Deputy and the Palmtop

The Deputy and the Palmtop

A totally wired deputy sheriff describes how he uses his HP 200LX in his vocation and avocations.

By Jeff Johns

Prior to discovering the marvels of the HP 200LX, I was a diehard Apple Newton user. I never imagined that anything could surpass the usefulness of the Newton. Now, as I look back on the time I used the Newton, I realize that I simply used it as a fancy 'toy' and never really did use it as a tool to aid me in my everyday life.

Trading Up to a Palmtop

My reason for buying an HP 200LX was that I wanted to operate a portable, amateur-radio, packet station and there was no way to do this with the Newton in an easy manner.

I placed a 'Want To Trade' message on the newsgroup comp.sys.Palmtops and struck a deal to trade a Newton MP120 for a 2MB HP200LX. When the PALMTOP arrived and I took a look at it, I was amazed at the form factor: smaller than the Newton even with a full keyboard and a readable screen.

I began playing around with the built-in applications and was quite pleased to see that the Palmtop had so much more to offer than the Newton could ever have hoped to provide. It was also nice to see the DOS icon in the Application Manager and to be able to see the C:\> prompt. That was something I was familiar with and quite comfortable using.

The next task was figuring out how to get my applications installed on the machine. After 10 minutes of searching on the Internet I found Transfile 200 by Yellow Computing on the HP Web site. From that point on the PALMTOP would play an integral part of my life.

Connecting with the Cosmonauts

I completed the task of installing a DOS- based, amateur-radio, packet program on the Palmtop and still use it almost weekly. I pushed the envelope of both the Palmtop and the packet radio and made an attempt to contact the Russian Space Station Mir. To add to the challenge I made this happen from a Sheriff's department, patrol car. I sent many messages via the Mir Space Station both to the cosmonauts aboard the ship and to other terrestrial stations via Mir. Using software such as STS Orbit and Predict, both of which are available from the S.U.P.E.R. site, I was able to track the Mir Space Station and other amateur satellites on which I am frequently active.

Along with amateur radio activities such as packet radio, logging contacts, learning Morse code and tracking amateur radio satellites, I depend on the Palmtop as my main source of Internet connectivity.

Even though the Palmtop has the terminal emulator, DataComm, as a built-in application, I wanted something a bit faster, so I worked with the author of the BananaComm program and we ended up with a version of BananaComm that was optimized for use with the LX. This, along with an Internet shell account served me well until I started wishing for a true PPP email client.

Once again, through the newsgroup comp.sys.Palmtops, I met a fellow named Steve Lawson who also wanted a small, email-only, PPP client. Steve is a programmer and we exchanged several emails and eventually he sent me a rough, alpha copy of a piece of software that he was designing to do email for the Palmtop via a PPP connection. Several months passed before I heard from Steve again. This time he presented a much more mature email, software package which is now known as Goin' Postal. It was a privilege to be able to watch Steve's product grow from an idea to a full-fledged, commercial product. Along with Goin' Postal, I also use WWW/LX by D&A Software for email, web browsing and Internet newsgroups. My latest connectivity love, is LXTelnet, which is made available by Rod Whitby. It allows me to form a PPP connection using Goin' Postal then use the same packet driver to telnet to my shell account and use Lynx on my Internet service provider's shell account for fast, text-based, browsing of the Internet.

Meanwhile, Back on Earth

In my work as a deputy sheriff, my Palmtop has also made itself useful. I keep a current database of individuals that I encounter and the reason why I encountered them. This has proven most useful to me. When I stop a vehicle I can quickly check my database to see if I have encountered the driver previously and why we "met." I also have used a simple database that allows me to take a report via the Palmtop, have the complainant sign a blank form and, back at the office, transfer the information from the Palmtop to the form.

I have used a similar procedure when investigating an accident scene. It is sometimes easier to enter information into the Palmtop and transfer it later than it is to deal with a notepad and several pages of paper that always seem to get soiled and otherwise destroyed during the note taking process at the scene of a wreck. The Palmtop has proven itself to be a very durable piece of equipment.

Although I am as careful as possible when handling and using the LX, the inherent nature of the law enforcement business can be quite demanding. The most intense thing my Palmtop has survived was being in my patrol car during an F5 tornado in which the patrol car was struck by flying debris. It was quite a jolt both to the car and to the LX, inside the car. The Palmtop survived with no damage: the car wasn't quite so lucky.

Off Patrol

My HP 200LX isn't always used for such tasks as tracking satellites and taking police reports. I also use it for playing games. My latest obsession is FreeCell by Curtis Cameron.

Mack Bagette, the owner of Times2Tech and inventor of the Palmtop speed and memory upgrades, introduced me to this game. Mack frequently goes on civilian, ride-alongs with me while I am on patrol. It was quite a surprise to find that Mack and I live within two miles of each other. I would never have known this except for the fact that I won a contest, sponsored by David Sargeant, the owner of the hplx.net Web site. The prize was a free, speed upgrade for my LX. When David told me where to send my Palmtop for its turbo boost, I realized that the mailing address was practically in my back yard.

Mack and I have become good friends and have had some very unique experiences together while on patrol, the funniest of which was watching Mack fight a vicious snapping turtle. I like Mack, but have to admit that I wish that he had never introduced me to FreeCell. I spend entirely too much time playing the game and frequently find myself extremely frustrated because I can't figure out a particular game.

A Closing Comment

I was quite saddened to hear the news about HP discontinuing the 200LX series of Palmtop PCs. It seems that just within the past year so much new hardware and software has been introduced for the LX, that it seems a shame for HP to discontinue the line. We now have available an internal 96MB upgrade and the possibility of a true, internal, backlight for the Palmtop is just over the horizon. There may even be the possibility of an amateur radio, Slow Scan TV (SSTV) program using a CCD camera in the near future.

Will a letter campaign force HP to change their minds about discontinuing the line of DOS based Palmtop? Probably not, but I have no doubt that software and hardware will continue to be developed for the HP 200LX.

I've looked at the new Windows CE machines and, while flashy and pretty, they still lack the ability to act as a true, stand-alone computer. Until they have that ability the HP200LX will continue to reign as the king of Palmtop computers.

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