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USER PROFILE: On the Road and Around the World

USER PROFILE: On the Road and Around the World

This International Sales and Marketing Manager traded in his notebook computer for a 95LX. He uses the Palmtop to track expenses, write client reports, keep confidential price lists, record flight and meeting schedules, and keep customer information.

By Phillip Simpson

Trials of Traveling

I am the International Sales and Marketing Manager at Trace in Melbourne, Australia, and as such, I am required to travel overseas. Over the years, I have used Lotus for pricing and cost calculations, budget forecasts, etc. When laptop computers arrived, I thought all my dreams had come true. I have used the Compaq SLT 286 (laptop) and the Compaq LTE 286 (notebook), both of which, have proved excellent, though heavy, workhorses.

However, I have discovered a number of limitations with these computers. First of all, even the LTE notebook seems to become increasingly heavy on a long trip. Extra batteries and AC Adapter compound this problem. Secondly, these devices are large and visible enough so that security becomes a major consideration when traveling. If I lose the computer I lose more than a piece of hardware; I lose precious data (everything since the last backup). Very few hotels have security boxes large enough to take even a Notebook computer. In addition, I discovered that most standard travel insurance doesn't include electrical equipment with a value greater than about $2000. This meant I had to purchase additional insurance just for the SLT or LTE for $500 -- approximately the same cost as my regular global insurance.

A third problem I've discovered is India, which imposes a high import duty (about 150%) on computers of this value. A computer must be formally imported and subsequently exported. Such a procedure adds about one hour to customs clearance. If your computer is lost or stolen in India, you not only lose the machine and data, but you have to pay 150% of its declared purchase price when you leave the country.

One final problem I've had with international travel has been in accurately tracking expenses. It is not unusual to visit 8-10 countries in a 21 day trip, so I need to track expenses in 8-10 currencies. Previously this was all done with painstaking paperwork in a diary. I eventually transferred this laborious task to a spreadsheet.

Enter the HP 95LX

In August, 1991, I purchased my 95LX and have taken it on two lengthy overseas trips. Never again will I need to take any other computer with me. The 95LX met all my basic requirements, plus addressed some of the above problems:

The size and weight of the 95LX make it an ideal travel com panion. I always carry 4 spare batteries, but even with these, weight is no problem.

All countries sell the AA batteries, so I never have any wor ries about running short. I carry the extra 4 batteries merely as a convenience for the long plane trips. As a precaution, and to test my real battery usage, I have a plain label inside my battery cover and record whenever I change batteries. I usually change the batteries at the 25% level. Even on a busy trip the batteries last 2-3 weeks.

With the size of the 95LX I no longer have any security wor ries. In the evening when I go out for dinner I can either take the 95LX with me in a jacket pocket or check it into the hotel safety deposit box along with my passport, tickets, traveler's checks, etc.

The value of the 95LX means that it is now covered by my normal travel insurance. The money saved has been earmarked for other 95LX accessories, naturally.

The cost of the 95LX is such that it doesn't need to be for mally imported/exported into such countries as India.

Tracking Expenses

I have now completed the design of a spreadsheet for the 95LX that enables me to maintain accurate expense records in 10 separate currencies, plus my domestic currency. The spreadsheet also converts expenditures back to my domestic currency, which helps me check on spending patterns (EXPENSES.ZIP (ON DISK ICON)). All expenses are entered a sequential receipt number is given by the spreadsheet. I enter that number on the receipt and then store the receipt in a large envelope. Basic details about the transaction are entered along with the currency. The conversion to domestic currency is automatically made. As these conversions are made, a total of all expenses in domestic currency is made at the top of the spreadsheet.

Australian taxation laws and the policy of my company requires the dissection of expenses into a number of categories (e.g. travel, meal, accommodation, etc). I have therefore included columns for these categories and am able to dissect the expenses as I enter them into the spreadsheet.

On my last trip, I was away for 30 days, visited 12 cities, and entered 132 separate items. By the end of the trip, the file was about 57K and still small enough to easily fit on the C Drive. File saving took about 9 seconds, but that inconvenience is minor compared to the amount of data captured and the improvement in productivity produced by the spreadsheet.

When I arrived back from the trip, I transferred the file to my LTE286, enlarged a few of the columns, and then printed out an expense report, accurate to within 50 cents.

Using MEMO for Reports

On my last trip, I prepared daily client reports using MEMO. Each client had on average about 1/2-3/4 of a page of writing. Although some people wonder how an adult can use such a small keyboard, I had no difficulties adapting to it.

Daily updating of client reports required discipline, but was well worth the effort. When I returned home, I transferred my MEMO file to the LTE 286, and gave the file to my secretary. She retrieved it into WordPerfect 5.1, corrected spelling mistakes and syntax errors, and then adjusted the document to a standard company format. Instead of spending hours on the client report, I had the 16 page document completed within 30 minutes of returning to my office.

It's great to have MEMO in your pocket, ready to go at a moments notice. I now prepare the basis of my monthly report in "real time." When something significant happens, I retrieve my current monthly file and update it. At the end of the month, I give a copy of the file to my secretary, who again checks spelling and syntax, and then formats the report accordingly. Once again, productivity is improved for both of us.

Appointment Book vs. a Paper Diary

One of the benefits I find using a written diary is that it's very easy to jot down notes and appointments during phone calls or meetings. A written diary not only gives me a permanent record of appointments, it also gives me the freedom to jot down "mental doodles" (graphic representations of my ideas). Because it's not easy to doodle on the 95LX, making a total switch from a hard diary to an electronic diary is requiring some effort.

For the last seven years I have been using the Danish TIME System. I like its integrated Time Manager that supports the creation of doodles and diagrams. My job in International Sales requires the use of such graphics to convey concepts across language barriers.

Although the 95LX's Appointment Book has an excellent Time Manager, it lacks graphic capabilities. One of the first problems I had with APPT was that it didn't graphically display a whole week's worth of appointments at one glance. This was solved by Ehood Baratz's excellent utility (WEEKABK (ON DISK ICON)).

But I still can't doodle on the 95LX, so I carry a small Spiral notebook along with the 95LX. On it I draw, doodle, and write down little throw-away notes (the kind of non-permanent information I don't want to store on the 95LX). It's not a perfect solution, but it works. Maybe somebody should develop a little graphics program for the 95LX.

Another problem I've noticed with APPT is that my .APT files grow very rapidly. Every week now I use the HP Connectivity Pack to Merge my current Appointment Book with a backup copy I have on my notebook computer's hard disk. I am building a comprehensive Calendar Year diary on the hard disk of my notebook computer. It is very easy and quick to search this for notes and appointments using the Find feature of the Connectivity Kit's PC version of Appointment Book. I then use APPT's Remove function to discard appointments and to-dos every 6-8 weeks.

Using Other 95LX Features

While traveling I use all features of the 95LX. I use APPT to record flights, meetings and appointments. I use APPT's Note facility to highlight key points for each event.

I use PHONE to keep customer information (phone numbers, fax numbers, addresses, and any special information like the name of their secretary etc).

I use LOTUS for customer pricing files. This enables me to accurately quote prices in the field because I can carry accurate costing details. The password protection system on the 95LX (plus password in Lotus) gives me the confidence to take such sensitive information outside the office. If I must attend to the needs of nature partway through a meeting, I can always take the 95LX with me anyway.

Additions and Improvements

I have now added a 512K RAM Card to my 95LX so that I can have backups of all my critical data. After all, who wants to loose an expense report before it is submitted? I am also considering the purchase of a stand-alone serial disk drive like the Sparcom Drive95. This will not only let me to carry more data on an inexpensive 1.44 MB disk, but will enable me to do a total backup of data while traveling. The addition of Drive95 will also let me transfer files/data to another computer via the 1.44MB disk. This might come in handy if I needed to print out some pricing information, but the only printer available was parallel, and connected to a clients desktop PC. (See page 17 for more on Drive95.)

Conclusion

In conclusion, I have found the HP 95LX an invaluable tool for anyone who is traveling on business, involved in sales, or involved in the management of data or ideas outside the office. I expect to find and learn of even more ways to improve my productivity using my 95LX. One thing is certain, just as I always need a passport and credit cards on a trip, so will the 95LX always be part of my travels.

iPhone Life magazine


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