It survived the Kuwait Desert, In the land that God forgot. Where the sand was fourteen inches deep. And the sun was blazing hot."
[To the tune of a U.S. Marine Corps marching song -- with minor modifications.]
Operation Native Fury
In June 1993, a 1MB version of the Hewlett Packard (HP) 95LX Palmtop computer deployed along with a sizeable contingent from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) to Kuwait. We were there to conduct Operation Native Fury 1-93 to exercise the global "force-in- readiness" concept. During this exercise, this HP Palmtop made great contributions to the combat readiness of the Marine infantry company which I commanded. Furthermore, my 95LX withstood rigors which might have brought a lesser palmtop to its knees! The following paragraphs describe my experience using this Palmtop technology in the searing heat and high winds associated with that desolate country. I'm proud to report that the HP 95LX Palmtop served its country well!
My unit, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, had the mission of securing the port of Kuwait City; off-loading vehicles, weapons, logistical supplies and ammunition stored aboard Maritime Pre-Positioned Ships (MPS); and finally, conducting various tactical exercises in the remote, windswept desert to the northwest of Kuwait City. During these exercises, we operated within fifteen miles of the Iraqi border. What made this visit especially poignant for many of us were the hundreds of burned-out Iraqi vehicles which littered the battlefields where men had fought and died during Operation Desert Storm just two years earlier.
To make things even more interesting for the Marines, the U.S. forces sent a surprise "candygram" for Sadaam Hussein during the Native Fury deployment. The message was delivered by multiple Tomahawk missiles which were launched at Baghdad in response to the aborted assassination attempt on then-President Bush. Immediately prior to the missile attack, the officers of my battalion were told that the MPS ship we were guarding contained enough ammunition in its holds to blow a 1.5 mile crater in the earth's surface! This understandably made many of us a little tense (considering the terrorist threat omnipresent in the Middle East). Fortunately, no major incidents occurred. The bulk of the U.S. forces returned unscathed to America within one week after the bombing.
During our deployment, Kuwait was experiencing its "shamal" or windy season with up to 60 knot winds. Temperatures of 125F (51C) were not uncommon as these strong winds blew Kuwait's fine, gritty white sand into every unprotected nook and cranny of a Marine's clothing and equipment. Since I had only recently acquired my 95LX a few weeks before the operation (it had been purchased used from another CompuServe Information Service (CIS) HPHAND forum member), I was naturally concerned about the hardiness of my little Palmtop.
Would it let me down when I needed it most? My fears were compounded by the warning in the HP 95LX User's Guide (page A8) that the maximum operating temperature of the 95LX is 104F (40C).
Good Advice from Other Users
Since I only had a few weeks to prepare myself and my computer for our mission, I consulted other knowledgeable users. Many friendly and helpful people on CompuServe's HPHAND forum shared their experiences using the 95LX in various extreme environments.
The many tips they provided were invaluable as I steeled both myself and the Palmtop for the harsh realities which the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force would have to face. Fred Kaufman (and several others) recommended I use ziplock baggies to keep the dust and grit away from the machine. John Crea expanded Fred's comment by suggesting I add a bag of silica desiccant to the baggie to absorb any moisture in the humid air. Finally, Ted Dickens (the HPHAND Sysop) recommended that I always have a RAM card inserted to assist in sealing off the PCMCIA card slot on the machine. These were all excellent ideas, and I committed myself to employing them while in Kuwait.
Furthermore, many people recommended the EC-95 Environmental Case. Although a great idea, the increased size and weight of this "bullet-proof" case reduced much of the Palmtop's utility. The larger, encased Palmtop just can't go everywhere with me. My bare HP would simply have to cope with Kuwait's torturous conditions as best it could. I must admit I got on the airplane with some reservations about the Palmtop's reliability.
HP Palmtop "Kuwait Proof"
I'm happy to report, however, that the HP 95LX never failed me in the slightest way throughout the entire ordeal. Despite my best efforts to protect the system with some of the techniques mentioned above, my Palmtop eventually became covered with the gritty, fine sand which was blowing everywhere. The baggie system proved too slow for the time-critical applications I had in mind, so I soon ditched it. Naturally, "Murphy's Law" continued to raise its ugly head. I accidentally dropped the Palmtop numerous times in the deep sand immediately after removing the ziplock protection. Sand was soon everywhere -- in the serial port and AC power recesses, the RAM card slot, and all over the keypad area. However, all this dirt didn't seem to faze the 95LX in the slightest!
Later, I dropped the unit a few times while bouncing along the rough terrain in our Marine Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) and a High-Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). Trust me when I tell you that these military vehicles are not made for creature comfort! I even dropped the system from a height of approximately eight feet onto the hard tarmac road while getting off a 5-ton truck.
The HP took all this abuse, and came back for more. What a superbly engineered and dependable piece of machinery! My congratulations to the entire HP engineering team for designing such a reliable computer.
Solar Charger Keeps NiCd Batteries Going
Electrical outlets were in short supply in Kuwait, especially during our extended field training. Those outlets that did exist used industrial-type 3-prong outlets as well as 220-240 Alternating Current (AC). The fact that the Marines had a limited number of 110 volt AC converters on hand left my Palmtop without its life-sustaining electricity.
Fortunately Kuwait does have a steady supply of sunshine. I decided to explore the possibility of harnessing the sun's power with a solar-cell AA battery charger. I found a nicely designed and compact Solar Powered Battery Charger for $12 (contact information at the end of the article).
This three-ounce charger allowed me to tap into a continuous source of power for recharging my Millennium Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd) 700 mAH AA batteries. Although the recharger's instructions indicate that two batteries can be charged in as little as "4 to 6 hours," it took two full days of continuous exposure to the sun to fully charge my batteries. Since a charged pair of Ni-Cds were powering my 95LX for about one week, the charging time was not a significant problem for me.
A solar charging system is an excellent and environmentally conscious way of providing reliable power for any palmtop. It is especially important for those of us who often find ourselves in remote parts of the world. If only John Muir had a Palmtop in his pocket when he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. . .!
Give 'Em Hell with 1-2-3!
The most important aspect of the HP Palmtops is their relatively tiny form factor. The ultra-portability of the 95 or 100LX is extremely compatible with the high mobility requirements of a modern Marine -- whether he's on the battlefield or in the "rear with the gear."
I certainly made good use of the 95LX built-in PIMs. However, my primary application during this deployment was using the HP Palmtop to assist me with land navigation, and the engagement of targets on the battlefield. I developed a Lotus 123 worksheet program called "Grid Calculator" to assist me in this effort.
Before continuing with this article, read the side bar on this page. It's an account of an enemy encounter, illustrating how the Marines use various types of military technology on the modern battlefield. It's fictional, but could easily be real.
Although this story is somewhat apocalyptic, it aptly illustrates the value of Palmtop technology in the chaotic environment of the modern battlefield! Without his Palmtop, our lieutenant would have been forced to rely on his map, protractor, string, grease pencil, and arithmetic skills to arrive at the same result his HP gave him in a few seconds. Mistakes are often made in the heat of battle using these traditional techniques. And if high winds blow away your map or protractor, you're SOL! (Editor's Note: We think this means "Sorta outta luck".)
Pinpointing an enemy position is a complex process. The Palmtop's ability to write sophisticated, yet easy-to-use Lotus spreadsheets is one obvious way to streamline this process. Using a spreadsheet like the one described in the story lets you accomplish the task in a fraction of the time -- with a minimum of potential for error!
Grid Calculator (GRIDCALC (ON DISK)) Version 1.1 is my current edition of the 1-2-3 spreadsheet program described in the story. It uses Lotus' strong trigonometric functions to calculate azimuth and distance from one 6-digit grid coordinate to another. Furthermore, as illustrated in the story, it can calculate a "target grid" given a range, bearing, and observer location. It can calculate compass directions in either degrees or mils, and will also accept distances in kilometers or nautical miles. More importantly, the program will accept a default Grid-Magnetic (GM) Angle for ease of converting from grid-north to magnetic azimuths during the calculation process.
Grid Calc Screen: Graphic
Many people might be surprised to learn that "geographic north," the end of the axis on which the earth rotates, and "magnetic north," where the compass points, are not the same. In fact, a magnetic compass very seldom points exactly north. This results in a slight offset angle every time you convert angles from compass to the map (and back again). It can get very confusing! Everyone who has tried his hand at land navigation has occasionally added the "GM-Angle" when he should have subtracted it, and subsequently gotten hopelessly lost. (Officers excepted, naturally. We never get "lost." Just "disoriented for extended periods.") Be sure to read the program documentation for a detailed explanation of this feature and many other aspects of the program.
GRIDCALC is not just for military applications -- it is extremely well suited to general land navigation as well. Anyone who uses a map and compass would benefit from giving it a try. I am currently writing a new stand-alone DOS version of the program in the C++ programming language. The new version adds numerous features (e.g., resection and intersection modules; longitude/latitude conversion; grid-zone and 100,000 meter grid square identification and calculation; time-speed-distance module; system manager compliance; etc.). The Lotus version of GRIDCALC is also available in Library 7 of HPHAND on CompuServe (filename GRIDCA.ZIP). The DOS version will be released during the next few months.
Behind a Desk with the 95LX
I'm currently the Executive Officer of an infantry battalion, and spend a lot of time in a traditional office environment. Still, every week I continue to discover fresh, new applications for my marvelous little Palmtop.
FILE TRANSFER WITH ZIP (ON DISK)
I use Eric Meyer's excellent ZIP program to move programs and data back and forth from the 95LX to my notebook and desktop computers. I find this superior to the CPACK program which comes with the HP Connectivity Pack and which I occasionally use. The ZIP program is very fast (115,200 bps) and can work with the batch files and User Keys (system macros) I have set up on the Palmtop to make my backups as painless as possible.
For example, I run the following User Key below which calls a batch file named ZIPSERVE.BAT (ON DISK). The batch file turns the HP's serial port on, and puts the ZIP software in "server mode," ready to accept files. When I'm finished and exit ZIP, the batch file turns the serial port back off to conserve battery power.
echo In the ROOT directory...ready to receive
echo Serial port power is ON!
echo Serial port power is OFF!
I then use the batch file HP95BAK .BAT (ON DISK) on my notebook computer to quickly copy all new or modified files from my 95LX's data directories to the relative safety of my hard disk:
echo About to backup data on C: Ram Drive of HPLX
echo Start Zip in Server Mode on HP Computer. . .
zip c:\_dat\*.* /f[c:\hp95lx\_dat] /t
zip c:\batch\*.* /f[c:\hp95lx\batch] /t
zip c:\123\*.* /f[c:\hp95lx\123] /t
zip c:\appt\*.* /f[c:\hp95lx\appt] /t
zip c:\memo\*.* /f[c:\hp95lx\memo] /t
zip c:\phone\*.* /f[c:\hp95lx\phone] /t
echo Backup Complete... All files reside
echo in hard disk's C:\HP95LX subdirectories
Note that I am copying data files from many different subdirectories on my 95LX (\APPT, \MEMO, and \PHONE). 95Buddy (ON DISK) lets me specify different default subdirectories for my built-in applications and access them extremely easily. This is generally a better idea than cramming them all into the very busy \_DAT directory.
DIFFERENT APPT BOOK FILES
I use three different *.ABK files (WORK.ABK, PERSONAL.ABK, and COMPUTER.ABK) to segregate tasks and appointments into my three primary areas of interest. (I have a fourth file, ACT.ABK for use with ACT!). I automated switching back and forth between these various database files with User Keys. These User Keys are setup for use with 95Buddy. Buddy has an excellent feature that displays the user's currently assigned macro keys at the bottom of the screen whenever the CHAR key is pressed.
I have renamed my appointment book categories (again with 95Buddy) to "HOT TASKS," "WARM TASKS," and "COOL TASKS." Notes attached to each To-Do provide details about the task, or indicate a linked MEMO file which contains the status on the project.
When I sit down at work each day, I plan my daily schedule by first copying the to-do items I want to accomplish that day to the Daily View of the Appointment Book. I place the cursor on the desired to-do and use the following User Key to copy it over to the Daily view of APPT.
Most of my to-do items don't require a specific time, so the User Key gives each appointment a 0:00 starting and ending time. This puts them at the top of the APPT Daily view. I modify the starting and ending times for those items that need a specific time. This tip works for time set to a 24 hour clock. (Go into SetUp and press Time Format and select one of the International Time options.)
MEMO CAPTURES IDEAS
I use various MEMO files throughout each week to accumulate ideas for the varied (and oh so many) meetings I attend. A few hours before each meeting, I transfer these files (using ZIP, of course) to my desktop computer where I edit the ideas in WordPerfect; print out a standard format I've adopted; and pass them out to each subordinate. I think my staff appreciates my efforts to keep each meeting from becoming an exercise in note-taking -- the staff can simply sit back, listen, and enjoy the fruits of the 95LX's labor.
I use MEMO files to keep track of to-dos (with detailed notes) for each of my fifteen or so departments. This system allows me to quickly review the status of any pending task with each of my subordinates at a moment's notice. A great way to make use of those little "bits of time" we never seem to be able to fully exploit.
1-2-3 DATABASE KEEPS PERSONNEL DATA
I use the database features of Lotus 1-2-3 to store key personnel data on the Marines currently assigned to my infantry battalion. I simply take a subset of my Personnel Officer's dBase database; convert it to ASCII delimited text on the desktop; and bring it into a Lotus spreadsheet by pressing (MENU) File Import Text. I've added a few 1-2-3 macros to help me maneuver through the database. Wherever I go, I have the critical information on the entire battalion in my pocket.
I borrowed some of Ed Keefe's great ideas found in his EDFACE.ZIP (ON DISK) file to create a customized topcard PCX file to start my system up each day. I used the USMC Eagle, Globe, and Anchor insignia found in Harvard Graphics 3.0's military symbol library to personalize my topcard. I converted the Harvard Graphics *.CHT format file to *.PCX format; and then used Windows 3.1's paint program to add text and format it for the 95LX's smaller screen. I'm quite fond of the result which I have saved in a file called 1-7XO.PCX (ON DISK).
Future of the Palmtop in the Marines; Thanks for the Help!
I have several ongoing initiatives in my battalion encouraging the integration of the HP Palmtops into the Marines' way of doing business. I'll save a discussion of those for another article.
Since my unit will be going to Korea this winter, I'll be sure to let you know if the minimum operating temperature of the HP 95LX (32F, 0C) is just as conservative as the maximum temperature turned out to be.
Finally, I want to thank all the fine people who have greatly assisted me over the past few months. A special thanks to Ted Dickens, the Team HP crew, and all the knowledgeable and patient individuals on the CompuServe HPHAND forum for sharing their consistent and comprehensive knowledge of these magic little boxes. Thanks to Hal Goldstein, Publisher of The HP Palmtop Paper, for cajoling me into finally completing this article (and providing his superb forum for exchanging Palmtop ideas). Thanks goes to David Shier and all my new friends at the Los Angeles LX Local User's Group (LaXLUG) for their innovative ideas and enthusiasm for the HP line of Palmtops. (LaXLUG contact: David Shier -- Phone: 805-498-6787; Fax: 805-498-8174; CIS ID: [75030,3374]; Prodigy ID: CXBG88A.)
Thanks are also due to all the superb commercial, shareware and freeware authors who consistently keep me in awe of their talents. A final thanks goes to all the vendors who have given me countless free advice, and supplied me with great products for the newest member of my computing family.