User Profile: Engineer on the Road with the HP Palmtop

His home and office is in Alabama and he's temporarily assigned to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Here's how he bridges the distance with the HP Palmtop.

By Chris Lott

I'm an electrical engineer working on a research program for the defense industry. My home and office is Huntsville, Alabama, USA, but I was recently assigned to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for two months. Having just upgraded from an HP 95LX to an HP 200LX, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to put the 200LX through its paces.

I also promised myself that I would shift my PIM activities entirely to the HP Palmtop - abandoning the clumsy hybrid system I had used in the past with my 95LX, a DayTimer, and endless slips of paper. The system I purchased was a 1MB HP 200LX, an ACE Double Flash Plus 60M, a MegaHertz 14.4 FAX/ Modem, the HP connectivity pack, a spare serial cable, and the HP AC adapter. I use a leather case I got from EduCALC (# 2520) to protect my investment when kicking around.

 Switching from the HP 95LX to the 200LX

 I bought my 200LX locally in Huntsville. The other accessories were mail ordered and hadn't yet arrived, but I was able to transfer files between the 200LX and my 95LX using FILER and the IR ports. I received my spare serial cable before I received the new HP 100/200LX Connectivity Pack. Fortunately, I found that I could use the software from the HP 95LX Connectivity Kit to transfer files between the desktop PC and HP 200LX.

Translate Phone Database from the 95LX

 One of the first tasks I had was transferring my 95LX Phone Book into the 200LX format. I copied the 95LX .PBK file over to the 200LX, opened the 200LX Phone Book application, pressed (MENU) file Open and selected the .PBK file. I pressed (ENTER), gave the file a new name, and pressed (F10). The 200LX automatically translated the 95LX file into the 100/200LX format.

 The import feature places information from the old Name field in the new Name field, data from the old Number field in the new Business (number) field, and information from the old Address field in the new Note field. The names in the Name field were fine, but the phone numbers in the Business field were mostly home phone numbers and everything from the Address field was dumped in the Notes field. I'd have to transfer this information to the appropriate fields on the 200LX.

I prepared several system macros to assist with this process. System macros can be recorded as you enter the keystrokes, or created using the System Macro application. For more on this, see "System Macros" in your HP 100/200LX User's Guide.

 My first macro moved the phone number from the business field to the home number field. It looks like this:


 I ran this macro when I was in the desired Phone Item screen. {Alt+B} highlights the data in the Business phone field. {Cut} cuts it to the clipboard. {Alt+O} moves the cursor to the Home phone field. {Paste} pastes the cut number in that field.

 I was consistent in entering addresses in my 95LX Phone Book Address field. The first line for the street address and the second for the city and state. When the .PBK file was translated by the 200LX, this information appeared in the Note field as shown below:

 1234 Main Street Apt #56

 Nowhere NM 23456

 My second macro moved the first line of the notes field to the 1st address field. The macro looks like this:


 The third macro moves the contents of the second line of the notes field into the city, state and zip code fields, respectively. It looks like this:





 The above macro assumes the city is a single word I had to manually fix the fields of city names with two words such as New York, Los Angeles, etc.

 [Note: the System Macro application seems to have a little trouble with Alt-1 key combination. I used the Palmtops system macro record feature to record the above macros as I keyed in the commands. The macros I created in this manner worked fine. However, when I opened the System Macro application and looked at these macros, the {Alt+1} code and any key strokes entered after it did not display. They were there somewhere because the macros worked. I just couldn't see them. In addition, I couldn't manually type in a macro with the {Alt+1} notation from the System Macro application, nor could I edit a recorded macro with this sequence. (Editor's note: This is a bug in the macro editing program.)]

 I spent most of an airplane flight from Huntsville to El Paso using these system macros to move home phone numbers and address information to the correct fields of the HP 100/200LX Phone Book application. The macros made it easier than I had envisioned. However, the way PhoneBook handles address information is a pet peeve of mine.

 For example, my HP 95LX phone book contains the names and addresses of all employees in my company about 60 entries in all. Each phone book entry has fields for the company's name and address. If I used these fields as designed, I would end up with a file that contains 60 repetitions of the same data. I would prefer some means of having this information entered once. This would reduce storage and greatly ease record updating were my company to move or change phone numbers (and we've done both in the past).

NoteTaker for important numbers

 After completing the 95LX phone book translation, I opened NoteTaker and focused on entering some important numbers I had been keeping in my DayTimer. These included bank account numbers, social security numbers,frequent flier numbers, etc. For example, I gave one entry the title "BankAccounts" and entered all my bank account numbers in the Notes field. I entered the rest of these numbers by the groups listed above. I now have instant access to them by pressing (CTRL)-(MEMO).

 I also created several NoteTaker entries for keeping track of miscellaneous on- the-job stuff. One contains the phone numbers of people I am working with while at White Sands. Another contains a list of things I need to have shipped from our Huntsville office, and another contains a list of parts I need to order.

 Connecting to the Office Network

 Our office computers are connected with Netware, and we use a single dedicated computer running CloseUp and connected to a modem to provide remote access. Once connected, the remote caller can check his or her e-mail and otherwise work with files and programs on the file servers or the dedicated CloseUp computer.

 When I first got my 200LX, I never dreamed that I could use it as a remote user to our office network. However, doing so turned out to be quite simple. I placed the CloseUp program on the C: drive (since I must remove the A: drive in order to use the modem), and ran it like normal. I used CloseUp version 6, the current version. I only needed two files on the Palmtop: CREMOTE.EXE (272 Kbytes) and CLOSE_UP.MNU (658 bytes). I told it the computer had a black-and-white monitor, use the com2 port at 19200 baud, and I was connected.

Several engineers and managers back in Huntsville needed to keep abreast of the progress of our work at White Sands. To this end, my Palmtop came in handy. The drive from our work place to the hotel was about one hour. This trip home in the afternoon was the perfect time to prepare a daily report (I was riding as a passenger). When I arrived at the hotel, I would connect to the office, upload the report, and send it to the appropriate engineers by e-mail. This way, they had detailed up-to-date progress reports waiting for them on their computers each morning.

 Logging onto Internet

 I have an account with an Internet provider in Huntsville, and I keep up with several USENET newsgroups. The 200LX worked very well in this application. I used the built-in DataComm application with my FAX/ Modem card. This setup allowed me to call in from anywhere with a phone line and have instant access to the entire Internet. Not only did I keep up with newsgroups, but I used many of the other services on the Internet.

For example, I have a medical condition that requires occasional visits to a specialist back in Alabama. One such visit happened during my assignment out here. I used the internet to communicate with my doctor, and to arrange the details of the appointment. Unfortunately, other communications with my doctor, such as a prescription and information regarding an experimental medical trial program he wants me to consider, had to be handled by conventional means ("snail mail" and FAX machines). I can see the day soon, however, where even this kind of information can flow rapidly and electronically over the internet. My doctor reports that radiologists are already using the internet to exchange high-resolution medical images. Amazing.

Transferring a Report to a Macintosh

 I had an occasion to provide an engineer at White Sands with a report he needed. The report in question was prepared in ASCII format by an associate and was stored on our file server in Huntsville. To complicate matters, my company is PC-based, while the engineers at White Sands I was working with used Apple Macintoshes exclusively.

First I used the CloseUp program to connect to the office and transferred the report to my Palmtop. Using a short phone line (cable with RJ-11 connectors, which I always carried in my briefcase), I connected my Palmtop modem directly to the Mac's modem. We started up a terminal emulator program on both machines (DataComm on the 200LX). I issued the ATO command to each modem which made them connect. Once connected, I simply transferred the file using the ZMODEM protocol. While I was glad to be able to get the report delivered as required, I look forward to the day when computers are more universally connected and such gyrations aren't necessary.

 Downloading FORTRAN Files to a Luggable Computer

 During the trip, I needed to make an unexpected side trip to a supplier to assist in performing acceptance tests on some equipment. These tests required the use of a "luggable" PC-based computer running some special purpose FORTRAN data processing programs. While I had brought the computer along with me, I didn't have the FORTRAN files needed. The solution again involved my Palmtop. I connected to the office computer, and downloaded the various source, batch and data files I needed to my 200LX. After that, I connected my Palmtop by serial port to the luggable. I was then able to transfer the files using terminal emulation programs and the ZMODEM protocol. This transfer worked, and the files compiled and worked as expected. My side trip was successful and went without any further problems.

 Quicken for Expenses

 I have never used Quicken before my Palmtop purchase, but it was surprisingly easy to learn. I used it to keep track of my travel expenses. When the time came to fill out my travel expense report, all the information I needed was right there in the Pocket Quicken database. I was so impressed with this program, that I bought a copy of Quicken for my home computer. I look forward to balancing my checkbook electronically each month.

 Ham Radio Packet Operations

 I am an amateur (ham) radio operator, and I carry my VHF packet station with me on long trips such as this. In this application, I use the 200LX as a terminal which connects to the TNC (terminal node controller). With this setup, I can communicate over radio to a variety of bulletin boards, and send messages to my ham buddies back in Huntsville.

 Configuration Management

 I have responsibility for keeping track of the numerous drawings for the equipment we were installing at White Sands. Back in Huntsville, we maintain a Lotus 123 database of the drawing numbers. This database contains the drawing number, the title, the responsible engineer, the date released, etc. Before my trip, I made a copy of this database on my Palmtop. Now, whenever I need to refer to this database, such as when assigning a drawing number to a new part, I have the entire database right at my fingertips. I simply call up the spreadsheet on my 200LX and make the necessary changes. This capability came in very useful on several occasions during my trip.

 Schematic Capture

 One of the programs I transferred to my Palmtop before leaving Huntsville was an old copy of OrCAD, a schematic capture program. I recalled from an article in the Palmtop Paper that a 100LX user had successfully gotten Orcad to run, so I thought I'd give it a try on the 200LX. I installed OrCAD on my desktop computer, configured it for CGA drivers, then copied the whole program over to my Palmtop. (I had a doubled 30MB Flash card in my memory slot and wasn't concerned about space. However, the program can easily be pruned down.) Sure enough, things worked smoothly (I configured the program for a CGA display). I was surprised at how crisp the CGA mode appeared on the 200, compared to a regular monitor. I was able to put OrCAD to use during my trip by drawing up several small test circuits I needed. (I used OrCAD 3.11, which is no longer supported by the manufacturer. The current version, SDT386+, requires a 386 processor and will not work on the HP Palmtop.)

 Hinge Problem

 Towards the end of my trip, I began to notice a distinct "clicking" sound from the left end of the Palmtop's hinge. Coincidentally, I noticed some postings on the comp.sys.palmtops newsgroup about this very same problem. One poster said HP Technical Support recommended an in-warranty replacement. Once settled back in Huntsville, I called HP and got very courteous service. They sent the replacement 200 overnight mail, and I transferred my files over to it without any problems. The new unit doesn't exhibit the clicking sound, but has a much stiffer hinge.


 Overall, I have been very impressed with the HP Palmtop products. Except for the hinge problem, the unit has held up very well under all types of adverse conditions. Having been a long user of HP calculators, I have come to expect this ruggedness from their products. I have successfully shifted my PIM activities, and have nearly eliminated my use of paper slips. Having a small computer with all these capabilities in my pocket or briefcase has proven to be a real benefit to me, and I recommend it highly.