Programmer's Corner Make the HP Palmtop a Programmer's Reference Tool

Ed shows how to use the 100/200LX DataBase as a reference for all those hard to remember programming details.

By Ed Keefe

There are at least three things every programmer wants more of -more time, more disk space, and more "silicon-based" memory. As veteran programmers get older they also want faster and more reliable "carbon-based" memory, the kind that sits between your ears. When this type of memory starts to fail I tell myself that my biological memory is not any "leakier", just that the deluge of information is pouring in faster. Whatever the case, the Palmtops couldn't have arrived at a more auspicious time in my life. Over the past three years I've found myself relying more and more on my Palmtop battery-powered brain. Since you can carry the Palmtop as a reference tool in your pocket or purse you could mix a couple of TV commercials together for a new motto: "This is your brain: don't leave home without it."

The descriptions of the databases and hypertext files that follow show how I use my HP Palmtop to augment my organic memory nowadays.

Customized Databases

8088IS.GDB -- At one time I did more Assembly language programming than I do now. A lot of the information that I used to have readily in mind has now been put into the Palmtop. The 8088IS.GDB database contains 170 records that show Assembler functions and how they work along with many of the more commonly used BIOS and DOS interrupts.

Following is the list view screen for this database showing the DataCard with a short definition of the operator.

List View of 8088.GDB: Graphic

 A view of the sample record shows the details of flags and formats along with the definition.

Logical AND Shown in 8088.GDB : Graphic

 The 8088IS.GDB database has a subset that allows me to scroll through just the interrupt listings. This is very handy for the programmer who occasionally dabbles in the arcane art of Assembler. You can quickly find the information you need with a simple search.

DBG_HLP.GDB -- Sometimes using a full Assembler program would be overkill. The programming task can be accomplished with the Debug program built into the HP Palmtops. And it may even be more overkill to write a Debug program when someone else has done the job already.

Debug-Help DataBase: Graphic

 The DBG_HLP.GDB database has 38 records that give help on using all of the Debug commands. The other 81 of the 119 records in the DBG_HLP database file contain Debug script files that do everything from changing the size of the keyboard buffer to stuffing characters into it.

There are script files to capture screens, lock out the print-screen key, change the volume of the beep on the HP Palmtops, and put huge letters on the screen.

ANSIED.GDB -- I still use the ANSI.SYS program on my desktop computer, and at times I even use Edlin, the original DOS editor. It's the only editor that can be driven by "script files", but its commands are definitely not intuitive. So on those rare occasions when I need to use Edlin or ANSI.SYS, I pop up this database containing information on how to use these programs rather than wade through several books searching for something I used to keep in my head.

I use the subset function to display the 23 records for the ANSI.SYS commands or the 18 records for the Edlin commands.

ANSIED.GDB Screen: Graphic

 The above screen shows the EDLN.ANS entry, which summarizes the use of ANSI.SYS to modify the arrow and function keys to perform editing tasks within Edlin. (This brings back memories of the "bad old days" when Edlin was the only editor in town.)

KEYCODE.GDB -- When I'm working with macros on the Palmtop or programming the keyboard on my desktop, there's often a need to find the scancode for a particular key. To do this I use the PROHLP.EXE program. However, if I'm looking at some Assembler code and see a reference to "B200", I could spend several minutes hunting and pecking until I figured out that it was code for the (CTRL)-(cc:MAIL) key combination. The KEYCODE .GDB file will let me look up any key on a standard, extended, or HP Palmtop keyboard. I'll start typing in "B200." If the speed search feature doesn't jump to the keycode, then I'll try the F4 Search function.

KEYCODE.GDB Screen: Graphic

BATIP.GDB -- The largest database file on my Palmtop is the one that contains all of the tips, traps, and techniques that I've come across in my 13 years of creating MS/PC DOS batch files.

It seems that I learn something new about DOS every week. When I do, I add it to this collection. There are currently 75 different "batch tips" in this 120K file.

BATIP.GDB Shows For Do Tips: Graphic

 Many of the tips and techniques in this database come from the pages of early BYTE and PC Magazine articles. The magazines have long since succumbed to age but the information lives on in the Palmtop's memory.

(Here's an interesting and possibly useful DOS trick I just picked up. At the DOS prompt type the following two command lines exactly as they appear:

echo off for %i in (/h/p/-/p/a/l/m/t/o/p) do echo %i

Press (ENTER) and see what happens. (Be sure and type ECHO ON and press (ENTER) to put things back to normal.)

SLVR_HLP.GDB -- One of the "programming languages" built into the HP Palmtops is the calculator language in Solver. The SLVR_HLP.GDB file contains 93 records listing all of the functions in Solver along with some helpful hints on using this math "engine." There are nine different subsets to help speed up the process of searching through the database.

EQNS.NDB -- The EQNS.NDB NoteTaker file picks up where the SLVR_HLP.GDB leaves off. It contains 70 "notes" that are actual Solver equations and do everything from solving a 3x3 matrix to picking a lottery number. The notes may be copied to the clipboard and pasted into the Solver editor as they're needed.

This database, like many of my memory-jogging files, is a "work in progress." This means that some of the entries give references to books and articles where more equations may be found. Eventually, I plan to add the equations to the database.

DOS Reference Programs

I also use some large hypertext applications on the Palmtop. Their data files could be converted to a text or database format, but that would mean losing the "hot links" (cross-referencing) feature of hypertext.

"Teaching Tips Hyperdeck" is a 281K hypertext viewer that comes with a 130K compressed data file containing information on everything from "accessibility to students" to "videotaping lectures." There's a wealth of anecdotal material in this reference source that's relevant to college instructors and anyone who's involved with teaching or training.

Borland language products all come with a small hypertext viewer called THELP.COM. I have THELP configured to pop up help screens for Turbo Pascal, Turbo Assembler, Turbo Debugger, and Turbo C/C++. On average each of the "help" files consume 150K of disk space. If I didn't have the Palmtop, I'd need to carry around six different reference books to replace these files.

In the area of C++ programming, Borland and Microsoft offer very little help on using objects and member functions in the iostream classes. To supplement their help files, I've adapted a text file reference document (IOSTRM.NDX ) so that I can load it in either the Qedit or LIST programs and "hotkey" to the desired topic. The data file itself is 97K and contains lots of sample code. Eventually I'll get around to putting this one in either a customized Palmtop database or making it accessible to the THELP.COM hypertext viewer.

All of the above references except for the Borland databases are available on this month's HP Palmtop Paper OnDisk. You're welcome to use them or modify them at your own discretion. The databases are offered "as is". There are no documentation files. Simply transfer the .GDB or .NDB files to your Palmtop and load them into either the Database or NoteTaker application. You will find that some of the material in the databases refers to copyrighted software which we can't distribute. You can delete such entries if you wish. Here's hoping that you find something of value in return for your effort of browsing around in someone else's electronic "brain."

[Editor's note: ExpertHelp is a TSR hypertext help program targeted for any DOS programmer using C, Basic, Assembler, Pascal, Clapper, D- Base, etc.

The SofSolutions BBS has over 70 ExpertHelp databases available free to ExpertHelp users, including Borland C, Microsoft C, Assembler, Netware, Clipper, and D-Base. (Also see ExpertHelp note on page 21.) -- The Palmtop Paper Staff]