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    UHN Palm Newsletter (June 2000)

    This month we will continue to look at how to fit the text you develop onto the tiny Palm Personal Digital Assistant (or PDA) screen. We will also review how you can preserve your Palm's data in a backup.

    We have previously discusseded using the Palm's Memo function, or specialized software like BrainForest or iSilo to develop text material. None of these programs allow you to evaluate the appearance of the text on your PC before HotSyncing to your Palm device. It can get tedious indeed editing a text, HotSyncing, making notes, fixing up the text some more, HotSyncing again….

    How to reduce the work in this cycle? First of all, try to format the data to fit on the Palm screen when you type it. This means setting fonts, margins and page sizes to be approximately that of the palm on your word processor. The Palm screen is thirty characters wide by thirteen rows high. No PC or Mac font that I can find corresponds exactly to the Palm fonts so you can use any "sans-serif" font like Arial, Helvetica or Geneva. You can set everything two sizes larger to make it easier to see what you are doing on your computer screen.

    Will your text be viewed as a web page or a simple text file on the Palm? Save your work as a plain text file (strip out all the formatting codes that the Palm doesn't share with your word processor) using the "Save As" function in your word processor's File menu. Then convert the text into a Palm file with PalmDoc Converter ( Save as HTML for web style pages. To import a Web-style page to your Palm you will need to use iSiloWeb or AvantGo, which we reviewed in last month's issue.

    If you want to preserve your Palm's batteries, and not sit through too many HotSyncs, you can preview the material on your desktop PC. For this task I use something called the Palm Emulator or POSER. This program runs on your PC or Mac, and presents you with a window that looks like a Palm PDA. Originally designed for software developers to test programs without running down the batteries on their Palm PDAs, educators can use the POSER to get a feeling for how their material looks before HotSyncing to a real Palm device.

    The picture below is a snapshot of what appears on my screen when POSER is running. The image corresponds to what would be seen on a real Palm PDA running the same software - in this case part of an ECG interpretation manual.

    Other advantages of the POSER include using your computer's keyboard instead of the Palm stylus to enter text (I am still rather slow when it comes to entering lots of text using Graffiti). Also, you can install programs and try them out without tying up memory on your Palm PDA - for example, to compare the iSilo web page browser to AvantGo. Once you have created your text or other reference file it can be saved on your PC's hard drive to install on a real Palm PDA later.

    POSER is available from the Palm Computing web site (

    If you aren't ready for something so arcane as emulating a six ounce pocket computer on the screen of a forty or fifty pound desktop PC you may prefer to continue experimenting directly onto the Palm, but POSER is much cooler.


    Once you have created your magnum opus for the Palm PDA, you might worry about it getting accidentally deleted. Probably we have all experienced that sinking feeling that comes of waking up one fine morning and discovering that we left the battery replacement just a little too late.

    Ideally, your Palm Desktop software had archived the data files from your Palm into folders on your PC's hard drive but the default configuration for HotSync is to synchronize in both directions. Thus it is possible for you to inadvertently erase your backups on the PC when you synchronise, instead of restoring the lost files onto your Palm.

    To prevent this, you can manually adjust the HotSync software to update the Palm from the PC (ie. in one direction only) instead of synchronising when performing this sort of disaster recovery (under normal circumstances this is not necessary or desirable).

    You can also purchase software to provide more sophisticated backups, such as BackupBuddy (

    A third alternative is to make a safety backup of your key data files. On your Windows PC, use Windows Explorer to examine drive C: (use the right mouse button to click on the Start icon in the lower left corner of your screen then click on Explore). Look for a folder called Palm in the Program Files folder. Within it will be another folder with the same name as your user ID on the Palm PDA. Within that folder will be another folder called Backup. In there are all your Palm's data files. Copy any or all of them (or the whole directory) to another location on your hard drive. I copy mine onto a portable device called a ZIP drive in order to demonstrate severe paranoia….. These files can be loaded onto the Palm anytime by merely double-clicking on them individually, which launches the Palm installation and HotSync manager software that is already installed on your PC.

    I should point out that the foregoing discussion assumes you are using the latest version of the Palm HotSync software. If you aren't using version 3.0.4 yet, please download the it from the Palm home site ( You will benefit from faster downloads as well as better safety features.

    Last month I asked you all to get back to me about the format of the newsletter. A resounding two replies…. OK, at least I know that two of you are reading. What about the rest of you? Since you haven't actually asked me to stop sending the newsletter to you, I assume that you are happy with things as they are. Aren't delusions wonderful?

    Next month we will discuss yet another aspect of how to get your reference and teaching materials onto your Palm PDA: style issues. Should I also pass along some web sites for downloading game software? Of course not. I figure serious academic users like my readers are already familiar with game sites….

    This is one of a continuing series of newsletters on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals and video game afficionados at the UHN. Feel free to pass copies around electronically or on paper. To subscribe, or complain, contact the author at the following address:

    Visit our website for the latest Medical Palm Review newsletter and the archive of back issues.