|UHN Palm Newsletter (January 2001) - Something Old, Something New |
It's a new year, maybe even a new millenium, and over the holidays we have seen new Palms being offered for sale at deep discounts. But most of us have the same old handheld and wonder how to squeeze more performance out of it. On the cheap if possible.
I was considering getting a new Palm when I maxed out the memory on my IIIx with texts and reference files. But the the decision was only made when my wife announced she was tired of rewriting her pocket phone book every year. Did Santa get her a new Palm PDA for Christmas? No way, pal. Santa gave her his old Palm and got a new one for himself. Who says romance is dead?
In this issue of the UHN Palm Newsletter, the first of the new year, we will look at two aspects of the upgrade process. First, a selection of software and hardware to boost the performance of your existing device. Then a brief discussion of the chills and thrills involved in passing my old Palm IIIx to my wife without losing all my data and reference files.
The two things no handheld device owner can get enough of are storage memory and speed. Storage memory on most Palms is fixed unless you are lucky enough to own a TRGPro (http://www.trg.com) with its Compact Flash slot that will permit up to 200 megabytes of additional storage capacity. TRG also installs memory enhancement for older model Palms like the Palm Pilot or Palm III but these involve sending the handheld computer in for brain surgery and cost more than C$120 plus shipping.
For the Palm itself, there are several innovative hardware solutions. For example, Unilinear (www.unilinear.com/) has a snap-on adapter for PCMCIA cards called the Parachute. This permits you to use industry standard data storage cards, modems or wireless modems (eg. go to www.rim.net/products/pc_card/index.shtml for a look at a product by RIM). There is also the FlashPlug (http://www.flashplug.de/) which snaps onto the HotSync port to provide 8 megabytes of flash memory (see photo).
Other hardware solutions do exist. There are some proprietary solutions for the Handspring Visor (http://www.handspring.com). For example Harrison's or the Washington Manual are available as plug-in modules, or you can get 8 megabyte modules to store whatever text reference or other data you choose.
None of these solutions is exactly cheap. At US$90 to US$300 each, they don't compare too favourably to buying a newer PDA itself (US$200 for a Palm IIIxe or US$300 for a Visor, each with 8 Mb of RAM). Also, the FlashPlug is just the right size to fall down the bathroom sink drain. No, don't ask how I know.
Finally it's back to TRG again for a product that will be most useful to almost all of us. FlashPro is a software program which permits you to recover unused memory in the Palm's system, and use it for data storage or programs. Priced at US$15 it's a cheap way to get an extra six or seven hundred kilobytes of RAM - enough to squeeze in one more reference text or a dozen games.
Perhaps you'd like to have a faster Palm, to enable more rapid keyword searches? Extra speed can be had by overclocking the Palm with a software hack - effectively, racing the motor. One of the best programs for this is AfterBurner (available from http://www.palmgear.com). This program cleverly tweaks a variety of features to make your Palm seem snappier. As with any HackMaster Hack, you do need to take some care while experimenting. Will it make you "more productive" to use an overworked expression? Perhaps not, but it will allow you to tinker without much risk and your programs will definitely load faster.
There are at least a dozen other programs that perform one or another of AfterBurner's tricks. Check out any online Palm shareware or freeware source for alternatives.
Other ways to speed up require some lateral thinking. Do you find Graffiti a slow way to type in text? Try a portable keyboard. Palm makes one that folds up to fit in a pocket (www.palm.com/software/addons.html). Alternatively get an onscreen one that you can use your fingers with instead of a stylus. For example, AlphaPad (www.alphapad.com/) is an on-screen keypad with "keys" large enough for fingertips instead of a stylus (see illustration at right).
No doubt there are other software and hardware add-ons which would help you get more out of your Palm without springing for a new piece of hardware. You'll just have to think of some other excuse to buy yourself a new toy.
The New Puppy
If you weary of fine-tuning your old Palm and decide, as I did, to get a new one there are a few questions to consider. How should you transfer your data from the old Palm PDA to the new one? Will you retire the old one or pass it on to someone else in your office or home? Will two or more Palm users be backing up to the same desktop computer?
Kipling said, "There are one and twenty ways To recite a tribal lay And each and every one of them is right.". In much the same fashion, there are many ways to transfer your data. Your best option for the new Palm is pretty straightforward: simply plug it into the HotSync cradle and push the button. The brand new Palm will take on the previous PDA's user identity and absorb all the schedule, phone number and other data files from the desktop PC. Just like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That's what I did with my new Palm IIIxe. Before I did that however, I indulged my paranoia by copying all the data folders from the C:\Program Files\Palm\Paul Arnold\ directory to a safe place on my hard drive. Then I made another copy to a ZIP disk (holds 100 Mb of data) and hid that under my bed. Despite my precautions, the data transfer proceeded without incident.
By the way, if I had also lucked into a new PC and needed to transfer my data there, it would have been easy. Install the Palm Desktop software onto the new PC, then HotSync the old Palm PDA on the new computer. Then HotSync the new PDA just as I described in the previous paragraph.
Now came the interesting part. Rose (my boss) wanted the Palm IIIx I was casting aside. How should I set that up? It's easy to wipe the Palm and force a new user ID on it, by pulling the batteries out of it for a few minutes. But Rose also wanted to keep all the phone numbers I had laboriously typed into the IIIx's address book rather than retype them herself. (She's not the boss because she's dumb
). How could I change the User ID without losing all the data?
This turned out to be easy because of the Palm Desktop software. It allowed me to edit the user ID names on the PC, substituting Rose's name for mine, without losing data. When I subsequently HotSynced to her handheld, the user name was changed there as well without losing any of the data. As far as the PC and the Palm IIIx were concerned, the Paul user had become Rose. Interchanging of identity in marriage should always be this simple? I performed one last HotSync with my new IIIxe and the PC calmly accepted that Paul was back, and gave me a new set of backup files of my own again. When the dust settled Rose and I had identical sets of data files on our Palm handhelds, and separate sets of backup folders on the PC.
We have more than one computer in our home office and Rose prudently wanted redundancy - to be able to HotSync to another PC in a pinch. That was easy too. I installed the Desktop software on a second PC, attached a HotSync cradle to it, and HotSynced her IIIx handheld. This created backup folders for her on the second PC.
I still have to teach Rose how to look after some of this for herself in future but most of the hard work is done. If any of you are thinking about how to transfer your files to a new PC or a new handheld, you should have no difficulties. If you do have questions, however, help is at hand. At least two tech support people I checked with at Palm Canada (aka Keating Technologies) were knowledgeable and gave me what turned out to be correct advice about how to proceed. And, in a pinch, you can always give me a call, too. There's nothing quite like "see one, do one, teach many" as a rule for living.
Medical "Doc" of the Month
For a look at what is happening in Medical Handheld computing currently, check out the following website (if you like it, these folks create an interesting newsletter about high-tech developments by email - just like you know who
Hack of the Month
AfterBurner, described above, is a hack, and this issue is getting rather long. If you still have the energy, however, why don't you browse to www.palmgear.com or one of the other big web sites that cater to Palm computing and do some exploring on your own?
I'm attaching an iSilo Doc file with the list of "Most Commonly Prescribed" medications from the Limited Use Products directory of the MOHLTC. Now you can look up those pesky codes whenever you fill in a LU prescription blank. Sorry, I can't put the prescription pad on your PDA. Yet. Get the file here.
In Times to Come
We are entering the second year of publication of this newsletter. To all those who have been reading (and enjoying?) I do appreciate your interest. As the distribution list keeps growing by word of mouth referral, at least two of you must be reading, and recommending, my work to other people in the health care professions. Thanks!
Until next month, enjoy
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, unsubscribe, present burnt offerings, obtain back issues, change your email address or complain, contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org