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    UHN Palm Newsletter (April 2002) - Getting (Re)Organized

    This month I continued to get my new Palm PDA set up. In the course of which I had some success and a few surprises. Naturally, I just had to share all this with you folks.

    The Annual Migration

    One of the key tasks for me was to get all my appointments, address book and ToDo lists onto the new device. As it turns out, there are several ways to approach that. But, in order to preempt Murphy's Law, before I did anything else I backed up my PC's hard drive and put the backup disk in a safe place….

    The easiest way is to HotSync from the Palm Desktop software on my PC to the new handheld. When one performs a HotSync for the first time with a new PDA, you get prompted to choose an existing user ID to sync with. By merely choosing one, all the appointments, memos, applications and hacks from that PDA get pulled over onto the new device.

    Remember, if you try this, to first change the HotSync settings to specify that the Desktop overwrites the Handheld. Normally, HotSync updates files on the PC from the PDA as well as from PC to PDA but you don't want to do that here or the blank Palmpilot files will erase all the records backed up on the PC.

    I tried this and it worked like a charm - but it took much longer than an ordinary HotSync. At first I thought that the computer or the Palm had crashed. Then I remembered that, unlike a routine HotSync, this one had to restore many applications and data files (about six megabytes worth) that had previously not been on the new HE330.

    After the process was completed, I turned on the HE330 and all my applications, appointments, etc. were present and accounted for. That included several programs that didn't like their new home and made the HE330 crash and need to be reset - repeatedly. After some fiddling I realized that I would not be easily able to figure out which program was behaving badly. Time to do a Hard Reset which removed everything so I could start over.

    Plan B was to Export all the appointments, tasks and address listings to special files, then import those files into my new HE330. Unlike the previous strategy, this involved creating a new user ID on the Desktop software. First, using the Appointment Book in the Desktop software on my PC as an example, I selected my previous user ID, opened the "File" menu, selected "Export" and followed the prompts to save a file with all the appointments. I then created a new ID, and recreated the categories of my appointments ("Hospital Shifts", "Personal", etc). Finally, I imported the data file to the new Appointment Book. Once I had done this for the Memo, Address Book, and ToDo list functions, I was ready to HotSync to the handheld device.

    Once again, I set HotSync to overwrite the handheld with data from the desktop, pushed the button, selected the new ID and it worked perfectly. Because I had created categories of appointments, address listings and memos to duplicate the settings on my original PDA, the various data listings were organized as they had been before. Had I not recreated the same category structure, everything would have been classified as "Unfiled".

    The only problem now was all my other applications (database, text reader, medical formula calculator, etc) needed to be reinstalled one by one onto the handheld. This was more tedious than doing it in one gulp, but had several advantages. First of all it allowed me to identify which programs misbehaved in their new home and eliminate them. Second, it provided an opportunity to reassess which programs I really needed and choose whether to install them or not. And, finally, it allowed me to experiment to see which programs could run from the Compact Flash memory card and which would need to be installed in the (much more limited) system RAM of the PDA. More about that next month.


    All this HotSyncing and data exporting was sorted out just in time, because someone bought my old Palm IIIxe and I no longer had it as a backup device.

    But what if I had kept it and wanted to share data between the two PDAs? What if my wife Rose changed her mind and opted to start using a Palm? How would I keep these various devices in sync? The two strategies I described above would have worked nicely up to a point for the appointment book and other built-in applications but not, as I found out, for programs with platform-specific foibles. And it would be tedious to constantly have to export data and reimport it, etc. Is there a way to share only selected application data between multiple devices?

    It turns out there are a few approaches to this.

    One is to take advantage of the HotSync software's customizability. When you want to HotSync to the backup PDA but only sychronise the Appointments, for example, you simply customize that HotSync session for that PDA and tell the software to "do nothing" for all the other programs.

    Another strategy: Return to the Desktop Software and, from the menubar, click on HotSync and then FileLink. Here you get the ability to synchronise exported files from an Appointment Book, Address Book , ToDo list and MemoPad. If several users or PDAs all FileLink to the same data files then this can serve as the basis of a shared system. It's a bit of a production to setup and you have to update the data files manually - only the synchronization is automatic. It's not that easy to use but it does work. Note that you need Version 3.0 or later of the Desktop Software from Palm.

    You can also go online and synchronise files to a website. This has the additional merit of allowing users who don't share the same PC to share some data. Palm operates a site called WeSync but there are others that provide similar capability:

    There are also specialized products such as RecoX which uses IR beaming to synchronise Palm devices.

    Some data (for example, databases) can be shared from a central server or from a webserver. Documents can be put on the web and downloaded to any PDA that logs in (eg. AvantGo). How about shared phone lists, schedules for rounds and memos on various topics for residents in the same program but different hospitals? Or for paramedics in the same city but different stations? Or nurses who want to share medication protocols, hospital phone numbers, departmental memos? I have looked at some of these programs in previous issues and that sort of sharing of data is a bit beyond the scope of today's topic. Still, if that is the sort of data you need to share, then the tools are out there.

    If you are comfortable with Windows Explorer or other PC (or Mac) file utilities, you can also attack the data sharing with the brute force approach. Each user who HotSyncs to a particular desktop computer has his or her own data folder in the "Palm" subdirectory. Data files for each user are stored in a subfolder called Backup. Files in this folder can be copied to other users' Backup folders and then will update the Handheld at the next HotSync. This is not for the faint of heart but can synchronise data and applications that aren't accessible to customizing the HotSync function directly. This is particularly handy for third-party (ie. didn't come in the box with your Palm) programs or data files.

    One other note. Sharing data between users or migrating to a new PDA are both tasks that are made considerably easier due to the robust and flexible Palm Desktop system. Working from my PC I can configure and execute these strategies and (provided I have been careful about which direction I synchronise) I can try again and reconfigure as often as I want until I get what I need. Good software design always helps.


    Even if you don't plan to copy files "by hand" in the way I described above, you can still take advantage of the simple Palm file system to make copies of your user ID's Backup folder and its contents to a floppy disk or some other backup media. Then, if things ever get mangled on the Palm handheld, you can restore the files and recover the state of grace at the time you made the backup. Saved my bacon a few times but it's not simple to use this approach.

    Much easier to use is BackupBuddy which is a very sophisticated program to save a snapshot of your Palm's state to your PC. You can restore as needed. I highly recommend this program to anyone who wants a safe and foolproof way to backup older Palm PDAs which don't have external storage memory cards.

    If you have a Compact Flash, Memory Stick, or Secure Digital slot in your (newer) Palm device, then you have even more options to save your data and setup. My HE330 comes with a program called (duh) Backup which saves the entire system RAM to a file on a memory card. I can take the batteries out of the handheld computer (totally erasing all the data and apps I loaded), restart it, run the built-in Restore function, and recreate my entire setup (including all data, user ID, etc.) in less than a minute. This is very useful as I gradually add on more programs in case one of them turns out to be venomous….

    Similar functionality is available for other brands of Palm handhelds. For example, there's CardSync which will do everything backup does and will even perform scheduled backups so you don't have to remember to use it. BackupBuddy:VFS will provide similar capabilities.

    Want more data security? How about getting a memory card reader for your desktop PC? Then you can backup the card (and your Palm's RAM backups) to your PC's hard drive. You can also copy the Palm data back to a different memory card for truly paranoid data duplication.

    The online services I listed in the segment on Sharing can also provide a level of extra security by providing "offsite" backup for selected data.

    How important is your data? How many people or Palm PDAs need to share the data? Armed with the foregoing ideas, you should be able to provide yourself with the appropriate level of protection to your needs.

    Medical "Doc" of the Month

    In previous issues we have looked at medical calculators of various kinds. Here's a new one. IVRateCalc has some nice features and you can customize the list of drugs that you use. Shareware.

    Hack of the Month

    MacroPlay (demo). This clever little program allows you to automate sequences of pen taps. If you use it with the on-screen keyboard, you can enter quite complex data as well as perform configuration commands. For example, you can toggle the Preferences applet to turn system sounds on or off with just one command.

    Medical Computing

    A recent issue of Health Data Management had two articles about using PDAs. Catch the stories here and here.

    This is an interesting journal to bookmark on your web browser, by the way, as they bring a multi-disciplinary perspective to the use of computers in health care.

    In Times to Come

    Next month we will forge ahead with installing all the medical software I need in my work (did I mention I have a real job in Emergency Medicine at a teaching hospital?). Along the way, perhaps we can take a look at a few choices for antimicrobial guidelines and emergency medicine references.

    Until then, enjoy!

    This is the latest issue of a newsletter on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, paramedics, IT professionals and others who need tools that work. 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:

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