|The Medical Palm Review |
July/August, 2003 (V4N7&8) - Summer Double Issue
It's summertime and it's too warm in the office to fire up my PC and write another newsletter. Well all right, but it's still too hot to write two. So, as in previous years, I will crank out a bit more than usual in this issue. That will have to hold you until September.
Data Security on the Sony Clié
I have loaded all my old data, including Address Book, ToDo list, and some personal memos onto my Sony NZ90. I want to secure this info in case someone steals the PDA. The Palm operating system has a built-in password function which is easily bypassed and doesn't even mask your password as you enter it! (so someone could learn it by watching as you write or type it). This is not adequate in my view.
There are two approaches I have used with my past Palm handhelds. First, a password program to lock the PDA when I am not using it (Gridlock). Second, file encryption for sensitive Memopad files (CryptoPad). Unfortunately, Gridlock doesn't work with my Sony so that takes care of that. CryptoPad works OK, however.
So what else can I use to lock the PDA? OneTouchPass by Ava Softava lets you use a picture instead of text for a password. It has several other clever capabilities but is not OS 5.0 compatible (yet). Visual Key works the same way.
EasyLock, and TealLock let you press a sequence of buttons to unlock the PDA - no need to take out the stylus to enter a Graffiti sequence or password.
But now there is a new problem: data on the Sony Memory Stick external memory card also needs protection. Because the Memory Stick can be removed and plugged into another PDA, I would like some way to encrypt the data on it. Ideally, the encryption would be "transparent". This means that data stored in the card is unlocked when a program I use needs it, and is relocked when I'm done, but it is entirely automatic, without me seeing the process or being bothered by it. Users of Palm PDAs: your Secure Digital memory cards permit encryption of data as part of their standard features.
Lucky you... But for me there are only a few choices. BackupBuddy VFS can encrypt its backup files, but not other data on the Memory Stick. PDA Defense will work on some storage media but not NZ series Cliés. mEncryptor will let you encrypt individual data files or folders on the memory card but not transparently - this is robust but could get tedious quickly. Keyring for Palm OS is a free program that can encrypt and password-protect small text files on my Sony, but not other programs' data.
Bottom line: there are no perfect data protection solutions for my Sony and its Memory Stick storage card. Palm SD-equipped devices have better choices. And I haven't even mentioned protecting Palm OS backup files on my PC's hard drive. I'll just have to be vigilant and wait for the inevitable improvements....
I have been using BrainForest for years to keep track of projects, list things to do, and keep linear algorithms such as treatment protocols. BrainForest has been showing its age: no use of colour, no use of extended screens, and not able to store its data files on SD or Memory Stick media. Recently, a new version was released which can use VFS memory cards and extended screens. Is it worth the US$15? While the improvements are nice, they still won't let you create branching algorithms.
There are a few ways to create branching algorithms. One way is to use a relational database program with links to secondary databases within the parent. HanDBase is fairly easy to use for that and there are others, but the interface is a bit awkward for users. Alternatively, you can try MindMapper which lets you build visual charts to help develop ideas, work through protocols, etc. You can see a screenshot at the right.
Yet another strategy is to build a web page with the algorithm represented by hyperlinks. You can then use AvantGo or iSiloX to convert the algorithm into a Palm file. The only problem with this approach is the need to format the web page so as to convert into something readable on the PDA. For example, it takes some trial and error to get the different links that look very organized on your PC's screen to all stay tidy on one (smaller) Palm screen. On the plus side: both iSiloX and (recently) AvantGo have been upgraded to take advantage of high resolution screens, Palm OS 5 and extended memory cards. This will allow you to get more elaborate algorithms effectively portrayed on-screen.
Here, in no particular order, is a large grab-bag of hardware and software and accessories. Maybe you'll find something you need...
- Looking for a case or wallet for your Clié? Try DS International or Anandtech
- As predicted, manufacturers have rushed out cases for the new model Palms - but they aren't cheap. Check out EBCases
- The Stowaway folding keyboard is now available for many brands and models of handheld computers. The enduring, perhaps increasing popularity of these devices proves that making computers smaller isn't everything: until voice control or some other paradigm takes over, full-size keyboards are still tops for text entry.
- I bought a keyboard for my Handera 330 and found it very handy, but it doesn't attach to my new Sony. Instead of buying a new keyboard every time I change brand of PDA, what about a one that uses the infrared beamer to communicate with my PDA? The Targus wireless KB uses a moveable arm with the IR detector/transmitter and it adjusts to many models. Wish I'd thought of that. There is a competitor: PockeTop, based in Canada.
- Do you want a car charger for your PDA? A USB charging cable? An extra HotSync cable for when you are away from home? American Power Conversion makes cables to connect anything to anything else.
- If your PDA has BlueTooth for short-range wireless networking, you may not realize how much power it sucks out of your PDA even when you are not using the wireless feature. BtToggle is a small program which will deactivate BlueTooth and save your juice.
- Looking for a good read this summer? Paperback books are still my favourite but I have tried reading short stories on my Palm. Now that I have a decent sound system (thank you, Sony) there is another option: talking books. Audible also has a range of newspapers and periodicals and even a book-of-the-month club.
- Not in the mood to read? Watch some TV instead with a TV tuner that fits into the Memory Stick slot of your Clié.
- Looking to process health cards or ID cards on the move? Scanning Devices is selling a magnetic card stripe reader that clips onto most Palm PDAs. Software definitely extra.
Sharing the Wealth
One of the most powerful aspects of Palm computers is the plasticity of the tools. With a few bits of extra hardware and a wireless network or cable, you can link to other computers in your office, hospital, or on the Internet. You can potentially order X-rays at the bedside, review patient charts while eating lunch, check out medical journals while commuting. The various communication techniques available (HotSync, infrared link, wireless networking, link to your cell phone) offer you enormous choices how to connect. Reflecting that need to connect, software for Palms increasingly can interact with software on PCs and on the Web.
Air Canada recently installed IR beaming stations at Pearson so customers could download airport maps, destination info, flight schedules, and even news updates from The Globe & Mail. Their plans to install these terminals at multiple airports may be derailed by bankruptcy proceedings, but this idea could be very powerful in many other environments. How would you like to use such a terminal as part of morning rounds or to obtain your call schedule? It could be an effective way to distribute educational literature, or updated SARS precautions and protocols for your hospital or health district. It could be used to advertise new pharmaceuticals direct to physicians without packaging the ads in non-peer-reviewed medical magazines....
Anyway, here's another assortment of software and hardware ideas -- this time about file sharing and networking.
If you want to share Microsoft Office files between your Palm device and your desktop PC, then recent improvements to QuickOffice Premier and Documents2Go will interest you. Both packages have enhanced their ability to read/write to MS Office files directly, if they are on VFS data cards. With a data card reader plugged into your PC, you can use an external memory card as a portable hard drive. Plug it into the PC for editing or adding a new document. Then plug it into your PDA to take the document with you. You can then skip the possibly tedious process of reformatting or converting documents with iSiloX or AvantGo. This has interesting possibilities.
I receive eMail with Microsoft Office files attached. These aren't readily usable on my Sony PDA, so I have never got into the habit of reading my eMail "on the go". Recent enhancements to Snappermail now permit me to view those attachments. With QuickOffice Premier and SnapperMail working together, you can open and edit those files and then remail them if you have to. This pair of programs thus go a long way toward bringing desktop functionality to mobile handheld computing. Even if you only download your eMail when you HotSync, then upload your replies at the next HotSync, it will be alot easier to use your Palm as part of a suite with your PC. If you have a wireless networking capability in your PDA, with an Internet connection, then you will have even greater flexibility.
Wireless networking gets easier every month, as new products and services pile into the market and costs continue to fall. For example, Sony has recently introduced its Wireless Mobile Connection Wizard desktop software to help Clié owners with BlueTooth or WiFi configure and use wireless networking. Read about it and get some pointers from CliéSource. Traditionally, WiFi adapters have been built into Compact Flash cards. Sony even set up their newer Cliés with Compact Flash slots that can be used only for WiFi. Now Hagiwara Sys-Com plans to put WiFi and BlueTooth onto Memory Stick cards. What to do with that Compact Flash slot when you aren't using it for networking? Convert it to run memory cards or other adapters, using software from EruWare (read a review at Palm Infocenter). With an adapter, you can even use software on a locked Palm Secure Digital card in a Sony Clié wireless networking card slot. Talk about Rube Goldberg....
And don't forget that BtToggle software (described above) to keep your battery from running dry during all this card-mania.
Outlook users who want to synchronize data with their Palm can try Beyond Contacts, a new program from Dataviz. Other ways to extend your address book and contact lists include Relate, and PhoneMagic. Each of these programs has its strengths and weaknesses. If you are a dedicated Outlook user, there may be something for you here.
Finally, if you own more than one PDA or more than one PDA user shares your desktop PC, you may be interested in TweakUser which helps you manage multiple userIDs when HotSyncing. Recently I tried it out but discovered that it requires HackMaster or equivalent and thus it doesn't work with my Sony. Try it but backup everything first.
Back and Forth
One data sharing problem that I personally haven't had to deal with is migrating from a Mac to a PC or vice versa. How would one transfer Palm data to the Palm software on the new desktop computer? This problem is somewhat similar to migrating to a new PC - for example when you upgrade to a new machine using Windows XP from your old one using Windows 95. Here are some suggestions:
- use the handheld itself to copy the data files, assuming both desktops use compatible cradles (eg. both are USB). The data for the four basic applications (AddressBook, ToDo, etc.) as well as data files for other programs, will be copied when you HotSync. For software which has a Windows desktop component (eg. HanDBase) you will need to install a Mac compatible version of that desktop program on the new Mac.
- migrating to Linux: KPilot (found on almost every distribution CD of Linux) lets you synchronize and backup your data files, but there is no version of the Palm Desktop SW for Linux. Overall, if you are a devout Palm user, Linux just isn't ready for primetime.
- if exporting data files to a disk for use by another computer, sometimes the tab-delimited text file you export doesn't seem to do what you want. Make a dummy record with "LastName" in the LastName field, "FirstName" in the FirstName field, etc. This unambiguous record makes it easier to coordinate importing the real records once you start the import process on the new computer. (see The Computer Paper, June 2003, pp63-5 or online for a description of this trick).
Medical "Doc" of the Month
If you are doing any pediatrics, you might find the growth charts and calculator from StatCoder useful. This program is free, and easier to see than shrunken scanned images of growth charts from Stats Canada.
Hack of the Month
Screenshot is a program I use to snap program screens and copy them for these newsletters. The older version doesn't work with my Sony - the same old problem with HackMaster and OS 5. Fortunately the new version is out. It can't handle the virtual graffiti area but it connects nicely to PC desktop software for handling the snapshots. Meanwhile, I also can keep using the Sony Sim emulator on my PC to capture screen shots. See previous issues for discussion of the Palm emulator.
There are other ways to get getting screenshots for demos and lectures. For example, with a camcorder linked to TV or video-input on a PC.
Here's what some people are using mobile computers for in health care and teaching:
- Using wireless networking to access evidence-based medical software and getting continuing education credits for it.
- Using PDAs in point-of-care teaching.
- Palm has a website with news and info about software and hardware for healthcare
- Using PocketPCs and a wireless Internet link for telemedicine: cardiologists interpret ECGs
- Using PDAs in education - see a report from TechLearn (scroll down their homepage to find the link to "PDAs in Education" then download the report). The references section includes extensive links to websites and reports of interest.
- Point of care patient data access - using handhelds and a data storage device attached to patient wristband. Forget about sending the chart with the patient: the patient is wearing the chart....
In Times to Come
Is the handheld computing market consolidating or fragmenting?
It's consolidating. Palm has bought Handspring (see InfoSync and PDACortex). One last HandSpring Treo has been released: and it combines a Palm PDA with a cell phone. Phone companies are adding the ability to run Palm or Java software to their handsets.
It's fragmenting.- Sony Japan has announced two new Clié handhelds, the NX80V and NX73V (see MobileMag and InfoSync). Sony (and, more slowly, Palm) keeps on cranking them out - each model slightly different than the last.
Right now you can have Palm functions and WiFi (Sony) or cell phone (Palm, Kyocera, Samsung, Handspring) or multimedia playback (Sony, Palm) or camera (Sony or add-on device for SD slot) or even GPS (Garmin) - but not all of them at once. And the devices with the most features weigh twice as much as the rest and the fancy features stop working one by one as the battery is drained. And forget small: smaller devices like the Fossil wrist PDA give up many features to fit on your arm. You can't even do Graffiti.
This makes buying a new PDA a little intimidating: will my handheld be eclipsed in a few months (weeks)? Will the manufacturer still support it next year? Can I get the feature mix I want?
In my opinion, the insanity won't stop until battery power improves dramatically. There is some prospect of that as new organic polymer screens come to market: they are cheaper to make, weigh less and use alot less power. Perhaps then we can hope to have our PDAs linked to the Internet, our cell phones linked to our PDAs and snapshot cameras, and hopefully pay alot less money for hardware than we do now, so that upgrading is not such a blow to the wallet.
In other words, in times to come mobile computing is going to be much more interesting.