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    The Medical Palm Review

    February, 2004 (V5N2) - Hitting the Road

    This month we look at a few ways to take your work from a desktop PC with you on a PDA.

    Writer's Block

    I had to make a plane flight on short notice due to an illness in the family. I brought my PDA and some notes for this issue of the MPR. Along the way I rediscovered all the reasons why I don't like doing creative writing on a PDA.

    The small screen doesn't permit me to see much text as I work. I like to work with my editor, a web browser window and my notes all at once but the Palm operating system doesn't let me juggle several editing windows or applications at once the way Windows does. The stylus and folding keyboard are not as convenient as my big old Northgate KB on my desktop. File management tools not very sophisticated either.

    As a writer, I tend to rework my material repeatedly until the awkwardness of the prose is reduced to tolerable levels. After editing I preview the results in a web browser window then attack it again. Can't do that on a PDA either. Etc, etc.

    But who wants to lug a laptop computer that weighs twenty times as much? With a PDA on my hip and a folding keyboard in my pocket and an overnight bag I can be out the door and on the way to the airport twenty minutes after an emergency phone call.

    Anyway, it's just one more excuse for missing the deadline and publishing late .....

    Getting the Word

    I have been trying out eMail on my Kyocera. As usual I learned few things the hard way.

    My PDA uses its built-in cellular phone to connect wirelessly to eMail providers. It's important to prevent software from trying to download huge message attachments - it takes forever on a dialup link and it fills up your system memory in no time. You know the files I mean: departmental memos written in Word with 2 megabyte colour logos...

    If you really do want to get file attachments, you should look at DocumentsToGo or Mark/Space Mail 2.0, among others.

    Another thing: some eMail services may not be compatible with some software. My Sympatico eMail service works fine with Eudora, but my University of Toronto account doesn't. Go figure. Turns out that U of T's POP mail server uses some different protocols. Fortunately Palm's Mail application (comes on the CD with all Palm PDAs) works with it. But this results in the somewhat annoying situation of needing more than one program for the different eMail accounts I use. That uses up memory. And mail services based on HTML (eg. Yahoo, HotMail, U of T WebMail) do not work at all with the web browser I have on the Kyocera because their screen configurations are not Palm-friendly.

    There are many other possible eMail solutions for the Palm. For a start, check out eMailman where a number of software programs and utilities are listed. PalmSource also has an extensive list of available titles. In the end I needed to do some experimenting and make a few phone calls to technical support folk before I got my eMail working and I still haven't found a way to get my hospital's mail. Oh well, two out of three anyway.

    Hardware and Stuff

    Meanwhile, my Kyocera has been recalled due to concerns about the battery. Kyocera batteries can, apparently, overheat and even blow up. Fortunately mine has behaved itself. Still, further discussion of wireless networking will have to wait until the new battery arrives or until I get combat pay.

    By the way, cables to link all sorts of PDAs to all sorts of cell phones for wireless eMail/networking can be founding at Gomadic - all sorts of flavours, but not cheap.

    Document Conversion, Part One

    Periodically I take a look at how you can transfer texts and references databases onto your Palm-powered PDA. I guess the topic has become mainstream because there was an article on this very topic in the December 2003 issue of the Ontario Medical Review, the house journal of the Ontario Medical Association (Creating portable documents for handheld computers, by Scott McAdams).

    For text conversion, the range of tools is impressive. Here follows some of the better (or better known).

    Palm offers several conversion utilities. You can develop your own books for the Palm Reader but this software package is not free. An impressive array of titles already exists in Palm Reader format if you want to prepare for that long train voyage.

    For the budget conscious, Palm also offers MakeBook, a free Java-based Palm Reader Format conversion tool or DropBook, a simple converter for texts marked up manually in Palm Markup Language. Both of these approaches trade time for money because marking up your texts is a labour-intensive process.

    There are many free Palm Doc conversion tools for Windows, Mac and Linux. These include MakeDocW (Windows), MakeDocDD (Mac OS 9), PorDiBle (Mac OS X),
    and txt2pdbdoc (Linux).

    By now both of my regular readers know that I use iSiloX for converting text and Web files to Palm-readable format. The basic iSilo reader is free and works well if there are no hyperlinks and other complexities in the document I use. The retail version handles hyperlinks, tables, and graphics. Complex Word documents can be saved on the desktop as Web files and then converted to iSilo format in a an easy two step process. I have converted last month's issue of the Review for you to try on your Palm (download it here). Let me know what you like and don't like about reading this newsletter on your handheld device.

    We'll look at web document conversion in more detail next month, but there are still a few more tricks available to Palm users who don't want to buy and load extra software.

    The first is to remember that you can copy text from any number of sources and paste it into a Memo on your PDA. Use the Palm Desktop suite to perform this task.

    If you want to automatically maintain an updated memo when the source file changes, try the FileLink capability. The February 2003 issue of the Review has a brief description of how to get started.

    As for databases, a new version of HanDBase has been released and it has new features for setting up shared apps. If you are not happy with the practice management and electronic medical record applications you have found then write your own. The RunTime Builder does not require you to have much programming experience and there are no license fees for distributing to your coworkers.

    But if you already have a large collection of information in, say, Microsoft Access tables how can you convert the data for use on your PDA? Fortunately the ability to convert between Access and Mobiledb, Jfile, or HanDBase comes with these programs and any of them may meet your needs unless you need to integrate the data table into a non-database document. There are other Access conversion programs available and there are programming tools and strategies discussed at websites such as File_Save_As and AppForge. Look around.

    Medical "Doc" of the Month

    Diabetic patients can eMail tracking reports to their MDs and manage their illness better with UTS Diabetes. Using such programs on wireless-enabled PDAs, patients may be going high-tech faster than their health care providers.

    Here's a tip about an upcoming conference. The Delaware Academy of Medicine is sponsoring Wireless Medicine: Advances in PDA Technology, April 30, 2004. Can you guess what this will be about (grin)?

    Hack of the Month - Seeing Double

    Not really hacks - more like cleaning up. I have two tips for solving problems caused by HotSync.

    Some owners of Palm T3 handhelds are reporting problems if they HotSync their timetables on more than one PC. Apparently, duplicate entries tend to proliferate if the same item is edited on both the Palm and a PC between HotSyncs. Editing a data category (eg. Personal, Business, etc) in the MemoPad or Address book has also been reported to mess up all the items in that category. With this problem, the entries may be duplicated into another category (or become UNFILED).

    Although these can be annoying events they are actually defensive measures to protect data when the software cannot resolve which entry is the most recently updated. Avoid making changes that create this mess. It requires a little discipline on the part of each of us: don't edit items on the PC and the handheld between HotSyncs, and perform HotSyncs frequently (eg. every time you sit down at the PC).

    Another solution is to search for duplicates periodically. In the Desktop Suite there is a duplicate checker (look for the icon of two standing men in the upper right corner of the screen, near the username. It searches for identical entries.

    There is a third party application program called UnDupe which can also handle duplicates. It has some features that the Palm Desktop lacks, such as bulk processing of multiple duplicates.

    In the October 2003 issue (look it up in the archive) I wrote about removing Skyscape SmartSync applications and their leftovers. While looking for some way to remove Skyscape smARTsync from a Palm handheld, one reader came across Conduit Buddy. He wrote: "Conduit Buddy seems to have eradicated that little piece of spyware (ie. SmartSync) nicely. Remember to delete the "Artwork.dll" file, and the "Artwork" program on your Palm!!". Words to live by, Scott.

    In Times to Come

    I have had a few inquiries about my puppy, whose illness I wrote about in the January issue. He's feeling much better, thanks, and has resumed his career of converting all my worldly goods to splinters. Next month, I will discuss how you can get pictures or video onto your PDA. Doggie home movies? You're not ready...

    Also, part two of getting files onto your PDA. We will focus on website conversion.

    Until then, enjoy!

    This is one of a continuing series of newsletters on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals, educators and other people who need tools that work. 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.