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    The Medical Palm Review

    March, 2005 (V6N3) - Some Will Not Die

    There are times my Palm crashes and nothing I do can will get it running. But at other times it's not completely dead: some apps or functions are OK, others not. It can be hard to figure out how to exorcise the gremlins and restore the beast to the pink of health. For example...

    Reviving the Zombie

    Longtime readers of the Review know I am just a tad compulsive about protecting my Palm data from destruction by making backups. Lots of backups. Well, you ought to be that way, too.

    Over the years I have had any number of memory draining experiences with my PDAs. I have dropped handhelds on the floor. Batteries have popped out of the case or lost their charge. Misbegotten software installers have trashed the internal memory. Careless HotSync settings have overwritten handheld data.

    You name it, I have done it to myself.

    But only rarely has this been fatal because I make backups. I use BackupBuddy VFS to copy everything from my Kyocera SmartPhone's internal memory to its SD storage card. I HotSync daily to get a copy of my data onto my desktop computer, using BackupBuddy to preserve a complete snapshot of my handheld's internal memory (not just the application data that a regular HotSync preserves). (The Zoomback feature then lets me restore my Palm to exactly the state at which the data was backed up). And I back up the desktop computer's Palm folder to another PC's hard drive for additional insurance. Did I mention that I burn data CDs periodically to store off-site? If anything goes wrong with my PDA, I can usually recover quite nicely.

    Last month, after installing, testing, and uninstalling all those medical reference programs I reviewed for the February issue, I experienced a HotSync failure. The software on the PDA still worked and so did the Palm Desktop program. But no matter how I fiddled, I couldn't get the PDA and the PC to synchronize.

    I tried recovering with Backup Buddy's Zoomback feature but discovered that it wouldn't work when HotSync is broken. Restoring from the SD memory card to the PDA's memory worked but didn't fix the problem.

    I figured that, for a change, the PDA was all right but the desktop PC HotSync software was corrupted. Usually one can fix this by reinstalling the software from the CD. Palm has made provision for this in the installation software by providing a Repair mode which preserves your desktop data, only sprucing up the application files.

    But it didn't work.

    When all else fails, you can uninstall the Desktop program and reinstall from scratch instead of as a Repair. First I made sure I had those BackupBuddy files. Then I used the Desktop software to export all my appointments, phone numbers, etc. to a safe place. Then I made a note of all the installed applications and data files that would need to be reinstalled if anything went wrong. But the subsequent reinstallation didn't restore my ability to HotSync.

    It's a dirty little secret, but when you uninstall the Palm Desktop, not everything is removed. If you use a file manager like Windows Explorer you will observe that the Palm folder is still present on your hard drive, and there is lots of stuff in it. Most of that stuff pertains to users who were synchronizing with that PC - their data backup folders and so on.

    I also had the BackupBuddy programs in their own folders, and a variety of other medical applications which made use of the HotSync capability to do maintenance or download updates from the Web.

    I tried removing them all, one by one, but never did get HotSync working until I erased the entire Palm folder and started completely over again. It's the equivalent of killing your vampire with a stake through the heart then chopping off its head. I could then truly reinstall the Desktop from scratch. The next time I synchronies to my Kyocera everything worked properly. The appointment and phone book data on the Kyocera was imported automatically to the Desktop (I didn't need the export files I had prepared).

    Just to be on the safe side, once I had HotSync working again I decided to do some housecleaning on the PDA and remove some applications I wasn't using anyway - games that came with the unit, medical references I never use, and iSilo documents I never look at anyway, etc. Now, what to do with all that nice recovered memory on the PDA...?

    I am used to the PDA crashing and needing to be restored, but not the PC side. Having a belt-and-suspenders approach (Backup Buddy, and BB VFS *AND* exported archives) helped avert catastrophe from this unanticipated failure. And I learned that the recovery tools of the basic setup (reinstall desktop, reset PDA) are inadequate for some situations.

    Besides BackupBuddy (for which I recently received an update), there are other software backup solutions available for Palm devices. I'll mention just a few:

    • Mobile Backup from Bachmann Software lets you save your data to aScreenshot from Bachmann Mobile Backup memory storage card or to your network.
    • BackupMan lets you schedule your backups.
    • CardBackup can schedule your data backup to external memory cards and keeps multiple backup sets on each card if you wish.
    • TealPoint's TealBackup has an extensive feature list and in many respects is as capable as BackupBuddy.

    So, what are you doing to protect your data?

    From the "Let's Not Do THAT Again" Department

    Much of my aggravation last month was from installing programs on my Palm and then trying to get rid of them after testing. As I pointed out in the February issue of the Review, many medical references insist on installing links to their publishers' web sites. Nothing slows down a quick data synchronization like having three or four medical tomes trying to upgrade themselves over the Web. Configuring these links to be inactive by default is a nuisance and removing them is not always possible. Most publishers' web sites give very poor or no instructions for removing the HotSync linkages. My HotSync system may even have been corrupted by one of these installations or my attempts to uninstall.

    There is a solution.

    PalmOne has developed an Emulator and a Simulator for its PDAs. These "virtual PDA" programs run on your PC and let you try out application software before you install it on your real PDA.

    Palm Simulator screenshotBoth of these programs were originally intended for developers. The Emulator is the older of the two and features a black-and-green screen. The Simulator has a colour screen. Each has a very valuable (to me) feature. You can create a user identity for it, and HotSync directly to it when installing software. This user identity will be different from that of your real PDA. This means that software demos needn't clutter up your PDA. The HotSync conduits will still be there, but when you HotSync your real PDA the link to those various medical publishers doesn't get activated.

    I can examine the software I install onto these virtual Palm handhelds and not have to worry that they will take up too much memory or interfere with other programs or crash the device. The installation even seems faster than a real HotSync but I didn't time it to see if that is true.

    After evaluating a program its PDA component is gone after I close the emulation software. On a real PDA I would have to worry what bits and pieces had been left behind. Of course, the desktop PC has still got the HotSync conduit and other bits but this too can be managed by using the Windows Control Panel Add/Remove Software applet.

    The Simulator also makes it easy to capture colour screenshots of the software I discuss in the Review. Any PC screen capture program lets you snap the Simulator program window. Trim the edges a bit and the image is ready to use.

    Getting your PC to HotSync to a program inside rather than a piece of metal and plastic that is plugged in to the outside needs a little bit of work. If you are inclined to pursue this then you will find the following helpful:

    I find this to be a big improvement over the alternative.

    Medical "Doc" of the Month

    DoctorsBookmark offers links to a variety of useful medical web sites and resources. Many of the sites are optimized to convert to use on your PDA. The site can be configured to a certain extent. You may find it useful to check in here periodically to locate stuff you can use.

    If it doesn't meet your needs, you can always build your own web site with the links you want. As you add material and links you will find yourself building your own organically evolving medical reference program. Developing this as a web document lets you use it on your desktop PC, office network and PDA.

    Self-publishing works.

    Medical Computing

    Lots of news has accumulated in the medical computing world. Here are a few items that caught my eye lately.

    There has been a great deal of interest in the US Government's proposed National Health Information Network. Numerous vendors of software and hardware have pledged to embrace nonproprietary technology standards so that information can be widely shared. Already some of these vendors are collaborating to make patient files accessible to PDAs and cell phones.

    The new Chicago Comer Children's Hospital will be unwired - using only WiFi for bedside computing. Computer terminals, handheld devices and telephones will all not need to be plugged into the hospital network. It won't be all that mobile however unless they improve battery life....

    Finding patients, staff, supplies and equipment will be easier at unwired hospitals, too, as health care providers start to use RFID chips to monitor the location of everything. Apart from tracking, RFID chips will make it easier to bill for every little thing also.

    Britain's National Health Service is proposing to send text messages and e-mails to patients with chronic health conditions, with the intention of teaching them (and pestering them) to look after themselves better. No doubt, if Nanny uses your camera-phone to watch you reach for a second scone at tea time you will get a nasty call.

    A report on Telemedical Wound Care Using a New Generation of Mobile Telephones was published in the February issue of the Archives of Dermatology. A doctor in one room showed pictures of a patient's skin ulcer using a camera phone to a doctor in another room. It seems the pictures were clear enough that both doctors were generally in remarkably good agreement in diagnosis and management. Imagine home care nurses arranging remote consultations with doctors to save a trip to hospital for the patient. This approach could have a huge impact not only on home care nursing but also pre-hospital ambulance care, wilderness medicine, doctors' housecalls. I sense a new role here for emergency physicians who would use two way videophones to interview and examine patients as easily as we once provided radio "patch" support to paramedics on ambulance calls.

    Nuts and Bolts

    The new version of BackupBuddy has a few new features and runs faster. Recommended.

    I have no new hardware to tell you about this week. In fact, according to a recent article in the Earthtimes, sales of handheld computers continued a three year slump, even as sales of cellular phones continue to climb. Sony and Toshiba have actually left the market altogether. If this trend continues I will have to find something else to write about every month.

    Hack of the Month

    This month I am continuing my efforts to improve the accessibility of the Review for those who use talking browsers or other specialized web browser software. Starting in this issue, I intend to give titles to any link if the link text is ambiguous. I hope that this will help disabled users figure out what the link is for and whether to follow it. For users of ordinary browsers like Internet Explorer or Mozilla FireFox, if you point your mouse over a link with a title a tooltip message should pop up to give you an idea of where you will go if you click through.

    The idea for this, and its implementation comes from the relevant chapter of Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into Accessibility.

    In Times to Come

    Everybody needs a friend. Particularly when his Palm isn't working. Next month we'll look at some of the problems that I dealt with recently, and where the help came from.

    Until then, enjoy!

    This is one of a continuing series of newsletters about Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals, educators and other people who need tools that work. The Review is published monthly on our web site. Subscription is free; the principal benefit is receiving e-mail notification of new issues.

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