Palm Computing® Resources

by John Walker

To each generation, its badge of the geek! When I was maturing from nerdlet to proto-geek, it was the slide rule, the bigger and fatter the better, preferably carried in a leather holster on your belt. Then along came the first Hewlett-Packard calculators in the 1970's, and soon the HP-35, HP-45, and the programmable HP-65 were all the rage--and they came with leather holsters too!

The plastic pocket protector, ideally stuffed with at least six pens of different colours has endured for decades, but with the paperless lifestyle now becoming the epitome of geek chic, there's little need for one pen, no less half a dozen. So what now? PalmPilots, of course! When I attended a computer conference in April 1999 in California, I was about the only person there who didn't have one; everybody else was scribbling away with their styli during the sessions and infrared beaming business cards and cool programs to one another during the breaks. One fellow even showed up with an electric car whose diagnostic connector he'd managed to interface to a PalmPilot so he could monitor details of the battery state while driving.

Geeky, programmable in C, and by golly there's even a leather belt holster available--needless to say when I boarded the plane back to Switzerland I was packing my own brand new Palm IIIxTM organiser and the O'Reilly Palm Programming book. After the inevitable slow-going involved in mastering the first completely new software environment I'd encountered in the last decade, I became comfortable developing for the platform and have written, to date, the following utilities. All are in the public domain, include source code, and may be used in any manner, including incorporation in your own programs without any restrictions whatsoever.

Palm Utilities

The following programs run on the Palm Computing device and some include companion desktop applications.

The Hacker's Diet Eat Watch

When I wrote The Hacker's Diet in 1989-1991, I developed a set of computer tools to illustrate various topics discussed in the book and to facilitate dieting and weight management. All of these tools were Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, many with associated macro packages. The Excel version of the tools remains available today and may be downloaded from this site.

The Palm Computing Platform is an ideal host for the centrepiece of The Hacker's Diet computer tools: the weight and health monitoring system. The key concept of The Hacker's Diet is that, simply by monitoring one's weight on a day-to-day basis, it is possible to determine, over time, the actual balance between the number of calories you eat (whatever the food) and the number you burn (however active you are). This balance determines whether you will gain, lose, or maintain a constant weight, and since it's easy to determine the number of calories you eat, knowing the balance allows you to adjust your meals to achieve and maintain whatever weight goal you desire.

I call this the Eat WatchTM. A regular watch tells you what time it is. The Eat Watch tells you when it's time to eat, and how much. Wearing a watch doesn't make you punctual; but it provides the information you need to be so, if that's your goal. Neither does the Eat Watch guarantee you'll maintain the weight you choose, but it too provides the essential information you need to accomplish that.

Once you've become accustomed to having a Palm around, it's probably never far from your side; many people use it as an alarm clock in addition to its many other functions. So it only takes a couple of seconds to write your daily weight into the Palm Eat Watch application, right after you weigh yourself. There's no need for paper logs, copying them to Excel, or for that matter Excel or any Microsoft products whatsoever, and you can immediately review your progress, weight trend, calorie balance, and charts right on the Palm. Weight logs on the Palm are automatically backed up to your desktop computer whenever you HotSync and a companion desktop utility allows you to export logs as illustrated HTML documents including charts, or in CSV format for transfer to other applications.

Desktop Utilities

The following programs run on desktop machines (for example, Unix or Windows) but process files in formats used by the Palm Desktop software.


If you're developing for the Palm platform, sooner or later you're probably going to want to look at the contents of a Palm resource (.prc) or database (.pdb) file on the desktop. Palmdump dumps these files with header and record information in human readable form and the contents of each record or resource in side-by-side hexadecimal and ASCII/ISO character form. Palmdump runs on Windows and most Unix platforms and is insensitive to byte order and structure packing conventions of the desktop platform. A ready to run WIN32 executable file is included along with complete source code.


Once you've developed a Palm application you may ask yourself, "Now how do I get the database it needs from the desktop machine onto the handheld?". PDBMake is a generic (non-application specific) desktop program which accomplishes this. It takes an arbitrary desktop file, text or binary, and embeds it into a Palm Program DataBase .pdb file. Once you've created a PDB file with PDBMake you can install it on the handheld (or emulator) just like any other application or database. When you next HotSync, the database will be installed, then your application can access it through the usual Data Manager mechanisms. PDBMake runs on Windows and Unix platforms, and is insensitive to platform byte order and structure padding conventions. Complete source code and a ready-to-run WIN32 executable are included.


The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition   -   In Your Palm

Don't you just hate it when you're about to close a clandestine munitions deal and your partner raises a question about the relative applicability of Rules of Acquisition 35 and 177? You'd look like a lobeless altruist if you had to stop and ask whether Rule 35 is "Peace is good for business" or "War is good for business"! Install this Memo Pad document containing a compendium of the Rules of Acquisition on your Palm OS® handheld and profit from the distilled wisdom of generations of Ferengi in the palm of your hand. Since this reference is provided as a Memo Pad archive, you can read it using the built in PalmOS Memo Pad application; there's no need to install a document reader application, and you can modify the document using the Memo Pad editing functions.

The NATO Phonetic Alphabet (In Your Palm)

Airline pilots, military personnel, cops, amateur radio operators, and others who need to accurately transmit sequences of letters and numbers across voice communication links with limited fidelity mostly rely on a phonetic alphabet developed in the 1950's by NATO. This document provides both a Web-based reference to the phonetic alphabet and a version you can download and install on your Palm OS handheld computer.

Tom Swift and His Pocket Library

There's nothing better to fill those odd moments of downtime . . . standing in line at the post office or supermarket check-out, waiting in the dentist's Tom Swift and His Pocket Library office for your name to be (gulp) called, whiling away that seemingly endless interval between blinding flash and deafening report . . . than whipping out your PDA (PalmPilot, PocketPC, etc.) for a little light reading. Aleatory occasions for literary indulgence of unpredictable temporal extent demand works which don't require a great deal of concentration nor a long attention span; early 20th century juvenile pulp fiction fills the bill superbly. I've been reading through the original Tom Swift novels written by Victor Appleton between 1910 and 1941 on my PDA; here's a library so you can do likewise, should you wish. These books are based upon the Project Gutenberg Etext editions, but reformatted for reading on a handheld computer with eReader or any of its predecessors. HTML, PDF, and plain ASCII editions suitable for reading online or printing are also available. The modest collection of titles will grow slowly and sporadically as I work my way through the series.

by John Walker
October, 2004

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