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1. Graffiti Recognition: It's Not Just What, It's How

When it comes to getting 100% handwriting recognition accuracy with the Graffiti alphabet, what counts isn't just what letter shapes you draw - it's also how, and where, you draw them. Form your letters on the left side of the drawing area, numbers on the right, and punctuation on either side.

Make your letters big. The bigger the gesture, the more material there is for the PalmPilot's analyzer to study. On the other hand, if you begin the penstroke outside of the Graffiti writing area, the PalmPilot will ignore you.

Despite what the manual says, writing speed doesn't affect recognition. Writing slowly at first, however, may help you confirm that you're forming your characters correctly.

Don't write on a slant.

2. Backing out of accidental Graffiti strokes

When you make a vertical stroke from bottom to top of the PalmPilot's Graffiti writing area, the device thinks you've just made the Shift stroke to capitalize the next letter. A fat black arrow appears on the PalmPilot's screen near the bottom, indicating that it's ready to capitalize the next letter. Meanwhile, if you simply tap in the writing area, the PalmPilot thinks you're about to make a punctuation mark.

The problem occurs when you make one of these two marks by accident. Many Piloteers get flustered when they see the "Shift" or "punctuation" symbols appear on the screen.

Actually, backing out of either one is easy: Just "backspace over" your accidental stroke just as though it's any ordinary letter. In other words, draw a right-to-left horizontal dash. You'll see the black arrow, or the punctuation dot, vanish from the PalmPilot's screen, and the next letter you write will be back in its usual mode.

3. Graffiti: The Alternative Strokes

The PalmPilot's Graffiti alphabet recognizer understands alternative shapes for many letters that actually save you time and increase accuracy. While some of them look even less like the traditional alphabet than the "primary" shapes, they're worth adopting if some letters are consistently giving you trouble.

Above all, master the letter V. Don't bother with the official V (which looks like a square root symbol). Instead, draw a normal-shaped V from the right. Perfect accuracy, perfect speed.

For better speed, you can omit the initial downstroke of the P, R, D, and B - just start the letter from the lower-left.

If you're getting a P or an O when shooting for the letter Q, it's because you're giving short shrift to the oddball curlicue at the end of the stroke. The change of direction is more important than the closure of the big O shape; try drawing a U with a flag at the top right.

A speedy shortcut for the letter Y: Draw a figure 8 in the letter area.

4. Battery life made simple

If you use alkaline AAA batteries in your PalmPilot, here are the luxurious time spans you can look forward to:

Average length of a charge: weeks or months. Contrast with color Windows CE devices, which run through a pair of AA batteries in a matter of hours.

Time remaining after the first low-battery warning: several days. (You can track your current pair's remaining charge by viewing the "fuel gauge" on the Applications screen.)

Time your PalmPilot data is kept alive even after the batteries are dead: several weeks (if you leave the batteries in).

Time your PalmPilot data is kept alive with no batteries installed at all: between 1 and 10 minutes.

By the way, 3Com recommends alkaline batteries for the PalmPilot - not just because of their long life, but also because they are depleted at a smooth rate. When the remaining voltage in them reaches a certain level, the PalmPilot's circuitry can accurately show you "low battery" warnings when there's still enough charge to give you time to seek out fresh ones. The voltage in rechargeable NiCads, on the other hand, drops off abruptly at the end of the charge. They're likely to drop dead so fast that the PalmPilot doesn't have a chance to warn you. The result: you don't have time to replace them. And remember that once your PalmPilot's batteries are completely dead (NiCads lose their remaining charge very quickly once depleted), you have only a matter of minutes to replace them before your data is erased.

5. Repeated presses for more info

If you have a PalmPilot or Palm III model, a series of special shortcuts await you: pressing the buttons repeatedly.

For example, pressing the plastic Date Book button at the lower-left of the device launches the Date Book program. But if you press that same plastic button again, you get the week-at-a-glance screen; press a third time to see the month view, and a fourth to return to today's "day view" schedule. In other words, the plastic hardware button rotates among the various views of your calendar.

Similarly, you can tap the Applications button repeatedly on the Palm III; with each tap, you view a different category of programs.

6. Specify a day that never ends - or never begins

If you're a night owl (or an early bird), you may be slightly annoyed that the PalmPilot, in all its views, insists that mornings begin at 8:00 am. You may wish that the PalmPilot would automatically display the hours when you're active, beginning at, for example, 10:00 am (or 5:00 am).

To teach the PalmPilot what you consider the beginning and ending hours of the day, tap the Menu icon; tap the Options menu; and tap the Preferences command. The Preferences screen appears. Tap the black triangle buttons to adjust the Starting Time (the time slot the PalmPilot's displays will put at the top of the screen) and Ending Time.

Some savvy Piloteers deliberately set their Ending Time to midnight. Why? Suppose your day's ending time is set to 7:00 pm. If you wish to add an appointment for 8:00, you're forced to (1) write the appointment at some other time, (2) tap the time label of the slot you wrote on, and (3) change the time in a dialog box to 8:00.

If you set your day's Ending Time to midnight, however, scroll arrows always appear in day view. To record an after-working-hours appointment, just tap the scroll triangles to bring the evening hours into view - no dialog box visit required.

On the other hand, a certain other population of PalmPilot users deliberately sets both the Starting Time and Ending Time to the same time. The result: in day view, you won't see any empty time slots displayed at all - one small blow in the modern war against complexity. When you consult your calendar for the day, you see only a neat, clean, short list of events; and if you have no events scheduled, you see only a single blank line.

(If you've adopted this ultra-collapsed display mode, you must create a new appointment by writing the first number of its time in the Graffiti writing area. The Details dialog box appears, so that you can finish specifying the time - and then, when you tap OK, you'll return to the day view, where a new blank line has been created. Write the name of the appointment on it, and you're done.)

7. Month view symbols revealed

The PalmPilot would be somewhat larger than 3 x 5 inches if it had to show you the actual names of your appointments in its month-at-a-glance view. The squares representing appointments here are so small that only three fit on each day's square - and you can't tap one to identify it, as you can in week view.

Instead, the PalmPilot tries to show you which chunks of the day have events scheduled: if you've got something before noon, you see a tiny black block at the top right of the calendar square. If something's scheduled to begin between noon and 1:00 pm, a black block appears at the middle right side; and if you have an appointment scheduled for 1:00 pm or later, a black block appears at the lower right side, as shown here:

Month View screen shot

Many Piloteers, even after months of using the device, remain befuddled, however, by some of the other symbols that may appear in month view. For example, the nearly microscopic + symbol that may appear on the left side of a calendar square indicates a non-timed event, such as a birthday or holiday. You may even see a horizontal dotted line running across several days of the month view. That means you've scheduled some event to appear on several consecutive days, such as "In Dallas through Friday."

And what if you want to see these symbols, but aren't getting them? As it comes from the factory, the PalmPilot is set up not to show these extra elements in month view. You're expected to turn them on if you want them.

To do so, tap the Menu button; tap the Options menu; and tap Display Options. In the resulting box, you'll see the checkboxes that control Untimed Events and Daily Repeating Events; tap to turn these features on.

8. Secrets of the recurring event

You might not expect a gadget as tiny as the PalmPilot to offer a recurring-events feature. But if you need to schedule a once-a-month payment, or a weekly sales meeting, or your annual anniversary, you're in luck.

To create such an event, write it in on the first day of its kind. Then tap the Details button. In the Details box, tap inside the dotted "Repeat:" rectangle (where it now says None). You finally arrive at the screen where you can specify how often this event should repeat: Every__Days, Every Week, Every Month, or Every Year.

The "Every__Days" type is the closest thing the Date Book program has to a banner, as found in many desktop-computer calendar programs. For example, use an "Every 1 day" setting for a business trip, to indicate which days you'll be away.

Just one warning: when you change a recurring event's time, note or alarm status, or existence, the PalmPilot asks whether or not you intend this change to affect all future repeats.

However, if you change the event's name, the PalmPilot doesn't bother consulting you. It automatically changes every occurrence of the event, past, present, and future. Be careful, therefore, when editing one of these events - don't delete some crucial phone-number information from its name, for example.

9. The PalmPilot as alarm clock

The PalmPilot's built-in speaker doesn't have the strength to wake up an entire dorm room, but it's loud enough to get your attention if you're (a) at your desk at work, hoping not to disturb your co-workers or (b) sleeping with the PalmPilot on the bedside table. Therefore, the PalmPilot's alarm feature is ideal for reminders and wake-up calls for the average-depth sleeper.

When the designated moment arrives, the PalmPilot turns itself on automatically (if it wasn't on already). It sounds the alarm to get your attention - on the PalmPilot and PalmPilot, three "ding-dong!" chirps; on the Palm III, whatever alarm sound you choose in the Date Book program's Preferences dialog box. Meanwhile, the screen shows a no-frills, full-screen alert message whose distinguishing characteristic is an alarm-clock icon. Tap OK to make the message go away.

If a couple of missed breakfasts have convinced you that the PalmPilot's alarm sound isn't loud enough to wake you, remember that the PalmPilot's internal speaker faces the back of the unit. Therefore, leaving your PalmPilot snugly wrapped in a leather case isn't the best way to maximize volume. Take it out of its case and leave it face down on your nightstand for maximum sound.

10. Preserving the past when you purge

When you purge old Date Book events to free up memory, everything older than the date you specify is deleted. But what if there's some important event in your life that you want to preserve - even though it took place a while ago? Wouldn't it be nice if you could designate certain significant appointments as non-purgeable?

You can. Before you purge, tap the event and then tap the Details button. Change the event into a repeating event - that only repeats, for example, every 50 years. The PalmPilot can't purge the first occurrence of any repeating event whose repetitions haven't finished yet. As a result, the event you designated will be safe from purging - at least for the next 50 years! (And by then, you'll be wearing the Palm MCMVIII implanted in your earlobe.)

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