Psion Epoc Data Application Hints and Tips

All your database material on hand

The Psion Database application can do more than you imagine, including replace other applications.

See also my page on the Psion Contact application, and my page on third party database programs. The Contact application has the advantage of being compatible with the vCard standard for exchanging certain information, but is neither as powerful nor as flexible as the Data application. It does however perhaps have better links with the Email application.

The Data application is a fairly simple flat file database. If you treat it as a simple list, you will miss many facilities. In particular, the object embedding allows you to handle tasks much more varied than is first obvious.

The Psion Epoc operating system includes support for much more powerful databases. There are a number of powerful and flexible relational data base third party products for the Psion, if you do need a full power database.

People mostly think of the Data application as a way to store a list of books or records, just like the card index it looks like (and it will do this well). However you can control the appearance and style of much of what Data does, thus using it in place of other applications you might be tempted to purchase.

You have probably noticed that the Psion Help facility (and the Help in many programs) is a specialised instance of Data. If you make a copy of a .hlp file, and rename it without the .hlp extension, then it will be opened by Data. This makes it easier to export the text using File More Export.

The Jotter application is also a variation on Data. Owners of the original Psion 5 classic model can imitate the Jotter application by using Data.

The Data application provides two views, a List view and a Card view, both of which can be swapped and altered dynamically without changing the underlying data.

In the List view, you can show or hide fields, and change the order in which they appear. You can change the fonts used by each field, and in colour models, change the colours. You can set column widths and line heights to present data in the best manner. You can freeze particular columns, including the leftmost column, so you can still see particular columns after scrolling. You can hide the grid lines. You can allow or stop scroll bars, or leave them automatic.

The List view can be used to provide a table structure to your data. This can work well with lists of instruction where some are conditional on other events. You can make cells where the event and the response are side by side.

The Card view can occupy 55% to 85% of the display, if you include a list browser. You can remove the list browser entirely and have the cards occupy the full display. You can show or supress labels for better layouts or easier understanding of the fields available. You can arrange the order of records by up to four fields, in either ascending or decending order. You can easily set up priority lists and similar things not normally considered a simple database application, by using the date field.

When setting up a database, you have six different field types available. Text, number, floating point, date, yes or no, memo.

Text fields allow only 1 to 250 characters, so if you need to include whole essays, use the unlimited length memo field type.
Number field types have an associated range so you can do sanity checking on inputs.
Floating point
Floating point fields have an associated range so you can do sanity checking on inputs. You can also set the number of decimal points in floating point inputs.
Allows only dates, and records may be sorted by date so the newest come first (or last). Use for aging records, or scheduling (although Agenda is better).
Yes or no
Use to note whether a record will be used (or not) for some other purpose, as in a search, or to keep some records as active and some as inactive.
An unlimited length record. Keep memos towards the end of your list of labels.

You can specify whether numbers in any field should be searched by the Dialler application, and thus provide an easy way to have your Psion dial phone numbers from Data files.

Within a text field, you can insert an Object from one of the other applications. The applications that can be used to create an object are Word (a document), Sheet (a spreadsheet or a graph), Sketch (an illustration or drawing), and Record (a sound). This considerably extends what you can do with the Data application. A database of music recordings could also contain album covers and sound bites.

You can extract a subset of your Data records by exporting a selected group of records, and then import them into a new, smaller Data file.

Here are some examples of the ways users have used the Data application.

Active Records on Top

How do you keep active and obsolete records in the same list, but keep the active records at the top of the list?

Make the name or identifier field first. Then have a date field. Mark active records with the same, far future date. Sort by both labels, with the date field first in descending order. The name field is sorted second, by ascending order. Now everyone with the far future date is at the front, in alphabetical order.

Put the date the task becomes inactive in the date field upon completion. Every record that is completed is now at the end of the file, in most recent date first order. This assumes that if you want an obsolete record again, it is mostly likely to be one that only recently became obsolete.

Date Entries

Add a field of type Date to your database. The application will automatically include the creation date. When you edit the entry, the fastest way to update the date is Tab, Space, Enter.

Technical Encyclopedia

Jeff Harmed reports he uses around 500 embedded Sheet files in a Data file, for ease of looking up, and for quick copy and paste to a new spreadsheet. He says you can't duplicate this functionality even with PC Office suites, as OLE embedded objects are all loaded at once, and can not exceed RAM size, whereas a Data object only loads the current record.

Export to Sheet

In Data under File, More, Export as text, set the Options to use tabs (not commas) as label separators. Next open the text file in Word, and select the entire document using Edit, Select all and copy or cut it all (Ctrl C or Ctrl X). Open Sheet, and paste into the top left cell. (Hint from Sander van der Wal)

Import CSV from Excel

Set up MS Excel as a database, field names as column headings. Make an Epoc Data file with labels names the same as the Excel columns. Delete top row of Excel spreadsheet and save the spreadsheet. Use either PsiWin or nConvert to convert it to Sheet format. Use nConvert to change Sheet contents to CSV. Open Data file and use File, More, Import text file.

Jotter equivalent

You can fake up a Jotter for the Psion 5 (ER3), to imitate the one in the Psion 5mx, using the Data application. You can also use this idea to make a daily diary.

I used three labels, Index, Date and Data, and made all with hidden labels.

In View Preferences
Index was done with Arial 11 point bold font. The other two text styles were done with Arial 9 point normal font.
In card view preferences
Had the card browser showing, with card width 55% of screen, and show labels not ticked.
In Tools, Change Labels
Index is of type Text, length 50. Date is of type Date (surprise). Data is of type memo, length unlimited.

I tend to just leave this Jotter open all the time, so I can get at it easily by cycling through all open data files. It seems to look and work reasonably like the Jotter application I saw on someone's 5mx (this idea is not original to me - I saw someone else doing this).

Moving Data Frequently

If you have a situation where you keep data in an active file, and then frequently retire obsolete records to an inactive file, instead of using multiple fields, consider using a single field, multi-line record.

Open both files. Locate the record to be moved. Ctrl-A to select it all. Ctrl C to copy it. Ctrl D to delete it, then Y. Open the second file. Shift Ctrl N for new record. Ctrl V to paste it. Ctrl S to save. Esc to stop dialog. It actually works faster than it sounds.

If you will be doing it often, consider getting one of the various macro packages to save the keystrokes.

Relational Database

Your Relational Database by Mark McGimpsey

If you wish to have your standard Psion 5 database act like a relational one, with records attached to a principal, here's how you do it.

I'll take you through the setting up of the file as I am assuming you have just recently purchased a Psion 5. If you are an experienced user you will already know how to do this, but the concept may give you a fresh approach to your databases.

Alternatively if you wish this file is already configured, so simply edit and remove the text from the fields and use this file as a template.

1. Deleting the Default Labels.

Press Ctrl+L to enter the "Change Labels" screen. Highlight the "HomeTel:" label and tap the "Delete" box 7 times (deletes all the remaining labels except Name:).

2. Adding Labels.

Tap the "Add" box to enter the "Add Label" screen and type "Reference:" in the empty box at "Label". Then tap the "Options" box and change the "Number of characters" box to 10. Tap "Ok" and then tap "Ok" again to return to the "Change labels" screen.

3. Adding More Labels.

Repeat step 2 and add your own customised labels. Remember to leave the "Type" field as "Text" even for the telephone number fields. Change the "Length" to 100 if you want to add text after the numbers. Remember also to tap the "Options" box and tick the "Search label for phone numbers" box to enable the dialling function, (Fn+Menu) from the main screen. Here are some suggested fields. However whatever you choose please leave the "Updated:" and "Notes:" fields to the last, and read steps 4 & 5 before adding them. Here are some suggestions

Last Contacted:

4. Adding a Date Label.

When you add the "Updated:" label, change the "Type" box to "Date" (tap and select). Doing this means that the current date is automatically imprinted into this field on creation of the record.

5. Adding a Notes Label.

When adding this label change the "Type" to "Memo". This gives you an unlimited number of characters to allow you to record plenty of information. However remember to tap the "Options" box and tick the "Search label for phone numbers when dialling" box.

6. Entering the Principles.

When you enter the Principle (the Company or Record to which you wish to "attach" the "contacts"), start the title with a space and type in block capitals. This has the effect of sending the principals to the top of the card browser where they sort in alphabetical order. Enter the reference in normal type. I suggest you repeat the title used in the "Name:" field above. As you move down entering information you will see the current date already inserted in the "Update:" field.

7. Entering Contacts.

When you enter the Contacts, associate them with the principal by typing in the principal name in the reference field. (The same as step 6). The advantage of doing this rather than using a number is you can immediately see who the contact is associated with. When you sort the database, the contacts will line up under the principals in alphabetical order by the "Name:" field. To view the principal and associated contacts, type in the principal name in the "Find" box on the main screen as normal, and the principal will appear at the top of the card browser with all the associated contacts in alphabetical order underneath.

To configure the sort parameters, press Ctrl+S from the main screen to enter the "Sort by label" screen. Change the "0" to 3 and press "Ok".

Press Ctrl+F and tick the first three labels as fields to "find" in. Press "Ok".

8. "Search" Macro.

When viewing a contact (to return to the selected group), or to initially pull up the list with the selected principal and associated contacts from the main database, I use the following macro with Macro5. I believe it is compatable with other macro applications:

PROC Macro:
	FgDoc%:("c:\Documents\My Directory\My File")

9. And Finally.

Press Ctrl+K to bring up the "Card View Preferences". I suggest the settings of: Tick the "Show Card Browser" box, set the "Card Width" to 65% of the screen, and tick the "Show Labels" box. I also suggest you remove the toolbar from view by pressing Ctrl+T from the main screen.

Have fun and good luck with your newly configured database. Mark_McGimpsey at

To Do and Task List

This is a quick and dirty Task Manager, using a bunch of custom fields, from Wicked Jimmy at Hotmail. The fields are
Due (date):
Hours (duration, number up to say 72):
Priority (0 for move to Agenda, 1 to whatever):
Notes (leave only one space visible):

Menu options differ in List and Card views, so under Tools you can change the column order in List view, and the label preferences and order in the Card view.

Keyboard Short Cuts

Right arrow goes down card list
Fn+Right arrow goes down card list by page
Left arrow goes up card list
Fn+Left arrow goes up card list by page
Ctrl+S four times to force file compression
Ctrl+Tab inserts a Tab when entering data
Esc Esc clears the Find field
Shift+arrow key selects text for cut or copy
Ctrl Z undeletes the last delete

This site will look much better in a browser that supports W3C web standards but it is accessible to any browser or internet device, including Psion Web and similar PDA or limited browsers. Netscape 4.x users - turn Style Sheets off. Your style sheet support is too broken to use (sorry). -> epoc -> applications -> data

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