Review – Universal Tracking System from UTrackSys.com (Palm)

by Reads (7,601)

Universal Tracking System, or UTS, is marketed by the folks at UTrackSys.com as an all-purpose tracking solution for Palm.   That may be the case, but in the mind of this reviewer, one has to be able to understand how to use it in the first place.

Overview
UTS is a hierarchical database, set up to allow people to track numbers and trends for just about anything.  Its claim to fame is that it is the only such program available that is flexible enough to get their all-purpose moniker.

The system requirements for UTS are:

 Palm OS 3.0 or above

That s it nothing about what desktop system you need, which version of Palm Desktop, or even how much space is required on the handheld.  Some observations though:  the program comes as a ZIP file containing a set of executable (.exe) files, indicating that Mac users won t be able use it.  The executables include a setup program for UTS itself and its associated program, UTStoCard (which allows those with POS 4.1 and higher to move UTS components back and forth to a memory card).  The program itself, its associated databases, and two of its plug-ins (more on those later), took up ~370KB on my Sony Clie T615c before entering any data.

The 26-page manual presents a number of functions and features for looking at data trends, such as charts and tables.  In addition, large data sets can be imported and exported as comma-separated value (.CSV) files, allowing UTS users to sync and massage their data with Microsoft Excel.

How it works
By defining four sets of parameters (namely: matters, targets, items, and units) users can track values as-is or convert them into a value of interest.  The live examples on the UTS website include weight, allergy symptoms, smoking, product sales, and daily expenses.

 

So what do these parameters mean?  Here are the explanations in the manual:

 Target:  A target is the amount of what you want to track.  Calories, billable hours, so on and so forth.
 Matter: According to the user guide, a matter is a set of similar items measured in the same unit of measurement; matters link items to targets. 
 Item:  Items are associated to targets, either single or multiple, using conversions or factors.
 Units: The units of measure you want to use, depending on the target you re tracking (kcal for calories, lbs for weight, dollars for expenses, etc.).

The program comes preset for a number of tracking applications, mostly medical related.  Preloaded targets and units (e.g., calories in kcal, allergy level in points severity, stress level in points), matters (e.g. activities, allergy symptoms, stress factors), and simple or converted items (e.g., bicycling as a factor of calories burned per minute, itchy skin as a factor of allergy severity, changes in financial state as a factor of stress level) mean that it is ready out-of-the-box for the majority of common tasks.  And the program is flexible enough for users to track additional their own data of interest (a particular nice feature for doctors trying to track a patient s progress or symptoms, or a salesman trying to track sales numbers), as long as you understand the hierarchical nature of the database, a.k.a. how matters, targets, and items interrelate.

So, you ve been using UTS for two weeks to track the number of sit-ups you do each morning: are you doing more or less?  To see the trends in your data, UTS includes a chart function that shows your data as a bar (if you ve chose to track your data as sum each day) or line graph (if you re tracking an average, like your average number of cigarettes per day).  Data can also be displayed in table form.

   

Do-it-yourself tracking
Now mind you, as I said before, you can track things either as simple entries or as values that can be converted into other values.  Tracking something like sit-ups, then, is fairly straightforward.  Your target would be sit-ups, your matter would be sit-ups, and your item would also be sit-ups, measured in occasions.

Things get a little more complex when trying to track converted values.  So, say you want to track your caloric intake.  According to the examples in UTS s documentation, your target would be calories; your matter food; your items things like tomato, rolls, chicken lo mein, etc.; and your units kcal (or kilocalories, the real measure of calories). 

Here is the part that takes some work.  To actually track your calories, you have to be able to convert your food into to calories.  So you define a factor for the item chicken lo mein that defines one portion of chicken lo mein as, say, 500 kcal.  Set up a factor for each item, and every time you sit down to the table, you just enter how many portions of each food item you ate.

Now, to their credit, the people at UTrackSys have tried to make this as painless as possible by including a wizard to help the setup process.  For setting up simple tracking (number of sit-ups, hours of TV watched, etc.), the wizard works great.  However, whenever I tried to use the wizard to set up a transformer, as they called it (where entered values were converted into other values), I was stumped.  It seemed that even though I thought I had entered enough parameters to track something (i.e. item = hours worked and target  = billable dollars), some other parameter needed to be set or reset.  I think by making the user define the matter first, then the target, then the item, the wizard makes you work backwards.  In my mind, having the wizard define the target (billable dollars) and the item (hours worked) first, and then the matter (i.e., company name), would make much more sense. 



Desktop and conduit
The UTS conduit allows users to import and export large datasets CSV databases.  In this way, you can synchronize data with either Microsoft Excel directly (as an .xls file) or with any other spreadsheet/database the uses the CSV standard.  Data export and synchronization is performed through the conduit, while import and performed through the UTS Database Creator, a small desktop app that comes with UTS and converts CSV-formatted data into Palm s .pdb format.

Plug-ins and databases
In addition to the preloaded matters, targets, and items, the programmers of UTS have come up with plug-ins, UTS Weight and UTS Blood Pressure, which allow you to track, well, your weight and blood pressure.  As with the pre-loaded parameters above, they give users out-of-the box functionality, with special emphasis on these two areas.  In addition, free add-on databases are available for additional units of measure, fast food nutritional values (carbs, calories, fat, etc.), and calories burned by different physical activities.



Thoughts
My biggest problem with UTS is the jargon.  This may seem like a small thing, but I found that the definitions of matter, target, and item used in the program have little to do with their definitions in the real world.  Also, though others seem to enjoy the hierarchical setup of the program, I had a hard time exactly how a matter was supposed to fit into the scheme of the tracking process.  While attempting to set the program to track my own custom datasets, I constantly butted up against the idea of what a matter was, and why it was necessary.  I had no trouble linking targets to items, but if an item converts to a target, then what do you need a matter for?

It is highly likely that either I was trying to ask questions that were not appropriate to the program, or just couldn t figure out how to ask the right questions when trying to structure the databases.  However, if you re going to make a universal, wizard-driven system, it shouldn t take mental gymnastics to make the system work.

Pros:
Can track just about anything thinkable
Import and export with Microsoft Excel
Can move components to and from memory card (OS 4.1 and up)

Cons:
Jargon and hierarchical setup are unclear
Wizard setup is counterintuitive
Not compatible with Macintosh

Bottom Line:
Looking at the user testimonials on the UTS website, the program receives a great deal of praise from people tracking their weight, blood pressure, cigarettes smoked, etc.  For these kinds of simple tracking needs, I think this program shines. 

When one is trying to accomplish custom tracking tasks, beyond those already set up by the program itself, things become less clear.  I think this program could do a great job as long as the user knows exactly what he or she wants to track and how.  Even with the wizard, I found that the hierarchical nature of the set-up process for custom tracking was counterintuitive.

Purchase Information:
UTS is available from Handango with a free trial option [product link].  There are a number of bundles available or the whole package can be purchased for $29.95. 

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