The lack of support for scholarly uses of the Plam Pilot (and most likely PDAs in general)…

The good and the bad about owning a Palm Zire 72… specifically how scholarly uses are not well supported yet.

The lack of support for scholarly uses of the Plam Pilot (and most likely PDAs in general)

I bought a Palm Zire 72 2 weeks ago. I’m overall happy with the machine. It has an annoying security bug that could be a deal breaker for some people. I almost returned the device because of that but unfortunately, there are no other models out there that meet my list of requirements as the Zire 72 does. For one thing, I don’t want a PocketPC device since I want to stay away from Windows. I also think that Linux-based PDAs are not ready for prime-time (otherwise that’s what I would have). The picture-taking function is not great but good enough for my needs. (If I wanted something great, I’d have to buy a dedicated digital cam but I don’t want that right now.)

There were 3 main usages I had in mind when I bought the device:

  1. I wanted to have some electronic means of recording call numbers for books and keep organized notes about the books I inspect in the library. I used to write the call numbers on pieces of paper but then I’d forget about books I had already inspected and end up losing time in the library looking at books I had already rejected.
  2. I wanted to be able to quickly keep records of books I have taken out of the library, found interesting but didn’t use. If I use a book in a paper, I have a reference so all is well, but if I don’t use the book, then I don’t have a record unless I take time to type in the bibliographical information… and being lazy as I am, I don’t like to type bibliographical data unless I absolutely need to. My PDA is able to take pictures… like many cell phones are also able to do. So when I’m returning a book that I found interesting but have no other record of, I take a snapshot of the title page before returning it. It is not as good as typing the information but I don’t lose all information.
  3. During a semester I spend at least half of my time away from my wife. Being able to easily take pictures of what surrounds me when I’m away from her would help bridge the distance. The same kind of reasoning applies for my family in Montreal.

Since buying the device, I’ve also used it to keep my “to do” list, to have an actual real diary (first time ever in my life!), to organize shopping lists, to read ebooks, to read the news, as a reference for train and bus schedules.

One thing I’m not happy with is the lack of scholarly-oriented support. Call me crazy, but I think some of the things I’m wishing for are not that far-fetched. Here are some items:

  • Library support to transfer search results, borrowing history,etc to a PDA. I know there are freeware offerings out there to help with this but as long as the library doesn’t provide a solution, it means the user has to do a lot of work to keep everything updated.
  • Support from journal archiving services like JSTOR to download PDA-adapted ebook version of articles.
  • More ebook versions of modern works (eg. by WV Quine, Derrida,etc.). Current offerings are almost non-existent.

I’d also like to see support for Sanskrit but I’ll admit that’s far-fetched. I have uploaded Sanskrit to my device… in transliterated format but my usage of Sanskrit on the Palm is still very primitive.

[Edited 12 May 2005 6:56am to add a link to a discussion of the security bug on the PalmOne forums.] [Edited 14 May 2005 6:23am to fix that stupid list numbering mistake I made. Gah!]

2 thoughts on “The lack of support for scholarly uses of the Plam Pilot (and most likely PDAs in general)…

  1. David

    You are absolutly right, we are cruelly missing more (good) contemporary books.

    In case you have not yet done it, please have a look at this amazing web site : "Les classiques des sciences sociales" ( There you ‘ll find quite a few good books (in French ;-)). Not much contemporary readings (although there are some), but very interresting ‘classical’ readings : philosophy, sociology, anthropology and so on.

    They do not provide files formated for Palm (ie eReader, Mobipocket,…) but you ‘ll get PDF and/or Word format. PDF is unusable on a Palm, forget it. But Word format can be easily converted into something more Palm friendly. (from OpenOffice -> html (-> Plucker)).

    Simple html files can be read directly by "PalmFiction", a *very* nice reader ! But if you want to get something a bit more sophisticated, you can go for "Plucker".
    Plucker ( is a GPL and very powerful reader, probably the best regarding non-crypted formats. You ‘ll need the "Plucker Desktop" to convert your files into Plucker format. I haven’t tried under Linux yet, but I know there is a RPM package and some Python files…
    If you try to use it, please let me know, I am very interrested.

    PS : You can also probably build eReader’s files manually (, there is a java application that might run under Linux). I used to do it under Windows, it’s a bit tedious, but not complicated…


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