The Palm’s Early Light

by Mark Frauenfelder for Digital Living Today

Computers and the Internet are fabulous in more ways than you can count, but reading long screens of text isn’t numbered among them. The text isn’t very sharp, you have to wade through all those blinking banner ads, and you’re chained to a desk while you read. Free “electronic books,” available through sites like Project Gutenberg, are wonderful too, but who wants to read War and Peace on their PC? If you’re itching to enter the 21st century of mobile electronic literacy, you could spring for a Rocket eBook or a SoftBook Reader — which are designed for reading e-texts anywhere — or you could take a more low-end approach that won’t cost you a dime (at least for those who already have a palm computer).

When I come across a potentially interesting article or piece of fiction online, I cut and paste it into my word processor and save it as a “text only” file. Then I use a free program called MakeDoc to convert the text into a file that can be read on my Palm Pilot. At the end of the day, I HotSync all the material I’ve collected on my Palm and take it to bed with me. I then use CspotRun, a bite-sized piece of freeware that lets you customize font type, line spacing, and text-orientation to your heart’s content. Voila! A free do-it-yourself e-book reader.

I’ve been using this method to read entire novels after hours. Turning the Palm’s backlit screen on in a darkened bedroom brings back happy memories of reading comic books under the covers with my flashlight when I was a wee one.

Project Gutenberg has hundreds of classics converted to e-texts. I’ve read Sister Carrie and Anna Karenina on my Palm, and am halfway through Huckleberry Finn. Another great source for e-books and related tools for palm PCs is Memoware They carry a large selection of free books and articles that are already formatted for the Palm. Memoware is also where you can find the MakeDoc program for both Mac and PC. If you’re using a WindowsCE palm PC, you can still read many of the titles on Memoware (and other e-book libraries) by using a universal e-text reader such as the MobiBook.

Designers in the computer industry sometimes refer to the “bed, bath, bus problem.” In other words, electronic literature will not truly begin to threaten print until you can comfortably read it in bed, on the bus and on the toilet. Reading e-texts on a palm PC is not a total solution, but you can catch a glimpse of what’s to come as you take your daily constitutional while reading the morning paper on your Palm Pilot.

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