Back in TidBITS-523 we noted that David Charlesworth was maintaining specially constructed Web pages to facilitate reading TidBITS on Palm OS-based handhelds and other mobile devices via AvantGo's offline Web browser.
David has earned our eternal gratitude for his volunteer service over these months, and we're now pleased to announce that we've created - with his assistance - the TidBITS Handheld Edition, a much-improved edition of TidBITS for reading on Palm OS handhelds and other small-screen mobile devices. Our design goal was to present the meat of TidBITS - our professionally written and edited content - in a clean and easily navigable format. Along with the text of our weekly issue, we now include in the AvantGo channel our breaking news items (though not TidBITS Talk threads, which would be difficult to reformat for arbitrarily sized small screens).
AvantGo has actually become one of my most heavily used Palm applications, since I've found a few channels that I enjoy reading whenever I have a few minutes in a doctor's office or waiting in line at the post office. If you have a Palm, haven't tried AvantGo, and find yourself with similarly small amounts of dead time, I'd encourage you to give it a try with TidBITS. AvantGo accounts are free, and you can add TidBITS to your list of channels to synchronize by clicking this link, logging into AvantGo, and clicking the Save Channel button there.
Nitty Gritty -- If you're interested in what the variables embedded in that URL do, they provide the details necessary to connect to our database server, set the maximum channel size to 100K, set AvantGo to dive only one link deep into pages, tell AvantGo to include images (since we have only one tiny image), prevent AvantGo from following off-site links, and update the channel every day at 12:30 AM.
These are intentionally conservative settings; if you normally like to follow the carefully chosen links we sprinkle throughout TidBITS (which isn't possible in AvantGo using our default settings above), you can increase the scope of what AvantGo downloads for you by editing your settings for the TidBITS channel. You'll need to turn on the off-site link option, and I recommend setting the link depth to 2, increasing the maximum channel size to 400K, and turning off images since other sites won't be optimized for small displays. Remember that sites that haven't explicitly designed for small screens (including standard articles linked from our database) generally appear poorly formatted, and be prepared for much longer synchronization times.
AutoSync 1.5 -- If you find yourself using AvantGo seriously, the longer synchronization times start to be a problem, at least if you're like me and consistently forget to synchronize until right before you have to leave to go somewhere. Plus, since I can easily go a week without using my Palm, leaving the house without having synchronized means that its calendar and contact data often isn't as up to date as I'd like.
The solution to this problem is the $10 shareware utility AutoSync 1.5 from RGPS. Just install AutoSync on your Palm (with AutoSyncHelper and HackMaster if your Palm device doesn't have a powered dock like the Palm V) by dropping the AutoSync.prc file in your Files to Install folder, synchronize to load it, and then tap the AutoSync icon in the Palm's applications screen to set a schedule on which your Palm synchronizes automatically. I've seen some failed synchronizations that might be related to the SETI@home screensaver taking over the Mac, but I haven't yet tracked them down carefully. Nonetheless, I highly recommend checking out AutoSync.
Other Approaches -- You can also access the TidBITS Handheld Edition using the link on the main navigation bar of our Web site, though note that you won't find us among the AvantGo Content Providers because of the unreasonable administrative burden their revenue sharing requirements would place on us.
Finally, if you want to access these minimalist Web pages with something other than AvantGo, such as a simple text-only browser that doesn't support tables or a cell phone's built-in Web browser, feel free to do so at:
We hope you enjoy reading TidBITS on the small screen, and if you have any comments about the TidBITS Handheld Edition, feel free to send them along to TidBITS Talk at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.