While riding the train on my daily commute, I often read news articles on my shirt pocket-sized iPAQ computer. It is great to be able to pull this tiny device out of my pocket and read the latest news stories from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, U.S. News & World Report, the Boston Herald and, yes, even from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter. I find this to be a great way to pass the time on an otherwise boring daily commute. I also read a lot of articles on the handheld while flying to Nashville this week. I find that reading articles on a handheld computer is easier than from a book or a newspaper, especially on a crowded train.
All I do is click on a couple of icons before leaving home and wait a minute or two while the data downloads. I then grab the PocketPC, stuff it in my pocket, and head for the train station. While comfortably seated on the one-hour commute, I can read hundreds of news stories, if I wish. In fact, my iPAQ is equipped with wireless networking; so, I can even download the latest news stories while on the train or when roaming the streets. I must admit I don't use the wireless updates often, however. It is easier and faster to simply download everything when the PocketPC is connected to the desktop computer.
The technology to do this is easier to use than it is to describe. All you need is a PocketPC device (such as an HP iPAQ, Dell Axim, or even some cell phones) and an Internet connection on your desktop computer or directly on the handheld. The method I will describe will quickly download RSS (Really Simple Syndication) newsfeeds and store them on your handheld device. You can then disconnect from the Internet, travel wherever you wish, and read the stored articles at your leisure.
This newsletter has offered RSS newsfeeds for nearly a year. The data is the same in an RSS newsfeed as it is on the web version of this newsletter: the same articles are available in both places. The articles are updated daily, sometimes several times a day. A number of other daily and weekly genealogy publications are offered as RSS newsfeeds. See my "RSS Feeds Explained" article at http://eogn.typepad.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2004/08/rss_feeds_expla.html for further explanation of RSS and a brief listing of a few of the genealogy RSS feeds available.
Of course, genealogy information isn't the only data available via RSS. Almost all leading news organizations now offer their information via RSS, including: BBC World News, CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, MSNBC, The Motley Fool, various sports, weather, stock market reports, and much more. Thousands of personal blogs are also available as RSS feeds. You should find plenty of reading material for even the longest train ride!
Several RSS newsreaders are available for Palm and PocketPC handhelds. I experimented with several on my iPAQ PocketPC and settled on PocketRSS. Admittedly, its user interface is a bit "quirky" and took some time to become familiar with it. However, once I got used to PocketRSS's menus, I found that I could do more with it than with the others that I tried.
Installation of PocketRSS was simple: Connect your PocketPC to its cradle, download the PocketRSS.exe file from the publisher's web site, then double-click on the new file. Less than a minute later, PocketRSS is installed and operational on your handheld computer.
PocketRSS is limited only by the storage space available in your handheld computer's memory. It can store as many news articles as your device has room for. I am presently storing 27 news feeds every morning, and many of those feeds have ten or more new stories per day. Adding new feeds is simple. In fact, when I first used PocketRSS, I exported a list of newsfeeds from my desktop RSS newsreader as an OPML file (a standard for RSS newsreaders) and imported that file directly into PocketRSS. Now, whenever I click on "Update All Feeds," all the latest news stories from those newsfeeds are transferred to my handheld computer.
PocketRSS will also download audio content for the new "podcasting" technology. These are audio feeds that usually are similar to radio newscasts. I can plug headphones into my handheld computer and listen to these stored audio broadcasts at any time, even while riding the train. On my handheld, headphones are not necessary. However, the tiny speaker in my iPAQ isn't very effective in noisy environments, such as the local commuter train. I use tiny "ear bud" earphones, and that helps tune out the background noise.
PocketRSS will use any available Internet connection to update its news articles. It is designed to run on a PocketPC 2002/2003 device that has an internet connection. This means that your PocketPC must have one of the following:
- a wired LAN card
- a wireless LAN/WAN card
- a modem card
- a Bluetooth connection to an internet enabled device
- or is a PocketPC 2002/2003 device using ActiveSync's Pass Through connection (this is what most people use)
I found that it works well when your device is connected in its cradle and connected to your desktop computer, assuming that the desktop is connected to the Internet via a dial-up or broadband connection. However, if your handheld has built-in wireless connectivity, you can refresh all the news stories when seated at Starbucks, Panera Bread, many libraries, or any other place that offers wireless Internet connections. I managed to update the news stories one day while walking past the Boston Public Library. The library's public access wireless connection "spills out" onto the sidewalk in front of the building.
For more information about Pocket RSS, including many options that I have not mentioned in this article, you can read the online Help information for Pocket RSS at http://www.happyjackroad.net/pocketpc/pocketRSS/help/help.htm.
Pocket RSS is a commercial program, but you are invited to try it before purchasing. The downloaded version of PocketRSS is fully functional for 15 days. To continue using PocketRSS after 15 days, you will need to purchase a registration key for $5.95. I would consider that to be a very modest price for a program with all the features of Pocket RSS.
For more information about PocketRSS or to download the program and try it at no charge for 15 days, go to: http://www.happyjackroad.net/pocketpc/pocketRSS/pocketRSS.asp
You can find other RSS newsreaders for PocketPC handheld computers at: http://palmtops.about.com/cs/productreviews/tp/Pocket_RSS.htm
Palm owners can find a listing of similar RSS newsreaders for Palm systems at: http://palmtops.about.com/cs/productreviews/tp/Palm_RSS.htm. While I haven't used it, I will point out that Hand/RSS at http://standalone.com/palmos/hand_rss is very popular amongst Palm owners.