Specs on Your Palm

Volume 7, Issue 56; 04 Apr 2004; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Carrying specifications in the Palm of your hand.

Dave Pawson’s recent thread about Palm devices and DocBook reminded me that I used to carry a bunch of specifications around with me. What happened was, a couple of years ago, Eve Maler, Michael Sperberg-McQueen, and I were having dinner and we got to arguing about some detail related to whitespace in XML (or maybe it was something about entity expansion, I can’t recall for sure) and none of us had the XML spec with us. I swore, “Never again!”

I took several Palm document tools for a test drive and finally settled on iSilo. There’s a compiler for iSilo that can convert HTML files into Palm databases and all the specs I want are available in HTML.

It all worked just fine, and before long I was carrying around a small collection of specs. Then somewhere in Tokyo, I lost my Tungsten’s SD Card. For a while, I’ve been wandering around without my specs. It was Dave’s mail that reminded me of this awful truth!

Yesterday when I sat down to reinstall them, I realized that several had been updated since I last “compiled” them. Loathe to update a bunch of files by hand, I quickly concluded that I wouldn’t have to, at least for the W3C ones. You see, the input for the iSilo compiler is an XML document and the W3C publishes metadata for all the documents on the “tech reports” page in RDF.

It wasn’t too much work to bang out a quick XSLT stylesheet that transforms entries in the TR page RDF into input files for the iSilo compiler. (Update 07 Apr 2004: I tweaked the stylesheet a bit; the new version is more aggressive about finding the ToC and adds a depth parameter for specs that are broken into chunks.)

After transformation, it’s a simple matter of compiling and installing them:

Extensible Markup Language on my Palm
Extensible Markup Language on my Palm

That screen shot is from a Palm emulator. I don’t know of an emulator for Linux that works with ROMs from my Tungsten. The iSilo’d specs are really quite readable on the Tungsten.

The stylesheet takes the “short name” of the document as a parameter, so handed “REC-xml,” it produces REC-xml.ixl, the input control file for the compiler, and REC-xml.marks, a set of bookmarks from the Table of Contents.

Building the bookmarks is the biggest weakness in the stylesheet. It relies on a div with class="toc" to find the Table of Contents and not all specs are marked up that way. Consistent markup for the ToC is probably a good candidate for a pubrules enhancement.

Anyway, I have my specs again (whew!) and with these tools, so can you! For a complete, compiled example of what you get, check out the Palm version of DocBook: The Definitive Guide .


It's nice to see someone else who uses thier PDA as a portable reference library for tech stuff. Since most of the software I deal with as a Unix SysAdmin has HTML documentation available, I do the same.

But instead of iSilo, may I suggest an alternative?

I use a product called Plucker. Plucker is free software, open source under the GNU Public License. There is a Plucker Viewer (written in C) which runs on your PalmOS device, and a Plucker desktop, written in Python, which parses HTML pages and creates PDB files which can be displayed by the viewer. There is also a version of the desktop written in Java, so you can run the desktop on most platforms.

Plucker runs fine on my old Visor Pro, reading documents off a 256MB CF card ina MemPlug CF adapter. I expect it to continue to run fine when I upgrade to a newer device. (Soon, I suspect: the Pro is showing its age. I'd have done so sooner save that hacks aren't supported under OS5, and too much of my setup relies on them.)

You can find Plucker at http://www.plkr.org.


—Posted by Dennis McCunney on 04 Apr 2004 @ 11:55 UTC #

Typo in the href for REC-xml.marks (points to .ixl instead).

—Posted by Alastair Rankine on 05 Apr 2004 @ 01:26 UTC #

Isn't there an HTML viewer for Palm devices?

Opera's small screen rendering displays W3C's standards perfectly on my P800.

—Posted by Sjoerd Visscher on 05 Apr 2004 @ 09:21 UTC #

I took plucker for a quick test drive. It's not useful until it supports documents that are UTF-8 encoded, but otherwise looks promising.

And I fixed the broken link; thanks Alastair.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 07 Apr 2004 @ 12:49 UTC #

As to the question of an HTML viewer, yes I think there are, though I have yet to find a good one. The advantage that tools like iSilo and Plucker have over a simple HTML viewer is that they compile all the files and images into a single database. That's easier to transfer and keep on the Palm device.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 07 Apr 2004 @ 12:52 UTC #

Any idea why the second version fails on xquery-operators Norm?

Pulls xpath2 xslt2 fine, yet http://www.w3.org/TR/xquery-operators matches 0 items.

which isn't right, since the spec exists.

—Posted by Dave Pawson on 14 Apr 2004 @ 08:08 UTC #