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Old 01-03-2007, 10:35 AM   #1
nekokami
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Academic tool suggestions

As I've commented elsewhere, I'm a doctoral student, and I'd like to use an eBook reader as a tool in my academic work. I spent a little bit of time thinking about what my "ideal" software for this purpose would look like. Here are my suggestions. I post them here in the hopes that others with similar interests and needs can help refine them further (or possibly suggest existing software that can be used for these purposes).

Purpose of tool: to allow review of literature, as well as entry and analysis of qualitative data, entry (and possibly analysis) of quantitative data, and possibly creation and/or editing of drafts of research reports

Literature review/analysis:
  • Read PDF, txt, rtf, html, and (perhaps with conversion) doc
  • Allow each document to store metadata sufficient for generating MLA and APA formatted references (i.e. author, title, year of publication, publisher, etc)
  • For paginated documents, maintain awareness of original pagination. The easiest way to do this is probably to ensure half-page views of PDF, e.g. A5 size screen, with automatic page panning. Also allow entry of a start page offset number.
  • While reading a document, the reader should be able to:
    • highlight text for quotes, with metadata tagging
    • make notes (e.g. in margins), also with metadata tags
  • Export mode allows selection of specific metadata tags, and within those tags, specific entries may be selected/unselected
  • Export mode produces output list of all comments and quotes with MLA or APA formatted references
  • Bonus: include a decent RTF (at least) text editor so drafts can be created or edited on the device

Entry/analysis of qualitative data:
  • Freehand note writing, including sketches - will require HWR either on device or on base computer
  • Ability to highlight notes and tag with metadata, including multiple tags per entry and overlapping highlight "chunks"
  • Tool/view to search, group and sort entries by metadata, including hierarchical groups, boolean search, context search, and "sounds like" search, with search logs
  • Tools to search for strings in text and count occurrences of strings, create concordances, etc.
  • Tools to create cross-links between categories of metadata, classify codes/metadata
  • Bonus: semantic network tool allowing entries to be linked to nodes and nodes to be developed into networks illustrating relationships
  • Bonus 2: apply coding tools to audio data as well as text
  • Bonus 3: export to a wiki-compatable format for sharing with the research community

Entry/analysis of quantitative data:
  • creation and implementation of entry forms
  • Data-collection mode using entry forms, simple database to hold results
  • export to standard statistical packages (export field headers/codes as well as data)
  • Bonus: port R to the device (http://www.r-project.org)

It seems to me that the iLiad has the hardware necessary to meet these needs, because it has a stylus entry mechanism, but other vendors may also have (or be developing) appropriate devices.

Comments?
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Old 01-04-2007, 12:04 AM   #2
minimalposter
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I would be interested in all of the following as well neko.

In 2006 Michael Mace (former Chief Competitive Officer and VP of Product Planning at Palm, VP of Strategic Marketing at PalmSource, director of Mac Platform Marketing at Apple) wrote about a product called the Info Pad. I have been dying for one ever since!
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Old 01-04-2007, 04:52 AM   #3
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Business/Academia really needs A4 size devices, something that can truly step in as a replacement for a printer without manually reformatting (which most people simply wont bother doing, however easy it is). Perfect for reviewing credit submissions, essays, board minutes, and simple as pie and saves paper.

Once the hardware manufactures start targeting this market then i am sure your software would be fantastic neko...
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Old 01-04-2007, 10:31 AM   #4
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The larger it is, the more fragile (and heavier)... at least until a new technology comes along. Maybe those Plastic Logic screens will allow A4 size displays in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, I'd settle for an A5 screen - it's still better than printing everything!

@minimalposter - Thanks so much for the link to the info pad article. I finally have a box to fit into: "Information lover." I agree with you-- I seriously covet one of these devices. My favorite quote in the article: "Irex appears to be positioning it [the iLiad] for use in vertical professional markets. That's a little disturbing – business verticals are the place where failed consumer tech products go to die."

There seem to be mixed opinions on whether the iLiad can handle the refresh rate needed to be a true info pad, but no disagreement that the price is too high. Maybe the rumored nextgen ETI device will help. (Even the ETI 1150 comes close hardware-wise, but with no open software development environment, it's not going to mature into an info pad.)
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Old 01-06-2007, 08:48 AM   #5
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Hi Neko,

I have been studying for an MSc in e-Learning since September, a course which is done completely remotely, no face-to-face, and I have stored and read all of the course material on the iLiad. The only time I printed out an article was when I once left my iLiad at home by mistake.

A giant leap forward for me was the zoom/rotate/continous modes for pdf. This was timely for me in that it made ALL of my PDF documents comfortably readable. Many of them were two-page-on-view scans of articles.
The next great advance was the addition of freehand notation to the PDF viewer software. Note writing and sketching is fine for me on the iLiad. There is a very short delay involved in the process, but you quickly adjust to this and forget about it. The only thing which is holding this feature back at the moment is stylus calibration.

Handwritten annotation capability puts the iLiad way ahead of other competitors in my view, particularly in an academic context. Without it you are forced to take notes on paper or on another computing device, which defeats some of the purpose of using an ebook.

I am with Mace in his scepticism about handwriting recognition and its value for text input. (Though I am interested by his indexing idea.) The iLiad's handwriting recognition is no worse but also no better than any other I have used. I also find onscreen tap-entry keyboards unusable. Other than for the capture of freehand text and sketches I do not see the iLiad as an input device, and so I don't share your priorities for tagging and the like.

I use my iLiad in combination with my desktop computer. I mirror my iLiad files on my desktop, and do searches in documents there. (This mirroring process should be possible wirelessly soon - it was promised in the last update but didn't make it.) Searching will be possible on the iLiad in future, but again, there is the crucial problem of text input. I anticipate iRex releasing desktop software which will also handle the handwritten annotations made on the iLiad.

My own priorities for improvements are to have an ebook device which is even more paperlike. For me this means much higher contrast than the iLiad; extreme speed of use (page refreshes, boot time, switching quickly + easily between multiple documents - all should be instantaneous); the possibility of colour, and a larger screen.

In terms of input capability, I can happily imagine a nice A4 device which slots into a dock with a built-in keyboard....
When we have that, along with the improved features above, computing power will probably have advanced enough so that the ebook will BE your desktop computer, as well as your mobile reading device.

Last edited by emkay; 01-06-2007 at 09:16 AM.
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Old 01-06-2007, 11:13 AM   #6
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Academic tool suggestions

Given similar needs, I settled on the Motion LS800. On the up side, the LS800 meets almost all your needs. On the down side, it is expensive.
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Old 02-07-2007, 06:35 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emkay
In terms of input capability, I can happily imagine a nice A4 device which slots into a dock with a built-in keyboard....
I think I remember reading that the iLiad has a bluetooth chip. The iLiad may already have the hardware to support a bluetooth keyboard. All is needed is the software.
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Old 02-07-2007, 06:40 PM   #8
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If I recall correctly, It doesn't actually have a bluetooth adapter built in, one of the, um ... community developers, scotty1024, was trying to get a USB bluetooth dongle to work in it, not really the same thing, but if it worked (I don't think he quite got there) then it would effectively give more or less the same result.
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Old 02-07-2007, 07:20 PM   #9
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re: A4 size... jinke is coming out with A4 size e-readers this year.
- at least that's what their website says
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Old 02-07-2007, 10:59 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tshare
Given similar needs, I settled on the Motion LS800. On the up side, the LS800 meets almost all your needs. On the down side, it is expensive.
How long does the battery last on one of those tablets, anyway? I know people complain about battery life on the iLiad, but most laptops make it look limitless by comparison.

Regarding keyboard input, it's not so much that I want to write everything by hand (I'm no J.K. Rowling!) I certainly type more quickly than I write in longhand, and the results are usually more legible as well. But there are a lot of situations in which typing can be distracting, e.g. in class, in a meeting, or while observing a classroom for qualitative research. It's also possible to write while standing or even walking, whereas typing is tricky to impossible. That's why some kind of HWR is a good thing from my perspective, even if it happens offline or is used mainly for indexing/search. That being said, when I used to use my Newton for everything, I did have a keyboard in a cool folder that had a prop to hold the Newt up so I could view it like a screen while typing. That gave me the best of both worlds.

Last edited by nekokami; 02-07-2007 at 11:04 PM. Reason: keyboard
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Old 02-08-2007, 12:26 AM   #11
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The weight of the motion is the main drawback (after price.) The units almost need to be disposable which indicates fewer features for a portable version and more features and weight (along with non-disposability) for a base or home version.

I have long maintained that one of the main reasons that ebooks did not take the market by storm was that people are not comfortable reading a verticle screen as one would on a desptop or laptop computer. Only when the surface is flat (or held in the hand as with the Sony Reader for example) does the reading become normal and therefore more relaxed. For study and notes this requires a surface to place the unit while in use.
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Old 02-13-2007, 09:24 AM   #12
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The Motion LS800 runs about 2.5 hours on the standard battery and 5-6 on the extended when maxing out use continually. I have explored a variety of handwriting systems (my favorites are ritePen and Tengo) and find the lack of a built in keyboard irrelevant. I use Bluebeam PDF Revu to markup pdf's. M Word for most other documents. I use indCards for most notetaking and research writing. I generally do not use it to just read for pleasure. It is a little heavy to hold in your hand when reading at the breakfast table, but at 2 pounds it is one of the lightest and easiest to use pc's available. It is the best tool available, however, for research.
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Old 02-13-2007, 01:44 PM   #13
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It does look nice... too bad it's nearly US$2k... and only runs windows. :?
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Old 02-20-2007, 04:18 PM   #14
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I am too a doctoral student and would love a tool like this although the data entry and analysis are probably too much. I think that some basic note-taking and being able to highlight parts of documents is essential but I wouldn't use a small device like this to write papers, wikis or webpages even if it had the capability. On the other hand I do need a searchable document database and if it had versioning capabilities that would be a nice bonus.

Regarding the screen size I do believe A5 would be sufficient, especially if the device would automatically detect and remove the margins of pdfs (maybe it's being done already, I don't know).

I like the sony ereader, but the price is too high for a device that has only two features (display documents and play music) and the iLiad is definitely way beyond what I'd like to pay.

The other alternatives (whether they call them internet tablets, UMPCs or PDAs) would probably get close to what I want with good software but it is unlikely that they can simultaneously meet the screen size, weight, runtime and cost requirements.

As far as the Motion LS800, $2k and 2 pounds is too much and I'd still need a device for ebook reading
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Old 02-20-2007, 06:23 PM   #15
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I'd say the literature review function is the critical area for me at this point. (The other functions would help to justify the cost of such a device, though.) I have a stack of articles I've read, and I need to reference them while writing papers. I want to be able to mark references and then find them again quickly and easily, so that as I read I build up my usable bibliography. BiBTeX as an output format seems like it would be especially helpful. It would be nice if the PDF browser could pick up as much metadata as possible from the document, but since we're talking about PDF and not some nice XML-based document system, probably some kind of half-screen form that allows you to select text and pull it into a BiBTeX interface would work. (For image scanned PDFs, you'd need a manual input method, and for some kinds of notes, not just quotations, you'd also need manual input.)

But then something that allows you to sift through your bibliography entries and pop back to the location in the document where they occurred would also be extremely useful. The iLiad doesn't create PDF bookmarks because it doesn't process PDF files (too processor-intensive, I guess), but it does keep track of annotations in a parallel XML file, as I understand it, so maybe something like this could be used for the bibliography entries. It seems to me that this would be useful for nearly any doctoral student, and many other students as well (especially if textbooks start to become available in e-versions).

I wonder if it would make sense to have a TeX interpreter directly on the iLiad (or other reader)?
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