Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mobile Scholar: Part I

Image by Mike Licht
I am trying to turn my iPad into a laptop in order to lighten my load while traveling (and save my poor neck). It will never replace a proper computer from a software development perspective, but from a scholarly reading and writing perspective I am almost there.

The Chronicle had a nice post in ProfHacker regarding PDF annotation and organization, and Christopher Long has also written in greater detail about how one goes about "Closing the Digital Research Circle". For PDF annotation, syncing, and citing, I strongly suspect Mendeley is going to win the race. As much as I love the idea of Zotero, I just don't use Firefox on any of my machines or mobile devices. (I did enjoy using the open source Aigaion, but once my entire bibliography got trashed while upgrading I decided to stick with the pros). Mendeley can be buggy, but as one person said, "When it works, it works really well," and they're right.

Anyway, that's still just consumption and management of existing content, which is only half the problem. The other is creating and editing manuscripts.

In my field, everyone writes papers in LaTeX. Some journals and conferences occasionally permit the submission of Word documents, but personally I have a hard time understanding how anyone can do that without pulling their hair out. The last time I wrote an article in Word I spent several days dealing with misplaced references, unusual figure formats, caption problems, and incompatibility issues. When I write in LaTeX I can just focus on the writing and ignore everything else. (Kind of like writing a program in Java vs. C++)

But how to write LaTeX on the go? Due to a lack of multitasking in the present OS, as well as Apple forbidding any applications that compile code (e.g., no easy way to typeset your documents), what's a body to do?

I recently found LaTeX Lab, which lets you edit and typeset LaTeX Google Docs. Hooray! Almost there!

...sadly, Google Documents are not yet natively editable on the iPad.

I can, of course, remote login to my machines back at the office using virtualization software and edit LaTeX files there, but that just feels so inelegant. So we're not there just quite yet. I'm going to try a few things over the next few weeks and will report back.

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