The Psion Organiser II was a handheld computer made by British company Psion (sadly now defunct) from 1986 until the mid-90s, i.e. Before My Time. It was designed as a 'digital assistant' with a built-in diary, database, calculator and alarm clock. It also came with a complete programming language, OPL, which could be put to all sorts of uses. Thus the Organiser II became very popular with suited yuppies, intrepid tinkerers and in commercial environments. M&S, Prudential, British Telecom, even the Williams F1 team - they all used Organisers in various aspects of their business.

Psion made a lot of plug-in accessories for the Organiser II including the Comms Link, which allowed files to be transferred between the Organiser and a PC via a serial cable. In my other project I modified my Comms Link, replacing the serial cable with a Bluetooth chip. This allows me to transfer files - such as text files -  between the Organiser II and my modern Linux laptop with ease.

The Organiser II is designed to work with files made up of records. These records can be up to 254 characters long, and may themselves be subdivided into fields, a bit like an old-fashioned card catalogue in a library.

My idea was: what if I could download a plain-text eBook (e.g. from Project Gutenberg, a repository of out-of-copyright texts) and split it into lines of 254 characters or less? If I were to transfer the resulting file to the Psion, it would be able to read the book as a file where each line of text was a separate record. Thus I could 'read' the book on the Psion by moving between the records in sequence.

Long story short - it works! I've written a little program in OPL which displays each record in the file (i.e. each line in the book) one at a time, in order, on the screen. Each line of the book scrolls gently across the screen, with the arrow keys controlling the speed. It's readable and portable, and the Organiser II's legendary battery life should hopefully make it economical.

The drawback, of course, is that my top-of-the-range (for 1987!) Organiser II XP* only has 32K of RAM, of which about 23K is usable memory. Hence I have to split my books into 16K chunks using the Linux 'split' command. I then delete blank lines and wrap lines to a maximum of 254 characters using 'grep' and 'fold' respectively. Once complete I have a set of text files which the Psion can read. I then transfer them using my special Bluetooth-ified Comms Link.

Let's face it - it's not going to replace the Kindle any time soon, but I reckon it's quite cool.

*Nothing to do with Windows XP. I think it was supposed to stand for 'eXecutive and Professional' which means I shouldn't really be anywhere near it.