Since 2000 I have personally been working on a program that I call TomeCat. It is just a very basic text reader built with PHP and MySQL. I'm not a programmer by any means, and so the going has been very slow. After my run-in with Libronix (see previous post), I have some new ideas tinkering around in my brain (see other previous post). I'd like to see some of those ideas incorporated into TomeCat.

TomeCat is running on a database right now. Every chapter in the book is a separate entry in the chapter table. This is fine, except that I want to be able to quickly create books, and copying and pasting chapters into a database isn't my idea of fun. It also brought up the question of embedded media such as images, audio, movies, links and so on. I would have to manually add code to the pristine database driven text files. That was kind of bad!

As a in-between step from TomeCat in a web browser to TomeCat as a desktop app, I think XML files are a better way to go. The texts could be converted to simple XML documents with markup tags like book, title, author, chapter, section, img, map, verse, p, audio, crossreference, link and so on. A browser would be able to read this, as well as a desktop app. This would let me get the markup straight before I leap off of the platform that I'm comfortable with.

A couple hurdles that I'm not quite sure how to jump over are how to show the existing table of contents, with separate pages for each chapter. I think this would be accomplished by searching for tags, and then replacing them with functions .. not sure.

The code would have to be manually added (although the basics could be parsed with a custom tool), which is kind of sad, but eventually, I know an editor could be created that took 'What You Mean Is What You Get' and turned it into properly formatted xml.

The reasons I want to eventually go with a desktop app are:

  • The life of the product is extended past the time when I want a server running for it.
  • Right click and multiple window interfaces, without using "AJAX". This also means it will work even after web browsers are no longer compatible with the code.
  • User doesn't have to have anything but the program and documents to use in it. They will not have to install a MySQL database, or PHP, etc.
Wish me luck!

Electronic Text Interface Ideas

Back in 2007 I wrote a post about an ideal translation program. I would like to expand that idea into ideas for a better digital library system.

First, a list of features for a great electronic text reader. There are many programs that already fall into this category.

  • Simple interface
  • Bookmarks to keep your place
  • no page turning - this is contrived, you are on a computer, scroll already!
  • Changeable text sizes / fonts alignment.
  • Unicode is a must!
  • Can read many different text-file types, especially open ones.
  • can also read PDF files that have no text (each page is an image)
  • Can convert all of these formats to a standard electronic text format.
  • Has support for images and other media with captions.
  • Can have media galleries attached to a paragraph (many different pictures, all in the same place shown as thumbnails)
  • The ability to have multiple books open at once, and to view them side by side
  • The ability to look up words in associated dictionaries / encyclopedias (this ability would NOT be dependent on the TEXT, but on the dictionary/etc.)
  • The ability to add in new dictionaries / encyclopedias.
  • The ability to easily create a new text in the proper format, as well as edit existing books. This will let the user fix any formating mistakes the converter makes.
  • Free or at least cheap
  • Free books to load into it
  • sets of books that you can download. Such as the Complete Kipling, or Masonic History, or Sophia's random favorite public domain Fiction
  • tagging and organizing of books into shelves and sections
  • more than one library of books possible
  • integrate with library thing where possible!
  • The ability to sell books to other users where they aren't able to edit the text.
  • All text will be copy and pasteable - if a publisher isn't cool with that - too bad - that's why people want their book - so that they can copy and paste sections.
  • A way to unobtrusively keep track of who has bought what. The fear of pirating should not make the program hard to use! Giving each user an ID, and then inserting that number into their encrypted book would work. They can use their customer ID on many computers / devices.
  • The internet is not required for use or activation.
  • If the books are on a CD, they will work.
  • Keeping all of the files for a book together is n interesting problem. On one hand, you want to keep it open. On the other hand, you don't want people to loose track of their files. A standard archive file would work - as long as the program can read unopened archive files. OOo can read them.
  • Open standards for the creation of plug ins and modules that anyone can create.
  • A fully working demo with a time limit to register before only the reader works.

Okay, now features for a reader with research capabilities

  • all of the above.
  • The ability to look up phrases to see where else it is referenced in your library.
  • the ability to look up any word in a concordance - original language and translation and meaning (ie, there are many different words that mean the same thing in most languages, this would include them all under separate result entries.)
  • the ability to compare different translations of the same work, as well as the original. This would be paragraph by paragraph
  • Interlinear comparisons, as above.
  • maps, with coordinates coded into various texts
  • if a text does not have the coordinates coded in, a basic search is done in the applicable maps for those words. The map itself is coded to know various spellings and variations of place names.
  • the ability to look up a word by sound, and by the root of a word.
  • combination search, with an instant tree view of the search results by #
  • the ability to search by book, collection, library(s) or open documents.
  • A customizable keyboard mapper so that you can type in any language.
  • A special character picker for things like cuneiform, where there are too many characters to use a keyboard.
  • all (or most) of the ideas in my earlier post - I now think that the english language should also have a numbered reference system, like Strong's - that way words can be referenced by number.
  • simple, easy to use option in the context menu for each word - the menu is customizable through an option ON the menu.
  • Although many people will be using this for the bible, it should work with any modern or ancient text in any language.
  • the ability to back track
I know there are more ideas to be had, but this is a good start!

Libronix Digital Library System

I am again disappointed in my search for a replacement for my old InfoBase Folio Bound Views 3. Libronix talked big, but failed to deliver.

Libronix claimed to use an open format, so that you could access your data even if they go out of business, or whatever. Great! except, once I downloaded a couple demo copies of the content, none of it was in that open format. Further, if you want to create your own files, called PBBs, you have to 1) buy the Personal Book Builder ($250), 2) get a PBB activation code (included with any LOGOS product - starting at $150, going up to $1,380). 3) re-activate your product every year. Okay, now with this, all you have is the BASIC type of book, there is no way to designate a new book as a dictionary or a commentary, it's just a book. You are also legally unable to sell your PBB book. In order to allow it to be sold, you must pay various unknown fees. For $100, you can buy the Private Book Builder. This will let you create books that only your licensed user can access.

There are also claims that it uses the "free" libronix reader. Well, I still haven't been able to get that to work. The free download asks me for my SN (located on the CD I purchased .... wait, I thought it was free?), a customer code and an activation number. I am not against people trying to protect their property, but why all the hassle when it is supposedly free? As of now, I have not found a place on their site to get any of those three required numbers. My copy will expire in 40 days, so at least they give me some time to try and solve the problem.

Okay, so it fails the openness test, what about the product itself? Is it worth the hassle?

It's an okay program, but lacking in a few key areas, like the scroll button on your mouse doesn't work. The books all open on top of each other, only taking up the left hand side of the screen. There is a English concordance for the KJV, but even though I have a Strong's concordance installed, I cannot look words up with it in any useful manner. The hebrew and greek fonts are hard to read, as they didn't expect people to actually look at them. And so on. I only used it for a few minutes, so I haven't found everything I dislike yet.

What about content? There are indeed a few books that they offer that are great resources, BUT they are charging $50 for $10 books. They also have an agenda, conscious or not, involving only mainstream, conservative, protestant, evangelical Christian ideology. I know it is maybe a little too much to ask, but what about books geared toward Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses? Nope, but they do have a whole section on how to convert them back to the true gospel. There are no books about more edgy topics, but plenty of books that dredge out the same old tripe that has been going around for years. For instance, I doubt that I could find any reference to evolution other than bashing it to pieces. Is this because these edgy books are unknown to most people? No, I can find them in my local library (and I live in a small town). Is this because the publishers are awful people and don't see the benefit of electronically distributing their content? No, I have seen them on other digital library websites. Hence my conclusion that LOGOS/Libronix has an agenda.

A List of Woes...

Excessive DRM
Lack of great content
Commercial Content filtered by denominational creed
Lack of a truly free reader
The inability to create your own personal data, with full functionality
The exorbitant prices attached to all functionality
Clunky User Interface