Alex Lite: A Tiny, standards-compliant, and portable catalogue of electronic texts

One the beauties of XML its ability to be transformed into other plain text files, and that is what I have done with a simple software distribution called Alex Lite.

My TEI publishing system(s)

A number of years ago I created a Perl-based TEI publishing system called “My personal TEI publishing system“. Create a database designed to maintain authority lists (titles and subjects), sets of XSLT files, and TEI/XML snippets. Run reports against the database to create complete TEI files, XHTML files, RSS files, and files designed to be disseminated via OAI-PMH. Once the XHTML files are created, use an indexer to index them and provide a Web-based interface to the index. Using this system I have made accessible more than 150 of my essays, travelogues, and workshop handouts retrospectively converted as far back as 1989. Using this system, many (if not most) of my writings have been available via RSS and OAI-PMH since October 2004.

A couple of years later I morphed the TEI publishing system to enable me to mark-up content from an older version of my Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts. Once marked up I planned to transform the TEI into a myriad of ebook formats: plain text, plain HTML, “smart” HTML, PalmPilot DOC and eReader, Rocket eBook, Newton Paperback, PDF, and TEI/XML. The mark-up process was laborious and I have only marked up about 100 texts, and you can see the fruits of these labors, but the combination of database and XML technology has enabled me to create Alex Lite.

Alex Lite

Alex Lite the result of a report written against my second TEI publishing system. Loop through each item in the database and update an index of titles. Create a TEI file against each item. Using XSLT, convert each TEI file into a plain HTML file, a “pretty” XHTML file, and a FO (Formatting Objects) file. Use a FO processor (like FOP) to convert the FO into PDF. Loop through each creator in the database to create an author index. Glue the whole thing together with an index.html file. Save all the files to a single directory and tar up the directory.

The result is a single file that can be downloaded, unpacked, and provide immediate access to sets of electronic books in an standards-compliant, operating system independent manner. Furthermore, no network connection is necessary except for the initial acquisition of the distribution. This directory can then be networked or saved to a CD-ROM. Think of the whole thing as if it were a library.

Give it a whirl; download a version of Alex Lite. Here is a list of all the items in the tiny collection:

  1. Alger Jr., Horatio (1834-1899)
    • The Cash Boy
    • Cast Upon The Breakers
  2. Bacon, Francis (1561-1626)
    • The Essays
    • The New Atlantis
  3. Burroughs, Edgar Rice (1875-1850)
    • At The Earth’s Core
    • The Beasts Of Tarzan
    • The Gods Of Mars
    • The Jungle Tales Of Tarzan
    • The Monster Men
    • A Princess Of Mars
    • The Return Of Tarzan
    • The Son Of Tarzan
    • Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar
    • Tarzan Of The Apes
    • The Warlord Of Mars
  4. Conrad, Joseph (1857-1924)
    • The Heart Of Darkness
    • Lord Jim
    • The Secret Sharer
  5. Doyle, Arthur Conan (1859-1930)
    • The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes
    • The Case Book Of Sherlock Holmes
    • His Last Bow
    • The Hound Of The Baskervilles
    • The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes
  6. Machiavelli, Niccolo (1469-1527)
    • The Prince
  7. Plato (428-347 B.C.)
    • Charmides, Or Temperance
    • Cratylus
    • Critias
    • Crito
    • Euthydemus
    • Euthyphro
    • Gorgias
  8. Poe, Edgar Allan (1809-1849)
    • The Angel Of The Odd–An Extravaganza
    • The Balloon-Hoax
    • Berenice
    • The Black Cat
    • The Cask Of Amontillado
  9. Stoker, Bram (1847-1912)
    • Dracula
    • Dracula’s Guest
  10. Twain, Mark (1835-1910)
    • The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
    • A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court
    • Extracts From Adam’s Diary
    • A Ghost Story
    • The Great Revolution In Pitcairn
    • My Watch: An Instructive Little Tale
    • A New Crime
    • Niagara
    • Political Economy

XSLT

As alluded to above, the beauty of XML is its ability to be transformed into other plain text formats. XSLT allows me to convert the TEI files into other files for different mediums. The distribution includes only simple HTML, “pretty” XHTML, and PDF versions of the texts, but for the XSLT affectionatos in the crowd who may want to see the XSLT files, I have included them here:

  • tei2htm.xsl – used to create plain HTML files complete with metadata
  • tei2html.xsl – used to create XHTML files complete with metadata as well as simple CSS-enabled navigation
  • tei2fo.xsl – used to create FO files which were fed to FOP in order to create things designed for printing on paper

Here’s a sample TEI file, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask Of Amontillado.

Future work

I believe there is a lot of promise in the marking-up of plain text into XML, specifically works of fiction and non-fictin into TEI. Making available such marked-up texts paves the way for doing textual analysis against them and for enhancing them with personal commentary. It is too bad that the mark-up process, even simple mark-up, is so labor intensive. Maybe I’ll do more of this sort of thing in my copius spare time.

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Alex Lite: A Tiny, standards-compliant, and portable catalogue of electronic texts”

  1. [...] few years ago I created the first version of Alex Lite. Its primary purpose was to: 1) explore and demonstrate how to transform a particular flavor of XML [...]