A library in the palm of your hand

July 04, 2002|By James Coates | James Coates,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When it comes to the dream of putting an entire library's worth of thick and musty books in one's pocket, I'm your go-to guy.

With the help of a national treasure known as Project Gutenberg and some propeller head-type experimentation on the part of your humble correspondent, today's column will show you how to store a warehouse of great books on your hard drive.

Beyond that we'll see how to either read these treasures on the computer screen or how to read them on the screen of a pocket-size PDA. The PDA part is why this column needs to be written. I absolutely love the idea of having a library of hundreds of volumes loaded onto memory cards that I can read on the color screen on my Windows Pocket PC. I've also worked out how to read them on my Palm V.

Keep in mind, too, that the techniques involved can be used to employ hand-held devices to read any long text files that one might encounter at work or find online.

It's a lot of ground to cover in this cramped space, but I think you'll have great fun even if you follow me only as far as getting the full text of public domain literature from the Project Gutenberg Web sites, the brainchild of an Illinois computer pioneer named Michael Hart and thousands of volunteers.

Check it out by going to www.google .com and typing in Project Gutenberg as a keyword. You will find links to the Gutenberg archives on many Web sites. There also you will find instructions on how to download for free the complete writings of everybody from Descartes to Dickens, Longfellow to Louisa May Alcott. The files are stored on computers around the world and are rendered in ordinary text files readable by just about every text-editing program.

Most folks find reading this stuff on their computer screens to be uncomfortable at best. Which gives me the chance to say something nice about Microsoft Corp. The company offers a free download plug-in that allows users of Word 2000 and Word XP to load text files into a document file and then save them in the superb format used by the Microsoft Reader program, also free to download.

The Reader software runs on PCs and PDAs and it renders the text in a solid, non-flickering, well-formatted manner that makes reading sentences on a screen as easy on the eyes as looking at a book. To get the Reader program and the Word plug-in to create your own e-books, go to www.microsoft.com/reader.

Also there are goodies like a free dictionary and links to e-book sites. There's also software that permits one to have Reader books read aloud by computer-generated voices.

Microsoft Reader was supposed to have been the key to moving a huge segment of the publishing industry into e-commerce by marketing major fiction and nonfiction titles for reading on portable electronic readers. There are, indeed, scores of new books available to download in the Microsoft format, but it never really caught on among mainstream book buyers.

But one can download thousands of books from Gutenberg and other Internet sources and use the Reader plug-in for Word to render them in a clear, easy-to-read format.

The software saves text files in a format called .lit. One then moves .lit files onto a PDA and uses the Reader software to view them on the hand-held screen, a wonderful way to pass time while commuting or standing in line. The .lit files can be huge and the software will still read them smoothly.

People using Palm PDAs need to have the books broken into files of 100 kilobytes or smaller to be read by the Web browser in the Palm operating system. The trick is to download the text file and then use a file-splitting program to reduce it to a number of smaller Web browser-formatted files that can be read on the Palm.

Here's the drill: Download a book. Load it into Word and save it as an HTML file using the Save As command in Word. Then use a file-splitter to chop it into digestible bits.

My favorite splitter is File Monkey at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/ monkeyjob/htmlme/FileMonk.htm.

You can find other splitters at www. download.com or www.tucows.com.

It's not easy being a pioneer, of course, and these steps certainly require a bit of propeller head-type effort, but I can't think of anything better to do with one's computer than turning it into a library.

Information: www.promo.net/pg/.

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