[pdftex] Creating a TeX file with data around predefined "design"

Kári Hreinsson karihre at gmail.com
Tue Jul 5 02:32:43 CEST 2005


Sorry for the title, fairly new to TeX and this mailing list, don't exactly 
know how to put problems to words (or even, if it comes to that, if I'm on 
the correct mailing list).

I've been using LaTeX for a long time for essays and math and I've always 
started to like it better and better. The other day I took on the task of 
creating a phone book for the school I'm in and of course the first thing I 
thought was how I could do it in LaTeX. The problem is that this is no 
ordinary phone book, it contains not only names and phone numbers of people 
but also pictures of everyone and some other informational pages such as 
names of teachers, the school song and so on.
The tradition is that this book should look very nice so every year a 
designer has been hired to create the book which has usually taken a long 
time and been very expensive.

This year I thought I'd minimize the cost which leads to minimizing the work 
of the designer. Instead of letting him manually create each page for the 
students list (and the pages are > 100) I thought I'd get away with letting 
him create just two pages (one even and one odd) and then I'd integrate the 
layout into a LaTeX file which would include the list of students. The 
students list would be extracted from a database and I would wrap the 
appropriate commands around it.

I spent some time trying to "tweak" LaTeX into getting the layout I wanted 
with no or very little success. Doing this required a lot of work with 
images (that represent the layout) that "wrap" around the content (the list) 
and the content might even float over the images. I found this very 
un-friendly in LaTeX so I tried thinking of other ways. Some days before I 
had come across the "TeX Showcase" so I figured it might be easier to do in 
plain TeX then in LaTeX (well, easier, at least possible). 

I am pretty much still in this stage, wondering if it's easier to do this in 
plain TeX. I've browsed the Internet for many days trying to find something 
that's similar to what I would be doing and the things I have found have 
been very complicated and I constantly find things they are using simply not 
working for me. I've come across many "things" such as Metafont, Metapost 
and ConTeXt and I am still just wondering what of these (or perhaps it's 
something totally different) I should try to learn and use to create the 
book. As you might imagine I am a bit confused and I suppose you were one 
time so please don't be mean :).

This brings me to some questions that I hope to get some answers to that 
would make my life just a little bit easier :).

- Is it possible to do this in TeX (if yes, is it easy?) or is it just plain 
stupid and I should be focusing on something different?
If "yes", then
- What should I focus on, ConTeXt, MetaPost, plain Tex or something else 
(just telling me what not to focus on would still be help!)?
- I ran into "layers" in ConTeXt, might that be the answer to the layout 
images staying "behind" the content?

Then just a small one in the end. This book is in Icelandic which has the 
special characters Þ (html: þ) and Ð (html: &eth). It is possible to 
get these characters to work? Perhaps just a question of getting the right 
font encoding or something?

Anyway, thanks for reading! All answers very much appreciated!

Kári Hreinsson

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